Monday, December 31, 2007

Iowa's screwy system

John Fund lays out some of the many reasons why the Iowa caucuses are a travesty of the democratic process and such a poor system for determining who should be a party's nominee. First of all, the fact that you have to come out for one or two hours on a snowy January evening means that the turnout is quite low.
Caucuses occur only at a fixed time at night, so that many people working odd hours can't participate. They can easily exceed two hours. There are no absentee ballots, which means the process disfranchises the sick, shut-ins and people who are out of town on the day of the caucus. The Democratic caucuses require participants to stand in a corner with other supporters of their candidate. That eliminates the secret ballot.

There are reasons for all this. The caucuses are run by the state parties, and unlike primary or general elections aren't regulated by the government. They were designed as an insiders' game to attract party activists, donors and political junkies and give them a disproportionate influence in the process. In other words, they are designed not to be overly democratic. Primaries aren't perfect. but at least they make it fairly easy for everyone to vote, since polls are open all day and it takes only a few minutes to cast a ballot.
All the talk about how wonderful it is for ordinary Iowans to meet candidates up close in the months ahead of time really means that it is great for party activists to be the ones who choose the candidate rather than the general electorate in Iowa. It's just a bigger, more convoluted system replacing the smoke-filled rooms of yore.

As Fund explains, the fun doesn't stop there.
Democrats have a mind-numbingly complex system in which participants divide up into "candidate preference groups" by standing up. No paper ballots are used. Those candidates who don't get support from 15% or more of those attending a local caucus are deemed not to be "viable," and their supporters have to realign with some other candidate.

"That's when it gets kind of crazy," says Mark Daley, a former spokesman for the Iowa Democratic Party. "There will be people screaming back and forth . . . and senior citizens with calculators trying to do the math." Only after all this are county convention delegates allocated among the candidates and the results phoned in to the state Democratic Party. Delegates aren't actually allocated until the Democratic county conventions in March.

Not all local caucuses are equal. The "entrance" polls of voter preferences that you will see reported Thursday night are likely to be from urban areas, which may shortchange candidates like John Edwards, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson, who have campaigned more heavily in rural areas. "It's entirely possible that John Edwards could come in a stunning second when all the votes are in, but the country will have gone to bed thinking he only took third place," says Howard Fineman of Newsweek.

Rural Iowa matters for another reason in the Democratic contest. In order to encourage candidates to campaign in farming areas, state Democrats have tilted the delegate allocation so that rural areas are disproportionately represented in the final results. This sometimes can lead to bizarre results. As Roger Simon of Politico.com notes, "the turnout in some precincts is so small that a single family--let's say four people--can determine the winner. In other precincts, only one person will show up and win for his candidate by being the only person in the room." In small-turnout caucus meetings, ties are resolved by a coin toss or drawing lots. In 2004, four precincts saw literally no one show up to vote in the Democratic caucus.
I blame the media for all the importance given to the Iowa caucuses. Ever since Jimmy Carter camped out in Iowa for a year ahead of time, the mythology of the Iowa caucuses has grown out of all perspective of what it represents. It's a straw poll like other such events in the year preceding an election where organization and money can corral party activists into giving the impression that one candidate is in the lead. If the media could just resist the temptation to talk about Iowa as if it mattered in the real world, then we could all go back to ignoring it as we did in the pre-Carter years.

Perhaps if the results from Iowa show a clear victory for Huckabee and Edwards who then go on to sink into obscurity in the primary votes coming throughout the rest of January and February 5, we can start ignoring the votes of a hundred thousand activists from such an unrepresentative state and candidates will stop putting all their eggs in the Iowans' baskets.

Thinking about an Edwards presidency

Stuart Rothenberg ponders the difficulties that a President Edwards would have in governing. Running as this year's Howard Dean angry populist, he'd have a tough time trying to bridge the hyperpartisanship dividing Washington. More importantly, his economic rhetoric is just plain bad economics.
Just as important, a President Edwards might well find that his view of the American economy is built on sand. For while Edwards bashes corporate America and "them," this nation's economy depends on the success of both small business and big business.

Scare the stuffing out of Corporate America and watch the stock market tumble. That's certain to make retirement funds - including those owned by labor unions and "working families" - happy, right? Stick it to Wal-Mart, and their 1.8 million employees are at risk. Beat up on IBM, and you are beating up on their 330,000 employees. Take a pound of flesh from General Electric, Citigroup, Home Depot and United Technologies, and you've put the squeeze on just under 1.2 million employees.
And don't forget the millions of "working families" who now have their savings invested in 401K's and elsewhere in the stock market. There is no "us" and "them" anymore. We'll either prosper or suffer together, but Edwards would still like to talk as if it were in the 1930s.

Speaking of the Great Depression, read Amity Shlaes today on why big public works programs are not the panacea to save the economy as some politicians, including Edwards, are now proposing.
The New Deal also created a lot of jobs--millions. And the New Deal did cause significant business activity. Industrial production--factory activity, basically--came back to 1929 levels around the time of Roosevelt's re-election. All of these outcomes are taken as evidence of public spending's success.

But what really stands out when you step back from the picture is not how much the public works achieved. It is how little. Notwithstanding the largest peacetime appropriation in the history of the world, the New Deal recovery remained incomplete. From 1934 on--the period when the spending ramped up--monetary troubles were subsiding, and could no longer be blamed alone for the Depression. The story of the mid-1930s is the story of a heroic economy struggling to recuperate but failing to do so because lawmakers' preoccupation with public works rather got in the way of allowing productive businesses to expand and pull the rest forward.

What was wrong with those public works jobs? Many created enduring edifices--New York's Triborough Bridge, for example, the Mountain Theater of Mount Tamalpais State Park outside San Francisco, the Texas Post Office murals, which were funded by Henry Morgenthau's Treasury. But the public jobs did their work inefficiently. That was because the jobs were scripted to serve political ends, not economic ones.
She goes on to give evidence from her excellent book on the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man which is an even-handed look at how the New Deal programs affected individuals, giving relief jobs to many, but still stifling efforts by private businessmen to start investing again in the economy.

Cliches to avoid

The Public Relations Department at Lake Superior State University have issued a list of cliches to avoid in the new year. While I've never heard of Lake Superior State University, avoiding cliches is always a good thing to do. Saying that some event that involved coincidence is a "perfect storm" became the top cliche on their list. Here is one that I hadn't really thought through, but now makes perfect sense as one to avoid.
Other contributors took umbrage at the phrase to "give back" as applied to charitable gestures, usually by celebrities.

"The notion has arisen that as one's life progresses, one accumulates a sort of deficit balance with society which must be neutralized by charitable works or financial outlays," one said.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mistakes in war

Victor Davis Hanson has a must-read essay in the Claremont Review of Books about the history of America at war. One feature of modern commentary about the war in Iraq is the seeming presumption that there have been more mistakes made in Iraq than any other time in our history. Hanson starts off by running through some quotes making that accusation. If you know anything about military history, you should know that every war is riddled with tragic mistakes.
But what is missing from the national debate over the "worst" war in our history is any appreciation of past American military errors—political, strategic, technological, intelligence, tactical—that nearly cost us victory in far more important conflicts. Nor do we accept the savage irony of war that only through errors, tragic though they may be, do successful armies adjust in time to discover winning strategies, tactics, and generals.

Preoccupied with the daily news from Baghdad, we seem to think our generation is unique in experiencing the heartbreak of an error-plagued war. We forget that victory in every war goes to the side that commits fewer mistakes—and learns more from them in less time—not to the side that makes no mistakes. A perfect military in a flawless war never existed—though after Grenada and the air war over the Balkans we apparently thought otherwise. Rather than sink into unending recrimination over Iraq, we should reflect about comparable blunders in America's past wars and how they were corrected. Without such historical knowledge we are condemned to remain shrill captives of the present.
Read the rest of Hanson's essay for his coverage of mistakes made in wars throughout our nation's history. And he's just scratching the surface. What is more impressive is how we have been able to recover from those mistakes. As Michael Barone writes, the American military has a resilence that is truly impressive.
Lesson one is that just about no mission is impossible for the United States military. A year ago it was widely thought, not just by the new Democratic leaders in Congress but also in many parts of the Pentagon, that containing the violence in Iraq was impossible. Now we have seen it done.

We have seen this before in American history. George Washington’s forces seemed on the brink of defeat many times in the agonizing years before Yorktown. Abraham Lincoln’s generals seemed so unsuccessful in the Civil War that in August 1864 it was widely believed he would be defeated for re-election. But finally Lincoln found the right generals. Sherman took Atlanta and marched to the sea; Grant pressed forward in Virginia.

Franklin Roosevelt picked the right generals and admirals from the start in World War II, but the first years of the war were filled with errors and mistakes. Even Vietnam is not necessarily a counterexample. As Lewis Sorley argues persuasively in A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam, Gen. Creighton Abrams came up with a winning strategy by 1972. South Vietnam fell three years later when the North Vietnamese army attacked en masse, and Congress refused to allow the aid the U.S. had promised.
Yes, these mistakes have been tragic and it is surely no comfort to the families of those who have died in Iraq to be told that all wars have their share of mistakes. But to expect a war to be fought without error is to expect something that has never occurred.

An interesting factoid I hadn't known

While scrolling around the web just browsing on information to get ready for teaching the Gilded and Progressive Ages when school starts back up, I ran across this fact that I hadn't known before.
Voter participation peaked in the election of 1896 at around 80 percent of the eligible voters in non-southern states. Thereafter, voter participation in non-southern states began a steady drop from 74 percent in 1900 to less than 60 percent in 1920. Much of the decline stemmed from intensified restrictions on the franchise. In the 1880s, eighteen states allowed immigrants to vote without first becoming citizens. By 1912, only seven states -- all with small immigrant populations -- still allowed alien suffrage. Also, virtually every state passed some form of personal registration law between 1890 and 1920, often requiring personal registration and proper identification, a period of residency, intervals between registration and voting, literacy tests, property qualification, and poll taxes. [Emphasis added]
I hadn't been aware that noncitizens could vote in so many states in the 19th century, even in the 1880s, a period well after the hightide of the Know Nothings in the 1850s. Of course, back then, it was well within the interests of local politicians who used their political machines to take care of the immigrants and thus gain their loyalty at the voting booth to make sure that those grateful immigrants could cast ballots without having to wait to be naturalized.

One of the goals of the Progressive Movement was to clean up the corruption in politics that arose from machine politicians being able to manipulate the loose voting laws. So they pushed for more rigid rules on voter registration and balloting procedures. One of the side effects of those efforts was to disfranchise immigrants and blacks in the South.

Understanding Pakistan

Mark Steyn looks at the rush-to-pronounce on Pakistan.
It’s tempting to rerun my column on Pakistan from a month ago. Not because I predicted the assassination of Benazir Bhutto or offered any other great insight, but rather for the opposite reason: “Everyone’s an expert on Pakistan, a faraway country of which we know everything: General Musharraf should do this, he shouldn’t have done that, the State Department should lean on him to do the other… Well, I dunno. It seems to me a certain humility is appropriate when offering advice to Islamabad.”

Oh, well. In the stampede of instant experts unveiling their Pakistani solutions-in-a-box, some contributions are worthy of special attention. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who is apparently running for the Democratic presidential nomination, was in no doubt about what needs to happen in the next, oh, 48 hours:

“President Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately... It is in the interests of the U.S. that there be a democratic Pakistan that relentlessly hunts down terrorists.”

Wow. Who knew it was that easy?

Except maybe it isn’t. A “broad-based coalition” of “all the democratic parties” would be a ramshackle collection of socialists, kleptocrats, tribal gladhanders and Islamists. Whether this is the horse to back if you’re looking for a team that “relentlessly hunts down terrorists” is, to say the least, uncertain.
As Steyn notes, Pakistan is becoming the new Afghanistan with Islamicist radicals, Al Qaeda and Taliban supporters controlling the western regions and the central government's army and intelligence operations too riddled with supporters of those Waziristan radicals to be dependable in any effort to root them out of those tribal areas. This isn't a situation that getting tough with Musharraf, the election of Bhutto's party, or pushing for early elections was going to solve.
One way to look at what’s happened over the last five years is simply that Afghanistan and Pakistan have swapped roles. In the Eighties, Washington used Pakistan to subvert Afghanistan. Since the fall of Mullah Omar, the Taliban, a monster incubated by Pakistan, has swarmed back across the border and begun subverting Pakistan. Today, it’s the tribal lands that have a 200-yard corridor through the rest of the country, exporting Islamist values through the network of madrassahs to the fierce young men in the cities. Just as the Taliban eventually seized control of Afghanistan, so they believe they’ll one day control Pakistan. Stan-wise, the principal difference is that control of the latter will bring them a big bunch of nukes. Meanwhile, life goes on. Just as the tribal lands seem to be swallowing Pakistan, so Pakistan is swallowing much of the world. It exports its manpower and its customs around the globe, and Pakistani communities in the heart of west have provided the London School of Economics student who masterminded the beheading of Daniel Pearl, the Torontonians who plotted to do the same to the Canadian Prime Minister, and the Yorkshiremen who pulled off the London Tube bombing. Saudi men pay lip service to Wahhabist ideology but it rouses very few of them from their customary torpor. In Pakistan, Islamism spurs a lot more action.
All those wise recommendations of what we should have been doing before 9/11 to ward off that attack are now relevant again as we are vulnerable around the world for whatever nutjobs are training now in Waziristan.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Let your sons play with toy guns

For too long some parents and teachers have reacted with horror to the idea of little boys running around with toy weapons thinking that this encouraged aggressive behavior. Well, now some British child development specialists are advocating that you just let the boys use their imaginations and play with the toys if that is what they want.
The guidance, called Confident, Capable and Creative: Supporting Boys' Achievements, is issued by the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

It says some members of staff "find the chosen play of boys more difficult to understand and value than that of girls." This is mainly because they tend to choose activities with more action, often based outdoors.

"Images and ideas gleaned from the media are common starting points in boys' play and may involve characters with special powers or weapons.

"Adults can find this particularly challenging and have a natural instinct to stop it.

"This is not necessary as long as practitioners help the boys to understand and respect the rights of other children and to take responsibility for the resources and environment."

The report says: "Creating situations so that boys' interests in these forms of play can be fostered through healthy and safe risk-taking will enhance every aspect of their learning and development."

It cites a North London children's centre which helped boys create a "Spiderman House" and print pictures of the superhero from the internet.

This led to improvements in their communication, ability to develop storylines in their play and skills in drawing, reading and writing.

The guidance is aimed at boosting boys' achievement. They often fall behind girls even before starting school and the trend can continue throughout their academic careers.

Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said: "The guidance simply takes a commonsense approach to the fact that many young children and perhaps particularly many boys, like boisterous, physical activity."

"Although noisy for adults such imaginary games are good for their development as well as good fun."
Well, what do you know? Letting the kids play their imaginary games can be good for them. And they acknowledge that boys play differently than girls. What a victory for common sense.

Ch Ch Ch Changes

"Change" is the catchword for the Democrats in this election. Barack Obama has built his election around the idea that he is the only Democrat who can truly be considered an agent of change. Kimberly Strassel destroys that myth.
As a candidate, Bill Clinton recognized Democrats' national image problems, and ran on a message of "opportunity, responsibility, community." President Bill Clinton abandoned most of that within his first 100 days, caving to liberals. But it remains the case that his signature policy achievements--welfare reform and trade--were the result of his ability to shift Democrats toward the center. When Mr. Obama was last heard talking about trade, it was to complain that Americans had lost their jobs for "a cheaper T-shirt" and to promise to "amend" Mr. Clinton's Nafta with stricter labor agreements.
This is no Joe Lieberman, who seeks to keep his party from jumping off a foreign policy cliff. Mr. Obama criticizes any Democrat who supported the Iraq war. This is no Daniel Moynihan, who favored private Social Security accounts as a means of alleviating wealth inequality. In 2005, Mr. Obama suggested private accounts were a form of "social Darwinism." This is no former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, who wanted to transform Medicare into a system that would help seniors buy insurance on the private market. Mr. Obama has blasted Medicare Advantage, and boasts of his votes to pour more money into today's failing government-run system.

As for Mr. Obama's claim he is no slave to "rigid ideology," consider his voting record. National Journal in March released its 2006 annual rankings of Congress based on key roll call votes, and Mr. Obama was found to be more liberal than 86% of his senatorial colleagues. To the extent he's teamed up with Republicans, it has been on issues popular with the electorate, say, more government transparency. Back in 2005, when a bipartisan group of 14 senators agreed not to filibuster President Bush's judicial nominees, Mr. Obama's name was notably not on the list.

Mr. Obama has offered reforms. He has proposed requiring employers to enroll workers in retirement accounts; he has suggested linking teacher pay to performance; and he has agreed that health-care reform should include insurance and drug companies. But he's already backtracked in the face of interest group opposition, telling school union members that pay shouldn't be linked to test scores. Much of his American Dream agenda--refundable tax credits for college tuition, more after-school programs, annual minimum wage hikes--is an extension of the increasingly standard Democratic play off "income inequality," and would result in a bigger federal government. Most would also be paid for by rolling back the Bush tax cuts. Tax and spend; this is pretty standard Democratic stuff.

So what is his plan? He may have let it slip in a recent interview, when he explained that a big reason he should be the Democratic nominee is that he could carry his party to a sweeping congressional victory that would provide a "mandate for change." "I mean, if we have a 50-plus-one election, we cannot get a serious health-care bill done. We can't have a serious agenda on climate change," he said.

That doesn't sound like a man who wants to work with Republicans toward a bipartisan era. It sounds like a man who wants to crush his opponents at the polls, and then bulldoze his agenda through an enfeebled opposition. There isn't anything necessarily wrong with that; it's what politicians have been trying to do for decades. But it's certainly nothing new.
Just saying that you're for change doesn't mean anything. It's just his way of transforming his weakness - his lack of experience - into a putative plus. See, he's so inexperienced that he's new enough to bring about change. He's the Wizard of Oz candidate. Don't look behind the curtain or you'll see that he's just the same as all the other politicians.

Pakistan and politics

Sometimes, I think we just have to admit that there are insoluoble problems out there that don't have any easy or possible solutions. I suspect that Pakistan is one of those situations. There we see a nuclear country with perhaps an Islamicist majority, a small westernized elite, and a growing presence of radicals. For radical jihadis searching for access to nuclear weapons, destabilizing Pakistan and infiltrating the government there might seem like the fastest road to obtaining that access.

What is disheartening is seeing how the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is swallowed up into the political campaign as just another issue to try to score political points. As Andrew Romano covers the candidates' reactions yesterday to the assassination, there is something distinctly unappealing at seeing the candidates try to shake some political advantage from the threatening chaos in Pakistan.
"Bad for Bhutto. Good for me."

If there's one line that sums up how yesterday's assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto is "playing" in the U.S. presidential race, that's it. Despite warnings from Hillary Clinton spokesman Jay Carson ("No one should be politicizing this situation") and Barack Obama himself ("It’s important for us to not look at this in terms of short-term political points scoring"), pretty much every campaign started spinning this geopolitical tragedy as proof of why he or she is best qualified to lead in a time of terror the second it hit the wires. Meaning pundits immediately started spouting off about who "wins"--or "benefits" or "stands to gain"--and who "loses."

One word: ugh.
Several pundits said that the assassination would wake the electorate up to the importance of foreign policy and the continuing war against Islamic radicalism. Such concerns would presumably benefit those candidates who can plausibly argue that they have some foreign policy experience. John Podhoretz wrote that this would wake us up from our attempts to take a renewed "holiday from history."
The past three months have seen an odd turn in the presidential primary process in both parties — a turn away from the key issues confronting the United States and toward emotional and social vapor. The success of the surge in Iraq, coupled with the bizarre “we’re safe” reading of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, drained some of the passion from the anti-war fervor in the Democratic primary electorate and from the hawkish fervor of the Republican primary electorate. In their place came the Christian identity-politics rise of Mike Huckabee on the Republican side and the “we need a nice new politics” rise of Barack Obama on the Democratic side. Republicans squabbled about sanctuary cities and sanctuary mansions. Democrats squabbled about how many uninsured there would be left if their various health-care plans were imposed on the country.

The horrifying assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan this morning comes only one week before the Iowa caucuses and 12 days before New Hampshire. It is a sobering and frightening reminder of the challenges and threats and dangers posed to the United States by radical Islam, the nature of the struggle being waged against the effort to extend democratic freedoms in the Muslim world, and the awful possibility of a nuclear Pakistan overrun by Islamofascists. This is what the next president will be compelled by circumstance to spend a plurality of his or her time on. This is what really matters, not the cross Mike Huckabee lit up behind his head in his Christmas ad.

American politics would dearly love to take a holiday from history, just as it did in the 1990s. But our enemies are not going to allow us to do so. The murder of Bhutto moves foreign policy, the war on terror, and the threat of Islamofascism back into the center of the 2008 campaign. How candidates respond to it, and issues like it that will come up in the next 10 months, will determine whether they are fit for the presidency.
I'm not so sanguine that how the candidates respond to the threat of Islamofascism will determine who will be the next president. He may well be right that it will demonstrate who is fit for the presidency, but that doesn't necessarily translate into who will win the election.

I would like to think that the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will take a more serious look at which candidate is most fit for leading the country against the threat of terrorism. But if Iowans didn't realize that we face a difficult world full of people who find it easier to resort to bombs and bullets than ballots to obtain power then they're probably not going to suddenly wake up and smack their foreheads in dismay over Mike Huckabee's several gaffes (more here and here; the guy really does seem clueless sometimes) since the assassination or Obama's lack of experience. As Andrew Romano writes,
But I can't help thinking that all the spin and punditry is sort of pointless, too. In the end, we rely on our gut to pick a president--not the headlines. For the folks who've already chosen, Bhutto's assassination will only confirm whatever conviction led to that conclusion; if you think Obama was right on Iraq, for example, you'll probably give him the benefit of the doubt on Pakistan. And to assume that Bhutto's slaying will sway the folks who still aren't sure is to assume that, until now, they'd forgotten that the world is a dangerous place. There was terrorism yesterday, there's terrorism today and there will be terrorism tomorrow--especially overseas. To treat Americans as if they don't know that--and to imagine that shouting "danger!" will determine their votes--is pretty condescending.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

John McCain's family

The New York Times takes a look at his children from both marriages and makes the point about how Senator McCain has consistently made an effort to keep his children out of the spotlight. That is, of course, each family's choice, but I find it quite appealing that he has not sought to make political hay out of having two sons in the military.
Although his youngest sons are in the military — Jack, 21, attends the United States Naval Academy and Jimmy, 19, is a marine stationed in Iraq — Mr. McCain is loath to invoke their names when he defends his foreign policy positions, even once when Jimmy was sitting in the audience before deployment. (Hardly anyone knew he was there.)

On a recent stop in South Carolina, as a mother who had lost her son in Iraq began to suggest that Mr. McCain understood her plight because of Jimmy, Mr. McCain gently motioned for her to stop.
Somehow, it's hard to imagine a John Kerry, John Edwards, or Hillary Clinton showing the same delicacy and turn down the opportunity to grandstand about having a son stationed in Iraq. Duncan Hunter has a son who fought in Iraq and who is now running for Congress to replace his father. Hunter also lost his house in the California fires. As far as I know, he's also not trying to score political points although he does talk about the mistakes made in the first battle of Fallujah where his son fought. I'm not one to buy into the silly chickenhawk arguments that the left loves to use against the current administration. That said, I do admire politicians who refrain from using their family for political gain.

The New York Times takes a slice out of Hillary Clinton

The entire justification for Hillary Clinton's candidacy is her claim to having the experience to start off from Day One to lead the country. Apparently, living in the White House, advising her husband, and traveling as First Lady is enough to fill the bill. But the New York Times' Patrick Healy explodes this whole myth by trying to figure out what exactly her experience might have been. And he just doesn't find all that much extraordinary expertise from her eight years as First Lady.
Mrs. Clinton’s role in her most high-profile assignment as first lady, the failed health care initiative of the early 1990s, has been well documented. Yet little has been made public about her involvement in foreign policy and national security as first lady. Documents about her work remain classified at the National Archives. Mrs. Clinton has declined to divulge the private advice she gave her husband.

An interview with Mrs. Clinton, conversations with 35 Clinton administration officials and a review of books about her White House years suggest that she was more of a sounding board than a policy maker, who learned through osmosis rather than decision-making, and who grew gradually more comfortable with the use of military power.

Her time in the White House was a period of transition in foreign policy and national security, with the cold war over and the threat of Islamic terrorism still emerging. As a result, while in the White House, she was never fully a part of either the old school that had been focused on the Soviet Union and the possibility of nuclear war or the more recent strain of national security thinking defined by issues like nonstate threats and the proliferation of nuclear technology.

Associates from that time said that she was aware of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and what her husband has in recent years characterized as his intense focus on them, but that she made no aggressive independent effort to shape policy or gather information about the threat of terrorism.
Healy goes through all the foreign policy events and crises that Bill Clinton faced during his presidency. She disclaims all responsibility for some of the early foreign policy moves in the Clinton presidency such as Somalia, Haiti, or Rwanda. And he can't seem to find Hillary's contribution for any of it. Notably, she didn't have the security clearance to get the top level briefings that would have been necessary for her to have been in on the big decisions. Her role was as a sounding board and advisor, exactly what you'd expect for any wife. And she spoke out on human rights issues when she traveled abroad. But then so did other First Ladies but no one suggested that that qualified them for their own shot at the White House.

The world really is upside down sometimes

Sometimes I think I've heard all there could be about wacky academic studies, but this story takes the cake.

A Hebrew University committee has given a prize to a study that purports to study why Israeli soldiers don't rape Arab women. Now, if you heard that there were few episodes of rape by soldiers, what would be your first assumption? Perhaps, that the soldiers operated under strict moral values that would bar any such behavior? That is what came to my mind, but not this doctoral candidate. Instead they figured out, in their own convoluted academic way, that the lack of rapes must be a sign of heightened bigotry.
The abstract of the paper, authored by doctoral candidate Tal Nitzan, notes that the paper shows that "the lack of organized military rape is an alternate way of realizing [particular] political goals."

The next sentence delineates the particular goals that are realized in this manner: "In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it can be seen that the lack of military rape merely strengthens the ethnic boundaries and clarifies the inter-ethnic differences - just as organized military rape would have done."

The paper further theorizes that Arab women in Judea and Samaria are not raped by IDF soldiers because the women are de-humanized in the soldiers' eyes.

The paper was published by the Hebrew University's Shaine Center, based on the recommendation of a Hebrew University professors' committee headed by Dr. Zali Gurevitch.

"I do not have the entire text in front of me," Gurevitch said, when contacted by Arutz-7, "and I don't think we can jump to conclusions based on partial sentences, but I can say the following: This was a very serious paper that asked two important questions: Is the relative lack of IDF rapes a noteworthy phenomenon, and if so, why is it that there are so few IDF rapes when in similar situations around the world, rape is much more common?"
When a journalist asked the commonsensical question,
"Can't it just be that Israeli soldiers come from a culture that very much condemns rape? And why not mention the much-touted 'purity of arms,' i.e., the high moral conduct, of the Israeli Army?"
the professor wasn't having any of that sort of analysis.
Gurevitch said that observers do not have the right to demand a particular explanation to a given phenomenon. He said that the researcher had done a serious job, based on interviews with 25 soldiers and other accounts, and that the right-wing should not jump to the conclusion that this was simply another "secular, left-wing" generality.

Makor Rishon editor Amnon Lord, who first publicized the story, wrote that not only did researcher Nitzan not consider Jewish tradition as an explanation, but neither did she "raise the possibility that her initial assumption - namely, that the situation in Judea and Samaria is just like any other situation of conquest - may be wrong."

Nitzan's paper did, however, give much space to the explanation that the Israeli soldiers refrained from rape out of demographic considerations. She explained at length how fearful the Jewish population is of the growing Arab population, and how in cases of wartime rape, the baby is generally assumed to be of the mother's nationality.
Talk about a Catch 22! Soldiers who don't rape are now blamed for their bigotry for not wanting to risk a baby being born to the potential victim.

And this piece of offal won a prize! Amazing. The self-hating attitude among some Israelis surpasses those self-hating Americans we sometimes encounter here.

Sad news for Pakistan

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated today. She was shot twice and then the suicide bomber blew himself and 20 other people up. An unstable and dangerous region has just gotten more unstable.

It's a sad reminder that, while we're poring over the details of the latest Spears pregnancy or the most recent poll results out of Iowa, the real news keeps on.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I wish all of my readers a very joyful and peaceful Christmas. May you all enjoy a lovely day with your friends and family.

Monday, December 24, 2007

John Kerry taking on the weighty issues

John Kerry has been pressuring cable companies and the NFL to reach an agreement so that more people could see Saturday's possibly history-making game between the undefeated New England Patriots and the New York Giants.
Kerry asked football Commissioner Roger Goodell today to move the game to NBC – and threatened Senate hearings if he does not.

“Under the unfortunate circumstance that this matter remains unresolved, leaving 60 percent of households across the country – including thousands in Massachusetts – without access to Saturday’s game, I will ask the Senate Commerce Committee to hold hearings on how the emergence of premium sports channels are impacting the consumer,” he wrote to Goodell today in a letter released by his office.

The Massachusetts Democrat added that he would “consider what legislative measures may be necessary to ensure that consumers are more than bystanders in this process.”
I suppose that would come under Americans' right to life, liberty, and the seeing important NFL games. It might indeed be crummy that the NFL is seeking to make more money by pushing more games to their own NFL premium channel. But Congress has no business trying to tell the NFL and cable companies what they should and should not carry. There is way too much of that already and laws should not be passed on the basis of one football game, no matter how historic.

Of course, John Kerry is not the first one to realize the possibilities of getting involved in sports-related issues. I'm sure we'll see all sorts of congressional hearings based on the Mitchell report. Whatever gripes you might have with professional sports in this country, the solution is not for congressional hearings and some sort of law geared towards showing voters how these congressmen can demagogue on sports.

12 tips for observing the Iowa caucuses

Chuck Todd has 12 tips of what observers should watch for as we start counting down to the Iowa caucuses. They're all good advice to political observers. But isn't it a crazy thing when choosing the next leader of our country may come down to what the weather is like for one evening in one smallish state?

Edwards or Huckabee

Politico has put together a quiz. See if you can identify which populist quotes come from John Edwards and which from Mike Huckabee.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Kiddie Crime Fighter

An eleven-year old kid catches the crooks at his school by setting up a booby-trap. At an Australian school, thieves had made away with over $150 by stealing from the kids' backpacks. So one kid used his History Channel knowledge to set up a trap for the thieves and caught them.
Harry, 11, sprang into action.

"The teachers said 'wait, wait, wait' and they weren't taking any action," he said.

"I decided to act because I was annoyed that they had robbed a lot of classes, and a lot of people were missing $20."

Harry drew on know-how acquired from hours spent glued to the History Channel, his favourite program being a documentary about Vietcong-made traps in the Vietnam War.

On the fourth day, he placed a mouse trap with a $5 note attached in his school bag during recess.

He had squirted the device's main bar and metal fittings with green food colouring, cutting a small hole in the note and securing it on the bait hook with sticky tape, so that the thief would have to wrestle with it, thereby setting off the spring and getting hit with the coloured bar.

To his surprise, the thieves took the bait and - after he spread the word among classmates - a witch-hunt began.

"I thought 'Oh my God, I might catch these guys'," Harry said. "Everybody was running around seeing who had green on their fingers."

One of the offenders was caught green-handed en route to the bathroom in a desperate bid to wash off the evidence. The younger boy confessed his guilt. An accomplice in the same year was also nabbed.
Bully for Harry! And why didn't the administration have any idea of how to find these crooks. Perhaps they could hire this kid to be their security chief.

The news divide

Evan Thomas writes in Newsweek about our era of hyperpartisanship and casts blame on the rise of so many media outlets that people are now no longer getting all their news from the Big Three networks.
In 1970, at about 6:30 p.m. at least two or three nights a week, about half the country could be found watching the evening news on one of the three major networks. The broadcasts tended to be fairly sober-minded, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand presentations by trusted anchormen like Walter Cronkite. The network news shows had to be evenhanded because they appealed to such large and politically diverse audiences, and because the networks had to mind a "Fairness Doctrine," imposed by Congress in return for granting precious broadcast licenses on the narrow bandwidth of VHF TV. The huge audiences watched them because, with only four or five channels to watch on most TVs, there wasn't much else on.

But then, in the 1980s and '90s, came cable TV and the Internet. Before long, viewers had scores of channels to choose from, or they could abandon TV altogether and entertain themselves online. Prior [author of "Post-Broadcast Democracy"] estimates that about half the viewers of the evening news wandered away to watch entertainment—sports, movies, reality TV, whatever. Today, the evening news shows draw about 10 percent of the viewing audience. For the political junkies, the offerings are much more bounteous than in 1970: not only 24-hour news channels but an infinitely expanding blogosphere. Some commentators and political figures—notably Al Gore, in his latest book, "The Assault on Reason"—see the Internet as democracy's last, best hope, a way of opening the world to free-flowing ideas. But others note that the Web tends to be long on opinion (which is cheap to produce) and short on actual reporting (which is expensive and strains the capacities of old-line news organizations shorn of viewers, listeners and readers).

Political junkies can find anything on the Internet, but what they look for tends to reinforce their prejudices. It is now possible to design a 24/7 "Daily Me" on the Web to replace that bulky, soggy but multifaceted newspaper that once landed in the driveway each morning. "We are creating enclaves of like-minded people," writes University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, author of "Republic.com 2.0," an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Historically, notes Sunstein, narrow-interest groups have fueled social progress, like the civil-rights movement—but also cults and Nazism. "There is a general risk that those who flock together, on the Internet or elsewhere, will end up both confident and wrong," writes Sunstein.
Of course, to agree with Thomas's argument, you have to buy into his depiction of the 1960s network news as "evenhanded." There are quite a few who would disagree, especially when concerning the coverage of the Vietnam War in both the earlier years and after the Tet Offensive.

I'm more attracted to the way that Mickey Kaus divides up the electorate.
Do they rely on the traditional Mainstream Media (MSM), or do they get their political information from the Web, from cable news, from the tabloids, etc. This division may have once seemed unimportant, but it doesn't anymore--its seriousness is suggested by the MSM's impressive resistance to stories bubbling up from the blogs and the tabs that don't meet MSM standards (putting aside whether you regard those standards as high or merely idiosyncratic).
I think the great majority of the American people pay little attention to politics. There are political obsessives such as myself. But I would bet that most people couldn't name more than a handful of the people running for president right now. Political junkies can debate the strenghts and weaknesses of all the candidates' Christmas ads, for example, while most people, if they don't live in Iowa or New Hampshire, won't see any of them and don't care at all.

Thomas is pointing to what is obvious: our media atmosphere in 2007 is vastly different than it was 40 years ago. The changes in media have affected politics. Yup, that is sure true. And the changes in the media between 1967 and 1927 affected politics then. And the unforeseen changes that will be around in 2047 will affect that era's politics. There is no use bemoaning the partisanship that results. That's the way it is today and we just have to adapt. I would be more interested in Thomas's essay if I didn't feel that he was gearing up to suggest some sort of legislation, perhaps a new Fairness Doctrine, to help us all "get along."

British Doctor Slang

In case you were wondering, here is some of the black humor from British doctors' medical slang.
Other slang used by doctors, according to past letters to the BMJ, include UBI (for "Unexplained Beer Injury"), PAFO ("Pissed And Fell Over") and Code Brown, or a faecal incontinence emergency.

CTD means "Circling The Drain", GPO signifies "Good for Parts Only" and Rule of Five means that if more than five of the patient's orifices are obscured by tubing, he has no chance.

A patient who is "giving the O-sign" is very sick, lying with his mouth open. This is followed by the "Q-sign" - when the tongue hangs out of the mouth - when the patient becomes terminal.

As for genetic quirks or inbreeding, FLK means "Funny Looking Kid" and NFN signifies "Normal For Norfolk," a rural English county.

General practitioners may use LOBNH ("Lights On But Nobody Home") or the impressively bogus Oligoneuronal to mean someone who is thick.

But they also have a somewhat poetic option: "Pumpkin positive" refers to the idea that a person's brain is so tiny that a penlight shone into their mouth will make their empty head gleam like a Halloween pumpkin.

Who's on the ballot?

Hillary says that people don't vote for advisors. She's trying to combat Obama's point that several of her husband's former advisors are working on his campaign. This is all so silly. She's running mostly as a continuation of her husband's presidency. Unspoken throughout the campaign was that voting for her would be getting two for one. So if we don't vote for advisors or spouses, what reason is there to vote for her?

And it's silly for Obama to be bragging about his former Clinton advisors. He's a Democrat. Most Democrats with experience probably worked for Bill Clinton at some point. They can't all work on Hillary's campaign so some are working on his campaign.
In Iowa on Friday, Obama suggested he had the support of more Clinton administration figures than the former first lady. Lists provided by both campaigns quickly showed hers is almost twice as large.

"Why is the national security adviser of Bill Clinton, the secretary of the Navy of Bill Clinton, the assistant secretary of state for Bill Clinton, why are all these people endorsing me?" Obama said. "They apparently believe that my vision of foreign policy is better suited for the 21st century."
Ooh, Obama's wrapped up the assistant secretary of state's support. Hillary has to be steaming about that loss. And she also has to be annoyed that Barack Obama can get away with a blooper like bragging that he has more Clinton administration figures on his staff when she has twice as many. If Hillary had made such a claim and had so easily been proven wrong it would have been used as evidence of her mendacity. For Obama it just gets buried in the story.

Obama's real message is - don't worry about my lack of experience because I have experienced people advising me.

Hillary's real problem - besides that people just don't like her - is that people are getting pretty tired of the whole Clinton soap opera. We just don't want to endure four more years of stories about the Big He or wondering which Hillary is the real Hillary. As Michael Goodwin writes,
Something was bugging me, but I couldn't figure out what it was. Then it hit me. While I was reading about the campaign, the realization came like a thunderbolt: I'm tired of Bill Clinton.

Tired of his half-truths and full lies about where he stood on Iraq. Tired of his bull, as when he says he'd campaign for Hillary "if we weren't married" and calls her a "world-class genius." Tired of his whining, as when he says the media has been too tough on her and too soft on Barack Obama.

All of this is as real as the lovey-dovey, hug-and-smile photo ops of them in Iowa. It's theater, staged for maximum political impact. We're being played again on the two-for-the-price-of-one angle.

But, as always, the game for him is about him. A vote for her is a vote for him. Vanity is a big part of it, with her victory the succession legacy he was denied when Al Gore lost.

All true, but I fear there is more to it now. He wants to be The Man, again. He wants it so much that it's not clear which President Clinton would be the President. The way he hogs the spotlight, the way he's trotted out to rescue her when she's in trouble and the way he sets the talking points mark him as the lead dog in the Clinton pack. Would he also make the decisions in the White House? All of them? Some of them?
But we don't vote for advisors, remember. Or spouses.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hillary Clinton's gift-giving

If you haven't seen Hillary Clinton's contribution to the political Christmas ads this season, take a look at it here. She sits wrapping up her gifts for the American people of Universal Health Care, Alternative Energy, Bringing troops home, Middle Class Tax Breaks, and then searches around for Universal Pre K which she soon finds and attaches to another bow-laden gift.

Could anything more aptly encompass the liberal vision of how government works? Government is Santa and Hillary is his elf of giving people all these marvelous gifts. Of course, the recipients of the gifts are also the ones who have to pay for them, but who worries about such details. Or whether we should even be looking to the federal government to paying for pre-Kindergarten programs and universal health care. And how is all this going to be done along with Middle Class Tax Breaks? It can't all come from taxing the rich.

Jonah Goldberg exactly hits the danger of Hillary's approach to gift-giving.
But if you take Hillary’s ad remotely as seriously as many are taking Huckabee’s, you’re left with a disturbing glimpse of not just Hillary’s politics but her vision of government. Her programs, which would cost billions and billions of dollars by even the most generous accounting, are simply “gifts” for the American people. No sacrifice, no cost, no strings attached at all — save the price of your vote.

The implication is that the only thing standing between you and Hillary’s trinkets is a president who doesn’t want you to have ’em. This is monarchical thinking; good ruler throws loaves of bread to the peons and asks for nothing but love in return.

The truth, as Clinton knows very well, is that it’s not so easy. To govern is to choose. “Give” the people X and it will come at the expense of Y. Indeed, until recently, Clinton’s whole schtick has been to emphasize that change is hard work, requiring sacrifice and compromise. She’d lecture Iowa audiences that real change comes from fighting for it. Now that she’s on the ropes, it’s all yours for the asking.
So which is the real Hillary? The one who recognizes that governing can be difficult? Or the one who cheerfully plays Santa Claus wrapping up Christmas goodies for the voters? I suspect that it is whichever one that will be more likely to get elected.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Playing the victim card

Usually Republicans are the ones against whom Democrats play the victim card, but, as Peggy Noonan points out, Mike Huckabee is playing that card right now when people express their queasiness at his overt religious appeals in his campaign.
Mr. Huckabee is clever. He puts forth his policies, such as they are, based on a faith-based understanding of public policy, and if you disagree with his policies, or take a hard shot at them, or at him, he suggests the reason is that you look down on evangelicals. This creates a new fissure in a party already riven by fissures. He has been accused by some in the conservative press of tearing the party apart, but it was being torn apart before he got on the scene. His rise is not a cause of collapse but an expression of it.

He plays the victim well. Others want to "trip him up," but he'll "get my message out there." His foes are "Wall Street-Washington" insiders, elitists. On the "Today" show he said his critics are the type who never liked evangelical Christians. When one of them runs, these establishment types say " 'Oh my gosh, now they're serious, they don't want to just show up and vote, they actually would want to be part of the discussion and really talk about issues that include hunger and poverty and things.' "

This is a form of populist manipulation. Evangelical Christians have been strong in the Republican Party since the 1970s. President Bush and Karl Rove helped them become more important. The suggestion that they are a small and abused group within the GOP is strange. It is as if the Reagan Democrats, largely Catholic and suburban, who buoyed the Republican Party from the late '70s through 2004, and who were very much part of the GOP coalition, decided to announce that Catholics have been abused within the party, and it's time for Christmas commercials with floating Miraculous Medals.
Exactly. Huckabee has found that he can achieve political success by using a mailing list to appeal directly to Iowa's evangelicals, who make up a large percentage of potential GOP caucus goers. And he's been quite open about his appeal as a former theology major that he has some special insights into foreign policy. He runs "Christian leader" in his ads and then seems surprised that people find that off-putting. Noonan is right - he seems nice, but rather creepy. And the reason people are attacking him is because he's achieved some success in the polls. And having been catapulted into a leading position in the GOP race, he's now being subjected to more scrutiny than he received when he was a second tier candidate. If he can't take the criticism that he's receiving now from Republicans how would he hold up in the general election? So stop insulting our intelligence by pretending to be a victim of an anti-evangelical tide.

Mike Huckabee's target-rich background

Kimberly Strassel warns that Republicans would be buying a pig in a poke if they nominated Mike Huckabee and that the Democrats would have a field day exploiting his ethical mishaps from his Arkansas days.
In Arkansas, Mr. Huckabee was investigated by the state ethics committee at least 14 times. Most of the complaints centered on what appears to be a serial disregard for government rules about gifts and outside financial compensation. He reported $112,000 worth of gifts in one year alone, nearly double his $67,000 salary.

Five of the 14 investigations resulted in admonishments: Two for failing to report gifts (one was later overturned), the other three for some $80,000 that Mr. Huckabee and his wife received but failed to initially report. One of these admonishments involved a $23,500 payment to Mr. Huckabee from an opaque organization called Action America that he helped found in 1994 while lieutenant governor, and that was designed to coordinate his speeches and supplement his income.

Mr. Huckabee caused an uproar when he used a $60,000 account intended to maintain the governor's mansion for personal expenses, including restaurant meals, dry cleaning and boat supplies. He also faced a lawsuit over his assertion that $70,000 worth of furniture donated to the mansion was his to keep. Sprinkled among all this are complaints about the misuse of state planes and campaign funds, mistakes on financial disclosure forms, and fights over documents related to ethics investigations.
She goes on to say that any one of these stories is small beer indeed. And Rudy has as many, if not more, disturbing stories in his biography. Republicans have to beward of nominating someone whose own past would neutralize a major weapon against Hillary Clinton.

A teenage bomber

Spiegel has a story about a teenage bomber who was captured in Al Anbar province in Iraq before he could detonate his bombs. Like many teenagers, he's quite confused about what he wants. He hates the American presence in Iraq yet he'd love to emigrate to America. He has been brainwashed by the terrorists who enlisted him to place a roadside bomb to kill Marines yet he would like to join the Iraqi police.
"We still hate the Americans. In truth no one likes them. Iraq isn't free, that's why we have to keep on fighting," says Diya.

What would he do if he got a visa tomorrow to travel to the US? He would definitely take it, says Diya. Asked if he is aware of how contradictory that sounds, he smiles bashfully and buries his hands deeper into his armpits.

It's the irony of fate that Diya's brother became a policeman a few days after his arrest. They've rarely been closer than they are now. Diya squats in his cell behind a barred door while his brother stands guard outside.

"He spat on me when he saw me here," says Diya. His brother told him that his father is waiting for him to be released. "My father is beside himself with rage and will punish me severely, my brother said."

Asked what he wants to do with his life when he is released, Diya says: "I want to work for the Iraqi police." Asked if he thinks the Iraqi police will take him, he looks up at his interpreter and says, "Perhaps?"

What type of First Spouse would Bill Clinton be?

Eugene Robinson, no conservative, is exactly right when he writes of his doubts about what kind of First Spouse Bill Clinton would be.
After his eight years as president, and nearly seven as a millionaire statesman/philanthropist/philosopher, is Bill Clinton capable of following any script? He's used to saying whatever he wants to say, whenever he wants to say it. And he's a talented improviser, always overflowing with ideas -- some of them brilliant, some half-baked -- that he can't wait to share with his listeners.

Does anyone think that William Jefferson Clinton would confine himself to the bland, inoffensive pronouncements we've come to expect from presidential spouses? I'd give him two weeks of ribbon-cuttings and ceremonial visits before he felt compelled -- and perhaps entitled -- to jump into policy. Clearly, the smart thing would be to give him a portfolio of his own rather than let him play hopscotch.

But how would anyone keep him on the reservation? How would anyone tone down his charisma? And what would happen if a new Clinton administration gutted one of the accomplishments of the old Clinton administration? One potential case in point is the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Hillary says has to be modified. If she were to keep that campaign promise, would Bill just smile sweetly on his way to the next East Room reception?

What people think of Bill Clinton and his presidency is grist for other columns. For now, I'm asking a simpler question: Since the Constitution provides for one president, not two, could he find a way to live in a White House that wasn't all about him?
It's so clear that Bill Clinton would soon become the major side show story about a Hillary Clinton presidency. Do we really want to be waking up every day to find out what Bill had said to embarrass his wife and her White House.

What is the value of senatorial experience?

With so many senators running for the presidency while they tout their experience in the Senate, we can start wondering why so few senators have been elected president in our history. In the 20th century only two senators were elected directly from the Senate: Warren G. Harding and John F. Kennedy. Stanley Renshon, a psychologist and professor of political science, examines the differences between the jobs of senator and president.
A senator’s vote is one of many; the president's decisions are where the buck stops. Senators have few responsibilities for national leadership and most rarely exercise their limited and narrower opportunities for issue leadership.

The president’s national and worldwide leadership is required, and often demanded on a daily basis. A senator may, over the course of his or her career, become a specialist in a few subjects.

The president is expected to be well-versed in many.

A senator doesn’t govern, run an administration or have responsibility for any more than his or her own office staff.

A president is responsible for all the agencies of the federal government, many of them engaged in complex and difficult policy decisions — these, too, ultimately are the president’s responsibility.

And finally, senators do not personally have to make life-or-death decisions regarding the fate of this country.

Senators have a strictly advisory position, cushioned from command responsibility by layers of words and the ability to reinterpret what they really meant when they voted for or against a piece of legislation. They are therefore insulated from the intense emotional and political burdens of having to stand alone before the country and the world on the basis of their judgments.
Of course, a senator could step up when he or she becomes president, but touting their experiences in the Senate is not the best predictor of that character. This is why we so often elect former governors. They have had executive experience. Senators can pontificate about some policy and never have to worry about the tradeoffs involved if they pick one or another policy.

What they will have had experience in the backscratching that is involved in getting legislation through Congress. Whether that is the major need that we have this election is doubtful.

Hillary could have run for governor of New York, but she chose to stay in the Senate so that she would be available to run this year. And she'll try to wow us with her senatorial experience. Having spent a term and a half in the Senate with little to show for it, all she's left with is hinting about her experience as First Lady without giving us any specifics of what she actually accomplished as Bill Clinton's wife.

John McCain has been in the Senate a long time and has actually shown leadership on several issues. Unfortunately for him, many of those issues - campaign finance reform, and the Gang of 14, for example are not issues that inspire conservatives. As long as he's talking abour foreign policy, conservatives like McCain. When it comes to domestic policy, and his actions in the Senate, it's a different story.

If Barack Obama doesn't win this year, I'd recommend that he run for governor of Illinois in the next election and gain some experience.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

George Will on Hillary and Huckabee

Will thinks that he's found the common link between Hillary and the Huckster. He says that they're both practicing elements of Nixonian attack politics. While it seems a stretch to connect campaign attacks to Nixon as if politicians haven't been attacking each other for years and years, Will is correct that both the Hillary campaign and Huckabee have weaknesses that should disqualify them from their party's nominations.

Hillary touts her experience, but her experience hasn't been all that impressive.
She had two experiences wielding power regarding important matters for her husband's administration. One concerned the selection of his first, second and third choices to be attorney general -- all in just 50 days. The decisive criterion would be chromosomes: The attorney general had to be a woman. The first selection, Zoe Baird, crashed because a slipshod selection process did not discover that she and her husband had employed two illegal immigrants as domestic help and had not paid Social Security taxes. Then Kimba Wood failed because she once hired an illegal immigrant before such hiring was itself illegal, a nonoffense magnified by the Baird debacle.

The third choice was Janet Reno, whose eight-year tenure was notable for three things. One was the botched assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex., in which 86 people died, 17 of them children the assault was supposed to rescue. Another was seizing, at gunpoint, 6-year-old Elian Gonzales from his Miami relatives and deporting him to Castro's Cuba, from which he and his mother had fled in an escape in which she drowned. The third was the optional appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the Whitewater land deal, an investigation that led to Paula Jones. When Hillary Clinton adamantly opposed a financial settlement with her, the investigation meandered to Monica Lewinsky and impeachment.

The second of Hillary Clinton's important experiences was the drafting, in secret, of a national health-care plan. It was so dauntingly baroque and ominously statist that a Congress controlled by her party would not bring it to a vote.

Her experiences that should matter most to primary voters reveal consistently bad judgment. Her campaign's behavior radiates bad character.
I'm still waiting for the Hillary campaign to tell us specifically what she has accomplished with all her well-touted experience.

As for Huckabee, Will points out that he's more out of step with conservative voters than Giuliani. And Huckabee's question about Mormons believing Satan and Jesus are brothers was a telling moment about how he was willing to exploit religious tensions.
Imagine someone asking "in an innocent voice" this: "Don't Jews use the blood of gentile children to make matzoh for Passover?" Such a smarmy injection of the "blood libel," an ancient canard of anti-Semitism, into civic discourse would indelibly brand the injector as a bigot with contempt for the public's ability to decode bigotry.

Huckabee's campaign actually is what Rudy Giuliani's candidacy is misdescribed as being -- a comprehensive apostasy against core Republican beliefs. Giuliani departs from recent Republican stances regarding two issues -- abortion and the recognition by law of same-sex couples. Huckabee's radical candidacy broadly repudiates core Republican policies such as free trade, low taxes, the essential legitimacy of America's corporate entities and the market system allocating wealth and opportunity. And consider New Hampshire's chapter of the National Education Association, the teachers union that is a crucial component of the Democratic Party's base.

In 2004, New Hampshire's chapter endorsed Howard Dean in the Democratic primary and no one in the Republican primary. Last week it endorsed Clinton in the Democratic primary -- and Huckabee in the Republican primary. It likes, as public employees generally do, his record of tax increases, and it applauds his opposition to school choice.
For me, the New Hampshire NEA endorsement of Mike Huckabee is just about enough of a disqualifier. And Will is right to contrast the Giuliani and Huckabee positions. Giuliani is not in line with the party's social conservatives and Huckabee is out of alignment with our economic conservatives. And he's rather far off from where most Republicans are on foreign policy. I am beginning to suspect that he's heading for a footnote in history. If he wins the Iowa caucuses, he may well be the answer to the trivia question a few years from now about which candidate won the Iowa caucuses and then went nowhere.

Geting fired for posting a Dilbert cartoon

A man working at a casino where employees were being laid off, got laid off himself after he posted a Dilbert cartoon.
David Steward was fired from the Catfish Bend Casino because management found the cartoon "very offensive," human resources director Steve Morley testified at a recent unemployment benefits hearing. The casino had challenged his claim for unemployment benefits.

"Basically, he was accusing the decision-makers of being drunken lemurs," Morley testified. "We consider that misconduct when you insult your employer."

According to state records, Steward posted the comic in late October, shortly after officials announced the casino in Burlington would be closed.

In the strip, Dilbert and another character are shown having the following exchange:

"Why does it seem as if most of the decisions in my workplace are made by drunken lemurs?"

"Decisions are made by people who have time, not people who have talent."

"Why are talented people so busy?"

"They're fixing the problems made by people who have time."

Steward testified that he posted the comic partly because of the impending layoffs.

"I thought maybe it would cheer some people up," he said. "I found it humorous."
If the employers really thought he was calling them drunken lemurs, perhaps they should visit a doctor to get a humor implant and learn to take a joke. Did they really think that employees were thrilled about layoffs? Wouldn't they prefer a joke than some of the other outlets that some disgruntled employees might have taken?

Perhaps we need more education on how Congress works

The Democratic leadership is now facing complaints from their base for having folded to the White House and Republicans on the budget and funding for the war in Iraq.
"The leaders of the House are chosen every two years, they will have to live with those results when they are up for re-election," said Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, an outspoken war critic making a long-shot run for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president.

"Quit saying that you don't have the votes," he said of the leaders' excuses for always losing the war debate. "It's clear that they don't have any intention of ending the war."

Despite the blistering critiques, Congress' rank-and-file Democrats remain committed to their chosen leaders.

They blame Republicans in the narrowly divided Senate for blocking the majority's agenda, especially on the war issue.

"It's not the leadership," said Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat and co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus. "It's the Republicans. It's the right-wingers who like war."

Mrs. Pelosi, who also faulted Senate Republicans for frustrating her plans, bristled at the charge that she folded in showdowns with Mr. Bush.

"We didn't fold," she said, adding that Congress is about negotiating and they set high goals to start from a strong bargaining position.
I hope that Dennis Kucinich and Maxine Waters know better. They've both been around long enough to know how Congress works and that the majority can't push through whatever they want especially when there is divided government. It was always extremely doubtful that policy was going to be directed out of the House of Representatives. The Senate allows for the minority to stall and block legislation as long as they can stick together. Given that the Democrats had been adept at utilizing those rules when the Republicans were in the majority was there any real reason to think that Republicans wouldn't return the favor?

Too many people have bought into the fantasy of "I'm just a bill on Capitol Hill" and don't understand all the procedural blocks that can stall out legislation. When I teach the legislative process in my AP Government we have a day when we list all the "Kill Bill" moments in the process. If more students were taught about how the process really works, perhaps these activists wouldn't be so disappointed when the majority party can't get their desired legislation through.

And let's just pause a moment for contempt for the new liberal meme that Maxine Waters expresses - that right-wingers "like war." Nancy Pelosi has been floating the same attack.
"The grassroots are justifiably disappointed and I am too that we could not do something to end this war," Pelosi said at a press conference today. "The assumption that I made that the Republicans would soon see the light and listen to their constituents was not an accurate one."

She continued: "They like this war. They want this war to continue. We thought that they shared the view of so many people in our country that we need a new direction in Iraq. To affect that we need redeployment of our troops with a goal of a year to do that. But the Republicans have made it very clear that this is just not George Bush's war, this is the war of the Republicans in Congress."

Asked to clarify her use of the word "like," Pelosi backed off her statement of moments before.

"When I say 'like,' I shouldn't say they 'like' the war. They support the war, the course of action that the president is on and they are not questioning in terms of his implementation of the war, the execution of the war."
Perhaps the extremists out on the left wing believe that Republicans "like war" but that's demagoguery of the worst sort. If she truly believes that then she has betrayed why she herself is unfit to lead dure to her blindness as to her opponents' motivation. She may mouth platitutdes about trying to get along with Republicans, but we haven't seen any evidence so far. We don't need to rehearse all the arguments here about why withdrawl and defeat in Iraq would be disastrous for America for years to come. Support for David Petraeus's plan had nothing to do with "liking" war, but from hating defeat.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

America hatred

Readers who think that the dislike of America that Bill Clinton is so worried about is simply because of George W. Bush should read this essay by Soeren Kern.
Contrary to much of today's conventional wisdom, anti-Americanism is not a recent phenomenon. In Europe, for example, anti-Americanism is as old as the United States itself. In fact, anti-Americanism is so established on the Old Continent that there are now as many different brands of anti-Americanism as there are European countries.


Take Spain, for example, where anti-Americanism goes back to the Spanish-American War, which in 1898 drove the final nail into the coffin of the Spanish empire and ended its colonial exploitation of Cuba. Many Spaniards also resent America's support for General Francisco Franco (1892-1975), who in his day was popular with the Americans because of his strong anti-Communist credentials.

In Germany, anti-Americanism is an exercise in moral relativism. Germans desperately want their country to be perceived as a "normal" country, and its elites are using anti-Americanism as a political tool to absolve themselves and their parents of the crimes of World War II. They routinely equate the US invasion of Iraq with the Holocaust, for example, as a psychological ruse to make themselves feel better about their sordid past.

In France, anti-Americanism is an inferiority complex masquerading as a superiority complex. France is the birthplace of anti-Americanism (the first act of which has been traced to a French lawyer in the late 1700s), and bashing the United States is an inexpensive way to indulge France's fantasies of past greatness and splendor.

As political realists like Thucydides (c 460-395 BC) might have predicted, anti-Americanism is also a visceral reaction against the current distribution of global power. America commands a level of economic, military and cultural influence that leaves many around the world envious, resentful and even angry and afraid. Indeed, most purveyors of anti-Americanism will continue to bash America until the United States is balanced or replaced (by those same anti-Americans, of course) as the dominant actor on the global stage.
Simply waving good bye to President Bush and sending out goodwill ambassadors is not going to change the mood of America bashing. And the changes that would need to take place are, I hope, changes that no American president would acquiesce to.
Anti-Americanism is (at least for the foreseeable future) a zero-sum game because the main purveyors of anti-Americanism are in denial about the dangers facing the world today. They believe the United States is the problem and that their vision for a post-modern socialist multicultural utopia is the answer. Never mind that most Europeans do not have enough faith in their own model to want to pass it on to the next generation.

This is the dilemma America faces: If it wants to be popular abroad, it will have to pay in terms of reduced security. And if it determines to protect the American way of life from global threats, then it will have to pay in terms of reduced popularity abroad.

But if America loses out against the existential threats posed by global terrorism and fundamentalist Islam, then the issue of America's international image will be moot.

Better, therefore, if the next president focuses on keeping America strong and secure, rather than on pleasing those who will never like the United States, even if its foreign policy changes.

Another nonoperative statement by the Clintons

Remember how Bill Clinton's people denied that he was blocking any of his papers concerning Hillary and that it was all the National Archives' fault. Well, turns out that that statement is not so true. Imagine that.
The National Archives is withholding from the public about 2,600 pages of records at President Clinton's direction, despite a public assurance by one of his top aides last month that Mr. Clinton "has not blocked the release of a single document."

The 2,600 pages, stored at Mr. Clinton's library in Arkansas, were deemed to contain "confidential advice" and, therefore, "closed" under the Presidential Records Act, an Archives spokeswoman, Susan Cooper, told The New York Sun yesterday.

An official who oversees the presidential libraries operated by the federal government, Susan Fawcett, said in a recent interview that the records were withheld in accordance with a letter Mr. Clinton wrote in 1994 exercising his right to hold back certain types of files and another letter in 2002 about narrowing the scope of his earlier instructions. Asked by National Journal whether Mr. Clinton had "total control" over the closure of records under the confidential-advice provisions of the law, Ms. Fawcett said he did.

....An attorney who specializes in the Presidential Records Act, Scott Nelson of Public Citizen Litigation Group, said Mr. Lindsey's statement may have meant that neither he nor Mr. Clinton had singled out any specific document for withholding, even though Mr. Clinton's "general instruction" caused certain records to be closed. "It's possible that all the statements were made in perfect good faith, but in truth, the result is that the Archives — they are withholding material and that's because of President Clinton's election in 1994," Mr. Nelson said.

Ms. Cooper said the 2,600 pages of advice are part of about 24,000 pages of closed Clinton White House records. The bulk of the closures likely involve records found in domestic policy and health care files that Mr. Clinton authorized for processing before the library began accepting record requests from the public in 2006.
As if Bill wanted the papers opened up, they'd be open to the public. There might be nothing in there, but the Clintons are just fueling more speculation by their behavior.

Who chose Iowa?

Every four years the pundits and people around the country start wondering why Iowans should have this primacy in our electoral system. And this year, with the two parties' nominations both up for grabs it is even more irritating that this small unrepresentative state should have so much oomph in our politics. Ruth Marcus points out some other reasons to not care about what Iowans say.
The caucuses draw a small, unrepresentative sample of a small, unrepresentative state. While nearly 30 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2004 New Hampshire primary, just 6 percent went to the Iowa caucuses, according to data compiled by George Mason University professor Michael McDonald. The 2000 turnout figures were even more skewed, 44 percent in New Hampshire compared with 7 percent in Iowa.

This year's outreach may boost those numbers, but most Iowans view the caucuses as an obscure art practiced by an elect few. "Usually I don't go, because I'm afraid I'm going to get there and feel like a dummy," one man on Ahn's list confides.

"That's what I need to find out more about -- I don't know how to go to caucus," says Sherilyn Orr, 64, who eagerly accepts a refrigerator magnet printed with the caucus date. Candidates spend enormous sums -- it could be as high as $20 million -- to win this handful of votes. John Norris, the organizing guru who helped propel John Kerry to his 2004 victory here and is advising Obama, estimates that the top candidates will spend around $400 per caucus vote.

All for a result whose significance resides largely in the fact that it is deemed significant. Political reporters, myself included, get misty over the notion of neighbors gathering on a cold winter night to hash out differences over who is the best candidate. But the caucus process also serves to disenfranchise -- those who would rather not state preferences publicly or those who can't make it at the assigned hour. In the course of our afternoon together, Ahn knocks on the door of one woman who says she can't make it because she's just lost her husband; a few other people say they're scheduled to work that night.

The bizarre rules of the Democratic contest further distort the results. (Republicans employ a more straightforward method: The candidate with the most votes wins.) Why should a candidate who fails to meet the 15 percent threshold of viability walk away empty-handed? Why should the final outcome depend on how those losing campaigns decide where to throw their backing when, in caucus-speak, nonviable preference groups realign for a second round? No wonder the caucus process makes ordinary people's heads hurt.

Why should some votes -- in precincts that had a good turnout in the last election, in rural areas -- get more weight than others? Why aren't the raw numbers -- how many voters supported which candidates -- made available?

And perhaps the most important question: Given all this, why do we in the media invest the caucuses with such make-or-break significance?
The media invests Iowa with importance because it's the first story. Heck, they even care about the Ames Straw Poll when they know it is just an ersatz indication of a candidate's willingness to spend money to buy tickets for supporters. Every year, I have to teach my students about how our election system really works and every year they all are dumbfounded to hear about the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire. My kids can't understand why this skewed system doesn't get changed to some sort of rotating primary system and they're not interested in hearing about tradition and the lack of party control over their own nomination processes. Every four years we see lots of columns bemoaning the irrationality of our system. And every four years it returns and we are once again reduced to constantly taking the pulse of a few Iowans.

I'm likable, really likable, just ask my mom

After having been on the public stage for over 15 years, Hillary is trying desperately to change people's perceptions of her by going on a likability tour. Probably it's poll results like CBS reports on that have her campaign scrambling to try to change an image that she's had since she first burst on the scene.
As always when a group of Democrats are gathered, the conversation was dominated by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and revealed the problems and potential Clinton has in Iowa and beyond.

Asked to say whatever first came to mind when Clinton's name was mentioned, the group offered a fascinating panoply of descriptions. "Can't be trusted," said one. "I just got a glimpse that she's got an evil side to her," said another. A third offered a backhanded compliment of sorts: "Very good at saying what she thinks we want to hear."

Others were more positive in their remarks -- if not effusive. "Work ethic," said one; "I think she's really focused," said another.

The comments signal a larger theme when it comes to voters' views in Iowa and nationally about Clinton. She is widely respected but not widely liked. Time and again in last week's focus group, the voters said they had few doubts about Clinton's ability to do the job of president; they also expressed a frustration with the essential unknowability of Clinton as a person.
Perhaps having her mother tout how empathetic Hillary is will change people's opinions. I doubt it. People hated Nixon, but probably never doubted that his daughters and wife loved him. That didn't make him any more likable.

It's poll results like this that must make Republicans salivate about running against her. It would be a whole different campaign if they had to run against Saint Barack.

Bill Clinton's own little world

So Bill Clinton went out and announced that he and former President Bush would go touring the world in a goodwill tour if Clinton's wife got elected. Clinton's whole idea was that he and Bush 41 would need to repair the damage to our relationswith foreign nations after Bush 43's disastrous presidency. Most people's response to this statement was "huh?" And sure enough, former President Bush has issued a denial that he had any plans to tour to spread the message that America was no longer being run by that nasty President Bush 43.
The elder Bush "wholeheartedly supports the President of the United States, including his foreign policy," said his chief of staff, Jean Becker.

"He has never discussed an around-the-world-mission with either former President Bill Clinton or Sen. Clinton, nor does he think such a mission is warranted, since he is proud of the role America continues to play around the world," Becker said in a statement.
Perhaps Bush 41 would agree to go on a goodwill tour if asked by a future president, but why would Bill Clinton think that George H.W. Bush would let his name be used to blast his son's policy? When has the former president ever indicated that he disapproved of his son's leadership? And why would he start now when his son has a year to go in his presidency?

It's clear that Bill was just riffing from his own little world where everything revolves around what he wants and never even bothered to think how it would sound when he made the first statement. Just think of his living in the White House and making these off-the-cuf statements anytime he felt like it. Do you think he'd let the fact that his wife was the president and he was just First Laddie would stop him?

All these stories about Bill that have damaged the narrative of his wife's run for the presidency almost makes me accept The Anchoress's hypothesis that he just doesn't want Hillary to win.
I’m more and more convinced that Bill Clinton does not want his wife to win - that he does not want his presidency compared to hers - not when her presidency will immediately and forever be more compelling because she will be a “woman” president and a “war” president. He doesn’t want a close scrutiny of his library donors and daily pocket-liners. I’m not sure he wants to give up his freedom - he seems to fly every day - for the constraints of a “first gentleman” role. If I’m wrong and he really does want her to win…he’s going about that in a strange way.
And The Anchoress and Gateway Pundit wonder about this whole storyline that we need to apologize to the world for Bush's presidency.
And... Who does Hillary intend to apologize to?

Germany, the UK, France, Denmark, and Eastern Europe, are all equally or more friendly with the US than they were when Bush started his presidency.
Saddam Hussein and the Taliban are gone and democratic governments are set up in Iraq and Afghanistan in their place.

So who does Hillary want to apologize to?
Venezuela? Iran? Libya? Syria? Russia?
What people don't remember is that America has been despised across the globe for years before George W. Bush was president. Remember all the anti-American protests throughout the Vietnam War and during Reagan's presidency.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Could the Byrd era be fading out?

An interesting trial balloon is floating up on the Politico site. Apparently, some unnamed Democrats want to ease Senator Robert Byrd out of the active chairmanship of the all-important Appropriations Committee.
A group of Senate Democrats has begun quietly exploring ways to replace the venerable Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, believing he’s no longer physically up to the job, according to Democratic senators and leadership aides familiar with the discussions.

Under one scenario being circulated in Democratic circles, the 90-year-old Byrd would be named “chairman emeritus,” and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) would become “acting chairwoman” for the remainder of the 110th Congress.

Democratic insiders caution, though, that no decision has been made.

But there is broad discontent among committee members over the way Byrd has run the panel this year and the resulting problems in completing work on the fiscal 2008 spending bills, leading some members to privately push for Byrd’s replacement as chairman.

His physical condition has been slowly deteriorating for years, and he cannot walk now without the assistance of aides.

Byrd has difficultly running committee hearings, and he relies heavily on staffers for guidance.

Still, he can deliver one of his legendary floor speeches on the sanctity of the Constitution and the importance of Congress in the operation of the U.S. government, even if he often repeats himself over and again.

No Democratic senators or leadership aides would speak publicly about the situation, preferring to comment only anonymously.
Maybe, just maybe, a nonagenarian is not the right man to be shepherding appropriations bill through the Senate. Look at this Politico story as a first shot in what might be a lingering skirmish to ease the Senator out of control. But don't expect him to go quietly. This might be one battle that Harry Reid would prefer not to fight.

Let's give money to the really rich! As long as they're farmers.

That's what the new farm bill will do. And with bipartisan support too. As the Wall Street Journal describes, congressmen beat back an attempt to impose a ceiling on farm subsidies going to really rich farmers.
Money may not grow on trees, but it's close enough for some gentleman farmers. Late last week, the Senate killed an attempt to limit federal subsidies flowing to farmers in the country's top income brackets.

Under the amendment sponsored by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, eligible recipients of the government's largesse would have been capped at incomes of $750,000 per year. How draconian. That's not even halfway to the White House's proposal to end the subsidies at adjusted gross income of $200,000, a level Democrats often use to define the "rich." The amendment nonetheless went down by a revealing 48-47, well short of the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster.
Even those who might be thought to take a principled stand against giving handouts to rich farmers were against imposing a cap.
Naturally, Senators who voted to keep subsidies for the super-rich included those from the big cotton and rice states, such as Arkansas Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. Kent Conrad, the populist "deficit hawk" from North Dakota, also joined a total of 12 Democrats in opposing limits on aid for big agribusiness. Even such vocal conservatives as Richard Burr (R., N.C.), Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) voted against capping the federal handout. Ditto for outgoing pork captain Trent Lott, and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), among 35 Republicans all told.

The Senate then voted overwhelmingly to pass the farm bill, which will have to be reconciled with the House version, where the income cap is a mere $2 million. Farmers will reap around $20 billion this year in federal handouts -- despite strong crop prices and rising land values -- and two-thirds will go to the wealthiest 10% of farms. Politicians justify a more powerful government in the name of helping the poor, but the farm bill proves once again that in practice it typically serves the powerful.
How disappointing to see senators who crusade against pork like Coburn and DeMint surrendering when it's pork for their constituents. Try explaining to consumers why we need to shovel federal handouts to the wealthiest farm-owners.