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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ready, set...Duck

Wednesday, January 30, I posted "Interpreting the surge in Iraq" on the Duck of Minerva group blog. It provides additional contextual analysis of Bush's State of the Union speech claims about the surge. There are implications for the presidential primary season -- and the ongoing crisis Kenya.

Last Thursday, January 24, I posted "Government's Little Helper," about the role of the media in foreign policy crisis. Though the press tend to "index" their coverage to official government sources, there may be hope yet for dissent in the public sphere.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Teach-In on Global Warming

If you are local, Thursday, January 31, I am taking part in a campus event from noon to 1:30 pm:
Political Scientist Rodger Payne and Environmental Engineer Sarah Lynn Cunningham will screen some videos and discuss green jobs, green politics, green building, and green economics in reducing dangerous global climate change.
This is going to be in the Floyd Theater of the SAC.

Sarah Lynn Cunningham is a community activist with Louisville Climate Action Network.

From 3:30 to 4:30, at the Planetarium, some faculty from the School of Education will show Wallace J. Nichols' presentation from the October Bioneers Conference titled, "A Brave New Ocean or an Ocean Revolution?" Wallace Nichols is an author, researcher, teacher, and activist. Following the showing of the DVD, there will be an audience participation discussion on plastics (especially water bottles) and climate change.

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Iraq: State of disunion

In his January 10, 2007, speech announcing "the surge," President George W. Bush explained the military rationale:
Our troops will have a well-defined mission: to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs.
Of course, this narrow military mission was not the only purpose of the surge. In fact, just a few moments later, the President explained the broader political goals:
A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.
Many Americans need to be reminded of the President's words.

As everyone knows, and NPR explains, these goals are not being met.
The surge was designed to give the Iraqi government breathing space for reconciliation, and so far, there has been little of that. The legislation which the president sought and the "benchmarks" that he called for last year have largely not been met. There is no oil law. There have been no provincial elections. In his speech, the president noted that the Iraqi parliament recently passed a de-Baathification law; but he failed to mention that the measure is far more restrictive than the one the Bush administration had wanted.
So what did the President say about Iraq in his State of the Union address on Monday night?

Bush, SOTU, January 28, 2008:
While the enemy is still dangerous and more work remains, the American and Iraqi surges have achieved results few of us could have imagined just one year ago. (Applause.) When we met last year, many said that containing the violence was impossible. A year later, high profile terrorist attacks are down, civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down.
While it is true that violence in Iraq is down, it is important to keep in mind that it is basically down to 2005 levels -- worse than it was in 2004.

Iraq Body Count, January 1, 2008:
Figures for the most recent months indicate that violence in Iraq has returned to the monthly levels IBC was recording in 2005, a year which was itself (until 2006) the worst since the invasion.
Was everyone happy with Iraq in 2005? Just take a look at my archives from that year.

The IBC hasn't counted January figures yet, but it looks like the civilian death toll has nearly 700 by Monday, January 28. That's more than 24 per day. IBC frequently notes that its body counts are conservative -- as more information emerges, additional deaths may be noted.

In 2004, about 21 Iraqi civilians were dying per day. In 2005, it was 32.

Do people remember Juan Cole's September 22, 2004, post: "If America were Iraq, What would it be Like?"
What would America look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? 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.
At more than 24 deaths per day, figure 170 per week. Multiply that number by 11 and the result is 1870.

So, it takes a bit more than 11 days for Iraq to experience a 9/11-like calamity.

That means 30 similar calamities per year -- almost 100,000 dead for the year...if Iraq was the US.

Should the US President -- or anyone -- be cheering that?

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Radio appearance: dissent

Wednesday, January 30, I'll be a guest on the local public radio program "State of Affairs." You can listen live on the web at 11 am ET. The station is WFPK, 89.3 FM in Louisville.

The topic is "The Role of Dissent in Islam and America" and I'll be sharing time with Professor Anouar Majid, author of A Call for Heresy; Why Dissent Is Vital to Islam and America. This is the blurb about the program:
It's funny thing, dissent - there are times when expressing dissent with our leaders seems very patriot or noble, and yet there are other times when it is seen as disloyal and subversive. And the more fundamental a society becomes, the less dissent is tolerated, but the more it seems to be needed. And lest we think this just happens in Islamic countries, let's take a good look at America's tolerance for dissent in the past few years. Join us on Wednesday as we discuss the role dissent does, can and should play in Islam and America.
I'll be drawing on my recent academic work on counterpublic spheres and anti-war protest. This is taken from my 2006 ISA conference paper abstract:
"counterpublics"...invent and circulate discourses in opposition to those featured in the mainstream. Counterpublic spheres potentially make the predominant public sphere more inclusive and open to dissent. Some empirical attention is directed at the apparent success of the anti-war counterpublic, as reflected in their distinct minority status immediately after the 9/11 attacks in regard to war in Afghanistan in fall 2001 through opposition to the Iraq war in 2006.
Tune in if you can.

Update: I enjoyed the program. Listen to the archived version here.

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Another pop quiz on the presidential race

I learned of this presidential candidate test from a colleague in the east, even though it is from Minnesota Public Radio. I got these results:

1. John Edwards 22 (tie)
1. Barack Obama 22 (tie)
3. Hillary Clinton 21
No one else was very close, as my #4 was at 17.

On this test, my top Republican was Ron Paul with 11.

As for the non-handshake story, see this.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Preventive war update: NATO edition

January 22, The Guardian newspaper ran a story about what they called "a radical manifesto for a new Nato by five of the west's most senior military officers and strategists."
General John Shalikashvili, the former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff and Nato's ex-supreme commander in Europe, General Klaus Naumann, Germany's former top soldier and ex-chairman of Nato's military committee, General Henk van den Breemen, a former Dutch chief of staff, Admiral Jacques Lanxade, a former French chief of staff, and Lord Inge, field marshal and ex-chief of the general staff and the defence staff in the UK
What was their report about? According the The Guardian,
The west must be ready to resort to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to try to halt the "imminent" spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction...the former armed forces chiefs from the US, Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands insist that a "first strike" nuclear option remains an "indispensable instrument" since there is "simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world".
That's newsworthy, eh?

The document is now available on-line. This is the money quote from the newspaper, p. 97 of the report:
"Regrettably, nuclear weapons - and with them the option of first use - are indispensable, since there is simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world. On the contrary, the risk of further proliferation is imminent and with it, the danger that nuclear war-fighting, albeit limited in scope, might become possible. This development must be prevented. It should therefore be kept in mind that technology could produce options that go beyond the traditional role of nuclear weapons in preventing a nuclear armed opponent from using nuclear weapons. In sum, nuclear weapons remain indispensable, and nuclear escalation continues to remain an element of any modern strategy."
The report clearly states that nuclear proliferation poses such a great threat that it "must be prevented."

Interestingly, to justify their favored policies, the report authors use the language of deterrence. However, it is clear on pp. 95-6 that they are changing the traditional meaning of the term. It is now going to be the idea that enemies can never feel safe -- and the uncertainty/threat will be generated by proactive denial as well as reactive response to undesired action (like proliferation of WMD).

Orwellians should love these sentences:
"As deterrence might occasionally either be lost or fail, the ability to restore deterrence through escalation at any time is another element of a proactive strategy.

Escalation is intimately linked to the option of using an instrument first. A strategy that views escalation as an element can, therefore, neither rule out first use nor regard escalation as pre-programmed and inevitable."
The authors go on to use a phrase often used by Colin Gray and others 25 years ago: "escalation dominance."

The report also fairly clearly reserves the right for preemptive war -- and preventive war, arguably blurring the difference as the Bush administration has done. On p. 98, the authors go out of their way to say that force need not be a last resort. It "might very well be the first option to be used." Then, on p. 99, they note that "early decisive action" may be necessary and that a "coordinated media campaign" might pave the pathway for preferred action. Given the paragraphs prior to their discussion of media campaigns, it seems obvious that such an effort would apparently be needed to blur the lines between reactive preemption policies (which are clearly legal) versus proactive preventive action (the question of legality "remains unanswered").

Finally, on p. 106, they write that "
most democratic nations will consider enforcement as politically acceptable if

*no other option is left to achieve the agreed political objective, because the crucial interests of a nation or an alliance are at stake;

*an attack is imminent or has taken place by state or non-state actors launched from the country or region in which enforcement will be conducted;

*no other option exists to prevent or terminate genocide."
Given the third bullet point, it seems clear that the authors are not listing multiple requirements for enforcement actions. They do not include "and" in this section.

The following paragraphs, in fact, go on to describe threats that are not imminent, but that might nonetheless require action. A specific named possibility is acquisition of WMD -- even though that threat is "unlikely to lead to UN authorisation for a preventive military operation" (p. 107).

In the case of likely UN Security Council deadlock, they say that enforcement "action taken by an individual state or group of states might be the answer."

The Europeans have been moving toward the Bush Doctrine logic on preventive war for some years, the problem is they disagree with the US about agent of decision and action. This document hints that at least some Europeans might be willing to relent on these points.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Missing Joe Biden: Iran-Pakistan edition

South Carolina is hosting a Democratic primary today and even though John Edwards has been creeping up on Hillary Clinton in some recent polls, the media mostly frames the contest as a two horse race.

Meanwhile, I've been recalling a few of the campaign highlights from candidates already out of the running.

For example, consider this cogent point made by Senator Joe Biden in the October 30 presidential candidate forum at Drexel in Philadelphia. He was questioned by NBC's Tim Russert, who was trying to get the candidate to make one of those stupid issue pledges:
Russert: Senator Biden, would you pledge to the American people that Iran would not build a nuclear bomb on your watch?

Biden: I would pledge to keep us safe. If you told me, Tim -- and this is not -- this is complicated stuff; we talk about this in isolation. The fact of the matter is, the Iranians may get 2.6 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium.

But the Pakistanis have hundreds -- thousands of kilograms of highly-enriched uranium. If by attacking Iran to stop them from getting 2.6 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium, the government in Pakistan falls, who has missiles already deployed with nuclear weapons on them that can already reach Israel, already reach India, then that's a bad bargain.

Biden: Presidents make wise decisions informed not by a vacuum in which they operate, by the situation they find themselves in the world.

I will do all in my power to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but I will never take my eye off the ball. What is the greatest threat to the United States of America: 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium in Tehran or an out-of-control Pakistan? It's not close.
Now there's a guy who knew what he was talking about -- at least on this question.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

South Carolina Debate

I forgot that the Dems were debating on Monday night -- and watched "3:10 to Yuma." It looks like I selected one shootout over another.

Based on the aftermath, it is difficult to assess which was bloodier.

Reader, if you also missed the debate, just watch this clip on youtube.

It's like a low-light reel: "featuring" snarky comments about Hillary Clinton's time as a corporate lawyer serving on Wal-mart's board, Barack Obama's ties to slumlord Rezko, the gutter politics of Clintonism, Obama's Iraq position, Bill Clinton's role in the election, etc.

Much of the most critical back-and-forth was "inside baseball" (video link available in that piece) about what Senator Obama told a board of newspaper editors in Reno. This seems to be the most controversial passage from the interview -- I've underlined the part that Senator Clinton's campaign has been emphasizing:
“I think [John] Kennedy, twenty years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So I think a lot of it just has to do with the times. I think we’re in one of those times right now. Where people feel like things as they are going aren’t working. We’re bogged down in the same arguments that we’ve been having, and they’re not useful. And, you know, the Republican approach, I think, has played itself out. I think it’s fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last ten, fifteen years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom. Now, you’ve heard it all before. You look at the economic policies when they’re being debated among the Presidential candidates and it’s all tax cuts. Well, you know, we’ve done that, we tried it.”
Bill Clinton was apparently most offended by this:
“I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.”
Here's the entire passage.

Will all this yield a bounce for John Edwards? Are Clinton and Obama about to escalate their conflict into all-out thermonuclear war? The mutual assured destruction scenario provides about the only scenario for an Edwards victory.

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Election 2008: slightly more complex method

This on-line questionnaire allows you to weight the categories at the end. I didn't care that much about a couple of the questions and cared a lot about several others.

My results:

1. Obama
2. Biden
3. Kucinich

Hat tip: Laura Elliott, whose blog I found by looking around at BookMooch.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Low marks from the Canadian judge

The January 18 Washington Post had this unsettling news from Canada:
In Canada, the United States has joined a notorious group of countries -- Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Afghanistan and China, among others -- as a place where foreigners risk torture and abuse, according to a training manual for Canadian diplomats that was accidentally given this week to Amnesty International lawyers.

The manual is intended to create "greater awareness among consular officials to the possibility of Canadians detained abroad being tortured." Part of the workshop is devoted to teaching diplomats how to identify people who have been tortured. It features a section on "U.S. interrogation techniques," including forced nudity, hooding and isolation.
The story includes a quote from a Canadian spokesperson denying that this reflects Canadian policy -- after all, it is merely a training manual.

The January 20, The New York Times
reports that Canada will rewrite the manual:
“I regret the embarrassment caused by the public disclosure of the manual used in the department’s torture awareness training,” Mr. [Maxime] Bernier [the Canadian minister of foreign affairs] said in a statement. “It contains a list that wrongly includes some of our closest allies. I have directed that the manual be reviewed and rewritten.”
Canada currently has a conservative government; Amnesty's lawsuit is seeking to stop Canada from handing prisoners seized in Afghanistan over to that government.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

2008 Election made simple

Confused by the campaign? Pick Your 2008 Candidate For President based on a simple quiz.

My results.
90% Mike Gravel
88% Dennis Kucinich
87% John Edwards
87% Barack Obama
86% Chris Dodd
84% Hillary Clinton
84% Joe Biden
72% Bill Richardson
38% Rudy Giuliani
23% Ron Paul
22% Tom Tancredo
21% John McCain
17% Mitt Romney
17% Mike Huckabee
6% Fred Thompson

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz

These bear out my intuition that I like Hillary Clinton just a little less than John Edwards and Barack Obama.

Should Rudy Giuliani become my favorite Republican?

Hat tip: Erik at Alterdestiny

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Union busting?

Each Monday through Thursday since they returned to the airwaves, I feel guilty tuning in to "A Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and Stephen Colbert.

Worse, the shows are just not as good without the crisp writing -- though Colbert is holding up better than Stewart in my view. Before the strike, I found Stewart's show to be superior. Colbert's bit with Lou Dobbs on Thursday was fantastic, but I am getting very tired of the string of Republican guests on Stewart. Sigh.

The strike was definitely having an economic impact since ratings were down dramatically.

Cartoonist Ted Rall had a great cartoon about Stewart and union busting on January 17. Check it out.

Readers, are you showing more solidarity for the writers? Who is watching and who is skipping?

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Duck tracks

Over at the Duck of Minerva, I've recently posted a couple of pieces that might be worth your while:

Today, I blogged "Patriot games," which considers whether the public sphere can work effectively for foreign policy debate -- especially during the aftermath of crises when the political context may feature "militarized patriotism."

Thursday, January 10, I posted "Post-surge offensive" about the recent US counterinsurgency effort in Iraq in areas surrounding Baghdad.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Movies of 2007

I watch a lot of movies, though most are viewed as DVDs on my television. Because I do not see that many films in the theater, it can be difficult for me to write a post on the best movies (of 2007, or any other year).

Indeed, many of the best films I saw this past year were 2006 films that I missed in the theaters. Some were even older.

To make a 2007 list, I scanned the top 150 grossing movies of 2007, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2007 (and their most popular by average vote list). These were the only 2007 films I saw this year, so far as I know. Those marked with asterisks were viewed in a theater:

The Lives of Others
Michael Clayton **
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead **
Charlie Wilson's War **
Sicko **
Starter For 10
The Hoax
The Bourne Ultimatum **
Ratatouille **
The Simpsons Movie
Eastern Promises
Hot Fuzz
Knocked Up
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story **
Enchanted **
The Astronaut Farmer
Live Free or Die Hard
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix **
Meet the Robinsons
Music and Lyrics **
Ocean's Thirteen
Smokin' Aces
The Last Mimzy

And here's the annual list of movies I intend to see in the near future (but probably in 2008): American Gangster, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Atonement, Dan in Real Life, Darjeeling Limited, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Gone Baby Gone, The Great Debaters, Grindhouse, I'm Not There, In the Valley of Elah, Into the Wild, Juno, Lars and the Real Girl, A Mighty Heart, No End in Sight, No Country for Old Men, Once, The Savages, Stardust, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Talk to Me, There Will Be Blood, 3:10 to Yuma and Waitress.

Note to the readers who have recently clicked through my links to Powell's Bookstore: Thanks! The DVD links above will direct you to Powell's too.

Powell's is a great independent bookstore -- always a highlight of my trips to Portland -- with union representation, tremendous selection, and reduced-price used books.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

It's after midnight, do you know who you are?

The December 2007 Atlantic Monthly had this brief note about identity in its "Primary Sources" section:
Night owls are more imaginative and open to unconventional ideas, preferring the unknown and favoring intuitive leaps on their way to reaching conclusions. Social behavior diverges as well: Morning people are more likely to be self-controlled and exhibit “upstanding” conduct; they respect authority, are more formal, and take greater pains to make a good impression. (Earlier research also suggests that they are less likely to hold radical political opinions.) Evening people, by contrast, are “independent” and “nonconforming,” and more reluctant to listen to authority...
Day-after-day, I'm the last one in bed in my household -- hours after everyone else.

Just to pick a random data point...President Bush famously goes to bed very early.

Learn more about the original study here.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Musharraf to US: Bush Doctrine = Invasion

If the US applies the Bush Doctrine to al Qaeda forces in Pakistan, President Musharraf will consider that an act of war against his state.

CNN International, January 12, 2008:
The New York Times reported last Sunday that the Bush administration is considering expanding covert operations in the western part of Pakistan to shore up support for [President] Musharraf's government and to find bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

"Nobody will come here until we ask them to come and we haven't asked them," Musharraf told the [Singapore] Strait Times this week.

Strait Times reporter Anthony Paul asked Musharraf: "If the Americans came, would you treat that as an invasion?"

"Certainly," Musharaff said. "If they come without our permission, that's against the sovereignty of Pakistan."
Musharraf says if the US sent its own forces into the mountains of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, then it would "regret that day." Last month, he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer last month that "it is Pakistan's forces which will act" if there is "actionable intelligence" that senior al Qaeda leaders are in Pakistan

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Music of 2007

My friend, Michael Young, who hosts the local Americana radio program "Roots 'N Boots" has posted his top 20 recordings of 2007. You can hear his show on WFPK every Sunday night at 6 pm ET.

As per usual, I do not own very many of the CDs Michael highlights. He gave me a copy of John Fogerty's latest (#11 on his list), I exchanged a redundant Christmas present for the Alison Krauss and Robert Plant CD (honorable mention) and my wife picked up Bruce Springsteen's Magic (ruled ineligible for the list by Michael, but apparently worth noting). That's it.

For the most past, I don't buy much new music because I have a hard time listening to what I already own. Michael lists new disks by Wilco (#7), John Mellencamp (#13), Steve Earle (#14), Ryan Adams (#15), Lyle Lovett (#18), and Lucinda Williams (honorable mention). I possess at least 25 recordings by this handful of artists. Do I really need another one just because it is the latest?

I also own one or two CDs by a lot of the other artists making the list: Ry Cooder (#17) and Nick Lowe (#20), plus honorable mention artists Son Volt, Billy Joe Shaver, John Prince, The Gourds, and Southern Culture on the Skids. Oh, and my wife and I own more Bruce Springsteen recordings than we could play in a day.

Given my reliance upon radio for new music, I won't even try to list my top 5 or 10 recordings of the year. I would note, however, that in August I received XM satellite radio as a birthday present and thus now regularly listen to Americana music on X Country (channel 12), as well as on Michael's show.

Did I mention that I don't own an iPod?

I think my favorite single of the year is "Snake Farm" by Ray Wylie Hubbard.

Apparently, it came out in 2006.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The narrative

OK, so my specific prediction that Barack Obama would win the New Hampshire primary was wrong. It was based on polling results, which were way off the mark. Hopefully, the polls weren't flawed because of what some call the "Bradley" or "Wilder effect." If you not familiar with those names, read this.

Still, it looks like the media is ready to write the John Edwards campaign obituary merely because he's getting a smaller minority of votes than are the two "major" candidates. Obama beat Edwards twice and Hillary Clinton beat him once, so clearly he must go. Right?

I suspect Edwards is hanging around in case Obama and Clinton start destroying each other in negative ads. John Kerry benefitted in Iowa, 2004, when Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt launched all-out war on one another.

It is also possible that Edwards could poll a much larger number of votes if either Obama or Clinton left the race. He does very well in two-way races versus all the Republicans and could then make an electability argument against his better funded foes.

The Time article I linked above references the 1992 Jerry Brown populist campaign as a model for Edwards, but notes that the current election season is much more compact.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Hampshire Prediction

I predict that later today, Barack Obama will garner the most votes in the Democratic primary of a small New England state with fairly unrepresentative demographics.

Merely by winning fewer than half the total votes cast by members of his own party (plus whatever independents he attracts), much of the major media will nonetheless behave as if he has already secured his party's nomination. Many will start asking, quite openly, why other candidates who earned "only" 20 to 30% of the vote don't simply drop out of the campaign -- perhaps before they permanently damage the anointed frontrunner.

Bottom line: It is only January 8 and over 95% of the states still need to vote, but media narratives are already starting to run with the "race is over" storyline.

Regardless of money (Hillary Clinton) or message (John Edwards, at least as judged in the left blogosphere), Obama's competitors are finding it increasingly difficult to gain the traction necessary to put a dent in the apparent Obama steamroller. While that result is predictable, this kind of bandwagoning undermines the meaning of the rest of the primary season and turns the race for the presidency into a short-term PR contest instead of a matter for democratic decision-making.

I'm not particularly anti-Obama, but I do think that it is silly that these earliest caucuses and primaries garner so much attention. The media (including the blogosphere) should not compound the error by creating a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I urge members of the blogosphere and media to go ahead, research and write posts and stories about substantive issues -- and the differences (or similarities) between various candidates. Yes, many of those stories were written in 2007 already, but few American voters were paying attention.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

I saw "Charlie Wilson's War" on December 25 and was thoroughly entertained.

The film is a sharp satire and offers a long-term critique of American foreign policy. Before reading further, be warned that this review includes plot spoilers.

Texas Representative Charlie Wilson was apparently fairly liberal on domestic social policy, but he was a vehement cold warrior. During the early 1980s, he literally and politically climbed in bed with a wealthy member of the religious right, Joanne King Herring (the sixth richest woman in Texas). For ideological reasons, Herring helped convince Wilson to support the mujahideen in Afghanistan.

Arguably, Charlie Wilson was a neocon.

The film clearly demonstrates that cynical neocon foreign policies can have counterproductive -- even disastrous -- consequences.

While the mujahideen's insurgency against the Soviet military undoubtedly contributed mightily to the red army's defeat in Afghanistan, the end of the cold war had multiple and complex causes.

The movie, in fact, reveals many of the dubious alliances the U.S. made during the cold war. In the case of Afghan policy, the U.S. teamed with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. As many cold warriors used to say, "They may be bastards, but they are our bastards."

In the film, as in real life, American officials simplistically characterize other states as good or evil -- and the designation seems arbitrarily to turn on a dime.

The average viewer of the movie may be tempted to cheer through the scenes when U.S.-supplied Stinger missiles shoot down Soviet jets and helicopters. However, by the end, the filmmakers clearly signal that America turned its back on Afghanistan and invited the blowback that led to 9/11.

Charlie Wilson's war didn't end the cold war -- and in many ways, his war continues to rage in Afghanistan.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Orange Bowl

Kansas has won the 2008 Orange Bowl and obviously deserves strong consideration for #1 or #2, particularly if LSU beats Ohio State. If that were to occur, all the BCS contenders would have two losses each -- except for Kansas and Hawaii (which was destroyed the other day).

The Jayhawks defeated BCS #3 ranked Virginia Tech and finished the season 12-1. The final tally was 24-21, but Kansas had the ball inside the Tech 1 yard line and let time expire rather than run up the score.

Some critics say that the KU schedule was soft, but the team beat five schools that played in bowl games (Central Michigan, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Colorado and VT). Its lone loss was to Missouri, which destroyed Arkansas in its bowl and lost only to Oklahoma (twice).

Update: Kansas ended up #7 in the polls, but #2 in Jeff Sagarin's computer formula -- and in several other computer systems used by the BCS as well. Unfortunately, the human voice carried greater weight.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008


Barack Obama has won the Iowa caucuses with about 38% of the vote. The big story, however, may be that Hillary Clinton has finished third. With all precincts reporting by about midnight eastern time, she received just under 29.5% of the vote. It will be reported as 29%.

Edwards got 29.8% of the vote. It will be reported as 30%.

MSNBC exit polling revealed that most Democratic participants wanted a candidate that "Can bring about needed change." A majority of voters wanting "chage" supported Obama.

On December 28, the New York Times
interestingly reported that "change" and "health" are among the words most frequently used by Hillary Clinton in her political ads.

Hmmm. Her change is "dump the Republicans," but maybe Democrats want to move past the Clintons...

Obama, by the way, most often says "people" and "believe."

Edwards most frequently says "work" and "America."

The Times story also reported that Obama spent over $8 million in Iowa, Clinton $6.5 million and Edwards $2.7 million.

It total, the Dems spent about $150 per caucus participant!

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