Archive for December, 2006

Who Serves? Not the Kids of the Folks Who Start Wars.

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

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Question of the day: Will Bush increase Iraq troop levels if the generals remain opposed?

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

I don’t think this is as clear a no-brainer as some may think.  Sure, Bush is an arrogant SOB, but taking this kind of drastic military step against the combined will of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (as well as the commanders on the ground) would be extraordinarily difficult politically.  My guess is that he’ll try to win them over (or bully them) in some fashion, but failing that he’ll back down.  I just can’t see him ordering a troop “surge” if they remain united in opposition.

What do you think?

Abstinence in Wonderland

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Forgive me my prudishness, but I tend to think the world would be a better place if people limited sexual intercourse to long term loving relationships.  I’m just not terribly optimistic about the chances of that ever actually coming to pass.

The problem with preaching abstinence as a vehicle of public policy, after all, has never had to do with its desirability.  The problem is that it doesn’t work, a fact a recent study puts starkly into view:

(Washington Post) Wait Until Marriage? ‘Extremely Challenging’

Everybody is doing it, and has been for quite a while.

That’s the conclusion of a study of trends in premarital intercourse over the past half-century.

A 2002 survey of about 12,500 men and women found that 97 percent of people who were no longer virgins at age 44 had sexual intercourse for the first time before they married.

By age 20, only 12 percent of people interviewed had married, but 77 percent had sex, and 75 percent had sex before marriage. By age 44, 99 percent of people were no longer virgins, 95 percent reported having had premarital intercourse, and 85 percent had married at some point.

The high prevalence of people reporting sex before marriage isn’t new but has risen in recent decades, according to the study in the January issue of Public Health Reports.

Bottom line — the megabucks the federal government spends every year encouraging abstinence until marriage are largely wasted.  For better or for worse that’s simply not how people are put together.   

Again, it would be wonderful if that weren’t so, if we could convince our young people, especially younger teenagers, to resist becoming sexually active until later.  A whole host of social problems, ranging from teen pregnancy, STDs and childhood poverty would be substantially improved in such a world. 

But to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we have to fight our society’s social problems with the human frailties our children have, not with the iron wills we want them to have.  And when we pretend otherwise we do nothing but put their futures at risk.  And that really is a sin.

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EJ Dionne Jr. declares the birth of a new liberal America

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Well, okay, he didn’t exactly put it that way.  But that’s the substance of what he has to say in today’s column.

‘The Real America,’ Redefined

When a nation alters its philosophical direction and changes its assumptions, there is no press release to announce the shift, no news conference where The People declare that they have decided to move down a different path.

Yet 2006 is looking more and more like one of history’s hinge years, a moment when old ideas are cast aside, new leaders emerge and old leaders decide to speak in new ways. The changes in politics and culture are visible in the many sudden and outright reversals of the conventional wisdom.

Nowhere is the evidence of change more striking than among the young, whose attitudes and behavior are usually leading indicators of social transformation.

In 1984 three exit polls pegged Ronald Reagan’s share of the ballots cast by Americans under 30 at between 57 and 60 percent. Reagan-style conservatism seemed fresh, optimistic and innovative. In 2006 voters under 30 gave 60 percent of their votes to Democratic House candidates, according to the shared media exit poll. Conservatism now looks old, tired and ineffectual.

So the kids are turning Democratic.  Given that they’re the future, I’d have to call this a pretty good sign.

Sam Brownback’s my man

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

It’s always a bit of a scary tightrope walk deciding who to root for to become the bad guys’ nominee for president.  On the one hand, if they put up a real loser, someone like Barry Goldwater (as he appeared at the time) in 1964, it greatly increases the chances the good guys (the Democrats for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention) will win.

On the other hand, you have to be careful what you wish for, because sometimes your would-be loser ends up winning (George W. Bush in 2000 comes to mind) and then you’re stuck with him.

Yup, a scary tightrope walk it can be: Nevertheless, I’ve picked my pony for the 2008 GOP presidential nominee.  Drum roll please — and the winner is — Sam Brownback, US Senator from Kansas.

Yes, if he actually got elected I’d have to consider going to Australia (Canada would be too close); but, really, what are the chances of that actually happening?

Here’s the good Senator in action:

(AP) Brownback wants to re-question nominee

Sen. Sam Brownback (news, bio, voting record), who wants to champion social conservatives in the presidential race, said Tuesday he wants a Senate panel to re-question a judicial nominee who attended a same-sex union ceremony.

Brownback, a Kansas Republican, said he wants Michigan state judge Janet Neff to testify about her role in the 2002 Massachusetts ceremony, her legal views on same-sex unions and her ability to be impartial if called upon to rule on such cases.

Neff’s nomination to federal district court is among a dozen or so now stalled in the Senate, a logjam in part due to Brownback’s questions about Neff’s attendance at a lesbian commitment ceremony. The Senate Judiciary Committee has already approved her nomination.

This guy is nuttier than one of our Free Republic Brownies at The Last Chance Democracy Café (check out the menu). 

Brownback represents the extreme wing of the extreme wing of the Republican Party.  He wouldn’t just get creamed in the general election; he’d bury the social conservative political movement for a generation.

So here’s looking at you Sam.  Best of luck in your quest for the nomination, really.

Abramoff Not Fond of Dish Washing?

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Here’s the funny part of the story:

Abramoff Opts for Self-Defense in Latest Suits

…It’s extremely rare for prisoners to defend themselves pro se, according to the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prisoner Project. The logistics could get tricky with Abramoff unable to travel for depositions. But the tactic could get him out of prison chores like kitchen duty or carpentry while he is doing legal research. (my emphasis)

Do you think he’d represent himself to avoid washing dishes?

“It’s Jack Abramoff. What else can you say? The guy believes in himself”

Or, perhaps, he’s just full of himself.

- Greg

Talking past the world: What the response to Jimmy Carter’s book tells us about America

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

There is a good deal to be learned from the firestorm generated by Jimmy Carter’s new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”  Actually, it’s less the book itself that’s causing the uproar than its title — particularly the use of the word apartheid.  Yet, whatever one thinks about who is most to blame for the mess in the Middle East, can anyone seriously doubt that a condition of apartheid is, in fact, the reality on the ground?

Here’s the definition of the word: “A policy or practice of separating or segregating groups.”

I mean, come on folks, Israel is building a wall for the express purpose of separating the Israelis from the Palestinians.  Israel has also repeatedly seized Palestinian territory for the purpose of building Jewish only settlements — settlements Palestinians can not even approach without subjecting themselves to gunfire.

If that’s not apartheid then what is it?  A good neighbors’ policy? 

Again, I’m not talking about blame here, something that’s overflowing in abundance on all sides.  As I’ve said before,

The truth is that the wrongfulness of the actions of every major player in this conflict runs so deep, though so many layers of dried and dusty sediment, that trying to apportion the rights and wrongs of any one flare-up is pretty much beside the point. These folks have a blood feud going. The “bad guy” on any particular day is whoever threw the last punch. Tune in a few days (or at most a few weeks) later and the roles will be reversed.

Assessing blame doesn’t end feuds. Demanding retribution for the last crime doesn’t end feuds. Feuds end when both sides stop killing — period.”

So forget blame.  But one thing we can’t afford to forget, given how closely our national interests are tied to this explosive region, is effective communication on this issue with the international community.  And therein lies a huge problem.  One can state with absolute confidence, for example, that if the proposition were offered in virtually any other nation in the world that a state of apartheid exists in Palestine and Israel, an overwhelming majority of its people would agree.


Reid on Iraq: Beware of trigger words

Sunday, December 17th, 2006

Harry Reid’s statement that he might support a brief troop surge in Iraq has the liberal blogosphere buzzing.  Talking Points Memo, for example, accuses him of sipping the Kool-aid

Here’s what he actually said (Reuters):

“If it’s for a surge, that is, for two or three months and it’s part of a program to get us out of there as indicated by this time next year, then, sure, I’ll go along with it,” Reid, who will become the majority leader when Democrats take control of the Senate next month, told ABC’s “This Week” program.

Clearly the “surge” Reid is willing to contemplate is something fundamentally different from what’s being proposed by McCain, Lieberman and apparently Bush.  Taken in context, he seems to be talking about respecting the opinions of the commanders on the scene during the drawdown of US troops.  If they feel that a brief increase in troop numbers is needed, for example, as a protection force for the withdrawing troops (as BarbinMD suggests at Kos), Reid is prepared to support that.

This is obviously a far cry from McCain’s proposal for a long term increase in force levels as part of a continuing quest for “victory” in Iraq.

Reid’s mistake was in failing to recognize that the words “surge” and “troop increase” have become trigger words — words so closely associated with a particular high-voltage political issue that their mere use causes sparks to fly; and this remains true regardless of how they’re actually being used by the particular speaker.  In the political lexicon, surge and troop increases now mean escalation in Iraq, as opposed to withdrawal.  That’s clearly not what Reid intended, but by using a trigger word in an affirmative way he inevitably picked up a lot of its baggage.

What makes trigger words so dangerous, of course, is that people tend to have a short attention span. That’s what makes a headline writer so powerful — a large percentage of readers never get past it.  Similarly, politicians need to understand that if they use trigger words, such as “surge” and “troop increases,” in a favorable sounding way a lot of people will take them at their word and not stick around for the details.
Communication is a politician’s stock in trade.  In this instance, Reid did it badly.  What he should have said was, “I oppose any lengthy increase in troop levels.  We need to start bringing our people home.  Now, if you’re talking about increasing troop levels for two or three months, with the ironclad understanding they will then come home, and it’s part of a program to get us out of there as indicated by this time next year, then, sure, I may be willing to go along with it assuming that’s what the military professionals suggest.  But that’s as far as I and more importantly the American people will be willing to go.”

It’s the exact same substantive statement, but by not using the trigger words in a positive sounding way it sends a very different message. 

If at first you don’t succeed, screwup even worse

Sunday, December 17th, 2006

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Flipping the Senate Republican would be suicide for the GOP

Friday, December 15th, 2006

All of the perks of majorityhood notwithstanding, there are times when it’s better to be in the minority.  For GOP senators, this is such a time.

There is simply no getting around the fact that the voters used the recent elections as a hammer to smash the GOP: It was a stinging repudiation.  And it didn’t end on Nov. 7.  Ciro Rodriguez’s recent upset victory over Henry Bonilla in Texas strongly suggests that the anti-GOP wave is still gaining strength: Recent polling results point to the same conclusion.

So what would happen, God forbid, if South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson really did die and the state’s GOP governor appointed a Republican replacement, as the ghouls of the DC punditry corps have been endlessly speculating, thereby flipping the Senate back to GOP control — if barely (50-50 with Darth Cheney breaking the tie)? 

By the same token, what would be the fallout if Johnson recovers (as thankfully seems increasingly likely), but Bush, instead, succeeded in seducing Party of One standard-bearer, Joe Lieberman, into joining the administration as UN ambassador, as Joe Conason recently speculated might happen: This again would allow a GOP governor to fill the vacancy (although it’s very unlikely Lieberman would take the job given how little time remains in Bush’s term)?

Personally, I think there’s little doubt about it: People would be mad.  They’d consider it, at best, cheating and, at worst, a coup d’état. 

The comparison beltway pundits keep making to Jim Jeffords’ jump to the Democrats in 2001 totally misses the mark: Jeffords flipped the Senate Democratic a mere six months after an election in which the Democrats gained four Senate seats (and in the view of many, if not most, Americans won the presidency only to have it stolen from them). 

The Jeffords switch in no way undid a mandate for change; but switching the Senate to the GOP today would do just that.  And the electorate would almost certainly burn them for it in 2008. 

It reminds me a little of what happened to Wendell Anderson, a popular Democratic (DFL) governor of Minnesota, whose promising political career was ended when the electorate concluded that he had “cheated” in order to obtain higher office.  A US Senate seat had opened up in 1976 as a result of Walter Mondale becoming Vice President.  Instead of appointing someone else to the seat, Anderson resigned the governorship in order to have his lieutenant governor, who then became governor, of course, appoint him to the Senate seat.  While, for myself, I don’t see any big problem with this, many citizens of Minnesota did.

They thought it was cheating.  And the next election they slaughtered the entire DFL ticket, Anderson included.

The truth is that if Senator Johnson were to die, grabbing control of the Senate wouldn’t be a smart move for the Republicans.  Over the long haul it would be much better politically for Republican Governor Mike Rounds to take the high road by appointing a caretaker Democrat or independent, leaving the Senate in Democratic hands.

This would also make it much easier for those incumbent GOP senators who face reelection contests in 2008 to avoid being tainted by Bush’s unpopularity.

So, if the opportunity were to present itself, would the Republicans have the self-restraint needed to forgo the perks of power?

You’re right: Not one chance in a hundred