Monday, March 31, 2008

Oy, gevalt!

Here's enough to make you turn a deathly shade of pale green (well, me anyway): A rumor that Madonna wants to do a re-make of Casablanca. With, presumably, Madonna reprising(?) the role of Ilse Lund (Ingrid Bergman for those of you who do not have the script committed to memory). Such a transparently bad idea that the website reporting it, the scholarly BuzzSugar, comments:
[Madonna's] [a]ge is the least of the issues I'd have with Madonna taking the role of Ilsa in a remake of Casablanca. First and foremost I have a problem with the words "a remake of Casablanca."
Uh, huh. I mean, wouldn't that be a crime against humanity or something? Or at least against good taste.?

See Hillary run

Sen. Clinton has announced that she's in the campaign until the convention. The question is, why?

Barring a cataclysm--Barack Obama run down by the press bus--she is going to be trailing the Illinois senator all the way to Denver. As more and more superdelegates endorse Obama--Sen. Bob Casey (D. PA) last week, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D. MN) today--the tide swings more decisively toward him. Why, then, does Clinton stay in?

Clearly, there is no sufficient ideological difference between the campaigns to justify a contest.

Barring ego as a motivating force--surely no one in the Clinton camp would cite that as a reason to continue--the raison d'etre can only be Hillary's claim that she will make a better candidate against John McCain. To prove that, she should announce that she will campaign only against McCain, and instruct her staff and surrogates (and strongly appeal to her supporters) to stop criticizing Obama and concentrate on the Republican. And, of course, she should challenge Obama to do the same. Which he should. Then Democratic voters would have the chance to judge which candidate really can take on the Arizona Republican. (The Senator, not the newspaper.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

In memoriam

It was a year ago today that Natasha lost her battle against a series of illnesses, and we lost our princess. But she still lives on in our hearts and we think of her all the time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The last dog wails

There was Hillary Clinton's dramatic and embellished (to put it nicely) account of her visit to Bosnia:

Then James Carville called Bill Richardson "a Judas," and refused to apologize.

Then it was Evan Bayh suggesting that what mattered was that Hillary has won in states with more electoral votes than Obama. (Delegates be damned!)

This is a campaign that is spiraling down, and fast.

Bill Clinton told supporters he'd be with them til the last dog dies. Time to put Hillary's campaign out of its misery.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cheney to leave Republican Party?

In the West Bank yesterday, Vice-President Dick Cheney called for the defeat of those who are committed to violence.

There is no word on whether the Vice-President will join the Democratic Party or become an independent.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The story behind the story

The flap over Obama's passport file may well have been a case of a few employees whose curiosity led them to flout the rules--although WAPO reports that the breaches of security took place on January 9th, February 21st and March 14th, and Josh Marshal notes that those were the day after the New Hampshire primary, the day of the major debate in Texas and the day the story about Obama's former pastor made the front pages. So maybe there is a political connection, and a parallel to when the first Bush administration got caught looking at Bill Clinton's passport file in 1992.

Even if this does turn out to be merely a case of misplaced curiosity, it illustrates one of the dangers of privatization to which far too little attention has been paid. The individuals involved (at least so far) were employees of two private companies hired to work on computer systems and to process passport applications. They are thus at least one step further removed from the public they serve than government workers would be. Complaints about insensitive bureaucracy are legion; add in a layer of separation between those who are doing the work and the elected officials who are ultimately responsible to the public, and things get much, much worse.

I suggest that one of the reasons for privatization is to provide exactly this distance between the public and those who serve their needs. Private contractors will be responsive to those who wield the big stick--those with money and power. Not coincidentally, they are also the ones who push privatization (Halliburton comes to mind); it works for them on multiple levels, not least that they get the contracts. As it happens, their "conservative" (read "greed-based") political creed treats ordinary people like disposable commodities.

The front page of today's NYT has a horrifying story about an immigration agent who has been arrested and charged with extorting sex from an immigrant seeking a green card. We might hope that this incident will induce the Citizen and Immigration Service to institute reforms that will prevent this sort of abuse in the future. Imagine how much harder it would be to stave off future offenses if that agent's job were out-sourced? (If you don't think so, remember that the Blackwater USA employees who killed a large number of Iraqis in an un-provoked incident have not been prosecuted.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Unannounced visits

Deadeye Dick Cheney is making an unannounced visit to Afghanistan. Earlier in the week, he made an unannounced visit to Iraq.

A few days ago, The New York Times ran this photo of Sen. McCain, also visiting Iraq on an unanncunced visit:

We'll know there's real progress in Iraq and Afghanistan when--and if--American politicians can announce trips to them in advance, and leave the body armor home.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Clinton outed

Did Hillary Clinton support NAFTA? According to records released today, the answer is yes. Given that her husband was the chief proponent of the treaty, we would expect her to have taken the same line. But she can't now try to appear as if she was always opposed to NAFTA.

Is McCain ready to be C-in-C?

Josh Marshall points out that, not only does McC show that he can't tell Sunnis from Shi'a Muslims, he has a narrow view of foreign affairs that bodes ill for the nation's future.

The challenge

Yesterday, TONE suggested that Barack Obama's speech on race in America asked whether the nation can move beyond the racial issues that have bedevilled us for the past half-century. Easy enough to pose the question, but how does it play out in real life?

Perhaps the key lies in this passage from Obama's speech:
Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
If you call a man a racist, he'll deny it--vehemently (apart from the lunatic fringe that celebrates prejudice.) But if you can show him that he and black or Hispanic Americans have common interests, you might get him to concentrate on issues instead of racial identification. If you can get him active, you might get him to meet some people who are different from himself. And he might--just might--modify his feelings about such people. Does that sound like Pollyanna? Maybe. But on some level, that process explains the New Deal. The black vote was minor in most parts of the nation in the 1930's, but there was a marked shift of black voters from the GOP (the Party of Lincoln, remember), small businesspeople (especially Jews, who were also often Republicans--both because of its role as the party of business and as the party of the Great Emancipator) as well as traditionally conservative small farmers to the ranks of the Democratic Party.

FDR's secret was simple: concentrate on interest politics, not identity politics. Like many good ideas, however, easier to enunciate than to practice. Especially when the media spends so much energy on guilt-by-association between the candidate and his former preacher.

Nonetheless, that's the direction Obama should move, and boldly. He should go into Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana and speak to the interests that black, white and Hispanic voters share. He should challenge the Republican mantra of lower taxes (for the wealthy), freedom from regulation (even for purveyors of mortgage fauds) and no-bid contracts for Halliburton and its ilk. He should speak out on how to protect the victims of mortgage scams and those without health insurance. He should show voters that they are better served by a president who serves their interests than by one who panders to their identity.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's speech

If you have not seen Barack Obama's speech on race in America today, take 37 minutes and watch it. It is probably the most important public utterance on the subject of race since Lyndon Johnson's "We shall overcome" speech on the Voting Rights Act:

Tonight on the evening news (I switched back and forth between ABC and my old favorite, CBS) the question seemed to be whether Obama had got beyond the issue of Jeremiah Wright. I hope that this is just another example of the bloviators hitting the obvious. The real question that Obama raises is whether America can move beyond the same-old, same-old pattern of discussing--and failing to discuss--the issues that race presents to the nation.

Straight talk, or all talk?

You are almost certainly aware that Hillary Clinton has not released her tax returns (she says they'll be released "about" April 15th). You probably don't know that John McCain hasn't released his, either; this is one of many examples of McCain's good--one might say cozy--relationship with the press.

Talkingpointsmemo notes a number of aspects of the story that ought to make it interesting to the MSM.

The Democrats are going to have to dust McCain up and puncture his image as Mr. Honesty. Fortunately, there's plenty to work with here, and McCain's notoriously short temper is likely to create further opportunities. We're not talking about slander here, just getting the whole story out.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Forward to history

One of the key reforms of the New Deal was to separate the sectors of the financial world. Banks were to engage in banking. Investment banks--the companies that put together financing through stock issues--were to stay in their patch, with stock brokers. Insurance companies (which are huge investors--they make their money not from your premiums but from investing them) were to stick to insurance. In the '80's and '90's, however, wise men told us that such segregation was unnecessary. So, Citibank bought Smith Barney and Chase Bank merged with JP Morgan (frankly, I don't remember which one bought the other).

Well, guess what? History is repeating itself. The run on Bear Stearns last week was especially scary, because the collapse of an investment bank could lead to the collapse of commercial banks, dragging companies down along with the market down, and imperiling financial and industrial institutions.

Tightening regulation of financial institutions is not all that needs to be done, of course. It's hardly a beginning. All across the spectrum of government-business relations, regulatory fences that protected ordinary Americans have been taken down. They need to be rebuilt. In some cases, such as the home mortgage market, new protections need to be erected.

This should be a major issue in the presidential campaign. All of the candidates ought to be asked, frequently and pointedly, what they will do to safeguard the nation's financial health against future excesses like the ones that plague us now.

A sign of things to come?

The lovely Diane has some cousins--second-cousins, actually, or maybe third--who live in England. One reports that last week it cost him $135.00 to fill up his BMW's tank. I don't know which model he has, but does it really matter?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stating the obvious

John McCain has taken a neo-Bush line on Iraq:
…I am told that Senator Obama made the statement that if Al Qaeda came back to Iraq after he withdraws -- after the American troops are withdrawn -- then he would send military troops back, if Al Qaeda established a military base in Iraq. I have some news: Al Qaeda is in Iraq. Al Qaeda, it's called Al Qaeda in Iraq, and my friends if we left they wouldn't be establishing a base, they wouldn't be establishing a base, they'd be taking a country. And I'm not going to allow that to happen my friends. I will not surrender. I will not surrender to Al Qaeda.
We can expect to hear a lot more of this, especially if Obama is the Democratic nominee.

What needs to be said is that this is plainly hooey. As Eric Martin points out on his blog, al Qaeda--whether in Iraq or anywhere else--cannot triumph in any political sense. Even if Iraq were not a majority-Shi'ite country (al Qaeda is militantly Sunni and thus anti-Shi'ite), the widely divergent world view of most Sunni insurgents from the religious extremism of bin Laden's followers would toll the knell for any ambitions that al Qaeda might have to come out on top.

The fact is that bin Laden and his people are (to borrow from Catholic Spain) on a quixotic campaign that has no more chance of triumph than the crusade of the deluded don. True, they might cause a great deal of harm, but they lack now and are extremely unlikely ever to attain a power base that would make them a real threat to the west in general or the United States in particular.

The US, by remaining frozen in the aftermath of 9/11, only empowers al Qaeda and enhances its attraction, especially among young, disaffected Muslim men.

There are powerful anti-western currents in the Muslim world--Iran and its Shi'ite allies in Hezbollah (and non-Shi'ite allies such as Hamas) primary among them--but uncritical concentration on al Qaeda weakens our response to them and, thus strengthens our enemies.

Obvious? Yes. But it will need to be repeated time after time in the next seven and a half-months.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A thought for our times

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

H.L. Mencken

You never know

Who would have thought that Michael Mukasey, attorney general under George W. "How many people can I kill" Bush would come out against imposing the death penalty on the six men accused of being associated with the 9/11 attacks. But he has.

Mukasey's logic is impeccable: "[T]hey would see themselves as martyrs," he told an audience at the London School of Economics. Well, the logic isn't quite perfect: There's no particular reason to care what the men who would be executed think--apart from the fact that they are human beings like the rest of us. It is what millions of other people would think of their deaths, and the effect that such thoughts would have on American policy.

Mukasey's view does not render the proposed proceedings by military commission just, or even constitutional. But they do suggest that he's not as out of touch with reality as his boss, and that's something.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why are we not surprised?

This one hasn't got a lot of attention from the MSM--probably because of the national fatigue with the machinations of the Bush Administration. On Monday, McClatchy broke the story that a DOD review of more than 600,000 captured Iraqi documents showed no evidence of an "operational link" between Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda. This is a shock, I know. But before you yawn, consider this later development: The study was to have been released yesterday, but at the last minute, the Pentagon decided that it wouldn't be emailed to reporters or put on line; you'll have to write and request a copy. (This, of course, is a lot more costly to a government that's spending two billion dollars a day on the war.) Thanks to ABC, however, you can see the executive summary of the report here.

Why do I find it so galling that, besides being mendacious, vicious and corrupt, these people are also stupid?

Some perspective

Robert Scheer on the importance, or lack thereof, of Eliot Spitzer's fall from grace.

Just thinking

Now that Geraldine Ferraro has been forced to resign from Hillary Clinton's finance committee (whatever that means), should we pause to reflect on the obvious: that Clinton would not be where she is if she were not a woman? (That's a sentence the governor should commute, but I don't have enough energy.)

Here's another thought: If Hillary hadn't met and married Bill, she might have moved back to Illinois, entered politics, worked her way up the ladder, and been torpedoed by a rising star named, you guessed it, Barack Obama.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Danger sign

Adm. William Fallon has resigned as commander of US Central Command. Some sources have said that Fallon stood against a US attack on Iran by the Bush administration, and warned that his departure could signal a new war.

Time to be nervous.

The Mann Act

Last night, one of the professional bloviators on MSNBC mentioned that Eliot Spitzer might be charged with violation of the Mann Act. The act was passed in the first part of the 20th Century, and outlaws the transportation of women across state lines for purposes of prostitution. (I suppose by now it's been amended to say "persons.")

Some years ago (well, a few decades by now), Steve Allen--surely one of the most talented and perhaps the funniest man ever to walk the Earth--wanted to find out what people would answer to a question they clearly did not understand. He had people go out on the street and ask passersby, "Do you think the Mann Act is unfair to organized labor?"

Among the responses:

"We're strictly against the act in our house." (Makes you wonder just what kind of house it was.)


"I'm against anything that's bad for organized labor." (The politicians answer.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

What should Obama do?

Barack Obama has been subjected to a drumfire of attacks, especially over the past two weeks. What is more important, the press has been paying attention to those attacks and attributing what it sees as a loss of his momentum, in part, to them. (Never mind that he will probably get more delegates out of Texas than Clinton; that made the back pages, if it was mentioned at all.)

In the NYT, Bob Herbert argued that Obama cannot get down in the mud with the Clinton campaign, but must remain on the high road.

On talkingpointsmemo, David Kurtz opines that trying to stay above the fray will be no more effective for Obama than it was for Dukakis or Kerry.

I should note that Herbert was dealing specifically with attacks from Clinton and her people, Kurtz with a slur by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who's been going around saying that an Obama victory would be viewed with jubilation by al Qaeda.

What tack to take?

Obama has been answering back, but answers are necessarily defensive. If he goes on the attack, he risks being derided as departing from his new style of politics. (Totally cynical, yes, but like all big lies, fastened around a kernel of truth; a number of voters would view him that way.)

Essentially, Obama needs to make attacks that are fair, and he needs to argue that they can be part of a campaign built on his premises. Indeed, one component of his attacks should be that he is the candidate of hope and that those who deride him must be candidates of no hope. Or something like that.

Some suggestions:

1) He should continue to hit Clinton on the delay in producing her tax returns. He should ask, over and over, if her promise to produce them "around" April 15th means that they will be out in time for voters in Pennsylvania to learn what's in them.

2) He should hit Clinton on the failure to reveal donors to Bill Clinton's presidential library. The list undoubtedly includes a large number of people seeking access to a new Clinton White House.

3) Related to No. 2, he should point out--perhaps more subtly--that in a Clinton White House, the most powerful lobbyist would be sharing the President's bed.

4) He should pound Clinton on remarks that seem to favor McCain over him; such conduct will disgust many loyal Democrats--particularly among the demographic groups where she has had some success.

4) He should take McCain to task, over and over again, for preaching against torture but voting against a bill to outlaw it--and then urging the President to veto the bill. (By the time you read this, McCain may have voted against an override--or ducked the vote.)

5) Despite the NYT's ham-fistedness on the issue of McCain and lobbyists, a piece that actually seemed to protect the Arizona senator from criticism, Obama should give examples of where McCain has cozied up to those he criticizes.

6) He should point out at every opportunity that McCain voted to sustain Bush's veto over expanding S-Chip, the children's healthcare program.

"John McCain is for torture and against expanded healthcare for children." That's not a bad line. Not bad at all.

Update: After this post was started, we saw Obama's remarks in Mississippi on the idea--floated repeatedly by the Clinton campaign in the past week--that he should be VP on a ticket led by, who else? Hillary Clinton. It's good, take a look:

The effectiveness of torture

Peter Bergen, in The Washington Monthly, points out that the torture of top al Qaeda operatives Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al Shibh was not only reprehensible and uncivilized behavior unworthy of a civilized nation, but also unnecessary and, worse (if that's possible) unproductive. As Bergen notes, the two had revealed all the pertinent details in an interview on al Jazeera in 2002, and the summaries of their "interrogations" provided by the CIA to the 9/11 Commission differed in no substantial respect from what they said then.

Thanks to Kevin Drum's estimable blog on TWM's site for directing TONE to this piece.

A reminder

The Spanish Socialists were re-elected yesterday, reminding us that gay people may be married in Madrid, but not in New York.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Note without comment

USA Today reports:
LITTLE ROCK — Federal archivists at the Clinton Presidential Library are blocking the release of hundreds of pages of White House papers on pardons that the former president approved, including clemency for fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich.

The archivists' decision, based on guidance provided by Bill Clinton that restricts the disclosure of advice he received from aides, prevents public scrutiny of documents that would shed light on how he decided which pardons to approve from among hundreds of requests.

(Emphasis supplied.)

OK, a little comment.

The ides of April

I hear that Hillary Clinton's campaign says she will release her tax returns about April 15th. Let's see, April 23rd is "about" April 15th, don' t you think? As well as being the day after the Pennsylvania primary.

Maybe TONE should start a pool on what day the returns actually hit the press. (And on how much of the returns are actually revealed.)

Cat blogging

Not Sassy or Miah this time; a friend passed along this video:

I give it to the kitty on points.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Clinton

The truth seldom catches up with the lie, so you may have missed this in the daily swirl.

Remember how Hillary Clinton pilloried Barack Obama, because one of his economic advisers allegedly told the Canadian government that he did not intend to pull the NAFTA house down? To begin with, that's not what the Canadian consul general in Chicago said in the memo written about the incident. According to the AP, as reported in The New York Times, the consul wrote:
On Nafta Goolsbee [the Obama adviser] suggested that Obama is less about fundamentally changing the agreement and more in favor of strengthening/clarifying language on labor mobility and environment and trying to establish these as more ‘core’ principles of the agreement.
Now, that is pretty much in alignment with what Obama said at the last debate. He did add that he would use the NAFTA provision allowing one nation to back out of the agreement on six months' notice as leverage; what leader would not do so to win his point?

Here's the kicker though. It turns out that while the Clinton campaign was expressing righteousness and outrage over Obama's behavior, its own people had engaged in the same kind of conduct. The Toronto Globe and Mail reports:
He [Ian Brody, chief of staff to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper] said someone from (Hillary) Clinton's campaign is telling the embassy to take it with a grain of salt. . . That someone called us and told us not to worry.
Rank hypocrisy, then. But also stupidity. Did Clinton really think this wasn't going to come out? Or did she and her campaign make the thoroughly cynical call that they would suffer less damage because, as I said at the beginning of this post, the truth seldom catches the lie?

Not very presidential, in any event.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

You and me and Johnny McC

For the third time in a week, Hillary Clinton has suggested that John McCain would make a better President than Barack Obama. Today, she suggested that she and McCain had crossed "the commander-in-chief threshhold," but that as for her fellow Democrat, "you'll have to ask Senator Obama with respect to his candidacy."

Does Sen. Clinton think that building up the GOP nominee-in-waiting at the expense of Barack Obama is good strategy? Does she think that this kind of scorched-earth campaigning will get her Democratic votes? Does she think that giving the Republicans ammunition for the fall campaign is the way a loyal Democrat should act?

If McCain wins, we won't have to blame Ralph Nader.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Nightmare ticket

I'm watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann; he and Jonathan Alter were discussing the idea of a "dream" ticket of Obama and Clinton (or Clinton and Obama). What amazes me is that two respected political analysts would spend more than 30 seconds on this.

Dream ticket? Maybe for the Republicans. For Democrats it would be a nightmare. Think of it: a candidate to arouse the racists and another who brings out the millions who despise the Clintons.

No mulligans

There's talk of having new Democratic primaries or caucuses in Michigan and Florida, to replace the ones that violated party rules. According to a report I heard on NPR, Howard Dean has said he wouldn't oppose the idea. Given that it was floated by Charlie Crist, Republican governor or Florida, Dean should see a GOP effort to further divide Democrats. Aided and abetted by the Clinton campaign, no doubt. (I realize that Dean, being beholden to all wings of the party, is in a difficult position. But he's the only one who could stand up here--Obama would hardly want to harm his position in November by opposing new votes now.)

There's a reason we have rules: without rules, there is no game. Violating rules should come at a cost. That means not changing the rules in the middle of the game. Hillary Clinton can argue that the people of Michigan and Florida should not be disenfranchised. True. But for that they have their leaders to thank. Next time, they should elect different leaders.

No mulligans. No do-overs.

What happened last night

Hillary Clinton's victories in Ohio (surprisingly large margin), Texas and, don't forget Rhode Island, are like a football team that is down by two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter and takes over on downs inside its own twenty-yard line. A big emotional lift, but still down 21-7 with less than five minutes left and a long way to go.

In some respects, it's worse than that, because in football a touchdown is worth 7 points for one team, none for the other. In the Democratic primaries, it's more like 7 points for one candidate, 5 0r 6 for the other.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Primary night

Sitting here on primary night--well, the latest primary night--waiting for the results from Ohio and Texas (and not going to wait up late, having too much to do tomorrow), having to suffer through Tim Russert and Chris Matthews bloviating, I'm thinking of what Will Rodgers said: "I belong to no organized political party. I am a Democrat." And, you know, over the years since he said that, the Democratic Party has not done all that badly.

A thought for November

Yahoo news featured this headline, from AP, today:

Ohio: Crucial now and in fall campaign

Which leads me to ask, Have Hillary Clinton's silly attacks on Barack Obama--I'm thinking especially about the "3:00 o'clock in the morning" ad--seriously weakened the Democrats in Ohio, especially if Obama is the nominee?

In general, I think the press over-plays the effect of the primary campaign on the November elections. And if it takes until April 22 to find out who the Democratic nominee will be, that is still more than six months before Election Day. But some things linger.