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Between the Lines

September 29, 2004

Kerry, Bush and the war debate

I'm going to be off for a day or two, so let me make a couple of quick observations about where President Bush and Sen. John Kerry stand on Iraq before tomorrow night's "debate." (See Note below)

Kerry rightly accuses Bush of living in a "fantasyland" about what's happening in Iraq and why. This war may not yet be lost, but it's certainly headed down the chute, while Bush talks about freedom being "on the march."

Kerry, however, has his own fantasies, the least likely of which is that our major European allies are going to help us out of our self-made mess by putting significant numbers of their troops in the line of fire in Iraq. As I've said before, this isn't going to happen no matter who is president. Any chance to "internationalize" this war, and it may never have been great to begin with, is irretrievably lost. Period. We just need to make sure we try harder next time, something Kerry, unlike Bush, is at least willing to attempt.

It's all right, I suppose, for Kerry to promise to try to extract troop commitments for Iraq from Germany and France. It's certainly no more misleading than Bush's hype about our "coalition," which apart from Britain amounts to token commitments from a) smaller countries that can't afford more or b) major allies with significant armed forces (e.g. Japan and South Korea) that either can't or won't make major contributions. But let's hope Kerry doesn't really believe the chances of success with Paris and Berlin are high.

As evidence, consider this instructive piece by John Vinocur in the International Herald Tribune (link via Belgravia Dispatch):

… last week, just after Kerry's major speech on the war in which he insisted that the United States "must make Iraq the world's responsibility" and that others "should share the burden," [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schröder's sense of courtesy collided with reality and he drove a spike into the notion. He told reporters, "We won't send any German soldiers to Iraq, and that's where it's going to remain."

So, no Germans. Even if he wanted to cooperate, which is far from certain, Schröder has promised his countrymen that no troops will be sent and he has elections coming up in two years.

Similar considerations also work for France. It would take exceptional sophistry for President Jacques Chirac to explain putting French lives on the line in Iraq. Besides, sidling up to any American president would not appear to have much appeal to Chirac at a time when Le Figaro says he's busy promoting himself as successor to Nehru and Nasser in leading the "nonaligned world."

Well, sophistry is right up there with wines and cheeses on the list of things the French do best, but no assistance from Chirac is in the cards either.

Kerry has struggled to differentiate himself from Bush on Iraq, and while it's an effort that he must succeed at if he expects to win Nov. 2 he's not likely to find many voters who actually believe he'd be successful at internationalizing the war.

On the other hand, the Bush-Cheney campaign continues to deliberately mislead the nation about Iraq at every turn. Nowhere is this more blatant than in their distortions of Kerry's position on Iraq, which has been pretty consistent since the beginning.

Today's example of Bush's disregard for context and truth is detailed at the independent campaign-claim debunking site, FactCheck.org. (See Note 2 below)

Kerry has never wavered from his support for giving Bush authority to use force in Iraq, nor has he changed his position that he, as President, would not have gone to war without greater international support. But a Bush ad released Sept. 27 takes many of Kerry's words out of context to make him appear to be alternately praising the war and condemning

**

This ad is the most egregious example so far in the 2004 campaign of using edited quotes in a way that changes their meaning and misleads voters.

**

… aside from the $87 billion matter [a vote on which Kerry did switch his position], this Bush ad is a textbook example of how to mislead voters through selective editing.

The full text of the ad and the full text of what Kerry actually said are here.

Finally, old-line conservative (and former splinter presidential candiate) Pat Buchanan has an interesting piece at the Libertarian site Antiwar.com, in which he reminds us that "history is not on Kerry's side. In wartime America, the peace candidate and the dovish party always lose."

Now, the Republicans are moving ruthlessly to play the ace of trumps in American politics, the patriot card, against Kerry.

**

The New York Times may wail about "an un-American way to campaign," but Bush and Cheney are fighting for their political lives and places in history. Do not expect this pair to go gentle into that good night.

So, America is going to find out what the candidate they call "the Frenchman" is made of. And, frankly, we should, before we go to the polls. Stop the whining. Let's get it on.

Note: Rather than a debate, this will be a highly scripted joint appearance by two men delivering talking points on the same stage. The post-debate spin likely will be more important than what either of them says. But, please, pay attention to what they say.

Note 2: FactCheck.org is an independent site funded by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and should be on the favorites list of anyone following this year's campaigns. It debunks inaccurate ads and other utterances from both camps and their camp followers and describes its mission this way:

We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit, "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.

**

The APPC accepts NO funding from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals. It is funded primarily by an endowment from the Annenberg Foundation.


Posted by tbrown at 02:03 PM


An NCO speaks up about Iraq – and pays for it
Ideology and idealism will never trump history and reality.

So wrote Al Lorentz, a Texas reservist currently stationed in Iraq, who describes his job there as "to be aware of all the events occurring in this country and specifically in my region." In an unusually blunt assessment for an active-duty soldier, he gives several reasons why he thinks it unlikely we'll prevail in Iraq. You can read it all at Lew Rockwell's site, but here's the short form:

First, we refuse to deal in reality. …

Second, our assessment of what motivates the average Iraqi was skewed, again by politically motivated "experts." …

Third, the guerillas are filling their losses faster than we can create them. …

Fourth, their lines of supply and communication are much shorter than ours and much less vulnerable. …

Fifth, we consistently underestimate the enemy and his capabilities. …

Needless to say, these are not popular sentiments higher up the chain of command. Today at Salon, Eric Boehlert reports that,

An Army Reserve staff sergeant who last week wrote a critical analysis of the United States' prospects in Iraq now faces possible disciplinary action for disloyalty and insubordination. If charges are bought and the officer is found guilty, he could face 20 years in prison. It would be the first such disloyalty prosecution since the Vietnam War.

Lorentz had more guts than the professional spooks quoted anonymously in this Washington Post story – but the spooks back him up.

A growing number of career professionals within national security agencies believe that the situation in Iraq is much worse, and the path to success much more tenuous, than is being expressed in public by top Bush administration officials, according to former and current government officials and assessments over the past year by intelligence officials at the CIA and the departments of State and Defense.

While President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others have delivered optimistic public appraisals, officials who fight the Iraqi insurgency and study it at the CIA and the State Department and within the Army officer corps believe the rebellion is deeper and more widespread than is being publicly acknowledged, officials say.


Posted by tbrown at 01:56 PM


September 28, 2004

Another front of the 'war' heard from
Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, more than 120,000 hours of potentially valuable terrorism-related recordings have not yet been translated by linguists at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and computer problems may have led the bureau to systematically erase some Qaeda recordings, according to a declassified summary of a Justice Department investigation that was released on Monday.

I'm "just guessing," but it looks like the Bush administration has blown it again. It's bad enough that our efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan are on life support. But we can't even get the job done on the home front, where the obstacles are not guns and grenades but bureaucracy and money. We tape 120,000 hours of conversations that may be related to terrorism – to save you the math, that's 3,000 40-hour weeks of "chatter" – and we can't get them translated.

The report offered the most comprehensive assessment to date of the F.B.I.'s problems in deciphering hundreds of thousands of intercepted phone calls, conversations, e-mail messages, documents and other material that could include information about terrorist plots and foreign intelligence matters. It revealed problems not only in translating material quickly, but also in ranking the work and in ensuring that hundreds of newly hired linguists were providing accurate translations. While linguists are supposed to undergo periodic proficiency exams under F.B.I. policy, that requirement was often ignored last year, the inspector general found in the publicly released summary of its investigation. Most of the report remains classified.

We collect it, then it sits around on desks or gets deleted from computers. But it's all part of a piece with this administration. When the CIA came up with a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq – i.e., an assessment of the prospects there based on the best information it was able to assemble from 15 government agencies -- President Bush said the spooks were "just guessing" about what might happen (though he later said he should have used "estimate" instead).

Now it turns out that the same group that did the July assessment, which said that the best we could hope for in Iraq would be a "tentative" stability through next year, also warned the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq that war would increase the support for Islamic fanatics and result in a deeply divided Iraq.

One of the reports also warned of a possible insurgency against the new Iraqi government or American-led forces, saying that rogue elements from Saddam Hussein's government could work with existing terrorist groups or act independently to wage guerrilla warfare, the officials said. The assessments also said a war would increase sympathy across the Islamic world for some terrorist objectives, at least in the short run, the officials said.

What's particularly interesting about both the July intelligence estimate and now the pre-war reports, is that they've been brought to light by intelligence officials who appear to be fed up with the administration's efforts to either blame them for faulty intelligence or, more recently, make light of their findings because they don't square with the rosy picture the administration is trying to paint in the run up to Nov. 2.

As conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote this week,

A few hours after George W. Bush dismissed a pessimistic CIA report on Iraq as ''just guessing,'' the analyst who identified himself as its author told a private dinner last week of secret, unheeded warnings years ago about going to war in Iraq. This exchange leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the president of the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency are at war with each other.

Novak makes the undeniable point that the CIA is "supposed to be a resource, not a critic, for the president." But the larger question is whether a president who pays attention only to what he wants to hear and believe, while dismissing, or actively undermining, the efforts of patrioitic Americans in government whose expertise leads them to different conclusions deserves another term in office.

Does he?

Posted by tbrown at 12:23 PM


If the Dems had nominated Dean …

Peter Beinart writes in Time that the Democrats might well have been better off if they'd nominated Howard Dean for president. Remember him? Beinart's argument is that Kerry is finding it difficult to successfully differentiate himself from Bush on Iraq, the defining issue of the campaign, but that the doctor from Vermont – who was anti-war from day one – would have had no such burden.

Democratic voters should stick to their day jobs. With just five weeks until Election Day, there's reason to believe they guessed wrong — that Dean would be doing better against Bush than Kerry is. Yes, it's too late for Democrats to switch horses, but imagining how Dean might have done sheds light on what's going on now. Here's the logic:

Americans are upset about Iraq. Less than half of voters approve of Bush's handling of the war or say that it is going well or that it has made America safer. This frustration gives Democrats the national-security opportunity they've been waiting for. But so far, Kerry has blown it. By voting to authorize war, then criticizing it in the Democratic primaries, then saying he would have voted yes again — even if he had known that Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction — he has made his Iraq contortions, rather than the war itself, the issue. Even last week, as Kerry stepped up his attacks, Bush continued to evade them with one devastating word: flip-flop.

If Dean were the nominee, flip-flops wouldn't be the issue; Iraq would.

Yeah, as Yogi noted, forecasting is difficult, especially when it's about the future.

Posted by tbrown at 12:16 PM


Oil for food = money for terrorists?

Well, that's the case that some on the right are trying to make. So far, though, they lack evidence. Which is not to say that it's untrue, just unproved.

To back up a bit, during the UN-imposed sanctions on Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq ostensibly was forbidden to sell oil for anything but "humanitarian" purposes, such as importing food, medicine and other essentials for the Iraqi population. The UN was to get a 2.2 percent "commission" to pay for overseeing these transactions to ensure they complied with sanctions. Since we're talking about 2.2 percent of billions of dollars here, it appears not to have taken long for corruption to set in.

UN officials appear to have raked off substantial sums (though none have been charged with anything yet). Further – and here's where the reputed link to terrorism enters the picture – Saddam Hussein began cutting friendly foreigners in on the action. Those willing to shamefully lend their names to his vicious and corrupt regime, or to sell him goods in violation of the sanctions, were provided with vouchers giving them the right to specificied quantity of Iraqi crude at a below-market price. They could then turn a quick profit by selling the oil at the prevailing market price and pocket the difference.

This mess has been cruising along since early this year. I touched on it in this post.

Since then, events have been moving at a very UN-like pace. Which is to say, slowly. Secretary General Kofi Annan, whose role in the oil-for-food program remains murky, appointed former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker to head a special commission to investigate the program. The group, which includes other internationally prominent members, clearly has its work cut out for it. It lacks subpoena powers and faces a pile of paperwork that, by one count, may include 15 million documents (paper is one of the UN's chief work products).

Meanwhile, Claudia Rosett of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which claims to be nonpartisan but is headed by neoconservative writer Clifford May, has been digging away at the available information and making connections between the oil-for-food program and some of the people and organizations who handled transactions for it. It's a tangled – and as yet inconclusive -- tale, which you can read here. The burden of it is that some of the people and groups in question had suspected terrorist connections, so Saddam may have been financing Al Qaida after all. So far, it's just another attempt to find an after-the-fact justification for the Iraq war. Will it eventually bear fruit? Beats me, but stay tuned. Congress is now investigating some aspects of the oil-for-food program and something could emerge there. Or eventually from the Volker group.

A side thread to all this is that because influential officials in Russia, France and elsewhere received some of Saddam's vouchers, John Kerry's calls for closer cooperation with other nations in the war on terror are foolish because those wells were poisoned by the Iraqi dictator's money.

Make of it what you will.

Posted by tbrown at 12:14 PM


September 27, 2004

How to choose a wartime president

Fareed Zakaria at Newsweek has a few thoughts and says the presidential debates, which begin this week, should be the providing ground.

The candidates should face three tests that help reveal their strengths and weaknesses as leaders in war. First, how do they define this conflict? Second, how do they define success? Finally, how do they think victory can be achieved?

Zakaria notes that the way the candidates define the war may be crucial.

The Bush administration has striven to make the case that we are in a war much like World War II. Both the president and Vice President Cheney have repeatedly implied this. Cheney has often made specific analogies to it. The president's supporters explain that in a life-and-death struggle with a mortal foe, you have to fight anywhere and everywhere. Things don't always go well. Churchill and Roosevelt made many mistakes during the second world war. But they kept pressing forward. Looking back today, who knows if the North African invasion was worthwhile? Sometimes you take the wrong hill. That's war.

It's a powerful interpretation because, if accepted, it gives the administration a virtual carte blanche. All errors are forgiven, all blunders swept aside, all excesses dwarfed by the overarching conflict. Iraq may have been badly handled, but it is just one front in a many-front war. Abu Ghraib may have been appalling, but consider the pressures. During World War II, the United States interned Japanese-American civilians. It wasn't right, but it was war.

But that's just one interpretation, and in my view it's not the right one. As Zakaria notes,

An alternative interpretation would hold that we are not in a classic war with a powerful and identifiable country. Rather, this new war is really much more like the cold war. It has a military dimension, to be sure, but in large part it's a political, economic and social struggle for hearts and minds. In such a conflict, as in the cold war, the question of where and how military force is used is crucial. Its battlefield successes always have to be balanced against political effects. An understanding of culture and nationalism becomes key because the goal is more complex than simple military victory. It is creating like-minded societies. Thus, if you are not sophisticated in your application of power, you can find yourself in a situation like Vietnam where you win every battle but lose the war.

That sounds to me a lot closer to where we are today.

Posted by tbrown at 12:51 PM


Doom for the Dems?

Meanwhile, Grover Norquist, the ideologue behind Bush's No Plutocrat Left Behind tax cuts, says a Bush victory Nov. 2 could spell the end of the Democratic party. Why? Because it would consolidate the GOP hold on every branch of government for as far out as anyone can see, and without control of at least some twig to perch on the D's will collapse. Or as Norquist puts it:

Without effective control of the government, the Democratic Party is like a fish out of water, a vampire in the sun, Antaeus held aloft, an appliance unplugged. In the past, the Democratic Party could afford to lose the presidency and remain connected to its source of power -- the state -- through control of the House of Representatives, and often the Senate as well. Little damage was done to the structure of the Democratic Party during the interregnums of the Eisenhower, Nixon, and George H.W. Bush administrations, because their moves could be checkmated by a Democratic Congress. With the end of 40 years of Democratic gerrymandering, states in which a majority of the congressional popular vote goes to the GOP now award a majority of congressional seats to the GOP, too. Republican-led redistricting in Texas will add an additional five to seven Republican House seats over the next few cycles. Redistricting in Texas and throughout the country ensures that Republicans will continue to control the House through 2012. Over time, the Senate--thanks to those wonderful square states out west--will trend toward 60 Republicans as the 30 red states elect Republicans and the 20 blue states elect Democrats. The anomaly of four Democratic senators hailing from Republican North and South Dakota will come to an end, as will the Republican-held Senate seat in Rhode Island.

And, well, read it here.

Posted by tbrown at 12:50 PM


Carter fears election problems in Florida
Voting arrangements in Florida do not meet "basic international requirements" and could undermine the US election, former US President Jimmy Carter says. -- BBC News

Uh, Jimmy. This is America. We don't need no international standards. Besides, 9/11 changed everything. Get over it.

Posted by tbrown at 12:48 PM


Billmon views blogging through a glass darkly

Is the big blogging party over? Billmon, perhaps the best blogger of them all, seems to think so. The problem? The same commercialization that has largely turned mainstream media toward predictable blandness and trivia. He explicates in Los Angeles Times (free site registration may be required):

Recently, however, I've watched the commercialization of this culture of dissent with growing unease. When I recently decided to take a long break from blogging, it was for a mix of personal and philosophical reasons. But the direction the blogosphere is going makes me wonder whether I'll ever go back.

Even as it collectively achieves celebrity status for its anti-establishment views, blogging is already being domesticated by its success. What began as a spontaneous eruption of populist creativity is on the verge of being absorbed by the media-industrial complex it claims to despise.

In the process, a charmed circle of bloggers — those glib enough and ideologically safe enough to fit within the conventional media punditocracy — is gaining larger audiences and greater influence. But the passion and energy that made blogging such a potent alternative to the corporate-owned media are in danger of being lost, or driven back to the outer fringes of the Internet.

**

To be sure, there are still plenty of bloggers out there putting the 1st Amendment through its paces, their only compensation the satisfaction of speaking the truth to power. But it's going to become more difficult for those voices to reach a broad audience. If the mainstream media are true to past form, they will treat the A-list blogs — commercialized, domesticated — as if they are the entire blogosphere, while studiously ignoring the more eccentric, subversive currents swirling deeper down.Not the most glorious ending for a would-be revolution, but also not a surprising one. Bloggers aren't the first, and won't be the last, rebellious critics to try to storm the castle, only to be invited to come inside and make themselves at home.


Posted by tbrown at 12:47 PM


September 23, 2004

Iraq: Glass half full, glass half empty.

President Bush's story is that the glass is half full and he stuck to it at a press conference with Iraq's U.S.-installed prime minister, Ayad Alawi, though he warned that difficult days lie ahead.

We're making steady progress in implementing our five-step plan toward the goal we all want: completing the mission so that Iraq is stable and self-governing and American troops can come home with the honor they have earned.

**

The fifth and most important step in our plan is to help Iraq conduct free, national elections no later than next January. An Iraqi electoral commission is now up and running and has already hired personnel and is making key decisions about election procedures. …

At every stage in this process of establishing self-government, the Iraqi people and leaders have met the schedules they set and have overcome their challenges with confidence. And under this good man's leadership they will continue to do so.

**

The war for Iraq's freedom is a fight against some of the most ruthless and brutal men on Earth. In such a struggle there will be good days and there will be difficult days. But every day our resolve must remain firm.

Prime Minister, today I want to leave you and the nation you serve with a clear message: You have not faltered in a time of challenge and neither will America.

Allawi, unsurprisingly, agreed with his host on the importance of the U.S. sticking it out in Iraq:

In 15 out of 18 Iraqi provinces, the security situation is good for elections to be held tomorrow. Here Iraqis are getting on with their daily lives, hungry for the new political and economic freedoms they are enjoying. Although this is not what you see in your media, it is a fact.

The Iraqi elections may not be perfect. They may not be the best elections that Iraq will ever hold. They will undoubtedly be an excuse for violence from those who despair and despite liberty, as were the first elections in Sierra Leone, South Africa and Indonesia. But they will take place and they will be free and fair.

Finally, Mr. President, a word about international resolve. Iraq cannot accomplish this alone. The international forces of tyranny and oppression are lined up against us. Iraq is now the main battleground between the forces of hope and the forces of fear.

This is a struggle which will shape the future of our world.

Here's a link to the transcript.

Despite all the blood and treasure we've spilled in Iraq, however, the situation remains dire in some significant respects. Middle East expert Juan Cole asks this question:

If America were Iraq, what would it be like?

The population of the US is over 11 times that of Iraq, so a lot of statistics would have to be multiplied by that number.

Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll. …

What if the grounds of the White House and the government buildings near the Mall were constantly taking mortar fire? What if almost nobody in the State Department at Foggy Bottom, the White House, or the Pentagon dared venture out of their buildings, and considered it dangerous to go over to Crystal City or Alexandria?

What if all the reporters for all the major television and print media were trapped in five-star hotels in Washington, DC and New York, unable to move more than a few blocks safely, and dependent on stringers to know what was happening in Oklahoma City and St. Louis? What if the only time they ventured into the Midwest was if they could be embedded in Army or National Guard units?

There are estimated to be some 25,000 guerrillas in Iraq engaged in concerted acts of violence. What if there were private armies totalling 275,000 men, armed with machine guns, assault rifles (legal again!), rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar launchers, hiding out in dangerous urban areas of cities all over the country? What if they completely controlled Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Denver and Omaha, such that local police and Federal troops could not go into those cities?

Go read the whole thing. Exercises in statistical relativism often leave something to be desired, but Cole does a good job of illustrating just how chaotic and insecure major parts of Iraq, including Baghdad, remain.

Posted by tbrown at 01:40 PM


Afghanistan: Glass half empty, glass half full

The New York Times (free site registration may be required) has a pair of op-ed pieces today that highlight the differing views of what's happening in our other war, the one we seem to have almost forgotten.

J. Alexander Their, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, and a legal adviser to Afghanistan's constitutional and judicial reform commissions, writes:

President Bush describes Afghanistan, the first front on the war on terrorism, as a success. In comparison to Iraq, perhaps it is. But if you look at Afghanistan on its own merits, the lack of progress is disheartening. In 2002, President Bush promised a "Marshall Plan" for the country, with the goal of turning Afghanistan into a stable, democratic state. On Tuesday, before the United Nations General Assembly, the president said that "the Afghan people are on the path to democracy and freedom." Yet in nearly three years we have failed to create security, stability, prosperity or the rule of law in Afghanistan.

These failings are not just a reflection of the great difficulties of nation-building in places like Afghanistan, they are also the direct result of the Bush administration's policy decisions. Our efforts in Afghanistan are underfinanced and undermanned, and our attention is waning.

On the same page, Peter Bergen, a fellow at the New America Foundation and an adjunct professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, writes:

This summer I visited Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, for the first time since the winter of 1999. Five years ago, the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies were at the height of their power. They had turned Afghanistan into a terrorist state, with more than a dozen training camps churning out thousands of jihadist graduates every year.

The scene was very different this time around. The Kandahar airport, where I had once seen Taliban soldiers showing off their antiaircraft missiles, is now a vast American base with thousands of soldiers, as well as a 24-hour coffee shop, a North Face clothing store, a day spa and a PX the size of a Wal-Mart. Next door, what was once a base for Osama bin Laden is now an American shooting range. In downtown Kandahar, the gaudy compound of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, now houses United States Special Forces units.

As I toured other parts of the country, the image that I was prepared for - that of a nation wracked by competing warlords and in danger of degenerating into a Colombia-style narcostate - never materialized. …

While two out of three Afghans cited security as their most pressing concern in a poll taken this summer by the International Republican Institute, four out of five respondents also said things are better than they were two years ago. Despite dire predictions from many Westerners, the presidential election, scheduled for Oct. 9, now looks promising. Ten million Afghans have registered to vote, far more than were anticipated, and almost half of those who have signed up are women. Indeed, one of the 18 candidates for president is a woman. Even in Kandahar, more then 60 percent of the population has registered to vote, while 45 percent have registered in Uruzgan Province, the birthplace of Mullah Omar. With these kinds of numbers registering, it seems possible that turnout will be higher than the one-third of eligible voters who have participated in recent American presidential elections.

What happens in the Afghanistan elections will be closely watched (or at least should be) and may give us a bit more clarity into conditions there.

Posted by tbrown at 01:36 PM


Yusef Islam deserved it

Yes, the flap over The Artist Formerly Known as Cat Stevens may seem absurd. But before you start feeling sorry for the guy, read this little item, also by Juan Cole.

Posted by tbrown at 01:32 PM


Finally, from a parallel universe

At his press conference today, President Bush at one point said this about that staple poll question that asks whether the nation is on the right track or the wrong track:

"… I saw a poll that said the right track/wrong track in Iraq was better than here in America. It was pretty darn strong. I mean, the people see a better future."

I guess I feel better now.

Posted by tbrown at 01:31 PM


September 22, 2004

No giant sucking sounds here, folks

Just a lot of lawyerly language about decorum. That's the burden of a 32-page(!!) contract signed by the Bush and Kerry camps governing the upcoming presidential and vice-presidential debates.

For example,

No props, notes, charts, diagrams or other writings or other tangible things may be brought into the debate by any candidate. Neither candidate may reference or cite any specific individual sitting in a debate audience at any time during a debate.

And if someone breaks these rules, look out!

If a candidate references or cites any specific individual(s) in a debate audience, or if a candidate uses a prop, note or other writing or other tangible thing during a debate, the moderator must interrupt and explain that reference or citation to the specific individual(s) or the use of the prop, note or other writing or thing violates the debate rules agreed to by that candidate.

That'll teach 'em.

I can already sense fingers hovering over the buttons on TV remotes all over the country. Aaack! Get me the NASCAR channel.

And both sides are praising the rhetorical skills of the other just in case their guy finds a way to flop despite all the legal, uh, props designed to hold him upright.

Bush aides described Kerry as "the most experienced debater in the nation," while Kerry aides depicted Bush as an affable performer who has never lost a debate in public life.

I can hardly wait to see if The Smoking Gun can land the contract "riders." Will Bush's be more like Ted Nugent's ** or Toby Keith's ** ?

Will Kerry's be more like Don Henley's ** or the Dixie Chicks ** ?

** From Nugent's rider: NOTE: The 2002 TED NUGENT tour is very environmentally conscious, PLEASE refrain from using any styrofoam or polystyrene cups, plates or containers at any of your catering or dressing rooms. [Comment: That'll never fly.]

** From Keith's rider: Provide all the beer for the Toby Keith Rider, other National acts on the show and Coors Original Meet and Greet. [Nope. Gave that up. Maybe some of those red, white and blue jelly beans. No pretzels, though.]

** From Henley's rider: SPECIAL NOTE: THE PRESENCE OF ANYONE BACKSTAGE WHO IS NOT INVOLVED IN THE PERFORMANCE OR PRODUCTION THEREOF (INCLUDING FRIENDS, GUESTS, RELATIVES AND BUSINESS ACQUAINTAINCES OF THE PROMOTER) WILL CAUSE THE ARTIST TO BECOME EXTREMELY UPSET AND SUCH PERSON WILL BE ASKED TO LEAVE. [Screen that crowd.]

** From the Dixie Chicks rider: EVENT COORDINATOR must provide six (6) tee time passes with carts at a local par 72 championship level course. Tee time is 10 a.m. [Wind-surfing follows, I suppose.]

Still, this campaign has been largely bereft of real exchanges on the issues facing the country. Maybe these debates will get us there. Remember these days:

Presidential:
-- Thursday, Sept. 30
-- Friday, Oct. 8
-- Wednesday, Oct. 13

Vice presidential:
-- Tuesday, Oct. 5

Finally, here's a link to the 32-page contract (warning: monster PDF).

Posted by tbrown at 01:13 PM


Bush at the UN: Not enough specifics?

That's the thrust of most of the analysis and criticism from abroad. I thought the president did about as good a job as could reasonably be expected in explaining a war that (IMHO) was optional. There certainly is an argument to be made that, as a general principle, promoting the advancement of democracy worldwide is a good thing. And Bush made it:

In this young century, our world needs a new definition of ecurity. Our security is not merely found in spheres of influence or some balance of power. the security of our world is found in the advancing rights of mankind.

***

The desire for freedom resides in every human heart. And that desire cannot be contained forever by prison walls, or martial laws, or secret police. Over time, and across the Earth, freedom will find a way."

Beyond these high-minded sentiments, however, there is a real war going on in Iraq, and international observers were lukewarm about Bush's attempt to go from there to soliciting worldwide participation in Iraq. Matthew Clark of the Christian Science Monitor has a good overview of reaction to the speech here.

The International Herald Tribune reports that at a practical level efforts to get the UN to come through on promised aid for Iraq are getting nowhere:

It has not been an easy process," said a New York-based UN official involved with the efforts to put together a smaller force of about 150 soldiers to guard the UN compound in Iraq. "The ones that are already there are already stretched and for the ones who aren't there, it's a political decision." U.S. officials spearheading the effort to put together a brigade-sized force of soldiers to protect UN workers outside of Baghdad have met similar reluctance.

U.S. officials have approached at least 22 countries to send troops to the special force, which would operate under the command of the U.S.-led multinational force, but so far have received no positive responses, despite the unanimous passage of a UN resolution this summer that urged countries to contribute troops to such a force.

Some commentators, including former Bush speechwriter David Frum, also wondered why the president made no reference to the brewing confrontation with Iran over its defiance of a UN call to halt its uranium-enrichment program, which could produce material for atomic weapons. Said Frum:

… there is still time to stop Iran. And the world community is at least theoretically pledged to try. As usual, many countries – including unfortunately some of the European allies – are disposed to shrug the threat off and hope for the best. Some of those allies, even the UN Secretary General, have complained that the US did not give enough heed to UN procedures on Iraq. OK then: Let’s see how they follow UN procedures on Iran. The UN speech presented an opportunity to remind those allies of their danger – and their obligations. Why didn’t the president make use of it?

And while it may not have been a direct reaction to Bush's UN speech, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf – one of our key allies in the Muslim world -- made a speech of his own in which he warned that a new "iron curtain" will descend between the West and the Muslim world unless Muslim grievances are addressed:

"Justice must be offered in the form of resolution of all outstanding international disputes which affect the Muslims," Musharraf said in speech to the UN General Assembly.

"Action has to be taken before an iron curtain finally descends between the West and the Islamic world," he said.

"The major powers of the West have yet to show movement by seriously trying to resolve internationally recognized disputes affecting the Muslim world," he said.

The last iron curtain, separating the West from the Soviet empire, took a half-century to wear down.

Posted by tbrown at 01:05 PM


September 21, 2004

Good question. Keep asking it
How can he possibly be serious? Is he really saying that if we knew there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to Al Qaeda, the United States should have invaded Iraq?

-- John Kerry, yesterday

Yeah, that's what President Bush is saying all right. Kerry's speech was by far his best on Iraq.

Its brutal accuracy about our situation in Iraq, and what Kerry says he'd do about it, make it today's must read. We're 42 days from the election. Finally, we've gotten some meat from the Democratic candidate.

The text is here.

William Saletan has a good analysis at Slate:

We need a clear picture of how Kerry's position on Iraq differs from Bush's. This is it.
Posted by tbrown at 01:35 PM


Three not so pleasant choices

Sean-Paul Kelley details them at The Agonist.

First, the United States can effect what I would call a strategic and orderly retreat. …

The second option is that which I believe the United States is currently considering. This option entails a large offensive into regions that are currently labeled by the media as "no-go" zones. …

Finally, we come to the last option, which I would term the "More of the Same" option. …

Between the dots, Kelley outlines the pros, cons and possible outcomes. One of these options will be chosen by whoever is president come Nov. 3. Give it a read.

Posted by tbrown at 01:22 PM


'Fahrenheit 9-11' boffo in Iraq
WASHINGTON – Inside dusty, barricaded camps around Iraq, groups of American troops in between missions are gathering around screens to view an unlikely choice from the US box office: "Fahrenheit 9-11," Michael Moore's controversial documentary attacking the commander-in-chief.

"Everyone's watching it," says a Marine corporal at an outpost in Ramadi that is mortared by insurgents daily. "It's shaping a lot of people's image of Bush."

Does Karl Rove know about this?

Posted by tbrown at 01:20 PM


Iran: déjà vu all over again

Does any of this sound familiar?
free New York Times site registration may be required.)

Like Iraq in its final years under Saddam Hussein, Iran is believed by experts to be on the verge of developing a nuclear bomb. In Iraq, that proved to be untrue, though this time the consensus is much stronger among Western experts.

In addition, as with Iraq, administration officials have said recently that Iran is supporting insurgencies and terrorism in other countries. Recently, top administration officials have accused the Tehran government of backing the rebels in Iraq, something that officials fear could increase if Iran is pressed too hard on its nuclear program.

The thought of Iran's mullahs with nukes should be enough to scare the bejesus out of anyone. It is a deadly serious problem with no easy, obvious, solution. Also scary is that the folks who got us into the Iraq debacle are reverting to favored thought patterns for dealing with Iran:

With Iran policy in a state of flux, there is a drive among conservatives to reach out to Iranian dissidents and exiles seeking to overthrow the government, much as efforts were made with Iraqis in the 1990's. Senator Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, is sponsoring legislation favoring "regime change," with what some say is the tacit backing of administration conservatives.

That was also a favorite fantasy of neoconservatives and other hardliners on Iraq. Really worked well there, didn't it? It's mildly encouraging, therefore, that:

Administration officials say that there was an internal debate last year but that the idea of giving aid to dissidents who might try to overthrow the Iranian government had been dropped for lack of any credible groups to support.

Unfortunately,

… the cause of regime change in Iran is expected to be revived if President Bush is re-elected, administration officials say. Leading the charge is John R. Bolton, the under secretary of state for nonproliferation, who gave a speech last month saying that Iran's conduct did not "bode well for the success of a negotiated approach to dealing with this issue."

Bolton is just as scary as the mullahs.

At the Christian Science Monitor, Jim Bencivenga has a good roundup of what's happening internationally in the attempt to get Iran to halt the uranium-enrichment enterprise that could pretty quickly give it the raw material for bombs.

Posted by tbrown at 01:18 PM


September 20, 2004

Bush and Operation Bug Out

From the Sunday yak-fests:

"The fact is a crisp, sharp analysis of our policies is required. We didn't do that in Vietnam, and we saw 11 years of casualties mount to the point where we finally lost," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran who is co-chairman of President Bush's re-election committee in Nebraska.

"We can't lose this. It is too important," Hagel, R-Neb., said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

***

The chairman [of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee], Sen. Richard Lugar, noted that Congress appropriated $18.4 billion a year ago this week for reconstruction. No more than $1 billion has been spent. "This is the incompetence in the administration," Lugar, R-Ind., said on ABC's "This Week."

***

Sen. John McCain, who has campaigned often with the president, said mistakes in Iraq generally can be attributed to inadequate manpower. McCain, R-Ariz., said problems began arising shortly after the dash through the desert to take Baghdad, the capital, in April 2003.

"We made serious mistakes right after the initial successes by not having enough troops on the ground, by allowing the looting, by not securing the borders," McCain said.

"Airstrikes don't do it; artillery doesn't do it. Boots on the ground do it," McCain told "Fox News Sunday."

Loyal Republicans appear to be getting ever-chattier about our lovely little war. It makes you wonder whether a) they're worried that President Bush is in danger of losing the election for his Pollyannaish pronouncements ("democracy is on the march') about a situation that is dismal and worsening, or b) is already confident enough that Bush is going to win that they're looking ahead to reshaping Iraq policy in a second administration.

Well, that policy is desperately in need of reshaping. But I wonder if the increase in GOP chatter might be related to this column by Robert Novak.

In it, Novak makes the interesting case that what Bush really has in mind if he wins Nov. 2 is a quick withdrawal from Iraq:

Whether Bush or Kerry is elected, the president or president-elect will have to sit down immediately with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military will tell the election winner there are insufficient U.S. forces in Iraq to wage effective war. That leaves three realistic options: Increase overall U.S. military strength to reinforce Iraq, stay with the present strength to continue the war, or get out.

Well-placed sources in the administration are confident Bush's decision will be to get out.

Well, now. That wouldn't exactly amount to "staying the course," would it? According to Novak, nobody in Bush's policy circles seems much concerned about that:

Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year. This determination is not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go.

This prospective policy is based on Iraq's national elections in late January, but not predicated on ending the insurgency or reaching a national political settlement. Getting out of Iraq would end the neoconservative dream of building democracy in the Arab world. The United States would be content having saved the world from Saddam Hussein's quest for weapons of mass destruction.

In other words, we'd declare victory and come home, leaving the New Iraq to its most likely chaotic fate.

A precipitate withdrawal – even consideration of it, as Novak suggests is probably underway – undoubtedly would offend folks such as McCain and Hagel, who both served in Vietnam and like most vets don't like outcomes that smell of defeat, which is certainly the aroma this one would carry.

Which in turn makes me wonder if Novak is setting a backfire for the administrations' neoconservative hardliners who still envision an Eden of democracy in this benighted landscape if we just throw ever more blood and treasure at it. Wheels within wheels? We'll see soon enough.

Posted by tbrown at 01:09 PM


The couch-potato gap

The managing editor of Sports Illustrated is bemused that a majority of the mag's readers seem to think George Bush is a better athlete and sports fan than John Kerry:

Sports Illustrated readers overwhelmingly voted Mr. Bush the better athlete and sports fan, a conclusion the magazine's managing editor, Terry McDonell, finds baffling.

"Clearly Kerry is a much, much, much, much better athlete," he said, noting that Mr. Kerry has long played competitive hockey and also regularly snowboards, Rollerblades, windsurfs and kite-surfs.

"Kite-surfing," Mr. McDonell said, "is the hardest, most radical thing to do. It's what the most extreme surfers are doing."

Mr. Bush, in contrast, was a cheerleader, and not, Mr. McDonell notes, the kind that did flips. "It's like spirit club."

A possible explanation is that most of the voters in this poll, like most readers of SI, are sports fans, not participants in anything much rougher than cul-de-sac hoops.

Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, said that voters have a primal need to know that a candidate is a member of their tribe. "If you're sitting around watching sports on a Sunday and you know your president is also sitting around watching sports, you're not only in intellectual sync, you're probably in some biological sync on some level," said Ms. Fisher, who is the author of "The Sex Contract: The Evolution of Human Behavior."

Hey, Bubba – pass the pretzels.

Posted by tbrown at 01:03 PM


September 17, 2004

Why the Dems get outfoxed

Kevin Drum, picking up on a couple of pieces by other bloggers, offers some thoughts on why Democratic candidates often lose even though their positions are usually more popular in the polls.

The American Prospect's Michael Tomasky has a smart piece which he dubs "a unified theory of everything that explains why Democrats always get outfoxed." His basic argument is that because polls show most voters prefer Democratic positions on most issues (say, health care), Democratic consultants naturally advise candidates to run issue-reliant campaigns. Republicans, on the other hand, know their policies aren't that popular, but rather than run away from them, they turn them into illustrations of the candidate's personal character. This helps explain why Bush's resolute support of the Iraq war makes him popular even with people who don't necessarily support the war.

Over at The Decembrist, Mark Schmitt uses Tomasky's insight to analyze a key flaw in the Kerry campaign: the lack of connection between Kerry the person (his character, political philosophy etc.) and the issues he talks about.

Read it all here.

Posted by tbrown at 12:42 PM


Green Zone to become Red Zone?

Now it appears we may be unable to defend even the Green Zone in Baghdad (free site registration may be required).

U.S. military officers in Baghdad have warned they cannot guarantee the security of the perimeter around the Green Zone, the headquarters of the Iraqi government and home to the US and British embassies, according to security company employees.

At a briefing earlier this month, a high-ranking US officer in charge of the zone's perimeter said he had insufficient soldiers to prevent intruders penetrating the compound's defences.

In addition, from what's been leaked so far, a classified new CIA report appears to paint a bleak picture of the likely course of events there:

The National Intelligence Estimate, which is a compilation of views from various intelligence agencies, predicted three scenarios, from a tenuous stability to political fragmentation to the most negative assessment of civil war, officials said.

“There doesn’t seem to be much optimism,” one official said.

Of course, the CIA's record on Iraq has been, to put it mildly, checkered.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney, meanwhile, continue to assert that things are going well in Iraq, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Ralph Peters, a supporter of the war, says there are, in fact, good things still happening in Iraq and that the jihadi tactic of killing mainly Iraqis is alienating the population:

Despite the impression created by intermittent attacks, the terrorists have shifted their priority away from attacking our troops. Every time they go after our soldiers or Marines, our enemies suffer disproportionate casualties. So they're concentrating on killing Iraqis — government officials, the police, educators, doctors and businessmen.

This gains them short-term headlines and creates local chaos, but it's alienating the population. Bombing crowds of young men applying for jobs is not an effective way to win hearts and minds. The Iraqis may not want us to stay forever, but they do not want the terrorists in power.

And there's another, more significant reason why the violence has increased: Our troops are on the offensive again, reclaiming towns and cities where terrorists grabbed power after the Bush administration faltered in Fallujah this past spring.

He says the critical event will be the Iraqi elections scheduled for January.

The fact remains, though, that this was a war of choice by the Bush administration, not a war of necessity. Bob Herbert writes in The New York Times (free site registration may be required) that

"George W. Bush is now trapped as tightly in Iraq as Johnson was in Vietnam. The war is going badly. The president's own intelligence estimates are pessimistic. There is no plan to actually win the war in Iraq, and no willingness to concede defeat.

I wonder who the last man or woman will be to die for this colossal mistake.


Posted by tbrown at 12:40 PM


But let's talk baseball for a second

Specficially, why can't a major-league pitcher hit the right heckler with a thrown chair? Bad Reporter makes it all clear.

Posted by tbrown at 12:37 PM


September 15, 2004

We're losing it

It's time we pull out of Vietnam one last time and focus on the actual war we're fighting now – and losing.

Exhibit 1:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 14 - An increasingly bold and organized insurgency seized the offensive again on Tuesday as a suicide car bomb packed with artillery shells exploded outside police headquarters here, ripping into a crowd of hundreds of young men seeking to join the Iraqi police force and killing at least 47 people and wounding 114 others, police and health officials said.

The death toll was the heaviest in any single bomb attack since July, when 70 people were killed outside a police station in the restive city of Baquba, northeast of the capital.

Exhibit 2:

WASHINGTON - The U.S. strategy to create a stable, democratic Iraq is in danger of failing, current and former U.S. officials say, and the anti-American insurgency is growing larger, more sophisticated and more violent. …

Many experts on Iraq say the best that can be hoped for now is continued chaos that falls short of a civil war. …

In tacit recognition of the ugly realities, the Bush administration on Tuesday announced that it's asking Congress to shift almost $3.5 billion from Iraqi reconstruction projects to improve security.

One word: FUBAR.

Posted by tbrown at 11:27 AM


Shorter Vladimir Putin

If we hold elections, the terrorists win. Amazingly, everyone seems to agree with him. Or maybe just want to keep their jobs. You can take the boy out of the KGB, but you can't take the KGB out of the boy, it seems.

Posted by tbrown at 11:25 AM


Do terrorists really 'envy' us?

Last week, I ran a considerable chunk of a piece by an unknown author submitted by reader Jim Matheson as a proposed explanation of why we're the target of Muslim wrath (you can read it here). Reader Jeff Porteus isn't buying it. He writes:

Tom,

Your Sept. 9th piece in which Mr. Matheson provided a link: "What It Would Mean To Lose The Terror War." THAT piece. The one in which the writer tells us that: "Our country is now facing the most serious threat to its existence, as we know it, that we have faced in your lifetime and mine (which includes WWII)."

"Which includes WWII." That caught me. In other words, this writer believes -- and would tell us -- that the national existential moment has arrived, that, as a people, everything we think we know, everything we believe to be true, everything we hold dear to our hearts ... is now on the line. As this commentator believes such is the case, and a dread case it is, one would think that only the most tested, most astringent analysis would be brought to bear in finding our way out of this mess. And so, of course, it should be. One should look hard, and one should look long. And one should not blink.

Which is why I was left nearly speechless when I came upon the writer's following analysis, (and I quote:)

"Why were we attacked? Envy of our position, our success, and our freedoms."

And is there more to this probing analysis? No, there is not more. One looks, but one doesn't find. And is forced by this paucity to go back and read the damn sentence again. Why WERE we attacked? (For if it is important that we understand, this is the question such understanding hinges upon: why?)

ENVY...

The Iran Embassy Hostages, 1979. ...Envy.
The Beirut, Lebanon Embassy 1983. ...Envy.
The Beirut, Lebanon Marine Barracks 1983. ...Envy.
The Lockerbie, Scotland Pan-Am flight to New York 1988. ...Envy.
The First New York World Trade Center attack 1993. ...Envy,
The Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Khobar Towers Military complex 1996. ...Envy.
The Nairobi, Kenya US Embassy 1998. ...Envy.
The Dar es Salaam, Tanzania US Embassy 1998. ...Envy.
The Aden, Yemen USS Cole 2000. ...Envy.
The New York World Trade Center 2001. ...Envy,
The Pentagon 2001. ...Envy.


For the far right, this is not an index of large historical forces in play, with all their nuanced grievences and motivations. No, history, with its insufferable mandate to understand, and to understand deeply, is precisely besides the point. A waste of time in fact. For one need look no further than ... envy.
Evidently a veritable frenzy of envy. "Of our position, our success, our freedoms." They envy us, so they attack us. When one thinks of it, does this even make the least bit of sense? To anyone?

It certainly fails to make psychological sense. One doesn't murder those one envies, one emulates them. To envy is to admit, to make conscious to oneself, the worth of the other, a worth then not to be extinguished, but to be conformed to and surpassed.

When The President of the United States says, "They hate us because we're free," this is just such an ahistorical argument. And completely beside the point, if not around the bend. Though that, in fact, may be the place from whence this President operates.

Freedoms? Paahhh ... They want us to get our troops the hell out of the Middle East, where they've been garrisoned for the last fifty-years. (Talk about history.) Success? Foooey.... They want us to quit weighting the scales in favor of the Israelis, to quit turning a blind eye as the Likkudites go on butchering the Palestinians (five dead Palestinians for every dead Isreali,) and as we pay for the IDF's guns and bombs and their fortified bulldozers. Our position? Give me a break! They want us to quit propping up the brutal, tinpot dictators that run their countries. In other words, they aspire to same respect and the same chance for a decent life for themselves and their kids (and their wives) that we demand for ourselves.

Yet, in their eyes, continue to deny to them.

But to say such a thing puts one perilously close to trying to
understand the "enemy," to wear their shoes for five seconds. Not a
thing that the likes of an Anne Coulter, slithering down Fifth Avenue in her
corporate Pucci and Guccis, would ever have a good American do.

-- Jeff Porteous

Posted by tbrown at 11:15 AM


September 14, 2004

9:45 update

Governor
Christine Gregoire is rolling to a landslide victory over Ron Sims for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. She's got about 73 percent of the vote to 22 for Sims with more than 200,000 ballots counted.

She will face state Sen. Dino Rossi, who swept to an easy win over two less-known opponents. He's getting about 79 percent of the vote.

Attorney general
It looks like Democratic former state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn will face Republican King County Council member Rob McKenna in November for state attorney general. Senn has opened up a 54 percent-45 percent lead that will be difficult for Sidran to overcome. McKenna was a landslide winner on the GOP ticket.

Superintendent of public instruction
In a very tight contest in a six-person crowd for state superintendent of public instruction, former SPI Judith Billings has a slim lead over incumbent Terry Bergeson, 36 to 34 percent. It may take a while to sort this one out.

8th Congressional District
Not much of a vote count yet in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Bellevue, who is retiring. However, King County Sheriff Dave Reichert, best known as the dogged pursuer of the Green River killer, has a commanding lead on the GOP side, while talk-show host Dave Ross is ahead among the Democrats. Too early to pick a winner.

Posted by tbrown at 09:54 PM


Senn opens a lead

Deborah Senn has grabbed a decent lead over Mark Sidran in the contest for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. Senn now has 53 percent of the vote to Sidran's 47 percent, with more than 150,000 ballots tallied.

Posted by tbrown at 08:55 PM


Sidran and Senn are neck and neck

The two Democrats for state attorney general, former Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran and former state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn are locked in a tight race in early returns.

Sidran has 51.1 percent of the vote to Senn's 48.9. It's still way too early to call this one.

Republican Rob McKenna, a King County Council member, will be the GOP candidate for AG. He's getting three-quarters of his party's vote.

Christine Gregoire looks likely to be the Democratic candidate for governor. She's got better than 72 percent of the vote, compared with just over 23 percent for King County Executive Ron Sims. These are very early and incomplete returns, but it's rare for a lead this lopsided to turn around.

I guess we can assume this means Washington still isn't ready for a state income tax, which was the centerpiece of the Sims campaign.

State Sen. Dino Rossi is a shoo-in for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, capturing 78 percent on his party's ballot so far.

Posted by tbrown at 08:46 PM


Live blogging of the Washington primary tonight

Good evening, folks. I'm working tonight to provide technical support for my colleagues at The Seattle Times. Assuming all goes reasonably smoothly, I'll also be doing a little blogging on the election results.

There's a load of good races to watch as the evening develops:

-- State Attorney General Christine Gregoire, 57, vs. King County Executive Ron Sims for the Democractic gubernatorial nomination (State Sen. Dino Rossi is expected to win handily over two lesser-known opponents for the GOP nomination).

-- Former Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran vs. former state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn for the Democratic nomination for state Attorney General (King County Councilman Rob McKenna is favored to win the GOP nod).

-- The crowded scramble to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Bellevue, in the 8th Congressional District, which encompasses Seattle's eastside suburbs. Four Republicans and three Democrats are contending.

-- In Eastern Washington, three Republicans and one Democrat are seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Spokane, who is giving up his seat to challenge U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

Plus, we'll see whether predictions of a dismal turnout because, for the first time since 1935, voters are now required to select a party and vote only for its candidates, actually materialize. My guess is they won't. People may have preferred the old blanket primary, in which they could vote for anyone, but I expect most will get over it and that turnout will be about what it usually is in presidential years (40 percent or so). Since as many as 70 percent of ballots cast in the primary are expected to be absentees, though, it may be later this week before we have good enough figures to pass judgment on the new system.

First results should be available shortly after 8 p.m. Stay tuned.

Posted by tbrown at 06:41 PM


September 13, 2004

A tale of two cities

While the Bush and Kerry campaigns, abetted by major newspapers that should know better, waste everyone's time with stories about what the two candidates did or didn't do in a war over 30 years ago, instructive events in Iraq that could help voters make rational decisions Nov. 2 are being ignored.

Consider, for example, the contrasting situations in Fallujah and Tikrit.

Fallujah, in the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad, is now a refuge for terrorists run by a Taliban-like local government, a city where no American soldier has set foot in months.

Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, an early center of resistance to the U.S. occupation, "has quietly slipped off the map of Iraq's trouble spots," AP reports.

What accounts for the difference? Two quite different approaches to dealing with the Iraq insurgency.

Fallujah flashback

-- March 30:

FALLUJAH, Iraq — In a scene reminiscent of Somalia, frenzied crowds dragged the burned, mutilated bodies of four American contractors through the streets of a town west of Baghdad on Wednesday and strung two of them up from a bridge after rebels ambushed their SUVs.

-- The following week:

"I want heads to roll," U.S. President George W. Bush told top US officials here last week following the murder of four and mutilation of two American contractors in Fallujah.

It happened. Against the advice of the Iraqi government we set up, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force beseiged the city of some 200,000 people and began a series of bloody skirmishes with Sunni guerillas and foreign jihadis. At least 600 civilians died, the population was radicalized and, under intense Iraqi and foreign pressure, the U.S. decided to pull the Marines out before they'd finished the job and hand over control of Fallujah to a hastily formed local militia called the Fallujah Brigade, which was supposed to keep the remaining insurgents in hand. Instead, the 800 AK-47 assault rifles, 27 pickups and 50 radios the Marines gave the brigade wound up in the hands of the insurgents, according to Marine officers.

Yesterday, the Marine commander, Lt. Gen. James Conway, spoke up in a blistering reproach of high-level interference with field operations that are usually best left to commanders on the scene.

Conway arrived in Iraq in March, pledging to accelerate reconstruction projects as a way to subdue Sunni-dominated Anbar province. But he was soon confronted in Fallujah with the killing on March 31 of four U.S. civilian security contractors whose bodies were mutilated by a mob.

Conway said he resisted calls for revenge and advocated instead targeted operations and continued engagement with municipal leaders.

"We felt like we had a method that we wanted to apply to Fallujah: that we ought to probably let the situation settle before we appeared to be attacking out of revenge," he said in an interview with four journalists after his change-of-command ceremony. "Would our system have been better? Would we have been able to bring over the people of Fallujah with our methods? You'll never know that for sure, but at the time we certainly thought so."

Having scrapped his approach, Washington made matters worse by pulling the Marines out of Fallujah before they could crush the opposition, Conway believes.

"When you order elements of a Marine division to attack a city, you really need to understand what the consequences of that are going to be and not perhaps vacillate in the middle of something like that," he said.

Meanwhile, in Tikrit

"Tikrit is what we'd call permissive. It's not wholly antagonistic to us anymore," said Lt. Col. Jim Stockmoe, intelligence officer for the 1st Infantry Division, the Army unit that controls Tikrit and a surrounding West Virginia-sized slab of northeast Iraq.

Stockmoe, puffing a cigar outside his office in one of Saddam's grandiose palaces, said the U.S. military had finally reached a "live and let live" arrangement with Tikritis. For their part, city residents say they want the Americans out, but they seem to have mostly given up supporting insurgents trying to force them out. …

Military officials say the turnaround is due to a convergence of factors, from a recent effort to cultivate tribal sheiks and former Baathists as allies, to the small city's layout, which makes it a poor base for an insurgency.

The city of 40,000 is also dominated like few others by a massive U.S. military base in a walled neighborhood of Saddam's palaces. The base, looming over Tikrit on mud bluffs, is almost as large as the city itself.

Now the city that was once rife with rocket-propelled grenade attacks looks set to be placed under local control by Dec. 1, a month earlier than the Dec. 31 deadline. Local control means the U.S. military will shunt security duties to civilian governors, police and national guardsmen.

So, in Fallujah, the powers that be in D.C. decide to go against informed local political advice and the best judgment of the field commander and create a mess that will take us months and, no doubt, many more American and Iraqi lives to clean up.

In Tikrit, we allow the field commander to extend the carrot to local Iraqi leaders, while prominently displaying the stick that backs it up and wind up with a city that while not enthusiastic about the American presence is at least no longer actively trying to kill our troops. We don't know the eventual outcome there. That city, too, could revert to violence against us as its citizens watch what is happening elsewhere in their country. But at least the start we made there was far more promising than the one in Fallujah. For that, we're paying the price:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 12 - In a series of tightly sequenced attacks, at least 25 Iraqis were killed by suicide car bombings and a barrage of missile and mortar fire in several neighborhoods across Baghdad on Sunday.

The attacks were the most widespread in months, seeming to demonstrate the growing power of the insurgency and heightening the sense of uncertainty and chaos in the capital at a time when American forces have already ceded control to insurgents in a number of cities outside of Baghdad.


Posted by tbrown at 12:33 PM


September 10, 2004

Why can't Kerry be clear on Iraq?

John Kerry is absolutely correct that Iraq was "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."

But being right about that just isn't enough. The war in Iraq and the associated question of how to deal with Islamic terrorism are the key foreign policy matters of our time. And Kerry just can't seem to clearly articulate how his administration would differ from a second Bush administration except to assert a) that he'd be more competent and b) that he'd do more to internationalize this venture, which in the way that matters most -- significant numbers of new foreign troops in Iraq -- just isn't going to happen no matter who is president.

The result is that jibes like this one, from a satirical site called Broken Newz, seem painfully close to the truth:

Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry will develop a “clear, concise, consistent” Iraq policy by “no later than 2024,” a campaign memo stated yesterday.

As The New York Times says in an editorial,

Nobody gets angrier about Senator John Kerry's complicated position on Iraq than his own supporters. The Democratic base would love to see him lashing out at President George W. Bush over the war. But for all of his current tough talk about Bush's "wrong choices," Kerry has blurred his message, particularly with his recent statement that he would have voted for the Senate's war resolution even if he had known that Saddam Hussein had no significant cache of weapons of mass destruction. Kerry also basically agrees with the president that it is now necessary to stay the course - which will require a continued American military presence in Iraq for years. No wonder the issue hasn't provided the Democrats much traction.

Kerry has a reputation as a strong finisher in political campaigns. It's time for him to lace up his running shoes on this one.

Posted by tbrown at 01:30 PM


Bush-o-nomics: Can you say 'voodoo'?

If it's still true that pocketbook issues decide elections then we should be paying close attention to what our leaders are saying about the economy.

Indicators measure the nation's unemployment rate, consumer spending and other economic milestones, but Vice President Dick Cheney says they miss the hundreds of thousands who make money selling on eBay.

"That's a source that didn't even exist 10 years ago,'' Cheney told an audience in Cincinnati on Thursday."Four hundred thousand people make some money trading on eBay.''

Besides, if we don't have enough job's it's Bill Clinton's fault.

COLMAR, Pennsylvania (AP) -- President Bush on Thursday blamed the Clinton administration for the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs and warned against backing the Democratic ticket in November because of a "hidden Kerry tax plan."

"In the last six months of the prior administration, more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs were lost. We're turning that around," said Bush, who cited the addition of 107,000 manufacturing jobs this year.

According to the Labor Department, the number of payroll jobs has grown by 1.7 million in the past 12 months, but the economy still has lost 913,000 positions since Bush took office in January 2001.

Yeah, blame Clinton. He's only been out of office for nearly four years. But could there be another explanation? Angry Bear thinks Bush's No Plutocrat Left Behind tax cuts might have something to do with it:

As we all know, Bush pushed through two massive tax cuts -- "the largest tax relief in history," according to the Bush campaign. Yet the current recovery is among the weakest in history, as illustrated in the previous post. Shouldn't the largest tax cuts in history have had more effect? How could such massive tax cuts have such little impact on the economy?

The answer is that it matters a great deal exactly how you cut taxes. Some tax cuts have bigger effects on the economy than others, for a given dollar amount of taxes cut. And clearly, the specific types of taxes cut by the Bush administration had just about the smallest bang for the buck imaginable.

Why? There are several ways in which those tax cuts were terribly designed to stimulate the economy. I won't go into all of them here, but let me address a couple of ways. First of all, the lion's share of the tax cuts went to the richest households. Since the marginal propensity to save is so much higher among high-income households than lower and middle-income households, this meant that a large proportion of the tax cut was simply saved, adding no demand to the US economy."

This is not all guesswork by the Bear, as you can see from the graph he presents here.

Posted by tbrown at 01:29 PM


Cartoon time

Real life vs. politics (via 18 ½ minute gap).

Assessing Kerry's support.

And from Mad Magazine (via Atrios) we find out what a Bush ad might look like if he ran against Jesus.

Posted by tbrown at 01:28 PM


September 09, 2004

So how's the campaign going?

Edge to Bush at this point. At issue is the size of that edge and whether Kerry can overcome it.

Bush has gotten the usual "bounce" in the polls that follows national conventions. Most polls now have him leading Kerry by narrow to substantial margins. But it still looks to me like it's way too close to call at this point. Which is good. It's much better for voters to decide this Nov. 2 than for pollsters to proclaim it now.

At Slate, William Saletan analyzes this week's polls and concludes:

First, Bush has broken the ceiling [in approval rating] that appeared to limit him all year. Even if his gains from the GOP convention fade, several polls now provide evidence that enough voters are open to him to carry him to victory. This wasn't true before his convention. It is now. This is enormously important.

Second, Kerry's position isn't nearly as dire as many Democrats imagine. He has maintained some of the gains from his own convention. And two of the five major polls released since the Republican Convention show him holding the incumbent three to four points below 50, with a Bush lead somewhere between zero and the margin of error. That's nothing to write home about. It's nothing to write in your suicide note, either.

The conservative Web site Real Clear Politics rounds up poll results here. While they vary, almost all show Bush with an edge.

Often, however, the finer data of polls is at least as interesting as the topline results as Democratic partisan Ruy Texiera notes here. Texiera says that data from battleground states shows the election is still far from decided.

That's also basically the message of this Zogby analysis of battleground states from its biweekly polls for the Wall Street Journal.

A new Gallup poll of Washington state voters shows Kerry with a comfortable lead here.

Posted by tbrown at 01:05 PM


What it would mean to lose the terror war

I had an interesting e-mail and telephone exchange this week with reader Jim Matheson, who took exception to a piece by Toronto columnist Eric Margolis that I linked to here. Jim, who says, "I love Canada and their wonderful people,"
found Margolis' article fits right in with a "disappointing" level of support from the Canadian government for U.S. efforts to eradicate terrorism. "While their liberal socialist government spends most of their money on social programs with little attention to the real war on the radical Islamic Jihad, we (the USA) provide them with the freedom that allows them to act like naive children playing in their sand box of peace and tranquility. The truth is that our way of life in North America is in grave danger and the liberal left in the USA and Canada just don't get it."

Jim attached a lengthy piece he found on the Web that for him sums up the problem that the U.S. faces from radical Islam. I disagree with some of the anonymous author's analysis, which in my view is flawed, and some of his conclusions, which are more apocalyptic than reality suggests (but then I'm one of those leftists who probably doesn't "get it"). The author does a pretty good job of lining up his main arguments and I'm reproducing those here because the threat of radical Islam is a central issue for us in the years ahead. It's a question of how best to address it. I'd like to link to this piece in full because I've whittled it down somewhat, but I don't have a link to the original. So here, via Matheson are some considerations about the struggle with militant Islam:

Do you know what losing will mean?

To get out of a difficulty, one usually must go through it. Our country is now facing the most serious threat to its existence, as we know it, that we have faced in your lifetime and mine (which includes WWII).

The deadly seriousness is greatly compounded by the fact that there are very few of us who think we can possibly lose this war and even fewer who realize what losing really means.

First, let's examine a few basics:

1. When did the threat to us start?

Many will say September 11th, 2001. The answer as far as the
United States is concerned is 1979, 22 years prior to September
2001, with the following attacks on us:

 Iran Embassy Hostages, 1979.
 Beirut, Lebanon Embassy 1983.
 Beirut, Lebanon Marine Barracks 1983.
 Lockerbie, Scotland Pan-Am flight to New York 1988.
 First New York World Trade Center attack 1993.
 Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Khobar Towers Military complex 1996.
 Nairobi, Kenya US Embassy 1998.
 Dar es Salaam, Tanzania US Embassy 1998.
 Aden, Yemen USS Cole 2000.
 New York World Trade Center 2001.
 Pentagon 2001.

(Note that during the period from 1981 to 2001 there were 7,581 terrorist attacks worldwide).

2. Why were we attacked?

Envy of our position, our success, and our freedoms. The attacks happened during the administrations of Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton and Bush 2. …

3. Who were the attackers?

In each case, the attacks on the US were carried out by Muslims.

4. What is the Muslim population of the World?

25%

5. Isn't the Muslim Religion peaceful?

Hopefully, but that is really not material. There is no doubt that the predominately Christian population of Germany was peaceful, but under the dictatorial leadership of Hitler (who was also Christian), that made no difference. You either went along with the administration or you were eliminated. There were 5 to 6 million Christians killed by the Nazis for political reasons (including 7,000 Polish priests). … Although Hitler kept the world focused on the Jews, he had no hesitancy about killing anyone who got in his way of exterminating the Jews or of taking over the world - German, Christian or any others. Same with the Muslim terrorists. They focus the world on the US, but kill all in the way -- their own people or the Spanish, French or anyone else.

The point here is that just like the peaceful Germans were of no protection to anyone from the Nazis, no matter how many peaceful Muslims there may be, they are no protection for us from the terrorist Muslim leaders and what they are fanatically bent on doing - by their own pronouncements - killing all of us "infidels". I don't blame the peaceful Muslims. What would you do if the choice was shut up or die?

6. So who are we at war with?

There is no way we can honestly respond that it is anyone other than the Muslim terrorists. Trying to be politically correct and avoid verbalizing this conclusion can well be fatal. There is no way to win if you don't clearly recognize and articulate who you are fighting.

So with that background, now to the two major questions:

1. Can we lose this war?
2. What does losing really mean?

If we are to win, we must clearly answer these two pivotal questions.

We can definitely lose this war, and as anomalous as it may sound, the major reason we can lose is that so many of us simply do not fathom the answer to the second question - What does losing mean? It would appear that a great many of us think that losing the war means hanging our heads, bringing the troops home and going on about our business, like post Vietnam. This is as far from the truth as one can get. What losing really means is:

We would no longer be the premier country in the world. The attacks will not subside, but rather will steadily increase. Remember, they want us dead, not just quiet. If they had just wanted us quiet, they would not have produced an increasing series of attacks against us over the past 18 years. The plan was clearly to terrorist attack us until we were neutered and submissive to them.

We would of course have no future support from other nations for fear of reprisals and for the reason that they would see we are impotent and cannot help them. They will pick off the other non-Muslim nations, one at a time. It will be increasingly easier for them. They already hold Spain hostage. It doesn't matter whether it was right or wrong for Spain to withdraw its troops from Iraq. Spain did it because the Muslim terrorists bombed their train and told them to withdraw the troops. Anything else they want Spain to do, will be done. Spain is finished.

The next will probably be France. Our one hope on France is that they might see the light and realize that if we don't win, they are finished too, in that they can't resist the Muslim terrorists without us. However, it may already be too late for France. France is already 20% Muslim and fading fast.

If we lose the war, our production, income, exports and way of life will all vanish as we know it. After losing, who would trade or deal with us if they were threatened by the Muslims. If we can't stop the Muslims, how could anyone else? The Muslims fully know what is riding on this war and therefore are completely committed to winning at any cost. We better know it too and be likewise committed to winning at any cost.

Why do I go on at such lengths about the results of losing? Simple. Until we recognize the costs of losing, we cannot unite and really put 100% of our thoughts and efforts into winning. And it is going to take that 100% effort to win.

So, how can we lose the war? Again, the answer is simple. We can lose the war by imploding. That is, defeating ourselves by refusing to recognize the enemy and their purpose and really digging in and lending full support to the war effort. If we are united, there is no way that we can lose. If we continue to be divided, there is no way that we can win. …

In the year and a half I've been blogging, I've dealt with the issue of Muslim extremism in a number of posts. No doubt I'll be dealing with it more in the months ahead, as the problem isn't going away anytime soon. If you see pieces on this broad topic that you'd like to share, send me the links.

Posted by tbrown at 01:00 PM


September 08, 2004

Remembering 9/11: We're still falling

A lot of ink, paper and pixels will be used in the next few days recalling the 9/11 attacks and trying to draw new insights from them. And once in a while someone will succeed, as blogger Jeff Jarvis does today:

The falling is the worst of it for me.

Perhaps that's because I have always had a crippling fear of falling. I can't watch a movie or so much as hear a story about heights and edges without being overcome by involuntary cause and effect: palms drenched, heart crazed, adrenalin abundant, nerves arcing. We all fear our own worst death. Mine has always been falling.

And so you see, the worst thing about that day is not what happened to me, but what didn't happen to me, what happened to so many so close that could have so easily happened to me. But it didn't.

They fell, God rest their souls. I did not.

And ever since that day, I have lived in a limbo. I realize now that it has felt as if I have been falling all this time. I'm a third of the way down the giant tower. I can't scream. All I can hear is the woosh of wind and jets and fire and speed; that sound is deafening and blocks out every other sense. And yet I'm not really moving. I'm paralyzed. Just falling.

The fall never ends.

Worse, he writes, Americans are wasting precious time and energy fighting among themselves rather than recalling who our real enemies are and how best to fight them.

You can read it all here.

Posted by tbrown at 01:32 PM


Iraqi bloggers speak up for their country

Regular readers know that I occasionally check in with Iraqi bloggers to see what they have to say about the U.S. presence, the insurgency, the country's new caretaker government and the elections scheduled for next year. Today, Clark Boyd of the BBC interviews several bloggers. He notes:

Before the war in Iraq, the world had only heard of one blogger, who went by his online name of Salam Pax.

Now, Pax has been joined by more than 70 other Iraqi bloggers …

Two of the three brothers who blog at Iraq the Model, Ali and Mohammed Fadhil, have even decided to run for parliament.

"The majority wants peace, wants democracy, wants to live their lives, have a peaceful life," Ali tells Boyd. "They want freedom and democracy. That's what we see."

Here are a few links to Iraqi blogs:

Iraq the Model

Healing Iraq

The Mesopotamian

Hammorabi

A Family in Baghdad (this is a bilingual blog; scroll down the most recent Arabic posts to get the English version).

Posted by tbrown at 01:31 PM


September 02, 2004

Alien alert

SETI is closely scrutinizing some interesting radio waves emanating from a dark area between the constellations Pisces and Aries.

Have we finally found another life form in the universe? That's far from clear. “It’s the most interesting signal from SETI@home,” says Dan Werthimer, a radio astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) and the chief scientist for SETI@home. “We’re not jumping up and down, but we are continuing to observe it.”

Unless these aliens have cracked some of the problems posed by Einstein – that no object with mass can exceed the speed of light, for example – it's unlikely they'll get here by Nov. 2. But we'll still have Zell Miller.

Here's the New Scientist story on the transmissions.

If you're interested in running the SETI@home software on your own computer, you can download it here.

Posted by tbrown at 12:50 PM


Speaking of Zell Miller …

Let's. I don't want to give this clown more than his due, but he is due a few whacks. David Adesnik at Oxblog gets it right:

I often criticize the Democratic leadership for their lack of idealism and flagging commitment to promoting democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq. But they do not question our soldiers. They don't believe that America is the problem. They recognize the existence of evil and are willing to fight it with all their heart. They simply differ on the matter of how.

Zell Miller has no more integrity than the Swift Vets.

And the delegates at the Republican convention demonstrated that their total lack of judgment by cheering (and jeering) so loudly for the most despicable of Miller's attacks. Miller said that

Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations.

Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide.


That is a simply a lie, but it brought down the house.

Finally, when it comes to hypocrisy, Miller once again demonstrated that he is second to none. Miller asked the Convention,

Where is the bipartisanship in this country when we need it most?

Today, at the same time young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief.


Pathetic. Simply pathetic. Such vindictiveness and dishonesty should never masquearade as bipartisanship. This is going to get ugly.

Uh, David – it's already ugly. It's just going to get worse.

Political Animal Kevin Drum rounds up a variety of other opinion on the D's would-be Benedict Arnold (the distinction between Miller and Arnold is that the latter actually was a hero before he became a traitor; Miller just thinks he's one).

Posted by tbrown at 12:48 PM


September 01, 2004

Bush's economic agenda for a second term

It'll be a lot more bad news for the middle class, according to an enlightening piece by John Cassidy in The New Yorker. There'll be a low-key, but concerted push toward a "flat tax," probably via a national sales. That may not be politically attainable in one big leap, so they'll seek to get there via baby steps – each of which will cost us. Read it and hold onto your wallet. Oh, yeah – vote, too.

… in downplaying the Bush Administration’s economic agenda the media is missing one of the biggest domestic stories of the 2004 campaign. When the President pledges to create an “era of ownership,” he is not talking merely about encouraging people to buy their own homes and start small businesses. To conservative Republicans who understand his coded language, he is also talking about extending and expanding the tax cuts he introduced in his first term; he is talking about allowing wealthy Americans to shelter much of their income from the I.R.S.; about using the tax code to curtail the government’s role in health care and retirement saving; and, ultimately, about a vision that has entranced but eluded conservatives for decades: the abolition of the graduated income tax and its replacement with a levy that is simpler, flatter, and more favorable to rich people.

Work on achieving this ambitious program began with the tax cuts that Congress passed in 2001, 2002, and 2003, but the conservative economists who advise Bush and the right-wing institutes that support him have more in mind than consolidating their gains. Despite a gaping budget deficit, they are pressing the President to continue down a route that will reverse almost a century of American history. Since the personal income tax was introduced, in 1913, it has been based on two principles: the burden of taxation is distributed according to the ability to pay; and capital and labor carry their fair share. The Bush Administration appears set on undermining both of these principles.

Rather than coming right out for a flat tax, the Harvard economists [who support a flat tax] tend to use the less politically charged term “consumption tax.” Flat taxes and consumption taxes are closely related: both exempt saving and tax spending. Theoretically, it is possible to set up a progressive consumption tax, but most conservative economists favor a single rate set as low as possible; i.e. a flat tax. Such a system would penalize middle-class people, who spend nearly all the money they earn; a fact Hall and Rabushka, the originators of the flat tax, were straightforward about. In 1983, they wrote that a flat tax “would be a tremendous boon to the economic elite,” adding that “it is an obvious mathematical law that lower taxes on the successful will have to be made up by higher taxes on average people."

Higher taxes on average people. More of that "compassionate conservatism" our president epitomizes.

Posted by tbrown at 01:03 PM


Loving Alan Keyes

A few weeks ago, when the GOP drafted Alan Keyes to carpetbag over to Illinois and run against the Dem's man of the hour, Barack Obama, for U.S. Senate, I wondered what they could possibly be thinking. Keyes is smart and entertaining and a fine speaker, but he is out there, and pitting him against a mainstream guy like Obama didn't make sense to me. Especially since one of Keyes' most attractive characteristics is that he can be relied on to say exactly what he thinks. So how's it going? Well, good for the D's, such as here:

Keyes' first comments about Mary Cheney came during an interview Monday night on Sirius OutQ, a New York-based satellite station that provides 24-hour gay and lesbian programming.

After Keyes told the hosts that homosexuality is "selfish hedonism," he was asked whether Mary Cheney is a "selfish hedonist."

"Of course she is," Keyes replied. "That goes by definition. Of course she is."

On Tuesday, Keyes defended his remarks, adding that if his daughter were a lesbian, he would tell her she was committing a sin and should pray about it.

So living your life and minding your own business, which as nearly as I can tell is Mary Cheney's real agenda, is "selfish hedonism." This seemed to be a bit much even for staunch GOP officials.

Illinois Republican Party Chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka said Keyes' remarks about Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter shouldn't distract from key election issues.

"It's a pity that we have gotten away from the substance of the campaign and instead have gotten into personalities and things that are personal and name-calling," Topinka said. "Since this is amongst Republicans, it really needs to stop and get on course."

When informed of Keyes' comments about Mary Cheney, Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt offered a terse reply Tuesday.

"It was inappropriate," he said.

Yeah, what-ev, as my daughter would say.

The real problem is that rather than being the big tent for diverse ideas it used to claim to be, the GOP has become, increasingly, a pup tent for busy-bodies who really about nothing so much as trying to control other people's lives. This a big country with lots of people who believe lots of different things. The last thing we need is a domestic Taliban enforcing the "truth." Besides, it's not like Keyes doesn't have his own issues:

Rick Garcia, director of Equality Illinois, a nonpartisan gay rights group, said Keyes' views are not representative of the state's Republicans nor Democrats.

"Selfish hedonism? Has anyone seen Dr. Keyes look at a microphone or a television camera? That's hedonism," Garcia said.


Posted by tbrown at 01:00 PM


One more Swift Vet heard from ...

... and it's not John Kerry he's mad at (thanks to reader Bill L. for the link).

Posted by tbrown at 12:10 PM




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