Friday, January 30, 2004

Howard Dean, live in St. Louis

Dean spoke to a room full of supporters at the Missouri History Museum just now. The room was an auditorium which seats about 400, but there were people standing in the aisles, and rafters onstage, so the room probably had between 500 and 600 people in it. There were also a great number of people who were turned away into a second overflow room. Since I was one of the lucky ones to get a seat in the auditorium, I can't speak for the crowd in the other room; but I feel safe in saying that there were at least as many people as came to Mr. Kerry's rally on Wednesday.

The crowd is slightly more diverse than Kerry's and definitely skews younger. I overhear someone commenting that they are "concerned about Kerry, because he went along with all of it." And of course that's another point in Dean's favor - he was saying the things that all the candidates are saying today eight months and a year ago when those things weren't as popular, and if Dean is not the nominee, he will deserve a tremendous amount of credit for setting the terms of the debate.

There are a significant number of people under 25 here, and I'm reminded of Dean's promise to energize people into the voting process that haven't voted before, which is especially true of folks in that generation. Pundits claim this is absurd, that this strategy never works, and Dean may not get a chance to prove them wrong or right in the general election, but whoever the nominee is, they ought to spend significant energy on mobilizing people who are fed up or don't care to vote. This election is that important, and there are a lot of people who realize that.

One comment, which pertains to all three of the events I've seen this week, is that the preparation for the crowds was abysmal. Kerry's and Edward's were relatively open, and Dean did have a system for supporters to sign up ahead of time so that they could guarantee seats in the main auditorium, but the crowd management and leadership was awful. I realize that the people running this for the campaigns were volunteers and don't have a whole lot of experience in this sort of thing, but there's clearly a niche for volunteers to put together training on crowd control and the like. Lines were sprawled everywere at Dean and Kerry's events, and there's no way that anything resembling a first-come, first-serve program worked. The line outside at Edwards' event was continuous, but I can't speak to what went on inside as people filled the room where he spoke. At any rate, it's something campaigns ought to think about, because in at least some cases, it loses votes, and at the least, it reflects poorly on the candidates when the voters are shuffled around and feel like they're being taken for granted or being treated unfairly.

Bob Archibald, the curator of the Missouri Historical Society, began the event by touching on history and its importance, drawing particularly from Thomas Jefferson (whose larger than life statue adorns the lobby of the MHM). Jefferson, he says, knew that being President wasn't all about the here and now. Jefferson's accomplishments were intended to look towards the future, and impact the lives of future generations, not the least of which was the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis & Clark expeditions, which both have significant local connections to St. Louis. I was disappointed that Dr. Archibald didn't mention Jefferson's everlasting pride in creating the University of Virginia (my alma mater), since education was to be the central theme of today's event; but I certainly understand his focus on Missouri.

Next, Dr. John Yerkovic (sp?), who is a Jefferson County school administrator, spoke. He spoke specifically about the No Child Left Behind Act, and anecdotally related why he supports Governor Dean. It seems that Mr. Bush had visited St. Louis (Missouri being a "swing" state and all) and visited a school to talk about the "success" of NCLB. Afterwards, he went to a local fundraiser and raised $2.5 million for his campaign. Dean put out a press release commenting that Dr. Yerkovic's district is having to consider raising property taxes in order to make up for a shortfall to meet the mandates of NCLB. The money they need to raise is $2.4 million. The President has his priorities upside down, doesn't he? Raising $130 million for a primary campaign with no opponent, and refusing to fully fund our nation's schools under his own plan.

Howard comes out next, and is thrilled with the reception, which is loud and boisterous. He quips, "I hope this is how Missouri's gonna treat me on Tuesday." He starts out talking about Harry Truman (a Missourian), and why Truman is one of his idols. At one point, someone in the crowd yells, "Give 'em hell, Howard." Dean laughs, and says, "You know, Truman would reply, 'I don't give 'em hell, I just give 'em the truth, and the Republicans think it's hell."

The central theme of this event is education, and there's a blackboard on stage with the slogan, "Missouri for Dean: Standing up for Education." Dean goes into specifics of why NCLB is a failure, and how what Mr. Bush is actually doing is trying to make all the other states' school systems more like Texas, which consistently ranks in the bottom 5 in the nation. And of course, the system is, in part, based on Houston's, which we now know was almost an utter fraud, and the man who ran Houston's schools is now our Secretary of Education.

Then, to my surprise, Dean starts to talk about what the problems with schools are, and how we can fix them. One problem is in early childhood. He says we send our children to school at 5, but they need help before then. Of course, many parents do get their children proper healthcare during those precious developmental years, but many do not. In Vermont, Dean tells us about his programs for home visits if parents wish, in order to follow-up with care, and make sure children are progressing at the proper rate. He also points out that these children will now graduate high school and go to college, rather than dropping out and going to prison. His program has proven results, as it's reduced child abuse by 40%, and child sexual abuse by 70%. This is important for a larger reason, because it reminds everyone that Dean isn't a legislator - he's an executive, and there is a significant difference.

Dean then talks about the #1 factor in children's success at school, and that's parental involvement. It's a theme he'll return to in the questioning period, but he cites statistics from Vermont that even if a parent only goes to school for sporting events, that parent's child will do better on average than a child whose parents never visit the school. He talks about acting vs. talking, and the fact that showing your child that education is important enough to take your time to go to the school and meet with teachers is a huge inspiration to children. He also proposes, as Bill Clinton did, paid leave for parents to visit schools during working hours; up to 24 hours a year.

Dean talks about this explicitly next, reminding us both of how there was no middle class tax cut because of increases in property taxes, education and healthcare that more than cover up whatever federal income tax cut middle class Americans got; and how he knows how to balance budgets. He takes another swipe at Bush here, pointing out that Bush has never balanced a budget either; because in Texas, they don't trust governors with the purse, the lieutenant governor has control of the budget.

Finally, like Edwards, Dean asked for our help. He needs our votes, and he needs us to call to 10 people, and to ask them to call 10 people. Dean spent a good deal of time interspersed throughout discussing his contention that government needs fundamental change at the top in order to get anything done. His central evidence of this is the fact that Harry Truman put universal healthcare in the Democratic platform in 1948, and we can't get it passed because both parties take significant contributions from corporate interests who are not interested in having universal healthcare.

Dean takes three questions from the crowd at the end. The first concerns transparent government, and the questioner wants to see copies of legislation before they're voted on so he can make up his mind whether to support them or not. Dean says he would try to do this, but he's not a legislator, so he can't promise that; but he can promise that he would put bills up for inspection by the public before he signed them.

The second question is from a young boy who is home schooled and wants to know Dean's position on homeschooling. Dean talks mostly about how they handled homeschooling in Vermont, and that he's certainly in support of it. He also hearkens back to his comments about parental involvement, and comments how the sacrifices that homeschooling require are a testament to the importance of education, and that most homeschooled students perform better than average on tests support his earlier point that parental involvement in education stimulates children to learn.

The final question is from a young mother who wants to talk about tort reform, and specifically a bill before Congress granting blanket liability to gun manufacturers. Dean agrees that this is ridiculous, but fairly reminds the crowd that he has been endorsed by the NRA (though he chuckles and says they won't endorse him against Bush), and of his state's rights position on guns, as a segway into the fact that he feels the same way about tort reform. If a state decides they have a problem with lawsuits, they ought to look at it, but he doesn't think it's the federal government's business.

After being told that he needs to visit the overflow room before he leaves, Dean nods and gives his final statement to the crowd. He talks about the greatest loss we've suffered over the past few years, and it isn't jobs, or faith in the economy, or the loss of moral leadership (though one could certainly argue its the over 500 soldiers who've given their lives in Iraq). Dean says the loss is a loss of community. He weaves this in with the 60s, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and the four little girls in the Birmingham church. We had a sense of hope then, that anything was possible; and the worst part about Mr. Bush is that he's really only interested in scaring us into electing him. This is part of what's turned a lot of people off to the political process, and Dean wants to bring them back to the table and talk about a positive future.

He shakes hands with the folks onstage and the event empties. All in all, Dean has won back my support, if it was ever-wavering. I will cast my primary vote for him on Monday, and not because he was the last one to get to talk to me in person. He reminds me why I've supported him all along; and I saw nothing today of the cariacature that the national media had foisted on us the last month or so. This is a sober, reflective man who wants what's best for American just as much as you and I do. He's the best candidate in the race out of many superstar candidates, and the difference that sets him apart is his experience. He knows how to govern, and ultimately, that's what we want in a President.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

John Edwards, live in St. Louis

John Edwards chose to appear at Blueberry Hill tonight, which actually is a bar named for the song, or the song is named after it, I'm not quite sure which, but Chuck Berry still plays there regularly. For anyone who's been there, this would seem like an odd choice, because although it's a fairly large establishment, it's very separated into separate rooms, and as a result, Edwards spoke in the "Duck" Room I believe, and the remainder of the visitors heard him over the loudspeaker system, which isn't quite the best set-up. This also makes it impossible to estimate the crowd, but there was a line running probably 100 people long outside the place about 30 minutes before he was scheduled to appear. I'd guess 500 people or so all told in the various rooms listening to him, but since I couldn't see all the rooms, I could be wildly off.

From what I understand, it's somewhat of a tradition to appear at Blueberry Hill; at least Bill Bradley spoke there during the 2000 campaign, so perhaps the decision makes more sense in that respect. It was also late in the day (the event was scheduled to start at 9:15pm), and Edwards had a previous appearance downstate at SW Missouri St., so perhaps that played into the plans.

For what its worth, even though its been widely reported, the man has a tongue made out of gold. His accent, tone, delivery are all enthralling, and he is extremely easy to listen to. Comparisons to Bill Clinton are not inappropriate.

The two major differences between this appearance and the one I watched John Kerry give about five hours ago is that Edwards really was asking for our support and for our active involvement in his campaign. Kerry seemed to be selling himself and why he is the best option to beat Bush in November; Edwards explicitly told us that he needs our help, and that we need to come to the polls on Tuesday, vote for him, tell our neighbors and friends to do the same, and reach out because he can't do it alone.

This may just be a difference in style, but I think it's symptomatic of a greater difference between the candidates, or perhaps their relative positions in the race. For Kerry to stand up and plead for our votes would seem unpresidential - one of his advantages is that all-illusive presidential gravitas that he carries (the gravitas that others call effete New England liberalism). For Edwards, it's what he's all about. He's been asking juries to help him and his clients out for years, and it not only sounds natural coming out of his mouth, it sounds genuine.

The other major difference was Edwards' emphasis on the South. He almost makes fun of his accent, but he points out that he's going to win in the South, and once again, asks us to give him the chance to take on George Bush, because he promises us he won't let us down. It's the same spiel one could see him making to a somewhat unwilling or cautious plaintiff: "Let me take your case, I'll fight for you, and I'll take on [insert name of big corporation here] and I'll win it for you." Edwards says, "I'll tell you what, George Bush thinks the South is his backyard, but you know what - it isn't. It's my backyard, and he's not going to win in my backyard." He says this without seeming like a bully, but more like a protective older brother that you trust to watch out for you in your backyard.

This populism, for lack of a better word, is undoubtedly one of Edwards' greatest strengths. He talks about real change in Washington and paints himself as an outsider; pointing out that he isn't a career politician. He's also the senior senator from North Carolina as a result of beating the "Jesse Helms political machine," but he's selling himself as a relative newcomer to politics and portraying that as a strength rather than a weakness. Of course, to be fair, Wes Clark or Howard Dean are nothing close to career politicans, but its pretty clear that he's courting likely Kerry voters, or at least, that he thinks he is.

The odd part about that is that the crowd at Blueberry Hill is almost predominantly under 30, whereas the Kerry crowd was significantly older on average, consisting I'd guess of at least half 45 and older. Perhaps this is because it was 10:00 on a Wednesday night, perhaps it's because it was a bar; but this is another strike that Edwards chose the wrong venue - these aren't exactly the voters he needs on Tuesday, though to be fair, perhaps many of them are ex-Deaniacs or wavering Dean supporters, people he could draw to his camp. And again, I should disclaim that I saw only a small portion of the people present, so perhaps there were differences in the people in other rooms.

While John Kerry has the ability to throttle George Bush in a debate; so did Al Gore, and we know what happened. To be fair to Gore, that may have been more a mark of the times; though it was certainly part of his doomed strategy. John Edwards, without a doubt, would be the strongest debater against Bush, and it's not even close.
He's also the regularest American in the bunch of candidates, and attacks on him for being a trial lawyer aren't going far if the media covers it fairly, and I have reason to think they might since the stories of his clients over the years are fairly compelling news in their own right.

I'll be back on Friday to write about Howard Dean's appearance at the Missouri History Museum. I haven't gotten word of a Clark appearance in St. Louis yet, but if someone finds details, please email me, as I'd like to see and write about all four of the major candidates before the primary on Tuesday.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

John Kerry, live from St. Louis

I just got home from Kerry's single appearance here at the St. Louis Community College, and thought I'd share my thoughts about it.

First of all, there were a LOT of people there; much more than I expected, and though I have no experience at estimating crowds; I'd say at least 1000 people packed into a room and overflow intended for about 250. Kerry's staff was being ably assisted by the Firefighter's Union, and though I arrived only 30 minutes early, I managed to secure a fairly okay position near the back where I could see the stage when the people in front of me decided to sit.

The crowd was also very diverse, something I didn't expect. There were a significant number of older Americans there, and quite a few African-Americans, though not as many as would be expected in St. Louis, where the city is almost half African-American. I overheard a pair of younger college students talking about Lieberman, which made me laugh: "I just wish Lieberman weren't so BORING, I really like the way he thinks." The crowd is buzzing about the possibility that Dick Gephardt is going to surprise and show up to endorse Kerry, but this turns out to be only rumor. The event was scheduled to start at 4:30, but didn't get rolling until close to 5:30, which, I suppose, is to be expected.

The Kerry people played some good "campaign" style songs as we waited, including Bruce Springsteen's "No Surrender," and he was eventually introduced to U2's "Beautiful Day." Flanked by local and state (and out-of-state dignitaries), several individuals spoke before he took center stage.

Francis Slay, the mayor of St. Louis, began the rally, and introduced Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, his wife Christie, and former Missouri senators Tom Eagleton and Jean Carnahan. All spoke very briefly, which was appreciated, and then Kerry took the mike. He thanked each with a personal anecdote about their support and their (shared) histories; and then started in on President Bush.

The thing that struck me most as I listened to Kerry speak is that Howard Dean's words were coming out of his mouth. "We need to send George Bush back to Texas, and that's exactly what we're going to do," is the example that comes to mind out of many that I swear Dean used in his stump speech last summer. The upshot of all this is that I can't say I disagreed with any of the policy positions Kerry put forward; of course, as we all know, this election really isn't about policy, and policy isn't going to decide it, but it's good to know that if Kerry is the eventual nominee, at least I'm comfortable with his politics.

The surprising point is that Kerry spent zero time talking about Vietnam. He made reference to it once obliquely when he stated that Karl Rove is going to run this election about the war in Iraq, since he can't run it on education, healthcare, jobs, the economy, the environment, etc. Kerry said he actually had experience on aircraft carriers ... for real. No, Kerry spends most of his speech hitting the major themes - the failures of the Bush administration, and the values that he holds dearest, including education, healthcare and the environment.

He did take the time to point out two executive orders he would issue early in his presidency, one prohibiting former Congressmen from taking jobs with lobbyists for 5 years after they left Congress (this means YOU, Billy Tauzin!); and one prohibiting secret meetings between lobbyists and government officials, making disclosures of them mandatory and (I imagine, though he didn't say this explicitly) subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Healthcare is not a privilege for the wealthy, it's a right. Kerry tells a good story here about his own brush with cancer, and how we (the taxpayers) paid for his treatment, since Senators have great insurance paid for out of the federal budget; and he wants to offer that same quality care to all Americans. No specifics here, but this is eerily similar to Dean's plan.

Kerry stumbled over a few lines, and the honest truth is, he isn't the world's greatest orator, though once he gets going, he knows how to work a crowd up to a fever pitch. He doesn't come across as a 'regular American" for whatever that's worth; but he's certainly electable, and he believes in the same sort of values that progressive Americans do.

I'm off to see if I can weasel my way into Blueberry Hill for John Edwards' 9:15 appearance, but if the Kerry rally is any indication, there's going to be people lining up outside for blocks. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Death Penalty for Minors?

Reasonable people in this country can certainly disagree about whether states ought to execute criminals, and that's probably why we still do it. Still, there ought to be some limits on executions, and the Supreme Court in 2002 ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that states cannot execute mentally retarded individuals.

A second limitation may be on its way.

The Court this week granted certiorari to hear Roper v. Simmons in order to resolve the question whether executing juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

Some commenters have noted that the Court held out until the end of the John Lee Malvo case in Virginia to see whether the jury in that case would impose the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Since the Virginia jury chose prison, one might think the Court would use an 'evolving standards' type of argument to hold the executing juveniles is cruel and unusual. (note - Virginia executes more criminals than any other state but Texas, so it's a good indicator as far as states go. It was not a coincidence that Atkins took place in Virginia).

However, as the Times article points out, this is far from a done deal. Four justices will almost certainly rule against executing Christopher Simmons (Breyer, Souter, Stevens, and Ginsburg). The question remains whether these four can persuade Justice O'Connor or Justice Kennedy to join their opinion.

Whether or not one supports the death penalty, one should be tempered by this paragraph:

The United States is the only country in which the execution of those under 18 is officially sanctioned and the only country that has not signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the practice. Worldwide, the last five executions of juvenile offenders have taken place in the United States, the most recent in Oklahoma last April.

Justice Kennedy approvingly cited cases from Europe in last summer's groundbreaking Lawrence v. Texas opinion, and if the court again looks to see how the rest of the world's standards are evolving, civilized people (and Christopher Simmons) may come out ahead.

And of course, in some parts of the United States, we put 13 year-olds in prison (via Talk Left).

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Plame Grand Jury is on the case

Sources with knowledge of the case tell TIME that behind closed doors at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse, nearby the Capitol, a grand jury began hearing testimony Wednesday in the investigation of who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists.

As Sol Wachler has commented, "a grand jury could indict a ham sandwich." It isn't too surprising to think that there might be a few ham sandwiches working over at the White House...

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Modern Day Loan Sharks

Citigroup, Wall Street, and the Fleecing of the South (pdf)

This is an excellent piece of investigative journalism that ought to get wider press. What would you think about an organization that helps get loans to "mostly low-income, blue-collar and minority consumers snubbed by banks and credit card companies [and] ... middle-class consumers who have hit hard times because of layoffs or credit card-fueled overspending."

Sounds nice, doesn't it? Well, except when you find out what Citigroup does with them.

Whatever their circumstances, they pay dearly. Citi’s subprime customers frequently pay double or triple the prices paid by borrowers with Citi credit cards and market-rate mortgages—annual percentage rates (APRs) generally between 19.0 and 40.0 on personal loans and 8.5 and 21.9 on mortgages. And beyond exorbitant APRs, critics and lawsuits claim, Citi has fleeced customers with slippery salesmanship and falsified paperwork.

In addition to these exorbitant, usurous interest rates, Citigroup also finds ways to add "insurance" to these loans, raising the monthly payments and hiding the truth about the insurance to their customers, in some cases, allegedly pretending that the insurance is required to get the loan. And then, if you end up having trouble meeting these payments, they'll just refinance your loan and string you out for a longer period of time. How bad is it?

In Mississippi’s Noxubee and Lowndes counties, these clients include Pearlie Mae Sharp, Johnny Slaughter, Mattie Henley and Martha and Arthur Hairston, five African Americans who borrowed money from Commercial in the mid-1990s. Sharp paid $1,439 to insure a $4,500 loan. Slaughter paid an APR of 40.92 and bought disability insurance even though he already had a disabling spinal injury. Henley paid an APR of 44.14. “Once they say ‘You get the money’—to me, they really didn’t explain everything,” Martha Hairston says. “They just said ‘Sign this, sign this.’” The Hairstons paid $1,164 for five kinds of insurance on a $5,001 loan. Arthur Hairston, a church maintenance worker, says he and his wife “hit bad times a time or two,” and their Commercial Credit loans made things worse. When you fall behind, he says, “they almost force you into refinancing. When you do that, boy, they give you a triple whammy then.”

While it is true that no one is forcing people to take out loans or mortgages from these companies. In many cases, people got screwed just because of the door they walked through - many customers with good credit who could have gotten loans from reputable financial institutions at fair rates ended up in the same boat as Citi's target customer, even though they should have been "referred up" to a regular Citibank.

It's all just a sad symbol of the greed running rampant through corporate America.

“It just seemed like every year there would be more pressure to beat the numbers,” [a former employee] says. “They’re so big now, and I think the little people are taken advantage of. . . . It just seems like the bigger they got, the harder it got.” Citigroup is certainly big. It boasts $1 trillion in assets.

WTF?

Via Pandagon:

This is full text, from the Miserable Failure web site itself (click here for the press release):

Remarks by the President to the Press Pool
Nothin' Fancy Cafe
Roswell, New Mexico

11:25 A.M. MST

THE PRESIDENT: I need some ribs.

Q Mr. President, how are you?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm hungry and I'm going to order some ribs.

Q What would you like?

THE PRESIDENT: Whatever you think I'd like.

Q Sir, on homeland security, critics would say you simply haven't spent enough to keep the country secure.

THE PRESIDENT: My job is to secure the homeland and that's exactly what we're going to do. But I'm here to take somebody's order. That would be you, Stretch -- what would you like? Put some of your high-priced money right here to try to help the local economy. You get paid a lot of money, you ought to be buying some food here. It's part of how the economy grows. You've got plenty of money in your pocket, and when you spend it, it drives the economy forward. So what would you like to eat?

Q Right behind you, whatever you order.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm ordering ribs. David, do you need a rib?

Q But Mr. President --

THE PRESIDENT: Stretch, thank you, this is not a press conference. This is my chance to help this lady put some money in her pocket. Let me explain how the economy works. When you spend money to buy food it helps this lady's business. It makes it more likely somebody is going to find work. So instead of asking questions, answer mine: are you going to buy some food?

Q Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, good. What would you like?

Q Ribs.

THE PRESIDENT: Ribs? Good. Let's order up some ribs.

Q What do you think of the democratic field, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: See, his job is to ask questions, he thinks my job is to answer every question he asks. I'm here to help this restaurant by buying some food. Terry, would you like something?

Q An answer.

Q Can we buy some questions?

THE PRESIDENT: Obviously these people -- they make a lot of money and they're not going to spend much. I'm not saying they're overpaid, they're just not spending any money.

Q Do you think it's all going to come down to national security, sir, this election?

THE PRESIDENT: One of the things David does, he asks a lot of questions, and they're good, generally.

END 11:29 A.M. MST


I'm still speechless.

Not just the past, but the future too!

I've long said that there are about 3 million Americans who ought to be vociferous supporters of President Bush, those that are in the top 1% of income earners, and who are tremendously aided by a President who recklessly reduces not only their marginal income tax rates, but also reduces the income the majority of them earn for capital investment.

Put another way, they are pleased that Mr. Bush has (temporarily) ensured that they pay less tax on the money they earn in the form of stock dividends or capital gains on stocks and bonds than a nurse or a trash collector or a millworker pays on his or her wages.

So one should not be surprised that Wall Street executives are lining up to donate the farm to Mr. Bush's election campaign. As the Washington Post points out today:

The Bush administration had given the bankers almost everything they ever dreamed of: a reduction in dividend and capital-gains taxes, a phase-out of the estate tax, an overall reduction in income taxes. So they waited patiently, eager do whatever they could to ensure the president's reelection.

The Post gets kudos here for correctly identifying the estate tax as what it is, rather than the shameless description of it as a "death tax" in GOP rhetoric. The estate tax is a part of the fabric of this country, and helps to ensure that a landed aristocracy does not arise, which was one of the paramount fears of our founding fathers. Many people do not realize that it only applies to a miniscule number of unnaturally large estates, and this needs to be fairly identified in media accounts.

The Bush campaign is not eager to discuss the enthusiastic support it is receiving from Wall Street. Spokesman Scott Stanzel declined to discuss the matter, saying only that the president had raised money from "nearly half a million supporters representing every county in every state."

Duh. And they're not just doing it to reward Mr. Bush for his past acts, oh no!

Wall Street is not lining up behind the president only for past favors. The industry has a long legislative and regulatory wish list for the presidential term ahead.

Since [2000], the stock market bubble burst and a series of corporate scandals -- many either directly or indirectly involving Wall Street firms -- rocked investor confidence. Some of those scandals have been pursued by New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer, a politically ambitious Democrat who has become a thorn in the side of the industry, and corporate wrongdoing has become a frequent theme in the message of Democrats vying to run against Bush.

Ken Lay? Jeff Skilling? In jail yet? John Edwards has a nice commercial out where he talks about how someone caught stealing a carton of milk from the corner store is going to jail, but these people who stole millions from their own employee's retirement accounts are walking free, raising money for the President and living in luxury. It's shameful, and we ought to have more federal prosecutors with half the moxie that Eliot Spitzer has.

The whole situation stinks to high heaven, and this is one of many reasons why Howard Dean is still the best candidate to face George Bush in the general election. Mr. Bush is going to have virtually unlimited resources to tar and feather the democratic candidate, not to mention the backing of the media corporations who operate network television which incidentally broadcasts over airwaves which are public property. Wes Clark and John Edwards are going to be constrained by federal funding limits on presidential campaigns because of their acceptance of matching funds, and this is going to hurt them dearly if either gets the nomination come July.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Iowa and the State of the Union

In atypical fashion, I'm not going to source this entry, as it's merely my musings on what happened over the last 36 hours.

Commentators have posited that Howard Dean's support is soft because many of his supporters are primarily ABB (anyone but Bush), and secondarily Deaniacs. I think there's something to this. Last night's results merely reinforce the notion that policy is not what drives the primary process. I've been following the race avidly for months, and I have to confess I know diddly and squat about John Kerry's policy positions. I know what he generally believes in, but I don't know anything about the substance of his healthcare plan like I do of Mr. Dean's, or his tax plan, like Mr. Clark's, or his education platform, like Mr. Edwards'.

What I do know about John Kerry, and what I imagine a fair number of Iowans do as well, is his record. His Vietnam experience and his decades of service in the Senate speak for themselves; and for energizing the base, Ted Kennedy campaigning on your behalf is worth volumes. I've always thought that Mr. Kerry was the most "presidential" of the candidates, even if he failed to excite me enough to support him in the past. Last night was clearly a stellar night for him, and it showed in the brief interview he gave to Tom Brokaw on NBC following the State of the Union address tonight. He hit exactly the right points, and I found myself wondering if I was watching Howard Dean in John Kerry's clothing.

Ultimately, I think, that's where Mr. Dean shines through - his words of last summer are coming out of every candidate's mouth these days. They came out of Nancy Pelosi's mouth, and Tom Daschle's mouth as they gave the Democratic response. Coming in third in Iowa is certainly not fatal by any stretch of the imagination to a candidate who's raised over $25 million in the last six months, but it's going to be a long hard slog for Dean to compete if he doesn't finish in the top two in New Hampshire, which is, quite frankly, now a real possibility.

The other surprise from Iowa, John Edwards, is intriguing for a number of reasons. Edwards' biggest weakness is, of course, his relative inexperience in politics; but as he points out, he has more experience in foreign policy from his tenure in the Senate than did George W. Bush when he was appointed President in 2000. Edwards has a charm that at times approaches Clintonian levels, and he may be the candidate that best crosses over not only to Southerners, but also to moderate swing voters, offering a real alternative to Mr. Bush. I confess I love the way he contrasts the way this administration treats wealth versus how it treats work, and he has the credentials to attack that in a way that Kerry and Dean do not. (Clark could also play this card, but I've not seen him make the case as forcefully as Edwards has).

As for tonight, I started to count the misstatements coming out of the President's mouth, but after he assured all Americans that our men and women serving abroad had make America more secure, and the administration line that Saddam Hussein had "weapons of mass destruction activities programs" I gave up. The disconnect between Mr. Bush's rhetoric and reality is truly astonishing. Mr. Daschle hit on this precisely; after the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, it's become more and more difficult to trust anything that Mr. Bush says, and this speech tonight was just another example of that.

The high point was the one area where I agreed with Mr. Bush - on banning performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports; but as some commentators have noted, that's not exactly the kind of policy that belongs in a State of the Union address. I also found myself agreeing with the President that we need to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, but I found myself wondering how he would propose we do that, since he didn't really say, and his energy bill doesn't really accomplish those goals, though it sure would accomplish others.

Someone else criticized the Democratic response, but I have to say that from the point of view of a layman, I think it sounded the right tone. It sounds like partisan sniping when we accuse the President of underfunding purchases of enriched uranium and failing to fully fund first responders like policemen and firefighters, as well as neglecting to set up a program to inspect cargo containers that enter our seaports, but I think people need to take a step back and realize that Democrats are hammering these points home because these steps need to be taken to actually provide for our homeland security.

My wish for the New Year would be that the news media would accurately cover this speech and point out the areas in which it's disconnected from reality, but I'm sure they will remain more interested in talking about Wes Clark's sweaters and Howard Dean's anger. I wonder what the Kerry mythos will drum up in the next few weeks, or if the media will just fall back on the old standby - "he looks French, so can't be trusted."

Monday, January 12, 2004

I wish Bob Novak's wife were a CIA agent

It seems like stringing together words to form coherent sentences which then proceed to the form of a logical argument with valid premises and induction or deduction leading to a conclusion should be a prerequisite to appearing on print in our nation's editorial pages. This is not so.

Novak writes about Howard Dean and religion in his latest failure to make logical arguments. Let's dissect, shall we?

WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- When six opponents gathered at public broadcasting studios outside Des Moines last Sunday for yet another debate, they searched frantically for some way to slow Howard Dean's presidential express.

Two candidates blistered the Democratic front-runner for advocating across-the-board tax increases, but no adversary dared bring up Dean's mixture of religion and politics.

However, one of the three news media questioners, National Public Radio's Michele Norris, raised Dean's new promise to talk about God and Jesus in the South. "In the Northeast," Dean replied, "we do not talk openly about religion." However, "in the South, people do integrate religion openly" and so he would talk about it there.


So far, so good. Facts laying the groundwork, mixed with quotes used in context.

Dean then warned: "I think any columnist who questions my belief is over the line." In short, don't delve into something I brought up. Nobody during the two-hour national television presentation probed what Dean really thinks about God.

Here Novak needs a lesson in vocabulary. Mr. Dean is saying that columnists ought not to question his belief, that they ought not to say he's lying about it or that he doesn't believe in God. Novak interprets this as Mr. Dean saying columnists can't even ask him about God. Mr. Dean said no such thing, and Bob Novak knows it.

That may be why commentators Sunday night declared the former Vermont governor was "unscathed" by the debate. Disagreeing, the adviser to another candidate told me: "I thought he was seriously scathed."

Scathing Dean, he said, was his own decision to play the Jesus card during coming intra-party tests in South Carolina and Oklahoma. This critic and like-minded Democrats are unwilling to permit use of their names, only privately criticizing the front-runner about his religious perambulations.


I'll admit I looked up perambulation in the dictionary at this point - I know it has something to do with 'walking around' from its Latin root, but the real definition is either 1) to travel over or through especially on foot or 2) to make an official inspection of (a boundary) on foot. I'm guessing that Novak is implying that Dean's faith is the result of a circuitous path, which he describes next.

Brought up in his father's Episcopal faith (his mother was Catholic), he married a fellow physician who is Jewish. His children were raised Jewish though they and their mother hardly ever attend services now.

Dean himself moved from Episcopalian to Congregationalist "because I had a big fight with a local Episcopal church about 25 years ago over the bike path." He does not hesitate to reveal this information or to declare that he seldom goes to church.


Good, more facts, though I'm curious if Mr. Dean has ever said that his children and wife rarely attend services, or if that's even really something that ought to be played out on the campaign trail.

This fits the highly secular profile of Democrats and particularly Democrats who vote in primary elections. One reason for the surprisingly poor standing of Sen. Joseph Lieberman is that, in the words of critics inside the party, "he wears his religion on his sleeve."

In contrast, reporters who followed Dean on the campaign trail recently observed that they never had seen so secular a presidential candidate, one who never mentioned God and certainly not Christ.


This is where things get shakier, and I'd like some comments from more religious-minded readers to counter my admittedly naive viewpoint.

For many Americans, their religious beliefs are a matter of private faith. They may or may not attend worship services, but this does not lessen the connection that have with their God, nor does it mean that they are secular. In Novak's world, someone either mentions God and religion on the campaign trial, or they are nonreligious. These are two extremes and there is a middle ground in between, one I believe Dean inhabits, and one I personally happen to inhabit.

At that point, Dean declared he was about to change and would bare his religious thoughts as primary campaigns moved to the South and Southwest.

He now professed to pray daily and declared he had read the Bible from cover-to-cover. When reporters asked his favorite book of the New Testament, he named Job, which in fact is in the Old Testament and portrays an unforgiving Old Testament deity.

Dean returned to reporters, confessing a slight error. When they persisted in asking his favorite part of the New Testament, he prudently answered: "Anything in the Gospels."


This is shadier, but an honest mistake. I've read the Bible cover-to-cover, and while I know Job is in the Old Testament, there are several other books which I couldn't place - the letters to the Corinthians are in the New, while the letters to Samuel are in the Old. Still, I wonder if Mr. Bush has been asked questions of this sort - I know Al Franken makes some charges in his latest book to the effect that Bush is just as much a liar about his religion as Dean, but that would never see the inside of a Novak column, would it?

Just how to handle this latest Dean peculiarity has puzzled Democrats, friends as well as foes. One veteran political operative who had softened his opposition to Dean and was on the verge of embracing him told me he thinks the doctor "is playing with fire."

For secular Democrats, assuming a false facade may be more damaging than genuine religiosity. Nevertheless, any damage to Dean probably will be self-inflicted because even his presidential opponents are wary about wandering onto this dangerous ground.


Again, I think Novak is using secular as a euphemism for atheism, but I can't be sure, since he doesn't really explain who these secular Democrats are. I don't go to church regularly, but does that make me a secular Democrat?

However, Lieberman and Sen. John Kerry showed no hesitation Sunday attacking Dean's proposal to roll back the entire Bush tax cut, which would increase rates for everyone who pays federal income taxes.

"There was no middle-class tax cut," Dean insisted in the Iowa debate. The normally soft-spoken Lieberman jumped in like an avenging angel: "I don't know which is worse -- that he wants to repeal the tax cuts, or that he won't admit that they ever existed."


Mr. Lieberman should quit this campaign today - he offers nothing to the national discussion that Mr. Bush doesn't. Mr. Dean's new theme is that there was no middle class tax cut because other costs that middle class taxpayers rose while their federal income taxes were cut. Let me repeat that - if the federal government handed you $300 as a middle class taxpayer, the state and local government took away more than that in other costs, rising property tax, education costs, healthcare costs, etc. It's a nuanced position, but Mr. Lieberman is a pretty smart guy - he ought to get it instead of parroting the GOP talking points to attack his rivals.

The Heritage Foundation's analysts show the Dean repeal would mean a 74.2 percent tax increase for families with adjusted gross income between $10,000 and $20,000 and a 44.9 percent boost for $20,000 to $30,000. Incomes over $500,000 would face a 4.4 percent tax increase.

It is dangerous for Democrats to follow Howard Dean here, but perhaps less so than where he may be heading on religion.


And wow, what a strong finish! This is so misleading I don't even know where to begin. First of all, Novak's numbers imply that Bush has given those individuals a 75 or 45 percent tax cut, while only cutting rich people's taxes 5 percent. That's pretty consistent with what Bush would like us to believe. But, sadly, Novak doesn't have to cite his sources (or reveal them to the Justice Department).

Let's do a little research though. Since Novak cites the Heritage Foundation, whose mission is to "formulate and promote conservative public policies," that's a pretty good start. But plain bias isn't enough - that's what the GOP does, just suggesting some evil motive. We'll find this report instead and compare the facts.

I click on Heritage Research, because surely the study Novak cites is published online as research. I then find a link to reports on "Taxes," which is surely where this will be. I scroll down and find nothing though. Luckily I can search the site, so I put in Dean Repeal Tax. I find an article stunningly entitled "Radical U.N. Tax Plans Threaten America". Fortunately the article really is about the U.N., but it leads with this:

Many politicians seem to think that the answer to every alleged problem is higher taxes. Howard Dean, for instance, has said he would repeal the Bush tax cuts -- even though this would boost the average family’s tax burden by nearly $2,000.

No data, no figures, no methodology, just assertion. I should have expected no less on the research section of a site devoted to promoting conservative policy.

I search just for "Howard Dean" and still don't find this study. I may have to email Novak himself to see if he can provide it for me.

Hack.

At least his wife wasn't an undercover CIA agent.

Gov't Seeks Probe Amid O'Neill Interview

The Treasury Department is seeking an investigation into whether a classified document might have been shown during a TV show in which former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill spoke out against the Bush administration.

"They showed a document that had a classification term on it, so we referred this today to the Office of Inspector General," [Treasury spokesman Rob] Nichols said. "I'll be even more clear - the document as shown on `60 Minutes' that said `secret.'"

"We don't have a secret document. We didn't show a secret document. We merely showed a cover sheet that alluded to such a document," said CBS spokesman Kevin Tedesco.


Nonstory, but well, you know, since they don't have anything substantive on O'Neill, and the best rebuttal to his charges of ideology trumping evidence is that either:

a) "Nobody listened to him while he was in office," a senior official said. "Why should anybody now?"; or
b) it ''appears that the world according to Mr. O'Neill is about trying to justify his own opinion, rather than looking at the reality.''


Those are pretty nonspecific responses to the charge that Mr. Bush is "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people.'' But, why respond to facts with facts when ad hominem attacks are your cup of tea?

What Ails Florida

The State of Florida really knows how to hurt a kid. It has money for sports stadiums. It lavishes billions of dollars' worth of tax breaks and other goodies on private corporations. It even has money for a substantial reserve fund. But, in an episode of embarrassing and unnecessary tightfistedness, it has frozen enrollment in a badly needed state health insurance program for low-income children.

Some 60,000 to 70,000 children who are eligible for KidCare, Florida's version of the popular and successful children's health insurance program, have been put on waiting lists. Even kids who already have serious health problems are being placed on the lists, which are lengthening every day. No one knows when — or if — the children will get coverage.

"We've had families tell us they've put off buying groceries so they can afford to take their child to the doctor," said Conni Wells, director of the Florida Institute for Family Involvement, which advises families on health matters.


Despicable.

A spokesman for Governor Bush, Jacob DiPietre, told me yesterday that no immediate action is planned to provide health coverage to the children on the waiting lists. "Be assured that the governor and his entire administration are concerned about the waiting list," he said. But he added, "This is a problem that requires a long-term, sustainable solution."

I'm touched with the compassion of Mr. Bush. Really. Touched. He's concerned. Kids are going to die without insurance that had been promised to them by the state and is now being taken away.

Florida has qualified for nearly $1 billion in help from the federal government, which has come up with $400 million in increased Medicaid matching funds and more than $500 million in a fiscal relief grant. The cost of providing the authorized coverage for the tens of thousands of youngsters on the KidCare waiting lists is estimated at just $23 million for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Insanity.

Big thanks to Melanie for highlighting this outrage, and who has been added to the blogroll.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Evidence and Analysis or Politics, You Choose

The new Time magazine includes an article reviewing comments made by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill about what it was (and is) mostly like in the Bush White House.

So, what does O'Neill reveal? According to the book, ideology and electoral politics so dominated the domestic-policy process during his tenure that it was often impossible to have a rational exchange of ideas. The incurious President was so opaque on some important issues that top Cabinet officials were left guessing his mind even after face-to-face meetings.

This is curious word choice. Rarely has the media addressed Mr. Bush as anything like opaque or incurious, which almost certainly have to be pseudonyms for "not that bright" or "disinterested." The comments about the triumph of ideology and the singlemindedness of driving policy decisions by how they would influence his reelection campaign is not surprising, nor is this the first time these charges have been made, but it is the first time such a high level official of this administration has made them. That gives them substantially more credibility in the public arena, or at least it should, and if early coverage of the book in which these charges are made is any indication, it does.

From his first meeting with the President, O'Neill found Bush unengaged and inscrutable, an inside account far different from the shiny White House brochure version of an unfailing leader questioning aides with rapid-fire intensity. The two met one-on-one almost every week, but O'Neill says he had trouble divining his boss's goals and ideas. Bush was a blank slate rarely asking questions or issuing orders, unlike Nixon and Ford, for whom O'Neill also worked. "I wondered from the first, if the President didn't know the questions to ask," O'Neill says in the book, "or if he did know and just not want to know the answers? Or did his strategy somehow involve never showing what he thought? But you can ask questions, gather information and not necessarily show your hand. It was strange." In larger meetings, Bush was similarly walled off. Describing top-level meetings, O'Neill tells Suskind that during the course of his two years the President was "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people."

For someone who was working in his third Republican administration, O'Neill is certainly well-qualified to comment about Mr. Bush's engagement of the issues. And it's not pretty. All along, people opposing his administration's policies, both on economic and foreign policy issues have wondered if Bush and his staff was lying or simply incompetent. Those are really the only rational conclusions one can draw based on some of their actions and inactions, especially regarding the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Of course, the invasion wasn't set up because of Saddam's failure to comply with U.N. mandates, or the imminent threat Iraq posed the United States.

O'Neill charges that the invasion was pretty much on the table from the inauguration on, well before 9/11. This isn't a surprise, given the way in which Mr. Rumsfeld wanted to tie Saddam to 9/11 five hours after the attack. And, of course, it's not a surprise that 9/11 really didn't have anything to do with the decision to invade Iraq in an evidence and analysis way, since Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. From CBS News:

“From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” says O’Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic "A" 10 days after the inauguration - eight months before Sept. 11.

No imminent threat, no WMD of consequence, no ability to even attack his neighbors. Almost 500 Americans dead, closer to 10,000 Iraqis dead. How can anyone think Mr. Bush will be elected in 2004?

Friday, January 09, 2004

Endowing public schools?

My fiance just asked me a question to which I didn't have a good response.

Why can't public school systems be run like universities?  Why can't they have fundraising departments and alumni development offices, and take tax-deductible donations from the community and their alumni? Why can't this money be used to build new schools and pay teachers higher wages?

We just finished watching an old West Wing episode where Sam Seaborn says something like, "Education is the silver bullet. Schools should be palaces. It should be expensive as hell for government, and it should be free to everyone. The competition for teaching jobs should be fierce, and teachers should be paid six-figure salaries."

I can't help but agree - but what am I missing about her plan?

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Madonna?

I am supporting General Wesley Clark for President.

Not only as a "celebrity" but as an American citizen and as a mother. I want my children to grow up with the same opportunities that I had - to know and understand what's going on in the world and to travel that world safely and with pride.


I guess that might influence someone's vote. There's been talk about how useless endorsements are, but they're still news - and if this actually got picked up, at least people would be talking about Clark. Still, I have to give her credit for this paragraph - it sounds pretty good to me.

Our greatest risk is not terrorism and it's not Iraq or the "Axis of Evil." Our greatest risk is a lack of leadership, a lack of honesty and a complete lack of consciousness. Unfortunately our current government cannot see the big picture. They think too small. They suffer from the "what's in it for me?" syndrome. The simple truth is that the current administration has squandered incredible opportunities to bring the world together, to promote peace in regions that have only known war, to encourage health in places that are ravaged with disease, to make us more secure by living up to our principles at home and abroad. The simple truth is that the policies of our current administration do not reflect what is great about America.

Angry and Sad

U.S. Helicopter Crashes in Iraq, 9 Killed

There's not much else to say, other than that these brave Americans will not have the President attend their funerals, will not be honored when their bodies return home, and oh, that the helicopter didn't "crash" - it was shot down by Iraqi insurgents.

A U.S. Black Hawk medivac helicopter crashed Thursday near this stronghold of the anti-American insurgency, killing all nine soldiers aboard, the U.S. military said. A witness said the helicopter, which bore red crosses, was hit in the tail by a rocket.

In Washington, the Bush administration expressed its condolences. "The president is saddened anytime we lose men and women in the military," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "Our thoughts and prayers are always with the families and loved ones of those who lose their lives sacrificing to make the world a better place."

It strains reason to think that any of the now 495 Americans who have died in Iraq died to make the world a better place.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Wes Clark's Tax Reform Plan

I don't know how much coverage this will get, or if people will really understand the (enormous) difference between his plan and what Mr. Bush has done, but it's a pretty good plan, politically and sensibly.

Under Wes Clark's Families First Tax Reform, a family of four making up to $50,000 will pay no federal income taxes and all taxpaying families with children making up to $100,000 will get a tax cut. The Families First Tax Reform will shift the tax burden from those who are struggling to get by to those with the most to spare. The entire proposal is offset by closing corporate loopholes and by a 5 percentage point rate increase on income over $1 million a year. The rate increase will only reach the income-over $1 million-of the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers.

I can't think of many people who would oppose this, other than millionaires. Unfortunately, many, if not most, of our current members of Congress are millionaires.

With Families First Tax Reform taxpayers will only need to fill out a simple, three-line form to find out if they need to pay federal income taxes, providing their income, number of children, and marital status. And the majority of families won't be forced to file any tax forms with the government.

This is a huge selling point. People hate filling out tax forms. I know I do, and I'm taking a class on Federal Income Tax this semester. I had the hardest time figuring out how to account for my fiance's part-time job at a church watching children last year - was it church-related employee income (it wasn't because the church sent her a 1099, not a W-2), or business income (it wasn't because she wasn't running a business). In fact, I don't remember what we did, but I know it gave me headaches.

And the best part of this all is:

The majority of families will not need to file tax returns. Under Wes Clark's reform, more than half of American families will no longer need to file tax returns. The government will withhold the correct amount of taxes from the families paycheck or provide them with the correct tax credit. If they still want to file a tax form, they can. This system has been proven to work in thirty-six countries, including the United Kingdom.

Can you imagine? This has been a sticking point with me for years, as I just shake my head at the millions of people excited to get refunds who just gave the government interest-free loans with their money for a year. Withholding would be accurate instead of deliberately overdone?

This is good stuff, and as Pandagon notes, it firmly places Clark in the middle of Dean and Bush on this issue, which is a primary voting choice issue for a huge portion of the electorate whether they admit it or not.

Frankly, I'd be happier with our candidate supporting a plan like this than with rolling all of Bush's cuts back simply because I think that's a political nightmare. Dean's plan may be the more morally correct choice, but it is going to be a huge target for Rove and the boys.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Opinions without facts

Games without frontiers - another horrendous Dean = McGovern article. While I appreciate the notion that history is supposed to prevent us from repeating our mistakes, this idea that Dean is an unelectable left-wing nut is absurd.

Let's dissect Mr. Lawrence Kaplan's argument, shall we?

This has done nothing to dissuade the Dean-is-no-McGovern chorus from adducing evidence to bolster their case in, among other places, Dean's fiscal record, his past opposition to gun control, and other domestic positions that could fairly be characterized as conservative. Never mind that McGovern himself had opposed gun control, had voted against cuts in defense spending, had earned poor ratings from liberal groups, and boasted a fairly moderate domestic record.

1. Dean's fiscal record is conservative. It's a helluva lot more conservative than Mr. Bush's fiscal record, which was atrocious in Texas, and has been atrocious in Washington. If tax-and-spend was the liberal fiscal policy railed upon by conservatives, Mr. Bush's is no-tax-but-still-spend, which may be even less conservative than straight old Democratic big government. There's no "fairly be characterized" about it.

2. Dean's "past opposition" to gun control is conservative. It's more conservative than I'd like, but he's a state's rights advocate on this issue and wants to leave it up to them to take care of the gun problem. With increasing evidence that guns may not actually be the real root of violent crime, this may make sense. I must've missed the news that Dean changed his position and that he only opposed federal gun control in the past though - that modifier is confusing at best and just plain wrong at worst.

3. Dean has other domestic positions that are conservative? Well, this is just filler - everyone has "other" "positions" that could be fairly characterized as just about anything I suppose.

The essence of McGovernism was not its namesake's domestic positions but his vituperative condemnation of America's conduct in Vietnam and on the international scene more broadly.What puts Dean squarely in that tradition is his own, very similar bill of particulars, offered at a time when national security ranks once more as an urgent concern for voters. In this arena, Dean and his partisans like to remind audiences that he championed the first Persian Gulf War along with the military campaigns in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

1. National security is not a more urgent concern for voters today than it was in 1972. Just like it was in 1992, it's still the economy, stupid. Of course, Mr. Kaplan chooses to ignore that fact, because it's not convenient to his argument.

2. Let's see - the United States' last four military serious military engagements were the first Gulf War, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Since Dean supported the first three of those, I suppose his vituperative (I give Mr. Kaplan credit for fitting this word in, I wonder if it was word-of-the-day at www.m-w.com) condemnation of Iraq is somehow emblematic of his candidacy more than his support of those prior actions were.

The White House contender's promise to seek "permission" from the international community before resorting to force, his refusal to "prejudge" Osama bin Laden, his pledge to "tear up the Bush Doctrine," his (subsequently withdrawn) demand that U.S. troops in Iraq "need to come home," his broadsides against the more hawkish members of the "Republican wing of the Democratic Party" -- is it really necessary to point out the echoes of McGovern in this litany?

1. What did Mr. Bush's father do when we came to Kuwait's aid in the first Gulf War by going to the United Nations? He certainly didn't ask for "permission" to resort to force. Nah, that couldn't have been it. Surely he wouldn't have prostrated himself before the almighty devil France, would he? I mean he was a good Republican, right? Still, this sounds bad, which brings me to my next point.

2. Dean's refusal to "prejudge" bin Laden is starting to grate on me. Dean has this annoying habit of saying things which are factually accurate, technically correct, and morally upright, yet they sound really really bad. This was one of those statements. We prejudge no one in this country - not O.J., not Michael Jackson, not Ted Bundy, not Charles Manson (remember when Nixon got in trouble over that one?). You are innocent until proven guilty - it's our legal system, and it's served us for over 200 years. So yes, we don't "prejudge" bin Laden. What we should do is try and catch him so we can have the opportunity to actually bring him to justice - not invade other sovereign nations unilaterally, diverting resources from preventing further terrorist attacks, and catching the people responsible for ones we've suffered already, but that's another story.

3. This last sentence is a peach. By asking a rhetorical question, Mr. Kaplan saves himself the problem of creating direct links between Dean's positions and McGovern's. "Is it really necessary?" seems like an editorial writers code word for "I'm running out of column inches." I'm not sure what the Democratic party stands for, but as I said above, if it stands for actually pursuing justice and truth - then, yes, the Democrats who supported the President on Iraq may as well be Republicans on that issue. (Now watch this as I completely change the subject and thrash both parties without responding to Mr. Kaplan's arguments at all, just as he's repeatedly done).

4. Both parties dropped the ball on Iraq, on Kosovo, on Iraq, on Vietnam, on Korea, etc. The Constitution gives CONGRESS the power to declare war, which they haven't felt like doing since 1941. Yet, we've been in a lot of wars, and a lot of soldiers have been killed without Congress acting to reign in the executive's foreign policy power. That is egregious, and Congress, among other things, needs to resume its Constitutional position as the branch of government that decides when we commit our troops overseas for extended periods of time; not issue blank checks to the executive branch.

Kaplan's final point is that McGovern thinks Dean is like him. I think Cal Ripken is like me, but that doesn't make it a very valid analogy, does it? Of course, I think a majority of Americans would agree with the points McGovern himself made in this article about a year ago, don't you? I mean seriously - he makes good sense.

I'd link to Kos, because he's been thrashing the New Republic lately, and Mr. Kaplan is a contributor thereof, so this is just another piece of evidence that Kos is right about the New Republic hardly even being a centrist piece of literature with falling readership. I would, but Kos has been unavailable most of the day here, so I'll have to update those links later.

And, of course, nevermind the fact that in hindsight, there are very few Americans who think that Vietnam was a good idea. The fact that McGovern may have been right doesn't play into this picture, does it? Or the fact that the man who beat him in the election resigned less than two years later? Or the fact that McGovern took a huge hit when the stories about Tom Eagleton's therapy surfaced? Nah ... none of those matter as long as we have our "Dean is unelectable" story for the day. Hack.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Respect for Veterans

I got the first season of The West Wing on DVD for Christmas, and we've been watching a few episodes every night. First off, I heartily recommend it. One of the episodes we watched yesterday had a subplot about a homeless Korean War veteran who died of exposure near the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial on the Mall. He was wearing a coat that Toby Ziegler (the W.H. communications director) had donated to Goodwill that contained one of Toby's business cards in his wallet, so the D.C. police called Toby when they found the body. Toby ends up using his influence to get the veteran buried in Arlington Cemetery with a full honor guard and 21 gun salute, which got me to thinking about the general notion that we ought to give our full and unbridled respect for those men and women who serve this country's armed forces.

This is a touchy subject for me, at least, because I did not serve in the armed forces and most likely never will, unless fate puts me in the JAG corps at some point which isn't quite the same as volunteering to be a soldier. I hesitate to criticize others for their failure to serve , or failure to actually perform their duties while they are enlisted, since I don't exactly have standing to make those criticisms.

One ground I do feel secure in criticizing is the lack of respect for veterans shown repeatedly sub rosa by the Bush administration. Via Atrios, we have yet another example of how this administration is not interested in supporting our armed forces with any meaningful regularity. This time, it's going to be increased prescription drug costs for retired soldiers. One wonders with what money these veterans will pay these costs.

Let's look at some of the other ways that Republicans are treating our armed forces, and we can decide whether or not this is respectful or not to men and women who risk their lives to serve and protect this great country:

- Pentagon seeks cut in danger pay in Iraq
- The House Pushes Pentagon to Provide Equipment for National Guard and Reserve Troops in Iraq (because guard and reservists are woefully underequipped - see also here
- No press coverage of soldiers killed in action
- Unsanitary conditions at mess halls in Iraq run by, you guessed it, Halliburton
- Troops stretched so thin that the Old Guard sent to Africa

And yes, the last one is particularly poignant.

For the U.S. Army's Old Guard, the war in Iraq has been one of ceremony: escorting the caskets of fallen soldiers as they arrive at Dover Air Force Base, serving at dozens of burials at Arlington National Cemetery, standing watch over the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The Old Guard is, after all, the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, tracing its origins to 1784 and first seeing combat under Gen. "Mad" Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in the Northwest Territory in 1794. Among its 50 battle streamers are ones from Chapultapec in 1847, Gettysburg in 1863, Luzon in 1900 and Northern France in World War II.

And yet these men and women who gave their lives for the country are not given any press coverage. They deserve our attention and they've earned our respect. I understand if a family is uncomfortable with pictures or video of their son or daughter's funeral or flag-draped coffin, but this administration has refused to allow any coverage of our returning dead. That is disgraceful.

I fail to see how a single soldier or veteran would vote to re-elect this President. He's been pulling a bait-and-switch since the day he took office, pretending to be compassionate while milking every last dime out of the military budget that actually went to our soldiers instead of to a crony corporate handout.

This all proves that not only is Bush disrespectful of our armed forces, but also that he's an idiot. If he did treat our military personnel with respect and dignity, they'd probably vote for him, and if he paid them more, they might even contribute to his campaign.