Thursday, June 26, 2008

Going away

I'm headed to that cesspool on the Potomac that is lovingly called our nation's capital. I need to meet with the professors at American University so that I can start my masters this fall. I'm also going to check out some of the Smithsonian museums. If I get lucky, maybe I'll see a good political rally.

Probably no updates until next week.

The good news is that I could take a handgun with me if I had one. Oh happy days. Now it's not just the outlaws who have guns.



Monday, June 23, 2008

Passing of a legend

Rest in Peace, George Carlin

You've earned it.

I am planning a future post on this comedic genius' contributions to free speech. For now, here is the Seven Dirty Words video. WARNING! Your office is probably not a free speech zone, so play this at home when the kids are in bed.


Judiciary Committee's Book of the Month Club

I finally finished Scott McClellan’s book. The Book of the Month Club House Judiciary Committee hearing is over. Here’s the video:

Here’s what we learned:


Ok. That statement is a bit disingenuous. The revelations contained therein are nothing that the reality-based community did not already know or infer. Most of the book is concerned with three main issues that he dealt with as press secretary.

First, we hear that the administration oversold the case for war. Well aware. Thanks.

Second, we learned that Scooter Libby certainly and Karl Rove probably blew the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame. This was almost definitely retaliation against Joe Wilson (Plame’s husband) for his questioning of the administration’s rationale for going to war. Yup. Knew that, too. The only real revelation was that Andy Card directed McClellan to exonerate the guy who has the most ridiculous nickname in the history of politics. McClellan seems most upset that Libby and probably Rove lied to him about their involvement in leaking Plame’s identity to the press.

Third, we find that the government really screwed up the response to Hurricane Katrina. We heard about that, too. In one minor revelation, readers did learn that McClellan objected to Bush’s infamous “fly-over” because it might make Bush look detached and unconcerned about the problem. Rove convinced Bush to proceed. Guess what? It made Bush look detached and unconcerned about the drowning city. Imagine that.

There is no case for impeachment against Our Fearless Leader or Darth Cheney in What Happened. It is more of a mea culpa by the former White House spokesman than an indictment of the Administration. It is also a critique of the media’s performance between 2003 and 2006 when McClellan was press secretary. McClellan even exonerates his former boss, noting several times that Bush’s style is to make a broad decision and leave it to his surrogates to work out the details. The advantage of this is that the underlings can take the role of the fall guys while insulating the president from any wrongdoing on their parts.

Instead, McClellan uses these major examples and a few other minor episodes to illustrate the underlying problems with modern politics within the executive branch. The overarching problem is hyper-partisanship (i.e., hate the opposition because they are the opposition rather than on the basis of policy positions). McClellan offers three factors that feed this atmosphere of hyper-partisanship. And yes, Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans. The three factors are:

  1. The permanent campaign
  2. A culture of scandal
  3. Viewing politics as war that is a zero-sum game.

The permanent campaign was identified in 1976. Basically, it means that the party in power attempts to shape public opinion on a policy and silence critics in order to get that policy implemented. This is in contrast to the much more democratic strategy of floating a policy idea and then refining the policy in response to public opinion and input from the opposition. The larger goal is on winning the next election. Influencing public opinion is the point of campaigning, but not the point of governing. This is a situation where governing (theoretically altruistic and non-partisan) becomes secondary to campaigning (necessarily self-serving and partisan) rather than campaigning being secondary to governing.

McClellan decries this strategy by the Bush people, but does correctly point out that it was Bill Clinton’s people who really perfected it. Bush came into office promising to change the Washington game and then proceeded to play it even better than his predecessor. His major case-in-point was the disastrous decision to invade Iraq with shaky evidence. He never says that the administration lied. Instead, they selected the evidence most supportive of their case and disregarded contrary information.

The culture of scandal is nothing new to Washington. Granted corruption and the resulting scandal are inherent in any political system. Arguably, the modern era of the scandal commenced when Ron Ziegler dismissed the Watergate break-in as a “third-rate burglary.” While he was technically correct (those guys were certainly not criminal masterminds), it was the cover-up that ultimately brought down Nixon. The same holds true for Clinton’s Monica-gate. McClellan accepts that notion.

However, McClellan would prefer (at least now) to address scandal when it erupts in a true, open government way. He reasons that the short-term damage of providing the public with all relevant information is less significant than the long-term damage of a cover-up. He accuses the administration of a lack of candor and forthrightness in issues like the war and Plame episode. I tend to agree, but the media will disagree. Ongoing scandal is ratings gold, so they don’t have an interest in resolving any given scandal quickly.

The zero-sum game of war politics is probably the most damaging of these three factors. In a zero-sum game, one side can only win if the other side loses. That means utterly destroying your opponent. This is fine in a game of chess, but is unnecessarily destructive in the game of politics. As the governor of Texas, Bush gained a reputation for working with the Democrats to establish sound policy. The result was that both sides compromised to establish policy that was good for the whole state.

Something must have happened on the airplane ride from Austin to Washington because bi-partisanship was a main theme of Bush’s 2004 campaign. It probably did not help that Washington was already in full partisan mode in early 2001. The Republican Congressional revolution was still strong as was Democrat resentment over the Florida recount. After 9/11, Bush and the Republicans got wide public latitude, especially in regards to national security and foreign policy. When the Republicans controlled the White House and both houses in Congress, they could and did implement policy with little to no opposition input. Even in 2008, the Congressional Democrats are still not fighting back on key issues. Case-in-point: FISA.

McClellan’s solution: a permanent presidential advisor that every future president will be required to retain. This person would essentially be an ombudsman for the administration. This person would have the responsibility for ensuring that the administration is telling the truth and the whole truth while also legitimately working with the opposition party and tending to govern to the center. This person would almost be required to butt heads with the president and senior advisors. I would offer that the person either be from the opposition party (good) or a dedicated and vetted non-partisan (even better).

The second part of the solution is a media the White House does not cow that and that are willing to ask the tough questions. McClellan calls for a return to real investigative journalism rather than a press corps that more resembles a group of stenographers who get to travel the country and world with the president. The problem, Scott, is that mouthpieces like you are so busy constructing the current message and so obsessed with staying on message combined with a secretive administration that it is nearly impossible for journalists to do their jobs. In fairness, McClellan makes a fair mea culpa on this point too, though he likes to think he would have been more forthright if he had all of the information.

To conclude, I offer this stunningly shortsighted paraphrase from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). He asked McClellan why he could not take his story to the grave and do a favor for this country. The answer, of course, is “not a chance.” Rep. King, the air of secrecy compounds the problems that McClellan is identifying. Your attitude seems to be that we should just sweep it all under the rug as usual.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Obama rejects public financing

Senator Obama announced yesterday that he will not accept public financing, and the spending limits that go with it, for his 2008 Presidential bid. He is the first major candidate to reject such funding since the system went into effect in 1976 in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

This is a reversal -- a flip-flop if you will -- from his previous position. Originally, he said he would take the money if his opponent does so as well. In this Washington Post article, Howard Kurtz notes that the late, great Tim Russert told Obama Feb. 27 "you may break your word" on public financing. Obama responded that he would discuss the issue with Senator McCain after the primaries. Now the McCain people are saying that those discussions never really amounted to much.

Kurtz continues on to criticize the media of largely letting this "reversal" slide. Just one example is the New York Times, which headlined with "Obama, in shift, says he'll reject public funding" (emphasis mine).

He then goes on to make the point, quite correctly on the surface, that Obama makes a fallacious argument. In his video, Obama make the point that Republicans have mastered the art of using largely unregulated 527 organizations as surrogate attack groups. That is a valid argument (remember the Swiftboaters), but the Democrats were fairly successful as well. I ended up as a member of (mostly because I wanted Dave Matthews tickets). However, 527s have nothing to do with public financing other than they are completely independent of those funds. Furthermore, the blogosphere, both on the left and right, are doing the 527s' jobs largely for free during this election cycle. People who reflexively forward e-mails like this one are feeding the beast as well.

On the other hand, one always has to question how closely the campaigns (illegally) work with the 527s. Not accusing, just sayin'.

Interestingly, it was Senator McCain's 2002 reform act that prohibited the national parties from using soft money for issue advertising. The point of the reform was to limit the influence of large donors. The 527 exemption, of course, rendered the reform largely pointless as they were well financed and effective. The attacks and issue advertising still happen, they are just not blatantly from a particular campaign or party.

Regardless, I am tentatively supporting Senator Obama's decision on this issue. For one thing, a significant portion of the funds he has raised have come from individuals donating small amounts of money. He is rejecting lobbyist and PAC money, including small donations from non-profit lobbyists like this person.

On the other hand it sounds counterintuitive, but Obama has actually raised almost three times as much money as McCain. From CNN we learned yesterday that Obama has raised $272 million to $98 million raised by McCain. The public funding available later in the campaign amounts to a little more than $84 million. If Obama continues to raise money like this, the $84 million will be a paltry amount of money in comparison. Why take a lesser amount of taxpayer money that comes with spending restrictions when you can spend a greater amount of donated money without restriction?

One last point to make. Opponents of campaign finance reform frame this as a free speech issue. They think that contribution limits have the effect of limiting their influence on the campaign. Well, no s**t. For one thing, it is not like the lobbyists and political action committees don't already have plenty of influence already. For another, shouldn't the voice of the common person, the one who can only afford a $25 contribution, count as well? Does it sound more democratic to allow the wealthiest people to continue to have an inordinate amount of influence in politics? Not from the perspective of a poor person.


Update: Talking Points Memo is reporting that has ended its 527 activities in response to Senator Obama's wishes that such groups not spend money on his behalf. The practical upshot is that the campaign gets to control the message. Of course, this does not apply to the blogosphere.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I'm voting Republican

Not really, but this video is great:

I particularly like the lady right around the 2:15 mark.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fight the smears

As a former full-time journalist, I have a vested interest in reporting the truth. For that reason, I want to prominently promote Senator Obama's new initiative to fight the right wingnuts' smear campaigns against him. Check it out:

Don't believe everything you read in a forwarded e-mail. In fact, you are more likely to be correct if you are skeptical of the outrageous comments. To reiterate:

Senator Obama is not a Muslim.
Senator Obama does not refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Michelle Obama did not use the term "Whitey" on tape.
Senator Obama was born in Hawai'i and is not hiding his birth certificate.
Senator Obama's books do not contain racially inflammatory remarks.

Amazingly, Pew found that about one in ten people think the Senator is a Muslim despite the controversy about the (Christian) Rev. Wright. Only a truly spiritually confused person can be both a Christian and a Muslim. All I can say is "Yikes!" and "where's the logic?"

Please help spread the word.

By way of full disclosure, this was the thing that finally convinced me to donate $25 of my economic stimulus check to the Obama campaign. Spend it well.


McCain and the promise of a sex-free America

Via Brave New Films, we present a glimpse into the alternate universe of a John McCain presidency. While comedic in its presentation, this film is supposedly based directly on Senator McCain's record on reproductive rights.

This video focuses on McCain's view that health insurance companies should not have to cover birth control for women. The implication, of course, is that young folks should not have sex until marriage and then only to reproduce. If you do knock boots, the government is not going to lift a finger to help you avoid an unintentional pregnancy, my friends. This from a guy who dumped his first wife after a disfiguring accident to marry this woman. (In fairness, the first Mrs. McCain still *hearts* the ex.)

For more about the Arizona Senator's 19th century stance on all things carnal, check out Brave New Film's youtube site. There you can learn about his views on abortion (overturn Roe v. Wade) and sex education (abstinence only, darn it).

While I'm on the subject, here's a cold, hard fact. Teenagers are going to have sex, no matter how many purity rings kids wear or creepy father-daughter dances are held. Teens need to hear about sex and need access to birth control. The logic is simple: kids need to know how to "do it" correctly or they will do it incorrectly on their own. However, "doing it" incorrectly is actually more likely to result in the quarterback knocking up the cheerleader (as happened in my cliche of a high school) because any contraceptive education probably came from classmates rather than someone who might actually have the correct information.

Teenage parents generally have a lower standard of living because 1) they have to work to support the young 'uns rather than finish college or even high school and 2) their best years -- their early 20s -- are spent raising children rather than raising hell. Therefore it is irresponsible to withhold birth control and a proper sex education from from women and teenage girls. Moreover, I am pro-choice because, as a male, it is ultimately not my decision to make.

Besides, there is probably nothing worse than discovering your mate is horrible in bed on your wedding night of all times. Personally, this is information that I want to have before entering into a life-time commitment.

When it come right down to it, McCain and his (male) GOP cronies think they know what is best for women, largely because of their interpretation of scripture. Therefore, it is remarkable that he has any support among females, particularly the Hillary supporters who now claim they will vote for the decidedly not feminist McCain. Don't do that!


Update: Here are a tongue-in-cheek, but scarily close to the truth, McCain Loyalty Oaths for gays, women and straight white men. h/t to Feministing for the initial tip.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Vice Presidency ponderings

Generally, the vice presidency ain't worth a warm bucket of spit until a John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, or Leon Czolgosz comes along. In fairness, Darth Cheney has managed to make the job worth his time by taking the lead on various issues. It almost seems like we now have a co-presidency, which has its own set of good and bad points. I'll save that debate for the What Happened review. Scott McClellan offers some interesting insights into the current powers of the vice presidency.

Regardless, it is time to debate who gets the consolation prize from the primaries. I will allow the GOP to debate their choice because they are going to go with *insert boring white guy's name here*. The pressing matter here is who Senator Obama will pick. Here are my top choices:

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. His state has been leaning Democrat and has five electoral votes. More importantly, he would attract the Hispanic vote that generally went to Senator Clinton. He might also bring a bit of rationality to the illegal immigration debate.

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Kansas has six electoral votes that have been same GOP for a long time. However, Kansas did elect a female Democrat as governor. For a bit more about Kansas politics, check out this book. Gov. Sebelius has the potential appeal of a female (who isn't Hillary) on the ticket. Her appeal might also extend into other parts of the Midwest and tip a few other close contests there.

Virgina Senator Jim Webb. A darling of the Democratic party, Webb is a champion of the working class, much like John Edwards. He is a bona fided Vietnam hero with credentials that far exceed those of John Kerry (and he did not testify at the Winter Soldier hearings, for what it's worth). He's also a Southerner, which should help and might even secure 13 electoral votes from Virginia. However, he has some liabilities like a history of insensitive comments on race (and his running mate would be a Black man?); he's a former Republican; and *gasp* he has tattoos. Here's a really good article comparing Webb's pros and cons.

Obama should probably go with a governor or former governor so that he can claim some executive experience in his administration. Legislating is a whole different game than being the chief executive.

One other name I want to throw out there is Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Sure, he was a Hillary supporter. Yes, he is prone to the more than occasional gaffe. Here in Pa., we understand that that's just Ed being Ed. The problem is that the rest of the country does not understand that, nor does the rest of the world. I think he would do a fair to good job as VP, but I am in the minority on this one. Additionally, Pennsylvania is probably going to vote Democratic anyway (if for no other reason than Gov. Ed wants us to do so {LOL}).

In any case I have every confidence that the Obama camp will do this right and get a good candidate.

And speaking of doing things right, Obama picked three people to head up his VP search committee. One member has resigned over the merest indication of impropriety and does not want to be a distraction to the campaign. Cheney, on the other hand, was the chairman of Our Fearless Leader's VP search committee. Guess who they picked. (see paragraph six.)


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Random Thoughts

A few random thoughts today.

First, my copy of What Happened arrived today. A book review is coming soon.

Second, it's finally over. Senator Obama is now officially the presumptive Democratic nominee. His speech was great as usual. Senator Clinton did not concede (say what?) but hopefully her next move will serve to strengthen the party. Senator McCain's speech was a bomb (not da bomb) from all (but one) accounts. My only real gripe is that I wish the networks would have waited until after the Montana polls closed to make the announcement. This is the first time in a long time that the Democratic primaries/caucuses in every state mattered. Give them a few hours to make this thing official. There is no glory in being the first to report the glaringly obvious.

Third, I am now fully supportive of some sort of universal health care. The reason for the brief post is that I had to visit the doctor this morning. I paid $86 for the doctor to look in my throat and write a prescription. On the other hand, Walmart's $4 prescription plan is one of the few things about the company that I can agree with.

Fourth, go Pens! They played a heckuva game that went to triple overtime. They trail the series 3-2, but are playing at home next.

Fifth, we present a man who probably wouldn't know his arse from a hole in the ground if there was crap oozing from one and a sign next to the other reading "caution: hole in the ground." New York Times columnist David Brooks asserted that Senator Obama will have trouble relating to "downscale" people (whatever the hell that means) because he would not fit naturally at the salad bar at Applebees. Reality calling David Brooks: Applebees does not have a salad bar.

Oh, and Senator Obama is the least wealthy of the candidates. As a community organizer in Chicago's Southside, I am guessing that he has meet with quite a lot of "downscale" people.

Finally, I am glad that I am too old to be drafted. Looks like Israel is trying to push the United States into another war, this time against Iran. It's not the first time this issue has reared its ugly head. Please, Mr. President do not get us into another bad situation and leave it to your successor to clean up after you.