Mostly rational politics, with occasional rants about how a few crazy Republicans are ruining the country.
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Friday, December 30, 2005
Happy New Year?
Predictions for 2006:
1. Economic instability in the U.S. by the summer. $70-85 oil prices leading to ~$3.00-4.00 gas prices. A sharp drop in the domestic stock market as foreign investors begin to invest more in emerging markets in Europe, South America, and Asia.
2. Continued difficulty and dismal approval ratings for George Bush. Spying scandal, Plame leak investigation, intra-GOP squabbling over immigration policy, and reckless fiscal policy weigh in early 2006.
3. A slight shift in favorability for the Democrats, as people stop seeing them as "not Republicans" and more as a party with ideas, namely: a) universal access to healthcare, b) increased access to higher education, c) an increase in the minimum wage, d) a Constitutional right to privacy, e) a movement toward balanced budgets.
Dems: - Ron Brownstein of the LA Times argues that Russ Feingold is the candidate on Hillary's left that stepped out of the pack in 2005, and I'm inclined to agree, and I'll up him a little from 13:1 to 12:1. - Brownstein says the candidate on Hillary's left that did well is Mark Warner. I've already given him his bump in the standings. Remains at 5:1.
"People should remember that Duke Cunningham has honorably served this country, sometimes in great danger, for 35 years." - Rep. Duncan Hunter
Meant to post this awhile ago... it always bugs me when politicans talk about their "service" to the country. I don't buy it. Being a politician is a job, and a great one at that. You become famous, and have multiple very lucrative exit options should you ever decide to not "serve" any longer.
And let's not use a similar verb to describe what politicians do and what soldiers do.
So here's to never having to hear another politician say "it's been my pleasure to serve the people of...". It should be: "it's been really fun to see myself in the papers. I'm now going to make $50,000 a speech. Thanks!"
- Republicans are cutting taxes on the rich, and cutting services to the poor - George Bush has either committed the U.S. military to a presence in the middle east for the next decade, or has created another repressive Islamic government
Republicans: - Agree with Taegan Goddard that Bill Frist is not looking like a very compelling candidate at the moment. He's proved fairly ineffectual as Senate majority leader. He'll have to engage in a re-make of his image soon after he leaves the Senate in 2006 to have any chance at the nomination. I'm taking him from 10:1 to 12:1. - I'm going to drop Chuck Hagel down just a tad, from 8:1 to 9:1. He's been critisizing Bush a lot lately. Not positive how that will play with the base. - Dropping Condi Rice from 20:1 to 25:1. Should have done this awhile ago. She won't run (but if she did, she'd have a good shot).
Democrats: - Hillary Clinton's road temporarily got easier with the dropout of Jeanine Pirro from the 2006 Senate race, allowing Hillary to save some money. But Ed Cox (Nixon's son-in-law) is likely to step in and run, so it won't be a cakewalk for Hill. No change. - Moving Russ Feingold up from 17:1 to 13:1. Some article (can't remember where) called him "the perfect Democratic candidate. That can't hurt.
"Is Scotty here? Where's Scotty?" Bush asked, half-grinning, according to two people who were in the meeting but asked not to be quoted by name because they were discussing a private event. Bush scanned the room for Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary.
"I want to especially thank Scotty," the president said, looking at his aide. "I want to thank Scotty for saying" -- and he paused for effect. . . .
At which point everyone laughed and the president left the room.
This is one of those quips that distill a certain essence of the game. In this era of on-message orthodoxy, the republic has evolved to where the leader of the free world can praise his most visible spokesman for saying nothing.
"The time has come that the American people know exactly what their Representatives are doing here in Washington. Are they feeding at the public trough, taking lobbyist-paid vacations, getting wined and dined by special interest groups? Or are they working hard to represent their constituents? The people, the American people, have a right to know."
-- Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), on the House floor, November 16, 1995.
This is a step further than most companies go (the large investment bank that used to employ me frequently sponsored quit-smoking drives), but perhaps a sign of the times for things to come. At the very least, it's likely that companies could require prospective employees to admit whether or not they smoke, and that might have an impact on hiring decisions.
Other companies are giving bonuses to non-smokers, or sur-charging the benefits premiums of smokers.
With the healthcare situation in crisis, you can't really blame these companies. But even everyone quitting smoking isn't going to solve the problems with the current system.
In late 2004 280,000 were killed by the Asian tsunami, and in October 80,000 people were killed by an earthquake in Pakistan. These are horrible natural disasters with some degree of inevitability.
On the other hand: in 2005 8 million Africans died of a curable problem: Poverty. This is not caused by any weather event. This is caused by a self-perpetuating spiral that we are only beginning to slow down (thanks to the Gates's, Doctors without Borders, Bono, and others).
Our part is money... people who live on $2 a day cannot afford the $5 pill that would save their lives. But we can. So let's do our part.
Some of the best charities for end-of-year donations (tax deductible):
Republicans have long sought to "starve the beast" - cut taxes, create deficits, cut spending to close the deficit. It's their strategy for moving towards smaller government.
Ineffective as they have been at most things, I've been dismayed that Republican-controlled Washington has actually succeeded a few times in pursuing the starve the beast agenda.
The latest is the $40b in spending cuts passed today by the House (along with a defense bill that opens up ANWR).
Democrats who believe that the current level of federal spending is necessary need to not forget that despite the fact that Republicans look incompetent, they have most definitely pushed this country in their direction the last 5 years. We're going to need to articulate in 2006 and 2008 precisely why we desire to pull it back.
Healthcare spending is our main weapon. Most people believe that everyone deserves basic healthcare, and most people are willing to put that tax back on the billionaires to pay for it.
I only read this article this morning. It discusses a new book that makes the same point I made in a post last Friday - that you can't force democracy on a group of people that isn't ready for it.
Present-day Iraq, they write, exhibits "all the risk factors": an inflammatory mass media, scant rule of law, corrupt bureaucracies, low income and literacy, an economy based almost entirely on oil, and an exceedingly weak administrative state.
Successful democratization, they write (in both the book and the article), depends not just on some critical mass of conditions but also on the sequence in which these conditions develop. When popular elections occur before democratic institutions take hold, they find, the chances of an enduring democracy are especially dim. "Out-of-sequence, incomplete democratizations," they write in the journal piece, "often create an enduring template for illiberal, populist politics." This is especially true in countries sharply divided along ethnic or religious lines. In such countries, elections have been "an ethnic census, not a deliberation about public issues." They create a politics that hardens these divisions. It becomes difficult, if not impossible, for political actors to forge new ties across those divides; the necessary institutions (trade unions, secular parties, or other interest groups) either don't exist or lack sufficient power.
Bono, Bill & Melinda Gates are TIME's Persons of the Year
Congatulations to TIME for a great decision. Hopefully this brings some publicity and momentum to the case they work towards - the eradication of diseases in Africa that we have long been able to cure, an increased standard of living for the poor across the world.
Here's the major problem with what we're doing in Iraq: you can't force Democracy on people who are not ready for it.
Why is the middle east not ready for it?
Because the majority of the people there have still not accepted the idea of secularism - that church and state can/should be separate.
Look what's happening in Egypt. The largest Arab country is finally, slowly starting to allow Democratic elections. And what party is benefitting? According to TIME, it's the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party that "has never renounced its goal of re-establishing an Islamic caliphate and has long been associated with radical ideologues like Sayyid Qutb, whose writings helped inspire al-Qaeda."
You can see a similar pattern in Iraq. The ruling demographic to emerge from yesterday's elections is likely to be religious Shiites, who seek a fundamentalist state similar to Iran, where women cannot drive, must cover-up, etc.
You can't just force Democracy on people who still have not embraced the majority of its basic Western tenets - freedom of religion being a main one.
That's why this war was wrong. Keep Saddam in check. Keep weapons out of his hands. Encourage internal Iraqi movements. But forcing western-style democracy on a region still stuck in the 1800s is not our business, nor our right, nor in our long-term interests.
Democrats: - Hillary Clinton is having such a cakewalk in her Senate re-election campaign so far, that it looks like she'll be able to use the gobs of money she's collecting primarily for her Pres campaign. The more the stories continue to call her the frontrunner, the more people get comfortable with the idea of a female nominee. She obviously will hit serious bumps in the road between now and March 2008, especially because she's been in front for so long, but for now I've got say there's at least a 40% chance that she ends up the nominee, so I'm bumping her from 2:1 to 3:2. - Meanwhile, VA Gov Mark Warner continues to make headway, with a rapturous reception in South Carolina. There's not a whole lot of room for both John Edwards and Mark Warner - basically the same demographic there, similar levels of experience, etc. So for now I'm going to pull Warner and Edwards even at 5:1. - Increasing the average of those top 3 means I've got to decrease some others, so Evan Bayh drops from 8:1 to 9:1, Al Gore from 10:1 to 11:1, Wes Clark from 10:1 to 12:1, and the rest I'll hold steady.
Republicans: - Until yesterday, I was going to say that John McCain is in a difficult spot because of his difference with the President on torture. The incumbent President can really help someone in 2008 by leaning his way, and at one point it seemed like McCain and Bush had struck a deal. But then McCain's opposition with the President on torture became very public. Now Bush has relented and adopted McCain's position. A big win for the front-runner. I'll move McCain from 4:1 to 7:2. - I'm dropping Gingrich from 13:1 to 18:1 on rumors that he's mostly just acting like he's running to sell his books. He's still not very popular, despite having some good ideas on healthcare. - I'll increase Romney a little bit just because he's opted not to run for re-election in Mass, meaning he is running for President. But I don't think a mormom has much of a chance. Goes from 25:1 to 22:1. - The more I look at the top GOP candidates (McCain, Allen, Hagel, Giuliani, Frist, Pataki, Romney), the more I realize there isn't really a perfect candidate among them. Parts of the GOP won't be happy no matter who they nominate, whereas someone like Warner, Bayh, Obama or even Richardson could be really uniting for the Democrats. From this distant perch, I like the looks of things in 2008.
President Bush says 30,000 Iraqis have died since the war started. Some estimates go as high as 100,000+, but let's give the President the benefit of the doubt on this one.
It's such a high number. 3,000 Americans were killed on 9/11, and we mourn it as the worst tragedy in American history inflicted on us by others. Obviously, many many more Americans died in the Civil War, WWII, Vietnam, etc. But those were all situations in which we somehow chose to commit those lives to the cause.
Iraqi civilians did not get to choose to commit to this cause. They had it inflicted upon them by others. And that is the primary reason I have opposed this war from the beginning.
Peggy Noonan, in an article defending Bush's war approach, makes the following critcism of the White House that I totally agree with. This will be one of my life-long memories of the Bush administration - how uninterested they were in honest and open dialogue (how many press conferences has Bush done?), instead sticking to unwavering repetition of prepared talking points:
And there is I think another part. It is that this White House believes way too much in spin.
David Brooks noted last Sunday on "Meet the Press" that in private Bush aides are knowledgeable and forthcoming about the war--this is working, this isn't, we made a mistake here and are fixing it in this way--but that in public they rely too much on platitudes and talking points.
It's true. The Bush White House treats the message of the day as if it were the only raft in high seas. Hold, cling, don't let go. Their discipline seems not persuasive but panicky.
They think their adherence to spin is sophisticated and ahead of the curve, but it is not. What is sophisticated is to know that the American people have been immersed in media for half a century and know when they're being talked to by robots who got wound up in the spin shop. They are not impressed by rote repetition, cheery insistence or clunky symbolism. They see through it. When you have the president make a big speech and he's standing under the sign that says VICTORY, the American people actually know you're trying to send an unconscious message: Bush equals victory, Bush will bring victory, victory is coming. It's not so much nefarious as corny.
Also makes me incredibly sad to think that the most prosperous country in the world lags a country so corrupt and seemingly screwed up as Mexico when it comes to human rights.
The death penalty will indeed someday be illegal in all developed and civilized parts of the world, and we will rightfully look back on it as barbaric... the lynching of our time. How long will it take before America sees what the rest of the world sees?
I'm hoping it's by 2010. I think there's a good chance.
I've seen him on tv a couple of times in the last few weeks. I'll say this... I like his style. Not his substance. But he is smart, well-spoken, doesn't rant and rave the way most Republicans do. If he's the VP candidate in '08, I hope it provokes a good debate.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Bush's economy speech at the John Deere-Hitachi plant yesterday is the blueprint for Bush's primary talking points going into the mid-term elections next November. Bush will try to talk about somewhat solid overall GDP growth, among other things.
Here is what Democrats have to do in 2006 to combat this: focus on the median person! It might be true that a few aggregate economic factors will be in Bush's favor, but the utter idiocy of Bush's handling of the economy is that it's easy to make aggregate numbers look okay by making the rich a whole lot richer, and keeping everyone else the same!
The growing income and wealth gaps in America are staggering, and they are primarily the result of Bush's policies benefitting the wealthy. Median real wages are not going up in America... they're not even holding steady. They are declining!
Bush has crafted an entirely unsustainable long-term economic model, and Democrats have to call him on it. The average American family is no better off, and in fact is heavily in debt to foreign governments, because of Bush. Democrats must fiercely fight Bush on this point.
Normally I'd wait and publish this with my semi-regular Presidential Odds updates on Friday, but I think this merits its own post.
Ryan Lizza, of the centerish-left publication The New Republic, writes the following:
The well-known curse of the Senate is that it both elevates politicians to within striking distance of the White House and burdens them with the baggage of a complicated voting record and the stench of the Beltway.
This is why Barack Obama must run for president in 2008.
Many people agree with this sentiment. I love Obama... nobody states better the bedrock principals of progressivism/liberalism. I personally have argued, away from this blog, that we need to get Obama out of the Senate as soon as possible - either to the Illinois governorship or the Vice Presidency.
He would, no doubt, be a fantastic senator for many years. His oratorial skills are very Senatorial. About the only thing Obama lacks, in my opinion, is a little of the hard-headed executive mindset - the "what i think is right and we're going to do it" ability that an executive has/needs, and Senators don't.
One of the best arguments for an Obama 2008 campaign is that many Presidents are elected not too long after their political lives begin (think George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter - 6 years of experience each).
There's also a perception out there that Obama is younger than he is. Today he is 44 years old. In 2008 he will be 47, one year older than Bill Clinton was when he took the Presidency in 1992.
In light of this kind of coverage, and in consideration of the arguments, I'm going to bump Obama up in my Presidential Odds from 15:1 to 12:1, tied with John Kerry. If Obama was to actually give ANY signal that he was considering it, he would shoot up into the short odds area occupied only by Hillary at this point.
Public opinion polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans support the death penalty, but that is a significant drop from the peak, in 1994, when 80 percent of respondents told Gallup pollsters they were in favor of capital punishment. When asked if they would endorse executions if the alternative sentence of life without parole were available, support fell to 50 percent. [Emphasis mine].
Forgetting about the philosophical argument of right or wrong in theory, the practical matter is that our system is not capable of providing 100% certainty that its outcomes are correct. And because death is different from other forms of punishment, we cannot continue to practice the death penalty and risk the execution of innocent people. Of the 1000 people executed since 1976, how many have been innocent? I'd guess at least 1% - 10 people. And perhaps as much as 5% - 50 people. Is the killing of the other 900+, as opposed to keeping them locked away for life without parole, really worth the stain on our conscience that killing innocent people brings?
Charles Krauthammer has a profile in the WaPo of how there actually seems to be progress in the Israel/Palestinian conflict this year - intifadeh appears over. no suicide bombs lately - Gaza is now in Palestinian hands, with a border to Egypt they control
Ariel Sharon needs to be commended for the brave step of pulling the settlers out of Gaza. For a reputed hawk, it was a career-risking move, and one he is still paying for in scorn from his (now-former) party Likud. But it definitely seems to be working.
The road appears clear for success. Sharon's new party, Kadima (meaning "forward"), which former-Labor Benjamin Netanyahu has joined, may be the coalition that finally brings peace. And if they lose to Amir Peretz and Labor in May, reconciliation and negotiation should still be the order of the day.
On another note, I've been finding myself liking Krauthammer occasionally, which has definitely come as a surprise.
Swing State Project has a great post on one of the main problems with someone like McCain supporting someone like Santorum. Hop over to their site for the full details, but the summary goes like this:
1. McCain is to campaign for Santorum this week 2. A Republican group is spending almost $1m on tv ads supporting Santorum, but refuses to disclose the 500 people/corporations providing the financial backing. 3. McCain is well-known and on-record as against unreported-source soft money.