Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Let the Fun Begin

Wonder what Stewart and Colbert have to say about Palin? Check it out here!


Friday, August 29, 2008

The Obaminator

If anyone thought Obama didn't have any toughness in him, they learned otherwise last night. He plays 'in your face' basketball, and knows how it goes. There is no chance he will roll over and play dead a la Dukakis and Kerry. He sounded tough. He sounded presidential.

Above all, Obama sounded some of the loftier themes he needed to. He called for new politics and urged that this Big Election not be about small things. That line will resonate very well, and will be trotted by surrogates out anytime there's some tiff over a gaffe. It helps him capture the high ground in such cases.

The speech was also very inclusive. He didn't sound the pro-choice call, for example, rather he called for those with differing opinions to work together for common ground. At one point, he put together a list of issues on which the public is deeply (and somewhat evenly) divided: gun control, abortion, same-sex marriage, and said that we could find common ground on these issues and solve some practical problems. Very midwestern.

A curious thing to my mind was including same-sex marriage in this list. Ostensibly, Obama and McCain agree on this (neither supports gay marriage) and that remains a distinct minority position - it is not a left/right divide, but a wedge issue that divides Democrats and unites Republicans in opposition. Putting gay marriage in this litany was, at the very least, an unusually public signal that many in the Democratic party favor gay marriage. Obama did not make a point of stating (as he and all major Democrats have in the past) that he believed marriage was only between a man and a woman. Elevating the gay marriage debate to a place of reasoned disagreement, not a minority outlier position, is a good thing for American politics. I doubt McCain will use the phrase "gay and lesbian brothers and sisters." This was not a major part of the speech, but it was very interesting about where his own thoughts were.

He appeared genuinely angry and authentically so. He assumed the mantle of nominee and party leader with grace. I think the overall impression was that he was ready to be president. While promising a new politics, he also promised to govern from the center. Above all, I thought the setting, the huge crowd, and the speech were magnificent. Literally: magnum + facere - making great.


Sarah Palin (UPDATED)

On his 72nd birthday, John McCain named the 44 year old Governor Sarah Palin (R- Alaska).  Unfortunately, she's not related to Michael Palin.  So let's discuss this.

Who is Sarah Palin?  Two years ago she was mayor of a village in Alaska with a population of 5000 or so people.  She's just been elected Governor in a state where the top two Republicans, Murkowski and Stevens, are having serious ethical and legal troubles.  She is basically the "last Republican standing" up there.  A quick look at her page from "on the issues" shows an awfully sparse record.  However, to the extent that we can tell something about her it is that she is solidly social conservative.  

I think this takes the "Obama's too inexperienced" thing off the table.  Obama was a state assemblyman for 7 years and US Senator for 4.  Compare that to being on the village council and mayor of Wasilla, Alaska then being governor for two years.  This in the context of McCain's age and health making the whole "heart beat away" thing that much more important.

I also think that to the extent this is an attempt to convince Hillary's female supporters to vote for McCain, it could backfire.  She's out of step with most women on social issues.  Also, I saw some polls earlier this summer that the only way Obama would lose his advantage among women would be to appoint a female VP nominee OTHER than Hillary.

Finally, she's going to make McCain look even older.  If they think that people will look at the two of them add their ages and divide by two and say "wow, what a young couple" they're nuts.  It will look like Sarah Palin and her grumpy grampy.  

UPDATE:  Sarah Palin is under investigation in Alaska for allegedly using her position of government to push for the firing of her sister's estranged husband from the State Police.  When the public safety commission refused he was fired by Palin because she wanted to make the department "more energetic."  She replaced him with a man who has since resigned amid accusations of sexual harassment.  


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Oh for Christ's Sake, Al! You too Jesse!

OK, I just got in in time to see the tail end of Al Gore droning on and on about the polar ice caps. Now I care about the environment as much as the next guy but one would hope that he idiot Greens in California and Florida have either learned their lesson or won't matter.  And in trying to convince the irrational fringe from 8 years ago, Al Gore was busy convince voters who actually do matter today that Obama is a tree hugging freak!  Please, Al, stop helping!  

Does Al Gore really think that telling Virginia and Texas that Obama is another Lincoln because Lincoln opposed the Mexican American War (and that was the right thing) is smart?  Dude!  What about Colorado?  Yes, Al.  Tell a swing state with 9 electoral votes that Obama opposes their existence.  Geez!   And will telling wavering Republicans in places like Virginia and Arkansas that Obama will be the next Lincoln help?  Please, Al, stop helping!

Then I saw Jesse Jackson ramble on and on about the 60s.  I assume he was talking about the civil rights movement but I only heard "blah blah blah, national guard, Kennedy...blah blah blah Berlin Wall...blah blah blah...Reagan, blah blah."  It was barely coherent.  I can only assume he was drunk.  Or maybe it was me.  I just got back from a rather cathartic happy hour.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Shane Came Back!

For most of the last eight years, whenever I saw Bill Clinton I thought "Come Back Shane!  Come Back!"  All I could think of was the ending to the movie Shane when the little boy calls to the hero gunfighter, begging him to come back and live with his family after saving the day.  But the hero rides off into the sunset.  Tonight, Shane came back!  And he came back to save the day one more time.  

Bill's speech went a LONG LONG way to repair any remaining rifts in the party that might have been left after Hillary's speech.  And I LOVED how Bill Clinton said, "People said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander in Chief...And it will not work in 2008 because Barack Obama is on the right side of history!"  He went further than Hillary.  He repeatedly said that Obama was ready and capable of being President and he forcefully said that Obama would stand up to those enemies he could not convert into partners.  Great speech!

And Bill got what he wanted, a several minute long standing ovation to stroke his ego.  

To be honest I think the biggest problem for Obama now will be to give a better speech than Bill did.  And the smirk on Bill's face as he walked off stage reminded me of the scene in "Great Balls of Fire" when Jerry Lee Lewis brings down the house (and sets his piano on fire) then strides off stage and tells Chuck Berry, "Follow that, Killer!"


Always Good for a Soundbite

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), one of only two openly gay members of Congress spoke yesterday to the LGBT Caucus--which Michelle Obama also addressed! Frank urged party members to ignore the petty differences between them and unite behind Barack Obama, saying,

If Ted Kennedy, in the face of this terrible illness, can come and make that speech, then will everyone else stop bitching about such trivia? Can we not take from him at least that this is about real issues and our lives?

That's why we need more gay representatives. Because they can use the word "bitch" so effectively. Frank also mocked the idea that gays and lesbians were pushing some "radical homosexual agenda."
What agenda? We want to get married, join the Army, and get a job. Some agenda!

Who but Frank could manage to sum up DOMA, ENDA, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell in a single sentence? Frank also compared John McCain to Rick Santorum and reminded people that,
John McCain has been less abrasively but equally substantively homophobic. He's never voted for anything that would advance our legal equality.

Finally, Frank teased conservative politicians for their hypocrisy in daring to ask, "What Would Jesus Do?"
I say to Newt Gingrich, "I don’t think he would have gotten married three times." But what do I know? I’m Jewish.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hillary was Awesome

I think that was the best speech I have seen Hillary give. I full believe it was sincere. It had great lines, the Harriet Tubman reference was perfect! I was pleawsed that she asked, "Who were you in this for?" And she went on to ask, Are you in this for me or for the country and these people that I met on the trail?

And Bill beamed with pride. I think there should be no doubt about where Hillary stands in the election. And if her supporters can't vote for Obama now, then they are twisted. And I bet she secured a place on any presidental commission that will develop universal health care.

She couldn't have done anymore than she did. Excellent!


John McCain's Temper

Here are a couple of links to video clips of John McCain losing his temper.  This first one is McCain shredding the leader of a POW/MIA activist at a committee hearing on the subject of POW/MIAs and reconciliation with Vietnam.  This is how he talks to his political base!

Here is McCain's version of "no comment."  

It is widely known that McCain has a temper control problem.  He cannot be trusted with "the button."


Hillary Preview - Get Ready for Great Moment!

Hi Everyone,

So waiting for my 2:00 pm appointment who is late, I found this on Daily Kos.  It's Hillary Clinton's Speech today to the Hispanic Caucus at the Democratic National Convention.  I imagine we'll hear some of the same lines in Hillary's main speech tonight but in front of a more energized, not to mention larger, crowd.

This  is the kind of thing I have been wanting to hear from Hillary (and Bill) but with greater frequency and volume for the past couple of months.  Now that it seems we are about to hear it, I shall applaud appreciatively!  Heck, I may even send in a little money to help her retire her debt - but I still think Mark Penn is a bonehead and she was a fool to hire him.

On a side note.  If Hillary decides not to run again (or if Obama wins in November but is so awful that the Democrats are doomed in 2012 and 2016), the torch being passed may be from Teddy Kennedy to Hillary Clinton.  The Liberal Lion of the Senate may be laid low by cancer but Hillary is well placed to take his place.


Pombat: Ask and you shall receive

Pombat asked for links to speeches by Joe Biden.

Here is Biden at the event in Springfield, IL.  

Here is some classic Biden on the floor of the Senate from 2007 speaking immediately after McCain.  Biden on the surge..."Then what?"  I think this is what Obama wants.  He wants to wind this guy up, point him at John McCain and let rip.

Biden on Rudy Giuliani and foreign policy experience.

Here is a recent TV spot (July of this year) of Biden talking about Obama and McCain on foreign policy.  "We don't need a war hero...we need someone with some wisdom."

Biden's funniest one liner.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dueling Ads

So McCain is running this ad in response to the VP nomination.  They had this ready pretty fast so you can bet they expected HRC would not be the pick a while ago.  In any case, this is a pretty transparent attempt to split the Democratic party.  It's one thing for a party to squabble among themselves but I wonder what the reaction will be to this kind of unsolicited meddling from the GOP.  I expect this ad will be responded to in the convention speeches.  There will be lots of references to "unity."  I imagine that will be the theme of Hillary Clinton's speech.  

Of course the Obama campaign is coming out of the summer vacation swinging too.  They're running this ad called "seven" and this ad called "out of touch."  I like the second one better.  I especially like the shots of McCain and the elder Bush driving around the preferred conveyance of confused, rich old men,  a golf cart.  The slack jawed, drooling look on Bush's face is great!  It also does a better job of contrasting the way McCain lives and views the economy with the way most Americans live and view the economy today. 

This ad is a cute bit of targeted attack.  They call it "backyard" but they really should have called "exploiting NIMBY."  It depicts McCain opposing nuclear waste transits through his state but supporting them in Nevada (a state that is looking increasing purple).  


Saturday, August 23, 2008

So Who Is Joe Biden?

Gaffe Machine?


Old School Washington Insider?

Aggressive Attack Dog?

Probably all of the above.  But what about his positions on issues?  

He is a moderate on abortion.  NARAL says he's only 35% pro-choice on voting but National Right to Life Coalition says he's 0% pro-life.  He's a Catholic who says he personally against abortion but doesn't want to impose anyone's views on anyone.  So he's voted against public funding for abortions and against partial birth abortions but he's also voted against banning abortions on military bases and against requiring parental consent for abortions.  Biden also says that he believes the constitution includes a "right to privacy" which is the underlying logic of Roe v. Wade.  

One of his better one liners is "Nobody asks if you're gay in a foxhole."  He's rated as having a 78% pro-gay rights voting record by HRC and 100% on affirmative action by NAACP.  But only 60% on civil liberties by ACLU.  

He's rated as 42% pro-trade by CATO but his key votes indicate he's from the pro-trade wing of the Democratic party.  In particular he's advocated expanding free trade to the Andean countries, Vietnam and China.  But he's opposed CAFTA in Central America.  When Clinton was President, in 1997, he favored "fast track" authority.  But since Bush has been President, he's opposed it.  So shock of shocks, he trusts Democratic presidents more than Republican ones.

Unions love this guy.  AFL-CIO rate him at 100% pro-Union.  

He's got a 100% pro-separation of church and state voting record.


Friday, August 22, 2008

And the winner is . . . . . Biden!

So we asked to re-evaluate Obama post-VP pick. Here is my impression! Yipppeee! Obama just got way more cool to me. If you all recall, I was a Biden fan from the start. I was set to vote for Biden before he pulled out of the primary. Remember my saying that I wasn't going to take the primary too seriously and that I was going to have fun with my vote and vote Biden. I feel vindicated in my gut reaction to Biden. Here is my take.

Biden does four things for Obama.

1) he fills the foreign policy gap that Obama might have.
2) he will give Obama the benefit of his knowledge of the inner workings of DC, something which you will all recall has also concerned me about Obama. The DC social rules can hamstring a president as they did Bill and HRC.
2) he is a white guy who will appeal to other white guys. But he isn't a WASP.
3) he has a wicked sense of humor and will not hesitate to tell a President Obama, "Sir, you are wrong".

The down side will be if Biden can't control his mouth. I usually find his gaffs to be funny and smart ass, which appeals to me. People are so up tight these days. (Of course you have to have an Indian accent to go into a Dunkin' Donuts. You need one to own a 7-11 too!) It is a bold choice by Obama and shows he has respect for his elders. And if I was a bit cool on Obama, I'm pretty hip on him now.


Why the Vice Presidential Selection Matters

Pollsters and those reporters who rely on them will tell you that a Vice Presidential pick hasn't mattered since Lyndon Johnson in 1960, if then. Well, it's true, people don't tell pollsters, or themselves, that the VP candidate selection matters to them. But I think it does. I don't necessarily think the reason for this is that voters say "ah, that's his first policy choice, let's analyze it." I think it's more subtle.

I would argue that picking a VP is a way of very publicly emphasizing or de-emphasizing certain policy and personal characteristics. A VP is like a particular kind of funhouse mirror, reflecting certain things to the public, exaggerating some, disguising others. If Obama picked Chuck Hagel (R-NE) for example, it would emphasize his "crossover appeal" facet. If Obama picked Clinton, it would emphasize his "I'm a Democrat" facet. If he picked Powell, it would emphasize his race. If he picked Claire McCaskill, it would emphasize his obscurity. I think that, mentally, people often sort of draw a line in their heads between both partners in a pair, then begin thinking of both as if they occupied that midpoint. But sometimes the VP pick doesn't work that way because the clash is too great. This process of mental averaging doesn't work when it's black-and-white. If Obama picks Joe Biden, it might just clash and emphasize Obama's lack of foreign policy experience rather than lend him some. It may not be clear ex ante how voters will react. But the effect is likely to be subtle and lasting.

I would argue that in 1992, to voters, Gore emphasized Clinton's southernness and youth. In 1988 and 1992, Quayle detracted from the view that Bush Sr. was copetent. In 1996, Kemp emphasized the quixotic nature of Dole's run. In 2000, Cheney lent Bush some of his seriousness (what pundits today call 'gravitas'). That same year, Lieberman's centrism clashed with Gore's southern-preacher-populist appeal he affected in October. In 2004, Edwards was meant to dispel Kerry's Boston Brahmin image - the clash actually just emphasized it.

A VP, in that way, is a lot like a spouse. That is why the First-ladies-in-waiting matter, I would argue. Hillary made Bill seem more liberal than he was. Laura made George Bush seem more ordinary (turns out he was ultra-right-wing). Liddy Dole made Bob Dole seem a lot softer and more modern. Barbara Bush lent George Bush Sr. some class. Nancy Reagan softened Ronny's corners. Cindy McCain makes John seem rich, out of touch, and ultra-white. Michelle Obama makes Barack look more lefty (and more black - remember, he's as black as he is white, but his black wife and kids lend to a picture).

I believe these effects are more pronounced the more obscure the presidential candidate is to begin with. Obama is less well known than McCain, but he's not that well known either outside beltway circles. "Maverick" is a Washington term meaning (apparently) someone who votes with the party 99% of the time but diverges 1% of the time on a few high-profile issues. Both have a lot to gain or lose in their selections.

Is this scientific? Not yet. Measurable? Tough to do if the effect is subconscious, in the sense that voters won't articulate it. But I think that polling data on, say, Bush's seriousness in 2000 or Kerry's elitism in 2004 might just show that the VP pick was at least temporally correlated with a change in voters' attitudes on that attribute.

So what does this mean for Obama, if true? He has a choice: emphasize economic policy (e.g., Sherrod Brown) or play with foreign policy again (Joe Biden). McCain can emphasize his centrism (Romney) or play with the conservatism fire (Huckabee). Not sure if Huckster will make McCain more conservative or clash with him. Not sure if Biden will lend gravitas to Obama or clash with him, as if he were picking a child picking an adult. Ted Kennedy would make Obama seem, by comparison, too young, or (by emphasis) too liberal. Clinton makes Obama seem very "normal" as a politician, which cuts into his crossover appeal and his message of change, BUT she may lend him the aura of 'acceptability' that some say is all he really needs to get voters to check the DEMS box this year. I think Obama's best shot is to stay away from someone like Biden, who - by trying to compensate - might actually emphasize Obama's flaws. At best, Biden reminds voters of the importance of foreign policy, which is playing to his weakest suit. Rather, Obama should choose someone who connects him to bread-and-butter economic issues. In this sense, Clinton is not a terrible choice. I think the best choice probably would have been Edwards. What a loser.

We will likely know in 24 hours. Monitor your thoughts after the pick. How does your impression of Barack Obama change with the knowledge of the partner he chose? I'll bet it does, like a set of clothes (to use another analogy).


Thursday, August 21, 2008

McCain's Personal Housing Crisis

Senator John McCain has so many houses he does not even know how many he owns. You can hear him on the politico site. The question was simple, McCain spoke clearly, and his words were not taken out of context. McCain had to say his staff would get back to the interviewer about the question.

Others have now done their homework: Newsweek has counted at least seven homes. Attempting damage control, McCain's staff insist he "only" has four houses he actually considers homes (the rest he considers investment properties) and that some of those seven properties do not count because they are "only" condominiums. So what--as a condominium owner, I don't have a real home? God knows what he thinks of renters... just the hired help?

McCain, a stinking rich old white Republican son of power and privilege dares to accuse Barack Obama of elitism? What the f*ck!? McCain only got into the Naval Academy because his daddy was an Admiral, and he did so badly he barely passed. McCain cheated on his terminally ill wife, then ditched her to marry the $100+ million dollar trophy he parades around with now. I hope they nail him to the wall with this story.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lieberman's Coming Out Party

Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) has announced he will speak at the Republican National Convention this year. Lieberman has been unabashed in his support for the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Senator McCain this year (there has even been talk that Lieberman might be McCain's running mate!) and by choosing to address the GOP Convention it appears Lieberman is ready to accept his new colors.

For those who may not remember, this is significant because Lieberman was the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee in 2000 (Al Gore's running mate). Lieberman's subsequent rightward tilt however (notably his unyielding pro-Iraq War stance) cost him the Democratic primary election in 2006 when Ned Lamont led grassroots Democratic activists in revolt. Lieberman only just managed to keep his seat (he won less than half the votes) by running as an "Independent Democrat" in a three-way race in the general election.

Despite his embarrassing loss in the Democratic primary, Lieberman has so far continued to caucus with the Democrats, and his vote has been crucial. Without his support, the Democrats would lose their razor-thin majority in the Senate. But since this Fall the Democrats are expected to gain enough seats in the Senate that Lieberman's vote will not be required to maintain control of that chamber, Lieberman's final ouster from the Democratic caucus is all but certain.

Good riddance, I say.


Some Thoughts About The Current Political Situation

As we wait for Obama to announce his running mate, here some thoughts about the political situation as it stands now.

1) The crisis in Georgia seems to be helping McCain.  As people get worried about Russian aggression, they turn to the man they THINK will be able to handle it.  For some reason, getting shot down, imprisoned and tortured is good preparation for high level diplomacy.  It's all about the American working class's fetishizing of the military - a trait actively encouraged by the Republican party.  Obama is still essentially tied in national polls but more worrying he's now tied in swing states he was ahead in (like Ohio) and according to real clear politics (see link to the right), he's now just barely winning the electoral college.  Before the Russian invasion of Georgia, Obama was looking to get way over 300 electoral votes.  

2)  Most of these polls are not including either Nader or Bob Barr.  But the first poll I've seen that does include both of these potential spoilers shows that once again, Nader's Raiders are far more likely to damage the  Democrats than Barr will be to damage the Republicans.  The LA Times did a poll that shows that Nader is getting about 4% while Barr is only getting 1%.  

3)  Obama still has a decisive lead in enthusiasm among his supporters.  According to the same LA Times poll (see link in item 2), 78% of Obama supporters are "enthusiastic" about their candidate compared to only 61% of McCain supporters.  The flip side is more worrying for McCain.  20% of Obama supporters are unenthusiastic supporters.  38% of McCain's people are unenthusiastic.  

4) Obama continues to have a huge fundraising advantage.  In July he raised $51 million and has $65.8 million cash on hand.  McCain had his best month in July (helped in part by a huge pay off from big oil companies for advocating off shore drilling) raising $27 million but only having $21 million cash on hand (McCain went into debt in June).  The DNC and RNC have different fortunes.  The RNC is barely out raising the DNC.  The RNC raised $26 million in July and has $75 million cash on hand.  The DNC raised $22 million and a similar figure for cash on hand.  Keep in mind that the RNC will want to devote a lot of their money to keeping Republicans in office down ticket.  

5) Obama is running adds that directly target blue collar voters in the rust belt (Ohio, Michigan, Western Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin).  There is the "hands" ad that LTG dismisses as all potatoes and windmills.  Then there is Obama's new "economic plan" ad.  In contrast, McCain is running a combination of attack ads and ads aimed at convincing people that he "feels their pain" with his "broken" ad.    And Obama is responding with ads showing McCain begging for primary votes by bragging about his ties to Bush - like this.  

Here is the problem with McCain's ads.  The first one starts with a cheering multitude chanting Obama's name.  The second one starts with a down note that admits that the status quo sucks - a status quo that most Americans blame on the Republicans, and especially George W. Bush.  What's more the "broken" ad is vulnerable to exactly the response that Obama's people have come out with, namely quotations by McCain himself bragging about how close he is to Bush.  

Summary)  I think Obama's troubles, such as they are, are related to the crisis in Georgia.  I'm assuming that will be resolved and at least off the front pages relatively soon - probably before the end of the month.  Obama's got better ads than McCain and he's quicker and better at counter punching than Kerry.  And Obama's got a lot more money.  Who Obama picks as his VP will tell us a lot about what his campaign expects the last stage of the election to be about.  Will he pick a foreign policy name with lots of gravitas, like Biden?  Will he pick another "outsider" like Sebelius?  Will he sacrifice control over his own presidency for the sake of buying the Clintons' support?  Or will he pick the Latino with the killer resume, Richardson?  Some potential candidates let him do several things at once.  For example, I think Jim Webb (Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy and retired Marine officer and Vietnam War vet with a chest full of medals) would kill several birds with one stone.  He's also from Virginia.  And although he's only in his first term in the Senate it would be difficult for the Republicans to say he doesn't have experience since he was in Reagan's cabinet.  At the same time, he's not someone who's been known as an insider so he has an "outsider" and independent appeal that would be useful to Obama's change message.

This post got a lot longer than I thought it would.  I'll stop now.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We'll Nuke You!

So adding to the list of reasons to distrust Russia, they confiscated 4 American Humvees in Georgia today. They are replacing Georgian TV with Russian TV as part of their propaganda campaign inside Georgia. They took Georgian troops prisoner. They stand by while South Ossetians and Chechens burn and bulldoze the homes of Ethnic Georgians. Now we can discount some of this as "typical of conflict", it seems odd after a cease fire has been agreed upon. They could rush into the country in a few hours, but can't seem to pull back in less than a week? It is part of a little "terror campaign" or perhaps the "security measures" that Russia and its allies are allowed to conduct over the next 6 months? The icing on the cake, a Russian General threatened Poland with nuclear attack if that nation continues to host the US missile defense shield. NATO called that "pathetic" and promised Georgia that NATO membership talks would continue- although they may be more drawn out than initially planned.

Look, I think that "the missile shield" for what it is worth, is no longer really about containing Russia. It started that way, but I don't think that has been it's primary motivation over the last several years. And I don't think NATO is aimed at Russia anymore, although it would have been wise to disband it back in 1989. However, it has come in handy for taking military action in place of the UN. And it has doused Russian hopes in places like the former Yugoslavia.

However, Russia's continued sense of threat is becoming something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it isn't helping itself or anyone else with cold war rhetoric.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Last Chance for VP Bets

Very soon we will know whom Obama and McCain have chosen to be their running mates. So this is The Citizens' last opportunity to place their bets on who will be the VP candidates for each party. Here are my picks, for your amusement. Note: I do not think either pick is likely--no better than 1 in 3--I just think these are more likely than anyone else.

Hillary Clinton.
I know this possibility has been nearly universally dismissed by the pundits. I agree that putting Hillary on the ticket is not necessary for party unity, and I believe Obama will win the independent vote without her. In the past month, however, I feel the chances that Obama will win the independent vote by a significant margin have greatly diminished. I suspect this election will be another battle of the bases. Despite her flaws, choosing Clinton would excite the Democratic base as no other realistic VP choice could.

Mike Huckabee.
The surprise winner out of Iowa is the only Republican who can make a dent in the "enthusiasm gap" with Obama. McCain knows he will be edged out of the Independent vote by Obama, so he needs the Evangelical base to come through for him. This is why McCain has been sliding to the right on almost every hot-button issue. Despite his flaws, choosing Huckabee would excite the Republican base as no other realistic VP choice could.


So Much for Musharraf


Pakistan is entering one of its democratic phases.  General Musharraf is resigning as support for his impeachment mounts.  This is a very good sign for Pakistan's medium term future.  To remove a military dictator by forcing him to acknowledge that constitution has some binding constraints on his power is fantastic.  It's also very rare for military regimes to behave like this.  Usually, they either wait for a rival group of officers to threaten a counter-coup or for the mobs in the streets to make the country ungovernable.  I have to say this is pretty cool.  I'd even go so far as to give Musharraf a tip of the hat for this one.  BBC online has a brief summary of his "mixed legacy." 

The power is now firmly in the hands of the pro-democracy reformers.  These people are also much less ambivalent about their opposition to groups like the Taleban.  


Saturday, August 16, 2008

No Honor in Moscow

Russia is now destroying bridges, burning fields, and advancing on Tbilisi. This is several days after Russia claimed to have ceased all hostilities, days after they agreed to a cease-fire. Russia also continues to occupy what remains of Gori and other Georgian villages, despite loud denials from President Medvedev and the Russian ambassador to the UN that Russians are even there. At least there was some pretext for their original assault on Georgia... But at this point, the Russian government is simply lying. Moscow has shown it has no honor. No doubt the truce Medvedev signed today is equally worthless.


Friday, August 15, 2008

High Infotainment Value News

Hi Everyone,

I found this reported in a Danish news paper.  It seems that US soldiers deployed overseas are donating 6 times as much money to Obama from 5 times as many donors as are reported for McCain.  You can see the story here at  

Some other interesting features of the story are that the top Republican donation recipient among the troops is Ron Paul.  Paul was getting 5 times the amount of donations from 3 times as many soldiers are McCain.  

Of course more than half of the donations from the military to political parties have gone to the GOP.  But when it comes to individual candidates they prefer Obama.  

This is based on very early numbers of course and the number of donors for each candidate is very low which suggests that these numbers may not really be indicative of much of anything.  But it sure is fun to point it out!


Where Does Iran Fit?

In all of this back and forth over the Russian-Georgian situation, I have been asking myself where nations like Iran sit on the matter.

LTG says that Russia is not trying to re-establish 19th century borders. He may be correct. But that doesn't mean the Cold War is dead. In fact, I am beginning to wonder if it ever really defrosted. The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has an interesting take. Now there are several interesting things in this report, but the part that inspired this post was the following:

At the same time, in March 2009, Russia is likely to deploy modern S-300 long-range anti-aircraft missiles in Iran. By June 2009 they will become fully operational, as Iranian teams finish training provided by their Russian instructors, according to a high-level Russian source who requested anonymity.

While the Russians cry about the US wanting to install a missile shield in Poland, they are doing the same in Iran. Pair that with constant Russian vetoes against sanctions for Iran, and it looks like it's back to "That 70's Show".


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Offshore drilling

This is the best explanation of offshore drilling I have ever seen.


Truce My Ass

The US is sending military personnel into Georgia for "humanitarian" purposes. Defense Secretary Gates made it clear that there would be no military force. I hope that this will remain the case. I fear what could happen if things heat up too much. It's a small step from humanitarian aid to conflcit as the PAST has shown.

Of course, the Russians are saying that Georgia can "forget about" its territorial integrity and to prove it, they are remaining in Gori and have moved into Poti on the western coast of Georgia. If their claims that they will support the break away regions are true, then they ought to move back into those regions instead of remaining inside Georgian territory and threatening the Georgian population.


HRC To Be Put In Nomination

is reporting that HRC's name will be put in nomination at the convention. This was apparently negotiate between HRC and the Obama campaign. This is said to "honor her historic campaign" and is believed to alleviate anger that many rock-solid HRC supporters still harbor. It may not be a bad idea. It will give her a very public podium to throw her full support to Obama by turning over her delegates and making a public display of party unity.


Earth to Obama: Summer's Over

In the New Republic, Nate Silver (author of blog) wrote this excellent piece, which I recommend you all read. I think he's spot on with his analysis of this race so far.

Obama needs to move from the "introducing the candidate" phase (which McCain could short circuit being the celebrity in the race) and move onto the policy argument phase. I suspect that pivot is what the convention will be about. I hope so.


Empty Seats and Corruption in China

Hi Everyone,

Has anyone else noticed the enormous number of empty seats in many events at the Olympics?  NPR did a story yesterday afternoon about this.  They interviewed a young Chinese woman (I think they said she was 18) who was in tears about how much she had wanted to see Federer in a tennis match.  "I just love him so much" she said, obviously weeping.  She had waited in line for hours to get a ticket only to be turned away at the counter saying they were sold out.  But there were empty seats...lots and lots of empty seats when the reporter watched the match with her press pass.  

On the human interest side, who could help but have sympathy for this young fan who had probably been looking forward to seeing her sports idol for years only to be turned away at the last minute?  

But what I found interesting in the story was the reason why fans were being turned away even though there were open seats.  Party big shots and well connected business types had grabbed up all the tickets and reserved them for clients.  But the clients aren't showing up to the actual events and I think I've figured out why.  Suppose you are a corrupt politician or businessman in China.  You're unethical but not a fool.  You want to hand out Olympic tickets as favors to people who you hope will later help you in something that actually matters.  But you don't want to offer your client a ticket to a swim meet only to find that they're really volleyball fans.  So you grab up lots of both kinds of tickets (or actually, you get a wide selection of tickets).  But your clients can only go to one event at a time so the rest of the tickets you offered them go unused.  Of course corporate fat cats grab up lots of tickets to the Super Bowl, World Series or World Cup too.  But those events are only one sport at a time.  So you don't have the problem having to over supply options to clients.  

Obviously, this looks bad for the Chinese government.  They want this to be the most successful Olympics ever.  It just looks bad to have world wide TV showing all those empty seats.  So NPR is reporting that the government is bringing in gangs of hired cheerleaders who sit in as many of the empty seats as they can fill on short notice and yell and wave flags.  Meanwhile the young fan sits and cries at home.  

This kind of SNAFU is typical of governments with a command economy mindset.  First, they don't just trust that the market will fill the seats.  Then, because power is concentrated and unaccountable, the planned system they set up to make sure the seats got filled gets corrupted and fails flamboyantly.  

In comments on an earlier posting, Bert Q. Slushbrow pointed out that people in China are very upset about the Party big shots getting their kids inserted in the opening ceremonies.  I'm curious if the seat/ticket situation has reached that level of outrage.  


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

McCain Foreign Policy and Lobbyists

Hi Everyone,

We've been getting into some heated debates about the Russian invasion of Georgia and whether some of it has included hints and accusations that some of us are not entirely objective - favoring either Georgia or Russia out of emotional connections.  But these supposed biases are debatable and in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter if someone on a blog (even a great blog like ours!) isn't entirely objective and clear headed on some issue.  

That's not true about a President however.  I found a link to this Washington Post article on Daily Kos.  In it, they detail how one of McCain's key foreign policy aids owns a lobbying company that just took $200,000 from the government of Georgia to lobby on their behalf on Capitol Hill.  This might explain why McCain has been somewhat more hawkish in his response to the Russian invasion of Georgia than either the Bush administration, NATO or the Obama campaign.  

The most damning part, I think is this:

"For months while McCain's presidential campaign was gearing up, Scheunemann held dual roles, advising the candidate on foreign policy while working as Georgia's lobbyist. Between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 15, 2008, the campaign paid Scheunemann nearly $70,000 to provide foreign policy advice. During the same period, the government of Georgia paid his firm $290,000 in lobbying fees."


A Report From "Our Man In Beijing"

Hi Everyone,

What follows is an email I got from a friend of mine who is currently in Beijing.  He is very well travelled in China and South East Asia and has been to China for work (in the film industry) and fun many times.  

"I'm alive and well here in Beijing. Just got back from watching the US vs. China basketball at a small micro brewery pub. Nice hard rain tonight. Cooled things down for a bit. Been incredibly hot and muggy. The "fog" is pretty bad, even with all the construction shut down and more than half the cars off the road. The traffic is so light at times, it feels like a different city. 

The first week has been interesting. The stabbing news is crazy. Been to that place many times. Most of the Beijing expats and foreign residents are down on the Olympics because of all the visa issues and new social restrictions.  Basically, the government started enforcing mostly existing visa rules, so many of these people had to go through a lot of crap just to stay here, while many of their friends had to go home. They're also not fond of the "whitewashing" of Beijing. Clearing out the homeless, the drug dealers, the potential agitators, and the prostitutes strikes them as hypocritical. Minorities, especially Muslims, have been feeling the pinch also. They've been harassed by police and some have been told to leave, which is actually status quo here in China during big international events. 

I still feel safe in Beijing. Much safer than LA as far as violent crime  goes. I've been reuniting with some old friends from the movie on worked on here 7 years ago. Its been nice. I watched the opening ceremony at a couple outdoor live viewing areas, with a big TV and a huge crowd of mostly Chinese, but many westerners as well. The town just kinda stopped and watched. Taxi drivers pulled over to have a smoke and enjoy the ceremony. People came out with their little red flags and flag stickers on their cheeks. I saw more than one person tears in their eyes. Big cheers came up as the US team entered the stadium, but I'm pretty sure I heard some boos when a shot of president Bush came on the screen. 

The video project has been slow going, as I really need a full time editor.  The time it takes to edit could be spent shooting other things, attending Olympic events, and working my magic with the ladies. I posted a vid that I really hated, and I have a few more in the edit stage. I've also ran into some problems, which I expected. Trying to get interviews on the street can be difficult, because of the government "minders," quietly walking around the city, are always watching. We were interviewing a woman about exercises equipment at an outdoor "gym," and a woman dressed in an Olympic volunteer shirt casually walked by and gave our subject a glance, like "watch what you say!" Our subject told us these people were everywhere. Creepy. Anything even slightly controversial can be dangerous. I had both a bar owner and a Muslim musician turn down a profile because, they said, there would be nothing to say that couldn't come back to bite them. While I have not been to any events yet, I plan to attend some. The rumor is that you can get tickets to some of the less popular events pretty easily."


Why History Can't Explain Current Events

Nationalists and their apologists like to point to historical events as justification for their invasions.  Serbs claim that their military domination of Kosovo and the repression of the people there is justified by some ancient battle there.  Russians claim at least a piece of or a right to dominate just about every country that borders the current state of Russia (and some that don't border them) based on the maximum extent of the old Romanov empire.  China justifies its actions in Tibet with similar arguments.  Many governments and non-governmental political movements (like Hezbullah) argue about historical events - to the point of threatening to assassinate archeologists who dig up inconvenient artifacts.  I could go on and on with examples from around the world.

But do these things really matter?  I say that not only do they have no intrinsic meaning but claiming that they do is an intellectually flawed argument and dangerous in that it gives legitimacy to some really brutal behaviors by some nasty regimes out there.   It also gets us nowhere as far as solving these problems.

So why is history such a rotten place to seek explanations?  Because in most of these countries history is not an objectively definable thing.  While the facts that occurred are objectively identifiable, their meaning and significance are formed by the people who teach those facts to people.  Furthermore, in most of these countries we have highly centralized education systems where the books and curricula are approved by political offices of (usually) nationalist and/or undemocratic governments.

When you have a government that is self consciously using the school curricula as a propoganda tool, you can't really say that "history" is causing this or that widely held opinion in the people.  In such a situation, nationalist feelings among the population aren't a natural consequence of the historical event but a consequence of the way that event is being used as part of a vocabulary of nationalism by the leadership.  

Consider any number of examples in Europe.  Germany conquered a large part of Denmark less than 150 years ago.  Danes still live in the district and yet there is noone in Denmark banging on about German persecution of Danes and the need to get the international community to return the Danish land to its rightful owners.  Same thing for the formerly Danish lands in Norway, Iceland or Sweden.  Or Swedish lands in Norway or Finland.  By the same token, no one in Germany is talking about retaking Silesia, Prussia or the Sudetenland.  This despite that there are Germans alive today who were born in these regions and expelled as a result of the German defeat in WWII.  You don't hear about German demands to rule Alsace either.  Nor do you hear about the English wanting Ireland back.  And you really don't even have a lot of people in Ireland proper making a big fuss about Ulster anymore.  And what about the German speaking territories in Italy?  Or Italian speaking territories in Switzerland?  Even the Basque and Catalan conflicts are gradually cooling off in Spain.

These kinds of historical "rights" to this country or that valley, only matter if the politicians of today MAKE them matter.  And some politicians make these things into big deals for very cynical reasons.  In the context of this fact, it is really problematic to seek explanations for international and ethnic conflicts in the local history books.  In most of these countries plagued by such conflicts, you may as well just read the party manifestos of the local nationalists as a history book.

So, if the historical facts themselves aren't causing the conflict but rather the propaganda built up around them, what causes the propaganda?  I think it is fairly easy to establish that ethnic and international conflicts over issues like this tend to be more frequent and worse among poor populations than among rich ones.  As a population gets more prosperous they care less and less about which side of the line some valley or town or battlefield is.  And they don't particularly get upset about what happened on St. Crispin's Day in 1415 for example.  Or whose fleet sunk whose back in 1588.  


My Post-Mortem is Better than Your Post-Mortem

Now that there is a truce, we get to fight about what it means.

This morning's Washington Post carries the following (which I excerpt):

"The Bush administration suggested yesterday that an apparent cease-fire in Georgia came about because Moscow feared it would be banished from Western-dominated international economic and political institutions if it did not stop its "aggression" in the former Soviet republic. "Russia has one foot into the international community . . . and one foot that is not," a senior administration official said. Membership in institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the Group of Eight major industrialized nations "is what is at stake when Russia engages in behavior that looks like it came from another time."

It's worth noting that the French, who actually negotiated the cease-fire (their historic thumb-in-the-eye approach to US relations gives them an odd sort of ability to do this) have not made such statements. It's possible this is correct, but it seems more likely that Russia is not as interested in the WTO and the G8 as we would like to believe.

I strongly suspect the Russians stopped because they accomplished their goals of humiliating Georgia and forcing the Georgians (further) out of Abkhazia and S. Ossetia. I doubt the Russians were afraid of being kicked out of international oganizations. That's actually something we should be scared about, since we OUGHT to want engagement with Russia, not isolation.

The Washington Post reports the following also, in connection with Russia's (routine) denial of the US theory:

"The United States "is as much interested in the relations with Russia as Russia is in the relations with the United States," said Vitali Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations."

Now, I think Ambassador Churkin was spot on, if you understand both his meanings. Russia also suggests it will be as little interested in good relations with the US as we are with them. It is important for the next president to realize that relations with Russia and China are as much a matter of choice for us as for them. We can have good relations or not. They are not desperate for our approval or companionship. Engagement or isolation are two differnet paths.

McCain totally does not understand this. He still has the immediate-post-Cold War mentality that the US is the sole superpower in the world, the navel of the universe. He often says that meeting with the US president is some kind of prize that should be carefully doled out. That's why he slammed Obama for suggesting he meet with Iran's president, saying it would legitimize his regime, discourage reformers and encourage Ahmadinejad's supporters. Bush says the same thing, that meeting with foreign leaders is like a gift to them. That's why he says we can't meet with Cuba's leaders, Iran's leders, etc. Actually, most don't see it that way. They don't see us as their legitimizers. The bigger countries are even more dangerous: they will only be as interested in us as we are in them.

That's why the phrase "constructive engagement" must apply to Russia and Iran as well as China. It is a mistake to think of our friendship as a carrot and isolation as a stick. If isolation is a stick, the whole world gets a poke in the eye. If Russia were expelled from the WTO, would this encourage them to shape up and fly right? Didn't we all make the opposite argument vis-a-vis China? Other than the fact that Russia actually poses LESS of a long-term threat than China, given its smaller population and diminished industrial and economic capacity, what is the difference?

We can disagree on this blog as to how bad Russia is, but I think that (most) of us agree that our response must be to draw Russia into the world community, not try to push it out.. certainly not on the theory that they will be desperate to get back into our good graces.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Iowa Footnote

Former Republican Representative Jim Leach, who represented Iowa's 2nd District for 30 years but was defeated in a stunning squeaker by Democrat Dave Loebsack in 2006, has announced that he will endorse Obama today. Perhaps Mr. Leach has decided it's time to leave a sinking ship...?


Just Enjoy it!

What is with this daily attempt to pick apart the opening ceremonies of the Olympics?
Yesterday the story was "faked Fireworks" that weren't really faked. And today the story is the switch-a-roo and lipsync of one of the children. This type of stuff is typical in the entertainment business.

Look, it was a great open ceremonies. Quit picking it apart just because it's China!


Breaking the Law is Not a Crime, says Mukasey

In the "So what else did you expect?" category of today's news, Atty. Gen. Mukasey announced he would not prosecute anyone for the politicization of his department under its former leadership. While paying lip service to condemning the now-proven practice of hiring only loyal Bushies at the Justice Department, Mukasey told the American Bar Association yesterday,

[N]ot every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime. In this instance, the two joint reports found only violations of the civil service laws.

Oh, is that all, Mr. Mukasey? Civil servants charged with defending the laws merely violated their own civil service laws? I see. Nothing to worry about.

I eagerly await Representative Henry Waxman's (D-CA) next move.


McCain Plagiarizes Wikipedia

The evidence is listed by Taegan Goddard at his blog: CQ Politics: Political Insider. The story apparently has also now got play with Keith Olbermann. While McCain himself is so amazingly internet-illiterate that he probably does not know what Wikipedia is, his speechwriter clearly used it in a hurry. McCain's vaunted knowledge of foreign policy is crap. If Obama had pulled a stunt like this, it would be all over.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Remember Finland

Although I'm not a fan of using ancient history over much as an explanation for things going on today, I do think it has excellent entertainment value.  So enjoy this series of links about the time when the Bear got its snout bloodied.  

I'm talking of course about the Winter War in which a million Soviet soldiers invaded the recently independent Republic of Finland in an attempt to reassert Russian domination of that country.  The parallels to Georgia are many.  Finland had been under Russian rule for centuries (since Peter the Great).  So some might argue that Russia had an inherent right to dominate the new Republic.  But when the Bear came growling in the Finish forrest, the Finns fought back.

Tens of thousands of the Soviet invaders were encircled by quick moving Finnish volunteers in the frozen forests where they were besieged and largely left to starve.  Hundreds of thousands of Russian died or were wounded.  The outcome was ultimately a foregone conclusion (Finland lost 9% of their territory and much of their best farmland to the conquerers and still have not had it returned to them).  Bert Q. Slushbrow can tell us a lot more about it I suspect.

Sadly for the Georgians they aren't facing Stalin's purged army.  Nor are they lucky enough to have the trackless Finnish forests to fight from.  

War is always a bad thing.  But I do think it would benefit millions of people (not least the Russians themselves) if this adventure in Georgia would teach them that war cannot make Russia happy and prosperous.  The Finns did their best to teach them that in 1939.  Pitty Stalin wasn't obliged to learn.  I suspect Putin is nearly as immune to popular constraints on his ambitions.


Meanwhile Back in Pakistan

The opposition in Pakistan is feeling their power and pressure on Musharraf to resign is growing.  The new Prime Minister in Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gillani, came to power with the backing of the assassinated Benizir Bhutto's supporters.  Gillani's government has also increased the military pressure on tribal areas that shelter Bin Laden.  


Russian Troops Invade From Abkhazia is reporting that Russian troops have crossed the disputed border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia.  They have either taken or are about to take the city of Sanaki.  This latest move by Russia makes it painfully clear that they intend to take the entire country and install a new government.  Indeed, that is exactly what Georgian President Saakashvili says they are going to do.  


Who's Who in the Georgian Crisis

Hi Everyone,

So here is a little background on who's who in the Georgian crisis:

Mikheil Saaskashvili is the current President of Georgia.  He first came to power following a bloodless revolution that overthrew dictator (and former Soviet Foreign Minister) Eduard Shevardnadze.  Saaskashvili has since resigned and then been formally elected in a special election.  Saaskashvili's political party the United National Movement is a pro-western, reformist, pro-democracy party.  

Eduard Kokoity is the President of the Russian puppet state in South Ossetia.  He is not recognized as a head of state by any government other than Russia's.  He is a former wrestler for the USSR national team and lead the local Communist youth organization back before 1989.  From 1992 to 2001 he was a "businessman" living in Moscow.

Sergei Bagapsh is the President of the Russian puppet state in Abkhazia.  Like Kokoity, he is an old CPSU apparatchik and leader of the local Komsomol chapter.  Also, like Kokoity, he spent much of the 1990s in Moscow as a "businessman."

Vladimir Putin is the Prime Minister of Russia.  While he resigned his position as President it is widely believed that he continues to be the true power in Moscow.  Putin's CV includes a career in the KGB where he started in the division of the KGB responsible to monitoring and persecuting domestic dissidents.  He eventually transferred to the foreign affairs section but most of his posting were of the sort you'd expect to see for a political enforcer rather than an international man of mystery.  For example, he finished his KGB career in 1990 in Dresden in the former East Germany (not a posting you would expect for a foreign intelligence guy but a great place for a political enforcer).  Yeltsin appointed Putin to be the head of the FSB - the agency that took over the by then defunct KGB's domestic operations.  His presidency has been marked by crack downs on the dissident press.

Dmitry Medvedev is the current President of Russia.  Before Putin got him the Presidency, he was Putin's chief of staff and sometime member of Gazprom's board of directors.  His entire career has been tied to Putin's and he's mainly known for his loyalty to Putin.  

Gazprom is the formerly state owned natural gas company in Russia.  They control 16% of world natural gas reserves and dominate the natural gas market in most of Eastern Europe including in several EU member states.  The EU gets about 25% of their natural gas from Gazprom.

The Russian Army is still one of the largest and best equipped in the world.  Their air force is also very strong.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet is based in another country, Ukraine.  Ukraine has threatened to keep the Russian ships out of their ports if the Russians launch naval attacks on Georgia from the Ukrainian bases.  

Victor Yuschchenko is the current President of Ukraine.  Like Saaskashvili, Yuschchenko came to power at the head of a pro-democratic, pro-western reformist movement.  He was famously poisoned during the election.  Rumors of who is responsible for the poisoning range from rival Ukrainian politicians (including the current Prime Minister) to the Russian FSB.

Yulia Tymoshenko is the Prime Minister of Ukraine.  She was one of the leaders of the reform movement that put Yuschchenko in power.  Their political alliance is a strained one.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Russia Escalating War in Georgia

The Russians and their apologists are saying that the current round of fighting in Georgia is a response to Georgian provocation.  But critics are accusing Russia of using the situation to renew and expand their influence in the region.  

What reveals the Russian moves as rank imperialism and dangerous brinkmanship is the reports coming out now that Russian troops are mobilizing in and around Abkhazia (another region of Georgia on the Russian border that Russia has made claims on and supported rebel groups in). 

The most worrying escalation is that the Russian Black Sea Fleet has sortied out of their base in Sevastapol, Ukraine and threatened to blockade shipping coming in and out of Georgian ports - including Poti which is neither in Abkhazia or South Ossetia but is the terminus of an oil pipeline that runs from Baku through Tblisi then to the Black Sea at Poti.  The Ukrainian government is threatening not to allow the Russian ships back into their ports if they initiate the blockade. 

This is looking more and more like Russia plans to carve out two large chunks of Georgia by force.  


Saturday, August 09, 2008

Russia and China

So while we watch the Olympics and worry about Russia's latest "Drang Nach Suden" I'd like to have some ballanced coverage here.

LTG and some of us (often me) have frequently gotten into arguments about Russia. LTG is generally very sympathetic to Russia and Russian nationalists' desires for greater influence over neighboring countries (like Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltics, Poland etc). At times he's made the point that we criticize Russia for things that we tolerate from China. OK, let's bash China some too - just to be fair.

China is hoping to use the Olympics to really put their best foot forward. "We've arrived" they want to shout to the world. But there are problems too that keep peaking out of the smoggy haze of Beijing.

First there is the environmental situation in Beijing. The reports are that the air is constantly what LA would call "unhealthful" and often in a state of full stage smog alert. The Chinese government had promised the International Olympic Committee that the air quality in Beijing would be improved by now - didn't quite make it. Even with the emergency draconian crack downs on emissions in area, the reports of the air quality are not good. It makes one think that it could have been far worse! A big reason for the air quality issues in China generally is China's dependence on coal for everything from household heating and cooking to electricity generation. Comparisons to 19th Century Britain are apt. Yuck!

Second, there is the internet and press censorship. When the international press pool got to the Olympic village and tried to log online to work on their stories they found that websites like Amnesty International were blocked by the Chinese government.

Third, there is the Joey Cheeks affair. Joey Cheeks is a former Olympian who is involved in Darfur awareness groups. He was going to attend the Olympics but had his visa revoked just days before he was to leave for China. His main offense was to publicly call for Sudan to observe the traditional Olympic truce (well, Russia and Georgia aren't either so...). Why should China care about this issue? Because China is the major backer of the genocidal regime in Sudan. China has recently been exposed by BBC as violating a UN arms embargo by giving the Sudanese government military aid.


Georgia at War

While we all sat awed at the opening Ceremonies last night, George Bush sat next to Putin and told him to pull his troops back from the Republic of Georgia. And my Georgian friend sat Skyping her family in Tbilisi. Her mother is a diplomat who was supposed to go to Moscow on Friday. She is now stuck at home with Russian planes flying over and bombing villages and cities around Tbilisi. I am quite biased in favor of Georgia. It is a sovereign country.Russia is in violation of international law.

Here is a map from the NYT to sort or orient yourselves:

1)Georgia has two autonomous republics, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia. North Ossetia is part of Russia. CIA world Factbook confirms that Russia has been supporting these breakaway regions who have unrecognized governments of their own. Russian peackeepers have been stationed in these regions for years. The Georgian central government exercises no control over these regions.

2) In Ossetia, there are Ossetians and a small minority of Russians. This minority is how Russia justifies its claim to the area, that and the fact that Ossetia wants its own country.

3)Claims of ethnic cleansing have been made by both sides and there has yet to be much evidence of such a thing going on.

The fact that Russia has continued to mettle in these regions is part of the reason Georgia has not been able to negotiate a deal there. In fact, in the Spring, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, began to make diplomatic overtures toward these regions to try and work out a deal. Russia did not like that and did all it could to undermine progress.

In 2006 and 2007, Georgia experienced a GDP growth of over 10%. It is working on three oil pipelines with its neighbors and has worked out deals for natural gas with Azerbaijan, which make it less dependent on Russian oil and gas imports. Russia was quite good at shutting off the tap in the winter. Russia has also been "discouraging" Georgians living in Russia to leave, as it has with all of those from its former Central Asian republics. Russia has a record of covert activity that is meant to undermine the government of breakaway areas, especially Georgia.

The US has been training Georgian troops in Georgia in preparation for their deployment to Iraq. Georgia is a very pro-western, pro-American nation that is as strategically important to US interests as is Turkey. It is an important gateway into the Central Asia. Georgia has asked for acceptance into NATO, which Russia strictly opposes and my Georgian friend believes that the current war is Russia's revenge for Georgia's desire to enter NATO. It is Russia's way of reminding the West that it is still alive, influential, and can do what it pleases.

If a cease fire negotiation is unsuccessful, this conflict, oddly enough, could reignite the Russia-West conflict. The Russians have chosen the perfect time, when NATO is tied down in Afghanistan, the US in Iraq, and the world is focused on China.

Whatever "wrong" the Georgians may have committed, and I don't think they really instigated this, the Russian response is far from proportional. They are positioning their fleet on the Black Sea for invasion. The NYT reports that there are 150 Russian planes filled with troops arriving the the area. Towns and villages around Tiblisi have been bombed and causality numbers vary, depending which side is providing the news.

This is not a good addition to the conflicts currently waging around the world. Teh West cannot allow Russia to continue on like this.


Friday, August 08, 2008

John Edwards, we hardly knew ye

So much for a short-lived political career. Being a Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee is not, apparently, a great place to be. Sargent Shriver, Walter Mondale, Lloyd Bentsen, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards - what odd careers they have had afterward.

I'm pretty pissed at John Edwards. Seriously, sleeping around on his wife while she's dying of cancer, then parading her around the country? Did he think nobody would find out? What if we had voted for him, and this came out right now, just before the nomination? Game over. All for some ... I can't even say it.

And let me get this straight, even though the Clintons aren't being nominated again, Democrats still have to deal the baggage of lying to the voters about infidelity. All over again. This scandal will hurt the party. Democrats need to turn the page to get past L'affaire Lewinsky. This just dredges it all up again.


A litttle bit about South Ossetia

Ossetia is one of the many regions of the Caucasus, like Chechnya or Ingushetia, that most people in the world don't know anything about. The Caucasus, as this map demonstrates, is a linguistic and ethnic crazy quilt. Drawing borders here is rather like trying to divvy up lasagna with chopsticks.

South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in 1992, just after Georgia declared independence from the USSR. This was not recognized by anyone. So there is a peacekeeping arrangement there (not UN) with Georgians, Russians, and South Ossetians. They are Orthodox (Christian), but align more with Russians than Georgians.

Apparently, Georgia decided to regain control of the province last night after mobilizing reservists and sending them in. Russia has been increasingly exercising de facto control over the region. As mentioned, Russian troops are on the ground as "peacekeepers." Russia responded with massive violence today.

According to the London Times, "The area is of strategic importance, largely because of the BTC oil pipeline, which runs through central Georgia just south of the breakaway region. The pipeline... pumps around one per cent of global crude supplies from the Caspian to the Turkish port of Ceyhan for export to Western Europe but is already closed because of an attack in Turkey last week by the Kurdish separatist organisation PKK."

Some suggest that Russia is trying to distract attention from Abkhazia, another Georgian breakaway region where it has been pressured to make a peace deal and get out. The reasons behind Georgia's decision to prompt a military confrontation are not clear. It may be that Georgia hoped for a fait accompli. I certainly hope they did not expect US planes to come and help them.

It should make sense why NATO, Obama, Bush, and others are calling for *both* sides to back down. McCain's call for only Russia to "reverse course" shows that he does not understand that both sides are responsible for a breach of the peace. He wants to run the Cold War again. I think Russia is very much overreacting, but its soldiers are in harm's way. Grenada, anyone?


McCain Too Reckless and Inexperienced to Be President

Hi Gang,

Russia and Georgia's simmering border dispute in South Ossetia has blown up.  It's not clear who fired the first shot (does it really matter at this point?) but the Russian army seems to be engaged in a full scale invasion of Georgia.  They claim this is to protect Russian citizens from Georgian aggression but I'm guessing that the ultimate outcome will be that Russia will conquer and annex the disputed territory.  

So how do the powers that be respond?  NATO has called for an immediate cease fire and direct talks between Russia and Georgia.  The Bush Administration called for an immediate cease fire and direct talks between Russia and Georgia.  Obama called for an immediate cease fire and direct talks between Russia and Georgia.  NATO, Bush and Obama all call for a peaceful resolution but don't specify the terms of that resolution.  But McCain calls for an emergency UN Security Council Meeting and calls on Russia to "reverse course."  McCain's tone is far more confrontational and he seems to see the UN as a means for forcing Russia to back off.  

First of all, if McCain thinks the UN can pressure Russia to back off, he needs to review the UN charter.  Russia has a veto on any UN Security Council decision.  

Second, if McCain were President and saying what he says now, it would be tantamount to confronting Russia over an armed conflict on their border (that used to be inside the USSR).  McCain likes to say that Obama doesn't have the judgement to guide our foreign policy.  But in this case, McCain is showing himself to be even more reckless and "cowboy" like than Bush!  

So here we have a situation where McCain is showing that he doesn't understand the potential role of the UN and that he would conduct foreign policy based on emotional responses rather than reason.  Do we really need four more years of that?

PS:  I can't wait for some canned talking point response from a McCain drone.


McCain's Frequent Liar Program

You may have heard about this elsewhere. John McCain has a new program to encourage people to blog favorably for him. Daily talking pointsa re listed for the putative bloggers. Here it is:

"Select from the numerous web, blog and news sites listed here, go there, and make your opinions supporting John McCain known. Once you’ve commented on a post, video or news story, report the details of your comment by clicking the button below. After your comments are verified, you will be awarded points through the McCain Online Action Center."

It's not obvious what the points are for, but other websites say that the points can be used towards purchase of McCain merchandise. Like Green Stamps. Basically, McCain is so lame that he has to pay people to blog for him and provide the talking points to do it. Talk about phony!


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Release the Delegates

There has been some chatter on the blogs recently that Hillary's supporters might place her name in nomination at the Democratic convention and cast their votes accordingly. Much as I would love to watch sixteen hundred delegates stand up and vote proudly for Hillary--much as it would be a cathartic moment for many who supported her--such an exercise would be a huge mistake.

In Hillary Clinton's concession speech, she asked her supporters to put the campaign behind them, imploring us to remember that, "Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward." That particular sentiment is even more important today. The primaries are finished and the party must come together.

When Hillary addresses the Democratic National Convention at the end of this month, I would like to hear her release all of her pledged delegates and call for a unanimous vote for Senator Obama--perhaps even by acclamation rather than the traditional, turgid roll-call. The Olympics have it right when the celebrate the victor: there is a silver medal, true, but the crowd rises for only one national anthem.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Why are YOU voting for Obama?

I wanted to start a thread here because we've had discussions about substance and campaigns. I want to be as honest as possible, so I am really thinking about the order of these preferences.
1. First and foremost, I'm voting for Obama because he's a Democrat, not a Republican. There's no point in mincing around on that. This puts me in a distinct minority of the population. Yellow dog, yes I would.
2. I trust him to restore constitutional government and abolish torture. Again, few have put this so high up on the priorities list. I could change my vote if this were to shift.
3. Character. I think Obama the smartest man to run for President in living memory. Period. I think he is also clean, not corrupt - the best in that regard since Carter. Surprisingly, perhaps, I identify with his background (his generation, his career track and goals, but not the racial thing). Also, he's not another damned southern white guy. I'm tired of the Colonel Sanders/Foghorn Leghorn brigade running the roost. Sorry, my prejudice. Again, these views are somewhat representative of Obama's youthful, urban base, but not of the electorate as a whole. This is not about policy per se. I think this point is where Obama's base and the electorate diverge the most.
4. I want a push for universal health care. This is the first real "policy" issue.
5. I want to end the war in Iraq.
6. I want to restore America's reputation in the world.
7. I want more money for education (K-12 and universities), plus sensible reforms.
8. I want action on climate change.
9. I want money for mass transit.
10. I want to move towards a balanced budget.

What do you tink.


Warning Signs...?

Obama continues to lead the race, but his campaign is starting to stumble. His lead in the RCP national average polls now hovers around 2%, and he seems unable to push his level of support over 48%. His lead on has been slipping too. For the first time since mid-May, two national polls have given the edge to McCain. (The Iowa Electronic Market shows a fairly consistent lead however.)

I fear the problem is Obama's energy policy. He seems all over the place, and it feeds the "flip-flopper" mantra from the right. Obama is now prepared to accept offshore drilling as part of a compromise package, something he formerly opposed. Obama now wants to sell oil from the national reserve, a move which he formerly opposed. His campaign needs to pause and regroup before they slip off-message entirely. (Whatever that message is, these days.)


Monday, August 04, 2008

Arnold Didn't Learn Much At UW Superior

The economy is slowing, consumer confidence is way way down and people at the lower end of the income distribution are hurting because of high gas prices and related inflation.  So what does Schwarzenegger propose?  A sales tax hike.  Genius.  What better way to further slow down the economy while screwing poor people at the same time?


The End.. . or is it?

Today, the Obama campaign asked the credentials committee (which it will control) to reinstate the full votes of all MI and FL delegates. For Florida, this is everything HRC wanted. For Michigan, not quite, because it preserves the (minor) difference between an allocation based on the Jan 15 vote (where only Clinton was on the ballot) and the allocation (still favoring Clinton)subsequently approved by the Michigan Democratic Party. This does not change the dynamics of the convention. Obama retains the crucial lead in pledged delegates and unpledged delegates (otherwise he would not have agreed to this new proposal). So now the Michigan and Florida Democratic party central committees are getting everything they asked for. And the DNC is faced with the problem it tried to solve with 1/2 votes: no consequences for violating its scheduling rules.

I believe the BEST way to "punish" a state for violatin g the scheduling rules is to deny it any superdelegate seats. Basically, it lets the voters get their full pledged delegations, but tells the party pooh-bahs that they will lose their right to party with the party if they don't play ball (schmoozing being the whole point of the convention). But nobody ever asks me.


The 21st Century Economy

Hi Gang,

I'm working at home and sitting waiting for my lunch to heat up while I watch Obama give a speech in Lansing, Michigan.  It was interesting observing the muted reaction to his talk about the 21st Century economy.  Obama talked about weaning ourselves off of oil and gas (polite, golf claps).  He talked about investing in renewable energy technology (again, golf claps).  Only when he talked about all the jobs that these things would create did the applause go above the smattering level.  This doesn't really surprise me.  Michigan politics (both parties) are the politics of denial.  The right thinks that the way to respond to the declining profits for the big auto companies is to boost subsidies to the big three.  The left thinks that if they can only legislate global trade out of existence the good old days of the 50s and 60s will return.  Both are neck deep in denial (and that ain't a river in Egypt).  

Global trade is not only here to stay, it is desirable for the country as a whole.  And even if global trade hurts a minority of Americans, sacrificing trade at the alter of the UAW would be a huge mistake.  It would represent a huge transfer of wealth from the majority to the minority in a way that is inefficient in the short term and unsustainable in the long term.  It would be better to do what small, trade dependent countries like Denmark and the Netherlands do...mitigate the bad effects of trade for the minority by providing unemployment insurance, health care and decent education and continuing education for all.  

Subsidizing GM, Ford and Chrysler will only perpetuate the legendary lack of innovation that typifies these corporate dinosaurs.  It would be far better to expose them to the full force of negative market pressures for their decades of bad management and poor foresight.  Instead we should subsidize companies that innovate and invent new products that fit the next century.

Obama is closer to what I think should be done in these regards than McCain.  McCain wants to subsidize the 20th century industries like Oil and automobiles.  What a monumental waste of money!  But since Michigan politics is the politics of denial, McCain's message of subsidies to the old smoke stack industries sells.  

Obama needs to think of a way to sell his superior policy approach to the rust belt.  I think he can.  But that is the task before him.