Thursday, January 31, 2008

U.S. Economy: It's The Iraq War, Stupid

Osama (bin Laden) doesn't have to win; he will just bleed us to death.
-- MICHAEL SCHEUER
The Iraq war is a sucking chest wound on the American economy.

You certainly didn't hear President Bush say that during his State of the Union address on Monday night; in fact, he glossed over the war. Nothing about holding the Iraqis accountable. Nothing about the successes of the Surge in danger of being squandered. And certainly nothing about troop withdrawals.

As a matter of fact, there has been shockingly little discussion from presidential candidates or anyone else as the economy does a pretty good imitation of sliding into recession concerning the enormously negative impact Bush's Forever War is having on America's overall fiscal health, including a burgeoning budget deficit and the fact that our children's children will be paying for this misadventure long after we're dead and gone.
Initial estimates that the war would cost less than a hundred billion bucks were famously undercut by White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey who offered an "upper bound" estimate of $100 billion to $200 billion in a September 2002 interview with The Wall Street Journal, but argued that "The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy."

Ha, ha, ha.

Well, let's see: Direct spending on the war is expected to reach one trillion dollars with indirect spending contributing billions more even if the U.S. withdraws in the next year, which is not going to happen. Some economists say the total economic impact will reach $2 trillion.
(By way of comparison, The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, has estimated that the Korean War cost about $430 billion and the Vietnam War cost about $600 billion in today's dollars.)

Now this enormous expenditure of taxpayer money is just peachy if you are a defense contractor like Lockheed, a private security contractor like Blackwater or make artificial limbs, but the fact of the matter is that wars just aren't as good for the economy – especially as the U.S. has morphed into a service economy – than they once were.

Howcum?

* Every dollar spent on a bullet is not being spent at home on education, improving and repairing infrastructure and paying down that immense deficit that is Bush's second biggest gift to us beyond the war itself.

* The extensive use of National Guard units has left many communities scrambling to replace police officers, school teachers and others who serve extensive and in some cases repeated war tours.

* Among the indirect costs, the bill for caring for returning vets with physical and emotional problems will be staggering. Conservative estimates put the number of vets in need at over 200,000.

* Tens of billions of dollars have gone into the gaping maw that is Iraqi government corruption never to be seen again.

* Contrary to the president's assertions, his war has further destabilized the Middle East, including playing havoc with oil prices, which is a further drain.

The war in Afghanistan is chump change compared to Iraq, but as Michael Scheuer, a former CIA counterterrorism official quoted atop this article notes, Osama bin Laden doesn't have to defeat the imperialist American heathens with bombs and hijacked aircraft.

He can just bleed us to death – and is well on the way to doing so.

Top photograph by Jacob Silberberg/The Associated Press

What Is Your Reaction . . .

. . . to this poster of Barack Obama by propaganda poster artist Shepard Fairly? Does it resonate positively or is there something ominous in the style and wording?

What do you think?

Hat tip to American Digest

Clinton-Obama: Anatomy of a Horse Race

But where will Edwards' supporters go? More here.

Celebrating Roe V. Wade. Reluctantly

January 22, 1973: Anti-choicers protest Roe decision
I would be remiss to let January slide into oblivion without noting that it marks the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision stating that a woman had a constitutional right to an abortion that has withstood the test of time despite my view that it was a well intentioned but lousy decision.

The court, in a 7-2 ruling, held that abortions are permissible for any reason a woman chooses up until the point at which the fetus becomes "viable," that is, potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, typically about seven months. Viability is usually placed at about seven months, but Roe allowed for a mother to have an abortion later if her health was in peril.

Roe divided Americans into two camps – pro-choice and anti-choice, which are my terms of choice. It jumpstarted a national debate that continues to this day and has become the third rail of Republican Party politics as the GOP has fallen into the thrall of right-wing scolds who believe the Constitution is a Republican document which empowers them to oppose big government but support that government telling people what they cannot do with their bodies.

Opponents of Roe say that it lacks a valid Constitutional foundation.

The Constitution is, in fact, silent on the issue, and while I support Roe in principle the issue should have been left to state legislatures and voter referenda. This, of course, exposes women who decide to abort a fetus at the mercy of anti-choicers with political clout and indeed in the wake of Roe most states enacted or attempted to enact laws limiting or regulating abortion, often through parental and spousal consent provisions.

In 1976, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which barred federal funding of abortions for poor women through the Medicaid program. The Supreme Court struck down several state restrictions, but upheld restrictions on funding, including the Hyde Amendment, in Harris v. McRae in 1980.

The last attempt of consequence to scuttle Roe came in 1992 when former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor brilliantly led a stealth majority coalition of justices to defeat an overturn effort led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

[John Edwards] clearly was the wrong man with right message for the right time. The right message was the haywire economy and the ridiculous gap between the rich and poor in America. But he was the wrong guy both because of a) who he opposed, with Democrats swept up in the tidal wave of emotions and possible history of electing a president who, well, doesn't look like John Edwards, and b) Edwards himself, who gave the right-wing spin machine and a hostile media way too much peripheral ammo, from the big house to the hedge fund to, yes, charging a fancy haircut to his campaign.

-- WILL BUNCH

A beautiful, gracious [withdrawal] speech. It was deeply fitting, and for me, affecting, for Edwards' final address as a presidential candidate and national politician to focus on the One America, the more decent, more just America that we believe in, and that he's fought to build. Watching him on that stage, there was no artifice to his claim that he's now forced the other candidates to embrace his passions and adopt his causes. Whatever their assurances to him on the phone, John Edwards set the terms of this race, and the contours of their agendas, many months ago.

-- EZRA KLEIN

If Dems are planning to start crafting campaign narratives surrounding John McCain, I might recommend an obvious one: the senator appears to have temperament issues.

-- STEVE BENEN

McCain has a lot more in common with TR and Bill Kristol than Ronald Reagan. And that's damned scary. Why? If the Bush era has taught us nothing else, it is that we must be skeptical of interventionist foreign policies whether grounded in the national greatness "conservatism" of a Teddy Roosevelt or the neo-"conservatism" of a Bill Kristol. It produced a foreign policy quagmire that eviscerated any opportunity to advance the conservative agenda at home . . . Importantly when it comes to McCain, his interventionism is fundamentally contrary to the traditions of mainstream conservatism. We can complain about various McCain positions, like McCain-Feingold, but in a sense those are tactical issues. Here is where, in my opinion, McCain fundamentally goes off the reservation.

-- PROFESSOR BAINBRIDGE

McCain beats Romney handily, Giuliani is set to endorse McCain tomorrow, the Terminator is praising McCain and Nancy Reagan is gonna lend the mantle of Saint Ronnie to McCain, and Romney has been such an utter douchebag with his big money attack ads and phalanx of bootlicking supporters that Huckabee is going to stay in the race just to screw Romney. And if anyone deserves a right and proper screwing, it is that smarmy SOB Multiple Choice Mitt.

Maybe we should be less concerned with a Hugh Hewitt Suicide Watch and focussed on a John Cole Schadenfreude Watch.

The country could really do a lot worse than a McCain/Obama or McCain/Clinton match-up in November. No, the Republican race is not over, and Romney could still win, but I am going to watch the establishment freak out and I am going to love it.

-- JOHN COLE

Apparently saying change a lot wins the cigar although the notion that McCain represents change in any discernible direction other than a less hysterical approach to immigration seems unsupported. I've seen him making out with George and talking up the forever war too often. Obama was my choice, which figures, since anyone I vote for usually loses, but don't ask me why. I actually didn't decide until I was in the booth. OK, so I thought he represented change although I still don't know why or what or how he would change anything.

-- CAPT. FOGG

Careful. If you blink, you might miss another GOP congressman announcing plans to retire.

Yesterday it was Reps. Ron Lewis (R-KY) and Kenny Hulshof (R-MO). (Hulshof is not retiring per se, but running for governor.)

Today, it's Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), who is expected to announce this afternoon that he is not running for re-election.

Davis' departure brings to 28 the number of GOP retirements in advance of this year's election.

-- DAVID KURTZ

The news that over a million homes went into foreclosure in the US in 2007, affecting about 1 per cent of all households or around 3 million people, supports the view that foreclosure has taken over from bankruptcy as the primary mode of financial catastrophe.

-- JOHN QUIGGIN

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Super Tuesday Looms Large: Can It Be We're Only A Week From the End Game?

Goodbye, Rudy Tuesday/Who could hang a name on you?/When you change with every new day/Still I’m gonna miss you
—Apologies to the Rolling Stones
Is it possible that a week from today that the Democratic and Republican presidential races will be over bar the shouting?

The likelihood the 22-state Super Tuesday primaries will produce prohibitive favorites in either let alone both parties would not seem to be great. But big-state wins by Hillary Clinton and John McCain would make them the presumptive nominees because it would be extremely difficult for their chief rivals -- Barack Obama and Mitt Romney -- to play catch up in the convention delegate races.

The wrangling between the Clinton and Obama campaigns over single delegates as in Nevada and Clinton's push to seat blackballed Michigan and Florida delegates when there are more than 4,000 at stake shows how important the delegate race is going into Super Tuesday, especially with John Edwards now bowing out.

* * * * *
It took a few weeks longer than the Democrats, but a welcome shakeout in the Republican race after the Florida primary vote left Rudy Giuliani sucking his thumb and Mike Huckabee sucking his rivals' dust.

Although Romney was a relatively close second to McCain, who got 36 percent of the vote compared to his 31 percent, Romney has won only one of the five contests he has entered and that was in Michigan where he has native-son status. In a way, the race is now Romney's to lose although he has only two clear-cut advantages over McCain at this critical juncture -- he is better organized in more states and can spend his sons' inheritance to a fare thee well while the Arizona senator is scraping the bottom of the fundraising barrel.

Nevertheless, McCain's win on a top-down-on-the-convertible Florida winter day was all the more impressive because this was a closed primary in which only registered Republicans could vote and he received broad support from mainstream Republicans in what will be a crucial swing state in November.

Giuliani's expected endorsement of McCain will be overplayed in the media. After all, the one-time GOP front runner bombed so badly in Florida with a mere 15 percent of the vote after leading all Sunshine State polls for weeks that he will be bringing only a relatively small handful of supporters over to the Arizona senator.

According to exit polls, McCain bombed with conservatives in Florida. His greatest challenge may now be not so much beating back Romney as attracting independents while fending off the right-wing attack dogs for whom a McCain nomination is akin to the bubonic plague. As it was, Romney outpolled McCain among self-identified conservatives by 37 percent to 27 percent.

While I am ecstatic over the hit to Giuliani's massive ego and marvel at his ability to blame everyone but himself, I take a special satisfaction in Huckabee's fourth-place Florida finish with a pathetic 14 percent of the vote.

The Huckster was a novelty from Day One and has predictably revealed himself to be a resume without a man. There simply aren't enough fellow evangelicals in the Super Tuesday states to jump-start the Preacher Man's campaign, although he's presumably still praying for a miracle while hoping to siphon votes from Romney as he did in Florida.

A Florida footnote: By Sunday, the final day of early voting, more than 1 million voters -- some 10 percent of those eligible -- had already cast a ballot.

I have seen the future and it is early voting, something that a few other states like California also are experimenting with. This sets up the interesting dynamic of masses of people voting well before the campaigns have played out.

* * * * *
I will be voting for Obama with guarded enthusiasm in my Super Tuesday primary and explain why here, but he is unlikely to win tiny Delaware, let alone big big big California, New Jersey and New York.

With 2,232 delegates need to secure the Democratic nomination, Clinton has 232 and Obama 158. John Edwards had 62. But as of today Clinton has the delegate edge in most of the Super Tuesday states, according to CNN's Delegate Scorecard, and with Edwards now gone it seems likely that the majority of his supporters -- and perhaps his delegates, as well -- will gravitate to her.

With 1,191 delegates needed on the Republican side, CNN says McCain has 97 and Romney 74. Huckabee is a distant third with 29 delegates, while Ron Paul (remember him?) has six and Giuliani a mere 2.

It ain't over 'til its over, but it may be over a lot sooner than had been expected.

A Big Bowl of Symbolism Just Won't Do It

I was all fired up to write a deep-thinking post on Barack Obama's continuing indifference (or inability) to put meat on the bones of his otherwise captivating hope-and-change mantra after Daniel Larison cited this terrific quote from Joshua Foa Dienstag, an deep thinker whose specialty is the study of pessimism, which certainly would seem to be a growth industry in America:
"Since, unlike the present, tomorrow is always imaginary, such idolatry can be manipulated in many ways. On the one hand, of course, the Stalins of the world can demand the death of millions in the name of a future paradise. This is an especial concern of Camus, who complains of those who 'glorify a future state of happiness, about which no one knows anything, so that the future authorizes every kind of humbug. . . . '

"Given the ironic character of history, we should, at the very least, make sure that our actions have some value in the present. The future that we imagine is unlikely to come about, if it does come about it will not last, and when it does come about we will probably despise it."

Alas, I am not the same intellectual ballpark as Dienstag, let alone Larison, so I'll merely belabor the obvious: While Obama excites the heck out of me and other voters in the abstract, how do we know whether he can deliver on his message since it is so lacking in substance beyond a welcome pledge to end the Iraq war?

The answer, of course, is that we don't know and just like George Bush's infamous "trust me" line, we'll probably just have to trust him, although I'm far from comfortable with that.
Can Obama succeed without a political philosophy? Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, to name several notable presidents of the century past, all had philosophies that were their lodestars.

Rick Moran is among the best right-of-center bloggers because he actually uses his brain like a precision instrument and not as a cudgel, but he is in full sour-grapes mode because Fred Thompson, his inexplicable darling for the Republican nomination, left the scene with an embarrassing whimper.

Rick, who seems to be taking his pique out on Obama, asks:

"Just what exactly does he stand for besides the vague platitudes about 'hope' and 'change' that pepper his speeches like little dollops of whipped cream? Where is the rock to which he tethers his beliefs?

"I don’t think this is a question of intellectual laziness but rather it is a matter of not having spent enough time confronting, questioning, strengthening, and ultimately adopting in his own mind the bedrock foundation of a political philosophy."

So Rick believes that Obama has not burned sufficient shoe leather compared to say, Reagan, whose political philosophy the conservatives who bankrolled his candidacy cut, pasted and handed to him on a silver platter. Yes, I'm being facetious, but it is a good question nevertheless.

This is because when the proverbial hits the fan, which is bound to do sooner rather than later in an Obama or any other presidency, what does the guy have to fall back on? A big bowl of symbolism just won't do it.

What does somewhat help my comfort level is the impressive roster of senior legislators who have endorsed Obama. To date these include Pat Leahy, Kent Conrad, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy. (Diane Feinstein, of course, has thrown in her lot with Billary. Darn!)
As has been remarked, endorsements seem like a hangover from an earlier era, but these guys have an extraordinary amount of experience and none would seem to be naturals to endorse Clinton. So do they know something or do they merely smell change in their air?

Avedon Carol, a transplanted American who blogs from London, riffs on a not dissimilar situation at The Sideshow:

"I can't help remembering that beautiful spring day in 1997, walking through Piccadilly and feeling such enormous relief at having kicked out the Conservatives, even though I knew that Blair's virtues were pure projection by his idealistic supporters and that he was much more likely to continue what the Tories had been doing. But they were all so sure that he'd bring . . . Change. I had hoped that the rest of the Labour Party could rein him in, and they didn't. Someone tried to tell me last night that America isn't England, but that's no solace - I've already seen how well the Democrats fight against conservatives; they've been much better at fighting against their own supporters. I . . . dread what will happen if Obama does break your hearts."
I do too, and my heart is frail when it comes to promises made and not kept, but I'm willing to take a chance and will vote for Barack Obama next Tuesday.


Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

I had just been asked a question -- I don't remember which one -- and Obama was sitting right next to me. Then the moderator went across the room, I think to Chris Dodd, so I thought I was home free for a while. I wasn't going to listen to the next question. I was about to say something to Obama when the moderator turned to me and said, "So, Gov. Richardson, what do you think of that?" But I wasn't paying any attention! I was about to say, "Could you repeat the question? I wasn't listening." But I wasn't about to say I wasn't listening. I looked at Obama. I was just horrified. And Obama whispered, "Katrina. Katrina.' The question was on Katrina!" So I said, "On Katrina, my policy . . . " Obama could have just thrown me under the bus. So I said, "Obama, that was good of you to do that."

-- BILL RICHARDSON

Putting Obama on the Kennedy axis effectively identifies him as radioactive to all but the most liberal of independents. It's akin to getting the Jimmy Carter endorsement, except that Carter has a better sense of personal ethics.

-- ED MORRISSEY

More than 80 volunteer lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainees today endorsed Illinois Senator Barack Obama's presidential bid.

The attorneys said in a joint statement that they believed Obama was the best choice to roll back the Bush-Cheney administration's detention policies in the war on terrorism and thereby to "restore the rule of law, demonstrate our commitment to human rights, and repair our reputation in the world community." The attorneys are representing the detainees in habeas corpus lawsuits, which are efforts to get individual hearings before federal judges in order to challenge the basis for their indefinite imprisonment without trial.

-- CHARLIE SAVAGE

Hillary Clinton, who has supported the war from the beginning, applauds the surge. Maybe this doesn't disqualify her from the Democratic nomination, but being consistently wrong on the most important issue of the Bush era has to create a presumption against your candidacy when you're running against two credible, electable progressive candidates. In the cheap pandering category, she uses claims that she will deport illegal aliens accused of crimes with "no legal process."

-- SCOTT LEMIEUX

One year ago, the Iraqi government was supposed to meet 18 benchmarks, as measurements of progress. One year later, notwithstanding the U.S. military escalation, it has accomplished only three. As for Bush's reference to "de-Ba'athification reform" (allowing former Ba'athist party members to return to government work, as a sign of national reconciliation), he not surprisingly failed to mention certain salient facts. The law was passed on a day when the parliament barely achieved a quorum, meaning that less than a third of the members voted for it; and many former Ba'athists believe that the complicated language will wind up expelling even more of them from government. Just last week, a senior Iraqi official told Newsweek that the law was "a big mess, perhaps worse than if we had done nothing." And lastly, in his State of the Union speech one year ago, Bush declared, "Americans will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced." This year? Not a single word about holding the Iraqi government accountable.

-- DICK POLMAN

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's audacious plan to arrange medical insurance for nearly all Californians -- one watched as a potential model for the nation -- was rejected Monday by the state Senate, obliterating the chance of anything but piecemeal healthcare changes from the Legislature this year.
-- JORDAN RAU

The US military's African command cannot find an African nation willing to host it, and will stay in Germany for the forseeable future. This story is flying under everyone's radar and yet I think it's one of the most clearcut examples yet of the damage the Bush presidency has done to America on the world stage.

-- CERNIG


Cartoon by Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Story of the George Bush Presidency: Unstable, Unfinished & Uncomprehending

If you think his daddy had trouble with “the vision thing,” wait'll you meet this one.
-- Molly Ivins on President-Elect Bush
Hard to believe, but I still can muster a modicum of sympathy for George Walker Bush. This is because it is apparent after the last seven long years that this son of the Texas oil patch really didn't know what hit him, still doesn't know what hit him and still won't know what hit him when he heads home one year hence to his ranch to search among the scrub brush for his squandered legacy.

This is not to say he can be forgiven for his innumerable excesses, but that deer-in-the-headlights look we saw again last night as he give his final (Praise the Lord!) State of the Union speech was a reminder that seldom has a president been so utterly overmatched, and certainly no one comes close in modern times.

The speech, delivered on the eve of the Florida primary by a man whose hair seems to turn grayer by the day, was overshadowed by developments in the race to choose his successor, chief among them the official rollout of "Camelot 2008." But for those watching and listening, the speech could have been titled "Unstable, Unfinished and Uncomprehending."

Unstable as in the economy and his predictable solution of throwing money at Americans but not identifying, let alone addressing, the underlying institutional problems.

Unfinished as in the Iraq war and his predictable refusal to set a troop withdrawal timetable, which gives Prime Minister Al-Maliki even less incentive to build on the transitory successes of the Surge.

Uncomprehending as in his predictable cluelessness regarding the serial failures of his administration, including its abject divisivness, a central theme of the Democratic response delivered by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

More here on the SOTU address.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a most damning bill of particulars -- excerpts from Bush's acceptance speech at the 2000 Republican National Convention. When one takes into consideration all that has happened — and should have happened but did not — since then the disconnect between image and reality is mind boggling:

"America's armed forces need better equipment, better training and better pay . . . A generation shaped by Vietnam must remember the lessons of Vietnam: When America uses force in the world, the cause must be just, the goal must be clear, and the victory must be overwhelming . . . I don't have enemies to fight. I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years. I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect . . . We're learning to protect the natural world around us. We will continue this progress, and we will not turn back ... to lead this nation to a responsibility era, that president himself must be responsible. So when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to uphold the laws of our land . . . I will not attack a part of this country because I want to lead the whole of it."
Photograph by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Hot Flash: N.Y. NOW Disses Ted Kennedy

In a press release that so perfectly plays to negative feminist stereotypes that I first thought it was a fake, the New York State chapter of the National Organization for Women excoriates Senator Ted Kennedy for endorsing Barack Obama.

An excerpt:
"We are repaid with his abandonment! He's picked the new guy over us. He's joined the list of progressive white men who can't or won't handle the prospect of a woman president who is Hillary Clinton."
Click here for the full statement.

To their credit, the feminist bloggers whom I regularly read are as mindblown by NOW-New York's hissy fit as I am.

Ann's reaction at Feministing is typical:
"Wow. This is completely unhinged, and frankly, mind-boggling. . . . All I can say is, NOW-NY does not speak for me. And it does not speak for all feminists."
Why am I left with the impression that these sob sisters would back Lucrezia Borgia if she was running instead of Hillary because . . . well, you know, she's not a man?

Cartoon du Jour

Glenn McCoy/Universal Press Syndicate

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

TREE
By Joakim Eskildesn

Hat tip to Wood's Lot

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

[S]ubjects were randomly assigned to view a picture of a woman or a picture of this same woman wearing a headscarf in the style of some Islamic women. . . .

What is the meaning of this hypothetical exercise? These pictures of unfamiliar people encourage subjects to engage in a common cognitive process: categorization. They subconsciously place the woman in a group and then impute to this woman the perceived characteristics of that group. These group characteristics are also known as stereotypes. Obviously, the sense that this woman lives a traditional life, is not lively or warm, and keeps to herself is quite in line with common stereotypes of Muslims.

This kind of experiment, despite its artificiality, actually has a great deal to tell us about the real world. Many Americans will see a woman wearing a headscarf only in passing, without any substantive interaction. Given only a brief "snapshot" of the person, people will probably then engage in the same kind of categorization process that these experimental subjects engaged in.

-- JOHN SIDES

Outside the White House, few have been as supportive of the Bush policy in Iraq as John McCain. He helped sell the war before the invasion; he was an enthusiastic supporter of “staying the course” for several years; he heralded the so-called “surge” policy a year ago, and he’s now talking openly about leaving U.S. troops in Iraq for decades to come. McCain continues, as recently as last night, to mock anyone who’s even hinted at disagreement over the war.

It’s paradoxical, then, that Republicans who oppose the president’s Iraq policy most end up voting for the one candidate who’s done the least to oppose the policy.

As the sun sinks on Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter and the rest of the gang, we might want to pause for a minute and ask what made them run and what, if anything, they brought to the party.

-- GAIL COLLINS

Though I absolutely, positively adore Obama, and think he's a wonderful speaker, there is a nit I really need to pick during his oratory. He has this facial expression that he falls back on all the time. I call it his "stare of destiny." After a bit of soaring oratory, during the roaring applause, he looks a bit upwards and off to the side, staring intently with vision out into the distance. It's the Barack Obama equivalent of Magnum. He does it compulsively, and it's actually beginning to scare me. If he could find some new expressions to mix in with that one, I'd be very happy.

-- DAVID SCHRAUB

Senator Edward Kennedy has decided to endorse Barack Obama for President, saying he wants a President who "can make us believe again." Over the weekend John F. Kennedy's daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, announced her support for Obama, saying he reminded her of her father. Kennedy's speech writer Ted Sorenson asked what he could do for Obama last year, hoping no doubt that after the election Obama will ask what he can do for Sorenson. Like Kennedy, Obama is young, handsome and inspiring and he represents the passing of the torch to a new generation. But it is not just that Obama reminds them of Kennedy, it is also that the Clintons remind them of Lyndon Johnson. And if there is anything that the Kennedys don't like, it's a bunch of hillbillies in the White House, which is being kept in trust until a competent Kennedy can be groomed to take it back for its rightful owners. Until that time Obama will do.

-- JON SWIFT

President Bush signed a directive this month that expands the intelligence community's role in monitoring Internet traffic to protect against a rising number of attacks on federal agencies' computer systems.

The directive, whose content is classified, authorizes the intelligence agencies, in particular the National Security Agency, to monitor the computer networks of all federal agencies -- including ones they have not previously monitored.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rebecca Channels Ma Barker: But It Depends On What the Meaning of 'Dirty' Is

Back in the early days of the presidential campaign when Hillary Clinton was doing her Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm shtick, her supporters mewled that she was being treated unfairly by the media and the other usual suspects because she was a woman who also was being tarred with her husband's transgressions.

That turned out to be a load of hooey. As the primary season hurtles toward the huge 22-state Super Tuesday showdown next week, Mrs. Clinton and her surrogates -- chief among them that oxygen-sucking Big Dog himself -- are waging a slimy, race-baiting, disinformation-filled campaign designed to divide and conquer.

It turns out that "Rebecca" is Ma Barker. Her gang is armed not with talking points but with Uzis, and even though this strategy appears to have backfired in the South Carolina primary and is leading Senator Ted Kennedy to endorse Barack Obama today, don't expect a soul searching mid-course correction. The campaign's assertion that "it will try to shift the former president back into the sunnier, supportive-spouse role" is only its latest empty mea culpa in response to the ongoing backlash over its tactics.

I have to admit that I'm chagrined the Clintons have calculated that it is in their best interests to campaign from the gutter – and make no mistake about it, the attacks on Obama that began with veiled suggestions from surrogates that he might have dealt and not merely done drugs as a teenager have been planned with the surgical precision of a blitzkrieg. That some of the surrogates in South Carolina were prominent blacks who should know better than to be anti-Obama shills shows astonishing loyalty but still is disappointing.

But then I realize that Hillary wouldn't know the high road if it hit her in her sizeable backside, and that this chameleon will scratch and claw to attain a second Clinton presidency no matter how much dirt has to be flung.

* * * * *
It took a while for the mainstream media – which played perfectly into Mrs. Clinton's initial strategy of running as an incumbent until Obama crashed her party -- to realize that her coronation was premature and that she hadn't just gotten around to taking off the gloves, but never had put them on.

A goodly number of liberal commentators are expressing disgust at not so much the race-baiting strafing runs on the first black to make a serious presidential run, but the repeated and gross distortions of what her opponent has said and done that would elate Karl Rove.

Some commentators express concern that Mrs. Clinton is alienating the youth and black vote, which seemed to be reflected in the South Carolina results.

Some are shocked at the distress that she engenders among some card-carrying liberals. The endorsement of Obama by another Kennedy -- JFK's daughter Caroline -- can be viewed in this context, as can the confessionals from women who worked for or supported Clinton who now say she makes them "feel dirty."

Some are twigged that she is trying to retroactively rewrite the rules on seating certain convention delegates or note her arch hypocrisy in unsuccessfully trying to suppress the Nevada vote by having surrogates go to court to shut down so-called casino precincts when it appeared that casino workers might turn out against her en masse.

Finally, some see Bill Clinton's role in her campaign as a godsend for the godforsaken Republicans because the harder the Mister jerks at his chain the greater the pressure will be on the Missus to seriously address the reality that the daily story line in the MSM from her camp has been more about Bill than Hill. Then there's that generational thing: The Billary ticket is a reminder that it's the Nineties all over again, which plays beautifully into Obama's hope-and-change mantra.

* * * * *
So what's the point of all this whinging?

First, you had a choice, Hillary. You could distance herself from the excesses of the present and your husband's excesses of the past and take the high road come what may. Am I being naive? No, I was merely being hopeful. Instead, you made a cold-blooded decision to run a tag-team campaign because you understand that you have a better chance of shooting your way to victory than sweet talking.

Second, the underlying message of your strategy is that you believe that voters are chumps who can be led by the nose. Contrast that with Obama's repeated invocation (and he did it again in his South Carolina victory speech) that voters have an historic decision of their own to make this year.

Third, I find myself in bed with Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin and other Clinton-haters. I don't like that one damned bit, Hillary. For one thing, they smell funny. Understand that I don't hate you like these wackadoodles, but we have something in common -- we find much to fear in you.

Fourth, after the dreariest and most destructive presidency in memory, Americans have a right to expect better than what you are giving them. In the abstract, you are superior to most of the Republican competition. But based on what I've seen you aren't better than what Americans have been stuck with for the last seven years, merely more of the same in some really troubling respects. Messing with the electoral process. Obsessive secretiveness. Obfuscating. Distorting. Fear mongering. Trash talking. Dividing.

Finally, as you've shed the Rebecca get-up as Ma Barker's gang would shed their duds in a back alley after pulling a bank job, you've left no question about the kind of person you are under that notoriously thin skin.

And in the process squandered the most precious asset a candidate, let alone an incoming president, can have. That, Hillary, is called trust.

A Lukewarm Endorsement For the Mittster

It seems appropriate that I got "trapped" in the comments section at Captain’s Quarters and couldn't get out after reading the 200-plus responses to Ed Morrissey's decision to caucus for Mitt “Earpiece” Romney in the forthcoming Minnesota caucuses. Ed had said previously that he would make no call at all, but in the end explained it had come down to Romney and Giuliani.
While many commenters applauded The Captain's about-face, there was the unmistakable feeling that both blogger and readers were trying to put a good face on what in my view is an extraordinarily weak Republican field.
I have an unabiding respect for The Captain although our political twains seldom meet, and it's obvious that he's got a whole lot of clout in the right-of-center party of the blogosphere and his endorsement is important. But Romney is such a transparent flip-flopper and latter-day conservative that Ed was left with little to praise him for other than his "executive experience."
Don't I recall another presidential candidate saying that he was the man because of his own "executive experience?"

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

SURYIA'S TEMPLE, SEZINCOTE
By Beth Dow

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

What accounts for all this talk of unity and bipartisanship and non-ideological problem solving? Speechwriters have no end of hoary terms of uplift to choose from. There's "individualism" and "family," "values" and "faith." So why are unity and competence so crucial to this year's message?

The short answer is that the candidates have no other choice. Washington these days is rived by partisanship, but that's not necessarily anything new or even particularly worrisome. In Washington, partisanship is like the San Francisco fog; it rolls in, hangs out for a while, and everyone goes about their business. The problem is, in this case, it's created total, impenetrable gridlock.

So, though elections are usually about what is to be done, this campaign has been unusually focused on whether it is in fact possible to get anything done. That's why you have Clinton touting her governmental experience and legislative skill, Obama emphasizing his unifying presence and talent for achieving consensus, Romney reminding voters that he once rendered the Olympics profitable, Unity '08 swearing that all we need is a bipartisan ticket, Bloomberg promising to be as good at governing as he was at getting rich, and so on and so on.

The problem is that hearing all these presidential hopefuls pledge to end gridlock is a bit like having a friend promise to fix my toilet by checking under the hood of my car. Analytically, it's misguided.

-- EZRA KLEIN

The Kennedy dynasty is over, but its heirs may play a significant role in ensuring that the Clintons’ never materializes.

-- ROBERT STEIN

That's the question that I think Democrats need to mull as we move forward to February 5. Do we want a leader in November who builds a broad coalition, or one whose campaign smugly derides a state like South Carolina and the victor of that state's primary by noting (with a fair amount of distortion, naturally) that Jesse Jackson won the state twice? One who flees a loss with a terse written statement, or one who competes for every vote?

-- SHAMANIC

[Obama] is challenging Democratic primary voters, regardless of race or gender, to make an historic decision of their own. In the weeks ahead, they have to decide for themselves whether fealty to the Clintons (and their hardball brand of politics) is still the operative impulse. Tribal loyalties die hard, however, and while many Democrats are clearly afflicted with Clinton fatigue, there is still a sense, among many others, that the hardball tactics now being directed at Obama would stand the party in good stead when redirected this autumn against the Republicans.

Unlike Clinton and especially Edwards, the Obama message is about unity, not divisions; and hopes rather than grievances. If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, Republicans have a great deal to fear. He has tremendous break-out potential.


I spent Monday afternoon rewatching the last four episodes of the sixth season of The West Wing. I was simultaneously depressed and angered that fiction was so much closer to what this nation needs, and aspires to, than reality (an inversion of the usual Hollyweed treatments); and impressed that the writers managed to anticipate a disturbingly likely scenario for this summer’s Democratic (and, for that matter, Republican) National Convention.

-- C.E. PETIT

Michelle Malkin . . . wants a real man to run for President. She wants someone who will not be afraid to deport all the illegal immigrants and kiss away the Latino vote for generations or to tell people who have lost their homes to "suck it up" and get used to living in the street, and has turned her blog into a personal ad for the man of her dreams. "I need a man," she writes. "A man who can say 'No.' . . . A man who won't panic in the face of economic pain. A man who won’t succumb to media-driven sob stories. A man who can look voters, the media, and the Chicken Littles in Congress in the eye and say the three words no one wants to hear in Washington: "Suck. It. Up." But so far it looks like Malkin's desire for a real man has gone unquenched and she will have to make do with her husband.

-- JON SWIFT

Only small-minded people think [Donald] Rumsfeld is other than a great American and patriot, though of course a contrroversial one. He continues to deserve the respect and thanks of the American people.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Onward & Upward: Super Tuesday Looms

The big surprise out of the South Carolina Democratic primary was that there were no surprises. That is good news for Barack Obama and not so good news for Hillary Clinton.
After a series of unexpected results in early primaries and caucuses, the pollsters and pundits more or less got it right: Obama received 55 percent of the vote, Clinton a distant 27 percent and native son John Edwards a respectable 18 percent.
As was expected, about four out of five blacks voters went for Obama, the majority of them women, and he received about a quarter of the white vote with Clinton and Edwards splitting the rest.
The good news-bad news dynamic concerned the Clinton campaign's attacks on Obama, including the use of black surrogates to try to undercut his message of hope and change.

Not only did they have little effect, but they may have been counterproductive as exit polls showed that some voters switched to Obama because they were turned off by the attack-dog role of former President Bill Clinton.
Was Obama's South Carolina victory a much-needed rebound with the hugely important 21-state Super Tuesday primaries looming in only nine days?
I think not.

For one thing, Obama had not slipped badly in national polls despite Clinton’s victories in New Hampshire and Nevada. For another, South Carolina was Obama's to lose and what some pundits are calling a massive victory was more a case of him taking care of business, which he did impressively by staying on message while fending off attacks from the Clinton camp.
Meanwhile, the primary was yet another reminder of the dire straits that Republicans find themselves in. In no small part because of Obama, Democrats attracted 530,000 voters, while Republicans drew 442,000 last Saturday in their own primary in a Red state despite a larger field.

More here.

Photo by Steven Senne/The Associated Press

'A President Like My Father'

June 1963: Boy's State delegate Bill Clinton and JFK shake hands
"Over the years, I've been deeply moved by the people who've told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.

" . . . Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

"We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn't that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960."

Judge Learned Hand: An Appreciation

Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes.
Billings Learned Hand is probably the most influential American judge you never heard of.

Hand served for many years as chief judge of and the intellectual engine for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District in Manhattan. A philosophical pragmatist, his landmark rulings on free speech, tax law and economics are widely considered to be among the formative statements of contract and tort law.

Born in Albany, New York, 136 years ago today, Hand studied philosophy at Harvard College under William James and George Santayana, among other gurus, before receiving a degree from Harvard Law.

Hand was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by President William Howard Taft in 1909 and was promoted to the Second Circuit by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924, where he served for the rest of his life.

His 52 years as a federal judge is a record, and although he never was appointed to the Supreme Court, he is widely considered to have been a greater jurist than all but a few justices.

* * * * *
Hand did lend his voice to ongoing debates over judicial activism and the expansion of constitutional liberties, but his legacy lies less in constitutional law since relatively few constitutional cases came before the Second Circuit, than in contract and tort law.

Like his good friend, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Hand believed that judges had a limited role to play and asserted that the highest satisfaction a lawyer or a judge could derive came from knowing a job had been done in a craftsmanlike manner.

He did not see judicial restraint as an abdication of responsibility. In his view, exploring the underlying questions of law and creating rules appropriate to the times were paramount, with larger policy questions best decided by the executive and legislative branches.

Despite the landmark rulings in which he had a voice, Hand did not consider himself an activist judge and was critical of the so-called activist wing of the Supreme Court, headed by Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas, both of whom he believed improperly imposed their personal values on the law instead of the wishes of the legislature.

Hand believed strongly in free speech. In 1917, he wrote a highly controversial opinion in Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten, a World War I free speech case in which he argued that the First Amendment protected all speech short of incitement to illegal action.

In 1950, Hand confirmed the conviction of 11 Communist leaders in United States v. Dennis, a case in which the clear and present danger test was watered down to allow the government to prosecute people for teaching the overthrow of the government. That would seem to be a far cry from the Masses decision, but Hand was carrying out what he saw as his role as a judge in adhering to precedent and deferring to those elective branches. The Supreme Court was to later adopt Hand's position.

Hand twice came close to appointment to the Supreme Court.

In the 1920s he was considered for every vacancy on the high court, but William Howard Taft, by then Supreme Cour chief justice, block the appointment because he was still bitter at Hand having backed Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose ticket in 1912. In the early 1940s, Felix Frankfurter lobbied to have Hand appointed, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted younger men and resented Frankfurter's heavyhanded tactics.

* * * * *
I stumbled upon Learned Hand as a college freshman some four years after his death when I was in a used bookstore and bought a copy of The Spirit of Liberty, a 1952 collection of his essays and addresses, including the epononymous speech below.

Hand gave this speech on May 21, 1944, a time when the war in the Pacific still hanging in the balance, He spoke to a huge crowd, many of them new citizens, at an "I Am an American Day" ceremony in New York’s Central Park.

Here is the text of his brief address, one that it is hard to imagine an Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas giving today:

"We have gathered here to affirm a faith, a faith in a common purpose, a common conviction, a common devotion. Some of us have chosen America as the land of our adoption; the rest have come from those who did the same. For this reason we have some right to consider ourselves a picked group, a group of those who had the courage to break from the past and brave the dangers and the loneliness of a strange land. What was the object that nerved us, or those who went before us, to this choice? We sought liberty; freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves. This we then sought; this we now believe that we are by way of winning. What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.

"What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest. And now in that spirit, that spirit of an America which has never been, and which may never be; nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it; yet in the spirit of that America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America I ask you to rise and with me pledge our faith in the glorious destiny of our beloved country."

* * * * *
This is another in a series of appreciations of the people who have moved and inspired me over the years. It is based in part on an Oxford University Press essay on Hand. Previous appreciations have included Duane Allman, Hoagie Carmichael, John Coltrane, Aaron Copland, Jerry Garcia, Bill Graham, St├ęphane Grappelli, Bob Marley, Laura Nyro and Eleanor Roosevelt.