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Friday, February 29, 2008

McCain Sings

I believe this is a first for the blog -- an embedded video. However, leap year day is a rare event too, so perhaps this is the correct day to do this:



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Ducking out

Lately, at the Duck of Minerva, I've blogged about some topics that might be of interest to my regular readers:

  • Yesterday, February 28: "Sage advice from the Prez." President Bush offered Turkey some advice about its military "incursion" in Iraq.

  • February 20, I blogged "Cuba: El Tiante's pitch." The former pitcher Luis Tiant offers his view of the Cuban embargo.

  • February 14, I wrote "PTL returns," which is about the latest Indiana Jones movie, forthcoming in May.


Enjoy.


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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Can the empire strike back?

This weekend, while cleaning off some old bookshelves, I discovered a book by journalist Mark Shields, On the Campaign Trail, published in 1985.

In the 1984 primary season, Colorado Senator Gary Hart emerged from virtual oblivion to provide a serious challenge against former Vice President Walter Mondale for the Democratic nomination for president. Hart was likened to JFK, as Shields notes (p. 31).

Meanwhile, Shields referred pejoratively to Mondale's "Imperial Candidacy" (p. 27), built on years of insider politics and the presumption of inevitability. Sound familiar?

These excerpts are from pp. 24-28:
TO: Walter F. Mondale
FROM: Mark Shields, Washington Post, March 1984

Sir: ...Cannot overemphasize now that time is not your ally. Incredible as it may seem after all you've accomplished over the last two years, this nomination can get away from you by the end of this month. This weekend you are still on the slippery slope. Urgent action is required.

The heart of the matter is this: Americans, which includes Democrats, are mostly incurable optimists. They equate change with improvement. For fifty years, Democrats generally represented change in the nation's politics.

...Gary Hart seized the change side of the equation in this year's Democratic presidential politics...television has told the whole country that Hart is the candidate of "the future" and "new ideas," while some of your supporters have demonstrated the eloquence of an OSHA regulation for water closets....

In politics, only the candidate -- you -- can give a campaign clear definition and meaning for the voters. You have failed to do this so far, but you simply must do it before March 20. You must take personal responsibility for defining your campaign...

You simply cannot run on a program of restoring Reagan's budget cuts...and repeal of the third year of the Reagan tax cut.

...Tell voters where you want to lead our nation: Give them your vision for the future -- a vision larger than any legislative program and based on values. Articulate our national interest and what we must all do to protect it and make the world a safer place. Patriotism means more than just paying higher taxes. Summon the best in all of us to make a more just American family.
Mondale went on to defeat Hart -- his success is attributed in great part to his asking Hart, "Where's the beef?," but Mondale got blown out of the water by Ronald Reagan in November.


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Monday, February 25, 2008

Dress up day

Apparently, today is officially "dress-up" day on the presidential campaign.

Drudge is highlighting a photo of Barack Obama from one of his foreign trips a couple of years ago. To some eyes, it might seem like a Taliban Halloween costume.

Drudge claims that the photo was circulated by Obama's main Democratic rival -- even as he points out the hypocrisy of such an act.

Indeed, if this was from Hillary Clinton's campaign, then someone will probably be fired for distributing it.

Take away the mudslinging angle and this is an opportunity to enjoy the costumes.

For example, take a look at this snapshot of Clinton with Benazir Bhutto in 1995. Here she is with one hat or another.

While those are good, I think they compare unfavorably to this one of cowboy Obama.

One thing is certain. It is too bad that Rudy Guiliani cannot be considered for this competition.


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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Non-Proliferation Perspective

This fact is remarkable:
Signed by all of the world's nations except India, Israel, and Pakistan (North Korea withdrew in 2003), it [the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] empowered the IAEA to control and monitor the spread of nuclear technology—all with a budget of only $350 million a year, less than that of the Washington, D.C., police department.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is far more important to global politics than is the DC police force.

Why? Well, despite the recent NIE, the Bush administration is still selling the idea of Iran as a nuclear threat.

The IAEA is thus an important buffer preventing the use of force against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Keep this in mind as the world continues to debate the Bush administration's view of Iran: The IAEA, of course, was correct about Iraq's nuclear program -- when the Bush administration was very wrong.

Though hawks in the Bush administration doubted its value, the IAEA was recognized for its successes in 2005, when it won the Nobel Peace Prize.


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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Iraq WMD: "Deliberately misleading"

With hawkish Senator John McCain about to become the Republican nominee for President, every now and then it's a good idea to review how most members of his party still view the Iraq war. Last night, Karl Rove provided a reminder when he spoke at the University of Pennsylvania:
On Iraq especially, the political strategist found it behooved him to underscore the unique circumstances under which the decision to go to war was made.

"History has a funny way of deciding things," he said. "Sometimes history sends you things, and 9/11 came our way."

Americans should not forget, he counseled, that every act of war sends a poignant political message and that any statement the U.S. could send by reluctance to fight Islamic extremists abroad will be taken as a sign of diminished will. He surmised that al-Qaida clearly indicated it understood the political implications of war by attacking the USS Cole in October 2000, a month before a presidential election.

His appraisal of the decision to invade Iraq was forthright: "Was it the right thing to do? Yes."
The standard line, of course, is that they acted based upon the best information they had at the time. I've previously blogged about that ad nauseum, but earlier tonight I saw more proof that this was false.

Here's then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, interviewed by Tim Russert on May 16, 2004, MTP. He was asked about his UN presentation about Iraq WMD:
I'm also comfortable that at the time that I made the presentation, it reflected the collective judgment, the sound judgment of the intelligence community. But it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.
Hat tip: Today's "Countdown" with Keith Olbermann.


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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"May I speak?"

Today, I attended a campus screening of the documentary, "¿Puedo Hablar? / May I Speak?," which is about the 2006 reelection campaign of Hugo Chávez. It was very well done and worth a viewing if you get a chance. Here's a clip.

Young filmmaker Chris Moore was in the audience for a post-film Q&A. Some colleagues and I had lunch with him, so I had an opportunity to speak to him then.

I think the most interesting aspect of the documentary was the obvious parallel between the discourse of Chávez and the "war on terror" discourse of George W. Bush. Both demonize political enemies and play up real or imagined foreign threats. Compare "Against Chávez, Against the People" says Chávez; "you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" says Bush.


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The Post-American President?

Would Barack Obama be the first "post-American" President? Scott McConnell, who writes for Patrick Buchanan's The American Conservative thinks so:
He would not only be the United States’ first black president, but, to borrow immigration activist Mark Krikorian’s useful term, its first post-American one as well.

In his foreign-policy address before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last April, Obama asserted that America’s security is “inextricably linked to the security of all people,” a recipe for global interventionism so promiscuous as to make neoconservatives almost prudent by comparison. He is a proponent of global free trade and high levels of immigration. Much of his memoir is devoted to his quest to connect with an extended family in Africa. This world-man aura is not without appeal, especially after eight years of a president deaf to what foreigners think and feel. But taken as far as Obama does, it would be an electoral liability.
The piece goes downhill from there, noting that Republicans would play up his unusual name, his middle name (Hussein), his race, etc.

It seems clear that Obama does NOT have in mind a "promiscuous" "recipe for global interventionism."

He was against Iraq as a "dumb war," and the standards he set for that conflict would obviously be applied to other potential conflicts. This is from that Chicago speech in April that McConnell references:
No President should ever hesitate to use force – unilaterally if necessary – to protect ourselves and our vital interests when we are attacked or imminently threatened. But when we use force in situations other than self-defense, we should make every effort to garner the clear support and participation of others – the kind of burden-sharing and support President George H.W. Bush mustered before he launched Operation Desert Storm.

And when we do send our men and women into harm’s way, we must also clearly define the mission, prescribe concrete political and military objectives, seek out advice of our military commanders, evaluate the intelligence, plan accordingly, and ensure that our troops have the resources, support, and equipment they need to protect themselves and fulfill their mission.

We must take these steps with the knowledge that while sometimes necessary, force is the costliest weapon in the arsenal of American power in terms of lives and treasure. And it’s far from the only measure of our strength.

In order to advance our national security and our common security, we must call on the full arsenal of American power and ingenuity. To constrain rogue nations, we must use effective diplomacy and muscular alliances. To penetrate terrorist networks, we need a nimble intelligence community – with strong leadership that forces agencies to share information, and invests in the tools, technologies and human intelligence that can get the job done. To maintain our influence in the world economy, we need to get our fiscal house in order. And to weaken the hand of hostile dictators, we must free ourselves from our oil addiction. None of these expressions of power can supplant the need for a strong military. Instead, they complement our military, and help ensure that the use of force is not our sole available option.
This is not the Bush Doctrine, clearly, nor a recipe for war-war-war.

Here's more from Obama's October 2007 foreign policy address in Chicago:
But it's also time to learn the lessons of Iraq. We're not going to defeat the threats of the 21st century on a conventional battlefield. We cannot win a fight for hearts and minds when we outsource critical missions to unaccountable contractors. We're not going to win a battle of ideas with bullets alone...

It's time to make diplomacy a top priority. Instead of shuttering consulates, we need to open them in the tough and hopeless corners of the world. Instead of having more Americans serving in military bands than the diplomatic corps, we need to grow our foreign service. Instead of retreating from the world, I will personally lead a new chapter of American engagement.

It is time to offer the world a message of hope to counter the prophets of hate.
Obama's speech is loaded with calls for diplomacy, arms control, and multilateralism. He also focuses on "human security" issues that require American attention, but not its military force -- global poverty, most prominently.

Procedurally, he wants to abandon torture, reduce secrecy, restrain presidential power and assure that the US is a good citizen on the international stage. In all, there is a great deal to like in the speech and not much to challenge.


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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Messiah smear

Some of Barack Obama's foes apparently want voters to think that he has a messiah complex. On February 10, this comment was left on my blog:
"... a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany ... and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Obama" - Barack Obama Lebanon, New Hampshire. January 7, 2008. Hillary, please go away!! Let Obama rule!!
I googled that phrase ("a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany,") and the results are eye-opening.

The first result is to this blog: Is Barack Obama the Messiah? The sidebar is filled with links to "heretics and unbelievers" and an ad from The New Republic. Somehow, I don't think an Obama supporter would lead off a defense with a link to Red State. The blog is getting 3700 hits per day, which is almost 100 times my average.

Most of the other results are right-leaning blogs and their mission seems pretty transparent. Often, when these words are quoted, his middle name (Hussein) is used and the writer says that the words are typical of a cult leader -- and "scary."

Apparently, these critics don't understand metaphor -- and are trying to make people believe that Obama is doing something beyond trying to win votes.

Here's CNN's transcript of the January 7 event, with enough surrounding material to provide the context:
And so your Lebanon organizer for the Obama campaign is Big Dave Ormbrendt (ph).

Where's Dave?

Big Dave, come on up here. Stay right here. Here's Big Dave. He is doing a great job.

They love you, Big Dave. They love you.

He is doing a great job.

Now, in the last day here, Dave only has one thing on his mind. He wakes up with this thought, he goes to sleep with this thought, he eats and lives and breathes and dreams about getting you to the polls tomorrow. That's all he is thinking about.

More specifically, getting you to the polls to vote for me. That's what he's thinking about.

(APPLAUSE)

That's his job, get you to the polls, vote for Obama. My job is to help him do his job. So I am going to try to be so persuasive in the 20 minutes or so that I speak that by the time this is over, a light will shine down from somewhere.

It will light upon you. You will experience an epiphany. And you will say to yourself, I have to vote for Barack. I have to do it.

And if you make that decision, if that moment happens, then it would be great -- even though it's just one day to go -- for you to fill out one of these supporter cards before you leave, because that way we'll know, you know, who, in fact, is going to be voting. Make sure that you are getting to the right precinct. It will be very heful to Dave in doing his job.
Not so scary, eh?

Media Matters
is on the case.


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Saturday, February 16, 2008

The clairvoyant

News flash: Chelsea Clinton unintentionally praises Barack Obama:
“Has your mother shown any remorse for the fact that her vote cost Iraqis a million of their lives?” a student asked Chelsea Clinton on Monday at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Ms. Clinton replied: “She cast a vote based on the best available evidence. Perhaps you had clairvoyance then, and that’s extraordinary.”
Barack Obama, October 2002:
What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income - to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression. That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics. Now let me be clear - I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.
The rest of the short speech is also worth reading. Obama calls for focusing on bin Laden and al Qaeda and for ending American addiction to Middle East oil.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Electability

Hillary Clinton tried to downplay Barack Obama's "red state" electoral victories this past week:
"It is highly unlikely we will win Alaska or North Dakota or Idaho or Nebraska," she told reporters. "But we have to win Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, Michigan ... And we've got to be competitive in places like Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma."

On Monday, the former first lady went a step further saying that it would take a "tsunami change in America," for Democrats to carry some of Obama's red states. "It's just not going to happen," she told ABC7 and Politico.
If Clinton thinks she can win Oklahoma or Texas in November, then I doubt her political instincts.

Likewise, I seriously doubt that candidate Obama would lose Massachusetts, California, or New York. Those are fairly solid blue states.

Still, Clinton's underlying point has some merit. Has Barack Obama been winning the overall delegate count by sweeping a bunch of red states that won't vote for the Democratic candidate this November?

Even more importantly, which candidate is doing best in the so-called purple states?

This is the data to-date:

Red states (13, Obama 11-2)
Alabama: Obama
Alaska: Obama
Arizona: Obama
Georgia: Obama
Idaho: Obama
Kansas: Obama
Louisiana: Obama
Nebraska: Obama
North Dakota: Obama
Oklahoma: Clinton
South Carolina: Obama
Tennessee: Clinton
Utah: Obama

Blue states (11, Obama 7-4)
California: Clinton
Connecticut: Obama
Delaware: Obama
District of Columbia: Obama
Illinois: Obama
Maryland: Obama
Massachusetts: Clinton
Minnesota: Obama
New Jersey: Clinton
New York: Clinton
Washington: Obama

Purple states (9, Obama 5-4, nearly 5-2-2)
Arkansas: Clinton
Colorado: Obama
Iowa: Obama
Maine: Obama
Missouri: Obama
Nevada: Clinton (Obama won delegate count)
New Hampshire: Clinton
New Mexico: Clinton (nearly tied)
Virginia: Obama

Obama's delegate lead is likely inflated by his wins in the red states, but the candidate has proven that he can win blue and purple states that the Democrats will need in November to win the 2008 election.

Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are important purple states with upcoming primaries.


Notes:

Two very critical purple states may need to vote again to be counted. Clinton "won" a Michigan primary that was not supposed to count -- and Obama was not on the ballot. She also won Florida, which was not supposed to count, but where Obama was on the ballot. The DNC penalized these states for moving their primaries to early dates. All the candidates pledged not to campaign in those states -- and they did not campaign. No delegates were awarded.

One could make an argument that both Minnesota and Tennessee should be swing states. New Jersey and Washington might also be considered swing states by some measures. Those states went 2-2 for Obama-Clinton.


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Where's the beef?

In the 1984 election cycle, former Vice President Walter Mondale (the well-known and well-funded establishment candidate) faced insurgent charismatic newcomer Gary Hart. To stress that Hart's impressive-sounding ideas lacked substance, Mondale jokingly used a line from a popular Wendy's commercial: "Where's the beef?"

In her effort to stop the Barack Obama juggernaut, Hillary Clinton's campaign has borrowed this tactic from Mondale's 1984 campaign. To my ear, it's not as simple or elegant:
"That's the difference between me and my opponent. My opponent makes speeches. I offer solutions. It is one thing to get people excited. I want to empower you," the New York senator said....

"Now, over the years, you've heard plenty of promises from plenty of people in plenty of speeches. And some of those speeches were probably pretty good. But speeches don't put food on the table. Speeches don't fill up your tank, or fill your prescription, or do anything about that stack of bills that keeps you up at night," Clinton said.
I put the most incendiary sound bite in red -- look for it in Republican commercials next fall.

Based on the economic content Obama added to his stump speech today, I do not expect this charge to stick.


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Monday, February 11, 2008

Add one superdelegate to Obama's count

Representative John Yarmuth (D-KY) has endorsed Barack Obama. February 8, Louisville Courier-Journal:
Obama, D-Ill., also “will change the perception of the United States around the world almost instantaneously,” the Louisville congressman told reporters during a conference call.

“…Of all the candidates,” Yarmuth said, “he is the only one who has the potential to create the type of broad personal mandate that will enable him to promote real change in this country and real progress.”

“I’ve been in Congress 13 months and have followed Congress for a long time, and I’ve seen first-hand how difficult it is to govern with basically a 51-49 society.”
The current superdelegate count seems to be Clinton 224 and Obama 132.


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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rally around the winner?

According to many pundits, the Obama-Clinton Democratic nomination contest is doomed to a 50-50 delegate split that will be decided after a long string of state elections by superdelegates at the convention.

Before criticizing these pundits, I'll admit to reporting this possibility myself -- in a Thursday, February 7, post at the Duck of Minerva.

However, that post also noted the possibility that Barack Obama's post-Super Tuesday success may make him the "inevitable" front-runner based on a "rally-around-the-winner" affect. He's raised far more money than Hillary Clinton since January 1 (winning January 70-30) and is poised to have a great February with voters -- from yesterday's victories in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington state and the Virgin Islands to Tuesday's likely big victories in DC, Maryland and Virginia and beyond.

Clinton is currently ahead in Wisconsin according to one recent poll (ARG), but the actual election result my be influenced by what happens in the leadup to that February 19 contest.

Today's caucuses in Maine might go Clinton's way, but local rules provide that heavy snow could delay results until later in the month. At 12:30 pm ET: "It is snowing there now, with four to eight inches expected from snowfalls last night and today. In western Maine, there could be as much as a foot of snow."

I'm not trying to focus exclusively on the horse race, as opposed to the issues, but some Clinton campaign staff are apparently in a "state of panic" right now.

Part of the problem with the coverage is that these candidates are not that far apart on the issues and the Democratic platform is likely to be very similar whichever one wins the nomination. Clinton has perhaps been a bit to the right on foreign policy (voting with Joe Lieberman to call the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terror organization; opposing some minor openings toward Cuba, etc.).

Domestically, Clinton's health plan includes mandates for universal coverage, while Obama's does not. Both of them will likely borrow good ideas from the failed John Edwards campaign -- on college education and corporate responsibility, for example.

The general election is still almost 9 months away, so there's plenty of time to contrast the Democratic position on major issues with the view espoused by the Republican candidate (likely to be John McCain).


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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Cuba and the 2008 election

Is Barack Obama more progressive on Cuba than Hillary Clinton? Since the Democrats didn't campaign in Florida, this question has not appeared on the public radar.

Last summer, however, Obama wrote an op-ed for the Miami Herald calling for the US to ease up on some aspects of the economic embargo toward Cuba:
The primary means we have of encouraging positive change in Cuba today is to help the Cuban people become less dependent on the Castro regime in fundamental ways. U.S. policy must be built around empowering the Cuban people, who ultimately hold the destiny of Cuba in their hands...

Cuban-American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grass-roots democracy on the island. Accordingly, I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.
Essentially, these policies would roll back some tightening of the economic embargo implemented by the current George W. Bush presidential administration. Bill Clinton allowed freer travel and remittances as well.

Obama has also voted twice to cut off funding for TV Marti.

After Obama's op-ed, however, Hillary Clinton's campaign attacked it. Time reported August 23:
In response to Obama's statement, Hillary Clinton continued her recent attacks on his perceived foreign policy naivete, insisting that "until it is clear what type of policies might come with a new [Cuban] government, we cannot talk about changes in the U.S. policies toward Cuba."
She has also voted to maintain TV Marti and says the economic embargo should not be lifted "until democracy took root there," as The New York Times described her position on October 18, 2000.

How's this for a succinct summary? From The Washington Post, January 1, 2007:
Clinton "is going with the status quo," said Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based pollster who specializes in Hispanic voters. Obama, he said, "is with the position of change."
In the February 11, 2008, issue of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria argues that the daylight between and Obama and Hillary Clinton is manufactured -- by Clinton, out of caution and calculation. She has been trying to win votes in Florida and New Jersey, rather than arguing for clearly needed policy change. Zakaria does not approve of her political posturing:
she is terrified to act on her beliefs. In fact, she seems so conditioned by what she sees as political constraints that one can barely tell where her beliefs begin and where those constraints end.
I realize that political candidates frequently reverse their campaign positions when elected to public office. However, as Zakaria points out -- and I've previously noted -- American hard-line policy toward Cuba has been a complete failure for decades.


Note: I have a longstanding interest in US policy toward Cuba. In 1983, my college debate colleague, Mark Gidley, and I did well arguing for an end to the Cuban economic embargo, a ban on then-radio Marti, closing of the U.S. military base on Guantanamo Bay and a flat statement that US intervention into Cuba's internal affairs should be prohibited.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday: new southern strategy?

Should he win the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama might put southern red states -- or at least pockets of them -- in play in November. Obama attracts lots of votes among African-Americans, young voters and independents. Based on primary turnout, he seems to be energizing new voters -- or otherwise apathetic voters.

MSNBC is reporting that 84% of the votes are counted in Georgia and Obama has 63% of them -- nearly half a million so far. Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards have attracted 756,000 voters.

On the Red side, the top 5 candidates have attracted 825,000 voters.

MSNBC is reporting 89% of votes counted in Alabama. The Dems have attracted 478,000 voters, with Obama getting a solid majority (56%) of them.

The top 5 Republicans have attracted 475,000 votes.

Are these results close enough to put Georgia and/or Alabama in play in November?

Those Alabama numbers are very interesting, eh?

Keep in mind that Mike Huckabee is winning Georgia, Alabama and other southern states on the Republican side, but John McCain looks like the candidate in November. Some evangelical leaders have vowed not to vote McCain. Rush Limbaugh doesn't like McCain and Ann Coulter says she'd vote for Clinton over McCain.

If Obama can beat Clinton, perhaps he can radically revise the electoral map in a contest versus McCain?

Perhaps Obama could attract enough new African-American, young and
independent voters to help down ballot Dems?


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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Update: The Wretched of the Earth

Neoconservative journalist Robert Kaplan has written a remarkable piece about the global political implications of climate change in the January/February 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. This is perhaps the most interesting excerpt:
The linkage between a global community on one hand and a village community on the other has made Bangladeshi NGOs intensely aware of the worldwide significance of their country’s environmental plight. “Come, come, I will show you the climate change,” said Mohon Mondal, a local NGO worker in the southwest, referring to a bridge that had partially collapsed because of rising seawater. To some degree, this awareness feeds a mind-set in which every eroded embankment becomes an indictment against the United States for walking away from the Kyoto accords. (Muslim Bangladeshis are in almost every other way pro-American—the upshot of their historical dislike for their former colonial master, Great Britain; frequent intimidation by nearby India and China; and lingering hostility toward Pakistan stemming from the 1971 war for liberation.) But regardless of the merits of this case, the United States can’t just defend its own position. As the world’s greatest power, the U.S. must be seen to take the lead against global warming, or suffer the fate of being blamed for it. Bangladesh demonstrates how developing-world misery has acquired—in the form of climate change—a powerful new argument, tied to the more fundamental outcry for justice and dignity.
By no stretch of the imagination is the US solely to blame for climate change, but Kaplan is correct to warn against the development of this perception.

Perhaps there's still time for the US to act and blame booming China.

Kaplan's contribution to the climate debate likely indicates just how seriously the Pentagon views the problem -- and reflects the fact that skepticism is now passé.


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Friday, February 01, 2008

California Debate

I did not see all of the California debate, but I saw a large part of it. On Iraq, it seems clear that Barack Obama has a much stronger argument than does Hillary Clinton.

Here's Obama:
I want to get our troops home safely, and I want us as a country to have this mission completed honorably. But the notion that somehow we have succeeded as a consequence of the recent reductions in violence means that we have set the bar so low it's buried in the sand at this point. (Cheers, applause.)

We -- and I said this before -- we went from intolerable levels of violence and a dysfunctional government to spikes and horrific levels of violence and a dysfunctional government, and now two years later we're back to intolerable levels of violence and a dysfunctional government. And in the meantime, we have spent billions of dollars, lost thousands of lives; thousands more have been maimed and injured as a consequence and are going to have difficulty putting their lives back together again.

So, understand that this has undermined our security. In the meantime, Afghanistan has slid into more chaos than existed before we went into Iraq.

I am happy to have that argument. I also think it is going to be important, though, for the Democrats -- you know, Senator Clinton mentioned the issue of gravitas and judgment. I think it is much easier for us to have the argument when we have a nominee who says, "I always thought this was a bad idea, this was a bad strategy."

(Applause.) It was not just a problem of execution -- it was not just a problem of execution.

I mean, they screwed up the execution of it in all sorts of ways. And I think even Senator McCain has acknowledged that.

The question is, can we make an argument that this was a conceptually flawed mission from the start, and that we need better judgment when we decide to send our young men and women into war, that we are making absolutely certain that it is because there is a imminent threat, that American interests are going to be protected, that we have a plan to succeed and to exit, that we are going to train our troops properly and equip them properly and put them on proper rotations and treat them properly when they come home?

And that is an argument that I think we are going to have a easier time making if they can't turn around and say, but hold on a second; you supported this. And that's part of the reason why I think that I would be the strongest nominee on this argument of national security.
Clinton gave a long answer and much of it was good, but I think this part gets her in trouble -- as it did Senator John Kerry in 2004:
I think what no one could have fully appreciated is how obsessed this president was with this particular mission. And unfortunately, I and others who warned at the time, who said let the inspectors finish their work, you know, do not wage a preemptive war, use diplomacy, were just talking to a brick wall.

...I believe that it is abundantly clear that the case that was outlined on behalf of going to the resolution -- not going to war, but going to the resolution -- was a credible case. I was told personally by the White House that they would use the resolution to put the inspectors in. I worked with Senator Levin to make sure we gave them all the intelligence so that we would know what's there.

Some people now think that this was a very clear, open-and-shut case. We bombed them for days in 1998 because Saddam Hussein threw out inspectors. We had evidence that they had a lot of bad stuff for a very long time, which we discovered after the first Gulf War.

Knowing that he was a megalomaniac, knowing he would not want to compete for attention with Osama bin Laden, there were legitimate concerns about what he might do.

So I think I made a reasoned judgment.

Unfortunately the person who actually got to execute the policy did not.
And then Obama goes for the jugular:
OBAMA: I don't want to belabor this because I know we're running out of time, and I'm sure you guys want to move on to some other stuff. But I do have to just say this.

The legislation, the authorization, had the title An Authorization to Use Military Force, U.S. Military Force, in Iraq. I think everybody, the day after that vote was taken, understood, this was a vote potentially to go to war. (Applause.) I think people were very clear about that, if you look at the headlines.
Iraq is going to be a major issue in the 2008 presidential election, so this is really important.

I wrote a large number of blog posts trying to defend Kerry's identical behavior and similar arguments -- and the points Clinton is trying to make simply didn't have traction in 2004.

Four years later, the attempt to defend coercive diplomacy sounds tone deaf.


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