Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The President is a Jerk

No, not stupid. A jerk. As in, he doesn't know how to behave around people.

In a meeting with incoming Democratic Senator Jim Webb, a combat veteran whose son is serving in Iraq, Bush asked Webb how his son was doing. Webb said that he'd like to see his son brought home. Bush said, "I didn't ask you that, I asked how he was doing."

Jerk. Jerk. Jerk.

Webb, so the story says, resisted the urge to clock the Prez. You're a better man than I am, Jim Webb.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Soldiers as cattle.

The link I'm about to give you here is actually meant to be part of some sort of "The New Republic" journalism feud that will mean little to anyone outside of the journalism industry and, even to those within it, will mean little to those who aren't working for, or hoping to work for, "The New Republic." But, read it anyway. It's about whether or not we could send an additional 50,000 troops to Iraq and about how me might go about doing so, despite the fact that our military is stretched thin over two Middle Eastern occupations and growing threats from North Korea and Iran, to name only two potential hot spots.

Just read the post and look at how they deal with numbers that represent living, breathing, people. This is a blog post that is, at it's core, about how the U.S. should not only deploy the people who have volunteered to defend it, but how it should recruit more of them to that cause. Yet, it deals with those issues from such a huge distance that you'd likely read it without even thinking that human lives are the real subject being discussed.

It reminds me of a scene from Woody Allen's movie, "Love and Death," where Allen's character (Boris) remarks during a battle between the French and the Russians that, "The battle looks totally different from the view of the generals on the hills." The scene then cuts to the general's perspectives and we see, instead of people fighting, two herds of sheep charging towards one another.

What the commentators on the war too often forget is that there are real people involved in the Iraq conflict. They even forget that real people are involved in any human conflict. Real people shouldn't be reduced to "forces we could deploy," as is suggested by excerpts from both lefty and righty pundits in this blog entry. Real people should be discussed as if they are, actually, real people.

That's what irks me every time somebody, from either side, says that we could win the war in Iraq by deploying more troops. Nobody advocating that view seems ready to bluntly deal with the fact that it demands putting more human beings in deathly danger. From a distance, we can have strategic debates about whether more troops amounts to doubling down on a bad hand or doubling down on a hand that looks bad but is just good enough that it deserves more support. But the high-altitude strategic thinking shouldn't inform this debate.

More than 3,000 American troops have died in Iraq so far. Those have been real deaths of real people. How many more should we put in death's way?

Yes, the battle plan was flawed and we did send too few troops into Iraq from day one and that led to the current chaos. But I find, in light of what Iraq is now, that I am highly skeptical of any pundit or policymaker who thinks they know what magin number of extra people in the field will lead us to victory. Is 20,000 more people enough? 50,000? 100,000? That's really all gibberish. Nobody really knows what 5t will take. Talking about people in numbers of five or six figures just obscures the fact that it's individual people that we're talking about.

We should really be asking whether or not the death of one more fully characterized person is worth trying to salvage a war that we started and that was a bad idea from the very moment that we started it. We need to start facing this war on the level of the very real human toll that it's claimed and that it might claim again as we press on.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rest, Milton Friedman

Liberal as I am, I also have a day job that's gotten me into finance and thus, into the work of Milton Friedman. Fair to say that I'd disagree with this guy on most everything. I also have a lot of problems with economics in general because, as a science, it strikes me (as a layman and observer) as intrinsically biased towards free-market thinking and towards the power of markets over other human values such as aesthetics and morality.

Still, he was a great man.

There are certain people who I disagree with, but still respect. Friedman advocated a style of unencumbered capitalism that would, if it were ever adopted, certainly doom the entire planet Earth. But, his reasons always struck me as pretty darned pure. He had faith in people and hope for them. He devoted himself to a mechanism that he thought would give people the best chance to be the best people.

There are cruel laissez faire capitalists who seem to view human life as a Darwininian struggle and I kind of hate them all. But there are also laissez faire types who, liked Friedman, viewed themselves as liberators. I do respect that liberation impulse, quite deeply.

He was one of those types about who you can say, "I disagree with your vision for the world, but I see why you're pursuing it." That's rare.

That Voodoo That You Do So Well...

This amuses me.

Are the House Democrats already divided?

Well, yeah, sure. It's a true, big tent party. Among Democrats, you'll find people who are fiscally right of center and lefty on social issues, who are socially right of center and right of center on economics, who are left on both, who are far left on both, who seem like Republicans on both... it's a big, old party. Sure, it's divided. In the Senate, Joe Lieberman now represents the "Connecticut for Lieberman Party" because of Democratic divisions over the Iraq war.

New House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed John Murtha for House Majority leader (wow, I almost wrote "minority leader," out of habit, times have changed) but Murtha lost to Steny Hoyer. Some think this exposes Pelosi as weak or even flawed. But, really, both Hoyer and Murtha are conservative Democrats, they just disagree over Iraq. They were also the only two likely to win the leader post right now. She backed one. He lost. Big deal.

There's going to be a ton in the media about divided Democrats. My take is that it's true (and I certainly take sides) but that it's also natural and why we were able to win a majority this time around. Republicans were divided, too. But they are simply more obviously disciplined than Democrats. I don't even think they're actually MORE disciplined, just more OBVIOUSLY so. This "division" talk can only weaken a slim majority. Don't put too much stock in it. It's true, sure. But it's not as important as commentators are already making it out to be.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Just what is "the center."

There's a lot of talk, in light of the slim Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, about "centrism." But I don't see a lot of definitions of the term. I am, quite proudly, not a centrist. I have strong points of view and some are considered far left and others are considered far right. I don't have any allegiance to the middle ground, though.

I don't think that most people do, either. What would the "center" even mean in terms of the major issues of the day? There's no half-way on Iraq. We either start getting out or we don't. There's no middle ground on gay marriage. You can't support "kind of" gay marriage. They can either marry each other or they can't. You're either pro-choice or not, pro stem cell research or not, for school prayer or not, for making flag burning a crime or not... it goes on and on... there are a lot of issues, I think that just demand that people take a stand, on either side.

I know we've all been taught that compromise is a good thing. In a lot of ways, it is. Both sides give a little and get a little. Compromise is certainly vital in interpersonal relationships.

But, the compromise solution isn't always the best one. The middle ground between two extremes can actually be a lot worse, and make a lot less sense, than either extreme. Democrats are suddenly being encouraged to be non-partisan and to compromise with the other side. But I don't see that they should. Work with the other side, sure. Try to convince the other side, of course. But there's no justification for giving in on their best ideas just to seem accomodating and friendly. At some points, folks will need to take some stands. Democrats should think more about what they believe and what policies they want to enact than about being bipartisan or centrist.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

So, Howard Dean gets fired?

Right after the Democrats took both the House and the Senate, former Clinton advisor James Carvilles wants to replace Howard Dean as the head of the Democratic National Committee. I'm not sure if this is an example of Carville's insanity or his huge grapefruits.

The conflict here is this: The D.C. Democratic establishment was never happy with Dean being elected to chair the party. Dean's support came from the grass roots and the establishment preferred other candidates. Dean then decidedn to try to build a long-term Democratic majority by pursuing a "50 state" startegy where the party would run candidates even in districts and states where it seemed likely that the Demcorats would lose. Dean argued that you have to not only win the election at hand but that you have to defeat the notion that there are elections that Democrats just can't win. You beat that notion by running with strength. The Rahm Immanuel/Chuck Shumer/Bruce Reed strategy was to devote all resources to the most likely wins and the eke out a majority right now.

Dean's strategy paid off in the short-term, because some entrenched Republicans like Tom Delay fell to scandal. The Dean strategy also paid off because, though the Demcorats won only a one vote majority in the Senate and a slim majority in the House, the gains were larger than they would have been had more risk candidates been ignored.

Dean is often portrayed as a firebrand and a loose cannon, but he's really thinking long-term. Because of his influence, Democrats won larger majorities than they would have under the Emmanuel/Shumer/Reed strategy and Democrats managed to make losing races more competitive than people might have expected. The 50 state strategy also negated the Republican money advantage by forcing that side to devote funds to races that would have been locks for them.

I don't happen to agree with the Emmanuel/Shumer/Reed strategy, but those three men helped deliver the Democrats a win. So did Dean. Given the results of this week's election, why talk about replacing any of them? Perhaps a national strategy that deals with the tension between the short and long term prospects for Democrats is the way to go?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Senate, BTW

As of this writing, 49 D, 49 R and 2 Independents. The Republicans have the advantage of Cheney's vote in tie situations.

If Lamont had won, it'd have been 50 D, 49 R, and 1 Independent who had long caucused with Democrats.

So, seems we won the Senate too, but it really would have been better if Lamont had been elected as a true blue Dem rather than having the liberated and not-dependable Lieberman in office. The Senate really did hang on the balance of the Lieberman/Lamont race.

This is why I got so worked up.

The Bull Moose from the Democratic Leadership Council calls Joe's win a victory for "country over party," and then he mouths off about "bloviating bloggers" who tried to destroy "the vital center."

It's fine for the guy to be happy that his boy won. I'd have been happy if Ned Lamont has won, for sure.

But this wasn't a smackdown on blowhards with laptops. If the Bull Moose really wanted some change in Washington, he'd be more gracious and would be happy that Lamont's campaign energized so many people around the country and in Connecticut to get involved rather than sit on the sidelines.

What most distresses me about Joe's win is that it will be spun in such a way as to discourage people from getting interested and involved in politics. I actually think that elitists in both parties would be very happy to discourage citizen participation unless they feel they can control and orchestrate the actions of those citizens.

But this isn't over. If the higher-ups from both parties don't realize that Ned's run proved that the grass roots can, indeed, turn an unknown figure into a national contender, then they're in for a nasty shock in the coming years.

Sure, we lost. One election. But this ain't over. Lamont's campaign should serve as a model for future challengers. More elections just 2 years away. With lessons learned from Lamont's campaign, the grass roots have a real shot at winning some contests next time. Actually, that was too pessimistic of me. The grass roots did win some this time. The Lieberman/Lamont race was high profile, but that enthusiasm helped take a Republican house seat in Connecticut, and many more around the country last night.

Good and Bad from the elections

I'll be honest -- I was so into Lamont's challenge to Lieberman that I felt, and still feel, that a Lamont victory would have been worth more than the Democrats taking the house and senate. At this point, they have taken the house (by a margin sure to widen during tomorrow's counts) and they might well take the senate (they need just two seats right now) but Lamont lost.

He lost by only 4 percentage points. That in itself is impressive, given Lieberman's long tenure in the senate.

But I'm also, frankly, heartbroken.

To be clear, I have no problem with third party challengers and, in fact, I would like to see more of them. I'm a bit annoyed at Lieberman for challenging after losing the Democratic primary, but only because the Democrats built him up in the first place. In any event, that's a minor annoyance. I have always supported his right to to run outside of the party and I'm even impressed to see that he was right in assumining that he'd win a general election after the primary.

But, I am dismayed to see that incumbency is so powerful in American politics that it can even make a primary loser like Lieberman into the odds-on favorite in a general election. Anyone who would bother to read this blog already knows that the task of a challenger to national office is almost always insurmountable. Office holders always have the advantage in money, influence and notoriety and those advantages are hard to beat. For Ned Lamont to come so close against an 18 year senate veteran is, in itself, a type of victory. But it's still a loss.

Though I oppose Lieberman because of Lieberman's policies (not just his support for the war in Iraq but for his social conservatism and for his willingness to allow things like bankruptcy reform and the Samuel Alito nomination to pass) I was actually more concerned with Lieberman's attitude towards this race. Lieberman acted as if he was entitled to his Senate seat. He defended that seat in 2000, even as he ran for vice president. In 2006, his party nominated another candidate and he said he would not let that election stand. Today, Lieberman made good on his promise and he did not let the will of his primary voters stand. His tactics against Lamont were dirty, even by the standards of a hard-fought election. He paid people to harass Lamont to the point that Lamont couldn't make campaign stops. Lieberman accused his wealthy opponent of pouring personal money into the race even as he tapped his own, sizeable, campaign coffers that had been stuffed with money by corporate and even wildly conservative donors. Lieberman even didn't seem to mind that the Republican party and it's national leaders like president Bush refused to endorse the Republican candidate in the race and preferred to use Lieberman as a Republican proxy.

Lieberman has promised to caucus with the Democrats in the Senate. I sure hope he keeps that promise. The Senate will, no matter who wins it, be so tightly divided that any one member will be able to make a major difference. The Democrats need two seats to take control of the Senate right now. I really do worry that Lieberman will caucus with Republicans in order to give them control, or that he'll caucus with Democrats but will continue to be a Republican ally so that even a Democratic majority won't really matter. Lieberman has already said that he now feels liberated and when asked how "indepedent" he'll be in this term has said, "just watch me." I feel that, after watching Lieberman vote for cloture on the bankruptcy bill while knowing it would pass, or after him refusing to fillibuster the Alito nomination while knowing he would be confirmed, that I've already watched Lieberman's "indepedence." Ever since his failed bid for the White House in 2004, and perhaps dating back to his failed run with Al Gore in 2000, I've watched the "independent" Lieberman and I've seen somebody who seems to be working hardest for the Republican agenda. I don't want to watch more of that. But, it seems I'll have to.

I am really dissapointed in the lack of Democratic support for Ned Lamont. Heroes like Wesley Clark and Connecticut's senior senator, Chris Dodd, actively supported Lamont as the party's rightful nominee. But where was Bill Clinton, the most influential Democrat in the country? Where was Hillary, the former First Lady who deserves a spot alongside Susan B. Anthony for being the first First Lady to win a seat in the Senate? Heck, where was the supposedly revitalized Al Gore, who should know Lieberman better than anybody? Where was New York Senator Chuck Shumer, who runs the party committee that is meant to get Democratic candidates elected to the senate? Seems to me that a lot of prominent Democrats gave verbal endorsements to Lamont right after he won the primary but that they failed to really work for Lamont after that had offered their platitudes.

That, to me, is the real tragedy. There's a definite sense, in American politics, that a candidate can't win a major election unless he's really party of the machine that either the Republicans or the Democrats have built up. In his independent bid, Lieberman quite effectively argued that elections should be about the country, rather than the party. It went unnoticed that Lieberman only made that argument after his party's voters kicked him to the curb.

But, as I said early on here -- I don't believe that our two-party system is healthy. I've never believed it was healthy, and I've run the gamut of political opinion in my own life (I've been a rabid conservative, a radical liberal and everything in between) so I really don't have a lot of love for either camp and I've supported third parties for a long time.

Lieberman's victory, however, is not a triumph for third party candidates in general. Lieberman only left his party when it failed to serve his own interests and ambitions. He didn't leave for philosophical reasons.

I'm overjoyed to see that America's discontent with both the war in Iraq and the Bush economy has led to a repudiation in the form of a Democratic house and a possibly Demcoratic senate. But Lamont's loss, I think, bodes ill for our democracy at large.

Lamont's loss suggests that even a candidate who is wealthy enough that he can't be outspent and who has already beaten his opponent in a primary, can still not unseat a long-time senator. That's a bad, bad, thing. It suggests that political power, once an individual attains it, is an unbeatable asset. That's too bad. Our democratic republic was meant to function on the notion that even the most familiar people's representative can be ousted.

I can't close without blaming Lamont a little bit. Lamont managed to inspire people to work for him and those people propelled Lamont to a primary victory that, at the outset, most observers dismissed as an impossibility. Those people then brought Lamont to within 4 points of beating a senator who has held his post for 18 years. But, Lamont made a mistake, I think, by relying too heavily on his supporters. Lamont was a first time candidate, up against a seasoned pro, and he did well. But not well enough. I think he relied on his supporters and cheerleaders too much, and failed to make his mark as an individual. I can rather easily forgive that as a rookie's mistake, but that doesn't change the outcome.

Putting policy aside and putting the broader ramifications of tonight's election aside, I really believed that Lamont beating Lieberman was an important objective in the fight to restore American democracy. It was, after all, as pure as you'll see in any election, the story of an outsider challenging an established office holder. That Joe "The Establishment" Lieberman won really depresses me. It's shaken my faith in an outsider's chances in a modern American election.

That said, let's end on a high note. Lamont inspired a lot of new voters and he inspired a lot of people (particularly the young and the technology-literate) to get active in a state-level campaign. Lamont's ability to inspire such support is especially noteworthy in the context of a mid-term election that is so tight that many partisans would otherwise have been willing to ignore Lieberman's Republican-enabling in order to focus their energies on races that had actual Republican seats at stake. Lamont managed to take a real fight to Lieberman in an election where, it could be argued, that all internal differences within the Democratic party should have been ignored in favor of knocking Republicans (and only true, registered Republicans) out of government. Lamont started out as a dark horse, perhaps even as a vanity candidate, and he became a real threat to entrenched power. Lieberman started the race as perhaps not the most popular Democratic office-holder, but as a Democrat nonetheless who was not the right guy to challenge while there were so many active, vocal, and committed Bush supporters already in office.

But Ned beat Lieberman in the primary. He got within 4 points in the general. He also made Democratic Bush enablers an issue in this year's elections.

When forced to form, join, and run the fan club for the "Connecticut for Lieberman party," Lieberman suddenly started speaking as if he's a man above party-politics and, like any good third-party candidate will, Lieberman railed against the political alienation that troubles average citizens from both parties every day. But Lieberman only did that because it was his only way to remain in the halls of power. What Lamont did, and this is an accomplishment that I believe will be ignored but that shouldn't be ignored, was to make policy choices (sometimes minute choices) into an issue for this election. Lieberman might go on saying that he's "liberated," and that his victory is proof that Americans want independence from the parties, but it's Lamont that fought the good fight that enabled such issues to be discussed.

In the general election, Lieberman was neither the underdog nor the outsider, even if he now claims he was both. Lamont was the underdog and Lamont was the outsider. I'm sad he lost, because I think it would have been healthy for America is the underdog outsider had won. A Lamont victory would have put every career politician on notice. His loss, I fear, has put them at ease.

So... Ned lost. I'm sad and even a little angry. But, he lost.

Still, the man came damned close and he did it against all of the odds. Let's not allow the entrenched fat cats to forget just how close Ned Lamont came to overthrowing a senator who has been in office so long that he seems to think of his post as a divine right.

I remember when Ross Perot ran and lost. I remember the run-up and Perot's height of fame and influence, and I remember that he was, for a moment, "the next big thing." But, he lost. He ran again, four years later. He had influence still, but it had waned. He lost a second time. Then, he was forgotten and relegated to the dust bins of history. He was an outsider who showed up, peaked, and declined. That he altered the outcome of 2 general presidential elections has been forgotten. I'm not saying I'd have ever wanted Perot to be president. I'm just saying that he made a mark. We've since forgotten that mark and it's now rarely mentioned (except in self-serving ways). After Perot, Ralph Nader did the same. Also twice. Also forgotten.

Joe Lieberman was not the outsider. He was not the dark horse. Lamont was. And Lamont came damned close. Let's not forget the guy over the next ten years. He fell short of victory, yeah. But the man made a point, not so much about Iraq or the economy or the judiciary, but abbout how an outsider can effectivel challenge, and even attack, the entrenched players in American politics.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A little on Ned Lamont

I haven't written about this in awhile, but I'm still hoping to see Ned Lamont (Democrat) unseat Senator Joe Lieberman (Connecticut for Lieberman). Lamont is trailing in the polls. If Lieberman wins, expect him to serve a final term with a vengeance, if he doesn't accept a cabinet appointment from Bush instead. Lieberman will call himself an "independent thinker," but he'll really be the same Bush enabler that he's been since failing to become vice president in 2000. Actually, he'll be worse.

If Lieberman wins, I blame Bill and Hillary Clinton. Neither of them campaigned for Ned Lamont. They both endorsed him, sure, and Hillary loaned him a strategist, but neither of them went to Connecticut to stand by the Democratic nominee. They should be ashamed of themselves.

A Clinton visit really could have given Lamont a boost. Why did the Big Dog fail to go bark in Lieberman's yard? Why should we forgive either Bill or Hillary for failing to stand by the Democratic candidate who needed their help? I'll tell you this much, whether Ned wins or loses, Hillary doesn't get my vote in the 2008 primary. If she wins and heads to the general election, I'll vote for her. But she's sacrificed my primary vote by failing to stand up against the odious senator from Connecticut.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

You vote, we ignore

I don't think that any serious thinker can deny that the current midterm elections are a referendum on our strategy in Iraq. If there are major upheavals, and it looks as if there will be, it's pretty much incumbent on the White House to reconsider our Iraq strategy if only because most Americans no longer support "staying the course."

But on ABC's "This Week," Vice President Dick Cheney crawled out of his hole to promise that no matter what happens on Tuesday, nothing will change. Host George Stephanopoulos conducted a challenging interview, but he didn't push the Vice President on the "will of the people," issue that's at stake here.

I'm not arguing that wars should be fought by referendum, but they shouldn't be fought without popular support, either. There are a lot of issues at stake in this election. One could certainly argue that the Bush agenda itself is the real issue. But that agenda has pretty much been defined by the Iraq war. Bush and his administration, in fact, are the ones who have defined it that way. The Iraq war is the major issue of this election. Neither Bush or Cheney will ever stand for election again. But that doesn't absolve them of the responsibility to rethink what they're doing when the American people, who they supposedly serve, tell them to do so.

This isn't about a fickle public. Honestly, the American people have given Bush more than a fair chance to get Iraq right. There wasn't widespread anger when the Iraq invasion didn't live up to the cakewalk expectations of the administration. At almost every turn, Americans have allowed Bush the time, leeway, and resources, to fix his own mess. He hasn't done it. Now, over three years since the invasion, the public has lost it's stomach for this adventure. Folks like me were against the war from the start. But more mainstream citizens turned against it slowly, reluctantly, and quite thoughtfully.

The administration owes the American people some deference now. They won't offer it. That's not their way. But it really should be.

I'll end this one by switching from Iraq and making a brief comment about the economy, which Cheney said is "going gangbusters." Cheney cites a low, 4.4% unemployment rate, as proof of a strong economy. Why aren't Republicans getting credit for the economy? Because, while unemployment is low and GDP growth is high, wages have still been stagnant and the American worker has not been rewarded for the incredible productivity that they've been offering. A lot of the big picture numbers have been looking really good, but the gains and strides that those numbers represent have not been distributed throughout the economy. Public companies are still reporting record profits and record cash on their balance sheets but you have to have an office on the executive floor in order to get a record raise. If Republicans want the public at large to credit them for the economy, then they should see to it that the public at large actually benefits. The media should bring up the wage issue every time that a Republican complains that the public isn't giving them enough credit for economic growth.

As you get ready to vote Tuesday...


Courtesy of Wonkette.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Why Lieberman must lose on Tuesday

Here's the reason, from Lieberman's biggest and least thoughtful proponent.

A vote for Lieberman is a vote for more costly, ill-planned wars.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The military is accountable to no one.

Michelle Malkin puts forward the ridiculous argument that the New York Times should not have published a classified military slide that tells us that our people on the ground believe that the situation is getting worse in Iraq. Wha?

Malkin sees treason.

I see the media doing it's job for once. Malkin needs to understand that this war is being waged in the name of every American. That means we have the right to know whether or not it's going well. She whines about "blabbermouths," but I'm happy to have some information that can be used to hold the people responsible for this war to account.

As Malkin would have it, we're not entitled to real information. We're at war, she says, and I guess that means we just have to trust our leaders to tell us what we need to know, when we need to know it. Heck, it's not like they'd have any interest in keeping bad news classified while releasing favorable news, is there? I can't think of any...

Shut Up, John Kerry

So I have no problem believing that when John Kerry told college students to study hard so that they wouldn't end up getting stuck in Iraq that he meant they should study harder than Bush and his administration so that they wouldn't have bad strategies for bad wars like Iraq. I believe him when he says he wasn't telling the students, "Study hard or you'll end up being combat soldiers." He's released the text of his speech, which supports his version of the story. It sounds like the kind of joke he would tell. In fact, it sounds like the sort of joke that most Democrats (these days) would tell--it's a vaguely funny attack on Bush's intellectual laziness.

But I also don't care that he didn't mean to say what Bush, Cheney, and Republican operatives say that he said. I'm just tired of him staying dumb crap and alienating voters during important elections. He had all of 2004 to do that. It should be out of his system by now.

After Al Gore botched a Presidential election, he went on to do something useful, productive, and urgent. John Kerry should do that. Or just keep quiet for a while.