:: Skeptical Notion

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:: Saturday, November 15, 2003 ::

U.S. takes hard line on Greenpeace

Some people are taking John Ashcroft to task for his latest pet project:
But 15 months after the APL Jade incident, the U.S. Justice Department in Florida's Southern District dramatically upped the ante. Drawing on an 1872 law, it filed criminal charges against Greenpeace USA for boarding a ship before its arrival in port, and with conspiracy to do so -- in a case scheduled to be heard in December.

Critics and some legal experts say the pursuit of an entire organization for this type of civil disobedience by its members is a break with 200 years of American tradition, and appears to be an attempt by the Bush administration to silence a vocal critic. In the words of former Vice President Al Gore, the legal move looks to be "aimed at inhibiting Greenpeace's First Amendment activities."
There are times when I want to believe these sort of stupidities have an actual plan behind them. That Ashcroft is after bong-sellers, doctors (medical marijuana and legalized euthanasia), and Greenpeace as part of some clever plan to convince would-be lawbreakers that he's frickin' insane, and thus if you cross him, you're royally screwed.

Of course, that's not the truth. Just like Bush's massive buildup wasn't a level to get Saddam to agree to inspections. This is exactly what it looks like: Ashcroft is simply a monumental idiot, who has a penchant for using the law to target groups he doesn't like...whether it's because they're terrorists, or simply practice the wrong sort of politics. The only difference between Ashcroft and the usual "abuse the legal system" idiots is that Ashcroft has the power to make a lot of it stick...at least for awhile.

Are there any adults in the Bush Administration? Anywhere? Anyone competent? Anyone capable of doing their job?
:: Morat 9:09 AM :: ::

:: Friday, November 14, 2003 ::

Kerry follows Dean's lead and skips public financing in primaries

Kerry follows Dean's lead and skips public financing in primaries:
Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry has decided to opt out of the post-Watergate public financing system and will spend his own money on the race, taking out a personal loan to help fund his struggling White House bid.

Kerry becomes the second Democratic presidential candidate to abandon the system, but unlike rival and prolific fund-raiser Howard Dean, he plans to keep his spending to the $45 million limit for the primaries -- if he can raise that amount. Kerry will not follow state-by-state limits in early voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, his campaign said.

'He (Dean) changed the rules of this race and anybody with a real shot at the nomination is going to have to play by those rules,' Kerry said in Iowa Friday.
I'd actually buy that, if you weren't losing to Dean in NH and Iowa, despite spending twice as much as Dean.

From what I understand, the Ketchup money is off-limits to Kerry, leaving him with maybe 5 to 6 million "on hand" and maybe that much again via loans. (His wife can't even cosign for a loan. The FEC is fairly rigid about this sort of thing).

I can't help seeing this as anything other than a sign of desperation. I'm guessing he's going to to shatter the spending caps in NH and MA in an attempt to defeat Dean. I'm also guessing he's going to be rather unsuccessful, although he might force Dean to spend more than he wanted. Dean has no reason to break the caps, and Kerry does. I'm guessing Dean will let Kerry do it first.

But I think it's pretty fair to say: If you're already spending significantly more than your opponent, and still losing badly, "more money" isn't going to be a real cure.

Worst yet, he's now vulnerable to claims of wanting to "buy" the Presidency, or "buy" New Hampshire. Dean's insulated from those attacks, by dint of the sheer size (both total and as a percentage of his fundraising) of his "small donor" base, and by the simple fact that he's spending less than Kerry already.

Using your own personal fortune is simply easier to attack, and harder to defend, than using money raised from tens of thousands of small donors.

I like Kerry well enough, but it looks like he's going to flame out in New Hampshire...I just hope he doesn't hurt the party too much as a result.
:: Morat 2:08 PM :: ::

Fun in Iowa

CNN has a quick roundup of the expected festivities at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, being held tomorrow night in Iowa.

Among other things, Kerry claims he's going to be going "nuclear" on Dean, planning a speech full of attacks on Bush and Dean. This will be different from his earlier, "non-nuclear" attacks on Bush and Dean by (according to the article) being a "feisty, Comeback-Kid J-J speech".

I'm sorry. I really want to respect Kerry. I actually like him. But "feisty, Comeback-Kid J-J speech"? The man just got second billing to a dog puppet a few days ago. He's going to have to be careful. Worse yet, Dean comes on right after him. A feisty comeback-kid speech really needs to go last, or at least after the guy you're going "nuclear" on.

So, any bets as to whether the Good Doctor goes "above the fray", "responds in kind", "ignores and delivers standard stump speech", or "Has all three ready, and will choose after listening to Kerry"?

Offhand, I'd imagine "ignores and delivers standard stump speech" is going to be the call. This isn't a debate, and ignoring Kerry is a pretty effective way of marginalizing him...and gets you the "above the fray" points too.

And to further marginalize, in my opinion, Kerry's chances, we have this lovely quote: "When you change one person, it is not at all unusual that a couple of people that person hired, that I barely know, who are not really involved with me, decide to go." He lost his press secretary and his deputy campaign finance director. And he "barely knows them"? I'm all for spinning negative news, but if you're going to look like a twit in the process, it's better to take your lumps. Of course, had your press secretary not quit, that might have been handled better....
:: Morat 1:57 PM :: ::

Tom DeLay: Seeking a new moral bottom

G.O.P. Leader Solicits Money for Charity Tied to Convention:
It is an unusual charity brochure: a 13-page document, complete with pictures of fireworks and a golf course, that invites potential donors to give as much as $500,000 to spend time with Tom DeLay during the Republican convention in New York City next summer — and to have part of the money go to help abused and neglected children.
Representative DeLay, who has both done work for troubled children and drawn criticism for his aggressive political fund-raising in his career in Congress, said through his staff that the entire effort was fundamentally intended to help children. But aides to Mr. DeLay, the House majority leader from Texas, acknowledged that part of the money would go to pay for late-night convention parties, a luxury suite during President Bush's speech at Madison Square Garden and yacht cruises.
And so campaign finance watchdogs say Mr. DeLay's effort can be seen as, above all, a creative maneuver around the recently enacted law meant to limit the ability of federal officials to raise large donations known as soft money.

'They are using the idea of helping children as a blatant cover for financing activities in connection with a convention with huge unlimited, undisclosed, unregulated contributions,' said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a Washington group that helped push through the recent overhaul of the campaign finance laws.
I think we're all shocked. Once again, we've underestimated Tom DeLay's ability to make politics even more corrupt and bankrupt. I thought we'd hit bottom when he was getting out-of-state energy concerns to donate to Texas state races, but using a children's charity to raise cash for the GOP?

Good lord man....have you no sense of shame? No sense of decency? Are there any limits to your ambition? Is there any depths to which you won't sink?
:: Morat 1:31 PM :: ::

Buffy Quiz Results


You are

Giles



"You should never be cowed by authority. Except, of course, in this instance, where I am clearly right and you are clearly wrong."

What "Buffy" Character Are You?

Color me unsurprised. But rather happy. Giles' appearance to deal with Evil Willow was the highlight of Season Six -- not that, of course, Season Six offered a wealth of choices in the first place.

Update: Turns out I have even more in common with Planet Swank than I thought.
:: Morat 1:10 PM :: ::

More Senatorial Nonsense

Graham to File Suit Challenging Filibuster; Senate in All Night (via Pandragon):
With the Senate set to stay in session debating the judicial confirmation process until 9 a.m. Friday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced Thursday that he and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) are filing a lawsuit against the Senate in an attempt to force the Supreme Court to overrule the use of a filibuster to block a president's judicial nominations.
Okay, that's it. I say we require basic competency tests for anyone elected to federal office. If we have to amend the Constitution, fine. But anyone elected as Senator should have a better grasp of separation of powers and the general "spheres" of the main branches of government than this.

On the off chance he already knows what an idiot he's being, he should be drummed out of office for filing frivolous lawsuits. Oh, and their lawyers should be censured, because this pretty much defines "baseless lawsuit".

But, in case Graham and Chambliss are merely idiots, let me offer this quick synopsis: The Senate has the power to set the Senate's rules. The Senate can, if it so chooses, demand unanimous votes to pass anything, with the bare handful of exceptions listed in the Constitution (passing Amendments, and I believe impeachment...), if they so choose.

It is not even remotely within the purview of the Supreme Court.
:: Morat 12:57 PM :: ::

Wal-Mart dumps cold water on U.S. economic bulls

Calpundit had a post up about the latest news from the world of Wal-Mart (via Forbes):
Economists and politicians giddy about prospects for U.S. economic growth got a dousing of cold water on Thursday from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. , the world's largest company.

The retailer -- which taps directly into the psyche of the U.S. consumer -- gave a downbeat economic outlook that contrasted with reams of recent data, and bluntly suggested that many of its shoppers are barely making ends meet.

Customers continue to buy the cheapest items in any given category -- a sign that household budgets remain tight, Lee Scott, Wal-Mart chief executive officer, said on a recorded message.

Buyers are 'timing their expenditures around the receipt of their paychecks, indicating liquidity issues,' Scott said.

'I don't think consumer spending is slowing, but I also don't see the strength that many of you in the investment community appear to see,' Scott said.
I had pretty much the same reaction as Kevin: Wow, that's neat! I'd have never thought to use Walmart for that sort of data, but darned if that doesn't make sense...and a certain utility that economists are probably thankful for.

Followed by: Oh damn. I'd really like the economy to recover so I can, you know, stop worrying about money so much. I'd happily trade four more years of Bush for a solid economy...providing we picked up a majority in the House or Senate. Someone has to watch the long-term picture, and Bush doesn't seem to know how.

As analysis, for what it's worth: That certainly mirrors the financial outlook of myself, and those that we know. Of course, if times were better my wife would have gotten a job earlier, and I wouldn't be slowly hacking my way out of debt.
:: Morat 12:01 PM :: ::

Blog Ads

I note Atrios is selling ads again, and wonder once more if I should do that. And then I think "Nah, why bother? I've alread paid for a year of Ad-free hosting".

Still, given the huge number of visitors I get, it's possible I could bust 10 dollars a month. :)

Offhand, though, I think ads are going to continue to creep into the blogosphere. It helps offset hosting and bandwith costs for the blogger...and it's just too attractive for the advertisers. How effective it'll be is beyond me, but I'd bet it'd be far more effective than those damn popups.
:: Morat 11:54 AM :: ::

Senate Leader Learns Lesson in Online Activism

Look, Ma! It made the real news!:
Meanwhile, according to Web records and people following the skirmish, the poll was doing some changing of its own.
-- First, temporarily daunting 'No' voters, the question was flipped, to: 'Should the Senate be prevented from exercising its Constitutional duty to provide the president's judicial nominees with an up or down vote?'
-- It was soon restored to the original sense, if not wording, then reading: 'Should the Senate exercise its Constitutional duty to provide the president's judicial nominees with an up or down vote?'
-- But a few hours later, the question was again coming from the opposite tack, asking: 'Should the Senate minority block the body's Constitutional duty to provide the president's judicial nominees with an up or down vote?'
-- Finally, late Wednesday night, with thousands of votes pouring in every minute, the poll was closed and the result recorded as: 'Should the Senate perform its constitutional duty to provide the president's judicial nominees with an up or down vote. Yes: 54 percent. No: 46 percent. 106,615 votes.'
Frist's spokesman, Bob Stevenson, denied on Thursday the poll had been changed to try to ensure any particular result, attributing the initial back-and-forth to efforts to foil the automatic voting programs that were being used.
I notice Frist's spokesman doesn't even try to explain how changing the wording, but not clearing the votes cast, somehow "foils" automatic voting programs.

I don't know what's worse...the fact that he actually offered that as an explanation, or the fact that the piece doesn't even bother to point out how ludicrous an explanation that is.
:: Morat 10:45 AM :: ::

The Big Filibluster

The Washington Post has a nice timeline/blow-by-blow of Whinefest 2003. It's nice to see the Post is taking it as seriously:
12:45 -- Up in the press gallery, somebody has put a six-pack of beer on ice, creating a quandary for those reporters who are still awake: If they drink a beer, they could doze off and miss some of this scintillating debate. If they don't drink a beer, they have to watch the debate stone-cold sober.

:: Morat 5:41 AM :: ::

:: Thursday, November 13, 2003 ::

I think I've been spoiled

Poking around at new machines today, checking out new software, and generally compiling "I want!" lists has really made me feel a bit selfish. A bit too "cluttered". A bit too greedy.

On the one hand, I do work hard, and I donate and give a substantial enough sum -- although not, of course, in the last six months. And generally I don't feel that I'm much more of a materialist than most people.

Other than my computer, my only expensive toys are my 3 year old, 23 inch (flat CRT) TV and modest surround-sound system. I have a newish car, but I bought new (well, 2800 miles on it) because I wanted the security of a manufacturer's warranty. And after almost a decade of having cars break exactly when I couldn't afford them to, I wanted the reliability of a newer model.

I have a Playstation 2, which was a gift. I have a number of computer games, but mostly older ones as I rarely buy new games. Most of them I receive for Christmas or birthdays or other special occasions.

I do splurge on books, and have a rather vast library...even if my brother teases me that it's a bit one-dimensional in ways. I have a smallish DVD collection, compared to most of my peers (maybe 50 or so titles).

I tried not to accumulate debt, didn't save nearly as much as I should have, and while I didn't live paycheck to paycheck, I didn't save much either. My debts, at the moment, consist of the car I bought 8 months ago, the money I owe for my wedding, honeymoon, and the rings, and my student loans. Not counting the car and the student loans, I owe maybe 10,000.

And I hated getting into debt for that. Hated it. I don't like debt. I like to have the room to borrow in case of emergencies. Thankfully by the time I needed "emergency money", I had paid down enough to be able to borrow it again....which bugs me. And, of course, life being what it is, I still owe the IRS 600 or so dollars. It looks like it'll be coming out of my refund, as I plan to file my amended return for 2002 in late January...right before I file my 2003 return.

And I'm very thankful that I had the foresight to cushion my checking account to the tune of 500 bucks. I know it's there, but my checkbook does not...so no bounced checks and the horrible fees that accompany them, even when my checkbook goes into the red.

But today, I found myself drooling over that Alienware machine, over Knights of the Old Republic (due out on the 18th for PC), over Galaxies and the extended version of The Two Towers...and I felt a bit greedy. My wife barely has a job, I'm dead broke and I won't even consider my financial situation "secure" until March (when I finally pay the last on that engagement ring. No more "18 month loans" for me. That stung).

Money, oddly enough, is at it's tightest right now. Making mortgage will be a matter of serious scraping, but we'll handle it. And come the 15th of December, it'll be something Megan can handle...with enough left over for Christmas shopping....the electricity bill next month should be quite small, compared to the one I just paid...and with Megan finally getting paid, I won't have to shift funds to cover her bills.

But I still feel guilty looking at all those wonderful toys. At the computer I would buy in a heartbeat, if I was even a smidgen less practical...to the games and toys and new books...

I guess I'm enough of a Puritan to feel guilty even window shopping when I know that the next three weeks are going to be very tight. I realize, intellectually, that it'll all be over in a month and things will get a lot better. I realize that we're both working, I get paid well, and that come spring I'll have a lot more money to help pay down the loans and such.

But I can't help feeling guilty now about how badly I want that computer, or the extended version of The Two Towers, or a really nice meal at an upscale restaurant. I know people that don't have jobs at all, that might lose their homes...which makes my problems (and my desires) seem quite petty.
:: Morat 3:58 PM :: ::

New Computer

I'm starting to look at new computer systems. With my wife (finally!) starting to sub, and looking at getting her first decent-sized paycheck -- if not as much as she was making -- in December, I might be able to afford one around late January or early February. I was originally hoping to do this before Christmas, so I could convert my current machine into my son's very own personal (and isolated from the internet! He's only 7) machine, but with my wife having to sub instead of teach, I'm looking at early next year, at best.

I was pricing Dell machines (I've always had good luck with Dell, although several of my friends haven't) and, for a lark, priced some Alienware machines. There wasn't much of a difference between Dell's XPS system (high performance) and Alienware's Area-51 Enthusiast. If anything, I got a slightly better deal out of Alienware, althougth it's a bit hard to judge as my choices weren't exactly the same on system specs, but it was close enough to realize the pricing difference was pretty minimal.

I really want an Alienware machine. I know several people who own one, and they all speak very highly of Alienware's product. It's an excellent gaming platform, and not much more expensive than Dell.

One question did come to mind: Is it worth it to pay the (ultimately) extra 700 or so for the AMD 64-bit as opposed to the P4 3.0? And is Pentium releasing a 64 bit chip anytime soon? Will prices be dropping?

Of course, unless someone goes crazy with the tip jar (Bill Gates, are you there? George Soros?), I won't actually purchase this machine until after the Christmas holidays. Hopefully there will be something of a post-holiday sale, but you never know....

So, any advice? Suggestions? Things to look for? Things to wait for?

Update: In the interests of full disclosure, I'll admit why I want a new computer. Mine's old, and it's getting common to find software I can't run. And, really, I want to play Star Wars Galaxies. Of course, until the middle of next month, any money I stumble across goes to bills.
:: Morat 1:47 PM :: ::

New blog on the blogroll

Welcome to Opinions You Should Have, which is sort of a cross between "The Onion" and "The Daily Show". It's funny as hell, and I highly recommend it.
The White House vowed to drop the pretense of stonewalling the independent commission on 9/11 and struck a significant deal giving panel members access to critical CIA daily intelligence briefings provided to the President.

Under the terms of the deal, two members of the commission panel will be able to view the entire library of presidential daily briefings from across a crowded room. The two members of the panel who will "see" the documents will not be able to tell the other members of the panel what they have seen. Two other members of the panel will be able to see selected documents which the White House determines are "relevant" to the commission's inquiry, but will only be able to discuss their findings in Swahili.

:: Morat 12:30 PM :: ::

Frist's Fun Poll

Erza Klein over at Not Geniuses summed up Bill Frist's latest game, called "Unethical Fun with Online Polls". It's the kind of thing I'd expect from some idiot running a forum for 12 year-olds, but not what I'd expect from the Senate Majority Leader.
Last night, Bill First put a poll on his website asking (in a deliberately framed fashion) whether or not Senators should simply vote 'yes' or 'no' on judicial nominees (no filibusters). But, he started losing. So he restarted the poll. Then he lost that. So he reworded the question without changing resetting the numbers so the sentiment that had been winning (pro-filibuster) was now losing because now people's votes meant something different. This guy is heading up one of our most important democratic institutions? I don't know about you, but it makes me uneasy.
Good show, Bill! Way to show off that ol' GOP values stuff. Perhaps you could kick a puppy on the way home tonight. Then again, given your history with animals, perhaps I shouldn't suggest that.
:: Morat 12:20 PM :: ::

Senate WhineFest 2003

Angry Bear has an excellent synopsis of the stupidity behind Senate WhineFest 2003. I cheerfully stole his graphic:


:: Morat 12:04 PM :: ::

Paradigm Shifts

Josh Hammond over at Best of the Blogs was mulling over political paradigm shifts, and wonders if Dean has the potential to revamp modern politics.
So what can Dean do? My suggestion is lifted from a conversation I had with Walter Cronkite a few years back that has intrigued me quadrennially ever since. Like many paradigms his idea is simple: nominate his entire cabinet before he is elected. We know a lot about George Bush by the cabinet members he picked, and much of what we don’t like about Bush is his cabinet: Step ‘n Fetchit at State, a Pentecostal Nazi at Justice, several nincompoop MBA CEOs at Treasury, Dr. Strangelove at the Pentagon, a weasel scumbag as VP, and so on. Keep in mind that in 2004 the entire cabinet will be campaigning against the dynamic Democrat duo, whoever they end up being.
On the one hand, I think it far more likely that Dean is aiming at the South, and about reuniting the Democrats with their natural constituency there. On the other hand, I think that's a project that will take a decade or more to achieve solid results, and no one said that a candidate is limited to only one big change.

I like Josh's idea. It's got real merit, and the announcement itself could be low key. If Dean was the presumptive nominee, he could use the months before the convention to sort, vet, and ask prospective candidates if they wanted the job...and announce them at the Convention. A simple "And this is my team, who are going to help us make American a better place!" sort of announcement would be low-key, but offer genuine insights into the sort of policy influences on a Dean Presidency.

And I don't think Powell's effect on the 2000 election can be overstated. I know a number of people who voted for Bush because they felt Powell would moderate Bush's foreign policy, and I think that was fairly important in Bush's appeal to the swing voters.

The only downside I see is that by announcing (or even, as I suggested, implying heavily) who would comprise Dean's Cabinet, Dean is opening the door to multiple new lines of attack. On the other hand, assuming Dean makes smart choices, few people would be better suited to handle those attacks.
:: Morat 11:45 AM :: ::

Why we're failing in Iraq: Case Study 1264

Via Through the Looking Glass, here's yet another story of why we can't seem to win "Hearts and Minds" in Iraq. Success, Traced in Cement:
The rumbling, rust-colored cement factory tucked into a valley in the northwest corner of the country here stands as a monument to the success of the reconstruction effort. Burned and looted in the aftermath of the war, it was up and running again by mid-September.
[...]
U.S. Army engineers who came to survey the damage proposed rebuilding the plant into a shining showcase for the best in modern technology. They suggested buying a fleet of earth-moving equipment and importing machinery from Europe, estimating it would take $23 million and up to a year to complete the job.

The Iraqis had more modest ambitions -- they just wanted to get the factory running again, even at minimal capacity. With the help of $10,000 from the U.S. military, and $240,000 left over in factory bank accounts, they used scrap electronics, tore up one production line to get parts for the other, and fixed the plant in three months. It was not the state-of-the-art facility that the Americans envisioned, but it got the job done.
Now, while I can understand why the "American Way" is a bit more expensive, I can't help but point out: Doing it the Iraqi way cost 1% of the "American way", and resulted in an Iraqi plant producing cement, and employing Iraqis. Right now.

Admittedly, this means that the US government doesn't get to disperse 23 million dollars among the lucky US contractors and employ US workers at inflated prices, but there's always a downside.

The Iraqis, not being the idiots some Americans take them for, seem to prefer having "jobs" to "sitting around doing nothing -- and not getting paid -- while Bush's campaign donors pocket 23 million dollars and take three years to do a three month job".
:: Morat 10:38 AM :: ::

Thank you!

Just wanted to say thank you to Gregory Harris over at Planet Swank. He sent my child the absolutely perfect book, and pretty much made Caleb's week.

So thank you! And if you haven't checked out Planet Swank, you really should.
:: Morat 10:17 AM :: ::

:: Wednesday, November 12, 2003 ::

At Least 17 Italians Among 25 Reported Killed in Attack

Not good. Not good at all:
A truck crashed through a fence around an Italian military police compound in Nasiriya, Iraq, today, followed by a car that blew up, leaving at least 17 Italians dead, including 2 civilians, a British military spokesman in Basra said today.
Twenty-one Italians were wounded and 12 Iraqis are missing or wounded, the spokesman said by telephone.
Earlier reports by news agencies said eight Iraqis were killed, but the British spokesman said he could not confirm those figures.
In addition to the 2 civilians, Italian fatalities consisted of 11 military police officers and 3 soldiers, military police officials in Rome said.
It's getting damn bloody over there.
:: Morat 9:50 AM :: ::

GOP will trumpet preemption doctrine

GOP will trumpet preemption doctrine:
Faced with growing public uneasiness over Iraq, Republican Party officials intend to change the terms of the political debate heading into next year's election by focusing on the 'doctrine of preemption,' portraying President Bush as a visionary acting to prevent future terrorist attacks on US soil despite the costs and casualties involved overseas.

The strategy will involve the dismissal of Democrats as the party of 'protests, pessimism and political hate speech,' Ed Gillespie, Republican National Committee chairman, wrote in a recent memo to party officials -- a move designed to shift attention toward Bush's broader foreign policy objectives rather than the accounts of bloodshed. Republicans hope to convince voters that Democrats are too indecisive and faint-hearted -- and perhaps unpatriotic -- to protect US interests, arguing that inaction during the Clinton years led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
It's not like they have a choice. Bush has Iraq as his own personal albatross, and any GOP line is going to have to neutralize, ignore, avoid, or spin the chaotic mess that is Bush's foreign policy.

I suppose "outright lying" is on the list, but I'm surprised they've chosen to go that route. Since they are, I urge you all to vote for Howard Dean. Somehow I think that, of all the Democratic field, Dean is the best suited to point out what an utter line of BS that is.

Not because he's particularly knowledgeable about it, but because he simply doesn't let stuff like that slide. And, let's face it: He's been hammering that particular issue since Day One, so he's pretty well positioned to address it now.

Let them stand on Bush's foreign policy. I think that dead soldiers and a overburdened army are going to be pretty hard to spin past, especially with the media starting to sit up and take notice.

Sidenote: As a personal message to John McCain: I hope you got a good deal when you sold out your principles, John. Did Bush promise to drop the "black baby" thing, or are you just brownosing out of "party loyalty". I used to respect you....it's sad to see you echoing RNC talking points that we all know you're too smart to actually believe.
:: Morat 9:42 AM :: ::

Vietnam and Iraq

First off, they aren't the same. Iraq is not Vietnam, and the last thing we need to do here is fight the last war all over again. I can guarantee we'd be screwed then.

However, that doesn't mean Iraq can't (or won't) get as bad as Vietnam, or be as much of a problem as Vietnam. It's already a difficult situation, and the easy availability of AK-47s, RPGs, and the large numbers of military trained citizens running around creates just as big a problem as the foreign-funded and supplied Viet Cong.

On the bright side, we don't have to worry about any more set piece battles. I can pretty much promise you that there will be no large armor or artillery battles in Iraq. No areas to bombard, no place to call in truly devastating air strikes....nope, it's going to be 4th generation warfare all the way to the finish line.

Which is, by the way, March-ish. Yep. We've got less than six months to stabilize Iraq, because by March we're going to have half the number of troops there that we have now. If the Shia get tired of waiting, we won't even have that long.

:: Morat 9:20 AM :: ::

And it's off to war we go....

Military: General Vows to Intensify U.S. Response to Attackers:
Stung by the deaths of nearly 40 American soldiers over the past 10 days, the top American military commander in Iraq spoke of a 'turning point' in the conflict on Tuesday and outlined a new get-tough approach to combat operations in areas north and west of Baghdad, strongholds for loyalists of Saddam Hussein.
[...]
Hours after he spoke, the attackers struck anew with two mortars that were fired at midevening into the so-called green zone, the fortified area of central Baghdad where General Sanchez and top American civilian officials have their headquarters. A third mortar shell struck in an unfortified area to the south of the headquarters in what was Mr. Hussein's Republican Palace, but an American military spokesman said that the volley that struck in the palace complex had caused no damage, and that there were no reports of casualties.

Dispensing with euphemisms favored by many Bush administration officials in recent months, General Sanchez, commander of the 130,000 American troops in Iraq, described what they were facing as a war.
So, just to get this straight: We declared the end of combat operations (which, apparently, meant "major combat operations" in a magical bit of historical revisionism) six months ago.

However, as we're now facing constant attacks, including assaults inside our most secure -- and theoretically safe -- areas, we're now "going to war" on the people we "won the war" against six months ago.

And this is a "turning point"? I'm sure it is, although I think it's up in the air whether it's turning in our favor or against it. Offhand, I can't bring myself to be optimistic. After all, we've been winning "hearts and minds" for six months now, and the attacks continue to escalate. A heavy-handed response is simply going to exacerbate the problem.

This whole mess sure makes that Powell Doctrine with it's tiresome focus on "exit strategies" seem pertinent. Perhaps we should have listened to Powell and the military experts, instead of sidelining them or firing them when they disagreed with the "cheering and flower-throwing" assessments.

I'm sorry, I simply can't see any way in which a renewal of combat six months after we disbanded the Iraqi army can be see as "positive". What I see is an utter failure of the occupation, an utter failure by the White House, and a mess that's just going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better.
:: Morat 8:56 AM :: ::

:: Tuesday, November 11, 2003 ::

On campaigns and bitterness

Well, judging by the tones on several blogs -- and more so on their comment threads -- we're entering into the last stage of the primaries. Well, at least the last stage before the "actual voting" part.

We're entering into the Doom and Gloom, bitter, whining, moaning, and generalized "This sucks" stage, as various supporters come to grips with the field.

I'm lucky. I'm a Dean supporter, so I can generally sit back and think "Damn! He's doing it!". Dean's got problems of his own, issues that need to be addressed, and a tough fight ahead of him....but he's beating expectations left and right. So, overall, I'm feeling optimistic.

Other people don't have it quite so easy. Kerry supporters are facing Kerry's campaign shakeups and failure to appeal in his "gimme" state of NH. Gephardt supporters are smarting over the loss of the SEIU and AFSCME endorsements -- and the denial of the full AFL-CIO endorsement that entails. Edwards supporters are gloomy over his complete lack of traction, Lieberman supporters...well, I'm not sure he has any, but they've got a lot to be unhappy about. Clark supporters, while having more to be happy about than most of the field, are facing up to the fact that he hasn't caught fire...and that his two week illness came at the worst possible time.

So, if you're worried about the increasing concerns about "electability" and the rise in "Doom and Gloom" scenarios and the sudden uptick in sheer pessimism...don't worry. It's natural. People are taking last minute looks at their candidates, seeing how they stack up...plusses and minuses.

Let's face it: Most people hoped their candidate would already be "The One" at this stage. But we've got a crowded field, with five solid candidates. No one is going to drop out before the primaries, and until a candidate drops out, his supporters aren't going to formally realign.

But that doesn't change the fact that everyone's supporters were hoping their candidate would be blowing away the field by now.

It'll calm down by January, and then the primaries will simply be too fast-paced to really sustain it. And once a nominee emerges, I'm willing to bet we'll see a resurgence of "Anyone But Bush". If we can keep from burning bridges right now.
:: Morat 2:40 PM :: ::

Two More Officials Quit Kerry Campaign Team

Well, that's the last straw for Kerry:
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's press secretary and deputy finance director quit Tuesday, adding to the turmoil on Kerry's political staff after the dismissal of his campaign manager.

Robert Gibbs, chief spokesman for the Massachusetts lawmaker, and Carl Chidlow quit to protest the firing of campaign manager Jim Jordan, let go by Kerry Sunday night. Both expressed dissatisfaction with the campaign, according to two officials.
Your campaign is collapsing, you're not leading anywhere outside your home state (and this despite heavily outspending Dean), your fundraising is lagging, you fired -- in a particularly obnoxious way -- your campaign manager...and just now lost your press secretary and finance director.

You're done. It's over. Finis. If you were leading in the polls, maybe you could overcome this. Spin it as a "routine shakeup" for the general election.

Your best bet is to clean up the campaign, play nice, and withdraw after NH. Make a lovely concession speech, talk about how you can do more work as Senator, mention you'll fully support the Democratic nominee....you don't even have to endorse anyone if you don't want.

But if you stick it out, lay off the negative stuff. You can't win at this point. All you can do is hurt the Democratic Party by trashing the field, giving Bush yet another advantage.

The choice is yours: Be a statesman, or be a spoiler.
:: Morat 2:26 PM :: ::

Further thoughts on the "Dean equal McGovern" idea

Kevin Drum has picked up the Judis email story as well. First off, I think we can all rest assured that Dean isn't McGovern. Can anyone see any Democrat, even a trained monkey with a donkey name-tag, losing 49 states?

Secondly, while the "Dean equals McGovern" line is a nasty one, I'm thankfully that it's not true, and that it's not something Bush can use during the primary. After all, that would make him Nixon. Something I'm pretty close to believing anyways. Wow! The parallels are eerie! Now, if Dean's VP tap has undergone electroshock treatment, I might start to buy into this....

It's kind of sad to see Kevin buy into Rove's mythos, and the "national security" line he pushes so hard. This election doesn't have to be about national security (it's not like it was for Bush's dad...or any President since the 40s), but it certainly will be if we give up and allow the GOP to frame the issues.

Further, even if it is about national security, I don't think Bush is as strong as you think. His talk may be good, but his record is empty. Think ads showing Bush swaggering across a flight deck, with that "Mission Accomplished" Banner...and a post-banner casualty list down the side. Or, even simpler, ads of Bush saying "We'll catch Osama Bin Laden....dead or alive". Or the same about Saddam Hussein.

Bush has no national security credentials. And if we can't convince the nation of something as obvious as that, we don't deserve to win anyways.
:: Morat 2:12 PM :: ::

Veteran's Day

I just got back from my first grader's Veteran's Day program. My father was there, and you could see my son bursting with pride that his Granddad got to stand up during the "Cassion Song" (which my son's class sang). He was almost as proud of his other granddad, but since the third-graders sang "Anchor's Away", it wasn't quite the same.

Participating in this event, watching the children sing, and seeing the veterans stand up and be counted....well, it was a lot more moving than normal.

And it got me thinking about all the soldiers stuck in Iraq, in Afghanistan...all the Guards and Reservists who've been away from family, and homes, and jobs for a year or more. And especially to the men and women who have died, this year, in service to our country.

I don't agree with why you're in Iraq. I don't agree with the orders your Commander-in-Chief issued. I don't think that the war you fought, and the country you occupy, were worth the sacrifices you made...and continue to make.

But I honor those sacrifices, and I honor your dedication to duty. You came when your country called, and you've laid down your lives for your country. Whatever the intentions of your leader, whatever the cause, you did your duty, and you did it well.

The President's misjudgements and mistakes in this matter do not change the nature of your sacrifice, or the honor of your service. You have my thoughts, my thanks...and my wishes that you come home safe to the country you love.
:: Morat 1:28 PM :: ::

John Judis speaks...

Josh Marshall got a nice email from John Judis (Senior Editor for the New Republic) about Dean. This part caught my eye:
I think it is because I lived through the McGovern campaign, as did some of those ex-Clinton people who have tried to pump up Clark. The similarities grow with every day. Not just the insurgent voter enthusiasm, the new ways of fundraising, and the bevy of flummoxed opponents, but also the economy (artificially stimulated by Nixon through the Fed and by Bush through the dollar just in time for election year) and the war (raging, but bound to quiet some by election time, and to raise prospects of peace)
The first part (the straight McGovern comparison) is pretty common. Admittedly, I wasn't really around for the McGovern campaign. But -- and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong -- I was under the assumption that it wasn't innovation in fundraising, or insurgent appeal or even flummoxed opponents that cost McGovern the election. I was, in fact, under the impression that his choice of VP and his subsequent handling of that choice, coupled with an inconsistent outsider/insider message is what crippled his campaign.

Not the fact that he invented fundraising techniques that became the standard after his run. I'm not sure how, exactly, enthusiastic supporters or poor opponents is a "bad thing", but I'm sure John will explain it to us peons at some point.

I've seen a lot of "Dean equals McGovern" claims, and they all tend to make Judis' mistake: McGovern innovated, McGovern failed. Dean innovates, therefore Dean will fail. Hell, that wouldn't be true even if McGovern's innovations led directly to his failure as a candidate. (Bonus points to anyone who can name that logical fallacy). Since McGovern's failure had nothing to do with his innovations, the argument makes even less sense.

The rest of Judis' argument isn't even Dean specific, as it would be a problem for any candidate. It's not like Clark has a magic "Win National Security Debates Free" cloak, or Edwards is immune to all economic arguments....

Given that Judis witnessed McGovern's campaign, and is -- supposedly -- fairly clever about politics, I can't help but wonder how he could have so totally misunderstood what he saw. Perhaps he's still in grief over Lieberman's failure to run a viable campaign.


:: Morat 10:15 AM :: ::

Support the Troops

It's days like this when I'm certain Karl Rove keeps an "anger doll" of Paul Krugman. Can't you just see him screaming and hitting it after reading columns like this?
One of George W. Bush's major campaign themes in 2000 was his promise to improve the lives of America's soldiers -- and military votes were crucial to his success. But these days some of the harshest criticisms of the Bush administration come from publications aimed at a military audience.

For example, last week the magazine Army Times ran a story with the headline 'An Act of `Betrayal,' ' and the subtitle 'In the midst of war, key family benefits face cuts.' The article went on to assert that there has been 'a string of actions by the Bush administration to cut or hold down growth in pay and benefits, including basic pay, combat pay, health-care benefits and the death gratuity paid to survivors of troops who die on active duty.'

At one level, this pattern of cuts is standard operating procedure. Just about every apparent promise of financial generosity this administration has made (other than those involving tax cuts for top brackets and corporate contracts) has turned out to be nonoperational. No Child Left Behind got left behind -- or at least left without funds. AmeriCorps got praised in the State of the Union address, then left high and dry in the budget that followed. New York's firefighters and policemen got a photo-op with the president, but very little money. For that matter, it's clear that New York will never see the full $20 billion it was promised for rebuilding. Why shouldn't soldiers find themselves subject to the same kind of bait and switch?
Whomever wins the Democratic convention (you all know my opinion on that matter) has something of a golden opportunity here.

In fact, I'm surprised no one has taken the time to mention it before, as such a pointed barb might be out of place at the nomination.

Way back when, in the golden days of 2000, George Bush gave a speech at the GOP convention. In that speech, he mentioned that -- due to the disregard of the Clinton White House -- that should the President need the armed forces, two entire divisions would respond "Not Ready for Duty, Sir!".

And, of course, it was bullshit.

These days, however, I eagerly await the first Democratic candidate to mention that, should the President need the Armed Forces, roughly ten divisions would respond "Too busy being shot at, Sir!". I'd imagine the Guard and Reserve units might take the time, between dodging bullets on their second straight year of deployment, to flip Bush the finger and respond "Weekend warrior my ass, Sir!".

Bush's assault on Clinton's supposed "destruction" and "disregard" for the Armed forces, even where it true, pales in comparison to the damage Bush himself as done. After all, Bush handled Afghanistan and Iraq with Clinton's army...but his successor would be hard pressed to find enough troops to form an honor guard, much less defend the United States.
:: Morat 10:07 AM :: ::

:: Monday, November 10, 2003 ::

Playing Defense

Having watched -- and thought -- quite a bit about the 2002 (and even the 2000) elections, I've come to conclude that there is a fundamental flaw in the Democratic approach to elections.

I wasn't politically aware enough, before 2000, to know if this is a long-standing tradition or whether this is something new, something spurred into being by George Bush and his win in 2000. Given what I do know -- and did follow -- of Bill Clinton, I'm inclined to believe this is a new factor...one that arose in 2000 or 2002.

I've heard many, many, many theories on why we lost in 2002. The most important, to my mind, is that 2002 was the year the Democrats switched to "all defense". Perhaps this was an outgrowth of 2000, where Gore was constantly unable to attack. Or perhaps a reaction to the decade prior, when Clinton was the subject of daily attacks. Whatever the reason, the Democratic Party seems to have lost it's offense...it's ability to attack, and more importantly, to drive the debate.

I watched in 2002 as Democrats contented themselves with playing defense. They assumed (quite rightly) that Bush was going to hammer them about patriotism...so they voted to support Bush's wars. They assumed (quite rightly) that Bush would hammer them about fiscal policy, so they voted to support his tax cuts. Their idea of a good candidate was one that agreed with Bush...not because Bush was right, but out of a naive view that Bush (and the GOP) would be unable to attack those candidates if they had, in fact, voted "his way". They hoped that a bad economy, coupled with "attack proof" candidates who refused to say anything provocative, interesting, or new would somehow manage to win them the Senate.

They were wrong. Bush didn't need reasons to attack. If the candidates didn't give him one, he simply made it up. Max Cleland, as a triple amputee and Vietnam vet, was "unassailable" (according to Democratic projections) on "patriotism" or "homeland security". Ask Mr. Cleland if he has a job right now.

Our mistake was to cede control of the debate over to Bush and Rove. Whether through fear, or some odd belief in Rove's infallible political instincts, or just sheer lack of guts, we let Bush and the GOP control the debate. We did it in 2003, in 2002, in 2000...and through the Clinton years. Although Clinton, I note, managed to wrest control of the debate a number of times...

It's painful to watch Democrats talk the 2004 race as if the issues were predetermined. As if, frankly speaking, Bush and Rove had already gotten "official approval" on what could and could not be an "issue" of 2004.

The issues of this election are what we make them. We've ceded our ability to reach out and control the issues, to cast the election on our terms. We've let George Bush pick the playing field, and with the exception of a few iconoclasts, we've issued nary a peep.

A strong defense is important. And Bush will have some control over the issues. But without a strong offense, without believing that we can cast the debate on our terms, we're not going to win. A strong defense isn't enough.

:: Morat 2:18 PM :: ::

Campaign donations...by size

Atrios had a rather neat chart up. The difference between candidates is pretty interesting, although one specific candidate really stands out. You often hear all about how Dean raises millions of dollars, with donations averaging around 70 dollars, but seeing it graphically, well... as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.


:: Morat 1:20 PM :: ::

Sen. Kerry Fires His Campaign Manager

Not a good sign:
Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, trying to jump-start his ailing bid and make up ground on front-runner Howard Dean, fired his campaign manager Monday and replaced him with a Capitol Hill veteran.
It's never a good sign to fire high-level staff this late in the game, if anyone needed more evidence that Kerry's campaign is in trouble.

Kerry's failed to gain traction anywhere.

Worst of all, for all the complaining Kerry has been doing about Dean forgoing the match, Kerry has outspent Dean (by quite a margin) in both NH and MA (a lot of MA ads get piped into NH). For the record, Kerry has spent 240,000 dollars in NH and 453,000 in MA. Dean, on the other hand, has spent 124,000 in NH and 120,000 in MA. In fact, Dean's spent the most money in Iowa (almost 240,000) whereas Gephardt has already spent over 350,000 in Iowa and Kerry's spent just as much (350,000).

It's going to be hard for Kerry to gain much traction on Dean's opt-out, when Dean is soundly beating Kerry...while spending half the money.

If there's anyone who needs to break the caps to win, it's Kerry.

:: Morat 1:00 PM :: ::

Weekend Update

Matthew Yglesias's Weekend Update at TAPPED is really the highlight of my Monday morning. It's a nice "shorter" look at various weekend pundits and shows, giving a nice feel for the weekend talking points.

I'm particularly fond of his synopsis of Hoagland's column: "We must win Sunni hearts and minds with harsh, harsh repression.".
:: Morat 10:29 AM :: ::

Almost done with those money woes

This is my favorite part of the month: Scrounging for mortgage.

Thankfully, this should be the last month (until July or so) that I have to play this game. My wife is subbing more or less constantly, and she makes almost as much subbing as she did in her last job. Unfortunately, they're paid on the 15th of every month. We're fairly certain she'll get a small check next week (she worked three days at the end of October), although it's possible they'll just roll it until the 15th of December. Either way, come December, and she can handle mortgage...and hopefully most of the Christmas shopping.

If nothing else, the last six months have seen us drop a lot of unnecessary expenses. Give us a month or two to pay off new debts, handle Christmas, and try to rebuild some savings, and we should be just fine in time for summer.

At least...that's the plan. It's nice to see, however dimly, a light at the end of the tunnel. Which, I suppose, leaves me much better off than quite a few Americans. It's been a rough year, all around.


:: Morat 10:25 AM :: ::

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