Friday, September 29, 2006

Thanks For Coming -- So When Are You Leaving?

The University of Maryland (for World Public polled Iraqis on the Iraq war and their attitudes toward the U.S. Some fun numbers – 37% want our troops out within 6 months, 34% want us out within a year, 20% within 2 years, and only 9% when the security situation improves. So the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfield position has the support of a whopping 9% of Iraqis. For those of you who are mathematically challenged, nearly eight times as many Iraqis want us out within a year than wants us to stay until they are secure.
Breaking that down by ethnic group – 91% of Sunnis want us out within a year and 74% of Shiites do. On the other hand, 31% of Kurds want an open-ended commitment. The last time this poll was held (in January) only 22% of Shiites wanted us out in 6 months, now 36% do. They seem to have an urgency about all this that is lacking in Washington. When asked if the U.S. presence is “provoking more conflict than it’s preventing” 78% of Shiites said yes and an astonishing 97% of Sunnis said yes. Not coincidentally, 82% of those who believe we are provoking more conflict want us out within a year – the others are apparently enjoying the gunfire. 84% say they have little (22%) or no (62%) confidence in the U.S. military – although the Kurds like us, by 55-45. Ah, but what would happen to the government if we withdrew? 53% of Iraqis say our withdrawal would strengthen the government, while just 23% say it would weaken it. But what do they know, they’re only there. By the way, even the Kurds (39-37) agree with that premise.
One other thing – 61% of Iraqis (27% strongly, 34% somewhat) favor attacks on U.S.- led forces. So much for winning the hearts and minds of the population. 92% of Sunnis favor attacks, 62% of Shiites – again, the scary news is that the Shiite number has jumped 21 points since January. Hey, but there is good news in there too (the Nattering Nabob doesn’t want to be accused of negativity) -- of the 92% of Sunnis who are in favor of attacks, only 55% are strongly in favor – that’s down from 77% in January. I guess the difference between being strongly in favor of attacks on troops and somewhat in favor is just how loudly you cheer and how many times you fire your rifle in the air on hearing the news.
So let’s make sure we have this straight – our people don’t want our troops there and their people don’t want our troops there. If only there was a form of government where the actions of the leaders reflected the will of the people.

World Public Opinion Poll Results

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Six Weeks To Go

The elections are six weeks from today. The Nattering Nabob (that’s me) will check in on a regular basis on the horse race aspects of things and this is my first visit to the action.
Much of the punditocracy in Washington has been talking about the Democrats taking control of the House. The generic polling data has indicated that the people clearly want a change and have even talked about getting rid of their own Congressman to do it. The problem is the electoral map is rigged. In some cases, merely by demographic shifts – liberals moving to liberal communities and even more significantly, conservatives seeking out like-minded places to raise their families. In many cases, gerrymandering has rigged things. The GOP carving up of Texas and Georgia was the most notable, but what happened out here in California was, in some ways, worse. Years ago, the Democrats and Republicans carved up the state to preserve their own seats, not just in Congress, but in the state legislatures as well. The reason for this is the arcane budgetary process we have, which the Republicans, by virtue of having more than a third of the seats, retain veto power over. So they locked in that, conceded Dem control of the legislature and Congressional delegation. The results of this were at their most sickening in 2004 – not one legislative seat in the entire state changed parties. Since CA has 10% of the House, gains in other states will have to do the job, since the most the Dems will gain here is one – if they’re lucky. Overall, this should be very tight and, with potential party-switchers factored in, this may not be over until someone is actually elected Speaker.
So we’ll focus on the Senate, where there is specific polling data to look at. The GOP needs 50 seats for control, so let’s see if we can build their majority. They start with 40 seats not up this time, add in ME, IN, MS, UT, WY, TX, and NV and they’re at 47. Arizona is interesting, in that Jon Kyl is an incumbent who seems to be having trouble. Most polls seem to have him up from 5 to 10 points and frankly, it’s hard to see the upset happening here. Pederson’s big hope there is that Gov. Janet Napolitano’s expected huge (13-15 point) win comes with serious coat tails. There is hope here for the Dems, but until I see a poll with Pederson closing fast, I’ll assume Kyl holds on – giving the GOP 48.
The good news for the Dems is that there is no other race I’m assuming the Republicans have. The bad news is that RI, NJ, VA, TN, MO, OH, and MT are very much in play. The Dems will need 6 of 7 to win control, so let’s take a quick walk through them.

RI – The good news is that Whitehouse is winning, the bad news is that a good guy like Lincoln Chaffee is the kind of Republican most in danger. There used to be a lot of his kind, moderates of an independent bent, with traditionally conservative economics and moderate social policies. Whitehouse is consistently up in polls, but not by a lot – this result could be a negative bellwether for the Dems on election night. It’s a little ironic that a guy named Whitehouse is going to win because folks in RI can’t stand the White House.

NJ- Over in PA, Dem empty suit Bob Casey is winning a GOP seat on the basis of his father’s name and popularity. In NJ, the GOP strikes back with Tom Kean’s boy. Kean has been consistently ahead by 3-5, but the latest Rasmussen poll has it at 1. That could be a blip or the start of a trend – it better be a trend for the Dems, because losing this seat would doom them.

VA- First, I’d like to welcome George Allen to the tribe – Happy New Year, Georgie. (You notice how every election cycle someone finds out he has Jewish blood? Last time it was John Kerry. You notice how this doesn’t help them at all?) Okay, I’m not really hoping this is a happy new year for him – I hope he loses. It’s really possible, as this race has gradually drifted from the “are you kidding?” column, to the “safe” column, to the “leaning” column to the “holy shit, we could lose this” column. We’re six weeks out and the debate is centering around whether Allen regularly used the word “nigger” or just occasionally did. Since he isn’t a hip-hop artist, it’s not a good debate for him. Add in “macaca” and a closeted Jewish mother and you have a campaign that is a mess. Locals are often unhappy about Senators who have bigger (Presidential) plans and that could also hurt George. I think Webb has a really good chance of the upset here.

TN- Harold Ford is trying to become the first black Senator from the South since reconstruction. I know, this falls under the heading of “I’ll believe it when I see it”, but every poll has it tight and getting tighter. The most recent poll has Ford ahead, but I’d wait for confirmation from at least one more before I start celebrating. One more thing – black candidates for statewide office almost always do worse on election day than the polling data indicates. It looks tight, but there’s work to do.

MO- A true tossup. Claire McCaskill lost a tight race for Governor in 2004 and many in MO are sorry she did. Incumbent Senator Jim Tallent is a social conservative and stem-cell research is a big issue there. This race is a good test of how far to the right MO has drifted. Latest polls seem to be trending to McCaskill, ever so slightly.

OH- Mike DeWine has been racing to the middle as fast as he can. Democrat Sherrod Brown has been leading in the polls for a while. DeWine’s campaign seems to be “I am not George Bush’s butt boy” – Brown disagrees. Hey – the folks in OH know they’re responsible for Bush’s second term, this can’t be helping DeWine.

MT- What is a three-term Republican Senator in a Mountain state which Bush won by 20 points two years ago doing in trouble? Well, start by taking money from Jack Abramoff, then follow that up by attacking the competence of firefighters from Virginia who came to help put out forest fires, and you end up with a disapproval rating well above 50%. If Tester wins this, MT will have a Democratic Governor and two Democratic Senators – weird, huh? He has a lead in the polls and this looks like it’s going to happen – I included it here because I’m leery of assuming a three-term incumbent is headed for defeat.

If you think politics are nasty and divisive now, imagine them with a 50-50 Senate and a 218-217 House.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Papal Inflammability

So Pope Benedict made a speech where he decided an interfaith dialogue would best be served by quoting a medieval Byzantine emperor about how Islam is a religion of violence. Nice way to lay the groundwork for your upcoming trip to Turkey, infallible Holy Father. Muslims around the world responded to this calumny by storming the streets, burning the Pope in effigy, and burning a few churches. Nice, non-violent, reasoned response, fellow children of Abraham. The Pope said he was sorry Muslims were offended. Muslims said “not good enough – we have plenty more effigies where those came from”.
So Catholicism now joins the list of religions Muslims hate a lot this year – to recap, they hate Hindus because of India/Pakistan, they hate Catholics because of the Pope’s quotes, they hate Protestants because of Danish cartoons, they hate Jews because it’s their business. So those interfaith breakfasts at Mecca will include just Muslims, Buddhists, and Ramsay Clark. Of course, given what’s happening in Iraq, the Muslims themselves aren’t exactly on good terms, since the Shiites hate the Sunnis. God is indeed great and my version is greater than yours or else.
What impresses me is how fast they can organize these street protests. I mean, we have a march, it takes months to organize; they get tens of thousands out there the next day. Signs are painted, effigies are built, chants are ready to be chanted – these people are the world’s experts at coordinated anger.
The effigies really interest me. Are these independently created? Does some guy hear the news and run home to build an effigy of the Pope? Is it a family activity? Or is there a local effigy maker, who is called up by the coordinator of the angry march?

“Ahmed, we need an effigy for a big march tomorrow.”
“I have a Bush effigy ready to go.”
“No, it’s the Pope.”
“Wow. I’ve never done the Pope before – he wears white, right?”

Is there a competition between the local effigy maker “Ahmed, Effigy Maker to the Stars” and a chain, “Effigies R Us”? Will the Baghdad Wal-Mart destroy the local effigy business when they open? Will there be angry marches about Wal-Mart? What will the effigies be?
Meanwhile, in domestic news, the first team eliminated from CBS' The Amazing Race was comprised of two devout Muslims. Ahmed, get the Jerry Bruckheimer effigy ready

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Survivor: Race Wars

What could cause the NY City Council and the NAACP to be up in arms over racial issues and even demand the withdrawal of a TV program? It’s Survivor: Cook Islands, where the producers divided the teams by race and ethnicity. Yes, this is the biggest problem facing minorities in America, a reality show. My guess is that most of these grandstanding pols and activists have never seen the show, but that isn’t going to stop them from shooting their mouths off. Jeff Probst was interviewed by Joe Scarborough last night and said the reason they tried this is that they get very few non-white applicants to be on the show and that lack of diversity in the cast has caused low ratings among blacks and Latinos. They hope that this will give them a rooting interest and that by expanding the audience among young minorities, they will also get more applicants from those groups. Once again, this demonstrates that the only color that matters in Hollywood is green.
But many of us have been left out of this grand experiment. Why don’t I get a Jewish team to root for? Seriously, all white people aren’t alike. What do I have in common with a truck driver from Alabama, or hunting guide from Montana? I’m sure the producers thought about the concept, but envisaged nothing but trouble from Team Hebrew.
(Note: the following contains many ethnic stereotypes – if this offends you, stop reading now. Really. Stop. Don’t even read the first sentence. I’m not kidding.)

Day One: Team Hebrew tries to hire locals to build their shelter. When the producers tell them it’s against the rules, they demand to see the rule – in writing – or they will sue. Unfortunately, having nothing that passes for currency, and finding the natives unwilling to accept a promissory note, the team is forced to build their own shelter.

Day Two: After 24 hours of bickering over the design and location of the shelter, construction begins.

Day Three: Construction on the shelter finally ends with a new appreciation for the use of tools.

First Reward Challenge: When they find that running and jumping are involved, they threaten to sue because the black and Latino teams have an advantage, which they need to overcome with a head start. The Asian team agrees with them, but will not join in the suit, instead promising to work longer and harder to catch up. Half the white team threatens to kick the crap out of the Jewish team if they don’t stop whining. A protest is filed, which the producers agree to consider at a later date.

First Immunity Challenge: When half the team refuses to participate in the eating of bugs and insects because they aren’t kosher (the other half threatens to sue if the first half is made to eat them), the challenge is switched to walking across a patch of hot sand filled with broken seashells in bare feet, The Jewish team’s mothers plotz when they see this.

Day Five: Several of the team members are constipated from the constant diet of rice. Two of the team members threaten to sue if fresh fruit is not provided. They settle for laxatives.

Second Reward Challenge: A puzzle-solving challenge results in a fierce battle between the Jewish team and the Asian team. Things get heated as they taunt each other with their SAT scores. The Jewish team offers to split the reward if the Asian team agrees to join them in their next legal challenge. A compromise is reached and everyone is happy except the producers.

Second Immunity Challenge: Start of swimming challenge is delayed because the team ate less than half an hour ago and refuses to go in the ocean that soon after eating.

Day Seven: Jeff Probst has a nervous breakdown and the teams are split up and re-organized.

Now wouldn’t that be a fun show to watch?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Democracy is the Answer – Now What’s the Question?

One of the key axioms of the Bushistas is that democracy will be the cure-all for what is wrong with the world, particularly the Middle East. So far, it’s not going so well. Between the mess in Iraq, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the democracy solution has pretty much blown up in our faces.
The problem with the theory is that a democracy, a government selected by the people, is only restrained by the people, not by underlying principles. If the people want to elect, as they have, Hitler, Peron, or that loony in Iran, then they will get the resulting laws and government that those people will put in effect. Our rights and freedoms are not guaranteed by our democracy, they are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and an independent judiciary which interprets and enforces them. We have freedom of the press, free speech, rights to assembly, and all the other rights we take as given not because we elected people, but because the Founding Fathers gave us the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Now this administration is not happy about either the Bill of Rights or the independent judiciary, but they can’t just get rid of them. The Founding Fathers weren’t all that thrilled with democracy, to a great extent because of the fear of a temporary majority dominating the minority. Of course, even with those Constituional safeguards, the people didn’t vote for the President directly, the Senate was selected by state legislators, and only white men, mostly property owners, could vote for anything.
Every time someone talks about how “majority rules” is at the heart of our democracy, they are demonstrating a stunning ignorance. The heart of our democracy is minority rights. Individual rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, not the power of the majority. Majorities change, but rights cannot come and go. Freedom is not subject to electoral whim.
The problem is that in the Middle East, the Bill of Rights doesn’t exist. Nor, for that matter, does the mindset which created it. Without the hard limits on governmental power over the individual, elections are not just a way to express the desires of the people, but a route to power and dominance by a majority. Is there any wonder that things have gone so badly in Iraq? The religious and ethnic minorities know there is nothing to protect them from the majority. Women fear the fundamentalists will take away all their rights. Non-Muslims will fare even worse. The rush to make sure there was an elected government may prove as dumb as everything else done in that country. You need a civil society first, then the people can choose a government without resorting to the most basic tribal or religious groupings. The only institutions that work in Iraq are the religious ones, so all politics are built around religion. The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfield failure to understand this concept is not surprising, but it doesn’t make it any less tragic.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Your tax dollars at work

I know that in the context of our massive federal budget, $20 million is sort of like losing a nickel in the seat cusions of your couch, but the Bushistas in the Pentagon have decided to spend that much on this.
Now it's not surprising that the Bush regime thinks of the war in Iraq as a PR problem, rather than a disaster. Monitoring the foreign reporting of the war for the proper "tone" is merely a pointless waste of money. But when it comes to monitoring the U.S. coverage, we cross into a whole new arena. The press then becomes either the handmaiden of the war effort (a job they performed admirably during the run-up and early days of the war) or the enemy of the war effort -- begging the Stephen Colbert question "why do you hate our troops?" if the "tone" of their reporting is not up to Bush standards.
In Bush's America, image is more important than reality, perception than policy, and beliefs than facts. Remember, War is Peace, Love is Hate, and only Big Brother can protect you from the enemy.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Moral Confusion

Moral Confusion

A week ago, Donald Rumsfield, in a speech to the American Legion, accused those who opposed the Bush war in Iraq of suffering from “moral or intellectual confusion about what is right and wrong.” He compared critics of his war to appeasers in World War II. He referred to the rise of a “new kind of fascism” which we have to fight.
Obviously I disagree with the first part – I am opposed to the war and I assure him I am not confused. The merchants of death on Pennsylvania Avenue may like to think that they are the ones with moral clarity, but I assure them they are not alone. Oddly, I agree with him on the rise of a new kind of fascism. But it is not occurring in the Middle East, it is occurring in Washington, D. C. Democracy requires a certain amount of honesty when discussing policy. This administration has repeatedly ignored the truth whenever it will help them reach their desired ends. Scientific inquiry and results are ignored if they do not fit the dogma of the administration and its beliefs. Debate is not tolerated – those in the administration who differ from the party line are summarily dismissed – whether they be Generals (Shinsekis), or cabinet Secretaries (O’Neil). As in any good tyranny, it has fit the needs of the government to keep the people in fear, for if the people are in fear and feel the leader (whether Big Brother, Il Duce, or W.) is the one protecting them from the enemy and death, they will rally behind him. The trashing of the Constitution by Bush and his minions is perhaps the most horrifying thing. The concept that the “Commander in Chief” clause gives the President unlimited power in war time, power to ignore every law Congress passes and to permit anyone he wishes to ignore the law in his service is the most pernicious interpretation of the Constitution ever. Does that not strike at the very heart of our democracy? Is not the essence of American democracy that no one, not even the President can be above the law – any law?
As for moral and intellectual confusion, here are few Americans with views on this sort of thing – you may recognize the names.

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

-Theodore Roosevelt

"For if Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter."

-- George Washington

"Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people, by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations."

-- James Madison

This one, by Madison, is a bit long, but so germane he could have been writing it now, although with different punctuation.

"The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature. But the Doctrines lately advanced strike at the root of all these provisions, and will deposit the peace of the Country in that Department which the Constitution distrusts as most ready without cause to renounce it. For if the opinion of the President not the facts & proofs themselves are to sway the judgment of Congress, in declaring war, and if the President in the recess of Congress create a foreign mission, appoint the minister, & negociate a War Treaty, without the possibility of a check even from the Senate, untill the measures present alternatives overruling the freedom of its judgment; if again a Treaty when made obliges the Legislature to declare war contrary to its judgment, and in pursuance of the same doctrine, a law declaring war, imposes a like moral obligation, to grant the requisite supplies until it be formally repealed with the consent of the President & Senate, it is evident that the people are cheated out of the best ingredients in their Government, the safeguards of peace which is the greatest of their blessings."

He wrote that to Jefferson in 1798 -- without ever meeting George Bush or even Paul Wolfowitz.

I will proudly stand with those men, who I am confident would oppose the current dangerous occupants of the executive branch.

As for an analysis of the President and his style, here’s something that seems dead on –

“His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

That is from an OSS report during WW II, describing Hitler’s psychological profile.
No, I'm not comparing Bush to Hitler. Just his political style and those of his minions to the most egregious example of fascism. In the last days of the Soviet Union, pollsters found that with near unanimity, the people assumed that anything the government told them was a self-serving lie. Does that sound familiar?

The Bush administration is surely not morally confused – just morally bankrupt.


Keith Olbermann had a response to both Rumsfield and the subsequent yammerings of the Bushistas. I strongly recommend them to you. Both the commentaries (10/30 and 9/5) are in his blog in written form and in video to its right.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Farewell To A Champion

Andre Agassi said goodbye to tennis today. Even more important, the fans at the US Open got to say goodbye to him with an ovation so loud and long that he was reduced to tears. Andre Agassi was not the best player of his generation, most likely he was #2 behind Pete Sampras. Yet he was far more loved by the audience than Sampras ever was. Why was that? Was it just that he hung around longer, struggled harder, fought back more often? Sampras had great talent and great class, yet the public never quite warmed up to him.
We remember Agassi as that brash kid with the long hair. He cultivated that image as a rebel – even doing commercials for a camera named “Rebel”. He wore colorful tennis outfits,he had multi-colored hair, then he shaved off his hair, and was constantly a feisty force on and off court. Sampras was always Sampras – cool, calm, with the heart of champion and incredible will. There was no outward difference between the 22 year-old Sampras and the 32 year-old Sampras. As he aged, his back hurt more often, but he always fought through it. He retired suddenly – having won the US Open one last time, he chose to walk away on top...where he belonged. Agassi went down fighting, as he did everything. Andre had matured from the rebellious youth to husband and father; from the in-your-face punk to the elder statesman. But underneath the outward changes, he always had a deep respect for the game. He always played Davis Cup. He always seemed to know that the fans mattered to tennis and that he wasn’t the sport, just a part of it that someday would go. In the end the fans gave him the love that very few athletes get back. Could the young Agassi have imagined the moment where having lost his last match, with the cheers raining down on him, he would break down emotionally? Could any of us? For in Agassi we see ourselves, see our own changing lives, our own struggles, and our own growth. That made him special and he was rewarded by the fans in a special way.
No one would rank him ahead of Sampras, yet, unlike Sampras, he did win all four Grand Slam tournaments -- a feat which, given the rise of clay court specialists, may never be accomplished again. He was a fighter in the best sense of the word and now it’s time for him to relax. Well done, Andre.