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Saturday, December 20, 2003

Center Cut

Matt Yglesias is right when he says:

Everyone must read David Brooks' column and come to the realization that either Brooks is lying to us, or else administration sources are lying to Brooks. The program that Brooks describes sounds reasonable enough, but this bundle of proposals is, in fact, designed to accomplish something rather different. The idea is to shelter from taxation various savings and investment schemes that will provide a minor level of help to average middle class folks. At the same time, however, there will be no caps on the quantity of money that can be thereby sheltered.

The result is that already-wealthy people will be able to obtain vast quantities of investment-driven income without paying any taxes on it. As John Edwards has been saying -- to little avail -- on the trail, the idea is to move from a society that rewards work to one that rewards wealth.

Of course the Bush administration is finding more ways to shelter wealth from taxes. Is there any economic policy they've produced that isn't designed toward that end?

However, what is interesting about Brooks' piece is the way he frames it politically. I think it is a portent of things to come. The Republicans are going to say they are the natural inheritors of the center because the Democrats have "moved so far to the left." Passage of the bogus prescription drug bill and the schoolvoucher enabling act are calculated to do just that, leaving Democrats kvetching about the Norwood-Dingell details while Republicans bring home a boatload of roast suckling pig.

This "Ownership Society" gambit is another of those slick sell jobs that Americans love to buy into since it gives them an illusion of guaranteed upward mobility by dint of their own special talent and superior moral values. Most people would rather hear that, I'm afraid, than hear that they are a bunch of rubes who've been sold down the river by a rich, elitist snake oil salesman. It will take a serious economic catastrophe to get people to admit that their belief in the "low-taxes-will-make-you-rich" American Dream was a scam.

And the GOP base is going to love calling themselves centrist because it is a validation of their belief that they are the "mainstream."

It's the usual Orwellian Up-Is-Down GOP projection, but it could work. While hard core partisans on both sides are mostly team players who have made a blanket decision to back their party's interpretation of events, the majority of swing voters, in my view, are not interested enough or have enough time to sort out this kind of cognitive dissonance (unless they are faced with a personal crisis that forces them to.) Instead they rely on an instinctive barometer of a politician's temperament and image to determine if they are strong or weak, extreme or moderate, candid or secretive, honorable or base, elitist or common.

If an incumbent seems to manifest a preponderance of positive character traits, and the country isn't in obvious crisis, they will tend to preserve the status quo if they see it as moderate and sensible. This is even more likely during a time of "war" when a sitting president can make a case for continuity on security grounds. Most importantly, in Rove's calculation, these are the types of people for whom politics is "TV with the sound turned off." Image becomes substance, hence the unsubtle brainwashing techniques of the repetitive phrases behind Junior's head as he speaks to wildly adoring crowds.

If the ground game is going to mean anything besides getting a larger popular vote margin in blue states it will be in one on one encounters, calm and reasonable in tone, in which Democrats engage swing voters in close swing states and whittle away at Bush's image without turning him into a caricature that rings false to what they see on television. And, considering that Rove is going to spend huge amounts of time and money portraying our nominee to these people as an emotionally unstable extremist Real Player (which none of them actually are) I believe that we will have to make a serious effort to sell our guy, whoever he is, to these swing voters as someone who is steady, level-headed and in control.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Bouncing Baby Bush

There is a lot of good stuff over on Donkey Rising these days.

This enthusiastic post praises Michael Tomasky's excellent and thought provoking article about the excitement of the Dean campaign revitalizing the Democratic Party. It also raises some important questions about a realistic electoral strategy that will win the general election. This post is a must read on the subject, as well.

His post today examines the ephemeral nature of the repeated Bush War bounces. My theory is that he's a 50% president whose approval rating goes up whenever he gets to go on TV and act like Barney Fife on viagra. Any politician who got that much drooling infatuation from the media would go up in the polls. RoveCo held the Saddam capture story for 14 hours admitting they wanted to "manage the announcement" and the press loved them all the more for it. Tabloid pics, spoon fed "facts", good ratings. Now, that's the kind of story our Kewl Kidz love.

On the other hand, Karl Rove may be good at managing the timely bounce but he sure screwed up with that aircraft carrier stunt, didn't he? He ain't perfect.

Disavowal Movement

From my E-mail bag:


You must have heard about the ad attacking Howard Dean’s foreign policy experience. If you haven’t here is the link.

Are you prepared to publicly disavow this smear campaign as you asked Howard Dean to disavow Ted Rall? If you are not prepared to do this you might as well sign on to the Bush campaign.

You have been very critical of Al Gore’s endorsement with your rant that his message of unity was undemocratic. This ad is the result of your position. The circular firing squad is in place and you are holding the gun.


Just a small point, but if we Democrats are forming a circular firing squad then, by definition, Mr. X is also holding a gun on me. I’m just saying…

Now, about this disavowal business. I was away for a few days and didn’t quite know what to make of this demand.

Regarding my alleged request that Howard Dean disavow Rall, I thought it was possible that Mr. X was confusing me with Instapundit because of our similar traffic stats, influence and public profile. (It happens all the time.) He was the one who demanded a disavowal of Ted Rall way back when:

The antiwar left -- if it wants to be taken seriously, which is at best an open question -- should disavow the likes of Rall. But it won't, because too many of its supporters agree with him.

If I recall, that statement set off quite a brouhaha. I swear on my autographed copy of “Profiles In Courage” that I had nothing to do with it .

Then I thought maybe he really believed I was a Republican in sheep’s clothing. After all Senator Bill Frist recently issued a disavowal demand:

Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called on the author of the memo -- which laid out a possible Democratic strategy to extend the investigation to include the White House and executive branch -- to "identify himself or herself . . . disavow this partisan attack in its entirety" and deliver "a personal apology" to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence.

(Just in case anyone is worried, I completely and totally disavow that demand for Democratic disavowal but I refuse to disavow the Democratic disavowel of … what was I disavowing again?)

I still couldn’t quite figure out what was really going on so I looked at the ad and then realized that all Democrats were asked to disavow it, as this angry blogger wrote:

And every Democrat who fails to disavow this ad and that man- you can go fuck yourself too.

Ooops. Never mind. That’s John Cole demanding that Democrats disavow a Kucinich ad. I ‘m pretty sure that I’m not supposed to disavow it, but I can’t be sure. I’ll disavow it later if necessary.

I looked around and realized what was going on. Some top bloggers sent an open letter to John Kerry asking him to disavow the ad because one of Kerry’s former professional political operatives was involved in it.

I was prepared to completely disavow any affiliation with the Kerry campaign or anyone who has ever been a member of the Kerry campaign until I read this:

Joe Trippi, in a letter to Gephardt on Wednesday, demanded that the Missouri congressman disclose whether he is associated with Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values…"It's just a little too much of a coincidence here," Trippi said in a conference call with reporters. "That the campaign was totally in the dark is laughable."

At that point I was going to drop this whole disavowal thing because I couldn’t keep straight who or what I was disavowing --- until Dr Dean himself weighed in:

DEAN: They've got these Washington Democrats who think that's going to win elections. It's not going to win elections. It doesn't help Democrats. And I think the people behind it ought to be not only be ashamed of themselves, I think they ought to remove themselves from the party.

Yow. I knew then what Mr X was getting at. I had better disavow what I was supposed to disavow or risk having to “remove myself from the party.”

To that end I have taken an all around oath that I’m hoping will cover all contingencies:

I swear by God and Holy Mary and by the sign of the cross and the words of the holy gospels, that I will favor and defend and assist the holy Catholic faith and the Holy Inquisition, its officers and ministers, and that I will declare and discover all heretics whatsoever, abettors, defenders, and concealers of them, disturbers and obstructers of the said Holy Office, and that I will not give them favor, nor help, nor concealment; but that immediately that I know them I will reveal and denounce them to the senors inquisitors; and should I act differently may God so punish me as those deserve who willfully perjure themselves."

Oh wait. That’s not the one I was looking for. Here it is:

I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of “Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values,” nor do I know or have I ever known anyone who is.

I must regretfully confess, however, that I laughed at the ad in question when I saw it because I thought it was a Saturday Night Live parody. I assumed that everyone would find it equally absurd. But, I now disavow my laughter. I realize that bad, ineffective advertising is a serious threat to the Party.

I hope that Mr. X and all those who have had occasion to question my commitment to the Party, blogging and the American Way will be satisfied with this statement. But do keep me posted on further disavowalments. You can count on me. I’ll name names.

Update: I should know by now to always read The Poorman.

Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead

What an exciting few days it's been. Evil-doer extraordinaire Saddam Hussein was captured. This is a very good thing for the Iraqi people and a very good thing for the Bush campaign. You can always tell it is a good thing for the Iraqi people when they start shooting guns off in the streets in celebration. You can always tell it's a good thing for the Bush administration when they allow Commander Codpiece out in public to strut and blather smugly about holes and caves and such. (If I'm not mistaken he had to adjust himself more than once during his triumphal press conference. Kate O'Beirne was noticeably flushed.)

Will this make a difference in the campaign? Of course. One of our best attack lines "...can't even find Saddam" is now inoperative. And the companion "Osama bin Forgotten" line is treading on thin ice, too. You never know when they might trot him out and make you look like an ass. But, since I think this campaign is going to be a death match with the advantage going back and forth several times ending with the predicted close election dependent on turn-out and persuading a handful of swing voters in close swing states, I doubt that catching Saddam will be decisive.

Unfortunately, however, it doesn't do much to change the fact that the Democratic party is perceived as far weaker on national security and foreign policy than the GOP. Judging from the reaction of the press to the capture of Saddam, and Wolf Blitzer's appearance on Entertainment Tonight last Monday assuring viewers that the trial will be "the best show of the year," I think we can be pretty sure that the servile media is going to actively help Bush's traveling salvation show with everything they've got. War is good television and Bush is going to be starring as Master And Commander of the Pax Americana no matter how much we try to change the subject.

It's possible, of course, that something terrible could happen to change the dynamic. The economy could take a serious nose dive. We could have another terrorist attack. Bush could be caught on tape snorting coke with his brother Neil and a 12 year old Thai hooker. But hope, as they say, is not a plan, nor is it decent, humane or liberal to wish for such things. (Well, maybe the last one.)

Barring any of that, I'm afraid that this is going to again be one of those TV sitcom renewal elections. Has the show run its course? Is the new Darren cuter than the old Darren? Has the storyline dried up?

All the signs point to no, so far. The Bush Show ratings go up every time they are able to trot out Lil' Cap'n T-Ball bragging on the might and right of the USA. People love that stuff. 'Specially if it means we kicked some Ay-rab butt. And nobody loves it more than those alienated white male Bush lovers that Buzzflash profiled yesterday in this interview with Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild.

The doctor's diagnosis is convincing, but her prescription needs a little work. She claims that these males can be won over by this "plain spoken" appeal:

Hochschild: "You've been exposed to a giant hoax, and here's what the hoax is. It is offering you a make-believe candied apple with one hand and picking your pocket with the other hand. And take your own feelings back. They're yours. And put them behind a vote for someone who's going to really solve your problems. Set about seriously setting up a domestic agenda that makes a difference to you."

This series of wars that's an imperial stretch into the Middle East -- how does that help the blue-collar man, except for killing his relatives? The Democrats can say that's Bush's war. That's not a U.S. war. It has nothing to do with U.S. security. In fact, it's a whole "tap the hornet's nest" approach to international relations which makes us all a great deal less safe. So tell the blue-collar guy that this is a giant ruse and a scapegoating.


There's been a whole hug-the-middle strategy of the Democratic Leadership Council, and that worked for Clinton. But it's not going to work for anybody after Clinton. I think the Democrats have got to go in the opposite direction -- stop hugging the middle. Get out there behind the issues we really believe in. And I guess along with that we have to enliven a vision of what life would be like if we weren't just privately rich, but rather, all publicly rich. If we really had great schools, and great playgrounds, and great public hospitals, and then there wouldn't be such a desperate scramble to be privately well off.

This is the ultimate thing -- not to be afraid to say there's another America that doesn't leave us hanging, each on our own, and then feeling bad about feeling bad, and that says we can structurally wire it so there aren't failures here. That's the problem we've got to fix -- by providing a vision of an alternative.

See? The way to win over blue collar guys who like Bush because he represents their sense of white male entitlement is to calmly inform the slow but earnest losers that (unlike us smart people) they have been duped by the rich Republicans. Illustrate your point by using 5 year old child metaphors like "make-believe candy apple" so they can understand. Tell them to "take their feelings back" and vote for somebody who's going to "solve their problems." Tell 'em we'll help them to "stop feeling bad about feeling bad."

Or maybe we could just invite the morons to brunch and screen Beaches over mimosas.

I certainly hope that no Democrats are running on the idea of trying to end Americans' "desperate scramble to be privately well off" or saying that we will "structurally wire it so there aren't failures here." I know what she meant, but it might not travel well in a country where even a fair number of its most progressive citizens are willing to see disabled children lose their funding rather than pay a higher registration fee on their BMWs.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Friends In High Places

It's always good to know that important people are reading your blog. I had no idea that I had such influence, but here it is:


By Ted Rall


What if the other Democratic candidates came together at a joint press conference to announce that they were dropping out of the race to endorse Dean? If nothing else, cash-starved states would love it--the average primary costs taxpayers $7 million. More to the point, it would save Dean roughly $75 million--enough to close the money gap with Bush.

A more ephemeral but bigger benefit would be the message that a unified Democratic party could send to the electorate. Canceling the primaries would convey that Democrats are no longer a clumsy amalgamation of special interests. We're organized, it would say.

Cancelling elections to save money and send a message of unity is such a good idea. But, you know, it might be better to utton-bay your ips-lay lest the GOP get the same idea about the general election. Course, it's pretty hard to pull that off. Even Saddam had to at least stage elections in order to pretend to have some democratic legitimacy. Maybe we could get Diebold to rig one of those on-line polls for us. That would save money AND allow us to argue that we shouldn't cancel elections as a matter of principle.

Rich or poor, black or white, liberal or conservative, anyone who loves America must set aside their usual biases and prejudices to open their eyes to the truth: Bush is not just a Republican. Not only is his radical "neoconservative" Administration illegitimate, it is neofascist.

Patriots must support the candidate with the best chance of defeating him, whoever he is. That man is Howard Dean.

I've been thinking about this for a while myself. Knowing all we know about George W. Bush, it is not only selfish to support anyone other than Howard Dean. It is, I'm afraid, unpatriotic.

In fact, if I'm not mistaken, I think I see a 5th column forming from within the Democratic party. Ted doesn't come out and say it, but I will. The taint of treason will cling to any candidate who doesn't drop out right now.

The outcome of the Democratic primaries is now a foregone conclusion. Why should Dean and his fellow Democrats waste more than $100 million between them--some estimates rise as high as $150 million--to beat each other up over relatively minor differences of policy and tone? The DNC ought to read the business pages. Ours is an age of monopoly and amalgamation. Bigger wins over better except when better happens to also be big. Divided Democrats can't beat unified Republicans.

Rumor has it that Ralph Nader (news - web sites), whom I respect deeply as a man of integrity and intelligence and for whom I voted in 1996 and 2000, is mulling over another run. Nader should take a pass this time. Just this once, let's pull the left together. We can go back to tearing each other apart in December '04. I promise.

This is a man who knows what he is talking about, so I urge all of the candidates to listen to him. His record proves that he has a keen sense of political strategy and I have no doubt that he is on the right side of history this time too.

Update: Let me make this perfectly clear once and for all. I do not give a flying fuck that Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean. The entire Clinton Gore administration along with Tony Blair and Fidel Castro could endorse him and I wouldn't care. Endorsements are ALWAYS part of the primaries, folks. Take your complaints to that asshole Richard Cohen. I'm making a different argument.

Neither do I hate Al Gore or Howard Dean. I like both of them. And I like Bill Clinton and I like Teddy Kennedy and I like John Edwards. I am a Democrat. Not only will I vote for Dean if he gets the nomination, I will vote for Joe Lieberman if he gets it and I can't stand the guy. I think I am aware of the danger Bush presents.

I could not resist posting this Rall piece because it is seriously promoting something I set forth as satire just 2 days ago. I thought that was particularly ironic coming from a Naderite, but it also reflects a bit of the unpleasantness I've come across recently whenever I write about the primary. I keep getting a whiff of absolutism that I don't think is very productive. I suspect that I am dealing with some young people who are caught up in the moment so I don't pay a whole lot of attention to it.

But, Ted Rall is not a naive young person and his words about patriotism are just as offensive as when the Republicans do it. Democrats can at least agree about that, don't you think?

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Virtual Democracy

I’d like to officially congratulate Howard Dean for winning the nomination of the Democratic party for President of the United States. It was a hard fought campaign, one in which all of the issues were discussed and engaged in great depth with the internet party faithful. All the candidates had a chance to make their case on-line and the best man won. Now, with Al Gore’s dispensation, we can concentrate on beating George W. Bush.

First on the agenda is figuring out how we can expand our new formula of “winning without elections” to the race at large. If we want to take our country back and empower the grassroots again it is clear that our best strategy is to dispense with the unpredictability of democratic elections. As our recent primary taught us, this is the way we can most effectively avoid the unpleasantness of persuading the large numbers of people who aren’t sufficiently internet savvy to know what is good for them. And if there’s one thing Al Gore knows it’s that voting is a uniquely unreliable method of determining the winner.

The question is how to expand this exciting new paradigm to the general election. What mechanism should we use to decide who should be our next president?

Clearly, polling cannot be used. After all, if people had mistakenly read the numbers today, they could have misinterpreted them as saying that our winner has not even persuaded more than 20% of his own party to vote for him. Why, if we had used those polls, some Democrats might have even made the error of thinking that the race wasn’t over. That would be confusing to many citizens who might get the wrong idea and think that it might matter if they vote for someone other than the one who has been properly anointed. That would defeat our purpose entirely.

The best way to expand our new electionless democracy would be to simply use the tried and true methods of internet activism, political endorsements, the infallible media pronouncements of “inevitability” and raising large amounts of cash. These are the proper measures of a candidate’s fitness for office and surely represent the will of the people better than the archaic practice of actual voting.

We can call it “Virtual Democracy” and run our entire campaign as one super cool internet blogfest polling operation. As yesterdays Pew Center’s in-depth polling of the Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries show:

The Internet is also becoming a tool of the primary campaigns in these states. Significant minorities of voters in Iowa (27%) and New Hampshire (22%) have sent or received e-mails about the candidates or campaigns, and more than one-in-five in both states have visited candidate web sites.

It’s phenomenal! 22% of the roughly 160,000 Democratic voters in New Hampshire have sent or received e-mails about the campaigns. And more than 32,000 of them have visited campaign web-sites!

At last we can lay to rest that awful charge that we internet junkies (and the media) are living in an echo chamber in which we mistakenly believe that our political beliefs accurately reflect the nation’s. Those numbers say it all. Clearly, we grassroots activists of the internet (along with party pooh bahs and the media) represent the majority of voters and are very well qualified to take the reins of democracy and decide the presidency all on our own.

Of course, the big problem is getting the Republicans to go along with the plan. I worry that they might not agree that this is the best way since they’ve got plans to spend upwards of 200 million dollars on get out the vote efforts. It could be a problem. But, if we continue to grow our internet presence, it might make a difference. After all, the Republicans’ greatest weakness is their deep desire to appeal to cool people like us. They won’t be able to resist joining our Virtual Election.

Let’s just hope they don’t stab us in the back and spend their entire war chest on TV commercials. Unfortunately, our anointed candidate has spent more than any candidate in history on TV in Iowa and hasn’t been able to break away from the pack decisively in those irrelevant polls. (He is battling with that charismatic heartthrob Dick Gephardt, so that partially explains it.) But, I do worry that his ultimate coolness might not come through as well on television as we might like.

Which is all the more reason to embrace Virtual Democracy. We will never have to worry about such shallow considerations again when we ultra-hip internet geeks take control of the electoral system. As John Kerry would say, “Fuck the voters!”

UPDATE: For the record, I love Al Gore and I think he got sandbagged by somebody in the Dean campaign who couldn't resist leaking the information and ended up makin Al look like an asshole for not calling Lieberman. Sometimes, the guy just breaks my heart.

I think he has a perfect right to endorse Dean whenever he wanted to. But, I object strenuously to certain assumptions he and the media are making that are backed up by no empirical evidence:

Howard Dean really is the only candidate who has been able to inspire, at the grassroots level all over this country, the kind of passion and enthusiasm for democracy and change and transformation of America that we need in this country.

The only place that Deans "passion and enthusiasm for democracy" has demonstrated itself is in New Hampshire, the state next door to his own. Everywhere else, the race is still very close and mostly within the margin of error. There is simply no evidence beyond fundraising that Dean is running a movement that can sweep the country. Indeed, 80% of Democrats outside New Hampshire --- an historically eccentric state to say the least --- are either unpersuaded or haven't yet begun to pay attention.

The media always get ahead of themselves with these horse race stories, but it's foolish to do so ourselves. I'll wait until we get a little bit closer than 6 weeks before the election to decide who's won and lost. I'll probably even wait for some actual voters to weigh in.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Curses, Foiled Again

Atrios and Center for American Progress both have nice lists of George W. Bush using naughty words in public, but it's unfair to single out the President when many of his closest associates are guilty of the same things:

Inside, Rove was talking to an aide about some political stratagem in some state that had gone awry and a political operative who had displeased him. I paid it no mind and reviewed a jotted list of questions I hoped to ask. But after a moment, it was like ignoring a tornado flinging parked cars. "We will fuck him. Do you hear me? We will fuck him. We will ruin him. Like no one has ever fucked him!"

Then there's this one:

Al Franken: "Clinton’s military did pretty well in Iraq, huh?"
Paul Wolfowitz: "Fuck you."

Of course, there is the classic by the famous Bush fixer, and recent appointee, James Baker who said:

"Fuck the Jews. They don't vote for us anyway."

Those family values Republicans certainly are potty mouths, aren't they?

But, then with GOP pretty babies like Lucianne Goldberg saying elegant things like this, they do seem rather tame by comparison...

Sunday, December 07, 2003


David Niewert points to this funny article about the Michigan GOP asking supporters to give them their Christmas lists and a profile of the voting and religious habits of the people on them. David headlines his post, "The GOP Goes Amway."

The funny thing is that he is literally correct. The Michigan GOP is owned by Amway, and its owners, the DeVoses, own a pretty big piece of the national GOP as well:

For the DeVoses, politics is a family affair. Their son, Richard DeVos Jr., serves as president of Alitcor and chairman of "Restoring the American Dream," a political action committee that supports candidates opposed to the "fundamental coarsening of our culture" and the "erosion of civility and basic decency." The family also invested more than a third of the $12.9 million raised to persuade Michigan voters to divert funds from public schools into private-school vouchers -- a referendum defeated last November by a margin of 2 to 1. And in 1999, the inaugural fundraising event for a new "stealth PAC" called the Republican Majority Issues Committee was held aboard the DeVos family yacht.

The RMIC was founded by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to take advantage of Section 527 of the tax code, which allowed certain campaign contributions to remain secret. The committee, which declared its intention to "identify, educate, and mobilize conservative voters in key House races," was later forced to reveal its contributors after Congress closed the 527 loophole. DeVos donated $150,000 to the group, which ran ads in Utah last October attacking House candidate Jim Matheson for being "gay-friendly."

DeVos and his wife also donate millions to charities -- especially those that promote conservative causes. The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation handed out $95.1 million between 1990 and 1997, with nearly a third of the money going to support organizations that espouse Christian values. But the couple doesn't give to homeless shelters and food banks, saying the poor should raise themselves out of poverty. "I don't want to make 'em too comfortable there," DeVos told the Grand Rapids Press. "I want them to get a little desperate to go out and find their way out of it."

The DeVoses know their way around a good MLM scam and have put their money where their mouths are in the GOP. The party itself has now been converted to a Ponzi scheme.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Clean Break

TAPPED links to this interesting TAP article about the economic plans of Benjamin Netanyahu and the potential general strike in Israel.

...But Netanyahu has refused to fade from public view, using his new post to advocate sweeping economic reforms modeled on the initiatives of Ronald Reagan. His plans include proposals to privatize government-owned services (such as the Israeli electric, water and telephone companies), reduce the number of public-sector personnel, slash social-welfare programs, reform government pensions and cut tax rates for the wealthiest Israelis.

Actually, it is clear that while they may be political enemies of sorts, Netanyahu and Sharon (along with Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith et al) may just be working off of the same playlist --- the "Clean Break" document that some believe underlies the current US and Israeli "strategy" toward the middle east and which was prepared by those wacky neocons for Netanyahu in 1996 . Most people are aware of the security aspects of the document but I've not heard many people discuss the economic prescriptions contained therein:

As outlined in another Institute report, Israel can become self-reliant only by, in a bold stroke rather than in increments, liberalizing its economy, cutting taxes, relegislating a free-processing zone, and selling-off public lands and enterprises — moves which will electrify and find support from a broad bipartisan spectrum of key pro-Israeli Congressional leaders, including Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

That is just a mildly intriguing little sidenote but then I read this post by Ezra over on pandagon giving a high five to the Bush administration for allowing Powell to meet with the virtual peace planners. He notices this:

An aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites) suggested earlier that Washington would be interfering in domestic politics by giving a Washington stage to the Geneva initiators, fanning a rare public row between Israel and its closest ally.

Ezra then says:

I guess they can stop accepting our aid or something, but other than that, a public row can only hurt Sharon. America's position is really far stronger than one would think, considering how little Bush pushes Sharon. The Europeans don't like him, Americans want to see their President push hard for peace, Israel is very dependent upon our aid, and they offer little in return. They're so controversial that we can't even launch many military operations from there, so really, we hold all the cards but Sharon's bluff somehow keeps winning. This time, it failed. Props to the President and the Geneva Accord authors, it's about time people started talking about peace again.

When I read that I was once more was reminded of the “Clean Break” document and who was making the break from whom:

Forging A New U.S.-Israeli Relationship

In recent years, Israel invited active U.S. intervention in Israel’s domestic and foreign policy for two reasons: to overcome domestic opposition to "land for peace" concessions the Israeli public could not digest, and to lure Arabs — through money, forgiveness of past sins, and access to U.S. weapons — to negotiate. This strategy, which required funneling American money to repressive and aggressive regimes, was risky, expensive, and very costly for both the U.S. and Israel, and placed the United States in roles is should neither have nor want.

Israel can make a clean break from the past and establish a new vision for the U.S.-Israeli partnership based on self-reliance, maturity and mutuality — not one focused narrowly on territorial disputes. Israel’s new strategy — based on a shared philosophy of peace through strength — reflects continuity with Western values by stressing that Israel is self-reliant, does not need U.S. troops in any capacity to defend it, including on the Golan Heights, and can manage its own affairs. Such self-reliance will grant Israel greater freedom of action and remove a significant lever of pressure used against it in the past.

To reinforce this point, the Prime Minister can use his forthcoming visit to announce that Israel is now mature enough to cut itself free immediately from at least U.S. economic aid and loan guarantees at least, which prevent economic reform. [Military aid is separated for the moment until adequate arrangements can be made to ensure that Israel will not encounter supply problems in the means to defend itself]. As outlined in another Institute report, Israel can become self-reliant only by, in a bold stroke rather than in increments, liberalizing its economy, cutting taxes, relegislating a free-processing zone, and selling-off public lands and enterprises — moves which will electrify and find support from a broad bipartisan spectrum of key pro-Israeli Congressional leaders, including Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

Israel can under these conditions better cooperate with the U.S. to counter real threats to the region and the West’s security. Mr. Netanyahu can highlight his desire to cooperate more closely with the United States on anti-missile defense in order to remove the threat of blackmail which even a weak and distant army can pose to either state. Not only would such cooperation on missile defense counter a tangible physical threat to Israel’s survival, but it would broaden Israel’s base of support among many in the United States Congress who may know little about Israel, but care very much about missile defense. Such broad support could be helpful in the effort to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

I’d hate to think that our spectacularly failed neocon thinktank intellectuals still have the power to orchestrate the conditions that might bring their mideast strategy to fruition.

They can’t get away with that, can they?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Want Ads

Send Susan at Suburban Guerrilla a nice little paypal stocking stuffer today. And while you're at it, send a nice little note to Tom DeLay telling him how much you appreciate the fact that he's personally ensuring that tens of thousands of unemployed people will be cut off the unemployment rolls in the last week of December.

It's nice to see that Tom Scully won't be having any problems finding a job. He's being courted by at least five companies he was dealing with during the medicare battle --- two weeks ago.

This is a novel approach to finding a new job and one that I would recommend highly now that all laws and rules pertaining to corruption have apparently been repealed. The next time you find yourself in charge of a project at work, tell certain sub-contractors and interested outside parties that you are looking for a new high paying position just as soon as the project is completed. Make sure these contractors are more than amply compensated and then let all the companies know that your old employer is so grateful that you got the project done on time that they will continue to reward whichever company hires you. This will set off a bidding war for your services and you'll be able to leverage your success into a hugely lucrative new job.

One little caveat, however. Many employers, unlike the US government, may actually be upset that you've just screwed them royally and may not be so happy to reward you with an ongoing relationship. It would probably be best to do this only if your company is being run by a bunch of mafiosi types who have no responsibility to shareholders and are only using the company as a front for their criminal enterprise.

But, still. It's worth a try. Ethics are for losers.

Let's Put On A Show Trial!

Military practices a mock tribunal : "The U.S. military has held a dress rehearsal of planned tribunals for al Qaeda and Taliban combatants, complete with a defendant who acted up and had to be restrained and ejected. "

Apparently, it didn't play well out of town so they had to replace some of the cast:

US fires Guantanamo defence team: "A team of military lawyers recruited to defend alleged terrorists held by the US at Guantanamo Bay was dismissed by the Pentagon after some of its members rebelled against the unfair way the trials have been designed, the Guardian has learned.

And some members of the new legal defence team remain deeply unhappy with the trials - known as 'military commissions' - believing them to be slanted towards the prosecution and an affront to modern US military justice."

C'mon people! We've got a show opening in ... well, someday.

One, two, three KICK!

Links via Center For American Progress

Ooops, He Did It Again

As hard as it is to believe, John-Boy Bolton just yesterday reitereated Wes Clark's hallucinatory statement about the administration's willingness to commit the nation to WWIII:

"The Bush administration on Tuesday defended its strategy of pre-emptive action against Iraq - even while admitting that US intelligence had been imperfect - and warned that the US was ready to use all options against five other 'rogue states'.

John Bolton, under-secretary of state for arms control and international security, singled out Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya and Cuba as being 'hostile to US interests' during a speech in Washington. Mr Bolton, known as a hardliner, also cautioned negotiating partners in Asia and Europe that the US remained sceptical over efforts to induce North Korea and Iran to abide by nuclear safeguard commitments, amid reluctance to take firmer action."

Does Bolton speak for the administration?

To his supporters, Mr. Bolton is a truth teller, a policy innovator who is liberated enough from the department's clubby confines to speak his mind, even at the risk of upsetting diplomatic strategies. He is also said to be a favorite of the president.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Tin Foil General

Oh Jeez. Here’s another article about Wes Clark, this time coming from the Weekly Standard, in which he’s portrayed as delusional (if not "turtlesque") for saying that he had heard that the Pentagon was drawing up plans for Iran, Syria and other mideast countries in the fall of 2002.

Yeah. This is a real shocker all right. Why in the world would anyone believe such a thing?

November 5, 2001

As George W. Bush has cast the battle as a war against terrorism wherever it may be, Wolfowitz and others have reportedly argued that this approach necessitates taking the fight not just to Iraq but to Syria and Lebanon--which would please the Israelis to no end.

February 12, 2002

In a meeting with U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton yesterday, Sharon said that Israel was concerned about the security threat posed by Iran, and stressed that it was important to deal with Iran even while American attention was focused on Iraq.

Bolton said in meetings with Israeli officials that he had no doubt America would attack Iraq, and that it would be necessary thereafter to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea.

February 25, 2002

After Saddam Hussein is ousted, United States foreign policy plans call for regime change in Iran, Libya and Syria, reports World Tribune.com.

Intensifying concerns of Arab leaders who feel caught between a rock and a hard place over the issue of war against Iraq, a U.S. official told Arab journalists the tactic would differ for each country, but the end result would be the same – democracy throughout the Arab world.

"Change is needed in all those three countries, and a few others besides," Richard Perle told the London-based author and analyst Amir Taheri.

September 2002

Norman Podhoretz in Commentary:
The regimes that richly deserve to be overthrown and replaced are not confined to the three singled-out members of the axis of evil. At a minimum, the axis should extend to Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as "friends" of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, along with the Palestinian Authority, whether headed by Ararat or one of his henchmen.

February 10, 2003

It is understandable that people in positions like Feith's and Cambone's have to speak very carefully. One can, however, get a sense from other sources of at least one version of a remade Middle East. Lately, Washington hawk-watchers have been passing around a document called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," which was written in 1996, by an eight-member committee, as advice for Benjamin Netanyahu, the newly elected Israeli Prime Minister. The head of the committee was Richard Perle, who is probably Washington's leading vocal advocate of regime change in Iraq; another committee member was Douglas Feith. The title refers to a foreign policy for Israel that would deëmphasize the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians and move "to a traditional concept of strategy based on balance of power."

February 20, 2003

In the eyes of the prime minister, the war in Iraq is an opportunity to change the balance of power in the area. Sharon proposes a division of labor: Israel will take care of Arafat. America will smash the sources of Arab power: terrorism, missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Sharon reminds U.S. visitors that a victory in Iraq won't solve all the problems in the region and that Syria, Libya and Iran have to be dealt with. This week, Undersecretary of State John Bolton visited Jerusalem. He's an administration hawk. There was no sign of any difference of views in the conversations he had with his Jerusalem hosts.

April 3, 2003

In the address to a group of college students, Woolsey described the Cold War as the third world war and said "This fourth world war, I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us. Hopefully not the full four-plus decades of the Cold War."

Woolsey has been named in news reports as a possible candidate for a key position in the reconstruction of a postwar Iraq.

He said the new war is actually against three enemies: the religious rulers of Iran, the "fascists" of Iraq and Syria, and Islamic extremists like al Qaeda.

Woolsey told the audience of about 300, most of whom are students at the University of California at Los Angeles, that all three enemies have waged war against the United States for several years but the United States has just "finally noticed."

"As we move toward a new Middle East," Woolsey said, "over the years and, I think, over the decades to come ... we will make a lot of people very nervous."

April 12, 2003

In an interview with editors of the International Herald Tribune, Perle said that the threat posed by terrorists he described as "feverishly" looking for weapons to kill as many Americans as possible obliged the United States to follow a strategy of preemptive war in its own defense.

Asked if this meant it would go after other countries after Iraq, he replied: "If next means who will next experience the 3d Army Division or the 82d Airborne, that's the wrong question. If the question is who poses a threat that the United States deal with, then that list is well known. It's Iran. It's North Korea. It's Syria. It's Libya, and I could go on."

July 16, 2003

U.S. officials said Bolton was prepared to tell members of a House International Relations subcommittee that Syria's development of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons had progressed to where they posed a threat to the region's stability.

The CIA and other intelligence agencies said that assessment was exaggerated, sources said.

Where do these Democratic conspiracy nuts get their ridiculous ideas? Nothing could be more ridiculous than the idea that somebody in the Pentagon was drawing up plans to invade a number of other countries in the mideat after Iraq. General Clark obviously needs medication or worse. He's out of his mind.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Bling Bling

I think I've figured out how Bush plans to lower the unemployment rate in time for the election. It appears that he simply plans to hire all those who are out of work on his campaign. Gawd knows he has the money:

President Bush's reelection team, anticipating another close election, has begun to assemble one of the largest grass-roots organizations of any modern presidential campaign, using enormous financial resources and lack of primary opposition to seize an early advantage over the Democrats in the battle to mobilize voters in 2004.

Bush's campaign has an e-mail list totaling 6 million people, 10 times the number that Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has, and the Bush operation is in the middle of an unprecedented drive to register 3 million new Republican voters. The campaign has set county vote targets in some states and has begun training thousands of volunteers who will recruit an army of door-to-door canvassers for the final days of the election next November.

The entire project, which includes complementary efforts by the Republican National Committee (RNC) and state Republican parties, is designed to tip the balance in a dozen-and-a-half states that both sides believe will determine the winner in 2004.


Given the reality that the president's campaign team cannot control such potentially decisive factors as the economy or events in Iraq, officials are determined to maximize their advantage in areas they can control. Rarely has a reelection committee begun organizing so early or intensively -- or with the kind of determination to hold state party and campaign officials, and their volunteers, accountable for meeting the goals of the Bush team.

In Ohio, for example, more than 70 elected officials and volunteer workers dial into a conference call every other Wednesday at 7 p.m. to report on their efforts to recruit leaders and voters, and to hear updates from Bush's campaign headquarters in Arlington. Roll is called, which initially surprised participants used to less regimented political operations.


Having the biggest presidential campaign treasury ever -- more than $105 million raised already and heading toward $170 million -- and no primary opposition gives Bush the luxury of focusing now on general-election organizing. The RNC and the Bush team have begun planning across a wide range of fronts, even including an analysis of which supporters are likely targets for absentee ballots or early voting, an increasingly critical aspect of turning out the vote.

The Bush campaign not only has started early, but also has set deadlines for developing its organization. In Ohio, there is a Dec. 1 deadline for recruiting county chairmen in the state's 88 counties. In Florida, the first three of a dozen planned training sessions have been held, and two campaign staffers are working out of an office in Tallahassee; county offices -- complete with plenty of lines for phone banks -- are scheduled to open shortly after Jan. 1.

In Iowa, the campaign's state chairman, David M. Roederer, said volunteers have been identified in all 99 counties, and they are working to expand their rosters down to the precinct level.


The Bush campaign will devote a portion of the estimated $170 million it will raise during the primary season to grass-roots organizing, although spending on television ads will still outstrip expenditures for the ground war. Any excess money in the Bush account can be given to the RNC at the time of the national convention next summer for get-out-the-vote efforts for Election Day in November.

The Bush campaign is focused now on building its state organizations, while the national committee is working on a variety of organizing efforts, including voter registration. Registration is important because, at a time when Bush enjoys about 90 percent support from self-identified Republicans, GOP officials believe there is no surer way of producing votes than getting more people registered with the party. The party is registering voters at NASCAR events and naturalization ceremonies, on college campuses and in targeted precincts.

The RNC has set state-by-state goals for registering voters, based on a formula that attempts to determine Bush's maximum potential vote percentage, all with an eye toward turning states that he narrowly lost or won in 2000 into winners next year.

In Oregon, which Bush lost to Al Gore by about 7,000 votes in 2000, the national committee's goal is to register 45,000 GOP voters by next year, enough to provide a cushion in a close election.

Republicans are using several techniques to reach and register voters. In New Hampshire, new homebuyers receive a postcard from the state GOP welcoming them to their neighborhood, explaining the party's historic opposition to higher taxes and urging them to register as Republicans. Party officials follow up with phone calls, often from volunteers in the same community, and next spring will begin going door to door.

In Arkansas, RNC officials recently hosted a breakfast for nearly 100 ministers, outlining ways they can assist parishioners in registering. Party officials plan to follow up by identifying volunteer coordinators in the churches to oversee those efforts.

In Illinois, Republicans have hired field operatives who will concentrate their efforts -- by telephone and sometimes face-to-face -- to identify and register likely GOP voters.

"If you've got a precinct where 50 percent [of registered voters] are Republicans and 30 percent are independents, there's probably gold to be mined in that precinct," said Bob Kjellander, one of 11 regional chairmen for the Bush reelection committee.

The campaign has staged splashy events to announce leadership teams in 16 of its targeted states, usually featuring Mehlman or campaign chairman Marc Racicot. The campaign's ambitions are evident from the depth of the organizations being assembled.

In each county, for example, the Bush operation will include an overall chairman; chairmen for surrogates, volunteers and voter registration; and an "e-chairman," whose responsibility is to communicate with supporters registered with the campaign Web site.

Campaign officials look for specific tasks to keep people involved. Team leaders have been asked to recruit five other team leaders and sign up 10 friends to receive campaign e-mails.

The campaign Web site includes an easy way for supporters to send letters in support of Bush's policies to local newspapers and has generated 28,000 letters since August. At training sessions, campaign workers are urged to help recruit participants for coalitions the campaign plans for teachers, farmers, Hispanics, African Americans, disabled people, law enforcement officials and sportsmen.

I don't want to be the blogosphere's Cassandra about this election. I do believe that the Democrats can win with a smart campaign. But, I am going to keep reminding people of what we are up against.

These guys are desperate to erase Junior's court appointment and win an election legitimately, thereby sealing what they believe to rightly be a permanent majority begun by St. Reagan. They are very, very rich and they are very, very organized. Their plan is refined down to the precinct level and it is nationally coordinated. They have no primary opposition so they will spend the next 9 months concentrating on nothing but the general election. Most importantly, they observe no limits and no rules.

If events of the last few months have taught us anything it's that starry-eyed faith in the cakewalk fantasies of true believers are very dangerous, indeed.

We can win, but we'd better be smart, agile, and prepared to wage this battle with our eyes wide open.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Faith-based Self Defense

Call your congressional representative and tell him or her that you support the President's policy of pre-emptive self-defense...

What a good idea. We can't wait for the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. If they are out to get us, we're going to get them first.

And, how will we know they are out to get us? Why our high tech, superduper, megaspecial, ultraextra intelligence services know when you've been sleeping and know when you're awake, so bad guys had better be good for goodness sake, right?

Well... there's just a teeny, tiny problem:

More than 10 years' work by U.S. and British intelligence agencies on Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons or programs has "major gaps and serious intelligence problems," according to a new study by Anthony H. Cordesman, a Middle East and intelligence expert who is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Although the United States has the world's most sophisticated technical systems for collecting and analyzing intelligence, Cordesman found, the Iraq experience shows that U.S. intelligence is "not yet adequate to support grand strategy and tactical operations against proliferating powers or to make accurate assessments of the need to preempt." link (pdf)

Uh oh. So, the massive intelligence failure of Iraq, a country that the US had been paying extremely close attention to for 12 years, means that we really don't have the capacity to know when a country is planning to attack us. That sure does make that preemptive self-defense thing look dicey, doesn't it? Unless Condi has a really wicked Oija board, I'd have to say the whole pre-emption thing is pretty much a bust and they might want to re-think the whole shebang.

But, then again, the American people know that George W. Bush would never lead them astray so they can trust that when he says that there is a "grave and gathering danger" he knows something they don't. Even if he can't possibly know it and everybody else in the world thinks what he's saying is suspect. Or especially when he really, really wants to do it more than anything because he needs to kick some Arab ass so bad it's just killing him. (Unless he is a Democrat in which case he should be tried for treason if he even thinks about pulling a stunt like this.)

Call your congressman and tell him no uncertain terms that you support this President's policy of faith-based self-defense.

Recipe For Cynicism

Atrios responded before I could to Matt's posts of yesterday about his realization that the Bush administration is not only mendacious, but more stunningly incompetent than he ever imagined. I remember at the time being sort of surprised that so many people, not just Matt by any means, couldn't believe that the Iraq scenario was unfolding exactly as it seemed to be. A very smart friend of mine kept saying "they won't let them do this," apparently subscribing to some sort of "Wizard of Oz" theory that a bunch of éminences grises behind the scenes have to sign off on anything the president wants to do. I think that many people are still having a hard time believing what they are seeing.

Reading Atrios' post reminded me of one of mine that he posted from his comments section back in September of 2002. When I went back to read it I realized that at that time I too still had some belief that sanity would prevail:

I don't object to going into Iraq because I think Saddam doesn't want nukes. Of course he does. So do a lot of people, including al Qaeda. And a lot of unstable regimes already have them, like the countries of the former Soviet Union and Pakistan. I object because I don't believe there is any new evidence that he's on the verge of getting them or that he had anything to do with 9/11, or that he’s crazy because he gassed his own people (without our objection at the time), or that he’s just plain so evil that we simply must invade without delay, all of which have been presented as reasons over the past few weeks. There are reasons why we are planning to invade Iraq, but they have nothing to do with the reasons stated and are based upon political and ideological not security goals.

I particularly object because I deeply mistrust the people who are insisting that Saddam presents an urgent danger because they have been agitating for invasion and regime change, offering a variety of rationales, for 11 years. Pardon me for being skeptical but there is an entire cottage industry in the GOP devoted to the destruction of Saddam for a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with an imminent threat to the US. Until they concocted this bogus 9/11 connection, even they never claimed that the threat was to the US, but to Israel, moderate Arabs and the oil reserves.

I knew aboout Mylroie at this point, but I didn't realize how firmly ensconced in the Wolfowitz/Cheney inner circle she was; I still believed that they were well ... smart, at least.

I very much object because among these obsessives are the authors of the Bush Doctrine, which is nothing more than a warmed over version of the PNAC defense policy document that was based upon Cheney's 1992 defense dept. draft laying out the neocon case for ensuring the continued status of the US as the only superpower after the cold war. They did not take the threat of terrorism into account when they formulated this strategy and have made no adjustments since the threat emerged. Instead they are cynically using the fear created by 9/11 to advance goals that have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism and in fact will make another attack more likely. We will not be able to protect ourselves against another 9/11 by asserting a doctrine of unilateral preventive war in Iraq or anywhere else. Terrorism is a different animal that requires a completely fresh approach with an emphasis on cooperative intelligence, creative police work and stealthy military strategies. We can't invade every country that contains people who are potential terrorists. And the more we try to solve this problem through military force the more terrorists we will create.


The result has been that the administration position has been incoherent ever since. One day we must invade because Saddam is close to getting nukes, another it's that he already has chemical and bio weapons. The next he's a genocidal maniac. Blair and Powell say they want disarmament one day, Rummy and Cheney argue that regime change is the goal the next. According to next week's Time Magazine, an administration source admits that they are throwing everything out there and hoping that something will "stick."


Doesn’t this inconsistency make you just the tiniest bit suspicious of what's really going on?

I have said before that if Bush will take yes for an answer and allow the UN to make another resolution demanding inspections, I will be more than happy to let him take credit for a hugely successful bluff. If Saddam fucks up and refuses we will then at least have the support of the international community to go to war on the basis of his intransigence instead of on the basis of a spurious right to "pre-emptive regime change” without convincing evidence of a threat.

More importantly we will not have implemented the delusional Bush Doctrine or engaged in unilateral “pre-emptive” military action in the mideast and thoroughly screwed up the coalition needed for terrorism prevention by striking at the hornets nest of Islamic anti-Americanism for no good reason. At this point, I’ll be thrilled if we can avoid WWIII and keep from burning all of our bridges in the very countries where we need cooperation to prevent more terrorism on US soil.

Obviously, in September I hadn't yet completely come to terms with the fact that Bush was determined to go to war come hell or high water and that the whole UN gambit was more delaying tactic than serious endeavor. By February, I was in a state of high dudgeon and mexing my mitaphors with abandon :

Aside from wondering why keeping Saddam in a box, even with sanctions, isn't better than dropping a payload equal to the firebombing of Tokyo on a civilian population, aside from knowing an explosion of terrorism is likely to result from the sight of a massive US army on the ground in the mid-east at this most dangerous moment, aside from being fully aware that the planning for this invasion has been underway for more than a decade undergirded by the same arguments of imminent danger that have not come to fruition, and aside from the fact that the administration has openly and shamelessly cast itself as Ariel Sharon's kindred spirit at a time when such a declaration of solidarity is recklessly stupid...

Aside from all that, the main reason that I cannot support any kind of quasi-unilateral pre-emptive or preventive war is that I am 100% certain that the people who are agitating the strongest for it are hypocritical, incompetent, myopic, twistedly idealistic, mendacious and psychologically crippled.

I think it can wait for another 2 years until smarter, saner people can be put in charge of running the world. I'll support freeing the Iraqi people from tyranny if somebody else is doing the freeing. These guys are far more likely to throw them out of the frying pan directly into the fire. For the sake of the Iraqi people and the people of the world, these children must not be allowed to play with matches.

Looking back I can see that it was as simple as looking at the way Bush won the election and the way he governed afterward to see he was not to be trusted. And if it is true that all organizations ultimately reflect the leader at the top then it was always obvious that this administration was incompetent.

It shakes the foundation of our faith in the constitution and belief in democracy that our supposed meritocratic society would allow such dimwitted arrogance to ascend to the most powerful offices in the world and worse, that the citizens would be so cowed, apathetic or drunk with power that they would utter only the feeblest of protests at its most outrageous actions. Bush's incompetence and hyperactive partisanship in the face of a very dubious election outcome has probably created more cynicism about politics than Watergate and Vietnam combined. It is that final nail in the coffin --- the loss of faith that even if they are liars and cold calculating players of Realpolitik, no matter what, our leaders are smart, patriotic and in control.

The biggest danger confronting us now isn't what these people want to do but what may happen because they don't know what they are doing.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Walking On Eggshells

David Niewert has a must read post up about how the political became the personal as the modern Republicans rose to power. There is much to recommend this post, but I'd like to add something to one aspect of it.

He is saddened and disappointed by some of his conservative friends who refused to discuss Bush vs Gore and who don't seem to be willing to speak out against the encroaching totalitarianism of the conservative movement. As he did, I had always assumed that the majority of Republicans out in the real world were decent, hard working people who didn't subscribe to radicalism of any kind, whether from the right or the left. I suppose I counted on them to step in if things got out of hand and I've been puzzled until fairly recently about why that hasn't happened. I simply can't believe that real conservatives and mainstream, non-dittohead Republicans actually endorse the thuggish hyper-corporatism and will to power that we are seeing in Washington today.

David reluctantly concludes that they either implicitly endorse the increasingly blatant eliminationist rhetoric and strongarm tactics or they don't give a damn. But I actually think it's something else.

I think they are actually more afraid of these jack-booted bullies than we are. They are, as Hesiod once memorably said, "battered GOP moderates." Like an abused spouse they know that nothing pisses off the Lord of the Manor more than lip from his own family:

Smith, self term-limited, is leaving Congress. His lawyer son Brad is one of five Republicans seeking to replace him from a GOP district in Michigan's southern tier. On the House floor, Nick Smith was told business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat.

It isn't easy being a liberal Democrat in this political landscape. But, it's even harder being a Republican rebel.

... And speaking of crushing enemies, the White House and the GOP generally will be guilty of professional malpractice if they don't punish Jeffords for pulling the rug out from under them. I know that it's illegal to sew a half-starved weasel into his small intestine, but there are some other options.

changing the tone...

Roll Call's Ed Henry reports an image of Vermont's independent senator was being used for target practice inside the men's urinal at Capitol Hill Club, a gathering place for Republicans adjacent to Republican National Committee headquarters.

"Although several folks apparently got a kick out of taking aim at the photo of a man they now detest because of his decision to bolt the GOP, a peeved member of the club ripped the photo out of the urinal, fearing it would be seen as yet another symbol of the party's alleged intolerance," Henry reports.

Imagine that.

Et tu, Van den Heuvel?

Hey all you Democrats, if you need to be reminded of what a real old fashioned Emmett Tyrell style hit piece looks like, this one defines the genre as well as anything you'll see from The American Spectator. It's an excellent example of character assassination, done with the patented snotty superiority that drips most copiously from those whose main contribution to political discourse is the metaphorical shiv in the metaphorical backs of their own allies.

I haven't up to now recognized myself as a servile member of a "group of hushed, groveling supplicants staring dewy-eyed at their savior Caesar," and frankly I've never seen any such thing at the Clark events I've attended. (But, my goosestepping martial spirit was thrilled to read that Clark joked with a pastry salesgirl about really loving "napoleons." I think that pretty much says it all about what Clark is really up to and I couldn't be happier. My savior wants to invade Russia. And this time he'll do it right.)

In fact, the "napoleon" comment merely foreshadows the main contention (aside from how silly his stupid volunteers are) that the "neo-Nixonian" Clark wants to replay the Vietnam war in Iraq so that he can emerge the winner. This is as sophomoric a psychological insight as anything the blond pundetts ever spewed with such prurient delight about Clinton's alleged sexual pervertedness. In much the same way, this claim is nothing more than a fevered Naderite's masturbatory war-porn fantasy.

(On the other hand, maybe it's a meme I shouldn't dismiss out of hand, even though it's completely wrong. It certainly has a better chance of getting the ever more fascist Republicans out of the White House than "Hell No, We Won't Go.")

I have not been one to argue that the candidates have to play nicey-nice in this primary. These guys are big boys and they have to learn how to take a hit if they expect to be in shape to face the Bush Bullyboys. But, if this low-life hit piece is used against Clark by any of the other Dem candidates or their supporters it's going to start a bloody civil war --- and that is playing right into Rove's hands.

I sincerely hope that nobody takes the bait. It can only start a cycle of reaction and retribution and that will end up hurting the eventual nominee.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

They're Always In A Hurry

They had to rush through the impeachment vote before they broke for the Holidays in 1998. We didn't have time to count the uncounted votes in Florida because an arbitrary date was set in stone. We couldn't wait for the inspectors to finish the job in Iraq or to persuade the UN to back us in March 2003 --- we had to go in immediately.

When they are in a hurry, you know they have a bad case and they are just trying to ram it through before anyone can stop them. The Washington Post says today in its editorial called Government By Juggernaut:

Rank-and-file lawmakers of both parties are often unable to see legislation until the vote is upon them -- not just because details are still being hammered out, but because exposing the document to public scrutiny would hurt the cause of those who seek to have it passed by any means. Both houses have rules designed to prevent this sort of governing by ambush. But these are routinely swept aside in the interest of swift passage, however uninformed. Contempt for the minority extends to the White House, which sought recently to require that Democrats obtain the approval of Republican committee chairs before submitting questions to the administration.

Norm Ornstein talking about the blatant abuse of power with the medicare vote says:

Democracy is a fragile web of laws, rules and norms. The norms are just as important to the legitimacy of the system as the rules. Blatant violations of them on a regular basis corrode the system. The ugliness of this one will linger.

This ugliness is part of Republican rule and has been for a while. It will not just linger, it may have completely changed the system already. The GOP now stands for nothing but winning by any means necessary. And unfortunately, many in this country seem to believe that winning automatically validates whatever you do.

Southern Strategery

I’m a big fan of Jesse Jackson Jr and his endorsement of Howard Dean is meaningful to me. So, when I read this article in The Nation I was hoping for a thorough explanation of Dean’s "Southern Strategy" that would convince me of a new and bold approach to a long term problem. Unfortunately, it was more or less what I already knew and I am left with the opinion that it’s either a naïve misunderstanding of the complexities of voting behavior or a feint to hide the fact that Dean has no intention of challenging in the south. I hope it’s the latter because if it’s the former he may find echoes and reverberations of this miscalculation throughout the campaign if he wins the nomination.

But, it isn’t just Dean. There seems to be an common belief among Democrats in which it is assumed that we can make a populist pitch to poor and working class southern whites and circumvent the unpleasantness of certain racist attitudes and culture war issues with an appeal that consists of saying that and they should vote for us because their economic self interest is more in line with working class blacks than rich whites. This belief seems to rely on the idea that southern Republicans have been led astray by Nixonian racist appeals to the extent that they are unaware that the Democrats are for progressive taxation and social programs that might benefit them. They just need to be informed of this misunderstanding and they will fall into line.

But, part of this theory also maintains that Democrats have failed to illustrate the differences between the two parties and that they have neglected to point out that Republicans don’t have working people’s best interests at heart. This is not true. Nor is it true that Democratic politicians up to now (if not rank and file big city liberals) have written off the Southern white male vote or treated them disrespectfully. Progressives have spent decades trying to figure out how to reach this block of voters who should by all rights be aligned with the Democrats on the economic issues that most affect their lives.

The question has always been, why don’t southern working class whites vote their economic self-interest?

In this paper (pdf) Sociologist Nathan Glazer of Harvard (bio), who has long been interested in the question of America’s underdeveloped welfare state, answers a related question --- “Why Americans don’t care about income inequality” which may give us some clues. Citing a comprehensive study by economists Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth called, "Why Doesn't the United States have a European-Style Welfare State?" (Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 2/2001) he shows that the reluctance of Americans to embrace an egalitarian economic philosophy goes back to the beginning of the republic. But what is interesting is that both he and the economists offer some pretty conclusive evidence that the main reason for American “exceptionalism” in this case is, quite simply, racism.

AGS [Alesina, Glazear and Sacerdote] report, using the World Values Survey, that "opinions and beliefs about the poor differ sharply between the United States and Europe. In Europe the poor are generally thought to be unfortunate, but not personally responsible for their own condition. For example, according to the World Values Survey, whereas 70 % of West Germans express the belief that people are poor because of imperfections in society, not their own laziness, 70 % of Americans hold the opposite view.... 71 % of Americans but only 40% of Europeans said ...poor people could work their way out of poverty."


"Racial fragmentation and the disproportionate representation of ethnic minorities among the poor played a major role in limiting redistribution.... Our bottom line is that Americans redistribute less than Europeans for three reasons: because the majority of Americans believe that redistribution favors racial minorities, because Americans believe that they live in an open and fair society, and that if someone is poor it is his or her own fault, and because the political system is geared toward preventing redistribution. In fact the political system is likely to be endogenous to these basic American beliefs."(p. 61)

"Endogenous" is economics-ese for saying we have the political system we do because we prefer the results it gives, such as limiting redistribution to the blacks. Thus the racial factor as well as a wider net of social beliefs play a key role in why Americans don't care about income inequality, and why, not caring, they have no great interest in expanding the welfare state.

Glazer goes on to point out how these attitudes may have come to pass historically by discussing the roles that the various immigrant support systems and the variety of religious institutions provided for the poor:

But initial uniformities were succeeded by a diversity which overwhelmed and replaced state functions by nonstate organizations, and it was within these that many of the services that are the mark of a fully developed welfare state were provided. Where do the blacks fit in? The situation of the blacks was indeed different. No religious or ethnic group had to face anything like the conditions of slavery or the fierce subsequent prejudice and segregation to which they were subjected. But the pre-existing conditions of fractionated social services affected them too. Like other groups, they established their own churches, which provided within the limits set by the prevailing poverty and absence of resources some services. Like other groups, too, they were dependant on pre-existing systems of social service that had been set up by religious and ethnic groups, primarily to serve their own, some of which reached out to serve blacks, as is the case with the religiously based (and now publicly funded) social service agencies of New York City. They were much more dependant, owing to their economic condition, on the poorly developed primitive public services, and they became in time the special ward of the expanded American welfare state's social services. Having become, to a greater extent than other groups, the clients of public services, they also affected, owing to the prevailing racism, the public image of these services.

Glazer notes that there are other factors involved in our attitudes about inequality having to do with our British heritage, religious backround etc, that also play into our attitudes. But, he and the three economists have put their finger on the problem Democrats have with white Southern voters who “vote against their economic self-interest,” and may just explain why populism is so often coupled with nativism and racism --- perhaps it’s always been impossible to make a populist pitch that includes blacks or immigrants without alienating whites.

So, we are dealing with a much more complex and intractable problem than “southerners have been duped by Nixon’s southern strategy” or that liberals have been insulting them for years by supposedly devaluing their culture. Indeed, even the nostalgia that Howard Dean professes for FDR’s coalition is historically inaccurate. A majority of whites have never voted with blacks in the south. (In the 30’s, as we all know, southern blacks were rarely allowed to vote at all.) In fact, FDR had an implicit agreement with the southern base of his party to leave Jim Crow alone if he wanted their cooperation on other economic issues. The southern coalition went along out of desperation (and also because they were paying very little in taxes.) But, as soon as the economy began to recover, and Roosevelt began to concentrate on programs for the poor, the division that exists to this day re-emerged.

Ed Sebesta over at Temple of Democracy thinks that Dean was on a course to launch a much more familiar “southern strategy” with a classic southern states rights argument and he gives some supporting evidence to back that claim. He says that liberals are always interested in using his research on the neo-confederacy when it comes to taking down Repubicans but that they aren't interested in hearing about Democrats who may be playing the same game. I’m not willing to go as far as he does but I do think it illustrates at least a crippling naiveté that liberal Democrats all over the country are so earnest about getting white votes in the south but failed for months to realize that the semiotics of the confederate flag are a hell of a lot more complicated than a simple demographic shorthand for “southern white guy.”

And, regardless of his earlier intent, I think it’s obvious by the timing of events that Dean realized that if he wanted the support of the unions who were on the verge of endorsing him he had to find another way to appeal to white southern voters. Unfortunately, the idealistic view that Jesse Jackson Jr voices, of a purely economic appeal to both blacks and whites, is probably also only effective in pleasing white liberals who are already persuaded. It will likely have the opposite effect on working class whites. I’m fairly sure that Joe Trippi knows this and has actually written off the south in his electoral calculation.

There is another way to approach this issue that neither winks and nods at racism, depends upon a naïve idealism about the attitudes underlying southern voting patterns or writes off the south entirely. The key is to continue to reject racism in no uncertain terms while re-framing the economic argument in a way that appeals to Americans’ belief in their social mobility.

I didn’t invent that idea, of course. I believe that Clinton understood the long standing association between racism and egalitarianism and began to take steps to de-link them by re-directing the good government argument to the middle class --- the class most people, regardless of their race, identify as their own. (Welfare Reform was another, as painful as it was.) That reframing, combined with his sincere affinity for African American concerns, helped him to capture Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee in 1992 and Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee in 1996 --- with more than 90% of the black vote and close to 50% of the white vote.

Throughout both of his terms he walked a fine line, trying to move this argument about government away from its subliminal racist underpinning while continuously speaking out and proselytizing against racism. He was trying to make the country begin to see that government services benefit the vast majority rather than those who are “lazy” or “inferior,” while also trying to get people to see African Americans as middle class working people like everybody else. Whether he succeeded is open to debate, but he does deserve some credit for winning in the south with his approach.

Racism is the original sin of the American experiment and progress in expunging it is slow going, especially in its ground zero, the south. It may even be that some of our most cherished beliefs about ourselves --- individualism and self-sufficiency --- are partially grounded in an ugly reaction to slavery and the fallout from it. White Supremacists and neo-confederates are exactly what they appear to be and more subtle aspects of their philosophy play themselves out in the multitude of ways that people rationalize their beliefs about government social programs and many other things in American culture. (If you don’t believe me, read this study from the University of Chicago called Racial Bias in Hiring: Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?)

So, we can argue about whether we even need to capture the south as Thomas Schaller rather convincingly shows here. We also could adopt a strategy that only feints to the south in order to force the Republicans to spend time and money there. And, we surely should keep in mind, as Donkey Rising writes”… many southern voters are, in fact, reachable by Democrats and becoming more so over time. This is especially true in the emerging “ideopolis” areas of the south–Florida’s hi-tech and tourist areas, North Carolina’s research triangle, the Northern Virginia suburbs of DC, etc.–and Democrats need to cultivate these voters, not abandon them. Otherwise, Democrats will throw away the longer term opportunities created by demographic and economic change in the south.”

But if we think we can make any headway with working class whites (particularly in the south) who currently vote Republican by making an appeal to their class solidarity with blacks, we are going to be disappointed. Their resistance to that idea is one of the main reasons they reject government social programs in the first place. We don’t help blacks or whites by failing to understand that and we certainly won’t win any votes by ignoring it.

Note: If anyone would like a different perspective on this issue, I urge you to read Christopher Caldwell’s 1998 piece in The Atlantic called "The Southern Captivity of the GOP" It seems to me that Caldwell’s observations are as salient today as they were 5 years ago --- the only difference is 9/11.

9/11 gave Republicanism a national boost that nothing else could have and it is the real battleground on which the coming election will be fought. If we can make the national security case then we might even bring in some of those southern voters who don’t vote their economic self-interest. They do value the military and they are suffering disproportionately from this massive error in judgment in Iraq. If we fail on that issue I fear we will fail nationally and George W. Bush will finally get the mandate he so desperately seeks. Lord help us then.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Neocon Tinfoil

Susan at Suburban Guerrilla points out a statement by Wes Clark in the debate yesterday that needs some further explanation:

I saw the Democratic debate, and I think Wesley Clark made the best point: Instead of attacking terrorists, Bush chose to attack states.

Which is how we got into this mess.

Exactly so. But, it is interesting to look at how this came to pass. I wrote back in September about Paul Wolfowitz's "You can believe me or you can believe your eyes" philosophy of governance. In that post I mentioned that it was none other than Laurie Mylroie, nutcase extraordinaire, who was responsible for this absurd notion that terrorism, by definition, must be state sponsored. She testified to that fact just recently before the congress. If you want to see a full blown paranoid mind, complete with tin foil, being taken seriously by a bunch of dim-witted politicians, read her testimony.

Here is her conclusion about Al Qaeda and the threat we face from terrorism. Keep in mind that Wolfowitz and Cheney have endorsed her views and that she is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute:

A major misunderstanding regarding the nature of terrorism arose in the wake of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, with the claim that a new form of terrorism had emerged that was no longer state-sponsored.

On the contrary, the major terrorist strikes against the U.S. that were attributed to "loose networks" of Islamic militants, including al Qaeda, are much better explained as Iraq, working with and hiding behind the militants. In short, the 1991 Gulf War did not end with the cease-fire declared back then.

Read the whole thing. It makes Tom Clancy read like Nancy Drew. This woman is to foreign policy and terrorism as Ann Coulter is to civil discourse. Yet, she is influential among the highest reaches of the administration and inspired this ridiculous belief that terrorism is dependent upon, and in fact a reflection of, enemy governments rather than the far flung ideological movement it really is.

This bizarre theory was convenient for those who wanted to invade Iraq for other reasons and it certainly provided a nice excuse to continue with boondoggles like missile defense and other hallucinogenic neocon wet dreams. But, this error (a belief in which was fueled largely, I believe, by knee-jerk rejection of all things Clinton) led to a strategy that has exacerbated the terrorist threat and exposed America's strategic weaknesses with no benefit.

There was one state sponsor of global terrorism. It was Afghanistan. The rest is a delusionary obsession of one lone nut who managed to convince many of the fringe dwellers and old anti-communist comrades that inhabit the Bush administration that she is right and provided the others with a good excuse to avoid the real threat of terrorism so that they can continue on their long myopic march toward global hegemony.

If people won elections based upon fact vs fantasy, we would win this next one in a total landslide. (Unfortunately, the opposite may be true, in which case we'd better find some slick slogans to beat their "I made U Safe" mantra.) But, for those of us who actually like real information, I think the neocon intellectuals' acceptance of this totally bizarre, off-the-wall theory takes the cake. I don't know whether they are psychologically impaired or if they are stupid. But, this strategic error, as Suburban Guerrilla points out, is the single biggest reason we are in the mess we are in today in Iraq.

UPDATE: Tim Dunlop wrote an excellent piece about this yesterday and ties it together with the ongoing argument about what constitutes winning the war on terrorism. Here is an excerpt, but read the whole thing:

The Istanbul attacks do, however, reinforce that we all need to take the threat seriously. But while I absolutely applaud Bush and Blair’s recent comments about eliminating this threat, what concerns me is that they seem to be under the impression that terrorists are a discrete group that can be counted, isolated and therefore eliminated. Thus they instantly connect the “war on terrorism”, a metaphoric construct, with the actual war in Iraq:

Meanwhile, Blair said the assaults in Istanbul wouldn’t have a negative impact on Britain’s or America’s commitment in Iraq. Bush described the U.S.-led coalition’s work in the nation as “noble” and “necessary”.

This is so depressing. It not only shows an unhealthy desire to use whatever comes to hand as a prop to support anything and everything they do, this sort of talk also indicates that they are using the presumptions of state-based war to frame their understanding and responses to the threat of terrorism. By seeing the fight against global terrorism through the prism of state-based war, we are likely to respond with, well, wars on states, and this is insufficient at best and counterproductive at worst, as it has been in Iraq.