Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The truth from John Edwards

America's government has failed a great people. We have let wealthy businessmen and greedy church leaders take over our government and work to convince Americans that government it their enemy rather than an expression of American greatness as it has been in the past. Of all the candidates currently running for Presidential nominations, only John Edwards is speaking out about this. Here is an excerpt from his speech:
It's time to tell the truth. And the truth is the system in Washington is corrupt. It is rigged by the powerful special interests to benefit they very few at the expense of the many. And as a result, the American people have lost faith in our broken system in Washington, and believe it no longer works for ordinary Americans. They're right.

As I look across the political landscape of both parties today -- what I see are politicians too afraid to tell the truth -- good people caught in a bad system that overwhelms their good intentions and requires them to chase millions of dollars in campaign contributions in order to perpetuate their careers and continue their climb to higher office.

This presidential campaign is a perfect example of how our politics is awash with money. I have raised more money up to this point than any Democratic candidate raised last time in the presidential campaign -- $30 million. And, I did it without taking a dime from any Washington lobbyist or any special interest PAC.

I saw the chase for campaign money at any cost by the front runner in this race -- and I did not join it -- because the cost to our nation and our children is not worth the hollow victory of any candidate. Being called president while powerful interests really run things is not the same as being free to lead this nation as president of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. If protecting the current established structure in Washington is in your interest, then I am not your candidate. I ran for president four years ago -- yes, in part out of personal ambition -- but also with a deep desire to stand for working people like my father and mother -- who no matter how hard things were for our family, always worked even harder to make things better for us.

But the more Elizabeth and I campaigned this year, the more we talked to the American people, the more we met people just like my father, and hard working people like James Lowe. James is a decent and honest man who had to live for 50 years with no voice in the richest country in the world because he didn't have health care. The more people like him that I met, the more I realized something much bigger was stirring in the American people. And it has stirred in each of us for far too long.

Last month Ken Burns -- who made the great Civil War documentary -- launched his newest epic on World War II on PBS -- and what a story it tells.

At the cost of great suffering, blood and enormous sacrifice, within four years after Pearl Harbor it is incredible what this nation achieved. America built the arsenal of democracy worthy of our great history. We launched the greatest invasion armada in the history of warfare against Hitler's fortress Europe, and, with our allies, we freed a continent of suffering humanity.

At the same time on the other side of the globe we crossed 10,000 miles of ocean and liberated another hemisphere of humanity -- islands and nations freed from the grip of Japanese militarists. While at the same time succeeding in the greatest scientific endeavor ever undertaken -- the Manhattan project -- and topped it off with building the Pentagon, one of the largest buildings in the world in a little over a year.

It is incredible what America has accomplished. Because no matter what extraordinary challenges we have been faced with, we did exactly what America has always done in our history -- we rose to the challenge.

And, now, as I travel across America and listen to people, I hear real concern about what's going on. For the first time in our nation's history, people are worried that we're going to be the first generation of Americans not to pass on a better life to our children.

And it's not the fault of the American people. The American people have not changed. The American people are still the strong, courageous people they have always been. The problem is what our government has become. And, it is up to us to do something about it.

Because Washington may not see it, but we are facing a moral crisis as great as any that has ever challenged us. And, it is this test -- this moral test -- that I have come to understand is at the heart of this campaign.

Just look at what has happened in Iraq. What was the response of the American people to the challenge at hand? Our men and women in uniform have been heroes. They've done everything that's been asked of them and more. But what about our government? Four years after invading Iraq, we cannot even keep the lights on in Baghdad.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the American people were at their best. They donated their time and their money in record numbers. There was an outpouring of support. I took 700 college kids down to help -- young people who gave up their spring break. But what about our government? Three years after hurricane Katrina thousands of our fellow Americans, our brothers and sisters, are still housed in trailers waiting to go home.

There's no better example of the bravery and goodness of the American people than the response to the attacks of 9/11: firefighters and first responders risking and too often giving their lives to save others, charging up the stairs while everyone else was coming down; record bloodbank donations; and the list goes on. But what about our government? Six years after 9/11, at Ground Zero there sits only a black hole that tortures our conscience and scars our hearts.

In every instance we see an American people who are good, decent, compassionate and undeterred. And, American people who are better than the government that is supposed to serve and represent them.

And what has happened to the American "can do" spirit? I will tell you what has happened: all of this is the result of the bitter poisoned fruit of corruption and the bankruptcy of our political leadership.

It is not an accident that the government of the United States cannot function on behalf of its people, because it is no longer our people's government -- and we the people know it.

This corruption did not begin yesterday -- and it did not even begin with George Bush -- it has been building for decades -- until it now threatens literally the life of our democracy.

While the American people personally rose to the occasion with an enormous outpouring of support and donations to both the victims of Katrina and 9/11 -- we all saw our government's neglect. And we saw greed and incompetence at work. Out of more than 700 contracts valued at $500,000 or greater, at least half were given without full competition or, according to news sources, with vague or open ended terms, and many of these contracts went to companies with deep political connections such as a subsidiary of Haliburton, Bechtel Corp., and AshBritt Inc.

And in Iraq -- while our nation's brave sons and daughters put their lives on the line for our country -- we now have mercenaries under their own law while their bosses sit at home raking in millions.

We have squandered millions on building Olympic size swimming pools and buildings that have never been used. We have weapons and ammunition unaccounted for that may now be being used against our own soldiers. We literally have billions wasted or misspent -- while our troops and their families continue to sacrifice. And the politically connected lobby for more. What's their great sacrifice -- higher profits.

It goes on every minute of every day.

Corporate executives at United Airlines and US Airways receive millions in compensation for taking their companies into bankruptcy, while their employees are forced to take cuts in pay.

Companies like Wal-Mart lobby against inspecting containers entering our nation's ports, even though expert after expert agrees that the likeliest way for a dirty bomb to enter the United States is through a container, because they believe their profits are more important than our safety. What has become of America when America's largest company lobbies against protecting America?

Trade deals cost of millions of jobs. What do we get in return? Millions of dangerous Chinese toys in our children's cribs laden with lead. This is the price we are made to pay when trade agreements are decided based on how much they pad the profits for multinational corporations instead of what is best for America's workers or the safety of America's consumers.

We have even gotten to the point where our children's safety is potentially at risk because nearly half of the apple juice consumed by our children comes from apples grown in China. And Americans are kept in the dark because the corporate lobbyists have pushed back country of origin labeling laws again and again.

This is not the America I believe in.
Nor is it the America I believe in. I grew up around WW II veterans and survivors of the Depression. They had seen hard times, and as I was growing up in the fifties, they were seeing good times. They knew that people faced good times and they faced bad time, and when times got bad they didn't didn't hunker down with what they had and ignore people who had it tough. They acted to help, either individually or as groups. And I grew up on the west side of my home town where the more wealthy families were.

Today the conservative mindset has taken over. When people have tough times, its their fault and up to them to dig out of it or die. Helping people in difficulty is welfare and government handouts. Such things are stealing from the rich. The rich should retreat to their gated communities, hire private security to protect the perimeter, ignore government and even refuse to pay taxes to make it go away, and ignore the suffering of others.

This isn't America. This is a bunch of rich people trying to turn their families into aristocrats over a dying society, then blaming the less fortunate for the death of the society.

It is time to stop the destruction of America and its basic ideals. It is time to eliminate the scourge of conservatism and return to the days when Americans looked out for other Americans and used government to protect us all from disease, fire, hurricanes, bandits and terrorists. The big corporations don't want America protected if it costs them anything. They don't want to pay taxes, decent pay rates or for employee health care. Like government, corporations are the servants of the American people, not our masters. They need to be brought to heel.

John Edwards understands this.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Giuliani - Clinton, the Presidential election and beyond

My bet bet is that the Republicans will nominate Rudy Giuliani for President. Romney isn't going to get past the 'Mormons aren't Christians' test with the evangelical Republicans. I expect to see more evangelicals move towards Rudy before Spring. Rudy's campaign geared towards the evangelicals will be a fear campaign as the 'counter-Hillary,' fear of the looming threat of 'IslamoFascism' and anger at the way Liberals have 'stabbed the troops in the back' and prevented victory in Iraq. First let's look at Rudy's campaign aimed at the social conservatives, then look at what he offers the economic Republicans.

Rudy and the social conservatives

Rudy will take the social conservative position towards women (Women should not be in charge of men and should defer to their husbands.) which will effectively counteract the charge that Rudy is too liberal on gay rights and abortion. This part will be conducted as a stealth campaign with rumors, viral messages and sermons in mega-Churches. The public campaign will be recycling all the anti-Hillary attacks from Bill Clinton's Presidency, and the usual anti-Liberal smears of demonizing Gays, African-Americans and immigrants and blaming the 'liberals' for permitting such abominations to exist outside ghettos or prisons.

Foreign Policy Rudy

Rudy has already shown what his foreign policy will be by his choice of foreign policy advisers. Chief among them is Norman Podhoretz. He laid out the Giuliani position towards Iran on the News Hour in his angry argument with the right-wing (but sane) Fareed Zakaharia.

Norm's argument, presented with anger and disgust that anyone would even dare to disagree with him, consists of conflating every bandit, partisan, Jihadist and ex-soldier who considers himself a Muslim as members of some fictional entity he calls "IslamoFascism," then equating that non-existent mob with the tightly organized and centrally controlled German armed forces led by Hitler, and calling this fictional entity the greatest threat the West has ever faced.

The rather insane rant presented on the News Hour by Podhoretz is just the first step in appealing to the Republican social conservatives, many of whom are milleniarists who think that the war in the Middle East is a prophetic event that precedes the second coming of Christ. It may also be a realistic reflection of the view held by Israelis of the Muslim threat to their small nation. Keep in mind, Norm Podhoretz is in line to become Rudy Giuliani's National Security Advisor if Rudy wins the Presidency.

The threat of IslamoFascism be being ginned up to conceal the failure of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Along with selling the fear of IslamoFascism and a woman as President (particularly Hillary), Giuliani is also going to run on the "stabbed in the back' theory to explain why the invasion of Iraq (which Podhoretz pushed hard to accomplish) failed. The intent is to focus anger on the 'Anti-War Liberals' who robbed America of its victory in Iraq. A sub theme here is that Iraq failed because Bush was not 'Conservative enough' so Bush is becoming a non-person in the Republican Primary debates.

[Addendum 12:57 PM CDT] Josh Marshall has a very good video on Giuliani's foreign policy advisers. [/Addendum 12:57 PM CDT]

All of this is aimed to get the social conservatives to get out and vote. The economic Republicans are a different group.

Rudy and the economic conservatives

Rudy offers the economic conservatives more union-busting, lower taxes, further removal of regulations, no Sherman Anti-Trust enforcement, and more outsourcing of government jobs into lucrative contracts to favored cronies. Selling toll-roads to private contractors creates overnight multi-millionaires, as does contracting out military logistics to firms like Halliburton and also contracting out prisons and hiring security firms like Blackwater.

Wall Street continues to salivate at the great pots of money that would be handed to them if Social Security were privatized. Universal health care is a similar bonanza if the government can be forced into using the private insurance companies to administer it.

These are all ways for Republican cronies to make a lot of money quickly, especially if there is no effective oversight of the contracts. Government oversight is a threat posed by incoming Democrats, probably a bigger threat than increased taxes on the wealthy.

I'm wrapping the 'Movement Conservatives' into the economic conservative category for right now. I see them as primarily economic conservatives, who cross over into extreme dislike for government interference in Race, Gender and Sexual Preference decisions in business. They are allies with the evangelist Republicans, but most movement conservatives are not, themselves, politically motivated by religious views. They are involved in politics to make money and gain power. I am open to disagreement on this, but I think that's how Rudy's campaign will approach the movement conservatives.

Rudy and the NeoCons

The NeoCons like Podhoretz are also outside the social conservative - economic conservative axis, but they provide the justifications for the wars in the Middle East which appeal to the social conservatives especially. They have been consistently wrong since they were the main force pushing Bush into the invasion of Iraq, but they have suffered no political consequences, as demonstrated by Podhoretz' interview on The News Hour. They have simply shifted to pushing for an attack on Iran. The provide Giuliani with his foreign policy, so he has to keep them.

Authoritarian Rudy

Rudy's campaign already offers a very authoritarian take on governance as demonstrated by his period as mayor of New York. Why is this important?

Authoritarian power of the President and freedom from restrictions on its use will be needed because enforcing the demands of the evangelical Republicans and letting the economic Republicans plunder government will create a major backlash. The institutions of the Unitary Presidency and of an authoritarian government will be required to repress the backlash and maintain 'stability.' Republican leaders and the right-wing think tanks are all fully aware of this. Power is more important than democracy, particularly if democracy acts to remove them from power.

They will use democratic institutions to gain power, but once they have power themselves they will weaken the democratic institutions for anyone else. As an example, that's why Tom DeLay used illegal contributions from corporations laundered through the Republican National Committee to fund the Republican take-over of the Texas House of Representatives in 2002, then had the new Republican leadership call three special sessions of the legislature in order to conduct a mid-decade redistricting the Texas Congressional districts. The result was the five Democratic Congressmen were replaced. Those Republican Congressmen were elected by the action of the Republican Texas Legislature (elected by corporate money rather than by voters), not by the voters of Texas.

Election 2008 and after

Election year 2008 is going to be ugly. If Bush begins to pull troops out of Iraq in early 2008 and is seen to be effectively winding down that war, at the same time ratcheting up fear of Iran, I think there is a possibility - not a big one - of a Republican being elected President. That's not likely. That means that I expect to see Hillary Clinton taking the oath of office in January 2009, but it's not a sure thing. If she wins, though, the campaign will not be over for four more years at least.

The anger and lies demonstrated by the Clinton-haters from 1992 until 2000 and frequently expressed by the Bush regime are going to seem mild compared to what our next Democratic President faces through 2012. The Republican right-wing is not going to accept the finality of the election in 2008. The final vote count is not going to wipe away the fear and anger this upcoming campaign is going to unleash. Conservatives do not accept majority rule if it means they didn't win, and they will continue to attack Hillary (or any other Democrat) by fair means or foul as long as she is in office.

The Democratic candidates for President

I suspect that Hillary is ready for it, at least emotionally and intellectually. It will not surprise her. I seriously doubt that Obama has a real clue, and I know he doesn't have the experience to handle the upcoming social and political storm. That doesn't mean he can't learn on the job, but that was part of Bill Clinton's problem. He had to learn on the job. Obama is competent and ambitious, but too inexperienced to be ready to deal with being a Democratic President with a third of the country out to get him the way they were when Bill Clinton was President. Hillary clearly is sufficiently experienced. I'd prefer Edwards for his positions, but I haven't seen him go after anyone yet, so I don't know how well he can do it.

The next half-decade in American politics

The 2008 Presidential campaign has started a year early. It is taking form now, and I think that it will be Clinton - Giuliani, and if so, the Rudy is probably the nastiest, most authoritarian and most desperate (this is his one shot, and it is a real long shot) candidate for the Presidency in at least a century. The social conservatives are the largest block of the Republican party, and they have felt empowered under Bush, but now feel it being snatched away from them. They, too, are nasty and desperate. The economic conservatives and movement conservatives feel the same way.

One thing that is going to be interesting is the way the incoming President deals with the Press. Until the election, the candidates all need the Press, and FOX in particular is throwing all their weight behind the Republicans. But after the election the Press become dependent on the administration for news. The Republicans have used this dependence to restructure to reporting and opinions from the corporate media. An incoming Democrat cannot simply let the Press do as they wish with no penalties for favoring the other side. I rather hope the incoming administration cuts off access to all opposing reporters while favoring up and coming reporters who will support the Democrats. I'd also cut out any access to Chris Matthews and George Stephanopoulos since they were Democrats who now attack Democrats. The return of the "Fairness Doctrine" and anti-Trust applied to news conglomerates and radio and TV chains would also be very good. All of these things can be manipulated by the current administration, and clearly are being manipulated by the Bush administration. The Democrats would be fools to let the existing anti Democratic Party structures retain all the power given them by the Bush administration.

America has been living in that old Chinese Curse "May you live in interesting times" since at least the time of the Civil Rights Movement. Not only is it not slowing down, the right-wing idiots are out of the woodwork and pulling government levers like never before. (See the TV clip of Norm Podhoretz again if you don't think so.) With the failure of Iraq, they are losing power and they hate it. They are going to pull out all the stops to keep the Presidency or damage the incoming Democrat in every way possible, and Rudy Giuliani is there current best vehicle.

This is the way things look to me today and most of the trends will not change. The primaries could throw in a surprise, but with the collapse of the Fred Thompson boomlet, that is looking less and less likely. Similarly, a terrorist incident in October 2008 might change the election if it changed the views of independent voters enough. If we are still heavily invested in Iraq, I doubt that the 2008 Presidential election will be that close.

An attack on Iran might change that and possibly shift the 2008 election, but I don't really know which way right now. The Republicans could gain IF the build up to the Iranian attack is effective, but it hasn't had much traction so far. A terrorist event in America that was blamed on Iran might, but anyone who believes the Bush administration needs to have their meds increased.

So while I don't rule out surprises, they are beginning to look less and less likely to me.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The dropping dollar and the price of oil

As I mentioned yesterday, the Dollar is still dropping. Here, from Daily Kos, we get another element of the dollar weakness.
[Source: Reuters]:
CARACAS (Reuters) - OPEC is likely to discuss creating a basket of currencies for oil pricing at its next summit due to the steady decline in the dollar, Venezuela's Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said on Friday.
"The need to establish a basket of currencies ... will probably be a point of discussion in the next OPEC summit," Ramirez told reporters during an evening event in the presidential palace.
"The dollar as a benchmark currency has been weakening quite a lot and it creates distortions in oil markets."

While disturbing, it wouldn't mean much except for the fact that this is merely the latest step in a trend away from the dollar by OPEC nations. For example:

* UAE central bank diversifies away from dollars

* Kuwait unhooks the currency peg to the dollar

* Syria (not an OPEC nation) unhooks currency peg to the dollar

* Saudi Arabia refuses to cut interest rates with Federal Reserve

* Iran sells oil in Euros

* Venezuela currency peg is in danger, and plans to sell oil priced in Euros

The U.S. economy has moved way past the set of problems that caused the meltdown of the Argentine economy in the late 90's. The only thing that has kept the U.S. from suffering a similar meltdown has been 1. the fact that the dollar has been the international reserve currency and 2. that the U.S. economy has been a massive source of international markets as long as other nations would loan the U.S. enough money to be able to buy those goods.

Other nations want the market that is the U.S. economy keep buying their products because that props up their economies, but that will only last as long as the international lenders think they can get back to money they are lending the Americans - with interest. The trend away from the dollar by OPEC nations places that ability to repay in real question.

So unless the trends change the U.S. is on the tracks for an Argentine-style meltdown. But larger. The question is how soon, and this is the kind of thing where bankers go to bed one night thinking the next day will be just like the one just finished, and then they wake up to a whole new economic world. The disaster last Summer in the international credit markets set off by the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble and its associated security backed investment vehicles is only a prelude to the financial problems the U.S. is moving towards.

The movement of OPEC nations away from the dollar is another set of dead canaries in the mine.

[h/t to Emptywheel.]

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is Bush walking into Iran's trap?

David Ignatius asks the real question about how Bush/Cheney are dealing with the Iran situation.
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Is the United States going to war with Iran? That's what a Lebanese businessman here wants to know from a visiting American. If it's war, he doesn't want to make a big new investment in the region.

You hear versions of this same question throughout the Middle East, as Washington and Tehran escalate their campaign of threats and counter threats. President Bush's loose talk of World War III doesn't seem to be deterring the Iranians, but it's scaring the heck out of America's allies in the region. Some talk as if war is almost inevitable.

Slow down, everybody. The Bush administration should stop issuing warnings and ultimatums that could force military action. Iran should get the message that the West -- including Russia -- is serious about stopping Iran from producing nuclear weapons.

If we look at what's going on behind the scenes in the two capitals, we can begin to disentangle the strands of this crisis. First, the military option: Despite all the saber rattling from Bush and Vice President Cheney, the United States doesn't have good military choices now -- and the Iranians know it. That's one reason they are being so provocative; they believe that a U.S. military strike would hurt America more than Iran.

Here's how one Gulf official sums up the problems with use of force against Iran: "When you look at it seriously, what's the objective and what are the consequences? People talk about a bombing campaign, but in six weeks of bombing in the Gulf War in 1991, you didn't take out the [Iraqi] Scud missiles. If the Iranians fire a missile across the Gulf, what happens to the price of oil? Or suppose they sink a tanker in the Gulf. And then they have Hezbollah, they have sleeper cells. What is your target?"

Many Arabs argue that the Iranians actually want America to attack. Politically, that would help the hard-liners rally support. And militarily, it would lure the United States onto a battlefield where its immense firepower wouldn't do much good. The Iranians could withdraw into the maze of their homeland and keep firing off their missiles -- exacting damage on the West's economy and, most important, its will to fight.
So the U.S. sounds more and more bellicose, but any military attack will lead to exactly the kind of war the Muslims are good at - asymmetric war against a western force.

Such a war would also strengthen an Iranian government that is having severe problems at home. So David Ignatius suggests exactly what seems obvious to me.
Military action would be irrational for both sides. But that doesn't mean it won't happen. I wish the Bush administration could see that with each step it takes closer to conflict, it is walking toward a well-planned trap.
I really wish Bush could see the likely future outcomes of military action in Iran as clearly as the Iranian leadership appears to do. But if 'clueless George' had that kind of foresight, the U.S. military wouldn't be in Iraq today, would it?

Dollar still dropping

According to Bloommberg:
Oct. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The dollar fell to a record low against the euro on speculation the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates this week as a U.S. housing slump reverberates through the economy.

The U.S. currency also slid to its lowest in 23 years versus Australia's dollar as prospects the Fed will lower its 4.75 percent overnight lending rate between banks by at least a quarter-percentage point on Oct. 31 prompted investors to seek higher-yielding assets. Two-year Treasury yields are near the lowest since September 2005.

``I remain bearish on the dollar,'' said Greg Gibbs, a currency strategist at ABN Amro Holding NV in Sydney. ``The U.S. has the lowest yields of all other major countries except Japan and Switzerland. This is sending people into a whole range of higher-yielding currencies.''

The dollar fell as low as $1.4426 per euro, the weakest since the introduction of the 13-nation common currency in 1999, before trading at $1.4420 as of 6:29 a.m. in Tokyo from $1.4393 in late New York on Oct. 26. It may drop as low as $1.4530 this week, Gibbs said.

Australia's dollar, also benefiting from speculation that nation's central bank will raise interest rates from an 11-year high on Nov. 7, traded as high as 92.14 U.S. cents, the strongest since May 1984, before buying 92.11 cents from 91.84 late last week. It has jumped 17 percent this year.

The U.S. currency was little changed against Japan's currency at 114.08 yen.
The lower dollar will make U.S. exports more competitive, but will also put pressure on U.S. inflation. The Federal Reserve act to protect the bond market, which means raising interest rates whenever inflation threatens.

But increased interest rates depress the economy. That job has already been done by the collapse of the housing bubble. Meanwhile, China and the third world nations are providing the goods and services at a lower cost than the U.S., even after the drop in the value of the dollar.

In the short run the lower dollar value is not going to help the U.S. economy much, but it will lead to inflation. So I expect a Recession.

For the long run, American business needs to look closely at the largest waste of money in America - CEO pay. They aren't worth what they are collecting. If the SEC would require that every financial statement include a breakout of the amount of pay the CEO and manager was receiving above some standard like 25 times the pay of the lowest paid workers and show that as a percentage of revenue and of profit excluding management pay, then stockholders could compare return on investment to the excess expense of management.

CEO pay would drop sharply, as would the excess costs of American goods and services.

Then maybe American exporters could better compete with foreign companies without lowering the cost of American labor to the level of third world nations. The Republican mantra of "Free Trade - Small government" sure isn't working.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Who is going to be the Republican Presidential Nominee?

If I had to guess right now, it would come down to a contest between Giuliani and Romney, both of whom have real problems with the Republican Christian right. Giuliani seems at the moment to be the leading candidate. Keep always in mind that right now we are in the money-polls campaign, though. There has not been a single vote cast in any primary or caucus.

Given that caveat, My best guess is that answer to who the nominee will be revolves around Rudy and the social conservatives. I see three alternatives.

1. Rudy's opponents identify a single competitor they can agree on and nominate in Rudy's place. If that happens it will be a process that 'jells' as the primaries get started. My best bet at the moment for such a candidate is Huckabee. He is especially attractive to all Christian Republican groups, but just doesn't have the fundraising, name recognition, or national organization to bring him to prominence this year in the pre-primary fundraising primaries. He may look different (to the social conservative Republicans as desperation builds and Rudy's nomination looms. Yesterday's hit piece on Huckabee strongly suggest that he is anathema to the economic conservatives, and the story of his release of an Arkansas serial killer who went on to kill again probably makes Huckabee unelectable in the general election. For Huckabee to win the nomination would mean that the Republicans had given up on winning the 2008 Presidential election, but also that the takeover of the Republican Party by the religious right was total.

Assuming that no such contra-Giulianni Christian candidate takes hold in the first quarter of 2008, the second and third alternatives are:

2.that the social conservatives will hold their collective noses and tepidly support Rudy as better than the Mormon Romney, or

3. that the nomination will actually go into a brokered convention in which the hold-outs will still be praying for a miracle and refusing to compromise. Without a strong contra-Giulianni candidate (either Romney or a Christian candidate) a brokered convention would still nominate Rudy, with the argument being that he is the most electable candidate.

I don't think the party professionals will permit a brokered convention, particularly since Rudy will seem unbeatable by then anyway. That leaves alternatives 1 and 2 as most likely. Right now the contra-Giulianni forces are holding out trying to force Rudy to rigidly commit to the social conservative positions before they let him have the nomination, and are still hoping for a miracle in the early primaries.

These are the “before the primary votes” guesstimates. The actual primaries are going to quickly shake out the unknown factors here. Josh Marshall summarizes a New York Times article on how the primaries are likely to stack up.
It seems more than likely that Mitt Romney will win Iowa and New Hampshire. Nothing is for certain; but his leads there are substantial and consistent. But South Carolina is where the white evangelicals -- en masse -- come into play. If Rudy can't win there, the importance of his strong plurality showings on the national level probably fade quickly, both as an indicator and as a reality, since Romney will likely pick up the support of others who throw in the towel. If Rudy can win there it probably means the lifers will trade their principles on abortion for beefed up aggression abroad.
If the evangelicals won't go for Giuliani in South Carolina I think it unlikely they can field a credible Christian candidate of their own, so that makes the evangelical contra-Giuliani candidate extremely unlikely.

So then the question comes to whether the evangelicals will vote for a Mormon or just sit home.

The nature of conservatives in general is to follow the guidance of the leaders. Bob Jones, evangelical founder of Bob Jones University has publicly stated that while he does not consider Mormons to be Christians, he does recommend voting for Romney.

It looks like a lot of things will be made clear by the Republican primary in South Carolina.

Found this questionnaire at Hullabaloo

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a New Left Hipster, also known as a liberal, a Netroots activist, or a Daily Show fanatic. You believe that if we really want to defend American values, conservatives must be exposed, mocked, and assailed for every fanatical, puritanical, warmongering, Constitution-shredding ideal for which they stand.

This is a really neat form of marketing a book to people on the Internet.

Of course, I find the term "hipster" in the title of category that I fit into a bit insulting, but someone younger then me might not. The answer selections for each question are forced choice, so even if you feel that two might apply, you are required to choose only one. With the very few questions asked, changing a single answer probably changes your category.

Just for fun I went back and chose my second choice on some of the questions. Here is the result:
How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Social Justice Crusader, also known as a rights activist. You believe in equality, fairness, and preventing neo-Confederate conservative troglodytes from rolling back fifty years of civil rights gains.

I'd say both are accurate.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Wall Street Journal doesn't like Huckabee

John fund from the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page published a hit-piece on Mike Huckabee today. I'm not sure whether that says more about Huckabee or about the position of the WSJ.

Fund makes the point that the candidates are taking two different tracks to try to win the nomination. Giuliani is running as a hard right economic conservative (Fund does not mention Rudy's strong militaristic and pro-war position) but Rudy is not running away from his socially liberal views. Huckabee, on the other side, is running as a hard right social conservative but economically as a liberal-populist. Thus ends the analysis (first three paragraphs) followed by the hit piece on Huckabee.

Huckabee is described as
  • not the "consistent conservative" he now claims to be.
  • Betsy Hagan, Arkansas director of the conservative Eagle Forum and a key backer of his early runs for office, was once "his No. 1 fan." She was bitterly disappointed with his record.
  • Phyllis Schlafly, president of the national Eagle Forum, is even more blunt. "He destroyed the conservative movement in Arkansas, and left the Republican Party a shambles,"
  • Free-market advocates are skeptical. "He has zero intellectual underpinnings in the conservative movement," says Blant Hurt, a former part owner of, and columnist for, Arkansas Business magazine. "He's hostile to free trade, hiked sales and grocery taxes, backed sales taxes on Internet purchases, and presided over state spending going up more than twice the inflation rate."
  • The Club for Growth notes that only a handful of the 33 current GOP state legislators back their former governor.
  • "He fought my efforts to reform the National Governors Association and always took fiscal positions to my left," former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, a supporter of Mitt Romney
  • Mr. Huckabee's reluctance to surround himself with conservatives was evident as governor, when he kept many agency heads appointed by Bill Clinton.
  • "He's just like Bill Clinton in that he practices management by news cycle," a former top Huckabee aide told me. "As with Clinton there was no long-term planning, just putting out fires on a daily basis. One thing I'll guarantee is that won't lead to competent conservative governance."
So Fund, writing for the economic ultra right-wing Wall Street Journal, has searched for and found every conservative he could locate who would knock Huckabee. Mike raises taxes, fails to surround himself with hardline conservatives, and is backed by only a handfull of current GOP Arkansas state legislators.

This suspicion of his economic conservative credentials and lack of hardline conservative consistency may explain his lack of fundraising abilities during this pre-primary fundraising primary. But John fund's attack piece suggests that Huckabee is gaining traction in the Republican Party in ways the economic conservatives (Club for Growth, Eagle Forum, WSJ itself) find disquieting.

The social conservatives and religious right have been making noises that if the Republican Nominee for President is insufficiently solid on such things as abortion and is not a good "Christian" as the evangelists and Biblical Inerrantists define Christian then they will bolt the party and start a third party. This article - a WSJ hit piece on the most pure of the social conservative candidates - is a message back from the economic conservatives saying that they will go after a social conservative candidate who is insufficiently "pure" as an economically conservative.

This article appears to be a public notice of the parameters the economic conservatives will accept in the negotiations to keep both the economic conservatives and the social conservatives in their alliance within the Republican Party.

The complete absence of any discussion of the war in Iraq is also notable. I'd guess that this means the WSJ will take any nominee, no matter what his position on Iraq. All that really matters to Fund and his publication is the candidate's position on taxes. This looks to me like movement away from Bush as a failed President and conservative, with his failure centered on the War in Iraq. This is my tentative opinion regarding what the absence of discussion of Iraq might mean.

Anyway, I think this WSJ article is more of a message to the Social Conservatives from the economic conservatives than it is a description of Mike Huckabee. Huckabee is just the convenient target used to carry the message.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mike Huckabee shouldn't be allowed to run for dog catcher

How bad is Mike Huckabee? As governor of Arkansas he listened to an ultra right-wing reporter about a serial killer and rapist named Wayne Dumond. Huckabee got Dumond released from prison so that he could rape and murder two more women. (See Tristero for the full story.)

It's not like there was any doubt among law enforcement officers that Dumond was guilty of the crime he was originally convicted of, nor did they have any doubt about several others he was involved in. It was the right-wing Arkansas Republicans who wanted Dumond released. (Dumond was White, you see.) And Bill Clinton as governor had refused to Pardon Demond.

Huckabee, like loyal right-wingers everywhere in America, refused to read the trial transcript. A right-wing reporter named Steve Dunleavy told Huckabee that Dumond had been railroaded, and that was good enough for Reverend Mike. Mike Huckabee got Dumond out of prison, where he quickly went on to rape adn murder two more women.

Huckabee is a nice looking man who is absolutely charming on stage. He is also an ultra right-wing preacher who does not believe in science or Evolution.

So what do you do with a nice-looking well-spoken nutcase running for the Presidential nomination on the nutcase Republican party ticket?

The social Republicans seem to like him, but not enough to vote for him. They don't like Giuliani. But he is currently the Republican front runner.

How weird can things get? Not weird enough to see Huckabee nominated by the republicans for President, I hope.

Roubini revisits his 2006 prediction of 2007 Recession

Back in 2006 economist Nouriel Roubini predicted the following for 2007:
  1. The U.S. would experience its worst housing recession in decades;
  2. home prices would follow sharply (at least 20% in the next few years);
  3. the housing troubles would start in the sub-prime mortgage market and lead to move severe problems and a credit crunch in broader mortgage and credit markets;
  4. housing woes would spillover to the rest of the economy and to other components of demand - including consumption - via a variety of channels;
  5. multiple bearish factors (housing slump, credit crunch, spillovers of housing to other sectors, high oil prices) would lead to a hard landing of the economy in 2007;
  6. the world would not decouple from such a U.S. hard landing.
So far he has been correct about items 1, 2, and 3. The housing recession has only just started. Only his timing was off, and apparently no one realized how slowly a financial collapse centered on the mortgage markets would take.

I was unaware of the extensive lag time involved in a housing recession, which is why it seems like a slow-motion train wreck. It can take six months or more of non-payment of the mortgage to result in a listing for foreclosure, and with the market for housing what it is today the mortgage lenders are not going to rush it to add to the stock of unsold houses on the market. Then there is the overhang of adjustable mortgages which are set to jump to a much higher interest rate this Fall and Next Spring. Like the train-wreck analogy, we can see these events rolling down the track at speed headed into the already existing pileup of defaulted mortgages, and there is nothing that can be done to stop them. The lenders are all sitting back waiting for someone else to start revising their mortgages and take the big hit financially, while those who sit back now will get bailed out without losing money. so no one is going to be first unless the government passes legislation making everyone act all at once. Only - no one even knows what that legislation should look like right now.

Item 4 - "housing woes would spillover to the rest of the economy and to other components of demand - including consumption - via a variety of channels" - is the big one at the moment. The reason why Greenspan let the housing bubble grow as large as it did was to keep consumption demand high as Bush went into reelection in 2004. Without the money from increasing mortgage values (refinancing, second mortgages) to pay off credit card debt the economy would have slide into recession in early 2004, dooming Bush's reelection. So instead of facing the the financial problems early when they would have been smaller and a lot more manageable, Greenspan let them build into the current world-shaking financial disaster.

That's where we are headed right now. Which is what Roubini predicted in items 5 and 6 above.

So what do we do about the financial train wreck which is obviously rolling down the track?

Dunno. I'm hoping that I can stay an observer and not find myself riding on the train. The Libertarians will say that the markets will work it out. Which is true. When the train wreck passes its worst point and the wreckage is lying around in the fields, people will come out of the forest and start picking up scrap to sell in markets. But that is after the wreck is finished and the fires have gone out.

It takes effective long term management of such massive markets by the government to prevent these really bad problems, as the Depression of the 1930's proved. Movement conservatives and Libertarians have worked for the last three decades to remove all such controls, and this is the result.

Ex-Senator Phil Gramm was a key Libertarian removing such controls. As Chair of teh Senate Banking committee, he had the Glass Stegal limitations on banking removed shortly before leaving office, and he and his wife Wendy are indirectly responsible for the collapse of Enron. [Wendy rewrote the SEC guidance that let Enron run free, then left government for a position on Enron's Board of Directors.]

We can thank our friendly Republicans and conservatives for the financial disaster that has already started. Again, just like the Depression. We can just hope that bankers have learned enough since the 1930's to limit the damage.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Iran to buy 24 late model Israeli-design fighters from China

Haaretz reports today that Iran is buying 24 new fighters from China. They are based on recent Israeli technology.
Iran has signed a deal with China to buy two squadrons of J-10 fighter planes that are based on Israeli technology, the Russian news agency Novosti reported yesterday.

The 24 aircraft are based on technology and components provided to China by Israel following the cancellation of the Lavi project in the mid-1980s. The engines of the J-10 are Russian-made.

The total cost of the planes is estimated at $1 billion, and deliveries are expected between 2008 and 2010.

The estimated operational range of the aircraft, with external fuel tanks, is 3,000 kilometers, which means Israel falls within their radius of operation.

During the 1980s, Israel Aircraft Industries, along with U.S. firms, developed a multi-role aircraft that was considered the most advanced of its type at the time.

Following the development of a prototype, the Reagan administration stopped funding, bringing about the cancellation of the joint project.

Israel then began selling some of the systems it had developed to various countries, including China.

Experts point out that even with these aircraft, Iran's air force is no match for Israel's or even Saudi Arabia's.
So even with these aircraft Iran's air force is no match for that of Israel. I assume that means that even though the Iranian technology will be as good as that of Israel or Saudi Arabia, the numbers of aircraft are not as large and/or the training of pilots and controllers is not equal.

Not yet, anyway.

Of course, If I were the Iranian government and was currently being threatened by the most powerful military in the world led by irrational madmen who have already invaded one Muslim country for no good reason, have troops on the ground at Iran's border, naval forces controlling the Persian Gulf and who are threatening Iran, I'd want more air power and the availability of nuclear weapons also. (The nukes are also needed because India, Pakistan and Israel all have them.)

The threat of the use of force seems to be more likely to cause more use of force in those circumstances than effective diplomacy diplomacy does. Of course, like with North Korea, its not either force or diplomacy. The availability of force could be used to set up the conditions for effective diplomacy. Threats and bluster, however, make the necessary diplomacy a lot more difficult.

For the Israelis to sell the (then) latest air force technology to China seems completely irresponsible, though.

Just a thought - a major U.S. government-sponsored effort to find replacement energy sources for oil would make the entire Middle East tinderbox less important and would (if successful) cut heavily into the sources of funds they are using for weaponry. Even just the threat of success of such a program would make the price of belligerency in the Middle East a lot higher.

It is also my opinion that any nation which gets a large part of its foreign currency from oil has a very small group of people who totally control the economy of that nation. That's why all oil-supplying nations which do not also have a diversified industrial economy are authoritarian nations. I am unaware of any exceptions.

Remove the central control over foreign exchange that oil gives the government (slowly and carefully, so that it does not lead to anarchy and civil war immediately) and a democracy is a lot more likely to be born. [*] As long as the government controls the economy through oil, the only alternative organization to offer power to the population will be religious organizations. Religious organizations which organize to fight the power of the unitary state find themselves fighting Asymmetric warfare so they will use Partisan - Guerrilla - terrorist (whatever the latest insult term the state uses is) warfare techniques.

[*] This would not have worked in Iraq as long as the Sunni minority dominated the Shiite majority population and the Kurds. Iraq's problem was set in place by the British when they tool over what became Iraq from the collapsing Ottoman Empire, and there was no government after that time that had both the will and the ability to get off the tiger there.

[Addendum - 11/01/2007 - It has been pointed out to me that Iraqi Kurdistan was added to the British Protectorate of Iraq administered our of Baghdad solely because oil was discovered in Mosul. The shape of today's Iraqi nation was created to give the British control of as much oil as possible.

The Kurds were not pleased with the decision at the time and have not been well-served by it since. As is so often the case, control of oil under the ground required control of the people sitting on top of the oil. Since this ignored the historic conflict between the Kurds, Sunni and Shiites who were lumped together to make it more convenient to control the oil pools they sat on, it led directly to the nasty dictatorship of Saddam. Saddam's dictatorial rule was shaped to repress exactly the civil conflict that was set off by the Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003 which removed him.

The utter stupidity of disbanding the Iraqi military and police after the invasion of Iraq left the inadequately manned U.S. military to control all the repressed conflicts that the American invasion let loose.

The conflicts there today revolve around the problems caused by control of oil, which is being fought out between different social, religious, political and economic groups. To complicate matters further, a single individual is unlikely to be motivated by only one of those artificial categories. All of this is set in the volatile Middle East which has no overall control and where those various social, religious, political and economic groups all are contending against each other for control of the region.

The pools of oil are a source of power in the various conflicts, just as they can be in maintaining an authoritarian government. Control of those oil pools will permit authoritarian control of the people living on top of them and people nearby, so those oil pools are themselves being fought over. It is much too simple to say that the conflicts in Iraq and the Middle East are about oil. Control of oil is just one more source of power among many being fought over.]

The Bush - Cheney legacy

Last night PBS showed a Frontline documentary on the conflict between the U.S. and Iran. It began with the statement that the U.S. Navy has patrolled the Persian Gulf for 50 years, maintaining the stability of the oil pipeline out of the Persian Gulf area to the rest of the world. For much of that time the balance of power between the Arab, Sunni-run state of Iraq and the Caucasian, Shiite-run state of Iraq kept Iran from dominating the area.

America's invasion and conquest of Iraq has changed all that. The Iranians, with their superior understanding of that part of the world have joined together with the Iraqi Shiites to dominate the Persian Gulf region, with the only barrier to complete Iranian control being the presence of the American military. The utter stupidity and incompetence demonstrated in the American invasion of Iraq was laid bare. [This is not a new revelation, but it certainly was presented clearly in the documentary.]

The basis for the power conflict between the U.S. and Iran is obvious. So was the solution to that power conflict that has been chosen by Dick Cheney. The U.S. will use bluster and military threat to the greatest extent possible, while refusing to negotiate with the Iranians.

All the real power in that neighborhood belongs to Iran. They understand the people, the cultures, and the real underlying power relationships, and they have the population. The U.S. has even fewer Intelligence assets designed to understand Iran than they had previously focused on Iraq. For this reason, the U.S. uses the terrorist group People's Mujahedin of Iran {MEK) to spy on Iran. The Iranians accuse the MEK of continuing to attack targets in Iran, also. The U.S. negotiators refuse to discuss controlling the MEK with the Iranians, while the Iranians refuse to discuss stopping their nuclear program, so (according to the documentary) all negotiations are at a standstill. So the power conflict between the U.S. and Iran does not appear to be either preventable or winnable at this time.

The U.S. does have the most powerful military force in the world, but it is designed for use against other conventional military organizations as fielded by a nation-state. As has been made abundantly clear in Iraq, The U.S. ground forces are highly vulnerable to the guerrilla terrorist tactics of asymmetric warfare.

For all the ability the U.S. has to project power, without effective Intelligence sources to guide it that power is not likely to cause the Iranians to back down. Nor is it reasonable to expect the Americans to back down, if for no other reason than whichever U.S. political party were to withdraw U.S. troops would lose the next election. The permanent bases for U.S. troops in Iraq and the super-embassy that is being built in Baghdad demonstrate an intent to remain there, whatever the cost.

Neither the American people nor the Iraqi people want to hear that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is open-ended, but the power conflict between the U.S. and Iran seem to me to make that a fact.

Diplomacy might be able to do something about that, but the Bush administration does not do diplomacy, certainly not at a competent level. But even diplomacy seems unlikely any time soon. Any agreement that did not also protect Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf Trucial States at the same time is doomed to failure. So is any effort that ignores the Israeli-Palestinian problem and which does not at the same time deal with Lebanon, Hamas, Hezbollah, al Fatah, and to the north of both Iraq and Iran, the Kurds. Every one of those states or organizations can effectively torpedo any attempt at an agreement that is not enforced by literally every state in the region.

I'm no expert on the Middle East, but frankly it seems to be a can of snakes that we want nothing to do with. If it weren't for Jerusalem and the Middle Eastern oil, the U.S. could just walk away wiping our hands of the problems. (The terrorism is an outgrowth of all these conflicts, and would die away if we left.)

I can see why the Israelis want to wall off the Palestinians, but that is not a really good solution. As for us, we need to replace oil as the power for American transportation, heating and cooling ASAP.

The whole mess could have been kept on a low burner if only Bush/Cheney had not decided to solve all the problems of the Middle East in one fell swoop and invade Iraq. There is no doubt at all that the invasion of Iraq was the single most stupid decision ever made by an American President, perhaps by any American politician at any level of government, living or dead. The only thing more stupid that was even possible would have been to invade North Korea at the same time.

That's the Bush - Cheney legacy. Their legacy is a monument to utter stupidity and demonstrated incomprehension.

Giuliani's authoritarian history

The Republican front runner for the nomination for President is Rudy Giuliani, by a long shot. So what kind of President would he be? Rachel Morris has looked at how he governed New York and reports on the issue.

The short answer is that he refused to follow any law that slows down getting what he personally wanted, and refused to provide accurate reports on how the city functioned. He refused to let the Auditors operate in city hall until forced to by the courts and refused to provide accurate reports on such things as crime statistics even after ordered to by the courts.

In short, Rudy practices all the worst management methods of the Cheney - Bush administration and could be expected to be a great deal worse than the current President.

Is America really ready for King Rudy the First? The Republican Party seems to think so.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Forget Politics - Dumbledore was Gay

J. K. Rowling outed her character, Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts. He was gay, and his big love was his rival Gellert Grindelwald, whom he defeated long ago in a battle between good and bad wizards.

Who knew?

I'd love to see the story board for her characters.

Christian Right will not abandon the Republicans - just sink them in 2008

The Christian Right is extremely unhappy with the current range of Republican candidates for the Presidential nomination. They are talking about breaking away and starting a third party for 2008.

It's all talk. Digby explains. The Christian Right has no hope that the Republicans will with the Presidency in 2008. What they are doing is flexing their muscle within the Republican Party. They will do to Romney or Giuliani what they did to Bob Dole in 1996 - they will hang an extreme social right-wing platform on whoever the candidate is, and watch him go down to destruction.

They don't want the Presidency in 2008 anyway. The recession is coming, and whoever gets the election will also have to clean up the Iraq mess. Both are going to make it very unlikely that whoever gets the Presidency in 2008 will be extremely vulnerable in 2012.

So the Christian Right is also setting up a process that will give them a Christian social Republican candidate in 2012, one totally beholden to the social Republicans. They are also going to spend the four years from 2009 to November 2012 attacking the Democrat for their actions taken to clean up the economic and military mess made by the Bush administration.

The social Republicans can't run a third party candidate because such a candidate cannot win, while running a third party will lose them power within the Republican Party. They cannot leave the Republican Party, since they have no chance of influencing Democrats. The only vehicle the social conservatives have for continued power at the national level is to retain power within the Republican Party. At the same time, the Republican Party without the social conservatives will be reduced to permanent minority status. What the social conservatives have to do for long-term national political survival is to (grudgingly) remain in the Republican Party, tank the Republican candidate in 2008 and nominate one of their own for 2012.

That's what all the talk of the Christians running a third party candidate of their own is all about. They are trying for a replay of 1996 - 2000.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Right-wingers using most extreme rhetoric - why? and why now?

Digby points out
Clearly, people on the right are very, very angry right now and they are lashing out at their most hated enemies: Americans who disagree with them. The question is, why are they suddenly ratcheting up the rhetoric?
They are exposing their deepest feelings of hate and anger, something that is always behind their actions but normally not expressed publicly because it runs off the independent voters.

Go read Digby's excellent article for an explanation. Let me summarize:

Dave Neiwert considers it just the normal injection of the most extreme rhetoric into the mainstream. This is a long-standing political tactic of the right.

Mark Ames writes that the nastiness is an expression of sexual frustration. America is awash with corporate images of individuals with constant sexual gratification with to most attractive, attentive and imaginative partners. The reality is that American males have limited or no sex life. The conflict between the image and the reality truly frustrates the white males who make up most of the American right-wing, so they are angry and filled with hatred for those who they think have better sex lives than they do - minorities and liberals. The reaction is that right-wing American vote against their own political needs in order to "get" those who have it better than they do. They are voting their spite rather than for their political advantage. [An interesting thesis, one that seems reasonable to me.]

Then there is the now proven fact that conservative brains and liberal brains work differently.
scientists at New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles, found that a specific region of the brain's cortex is more sensitive in people who consider themselves liberals than in self-declared conservatives.

The brain region in question helps people shift gears when their usual response would be inappropriate, supporting the notion that liberals are more flexible in their thinking. [Snip]

A review of that research published in 2003 found that conservatives tend to be more rigid and closed-minded, less tolerant of ambiguity and less open to new experiences. Some of the traits associated with conservatives in that review were decidedly unflattering, including fear, aggression and tolerance of inequality. That evoked outrage from conservative pundits.
This is more than just the 'opinion' of some scientists. It can be demonstrated by pictures of the cortex in the brain as it makes decisions.

Digby concludes that all of these explanations have some validity, but that there is a new element in the American right-wing.
there is one thing that is new in the political landscape that might explain this recent outbreak of nasty invective: political leadership that is not only tolerant of its supporters reliance on violence, both real and rhetorical, but one that engages in it itself. We are led, after all, by a president who started an illegal war based upon lies and who blatantly uses fear and threats for political gain. He says "you're either with us or against us" and he hasn't hesitated to support and commend Republicans who use the same language against their political rivals.

And last week, among all these instances of violent right wing rhetoric flying through the ether, our president smirked, for the umpteenth time, "we don't torture" knowing very well that the whole point of his refusing to define torture is because they want people to believe they are actually torturing. Torture --- a taboo for centuries --- is now considered a useful tool by the government of the United States of America, both in practice and in rhetoric.
I think this, too, has a large element of truth in it. The 'conservative movement' has nurtured and developed a new and more overtly violent leadership. From Nixon's dirty tricksters through Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, there is a new element in the leadership that considers winning by violating the accepted political rules and standards of decency better than winning under restrictions that normal civilized people consider important. They also operate on a basis of personal loyalty and purge anyone who resists their extremism. It is a leadership which respects the way the Mafia operates and considers anyone who doesn't operate by those extreme methods to be mere sheep to be fleeced.

This is the culture that permeates the institutions of the conservative movement. For a description of those institutions and their goal of returning America to the standards of "The Gilded Age" in which the middle class is destroyed and replaced by a struggling working class controlled by a few extremely wealthy families, obtain and read Paul Krugman's new book The Conscience of a Liberal.

Krugman's book provides a broad view of what the right-wing is trying to do to America. As to why they are currently ratcheting up the violence and nasty rhetoric, I think it is a combination of the general proclivities of the mass of conservatives, together with the new crop of extremist conservative leaders who have purged any powerful people from their movement who might object to the extremism.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Iraq war is being fought for Republican domestic political objectives.

Larry Johnson (Bio) discusses the way Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head of the Joint Special Operations Command’s operations in Iraq is being pilloried by the Republican Party because he has said that al Qaeda in Iraq has been destroyed, so we should declare "Mission Accomplished" and finish our involvement in Iraq. Larry says:
I was in Iraq in May of 2006. I saw firsthand what units under General McChrystal’s command were doing–they were killing and capturing on a daily basis suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq operatives. Despite the success of their operations, the violence in Iraq continued to escalate (a trend that continued thru May of this year). Why? Very simple. Most of the violence was not being initiated nor carried out by Al Qaeda elements. The violence then (and now) stems from sectarian strife–i.e., sunnis versus shias.

But the Bush Administration does not want to accept nor hear this kind of report. To admit that most of the violence in Iraq has nothing to do with Al Qaeda, and even less to do with foreign fighters, completely obliterates the Bush Administration’s rationale for keeping troops in Iraq. Once again we are witnessing a General being silenced for telling an uncomfortable truth to the American people. This is a new “General Shinseki” moment in my view.
There is no remaining useful function for the American troops to perform in Iraq. The Republicans don't want to admit that until they can blame the Democrats, after the 2008 elections. So Gen. McChrystal's revelations are not appreciated.

Conservatuives and their personal Hells

What is it about these conservatives and their personal Hells? Sen. Larry Craig has just exposed his form of Hell to the nation on Nationwide TV. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has similarly exposed his personal Hell and denial in his recent book "My Grandfather's Son : A Memoir."

Each obviously has a conflict between who they are inherently (Craig = 'Gay' and Thomas = 'Black.' I suspect that Thomas feels that being labeled 'Black' is being labeled 'inferior.') and who society wants them to be. Craig has entered deep denial, and Thomas has become a very angry person, but the cause for each is the conflict between who they are inherently and who or what society generally will permit them to be.

Each has also entered politics. Their form of politics in each case has consisted of a rejection of the loosening up of the very elements of society that they each previously found so much pain with. Craig rejects the way society has recently approved of openly Gay homosexuals and Thomas rejects the entire Civil Rights Movement. Both are practicing what Bill Buckley once stated to be his goal - to stand athwart the movement of history and yell "Stop!"

Each of those two live in their own personal form of Hell, and I guess they have learned to accept it as long as it is not disturbed or disrupted. Each represents the older ways of coping with social inequity.

So when society moves to accommodate their difference in a way that was not available to them as they were growing up, it must expose just how very painful it was to come to grips with their personal conflict with the earlier less liberal social prescriptions. They each achieved personal social acceptance before society moved to recognize the pain it was inflicting. Sen. Craig dealt with a total rejection of his homosexuality, and Justice Thomas dealt with the rejection of the Civil Rights Movement by the powerful and wealthy men he desperately wanted to be accepted by. Each made extensive, difficult and painful personal accommodations in order to be accepted socially. Each achieved their goal, which justified the cost they paid.

Now society is changing so that people who face the conflict between society and who they are personally no longer requires such massive cost in order to be socially accepted. Society gives the rewards they paid so much for at much lower personal cost now. Their personal success in coming to grips with the social inequity - clearly at great personal effort and cost - becomes something that is no longer recognized for the great achievement that it was. Their effort and the price they paid is robbed of value to them.

Assuming this is true, and the mechanism I describe if obviously speculation, it certainly would show why both men would want to be conservatives, standing athwart the movement of history and yelling "Stop!" That conservative reaction which each so clearly displays is also extremely self-centered, showing no empathy for others who are liberated from the need to fight the battles they previously fought. But the self-identity they each have built that allowed them to overcome the challenges they faced has its severe penalties built in, and can no longer be changed or abandoned without paying the price of total psychic collapse.

That psychic collapse would mean abandoning the very social acceptance and success that they have each fought all their life to achieve. The price of leaving their personal versions of Hell is abandoning everything they have won to date.

Neither is willing to pay that price, and both are angry. So both are conservatives who are using their personal power to try to return society to the world in which they succeeded at such great cost. They have each created their own personal Hell, and the want to force everyone else to enjoy it the way they do.

That's the conservative way.

Sullivan on Larry Craig's exquisite Hell

Larry Craig was interviewed by Matt Lauer on his exposure as a deep-in-the-closet homosexual. Andrew Sullivan reports on what he saw in the interview.
Why on earth they decided to subject themselves to prolonging this agony is a question worth asking. And the answer, I think, is: they have to. At this point in their lives, to allow the possibility that Craig is indeed homosexual, that he has sustained, lived, internalized a fundamental lie for his entire life, and involved his wife and children in that lie, would be to destroy themselves. [Snip]

He grew up in a different time, and a different place, where even the possibility of being gay was inconceivable. I don't think he even thinks of himself as gay, or has any idea what being gay might actually mean. I think he thinks of his sexual orientation as a "lifestyle" (to use that hideous term Lauer kept referring to) that can be overcome the way one overcomes smoking or poor eating or sexual compulsion. And he constructed an identity in opposition to this "lifestyle" early, out of pain and defensiveness and terrible fear. He is now wedded to this life he created - more than to his wife, which is why she was kept in the dark for two months after the arrest, as he went through the terror of feeling caught finally in his own contradiction. He cannot break free of it at this point without psychic collapse. And so, even though it becomes absurd to everyone around them, the Craigs keep going. They have no choice, apart from total breakdown. [snip]

Craig was seeking in that toilet stall a connection, a shard of intimacy, that the world would not give him, or that he could not give himself. No one should have to live without that intimacy and dignity - no one. Living a life like that - a deeply lonely, compromised, painful interior existence - is a very sophisticated form of hell. No human can keep it up for ever. No human should have to keep it up for ever.
Sen. Craig's denial of the obvious does nothing more than expose both the obvious (he is a deeply closeted gay) and his deep, deep denial of that obvious fact of his own life.

As we grow up, we each create the conscious identity that we use to identify our self in our memories and our dreams. When we devise an identity that is constructed to conceal a core portion of our very existence from society, we create a set of tensions that will fill our entire lives with pain and rob us of all real joy forever. Larry Craig has designed such a self-identity and built his entire life around the lies that self-identity is based on. As Andrew Sullivan says "He cannot break free of it at this point without psychic collapse. And so, even though it becomes absurd to everyone around them, the Craigs keep going. They have no choice, apart from total breakdown."

Sullivan, of course, understands this. He is both explaining Sen. Craig's Hell, and explaining why he, himself, came out of the closet.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What keeps Malthusian economics from eliminating the middle class?

As Paul Krugman notes in his new book The Conscience of a Liberal, “middle-class societies don’t emerge automatically as an economy matures, they have to be created through political action."
Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake discusses the efforts by hospital workers in Boston to hold an election on whether or not to unionize. Here is the list of requests the workers have presented to the Hospital CEOs.
  • Management agrees to abstain from spending any patient care resources on efforts to dissuade employees from unionizing.
  • Both the union and the employer agree not to disparage each other and to present only factual information.
  • Employees are allowed to exchange and discuss information about unionization.
  • Management does not take a position on unionization, but allows employees to make up their own minds.
  • Employees are given access to union representatives and information at the workplace.
  • Management agrees to schedule an election without delays and respect the decision employees make.
  • Management and the union agree to a fair, timely and binding enforcement process for these guidelines.
The hospital CEOs have declared these to be "outrageous demands."

It is extremely interesting that every one of these so-called "outrageous demands." is permitted under federal labor law, and refusal by employers to allow these points is a violation of federal labor law - but the Labor Relations Board refuses to enforce these things.

Syrian target - was it a nuclear facility?

Mercury Rising questions whether the target the Israelis hit in Syria on September 6th really was a nuclear facility.

This whole situation justifies the new name I gave this on-line magazine: Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot - over.

[h/t to Kevin Drum. as he points out, the New York Times does not have a stellar reputation for accuracy and veracity when it comes to WMD news. ]

Small world - some relatives are black sheep

Lynn Cheney confirms that Dick Cheney and Barack Obama are 8th cousins. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that they are actually 9th cousins, and that Brack Obama and George W. Bush are 11th cousins.

Of course, the Sun-Times article point out
Obama is related to Cheney through Mareen Duvall, a 17th century immigrant from France.
Does Dick really want it known that he is descended from an immigrant from France? And I wonder if anyone has researched whether or not she was an illegal immigrant?

I'm glad someone did that research and those calculations. This really IS a small world. On a personal basis, since I do not consider either George W. Bush or Dick Cheney to even be human beings, then I am not concerned that I might be somehow related to them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Top Republicans pushed Swift-Boating Graeme Frost

This tells everything we need to know about the so-called values and morality of the Republican Party.

We already knew that an aide to Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sicced reporters on to smearing the 12 year-old Graeme Frost for (legitimately) taking needed heath care benefit from S-Chip. Here is what happened:
the office of the top Republican in the U.S. Senate has now publicly admitted that it actively tried to get mainstream reporters to participate in the smearing of a 12-year-old and his family -- before it was even known whether there was any truth to what the wingers were writing.
McConnell's staff has admitted that they directed reporters to pursue the attack on the Frost's. Did they back off because the publicity got bad when Michelle Malkin went to the home of the Frosts and accosted them?

Not really. They backed off when the attack began to rebound negatively on the Republicans themselves. It was displaying the fact that the republican Party is the party of 'slime and smear' and not of taking care of children who need health care.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The unknown Syrian target Israel attacked is becoming known

The most puzzling recent event in the Middle East has been the air attack September 6 by Israel on a target in Syria. What was the target, and why was it worth attacking? No one has been talking about that. As the New York Times point out:
In Washington and Israel, information about the raid has been wrapped in extraordinary secrecy and restricted to just a handful of officials, while the Israeli press has been prohibited from publishing information about the attack. [Snip]

In his only public comment on the raid, Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, acknowledged this month that Israeli jets dropped bombs on a building that he said was “related to the military” but which he insisted was “not used.”
Now, almost six weeks later, the New York Times breaks through the silence.
Israel’s air attack on Syria last month was directed against a site that Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged was a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel, according to American and foreign officials with access to the intelligence reports.
The technology appears to be North Korean.
The partly constructed Syrian reactor was detected earlier this year by satellite photographs, according to American officials. They suggested that the facility had been brought to American attention by the Israelis, but would not discuss why American spy agencies seemed to have missed the early phases of construction.

North Korea has long provided assistance to Syria on a ballistic missile program, but any assistance toward the construction of the reactor would have been the first clear evidence of ties between the two countries on a nuclear program. North Korea has successfully used its five-megawatt reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex
[Link added by editor of WTF-o] to reprocess nuclear fuel into bomb-grade material, a model that some American and Israeli officials believe Syria may have been trying to replicate.
So Israel is striking a blow to tell its neighbors that they will remain the only nuclear power in the Middle East. This is, among other things, clearly a message to Iran. Since the source of the nuclear technology used in Syria appears to be North Korea, this is also a message to that nation. The recent agreement of the North Koreans to dismantle their own nuclear reactor at yongbon could well release people and assets which other nations might want for the development of nuclear weapons. But this is an issue for the future and has little direct connection to the September 6th Israeli attack on Syrian facility.

The effort towards nuclear proliferation recognizes two different types of nuclear reactor. One produces electricity, while the other produces both electricity and throws off the type of highly enriched uranium that can be used in nuclear bombs. The distinction between the two types appears to be as much international inspection as anything else, since the development of uranium of sufficient purity to build weapons is a process that is long, expensive, and requires a lot of very obvious equipment and facilities which is not required for production of electricity.

There is a second process. The plutonium used in nuclear reactors can be reprocessed and concentrated to create nuclear weapons. Both processes require the time, facilities and obvious effort so extensive to produce such plutonium or highly enriched uranium that it becomes easily obvious to inspectors.

It appears to me (at least) that the differences between producing purely peaceful nuclear power and producing nuclear weapons is in the cost and extensiveness of the effort. The two technologies are of different and easily discernibly different levels of magnitude. The result is that the differences in technology between electricity production and weapons production means that close international inspection can allow the production of nuclear-based electric power while preventing the production of nuclear weapons. Whether or not this is true is beyond my capacity to determine, but the experts seem to agree that it is, in fact, true.

Syria shares an economic disability with its Middle Eastern neighbor Israel. Neither sit on top of pools of oil. [The Israelis blame Moses who chose the location. The religious Israelis blame God for directing him there. I don't know who the Syrians blame.] Syria is on a per capita basis one of the poorest nations in the Middle East. Nuclear electric power would be a major boost to the Syrian economy. Syrian President Bashar al-ASAD is clearly driven by economics to try to obtain nuclear electric power.

Were the Syrians to build such a facility under inspections by Mohamed El Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, they could probably have such a power source. My guess is that the history of war with Israel (in 1973 the Israelis are reputed to have had aircraft armed with nuclear weapons sitting on the runway) means that national pride and Syrian security considerations prevent them from permitting the UN inspections that would allow them to possess an "approved" nuclear power facility. [This is my speculation, as I have no direct or extensive knowledge of Syria.]

But the Syrians clearly observed the Libyans and Pakistanis who were able to evade inspections and obtain nuclear weapon producing facilities [from North Korea.] The Syrians may have seen a "window of opportunity" and hoped to slip through it, without realizing that it was closing on them. Since Syria is run by the military, security considerations will normally trump all other political considerations internally.

It appears that the refusal of all the Middle Eastern nations, including Syria, to complain about the Israeli attack suggest that almost everyone thinks that the Syrians stepped over an invisible boundary of good sense when they tried to set up a Middle Eastern nuclear facility in secret. If there is any good news out of this incident, that would seem to me to be it.

There is a political mechanism at work here. It seems that there is no nation who wants their neighbors to get nuclear weapons. So if someone stops the efforts of their neighbors, great! The change in relative power relations will be generally resisted. That's a pretty strong consensus in favor of nuclear non-proliferation.

Within each nation, however, there are hardliners who want freedom from international limitations, and they are pushing towards developing nuclear weapons. That's a strong pressure for each nation to obtain those weapons, a pressure that is especially strong in nations currently in active conflict with their neighbors.

That political mechanism suggests that nonproliferation cannot be brought about with the power of the gun or with armies. Such efforts are short term at best, and counter-productive in the long term.

In the long term, nonproliferation requires eliminating the armed conflicts between nations. General conflicts between nations cannot be eliminated, but those which must be resolved by the use of armed force can be. [I'm sure that this is no surprise to those who have studied the subject at length. I have only just come to consideration of nonproliferation, and this is what jumps out at me as the obvious mechanism.] Seen in these terms, the attack by Israel on the (apparent) nuclear facility in Syria is another piece of fallout from the still unresolved Yom Kipper War of 1973.

There will be more fallout from the Israeli attack on the apparent nuclear facility in Syria. [Prediction, with effort at humor - Ed. I ask no forgiveness.] Good diplomacy will use this event to defuse military tensions in the area surrounding Syria.

I don't expect any good diplomacy out of the Bush administration or the Rice State Department. There is no history of success there. Both the UN and the European Union are more likely to do something positive with this event.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Republicans support torture

They quibble that they are interrogating individuals and trying to get extremely important Intelligence from them, but every Intelligence professional who has recently spoken publicly on the subject has agreed - torture doesn't work. Individuals subject to torture generally lie or give information they don't really have.

Waterboarding is torture. So is subjecting subjects to low temperatures for long periods of time, or (as was done to Jose Padilla and to many Guantanamo detainees) subjecting them to long periods of isolation. None of these things are effective substitutes for effective and well-planned interrogation regimes, and none of the methods of interrogation work rapidly even when they do work.

So why do conservatives demand that the use of torture techniques be approved by the Congress?

It's the same reason why parents hit children. The parents give the excuse that they are trying to stop the child from doing something, but the fact is that the parents are feeling angry or frustrated and want to punish the child for inflicting those emotions on them.

Torturing those who are declared enemies is exactly the same thing. It is a way for an angry person to punish his enemies. That's the basis for approval and recommendation of torture by those who do not actually do it themselves.

The individuals who then are interrogating the subjects without result and who are being pressured by their commanders for fast results will, if not well trained, try anything to relieve their own feelings of failure and inadequacy as their leaders try to force them to produce rapid results.

In short, the Republicans at high levels approve of torture because it matches the anger they constantly feel when they are opposed by anyone.

How to deal with cricism

Some people who are the subjects of critical reports will attack the reporters, without reading the body of the report for the nature of the criticism.

Others take the more difficult method of actually reading the criticism, analyzing its accuracy, then responding to it.

Jamison Foser demonstrates that it is conservatives who attack the messenger without discussing the message:
In a December 5 column, Accuracy in Media's Cliff Kincaid wrote:
I didn't need to read any transcripts of the Chris Matthews MSNBC Hardball show to know what's he's been doing. It's a safe bet he was hyping some Bush-related "scandal." The former Democratic congressional staffer does what he does best -- make Democrats into heroes and Republicans into villains.
Kincaid didn't even need to look at what Matthews said; he just knew Matthews was making "Democrats into heroes and Republicans into villains."
This is not debate, nor is it discussion of the pros and cons of politics, policy or politicians. It is using the mass media as a weapon to attack those who oppose conservative policies as enemies, not as opponents. It is unreasonableness masquerading as discussion to conceal hatred, anger and the bad intentions of swindlers.

It is also the only tactic available to conservatives who in general espouse programs and laws that most of American population reject on their (lack of) merit.

Foser also points out that conservative critics accuse Media Matters for being opposed to free speech, simply because Media Matters dares to analyze and contradict the many lies and scams conservatives offer in the media.
"Yesterday, Daniel Henninger used his perch as deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page to suggest that Media Matters favors government suppression of speech. In doing so, he exposed his own double standards. Complaining about Democratic senators' criticism of Rush Limbaugh for his recent suggestion that members of the military who oppose the Iraq war are "phony soldiers," Henninger wrote:
If you are Media Matters, if you are a man or woman of the Left, does state pressure on someone's political speech discomfort you? Or is it a welcome, even defensible, repression of harmful right-wing speech?
Well, as a "man of the Left," yes, state pressure on political speech discomforts me. That's why I wrote the following in response to the U.S. Senate's formal condemnation of MoveOn two weeks ago:
Whether one agreed with the substance of the MoveOn ad or found the wording offensive, there should be something disconcerting about a government body formally condemning private citizens for criticizing the government.

Surely journalists, of all people, should recognize how chilling it is for the Senate to take such action. But I can find not a single journalist who has made that point, or even raised the question of the appropriateness of such a government action in a free society. Nor did most of the news reports about the vote include necessary context. I have not seen a single news report, for example, that told readers how frequently the United States Senate condemns citizens for speech acts critical of the government. I suspect (and hope) it is quite rare. But that context was absent from media coverage of the vote.
Oddly, Henninger didn't mention the formal congressional condemnation of MoveOn's political speech in his column criticizing us. But surely, given his apparent discomfort over the criticism of Limbaugh by some Democratic senators, Henninger must have recently written a column denouncing a formal congressional vote condemning MoveOn, right? No. No, Henninger did not.

The contrast could not be more clear: Henninger is outraged that Democratic senators criticized Limbaugh for his "political speech." But he has expressed no such outrage that the House and Senate both actually voted to condemn MoveOn for its political speech.

Go read Jamison Foser's article. The conservative definition of free speech is that no one is allowed to oppose their lies, misrepresentations and scams.

That's not free speech. That is shutting down debate. When conservatives and Republicans get the government to condemn a political statement, that is authoritarian rule by conservatives.

So how do conservatives deal with criticism? They don't. They attack critics on ground other than those that sparked the criticism.

Attack and change the subject. The conservative Republican's anti-democratic and Unamerican method for dealing with criticism.