blogenlust
11.30.2004

What's Going on in North Korea?


I've always been sort of fascinated about North Korea, particularly the cult of personality surrounding Kim Jong Il and the level of secrecy which the country keeps from the rest of the world. According to the Christian Science Monitor, though, Kim's cult might be scaling back because of an increase in protest activities:
BEIJING - Years can drift by between press conferences in Pyongyang. But recently the tiny resident press corps, namely the ITAR-Tass correspondent Stanislav Varivoda and two Chinese journalists, were summoned to hear Mr. Varivoda's story refuted. He reported last month that portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had disappeared from key public buildings. Further, the media had stopped using the honorific "Dear Leader" in official bulletins. "There's not normally much to do here but this has caused a storm," Varivoda said in a phone interview from Pyongyang. "At the press conference they said nothing I reported is true." Small signs often portend big changes in closed societies, especially in the secretive court of North Korea's Kim dynasty. Observers are wondering if this is just another mad whim from the palace - like the edicts forbidding women to wear red trousers or to eat hamburgers. Or if, after 3 million deaths from starvation on his watch, Kim Jong Il's star many finally be falling - something suggested by numerous North Korean refugees in recent interviews. Resident diplomats see nothing unusual in the country but confirm the portraits are gone in a few places. The 62-year-old Kim continues to be addressed with more than a thousand honorifics such as "The Lodestar of the 21st Century" and "Guardian of Our Planet."
The article also mentions that opposition to Kim is intensifying:
Refugees also indicate that opposition has become more open and daring. More and more pamphlets and banners are appearing calling for Kim's overthrow. Almost all refugees report seeing slogans such as "Down with Kim Jong Il" painted on walls, pylons, and railway carriages throughout the country. Statues and murals of the Kims have been defaced, and the halls erected for worship of the Kim family have been burnt down. Some officials have been found killed in their homes.
I had no idea that there was so much organized opposition to Kim in North Korea! I've often seen video of brainwashed North Korean schoolchildren reciting threats against the United States, so I just assumed that everyone felt that way or was prisoned if they voiced any dissent. If these reports are accurate, I have hope that the situation on the Korean peninsula might be resolved peacefully. Internal pressure, combined with the ever-present external pressure on the Kim regime, might be the straw that finally breaks the camel's back. Go containment!
11.29.2004

13% ???


According to this chart, included in this article on the current state of Iraq in last week's New York Times, the United States currently has about 138,000 troops in Iraq. This number has remained pretty constant since the beginning of the war, when we had slightly more (150,000 total) in theater. 138,000 might sound like a lot, but when you're talking about occupying the country the size of Iraq, it hardly amounts to much. Especially when you consider that 21,000 soldiers are being treated for injuries at Landstuhl AFB in Germany:
Nov. 29, 2004  |  Berlin -- About 21,000 American soldiers, most of them from units sent to Iraq, have been treated at the biggest U.S. military hospital outside the United States since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, the hospital said Monday. The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany handles many U.S. combat casualties, but it did not break down the figure into battlefield and noncombat patients. Landstuhl doctors treated 17,878 U.S. soldiers from Iraq and 3,085 from Afghanistan through Sunday, hospital spokeswoman Marie Shaw told The Associated Press. The patients were treated for anything from gunshot wounds to noncombat ailments such as kidney stones, she said.
If you add the number of US troops in Afghanistan (17,900) to those in Iraq (138,000) you get 155,900. Therefore, those 21,000 soldiers hospitalized in Germany account for approximately 13% of all the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. This doesn't even take into consideration the number of soldiers that have been killed, injured but not hospitalized, or emotionally traumatized. Moreover, it is important to remember that the vast majority of soldiers in Iraq rarely see combat. Now I don't know about you, but this percentage seems really high to me. I have a feeling, though, that the number I came up with might not be accurate, or it might not even be that unusual for a military in a time of war, so if there is anyone with a better handle of statistics than I, please feel free to correct or verify these numbers. [this might put things in perspective] However, if the number is close to accurate, it further underscores the difficulty of refreshing troop levels in Iraq over a long period of time. Many of our soldiers are serving their second or third tour in Iraq and Afghanistan, and since casualties have been rising over the last six months, the chances that a soldier will be the victim of some type of casualty is increasing in probability. This raises the question as to how we're going to replace these soldiers as the duration of our occupation lengthens. I've suggested before that we're facing a fork in the road in Iraq. We could either dramatically increase our troop levels or (mostly) get the hell out of there. A lot of people have raised the reinstatement of the draft as a likely response to the first option, while others, in response to the latter, predict we'll manufacture a victory sometime after the Iraqi elections (whenever they happen). Personally, I think the the latter is the most likely and viable option, although we'll still need to find ways of replenishing our troops in the mean time. In this regard, we're ferociously targeting lower-middle class teenagers and single, middle aged mothers. Whereas many people see this as a sign that a draft is imminent, I prefer to see it as treading water until we can figure out a way to get out of Iraq without doing more damage than we did when we went in. My point (yes, I have one) is that the percentage of troops we're taking out of Iraq and Afghanistan because of injuries seems alarmingly high, especially on top of the already tenuous sustainability forecasts in both countries. We need to do something, and what that is will probably have enormous implications for the next four years. UPDATE: 134 troops have been killed in November. The second most in a month since last April when 135 died.
11.27.2004

How To Talk To Conservatives


The Rockridge Institute has posted an excerpt of George Lakoff's Don't Think of An Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate in order to help people get through difficult family conversations during the holiday season. Unfortunately, I didn't find this in time to post before Thanksgiving, but the holiday season is now in full force, so these suggestions and guidelines might be helpful if, like me, you are politically outnumbered at family gatherings. At a quick glance, some of these suggestions seem pretty straightforward. Yet, if you have ever gotten into a heated political discussion, you know that it can be difficult to "avoid a shouting match", "stay calm", and "show respect." Personally, I think staying good humored is one of Lakoff's best suggestions. Political discussions certainly deal with serious issues, but approaching a conversation too seriously will often push people away from your viewpoint, rather than open them up to a new perspective. For instance, if you've been reading this blog for a while you know that I had a lot of energy and emotion invested in the election. The blog wasn't my only outlet, either. I broached the subject with friends and family on many occassions, and much to my dismay, I never seemed to get anywhere with people who weren't already predisposed to my views. At the time, and even now, I found it incredibly frustrating. I felt that my heightened seriousness about the issue should have been enough to at least make people question their own convictions. Unfortunately, I didn't see any evidence that this happened, and I think it is because seriousness (and I mean serious seriousness) has a tendency to come off as cute. Yes, cute as in, "Oh, isn't it cute that John thinks the state shouldn't prevent a man from marrying a man?" or "Awww, Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11?? How cute!!" There probably is also a tendency for (my) seriousness to come across as unhinged. This is something I've been trying to work on in the past few weeks, but the truth is, I've found it pretty difficult to be more good humored when it comes to these types of things. So, I'm open to suggestions, and interested in hearing how other people approach these conversations, if at all.
11.26.2004

Casualties


From Juan Cole:
CBS has elicited from the Pentagon the real figure of US casualties in Iraq, which is more like 25,000. That number includes the 1230 or so killed and the 9300 classified as "wounded in battle," but also 17,000 classified as non-combat sick or injured, of whom 80 percent do not return to their units in Iraq. Although some of the 17,000 are victims of disease, some unspecified number have actually been injured as a result of being in a theater of war. If you have an "accident" while guns and bombs are going off all around you, is it really an "accident"? The Editor and Publisher piece blames the "US press" for under-reporting these figures. But obviously it is the Department of Defense that constructed the categories that allowed some war heroes to be shunted off as victims of "accidents." So it isn't the press's fault. It is Donald Rumsfeld's fault (and, sure, Karl Rove and George W. Bush, the Teflon Twins).
At some point, the definition of the word casualty changed from dead and wounded to dead in combat. When you change the definition that dramatically, it is nearly impossible for the population for whom the soldiers fight to really understand the ugliness of war.
11.25.2004

Inaugural SE WI Blogger Meet-Up


Tonight I had a chance to meet up with some fellow bloggers in Wisconsin. It was the inaugural "Multi-Annual SE WI Blogger Meet-Up." Nobkid, Heraldblog, and I checked out the Jazz Estate and Paddy's Irish Pub in Milwaukee. Both were nice establishments with good music and good M & M's, respectively. I've known NOB for a very long time, but this was my first chance to actually meet HB, whose blog I found in my early days of blogging. A fun time was had by all. If you live in the area (or don't), and would care to join us for the Christmas installment, please let us know. me_hb_and_john Happy Thanksgiving!
11.24.2004

Brett Faverah: Best Ever?


ESPN has a nice profile on Brett Favre, who is about to start his 200th game in a row. To put that in perspective, Joe Montana didn't even play 200 games in his career! Favre is simply one of the best players in the NFL, and I'm not sure there is an athlete I'd rather have leading my team in all of pro sports. As a Packer fan growing up in Wisconsin (I know, it's redundant), I've had the chance to follow his career and the thing that stands out in my mind is his ability to overcome adversity. In this past year alone, Favre has had to deal with a lot of serious issues off the field:
In the last 11 months, Favre has lost his father, Irv, to a heart attack; lost his brother-in-law, Casey Tynes, in an all-terrain vehicle crash on his estate in Mississippi; and learned that his wife, Deanna, had breast cancer. Favre has played through a series of injuries this season -- concussion, bruised hamstring, sprained hand, sprained thumb -- but on Monday night he will step on Lambeau Field against the St. Louis Rams and start his 200th consecutive game, an amazing NFL record he continues to push further and further out of reach. By any measure, Favre's success under duress surpasses all understanding.
In spite of all this, Favre and the Packers have won five straight games, and are now tied for first place in their division. More importantly, my prediction is still intact. Fun fact: Favre's first completion was to himself.

What's going down in Ukraine?


Viktor Yushchenko v. Victor Yanukovych? It's no wonder the situation in Ukraine is unclear at the moment! A Fistful of Euros has been my main source of information in the blogosphere about what is going on in Ukraine. As far as the major media is concerned, I don't think you will find anything better than the BBC. Not only are they reporting about what's going on, but they also provide a lot of very good background material and context (what's that!?) surrounding the events as they unfold. You know, everything you would expect a major news outfit to provide. For instance, the domestic political situation in the Ukraine sounds strikingly similar to that of the United States. Paging David Brooks!
Political culture and the popular mentality differ significantly across Ukraine. In the western cities of Lviv or Ivano-Frankivsk, it is easy to think you are somewhere in Central Europe. But the eastern regions bordering Russia often feel - and look - like part of industrial Russia. There, Ukrainian nationalism is seen as the biggest threat coming from the West. And the enforced need to learn Ukrainian over recent years has caused serious, lingering resentment. Mr Yanukovych's supporters have set up a rival protest near Kiev's Dynamo Kiev football stadium. One of their banners reads "Don't sell Ukraine to America!" Anti-American, anti-western slogans were a key part of Mr Yanukovych's campaign.
I think it is also important to point out the international implications of the Ukranian situation. Ukraine is a point of contention between the European Union and Russia. The former would like it to eventually join, while such a move would be a major blow, both politically and culturally, for the latter. In this sense, then, the situation can be understood in terms of which direction Ukraine will move in the next few years. Finally, be sure to check out these pictures (via Grammar.Police) of Victor Yushchenko, the opposition candidate who claims the difference in his appearance is due to a ricin attack! it is rumored suffered a ricin attack causing his change in appearance.
11.23.2004

Why We Aren't Winning


Philip Gourevitch offers an important take on the battle of Fallujah, and our broader crisis in Iraq, in the newest New Yorker:
Guerrilla fighters need only thwart a great power to claim victory, but a great power must deliver on its promises—and there are none greater than the promises of freedom, stability, and democracy that the President has made to the Iraqi people. [...] Still, it is true that the trouble in Iraq is not an indigenous incapacity for freedom and self-rule. The trouble is with the way that Bush imagined he could impose those blessings on such a vexed country—as if simply to be invaded by America is a form of salvation. “First we blow up your house, then we pay you to rebuild it,” a colonel in Falluja told the Times, while marine intelligence officers warned that the devastation of the city makes it fertile ground for a reinvigorated insurgency. In Falluja, as in Iraq as a whole, the challenge is to maintain sufficient control to be able to repair the damage that military victory has inflicted. Judging from the Administration’s record, that will be the hard part.
From the very beginning, the notion that we could impose democracy on a country that just (forcibly) finished 30+ years of tyrannical rule was absolutely absurd. To do this with the number of troops we had was absolutely hubristic. Bush likes to talk in a way that suggests the war in Iraq, and our subsequent problems there, were forced on us by a duty to respond to grave threats facing the nation. Our duty, he often says, is to bring democracy and freedom to the people of Iraq. The reality is that we'd be a lot closer to the democratic ideal we were sold had this Administration made more informed and realistic decisions. I, for one, can't wait to see how we spin the Iraqi election on January 30th. If I were a betting man, I'd say that even if 1/4 (or less) of the population votes, we'll declare victory and get the hell out of dodge unless we don't like the results. And it will be pretty hard for us not to like the results, since we'll have a "say" in who wins. The only other option that we have is to continue to go down the path we are currently on. I doubt this is sustainable, both politically and militarily (even for W.), and rather than face the consequences of further escalation, we'll bail. Not everyone, of course, but enough to recharge the troops for Iran or Iraq III. Incidently, Gourevitch is the author of We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, an amazing account of the Rwandan genocide (yes, it was genocide) during the mid-1990s. I imagine that in a few years there will be a similar book on Sudan, which we'll all read and wonder why the hell we didn't do more.
11.22.2004

Arnold for President?


Even though we just finished a Presidential election, it is never too early for candidates to start thinking about the next one. Here in California, there is a lot of speculation about whether Arnold Schwarzenegger will run for re-election in 2006 and/or push for a Constitutional amendment that would allow him to run for President in 2008 or beyond. The latter would require a major media campaign which has already begun in California. At work last week, I helped put together a program on this topic. As a result, I had the opportunity to speak with a few Constitutional scholars about the likelihood of a new amendment enabling foreign-born Americans to run for the country's highest office. Their general sense of things was that it would be extremely unlikely, although one suggested that the current political climate might make it more possible for such an amendment to be passed. He said that Constitutional amendments historically pass when either one party has a hegemony, or the amendment is seen to be in the best interest of both parties. He suggested the latter might be in play, since Arnold is not the only foreign-born politician with Presidential potential. Jennifer Granholm, the Democratic governor of Michigan is a rising star in the Democratic party, and she was born in Canada. So, if both parties think they would benefit from the proposed amendment, it is certainly more likely that such an amendment will be proposed. However, half of the US Senate and a number of governors, are at least considering making a run in 2008, and since we are talking about politicians, we have to remember that self-interest trumps everything. Bill Frist definitely has Presidential ambitions, and as the Senate Majority leader, he might have something to say about an amendment that would instantly create a major political rival. Same goes for people like Hillary Clinton and Diane Feinstein. The last thing they want is another Democratic female vying for national office. In other words, while it might be a mutual interest of the two parties, it isn't necessarily in the best interest for many of the people that will ultimately be responsible for voting on such a measure. In the end, I think the Republicans have more to gain in allowing Schwarzenegger to run, but they probably won't push it until they are out of the White House. I'm also not sure the Democrats have, dare I say, the political capital to do anything about this unless it is proposed by the Republicans. In the short term, then, I don't really see this going anywhere. Personally, I don't really see what the big deal is. We are a nation of immigrants and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to prevent immigrants from aspiring to the nation's highest political office. We shouldn't destroy the illusion that anyone can grow up to be President of the United States, just because they are a naturalized citizen.
11.19.2004

I'll be Back.


Away in L.A. Be back Sunday night.

Control Room


If you are looking for a good rental this weekend, I definitely suggest that you check out Control Room, an excellent documentary about Al Jazeera and its coverage of the US war in Iraq. I think the movie is important to see on a number of levels. First, it does an amazing job of illustrating how closely related Al Jazeera is to Fox and CNN. We are often told that Al Jazeera is nothing more than the "mouthpiece for bin Laden" and Arab propaganda. The reality, though, is that such claims are American propaganda meant to dispel the powerful images of the side of war we don't get to see in the States, but are often seen on Al Jazeera. One great part of the film shows Donald Rumsfeld, with no hint of irony, criticize Al Jazeera by saying, "We're dealing with people who will lie just to advance their cause." Secondly, the movie highlights the increasingly close relationship between the media and war. War requires the support of the people, and the media is often the apparatus used to manipulate people into supporting the war. The film highlights the differences in approach between the US and Arab media in their attempts to provoke emotion and support for the war effort. This is something I've always found fascinating, and if you're really interested in reading more about it, check out just about anything from the French philosopher, Paul Virilio. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, the film shows a side of the Arab people that we don't normally get to see in the United States. I realized just how pervasive the pejorative stereotype of Arabs is in this country. The truth is they are just like us, and that is something from the film that every American needs to see. And off topic, I also saw Ray last weekend. Unbelievable movie, and incredible acting by Jamie Foxx.
11.18.2004

Liar


It is the ability to lie like this that turned President Clinton into a two-term President. From his remarks at his Presidential Library Dedication this morning:
I once said to a friend of mine, about three days before the election--I heard all these terrible things--I said, "You know, am I the only person in the entire Untited States of America who likes George W. Bush and John Kerry, who believes they're both good people, who believes they both love our country and they just see the world differently?"
Not everyone can lie this well with a straight face. Of course, Clinton's Presidency showed that this isn't always a good thing, either.

Iraqn


I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks it's deja vu all over again. And it gets even better. In today's Washington Post, Colin Powell throws what's left of his credibility out the window--just for oldtime's sake:
SANTIAGO, Chile, Nov. 17 -- The United States has intelligence that Iran is working to adapt missiles to deliver a nuclear weapon, further evidence that the Islamic republic is determined to acquire a nuclear bomb, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Wednesday. Separately, an Iranian opposition exile group charged in Paris that Iran is enriching uranium at a secret military facility unknown to U.N. weapons inspectors. Iran has denied seeking to build nuclear weapons. "I have seen some information that would suggest that they have been actively working on delivery systems. . . . You don't have a weapon until you put it in something that can deliver a weapon," Powell told reporters traveling with him to Chile for an Asia-Pacific economic summit. "I'm not talking about uranium or fissile material or the warhead; I'm talking about what one does with a warhead."
Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah. The big problem here is that even if this is true, and it very well may be, we don't have the credibility to really do anything about it. We've all read about the boy who cried wolf, and unfortunately that boy is now in charge of our foreign policy. So, if Iran is indeed an imminent threat, the Administration's warnings might fall on deaf ears. Especially since Iraq is in flames and everybody now understands how much that threat was exagerrated. Of course, Iran was always a greater threat than Iraq, and so in some sort of perverse way, it is karmic justice that we can't effectively respond or deter Iran because of how badly we screwed ourselves in Iraq. The Bush Administration might realize this, and just be talking tough to countries like Iran and North Korea to keep them on their toes. Unfortunately, though, I don't believe that. This Administration has continuously demonstrated it has ADD when it comes to dealing with threats--they always take their eye off of the present problem to focus on the next one. It is hubris, plain and simple, and it will catch up to us sooner or later.
11.17.2004

Point - Counterpoint


Point: We Only Kill Bad Guys Iyad Allawi, The Independent, 15 November 2004
"Prime minister Iyad Allawi said there had been no civilian casualties during the battle for Fallujah, contradicting accounts from residents inside the city."
Donald Rumsfeld, Associated Press, 8 November 2004
"U.S. forces are disciplined, they are well-led, they are well trained...and there aren't going to be large numbers of civilians killed and certainly not by U.S. forces."
Counterpoint: Nice Fucking Try, Guys 800 Civilians Feared Dead in Fallujah, InterPress News, 16 November 2004
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of U.S. military reprisal, a high-ranking official with the Red Cross in Baghdad told IPS that ”at least 800 civilians” have been killed in Fallujah so far. His estimate is based on reports from Red Crescent aid workers stationed around the embattled city, from residents within the city and from refugees, he said. ”Several of our Red Cross workers have just returned from Fallujah since the Americans won't let them into the city,” he said. ”And they said the people they are tending to in the refugee camps set up in the desert outside the city are telling horrible stories of suffering and death inside Fallujah.” [...] ”The Americans close their ears, and that is it,” the Red Cross official said. ”They won't even let us take supplies into Fallujah General Hospital.” The official estimated that at least 50,000 residents remain trapped within the city. They were too poor to leave, lacked friends or family outside the city and therefore had nowhere to go, or they simply had not had enough time to escape before the siege began, he said. Aid workers in his organisation have reported that houses of civilians in Kharma, a small city near Fallujah, had been bombed by U.S. warplanes. In one instance a family of five was killed just two days ago, they reported. ”I don't know why the American leaders did not approach the Red Cross and ask us to deal with the families properly before the attacking began,” said a Red Cross aid worker, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. ”Suddenly they attacked and people were stuck with no help, no medicine, no food, no supplies,” he said. ”So those who could, ran for the desert while the rest were trapped in the city.” [...] The U.S. military claims to have killed 1,200 ”insurgents” in Fallujah. Abdel Khader Janabi, a resistance leader from the city has said that only about 100 among them were fighters. ”Both of them are lying,” the Red Cross official said. ”While they agree on the 1,200 number, they are both lying about the number of dead fighters.” He added that ”our estimate of 800 civilians is likely to be too low.” The situation within Fallujah is grim, he said. If help does not reach people soon, ”the children who are trapped will most likely die.” He said the Ministry of Health in the U.S.-backed interim Iraqi government had stopped supplying hospitals and clinics in Fallujah two months before the current siege. ”The hospitals do not even have aspirin,” he said. ”This shows, in my opinion, that they've had a plan to attack for a long time and were trying to weaken the people.”

Institutionalizing Infallibilty


I am more than a little concerned about Bush's recent efforts to further insulate himself from dissenting opinions. When important decisions need to be made, it is prudent to carefully think about the consequences of acting one way or the other. With Colin Powell's departure, the President's ability to do this on important foreign policy issues has greatly diminished. To make matters worse, it appears that Porter Goss is turning the CIA into one big echo chamber:
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 - Porter J. Goss, the new intelligence chief, has told Central Intelligence Agency employees that their job is to "support the administration and its policies in our work,'' a copy of an internal memorandum shows. "As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies," Mr. Goss said in the memorandum, which was circulated late on Monday. He said in the document that he was seeking "to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road." While his words could be construed as urging analysts to conform with administration policies, Mr. Goss also wrote, "We provide the intelligence as we see it - and let the facts alone speak to the policymaker.'' The memorandum suggested an effort by Mr. Goss to spell out his thinking as he embarked on what he made clear would be a major overhaul at the agency, with further changes to come. The changes to date, including the ouster of the agency's clandestine service chief, have left current and former intelligence officials angry and unnerved. Some have been outspoken, including those who said Tuesday that they regarded Mr. Goss's warning as part of an effort to suppress dissent within the organization. In recent weeks, White House officials have complained that some C.I.A. officials have sought to undermine President Bush and his policies.
This is not good. I don't know if this is an overt attempt to purge the CIA of ideas and analysis contrary to the Bush White House, but it sure looks like it. I do know that this unnecessarily increases the pressure on the CIA to provide the White House with intelligence it wants, and not necessarily what it needs. This is a recipe for disaster because it raises the risk that we will be blind-sided by a terrorist attack or misled into a war by faulty intelligence. Again. I think that the CIA has gotten an unfair share of the blame for 9/11 and Iraq. Afterall, it was the CIA who gave the President the Presidential Daily Briefing headlined, "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US". And with Iraq, much of the intelligence the Administration used was cherry picked to bolster the reality they wanted to produce. However, that doesn't mean that the CIA, and the intelligence community in general, should be immune to reform. Such reform, though, should be non-partisan, which is something that Goss does not seem capable of doing. If there is any Agency that should encourage outside-the-box thinking and a full consideration of opposing viewpoints it is the CIA. Unfortunately, our safety is now jeopardized because of this Administration's undying need to politicize everything.

Good Question


Harold Meyerson wants to know, What Are Democrats About? He probably isn't alone:
Once more, the theme of themelessness. Cover the Democrats for any length of time and you become expert in campaigns that don't seem to be about anything. They have policies; Democrats are good at policies. But all too often the campaigns lack a message -- a sense of what the candidate's about and what he aims to do.
Unfortunately, the fact that Bush was horrible for four years doesn't mean people will automatically vote against him. People want to have a few more reasons, preferably regarding what a candidate will actually do better than his opponent. Strange, this democratic process.
Historically the Democrats have been the party of security, but that's an identity they need to reclaim. The challenge of radical Islam demands more of them than a foreign policy of realpolitik; empiricism -- while a welcome counter to Bush's indifference to fact -- is not enough. The challenge of a global labor market demands more of them than a commitment to mid-career retraining; defending the American middle class means creating the kind of global standards that the Democrats created on the national level during the 1930s and '40s, the time of their greatest popularity. That's a daunting challenge, one that requires the Democrats to think and develop a story about the new threats to the American dream. If they do they'll come up with a more plausible list of culprits -- and solutions -- than the Republicans ever will. They may even come up with a new sense of self, with a purpose, with a theme.
The first thing we need to do is create and articulate a policy for the war on terrorism. It was a big issue this time around, and will likely remain so in 2008. This year Kerry tried to run on the fact that Iraq was so FUBAR that it would be irresponsible to re-elect Bush. I think a lot of people agreed, but Kerry didn't have a catchy alternative for people to chew on. It is probably a safe bet that our foreign policy will be even more FUBAR by '08, so it will be extremely important to come up with a policy that is universally understood to be the Democractic Party policy. Send your suggestions here.
11.16.2004

No More Moore


I am a firm believer that too much Michael Moore is a bad thing. As a result, I'm concerned about the sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Director Michael Moore is planning a sequel to "Fahrenheit 9/11," his polemic against the Bush administration, to be released about the time of the next presidential campaign, according to a spokeswoman for his distributor. The sequel, dubbed "Fahrenheit 9/11 and 1/2," will revisit the same issues as Moore's earlier documentary, which he repeatedly said was aimed at swaying the outcome of the presidential race against President George W. Bush. "We want to get the cameras rolling now and have it ready in two (to) three years," Moore told Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd on Thursday. "Fifty-one percent of the American people lacked information (in this election), and we want to educate and enlighten them. They weren't told the truth."
Earth to Michael: Don't do it! Please. I wish Moore would stick to films like Bowling for Columbine, Roger & Me, and the to be released SICKO--excellent movies that are political, but not necessarily partisan. Like it or not, Moore evokes a rabid emotional response from the Right in ways that only the Clintons and (part of) Janet Jackson can match. Fahrenheit 9/11 was a good film in that it forced those who saw it to question what had happened over the past four years. Unfortunately, though, I think that some of the issues brought up in the film were too easily dismissed because of who was bringing them up. That's because Moore has a tendency to come across as someone who shouldn't be taken seriously, and rightly or wrongly, this is not helpful for our cause. There are ways of getting these points across without immediately turning off half the country, and I would rather us pursue these ways than present them in another divisive film.

The New Face of State


Juan Cole has some thoughts on the shake-up at the State Department. He summarizes the arguments on how Powell was marginalized and ineffective, but also adds an important counterargument:
But insiders in Washington have told me enough stories about Powell victories behind the scenes that I am not sure the marginalization argument is decisive. Powell had an alliance with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the two of them could sometimes derail the wilder plans of the Department of Defense. Blair, and probably Powell, convinced Bush to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan before going on to an Iraq war. Imagine how dangerous the situation would be if the US were bogged down in Iraq as it is now, but Bin Laden's 40 training camps were still going full steam! Likewise, I have it on good authority that Powell and Blair derailed a Department of Defense plan to install Ahmad Chalabi as a soft dictator in Iraq within 6 months of the fall of Saddam. Jay Garner had been given this charge, and Powell was able to get Paul Bremer in, instead, with a charge to keep the country out of Chalabi's corrupt hands. So at some crucial junctures, Powell has played an essential role in ensuring the implementation of a more sensible policy. Without him in the administration, hotter heads may well prevail.
If you thought our foreign policy was brazen and hardline as it is, imagine if Powell was absent from the equation during the last four years! Unfortunately, though, his replacement is just another "yes" person surrounding Bush. I don't think you can effectively conduct foreign policy in today's world without at least one person offering an opposing viewpoint. Bush has been praised for putting the war on terrorism in easy to understand, black and white, us v. them rhetoric, but the reality of the situation is anything but this stark. The opinions the President hears should reflect this. On the way into work this morning I was listening to Imus talk with Maureen Dowd. They were both commenting on how Bush's new appointees were essentially attempts to consolidate White House power over the few remaining institutions that aren't overtly partisan. With Rice in at State and Goss in at the CIA, we have two of our most vital foreign policy resources turning into extended wings of the White House. As both pointed out, this is not good for our safety. UPDATE: Josh Marshall agrees with Imus and Dowd.
11.15.2004

Context in Iraq


Sadly you have to turn to an Asian newspaper to find an analysis of the situation in Iraq like this. Glaringly absent from most of the US coverage is the fact that Iraqis are divided along ethnic and religious lines. These divisions, in collusion with our actions, have serious consequences for us and the future of Iraq. For instance, many of the Iraqi National Guard soldiers fighing alongside the Marines in Fallujah are Kurdish. This has serious implications because there is a long history of animosity between the Iraqi Kurds and their Muslim compatriots. Tying the Kurds to our attacks, while perhaps necessary, goes a long way towards further inflaming the ethnic tensions. Likewise, the tensions between the Sunnis and Shi'ites is very serious, and yet dangerously under reported. This too has a long history: Shi'ites were a severely persecuted minority under Saddam's secularist regime, and have tried to use the recent power vacuum to exert more influence on Iraq's future. In a nutshell, today's problems boil down to the fact that Fallujah is Sunni and Najaf is Shi'ite. The Shi'ites and their leaders (Sistani, al Sadr) have been nearly silent about our attacks on Fallujah, which is in stark contrast to the public declarations against our past targeting of Sadr and Najaf. For us this silence is not even noticeable, but for the Sunni population in and around Fallujah it is deafening. So not only are the tensions between Kurds and Muslims gearing up, but also the tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites. Therefore, these tensions, in combination with an increasingly vulnerable occupying force and a leader that is increasingly perceived as a puppet, create a recipe for disaster that appears to be heading towards civil war. Read the whole article, but I found these paragraphs especially important:
Sources in Baghdad tell Asia Times Online that the population is even angrier than usual: the majority of the Sunni-dominated capital sees the assault on Fallujah as part of a massive campaign of normalization of US neo-colonial crimes. Baghdadis seem to be very much aware of the almost impenetrable media blackout imposed by the Pentagon - and the fact that all mainstream Fallujah war "news" comes from embedded media censored by the Pentagon. Fallujah has always been defiant toward Saddam Hussein. Now its civilian population has been reduced to a bunch of "insurgents". No one puts in context why Fallujah has become the symbol of the Iraqi resistance: it's because on April 2003, marines opened fire on a peaceful demonstration, killing at least 18 people and wounding hundreds. Now, reports from family and friends about the deadly devastation inflicted by AC-130 gunships, F-16s, 2,000-pound bombs, cluster bombs and the most lethal snipers in the world against what is essentially a collection of slums should be telling the real story - but they will never make it to embedded CNN or BBC. Al-Jazeera's office in Baghdad was closed by Allawi's "government" in August. Even the al-Arabiya network is being criticized by Iraqi bloggers such as Raed for "doing its best to be as Bushy-friendly as they can; just some fragments of news that don't mean anything. No one is covering what the hell is happening in Iraq." According to official Pentagon spin, "hundreds and hundreds" of "terrorists" have already been killed in Fallujah. There's no proof - and there's no way to independently confirm it. Also because of the news blackout, nobody knows how many Fallujah civilians are dead. Sat-phone calls to Baghdad by trapped Fallujah civilians tell of rows of decomposing bodies littering the streets. Firdoos al-Abadi, the lady who is the head of the Iraqi Red Crescent's emergency committee, sums it all up: "It is a disaster inside Fallujah. There is no water, no electricity, no food. They [the Americans] are forbidding doctors from helping the people." The Red Crescent sent a convoy of four trucks to the city on Thursday with some first aid kits, food, blankets and tents. But a makeshift hospital set up in a mosque is helpless because the doctors are severely under-equipped.
Context is everything and informed opinions about the situation in Iraq are virtually impossible without it. When the Pentagon controls everything coming out of the country (an entirely different problem!), it is understandable that the big picture is more difficult to see. However, that does not absolve the media because there are several important contextual issues not requiring Pentagon-approval that are simply not being reported.

Powell Bails


Powell's resignation shouldn't really be a surprise. It became pretty clear early in this Admimistration that Powell was nothing more than a trophy member. He didn't wield any power on issues that mattered (cough, Iraq, cough) and he was basically used as a tool by the Vice President and others to sell the war in Iraq (cough, bullshit UN speech, cough). In the end, I think the soldiers' mentality that Powell brought to the job was manipulated to the point that he was almost irrelevant in serious foreign policy decisions. I can't really forgive him for this, even if the fix was in on him from the start. My respect for Powell was very high before he joined Bush's Cabinet and it steadily decreased over the last four years. The big moment for me was his speech to the UN, which he knew was a scam. Of course, this is most upsetting because Powell is about the only one that I trusted in this Administration to not completely fuck things up. Hopefully they don't promote anyone who fucked up more (e.g. Rice) to SoS. UPDATE: Apparently, Rice is the top choice. This sucks. Remember, besides being one of the most incompetent NSA's of all time, Rice has been in charge of the rebuilding of Iraq since last October! Seriously think about how bad things have deteriorated in Iraq during the last year. It is amazing that she is even allowed to keep her job much less be promoted to Secretary of State! Hopefully this is just a rumor.
11.14.2004

Wilco


I scored a ticket to see Wilco in Oakland tonight. It was an opportunity to sit back, relax, and listen to awesome music--perfect for a Sunday night. They played some of my favorite songs, which aren't often performed including A Magazine Called Sunset and Be Not So Fearful. The latter, along with a cover of Don't Fear the Reaper, were what you might consider political tributes to the Bay Area crowd. If you haven't had a chance to check out Wilco, by all means do so. In my opinion, they are one of the best things around no matter what your musical tastes may be. Sample tunage: Wilco
11.13.2004

Fallujah


About a week or so ago, I mentioned that I knew of a guy who was going to be a part of the assault on Fallujah. His commanders had told his company that they should all pray a lot and that they would all be heroes. I just found out last night that he was severely injured earlier this week and was sent to Germany for medical treatment. From what I understand, he'll be ok, but he might lose a limb. Unfortunately, as Atrios points out, there are literally hundreds of people this week alone just like this guy that we don't hear enough about. Why not?Here's an article that asks this very question--and the answer he comes up with shouldn't really sit well with anybody.

Masters of War


Via Juan Cole, I found this incredible story about how the Secret Service showed up at a Denver high school's talent show because a band called the Coalition of the Willing performed Dylan's "Masters of War." Unbelievable:
- Parents and students say they are outraged and offended by a proposed band name and song scheduled for a high school talent show in Boulder this evening, but members of the band, named Coalition of the Willing, said the whole thing is being blown out of proportion. The students told ABC News affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver they are performing Bob Dylan's song "Masters of War" during the Boulder High School Talent Exposé because they are Dylan fans. They said they want to express their views and show off their musical abilities. But some students and adults who heard the band rehearse called a radio talk show Thursday morning, saying the song the band sang ended with a call for President Bush to die. Threatening the president is a federal crime, so the Secret Service was called to the school to investigate.
Welcome to the good old US of A. Big Brother is watching. As Cole notes, "Now we know why Usamah Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri haven't been caught. The US security services are busy shifting through old lyrics looking for the realy terrorists." The song, if you haven't heard it, is an amazingly timeless song about politicians and war that was originally written during Vietnam. You can listen to the song here: Bob Dylan You can find the lyrics on Dylan's homepage. Here are a few of my favorite lines:
You that never done nothin' But build to destroy You play with my world Like it's your little toy You put a gun in my hand And you hide from my eyes And you turn and run farther When the fast bullets fly Like Judas of old You lie and deceive A world war can be won You want me to believe But I see through your eyes And I see through your brain Like I see through the water That runs down my drain You fasten the triggers For the others to fire Then you set back and watch When the death count gets higher You hide in your mansion As young people's blood Flows out of their bodies And is buried in the mud
11.12.2004

Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Cheney


John (no relation) at AMERICAblog points out some more hypocrisy from the Administration. This time it's about the Administration and Lynn Cheney's lack of outrage when Evangelical Christians write things like this:
Joe Glover, president of the Family Policy Network, has worked tirelessly for family values, including the fight against legalized homosexual "marriage." He says it was conservative Christians who put the president back in office and who held to the belief that the president shared their views. But Glover says the day after the election, that all seemed to go out the window. "The day after George Bush was elected president again, because of this morals revolution taking place in our country, he allows his vice president to not only put his lesbian daughter on the platform, but to bring her lesbian 'partner' up on the stage with him," Glover says. "It almost seems to be a slap in the face from the get-go against the very conservatives that re-elected the president at a time when he ought to paying them some homage and respect." Glover says the Cheney daughter's open flaunting of her homosexuality is the antithesis of what the administration claims to stand for -- and that the post-election display sends a mixed message to Bush supporters.
All John Kerry did was point out what everyone already knew, and yet he was rhetorically crucified from everyone on the Right, including the Vice President and his family. Family values, my ass. I really hope that hypocrisy like this will be the downfall of the Evangelical Christians' increasing influence.

Finally!


Our long national nightmare is over. I hope I never have to see Nancy Grace again. I actually work a block from the courthouse and was outside when the verdict was announced. I wasn't sure what the reaction would be, but everyone cheered like they had just witnessed Michael Jordan hitting the game winning goal of the Super Bowl. It was a bit strange. A pathetic, but sort of funny story: About a week ago I was walking into work when I heard two journalists wondering aloud whether anything could be read into what the jury had ordered for take-out lunch. What will these people do now? Probably move to Utah.

Science Friday


Next up, Cold Fusion:
Nov. 11, 2004 | WASHINGTON (AP) -- The world of male contraception has been limited to condoms and vasectomies. But researchers now point to a new method that shows promise -- a shot that prompts an immune reaction to a protein produced in the male reproductive system. The method worked in experiments on male monkeys, most [ed: MOST?!] of which regained their fertility when the treatments were stopped, researchers report in Thursday's issue of the journal Science. "Immunocontraception for males is a possibility and hopefully will be developed for human use over the next several years," said Dr. Michael O'Rand of the University of North Carolina.
How does this work, you ask?
"We don't understand the exact mechanism yet, but we think the immunocontraception works by preventing the sperm from freeing itself from the seminal fluid to make its way to the uterus and oviducts to fertilize the egg," O'Rand said.
That is code for, "I don't know but it would be pretty fucking cool, even though it really just makes you sterile!" Men, don't get your vas deference in a bundle. This could be awhile.
11.11.2004

Que pasa con Gonzales?


I agree with Phil Carter, the author of the incredible blog Defense Tech, on the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as the next Attorney General. That is, I have serious issues with Gonzales's most recent legal advice regarding the war on terrorism. For instance:
The second set of tough questions arises out of Gonzales' work on a series of legal policies adopted by the Bush administration as part of the war on terrorism. As White House counsel, Gonzales played a key role in pushing the administration to brand the Geneva Conventions "obsolete" and "quaint" and to unilaterally declare them inapplicable to al-Qaida and the Taliban. Gonzales played a key role in the decision to use Guantanamo Bay as a global detention facility because it was believed to be outside the reach of U.S. courts and the rule of law. (The Supreme Court held otherwise in Rasul v. Bush in June 2004.) And, perhaps most disturbingly, Gonzales sat at the apex of the storm that swirled within the Bush administration's legal ranks over the use of "coercive interrogation" practices and torture to extract information from detainees in Cuba, Afghanistan, and Iraq. One of the "torture memos," produced in this period by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for Gonzales, argued that the president had the extra-constitutional power to nullify both the Geneva Conventions and the federal war crimes statute when he deemed it necessary, based on his inherent authority as commander in chief of the armed forces.
Carter later points out that it is sort of funny that the candidate who was elected because of moral values appoints people that have undermined democratic ideals in favor of personal loyalty. I'll go one step further and say that torture is not a moral value and any candidate that both promotes moral virtue and torture is a fucking hypocrite (see Frank Rich). I suspect Carter feels the same way, but he is just more polite than I am. Even though I have reservations about Gonzales, he is certainly better than Ashcroft, and Bush certainly could have chosen a far worse nominee (oh, I don't know, Jerry Falwell?). Regardless, Abu Ghraib and Gitmo have been such black marks on our national image (at least internationally, but unfortunately not so much domestically)that I have a hard time supporting the promotion of anyone who wrote and promoted the policies that led to those horrendous events. It is a sad set of affairs when "at least he is better than Ashcroft" is enough of a qualification to become the Attorney General. UPDATE: mrgrumby2u agrees, and the Political Animal has more, too.

Frank Rich Speaks


Try to read Frank Rich's column this morning in The New York Times. Rich argues that despite the conventional wisdom that the country is turning more conservative, the evidence suggests that the much talked about conservative values are nothing more than a facade, hiding us all from the "excess and vulgarity [that is] enjoyed by a vast, bipartisan constituency." In fact, as the article points out, those casting stones are as guilty of deteriorating values as anybody else.
There's only one problem with the storyline proclaiming that the country swung to the right on cultural issues in 2004. Like so many other narratives that immediately calcify into our 24/7 media's conventional wisdom, it is fiction. Everything about the election results - and about American culture itself - confirms an inescapable reality: John Kerry's defeat notwithstanding, it's blue America, not red, that is inexorably winning the culture war, and by a landslide. Kerry voters who have been flagellating themselves since Election Day with a vengeance worthy of "The Passion of the Christ" should wake up and smell the Chardonnay. The blue ascendancy is nearly as strong among Republicans as it is among Democrats. Those whose "moral values" are invested in cultural heroes like the accused loofah fetishist Bill O'Reilly and the self-gratifying drug consumer Rush Limbaugh are surely joking when they turn apoplectic over MTV. William Bennett's name is now as synonymous with Las Vegas as silicone. The Democrats' Ashton Kutcher is trumped by the Republicans' Britney Spears. Excess and vulgarity, as always, enjoy a vast, bipartisan constituency, and in a democracy no political party will ever stamp them out. If anyone is laughing all the way to the bank this election year, it must be the undisputed king of the red cultural elite, Rupert Murdoch. Fox News is a rising profit center within his News Corporation, and each red-state dollar that it makes can be plowed back into the rest of Fox's very blue entertainment portfolio. The Murdoch cultural stable includes recent books like Jenna Jameson's "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star" and the Vivid Girls' "How to Have a XXX Sex Life," which have both been synergistically, even joyously, promoted on Fox News by willing hosts like Rita Cosby and, needless to say, Mr. O'Reilly. There are "real fun parts and exciting parts," said Ms. Cosby to Ms. Jameson on Fox News's "Big Story Weekend," an encounter broadcast on Saturday at 9 p.m., assuring its maximum exposure to unsupervised kids.
I think a paraphrasing of an old adage is in order here: Where there is hot air, there is fire. Bill O'Reilly, Bill Bennet, and Rush are the three poster boys for what really is the conservative paradox: Those who rally around moral values the most, tend to rally around those that are morally bankrupt. In pointing this out, Rich highlights Thomas Franks' What's the Matter with Kansas?, an excellent book that is devoted to this subject. One of Franks' main arguments is that conservatives truly interested in moral values tend to vote for people who appeal to their values only in so far as it gets the politician elected. Once elected, the politician abandons these people and their values for corporate interests, which ultimately hurt the interests of the constituency that elected him/her in the first place. It's a vicious circle in that the longer people keep electing politicians like this, the worse off they will get, which in turn increases religious and moral fervor enough to keep them voting on values. On this point, Rich is more clear than me:
Mr. Wittman echoes Thomas Frank, the author of "What's the Matter With Kansas?," by common consent the year's most prescient political book. "Values," Mr. Frank writes, "always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won." Under this perennial "trick," as he calls it, Republican politicians promise to stop abortion and force the culture industry "to clean up its act" - until the votes are counted. Then they return to their higher priorities, like cutting capital gains and estate taxes. Mr. Murdoch and his fellow cultural barons - from Sumner Redstone, the Bush-endorsing C.E.O. of Viacom, to Richard Parsons, the Republican C.E.O. of Time Warner, to Jeffrey Immelt, the Bush-contributing C.E.O. of G.E. (NBC Universal) - are about to be rewarded not just with more tax breaks but also with deregulatory goodies increasing their power to market salacious entertainment. It's they, not Susan Sarandon and Bruce Springsteen, who actually set the cultural agenda Gary Bauer and company say they despise.
It is hypocrisy, plain and simple, and I've attended enough Catholic schools to know that hypocrisy is never the answer to WWJD? (Interestingly, I also learned what hypocrisy is from the Catholic Church!) Democrats need to reformulate Rich's article into a stump speech, because I think it will have a lot of traction in areas that should vote Democratic, but don't for the reasons discussed by Franks. It might not convince everyone, but I think it is more convincing than what we've been doing.
11.10.2004

Strategic Reframing


I hate to beat a dead horse on this issue, but I really believe that Democrats' success in reframing certain issues will make or break their electoral hopes in the near future. An article in today's SF Chronicle lays out the various ways in which gay groups of both parties will try and reframe the gay marriage debate.
Washington -- From adopting a NASCAR dad to embracing the moral rhetoric of the 1960s civil rights movement, gay and lesbian leaders are rethinking their message and market after last week's sweeping election losses, but they are refusing to retreat on same-sex marriage. The Nov. 2 election was "a wake-up call for gay and lesbian Americans and organizations," Patrick Guerriero, president of the gay Log Cabin Republicans, declared in a new mission statement. [...] "One inescapable conclusion is that we have not framed the issues right with the American public," Trammel said. The "big lesson" of the election is "figuring out how to talk about issues in a way where you're not for or against gay people ... how the nation addresses our role in society is really the key issue, and we as Democrats have to talk about that in a way that connects with Middle America." [...] Among the strategies under discussion: -- Courting Republicans who now dominate Washington and are indebted to the social and religious conservatives who helped provide a record GOP turnout rather than devoting the lion's share of money and lobbying to liberal Democratic allies. -- Continuing a strategic legal attack using "the right plaintiffs in the right place at the right time," as David Buckel, director of the Lambda Legal Marriage Project, put it, to challenge the new state marriage bans and to continue the push for marriage rights in more liberal jurisdictions, including California, New Jersey and New York. -- Going on the offensive with state ballot initiatives to expand inheritance rights, hospital visitation and other benefits for gay and lesbian couples rather than defending losing battles against same-sex marriage bans. -- Finding new allies in the religious community. "We have allowed the radical right to usurp and control the lexicon of family values, faith and morality," Guerriero said. Trammel agreed, saying it is "extremely important" to "not let people who are anti-gay seize the mantle of religion and morality." -- Creating a new message for moderate to conservative voters who may be uncomfortable even using the words gay and lesbian by personalizing the issue with mainstream gay couples who are raising children or caring for elderly parents. [...] Scott Huch, a member of the "Austin 12" group of gay Republicans who met with then-Gov. George W. Bush during the 2000 campaign to discuss gay issues, suggested, only half-jokingly, that "hairdressers and dancers and sweater- folders and waiters from Dupont, Boystown, WeHo, Chelsea and the Castro could 'adopt' mechanics and farmers and NASCAR fans and hunters in the red states. Talk about gay adoption." Guerriero suggests hosting "rural barbecues and town hall meetings for honest discussions with people who disagree with us. ... Like it or not, Michael Moore, Bruce Springsteen and Rosie O'Donnell will never convince the Iowa farmer, the South Carolina veteran or the West Virginia coal miner to be on our side."
I think these ideas are a step in the right direction, and the last was stolen directly from the Heraldblog Playbook! That doesn't mean it will be enough, though. I honestly believe that gay marriage is an issue that the Republicans don't have to lord over us, and all that it will take is some strategic thinking and patience. The latter will most likely be the hardest, but it is also the most important. Moreover, this type of excercise should not be limited to gay marriage and other wedge issues. Perhaps the biggest problem for Kerry and Democrats in the last election was not clearly articulating an alternative to Republican policies in the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. The election cleary illustrated to me that not liking the status quo does not necessarily translate into votes unless people really know where we stand on an issue. All of the post-election signs illuminate how big of a problem this is for Democrats. The good news, I think, is that it is something that everyone can work on, and I'm optimistic that people will be open to a re-articulation of Democratic policies. update: This would be a good time to recommend again George Lakoff's Don't Think of An Elephant, which is showcased on the right. It is an excellent and short guide to reframing Democratic policies that I think everyone interested in this subject should read.

Looking For A Nicer Adjective Than "Stupid"


This is amazing:
WASHINGTON Nov 10, 2004 — Leaders of several women's groups said Tuesday that Democrat John Kerry fell short in his bid for the White House because he didn't make a more direct appeal for support from women voters. They noted 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore got 11 percent more support from women voters than George W. Bush did. Kerry's advantage over Bush among women was less 51-48 in national exit polls. [...] The Bush campaign referred to the liberation of Afghan and Iraqi women to appeal to women voters, said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. But "Kerry never drew a very strong contrast with Bush" on women's issues until the end of the campaign, said Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations.
It might be the case that there were issues, like terrorism, that trumped womens' usual voting concerns. On these types of issues, it is possible, don't ask me why, that Bush was more appealing. However, it is utterly absurd to suggest that John Kerry failed to "draw a strong contrast" with Bush on womens' issues. Just off the top of my head: John Kerry wanted to protect a womens' control over her body, George W. Bush was against that. Can't get more of a contrast than that! If John Kerry does decide to run again, he must find new and innovative ways of appealing to the femaie vote. Like not wearing any pants to stump speeches, or even better, not running at all.
11.09.2004

Draft Dean


Like I wrote earlier, I'm all for drafting Dean for the DNC Chair. I think that Dean has the name recognition, skill, and tenacity to effectively articulate Democratic policy. When he speaks, you know where he stands and that is important for our side. Plus, he has demonstrated the ability to raise a lot of money and do so in an innovative way. If you feel likewise, take a few minutes to sign the petition and invite others to do so, too. The petition will be forwarded to the DNC, who after seeing the overwhelming support for Dean, will have no choice but to appoint him to the Chairman position. Not unlike how Dean's netroots were going to deliver him to the 04 nomination! Just kidding. This time it really will work.

Quiz


Who said this?:
"The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and cooperation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life."
UPDATE: If you said James Dobson you were close.

Kerry in 2008?


Maybe this is a good idea, but right now, a week after such a devastating loss, it sounds really bad to me:
WASHINGTON — Less than a week after conceding defeat to President Bush, Sen. John F. Kerry is calling key Democratic donors to lay the groundwork for a political organization that would give him a voice in national politics and position him for another White House run in 2008, close associates say. His friends, contributors and former campaign aides say he was energized by winning almost 56 million votes — more than any other candidate in U.S. history, except for Bush — and intends to wield influence as the titular leader of the Democratic Party. Kerry confidants said in interviews Monday that key members of the campaign's finance team were planning to remain loyal to the 2004 nominee — even as potential 2008 contenders such as Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and John Edwards of North Carolina begin building support — in case he decides to run.
Obviously, I think Kerry should have been the next President. Unfortunately, while he did garner 56 million votes, Bush still got 59 million. We can argue about why that happened until we are blue in the face, but at the end of the day Kerry still lost by 3 million votes. (sigh) To George W. Bush. Frankly, I think our next candidate has to start from scratch, and I'm not sure that all of the attacks on Kerry will have been forgotten by then. After all, he'll still be the liberal, wind-surfing senator from Taxachusetts that speaks French. However unfair or trivial those criticisms may be, they clearly stuck in the minds of enough people to decide the election. Therefore, Kerry should join Hillary on the list of those who should not run for President in 2008. I have yet to decide whether Howard Dean should join that list. I really liked Dean. Unfortunately, he was branded as a crazy liberal extremist, which was not really fair. He was against the Iraq war, and he was right. He is fiscally conservative and socially liberal and has governed with an open-mind. Those are the qualities I want in my President. Unfortunately, while I feel he should have broad appeal, I'm not sure he will. Of course, that could change in a year, but right now I'd rather see Dean as the DNC Chairman, where I think he can have the most immediate and long-term benefits for the Party.
11.08.2004

Eight year-olds, Dude


Jesus. Sorry, I couldn't resist.
The Dude : Fuckin' Quintana... that creep can roll, man. Walter Sobchak : Yeah, but he's a pervert, Dude. The Dude : Yeah. Walter Sobchak : No, he's a sex offender. With a record. He served 6 months in Chino for exposing himself to an eight year old. The Dude : Oh! Walter Sobchak : When he moved to Hollywood he had to go door to door to tell everyone he was a pederast. Donny : What's a... pederast, Walter? Walter Sobchak : Shut the fuck up, Donny. Jesus Quintana : You ready to be fucked man? I see you rolled your way into the semis. Dios mio, man. Liam and me, we're gonna fuck you up. The Dude : Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man. Jesus Quintana : Let me tell you something, bandejo. You pull any of your crazy shit with us, you flash a piece out on the lanes, I'll take it away from you, stick it up your ass and pull the fucking trigger 'til it goes "click." The Dude : Jesus. Jesus Quintana : You said it man. Nobody fucks with the Jesus. Walter Sobchak : Eight year-olds, Dude.

Dollar Falling


Will someone with a greater knowledge of economics please start reassuring me about this:
The dollar could slide still further, in spite of hitting an all-time low against the euro last week in the wake of George W. Bush's re-election, currency traders have said. The dollar sell-off has resumed amid fears among traders that Mr Bush's victory will bring four more years of widening US budget and current account deficits, heightened geopolitical risks and a policy of "benign neglect" of the dollar. Many currency traders were taken aback on Friday when the greenback fell in spite of bullish data showing the US economy created 337,000 jobs in October. "If this can't cause the dollar to strengthen you have to tell me what will. This is a big green light to sell the dollar," said David Bloom, currency analyst at HSBC, as the greenback fell to a nine-year low in trade-weighted terms.
And please do a better job than Brad DeLong, Dan Drezner, and Atrios. Thanks.

Post-Arafat


Given the fact that Yasir Arafat is on his deathbed, the optimist in me says that the possibilities for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are as good as they've been in recent years. However, there are a lot of reasons to be cautious with that optimism. In the best possible scenario, the Palestinian leadership will put forth a moderate leader, which will put pressure on the United States and Israel to work with him, since their biggest obstacle to peace is no longer there. This could open the door to renewed peace talks and usher in an era of trust that has been sorely lacking on both sides. Unfortunately, as the peace process has illustrated in the past, things aren't that cut and dry. Arafat, for all his shortcomings, is really the only Palestinian leader with the political capital to speak for all Palestinians. For any new leader to be effective, he will have to be able to rally his entire population (both domestic and exiled). The biggest roadblock to this could be Hamas. Hamas has better leadership and is more united than the PLO, and have not targeted Arafat in the past for reasons I am not sure of. However, with Arafat's death looming, it is likely that Hamas will want to have a larger and more prominent role in the Palestinian leadership. Moreover, Hamas has the ability to influence large portions of the Palestinian population, which could either be very helpful or extremely devastating to the new leader. When Arafat dies, I think Hamas' reaction will reveal whether a smooth transition is possible. Hamas' response could further influence the prospects for peace with Israel. Israel and the US will probably have a lot of conditions that the new leadership will need to meet in order for Israel to recognize its legitimacy. I guarantee that one of those conditions will be that Hamas cannot have a role in the leadership. So, if Hamas does take an active role in pursuing leadership positions, than things could get really interesting and messy. Overall, I would think that it is in the best interests of all Palestinians to get behind their new leader, even if he is not immediately accepted by the US and Israel. The consequences of running around with their heads cut off are, in the long run, more substantial than dealing with Israel when they don't accept the legitmacy of the new leadership. On the other hand, I think it is also in the best interest of the US and Israel to try as hard as they can to accept the legitimacy of the new Palestinian leadership (although I respect the possible concerns raided if Hamas takes an active leadesrhip role). With the raid on Fallujah on the way, and a continuously deteriorating situation in Iraq, a good step forward in the wake of Arafat's death would go along way for everybody.

They're Baaaaaack


The Crusades:
NEAR FALLUJAH, Iraq, Nov 6 (AFP) - With US forces massing outside Fallujah, 35 marines swayed to Christian rock music and asked Jesus Christ to protect them in what could be the biggest battle since American troops invaded Iraq last year. Men with buzzcuts and clad in their camouflage waved their hands in the air, M-16 assault rifles laying beside them, and chanted heavy metal-flavoured lyrics in praise of Christ late Friday in a yellow-brick chapel. They counted among thousands of troops surrounding the city of Fallujah, seeking solace as they awaited Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's decision on whether or not to invade Fallujah. "You are the sovereign. You're name is holy. You are the pure spotless lamb," a female voice cried out on the loudspeakers as the marines clapped their hands and closed their eyes, reflecting on what lay ahead for them. [...] One spoke of their Old Testament hero, a shepherd who would become Israel's king, battling the Philistines some 3,000 years ago. "Thus David prevailed over the Philistines," the marine said, reading from scripture, and the marines shouted back "Hoorah, King David," using their signature grunt of approval. The marines drew parallels from the verse with their present situation, where they perceive themselves as warriors fighting barbaric men opposed to all that is good in the world. "Victory belongs to the Lord," another young marine read.
Yes, it is Drudge, but still, this is a little unsettling. And in the event I get blasted for this, no, it is not because they are religious. Certainly I am in no position to judge how people cope with the stress of combat. Nevertheless, it is unsettling to me that people are casting this as a religious crusade (it's not just the troops), and I think it is most disturbing that Drudge would even write about it. Of course, I also find it distressingly similar to this:
We praise God, seek His help, and ask for His forgiveness. We seek refuge in God from the evils of our souls and our bad deeds. A person who is guided by God will never be misguided by anyone and a person who is misguided by God can never be guided by anyone. I bear witness that there is no God but Allah alone, Who has no partner. [...] These battles cannot be viewed in any case whatsoever as isolated battles, but rather, as part of a chain of the long, fierce, and ugly crusader war. Every Muslim must stand under the banner of There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is God's Prophet.
Thus spoke bin Laden. Again, I don't think that casting the seige of Fallujah, the war in Iraq, or the war on terrorism in religious rhetoric is a very smart thing to do. The percentage of Muslims who support bin Laden and feel that we are in the midst of a holy war with Islam is pretty small. We don't need to start giving people excuses to change their minds, though.
11.07.2004

Sitting on Stories


I was watching The Chris Matthews Show this morning and he had on Evan Thomas, a Newsweek reporter who just published a very long and informative inside piece on each of the candidates' campaign. Matthews pointed out that Kerry's now infamous statement that he "voted for the $87 Billion before he voted against it" was actually a Republican set up. Here is what Thomas wrote:
In the third week of March, the BC04 team learned, Kerry was headed to West Virginia to talk about national security. The Mountain State was a critical swing state, full of veterans who could go either way. (By summer Bush was spending so much time there, his advisers were joking that their unofficial slogan was "If it's Sunday, it's West Virginia!") On Monday, March 15, McKinnon repaired to his ad shop, Maverick Media, to crank out a spot that would air on the West Virginia airwaves just in time to greet Kerry. In the ad, a grave baritone voice intones, "Mr. Kerry?" calling on the senator to cast his vote for or against more funding for the troops in Iraq. Kerry appears to vote no again and again (in fact, it was a single vote). At 7 the next morning the ad was digitally whisked to West Virginia, where it began playing on local TV. That noon, when Kerry addressed a veterans group in West Virginia, a heckler kept demanding to know why he had voted against more funding for the troops. In his considered but long-winded fashion, Kerry tried to explain that he had wanted to vote for the funding, but only if the Senate passed an amendment that would whittle down President Bush's earlier tax cut for the rich. Kerry voted for the amendment, but when it failed, he voted against the funding. The heckler pressed, and Kerry, losing patience, fell into senatorial procedural shorthand. "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," he said. At Bush-Cheney headquarters, Joe Kildae, a 25-year-old campaign intern who monitored the war room (and never seemed to sleep), was watching. In his cubicle he kept three televisions and a battery of TiVos and VCRs. As soon as he saw Kerry make his remark on Fox News, he stood up in his cubicle and caught the eye of his boss, Steve Schmidt. Schmidt had seen the clip, too. The two men nodded at each other. Kildae thought to himself: "We're going to be seeing this a lot." He immediately hit pause on his digital recorder, wound the clip back and copied it to tape. Using a program called TVEyes, he pulled up an instant rough transcript. He e-mailed the transcript of Kerry's "flip-flopping" to an "alert list" of top aides, who could then click on a link to see the video. "You gotta see this," Kildae told campaign communications adviser Terry Holt. "Oh, my God," Holt replied. "You have to send that to me on my BlackBerry." The video of Kerry's shooting himself in the foot flew around Bush-Cheney headquarters and, very soon, into the hungry ether beyond.
Now, on the program this morning they made it pretty clear that the heckler was planted by the local Republicans, and Matthews went on to congratulate Thomas for his reporting of the story. My question is why is this something that comes out after the election? Wouldn't that have changed the way people understood Kerry's comment in a fundamental manner? I would think so. Of course, this isn't necessarily a partisan complaint. These types of things can go both ways. But what is the responsibility of the media if not to give us the whole story? Why did Matthews congratulate Thomas for telling us important information only after it became important? In effect, Thomas took a story with possibly serious implications for the campaign and turned it into a cute anecdote about the effectiveness and skill of the Republican spin machine (which, of course, deserves praise but in this instance I think it needs to be presented in the proper context). It is hard to say what type of implications the real story would have had on the election. It probably would have been marginal, at best. My biggest problem is not getting the story when it was a story.
11.06.2004

Terrorism or Values?


The conventional wisdom that suggests George W. Bush won the election because of values and gay marriage initiatives on several state ballots has taken a few hits in the last day or two. Many people, including myself, tried to explain the huge turnout for Bush by arguing that moral value issues like gay marriage motivated evangelical Christians to come out and vote in large numbers. While this did happen, a few people are making the claim that it does not, by itself, explain Bush's victory. For instance, Paul Freedman writes in Slate that it was not values, but terrorism:
More to the point, the morality gap didn't decide the election. Voters who cited moral issues as most important did give their votes overwhelmingly to Bush (80 percent to 18 percent), and states where voters saw moral issues as important were more likely to be red ones. But these differences were no greater in 2004 than in 2000. If you're trying to explain why the president's vote share in 2004 is bigger than his vote share in 2000, values don't help. If the morality gap doesn't explain Bush's re-election, what does? A good part of the answer lies in the terrorism gap. Nationally, 49 percent of voters said they trusted Bush but not Kerry to handle terrorism; only 31 percent trusted Kerry but not Bush. This 18-point gap is particularly significant in that terrorism is strongly tied to vote choice: 99 percent of those who trusted only Kerry on the issue voted for him, and 97 percent of those who trusted only Bush voted for him. Terrorism was cited by 19 percent of voters as the most important issue, and these citizens gave their votes to the president by an even larger margin than morality voters: 86 percent for Bush, 14 percent for Kerry. These differences hold up at the state level even when each state's past Bush vote is taken into account. When you control for that variable, a 10-point increase in the percentage of voters citing terrorism as the most important problem translates into a 3-point Bush gain. A 10-point increase in morality voters, on the other hand, has no effect. Nor does putting an anti-gay-marriage measure on the ballot. So, if you want to understand why Bush was re-elected, stop obsessing about the morality gap and start looking at the terrorism gap.
Similarly, but also a bit surprisingly, David Brooks argues that it was Bush's job approval that put him over the top on Tuesday:
He won because 53 percent of voters approved of his performance as president. Fifty-eight percent of them trust Bush to fight terrorism. They had roughly equal confidence in Bush and Kerry to handle the economy. Most approved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. Most see it as part of the war on terror. The fact is that if you think we are safer now, you probably voted for Bush. If you think we are less safe, you probably voted for Kerry. That's policy, not fundamentalism. The upsurge in voters was an upsurge of people with conservative policy views, whether they are religious or not.
Frankly, the values argument makes more sense to me, but only because I really believe that Bush has not made us safer and that Iraq had nothing to do with the War on Terror. However, if these numbers are accurate, a pretty good case can be made that the threat of terrorism was a big boost for the President. I also don't think this means that Democrats should give up on the value issues many of us have been discussing since Tuesday. I still think it is something Democrats need to work on, even if it didn't necessarily cost us the election.

Movies


I've seen a few movies lately, but haven't really commented on them because my attention has been in other places the last few weeks. Last night, I saw The Motorcycle Diaries, which is about the young Che Guevara's travels through South America with a good friend. I thought the movie was great--the scenery was beautiful and the acting and dialogue were top-notch, too. It looks at the part of Che's life when society's injustices really became apparent to him, and as a result, I got an understanding of how Che Guevara became the Che Guevara he is remembered as today. Gael Garcia Bernal does an excellent job as Guevara, and if you haven't seen him in Y Tu Mama, Tambien, you should. Last weekend I saw Friday Night Lights, which also is great. It's based on the book of the same title, which is itself based on a true story of a Texas high school football team in the late 1980s. It does an awesome job of depicting how serious high school football is in Texas. One of my favorite lines illustrates this: In the scene, people were listenening to a local radio show discussing a recent loss by the team, and a caller complains that the team is doing "too much learning in school" and that's the reason they lost. Back in college, we discussed this book in a class on the rhetoric of war, and the film just reinforces everything we talked about. The imagery, tactics, and emotions are extremely war-like. Billy Bob Thorton plays a really good coach, too. Finally, a few weeks ago I saw a strange, but pretty good autobiographical documentary called Tarnation. It's about a guy who grew up in a not-so normal family--his mom suffered from schizophrenia and was largely absent from his upbringing (both physically and mentally) and he lived with his grandparents, who we later realize were responsible for his mother's health. The main character and director is Jonathon Caouette and the content of the film is entirely old home-videos that were culled together using his Mac. The result is an incredibly personal portrait of Jonathon's life and a close-up look at the many problems he faced. The one issue I had with the film is that I didn't think it came to much of a conclusion. As an emotional film to watch, I sort of expected more closure at the end. Nevertheless, it is still remarkably made and I would recommend it to anyone interested in documentaries.
11.04.2004

Exit Poll Analysis


I've got the LA Times' national exit polls in my hand and wanted to share with you some interesting results: Region East 24% (of all voters) 42% (Bush) 57% (Kerry) Midwest 24% 54% 45% South 32% (!!!) 57% 42% West 20% 49% 50% Sexuality Heterosexual 96% (of all voters) 53% (Bush) 46% (Kerry) Gay/Lesbian/Bi 4% 17% (!!) 83% The South is the reason why Bush won the popular vote. When 1/3 of all votes cast come from your strongest region, you're doing alright. I think that the South came out in droves because of the gay marriage initiatives in many of the southern states, and speaking of which, I find it hard to believe that homosexuals only cast 4% of all the votes. Something tells me there were a lot of Southern voters who were lying on that one. And what's up with 17% of the GLB vote going to Bush?

Stop Hillary!


People are already looking towards 2008, and let me just be the first to say that I am totally against Hillary being the Democratic nominee. Don't get me wrong, I like Hillary and agree with her on a lot of things, but she is just too damn polarizing--imagine gay marriage x10 and you'll have an idea of what it will be like if she is the nominee in '08. To give you an idea of how bad this would be, Republicans used the word HillaryCare to describe Kerry's Healthcare policy and it was reason enough to turn millions (wrongly) away from it. A smaller reason against supporting a Clinton nomination is that I'm not a big fan of the whole dynasty thing. I definitely have Bush fatigue, and we'll all have Clinton fatigue soon enough. Besides, there have to be some fresh faces out there that we can rally around and I'm open to some suggestions. One person I can think of is Richardson from New Mexico...

Mobilizing Democratic Values


In his column yesterday, Nicholas Kristof really shines a light on the problem facing Democrats and liberals that came to the fore in Tuesday's election:
One of the Republican Party's major successes over the last few decades has been to persuade many of the working poor to vote for tax breaks for billionaires. Democrats are still effective on bread-and-butter issues like health care, but they come across in much of America as arrogant and out of touch the moment the discussion shifts to values. "On values, they are really noncompetitive in the heartland," noted Mike Johanns, a Republican who is governor of Nebraska. "This kind of elitist, Eastern approach to the party is just devastating in the Midwest and Western states. It's very difficult for senatorial, Congressional and even local candidates to survive." [...] Bill Clinton intuitively understood the challenge, and John Edwards seems to as well, perhaps because of their own working-class origins. But the party as a whole is mostly in denial. To appeal to middle America, Democratic leaders don't need to carry guns to church services and shoot grizzlies on the way. But a starting point would be to shed their inhibitions about talking about faith, and to work more with religious groups. Otherwise, the Democratic Party's efforts to improve the lives of working-class Americans in the long run will be blocked by the very people the Democrats aim to help.
There is a reason why Republicans push values the way they do, and it is because their economic and domestic policies are extremely hard to swallow for the majority of the country. It is a classic bait and switch. If Democrats can create their own message on values and present it to the country, it will go along way towards courting the so-called 'red staters.' Along this line, George Lakoff recently said (on NPR) that there are more liberal evangelicals in this country than conservative, and that the problem is they are just not as well organized as their conservative counterparts. As hard as this might be to believe at the moment, I think he is probably on to something. Democrats and liberals cannot let Republicans and conservatives monopolize Christian values. Liberal values like making sure the worst off in society are taken care of are just as much a part of the foundation of Christianity as the right to life. As I see it, there are two major components of religious and evangelical values in this country. Conservatives have done a good job of using Old Testament values to win elections. I think Democrats can go along way if they really embrace Beatitude-values and connect them with their political policies. So instead of Red vs. Blue, we will have Old vs. New.