Friday, January 28, 2005

Just Say No

Well, the Senate confirmed Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State. No surprise there, the Senate is, after all, dominated by Republicans. We are told that we are supposed to be stunned at the historic level of opposition to confirming Ms. Rice, evidenced by the Senate's vote tally of 85 for and 13 against. I think we should be stunned that she received such an overwhelming level of support.

Perhaps I missed something, but isn't Ms. Rice one of those primarily responsible for landing us in this mess of a war in Iraq? Did she not loudly beat the drum to convince the Congress and the American people to support going to war in Iraq using facts that have since been shown to be utterly false? Wasn't Ms. Rice, in her role as National Security Advisor to the president, the person who failed take seriously the now infamous Presidential Daily Brief entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside The United States", which preceeded the September 11th attacks by several months? Finally, shouldn't Ms Rice, as the person designated to read things to the president when too many big words are used in a briefing paper, have placed some emphasis on the title of that PDB or on the doubts expressed by the intelligence community regarding bin Laden's ties to Saddam or Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction (for example, by reading those parts to him slowly or loudly, or by using illustrations)?

If all of the above are true, then Ms. Rice should not have been confirmed to represent this nation as its Secretary of State. She should have been held accountable for her dismal job performance just as everyone else responsible for the debacle in Iraq has been: By awarding her the Medal of Freedom. Her many failures make her richly deserving of the ignominy of standing on the same stage with Paul Bremer and George Tenet and receiving what has become our national equivalent of the scarlet letter.

I am not, however, as irritated by Ms. Rice being confirmed as Secretary of State as I am by the fact that all but 13 of the Democrats in the Senate joined the Republicans in voting for her confirmation. Why? What has Ms. Rice done to deserve this massive vote of confidence from Democrats? It has been said that Democrats felt that they didn't want to be labeled as "obstructionists" and that presidents deserve some deference to their choices for cabinet positions. But, when called upon to vote on the confirmation of an individual who has misled you repeatedly and who has exhibited a history of incompetence in her previous position, it is not the time to obstruct a little bit? When the president sending this individual to you for confirmation has shown you none of the deference that customarily is shown to the Senate by the Chief Executive, should he not reap what he has sown?

As noted above, Ms. Rice's confirmation was a forgone conclusion given that the Republicans control the Senate. The Democrats could have taken a principled, indeed rational, stand and said, "Ms. Rice is not fit to be the Secretary of State of the United States in light of her dismal performance as National Security Advisor, especially as it relates to the war in Iraq. Were we to vote in favor of her confirmation, we would implicitly be voicing our approval of a war and a foreign policy with which we vehemently disagree. For that reason, we shall vote to oppose Ms. Rice's confirmation on principle, though we recognize that our opposition cannot prevent her from becoming President Bush's next Secretary of State".

Taking such a position would not have been mere petulance or obstructionism. It would have been the right thing to do. It would have shown that the Democratic Party stands for something. It would have shown that the Democrats are not just "Softer Republicans", but a party of clear and unwavering convictions.

Is that too much to ask?




Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Rogue State/Failed State Conundrum

Prior to September 11, and even afterwards, Bush administration foreign affairs concern has focused on nations, and rogue states in specific. If you look at our activities prior to 9/11 and immediately after, we concerned ourselves with nations like Iraq, Iran and North Korea, in part, because they made up an actual target that we could aim at. Afghanistan was a much more difficult problem, in that it was hardly ruled from the center and we could exert little or no influence over the countryside, even when we could influence the Taliban who ran the country.

Our invasion of Afghanistan, and our subsequent actions there, have placed a premium on sovereignty and pututative control over the country, rather than actual control over all places within the country. This is because we did Afghanistan on the cheap, never really putting ourselves in there full force with the necessary troops to control the whole country. As a result, much of the countryside is under control of war lords with only tenuous loyalty to the central government. In many places, ex-Taliban and Al Qaida figures exert great influence. In other words, Afghanistan, while putatively an ally, is on the edge of becoming a failed state again. This appears to be of little concern to the Bush Administration.

Iraq was, by all accounts, a rogue state. Under Hussein, Iraq seemed to have little regard for international agreements or other niceties. However, they were a coherent, controlled state. All parts answered to the center, and no one entered or exited the country without the explicit or implicit consent or understanding of Hussein (except, obviously, for those areas which were under International control, like the Kurdish north).

Iraq is now becoming a failed state. It is very likely that the result of these "elections" will be civil war. I used quotes because this is the most farcical democratic enterprise Iraq has seen in, well, I guess only a few years, since their referendum on Hussein which produced a 99.9% yes vote. In this case, voters do not even know most of the people they are voting for - that's kept confidential for security reasons - they don't know their platforms, because there are none, they don't know any policies, because there are none. This is essentially a popularity contest based on tribal and religious affiliation - hardly a harbinger of good things to come.

However, as it stands right now, Iraq is veering dangerously towards the status of another failed state. So, I have to ask you, which is worse. A rogue state that acts outside the bounds of civil society and rejects international standards in most of their actions, but which is at least controlled enough so that the center is in charge, or a failed state where all of the above bad things apply, except the country is an open and fertile ground for the breeding of future terrorists, where huge amounts of weapons can be used against us there, or smuggled out (easily) to be used against us here. The country could easily break into 3 parts, with the center facing bloody civil war and failed state status for decades to come.

Remember, the only country which was a real threat to the US in the last decade has been Afghanistan, and not because they had an overtly anti-American government, but because they had no government at all. Additionally, places like Somalia were a threat and breeding ground for Al Qaida because they were lawless places where Al Qaida could spawn. Therefore, it appears as if Iraq is becoming a greater threat, not less of a threat, due to our invasion. I can only see one solution.

We need to ensure that a strong leader who can unify the country and control his borders and population takes power there. Someone who may not be our friend, but we can convince him not to be our enemy. We need someone who will work with us against some of the other dangerous and bad actors in that neighborhood (like Iran, who is greedily licking their chops in anticipation of the Shia takeover of Iraq and subsequent subservience to Iran). In short, I have a proposal about who can do this.

Saddam Hussein.

We have our answer, we have our man, we even have him in custody and available for immediate use. Now all we have to do is act on it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Democratic Geology

Two issues, somewhat related, have come to the fore this day minus 8 (You know, the breathless countdown until the moment when, a la Red Auerbach, Karl Rove can light up his cigar and say "my ravaging is done here").

Issue number 1: Weapons inspections are concluded in Iraq. Why? Because there is no more need for a charade. A second term is secured and there can be no third. Thus, there is no need to talk in terms of "ongoing efforts to locate WMD's due to the still-existing realistic possibility, nee liklihood, that they will be found because, after all, there was no adequate accounting of the missing stuff to the U.N. and therefore they must exist because why wouldn't Hussein cooperate if he had nothing to hide, especially when he knew we would blow him away if there was no disclosure?, and it's a huge country and a plane or two were found under the sand and the CIA guy, now in retirement, whom I awarded the medal of freedom, said it was a slam dunk and the V.P. said the stuff was there, absolutely, and we have pictures of trucks hauling the stuff away from that unsecured weapons cache site and at the U.N. we showed satellite photos of approximately 40,000 of those slam dunk sites and there were mobile manufacturing plants galore that may now be disguised as Pace Arrow recreational vehicles in Boca Raton, and don't forget Niger, which must be the source of lots of that dangerous stuff or else why would that quiet (sneaky?) bearded man in England leave his family and go out in the woods and off himself? And that, my patriotic red-staters, is why we must continue to search." That's right. There is no longer a need to keep that ball in the air.

Issue number 2): Howard Dean is officially interested in becoming the Head Honcho of the Democratic Party. Why? Because the guy has more stamina than a Llama and, from all appearances, is so genuinely disgusted with the business-as-usual desires of the New Democrats, or whatever other euphemism is being used now to describe the arc of compromise that includes scaling back abortion rights, that he is willing to spend the next four years innoculating Democrats against such carriers. (Those folks are expressing, not for attribution, grave doubts about whether he is the right person for the party "at this time", given the need to reach a more centrist swivel point. (Maybe they can get Lieberman's brother-in-law.)). There is a crispness, intelligence and straighforwardness to Dean's public discourse that makes one feel slightly less putrid from paying attention to politics.

The link between these two issues? No, not the superficial fact that Dean was against the war in Iraq and highly dubious about the claims about WMD's. Rather it is the fact that right now, this flailing party, which could not translate a failed war predicated upon gargantuan doses of mendacity into a successful message, needs to, before anything else, place itself on terra firma. TERRA FIRMA.

Howard Dean is not sediment, he is terra firma.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Social Security - The Democrats' Chance

Listening to some of the Sunday morning talk shows yesterday (thank god for XM radio, which has CSPAN Radio, and replays many of these shows without commercials Sunday night), I sensed that the Republicans are very scared about the prospect of Social Security "reform" being an issue that they take a major hit on at the mid-terms in 2006. Some were saying that they fear losing their majorities in both houses (although that seems impossible). On the other hand, Talking Points Memo continues to document the number of people in the so-called "Fainthearted Faction" of the Democratic Party (those willing to sell-out SS for some variation of the Bush plan). Meanwhile, Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly continues to show how secure SS really is, and what a fraud is being run by Bush, probably in the greater goal of actually destroying SS rather than "save" it.

Two thoughts. One, if this is the issue with legs in this country, while we are spending hundreds of billions on a fraudulent war, then it speaks very poorly of our country. Imagine, we just had our president reelected while all of this crap was going on, but, god no, you cut my benefits by a drop and I'm willing to drop the president and his party at a drop of a hat. Waste hundreds of billions so Bush could call himself a "war president," lie about weapons of mass destruction, engage in the wholesale destruction of all of our longstanding previous alliances, embarrass our country beyond belief by deciding that torture and indefinite detention of suspects is acceptable (after decrying it in the Soviet Union all these years), lose jobs for a term for the first time since Herbert Hoover, all of these things pale in comparison to a possible cut in retirement benefits. And Bush calls our country a generous nation?

Finally, if this issue is so toxic (it's not called the 3rd rail of American politics for nothing), whey aren't the Democrats going to war on the issue. They've dropped the ball on every conceivable issue up to now, especially the war and tax cuts, but supporting them in numbers large enough to call Bush's legislative successes "bi-partisan." Why not coalesce at this point and fight the political equivalent of a street to street battle against this, something most people seem predisposed to oppose in the first place. This should be the time and place where liberals re-discover their backbone, not where they give bipartisan cover to another idiotic Bush proposal.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

FED UP IN THE LAND OF PLENTY

In spite of the meaninglessness of postmortems, let me, just for the hell of it, describe how it is that John Kerry could have won. First a digression in the form of a query: Why are postmortems, at least in the realm of Democratic Party politics, meaningless? Because, just like the football coach who cannot resist running the ball up the middle on 3rd and inches even though everyone in the stadium knows he is going to call that play, the Democrats are committed to "the book". Sure it works sometimes, but not when you are down by 4, the clock is running out, and a field goal won't do. So, big city rallies, excitement about that friggin youth vote, billions of newly registered voters, urban turnout, and union strength, blah, blah, blah, are de rigueur. Guess what? EVERY VOTE KERRY GOT WAS HIS FROM THE SWEARING IN OF BUSH IN 2000. The powers that be in the Party will no sooner figure things out than Karl Rove will rest on his laurels. Now, to digress from the digression back to the issue, one of no importance and very little interest, ie. how Kerry could have won. And won, mind you, without having had to employ the currently in-vogue view that we need to back off of the abortion platform and pursue God only knows what other compromises. Here it is: For the very limited time that Bill Clinton was available, and perhaps enlisting as well Al Gore and Jimmy Carter (and, of course John Kerry), these people should have been not in the high populaton centers of Ohio and Florida, rather they should have parked themselves on various front porches (figuratively speaking) throughout the outer suburban areas and stayed as many of the final days as necessary and just talked to people. Word of mouth would have turned these blothiating sessions into a juggernaut that would have had the Republican brain trust scratching every head they could find and then sweating to the point of dehydration. After all, it required demonization of Democrats to allow this cabal to remain in power and such caricatures suffer when the subject comes within one's wingspan. Bit by bit, these chautauquas would capture the imagination of the nation. Politics as usual would hit a standstill. The juxtaposition of these intimate gatherings, albeit less intimate as time went on, against the billion dollar campaign that had been the daily fare, would be like a Whole Foods stumbled upon by the Donner party. Nutrition for the malnourished. What would the subject matter of these front porch conversations be? The talking points, consistent with the heart of the party's raison d'etre, are contained in Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas?" In other words, talk heart-to-heart about how it is that so many people are being convinced to vote against their best interests.

That's it. That's how Kerry could have won. Simply spend time with the people who think that they are being looked down upon, talk about the stuff that you know they care about without pandering, let them know that you are in no hurry to get back to the movers and shakers, and watch something like the atmosphere of Lincoln-Douglas prevail. It would have been exciting and people would have been moved. There would be the phenomenon of genuineness. More than enough votes would have been earned to make the difference.

Anyway, while we are rich with matters for concern right now, too many to name and too obvious to be worth naming, it may be that reform of the Party should be the priority, rather than impacting the flow of our current government. It's simply a matter of doing a windmill risk analysis. Don Quixote would go for fixing the country, Sancho Panza, more likely to have moments of lucidity, would advise replacing the locals first. I go with Sancho. In any event, neither would recommend adopting diminimis objectives in order to eradicate the need for courage of conviction.

Note: Warren Harding's front porch campaign is not the model. It's just that he could serve business interests more comfortably from a rocking chair.

Driftwood

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Who wants a Buick, anyway?

Well, it has happened. Rather than re-focussing our party on its core values and seeking effective ways to communicate with voters, the current leadership of the Democratic Party (with notable exceptions) has concluded from the results of the November election that we have to be more like the Republicans in order to prevail. Thus, we hear that our Party should, among other things, take a more "pro-life" stand on the abortion issue and take a more "pro-preemptive-war" position on the terrorism issue. How brilliant. How original. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em! How could we possibly reject a tactic that worked so well for that astoundingly successful political movement, the Vichy French?

Before we begin falling all over ourselves to pander to the hard right, allow me to raise a couple of points. Did something change or do we still believe that a woman has the right to choose what to do with her own body? I don't recall the Democratic Party ever taking the position that abortion is a perfectly acceptable form of birth control, but I have heard that the Republican right wants to make abortion illegal, even when the life of the mother is at risk and even in cases of rape and incest. Protecting the right of a woman to make basic decisions about her own health and about her own body or subjecting all women to restrictions upon their fundamental rights imposed by the government when they become pregnant: Which, I ask you, is the more moral position? Which is more in keeping with the history of our Party in ensuring the rights and freedoms of all our people? And about this war in Iraq, has something changed or is it still a completely unjustified military occupation of a country which posed no threat to us? Have we found evidence that Iraq had something to do with 9/11? Have we found evidence that Saddam was harboring or supporting members of al Qaeda? Have we found evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or even a credible program to produce such weapons? Has attacking Iraq destroyed al Qaeda or netted Osama bin Laden? If our positions are true to our principles and we have the facts straight with respect to the war in Iraq, then why are we talking about changing our positions and our view of the facts to more closely resemble the people who have got it so terribly wrong?

This is how I see the efforts of the current leaders of the Democratic Party (again, with notable exceptions) to try to be, for lack of a better word, more Republican. When I was a young fellow, lots of rather boring, fat, opinionated, old, ignorant, bigoted, staid, Sans-A-Belt and polyester-wearing conservative types were clamoring to buy themselves Cadillacs. Now, these Cadillacs were the huge, bloated pluto-barges of the 1960's and 1970's, complete with utterly insipid chrome and faux-leather, which had the ride and handling characteristics of a wet, king-size mattress. These cars weren't known for their gorgeous styling or futuristic technology. They were, in fact, unappealing and flaccid, just like their owners. But, to the delight of their owners, they were also huge and grotesquely overdone and screamed, "I have $6,000 to burn and I belong to a country club which excludes all of you!" Again, just like their owners. I never liked those cars myself, but they found a niche. That niche is long gone, as evidenced by the fact that you can pick up any Sedan de Ville built between 1964 and 1974, if any still exist, for about 200 bucks. Further evidence, if you needed any, comes from the fact that Cadillac wouldn't think of building cars like that any more and has turned its energies to producing sporty little numbers and SUV's, sold to the blaring tunes of Led Zeppelin.

Anyway, as sorry as all rational people felt for those tasteless dim-wits driving Caddies in the '60's and '70's, there was another group that was even more pathetic. You see, another less prestigious General Motors brand, Buick, was turning out the "Electra 225". The Electra 225 could best be described as a big, mushy, silly, lumbering oaf of a car or, to put it more succinctly, a lousy Cadillac. Buick was turning out this dazzling automotive gem to compete, in a friendly way, with its sister company, Cadillac, for the boring, fat, opinionated, old, ignorant, bigoted, staid, Sans-A-Belt and polyester-wearing conservative buyers who only had $3,295 to spend on a car. I guess Buick sold quite a few Electra 225's, since they made the car for a number of years. I remember people that had the cars would frequently brag, "It's the same as a Sedan de Ville, for $2,700 less!" I bet Buick attracted more than a few potential Cadillac buyers with that sort of appeal. Unusually stupid, cheap, uncommitted potential Cadillac buyers, that is (who were probably wearing Sans-A-Belt knock-offs at the time they made their purchase).

Well, Cadillac must have sold hundreds of thousands of cars in that era and Buick probably sold tens of thousands of Electra 225's. Meanwhile, Ford was selling millions of Mustangs. Ford didn't particularly care about the fat, ignorant, conservative, Sans-A-Belt crowd. They were going after the masses. Ford wasn't interested in being inoffensive with the Mustang, they were trying to be compelling. It worked.

So, why don't we Democrats start talking about the things that make us Democrats, even if some rather boring, fat, opinionated, old, ignorant, bigoted, staid, Sans-A-Belt and polyester wearing conservatives don't like it. Who needs them. Or, to put it another way, who wants a Buick, anyway?


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

New Poll - Americans (read - Religious Right Wing Americans) Favor Restricting Muslim Rights

If you think my collegue's post about Republicans being out of touch based on the University of Maryland poll was chilling, just check this one out. Lest you truly believe that right wing fundamentalists are in favor of "religion" (as in, be religious, any religion will do), check out this poll, as reported by Newsday. I don't know how I missed this one, but it certainly tells me nothing that I didn't viscerally believe before.

Apparently 1/2 of Americans favor restricting the rights of Muslims, including making them register with the Federal government. Now I'm sure that someone like Rehnquist, Scalia or Thomas could find some manner of showing this is constiutional, but let's face it, 1/2 of this country doesn't believe in the Bill of Rights, plain and simple. Ah, but let's look further into the numbers for the whole picture. Turns out that by a 2-1 margin, the people who believe this are religious Republicans. So, they don't believe in freedom of religion after all, the believe in the tyranny of their religion, with grudging tolerance to Jews like me, since we're part of the prophesy of the end of the world and are going to roast in hell anyways, and regardless, we don't proselytize like Muslims do. Therefore, we're a harmless little group that will be crushed someday, either by God at the end of days, or by the Holy American Empire headed by one of the later Bush administrations. As far as they're concerned, they'll give us Hollywood without a problem since they have Fox News to keep them happy.

Don't get me wrong, I've never had any illusions that this was true, but for so long after the McCarthy era, the end of segregation and Watergate, even Republicans felt the need to remain politically correct and not speak too loudly about their desire to split the races (and religions) back up, giving all but white, conservative Christians a 2nd tier role in out society. Now, with Bush firmly in charge of this country (by a whopping 3%), they feel no need to hold back on their feelings anymore.

That 50%, who support ending the Bill of Rights, that is the Republican majority. Something to be so proud of.

Thanks to Blogger Greg Stephens at New Zealand Politcal Comments for his post on the subject. Makes me think that New Zealand really is the place that right thinking Americans should be seeking political asylum.