Friday, October 29, 2004

Arabs see benefits of Bush

I'm not quite sure what to think of this, but is makes some sense:
In London, the consensus among Arab ambassadors - though they don't say so publicly - is that keeping Bush in the White House would be preferable to starting afresh with Kerry.

Also pointing in Bush's favour is the popular Arab view that second-term American presidents are better placed to take a firm line with Israel than first-term presidents. The theory is that in their second term they no longer need to please the Israeli lobby in the US because they cannot seek re-election again.
Another way to look at it: Would Arab ambassadors support him if they really thought Bush would be successful at spreading democracy in the region?

Mandatory Voting?

This is truly good stuff on the merits of mandatory voting (Australia has it):
Many of the least attractive elements of our election system derive from the fact that the composition of the actual electorate changes from year to year. Thus, both parties have reason to try and launch drives to register 'their' voters. This, in turn, raises the specter of fraud. The specter of fraud, as we've been seeing, can be a useful tool in trying to prevent the other guy's supporters from voting. Negative advertising, meanwhile, is primarily useful as a way of suppressing the other side's turnout, and much of the most egregious policies and rhetoric you see in any campaign season are aimed at 'motivating the base' rather than broadening a candidate's appeal.
Now just throw away the electoral college and teach young Americans to talk about politics and voila! you've got a vibrant Democracy again!

Another Sensible Endorsement for Bush

Via Sullivan, a Bush endorsement from somebody who actually put some thought into it instead of just repeating GOP talking points and low-ball Kerry attacks. Although she focuses on Bush's plans without commenting on how he did with respect to the previous set of plans. Also, this is pretty weak:
I don't think the president has much, if anything, to do with how the economy runs, unless he's one of those disastrous tinkerers, like FDR and Richard Nixon. Neither of the current candidates is such a lackwit, meaning that their impact on the economy will be minimal indeed. Neither candidate gets my vote here.
I'm open to the argument that Kerry may be no better, but to suggest that defecits and spending increases don't matter is a bit rich.

Bush States, Suicide and Obesity

People in Bush states are 51% more likely to commit suicide and 20% more likely to be obese. A fact that prompted one commentator to make this observation:
If Bush wins, total suicides in my state may increase by at least one. If not, the number of passports will increase by at least one, U.S. population will decrease by at least one, and some country with a lot less fucking idiots will see a population increase of at least one. Who's with me?

Michael Moore in Norwegian Schools

My 16-year old niece in Norway just told me they're watching Bowling for Columbine and Farenheit 9/11 in school. The latter has apparently been selected as the "school movie of the year".

I didn't bother asking if they show Stolen Honor or Swift Boat Ads to balance things out. They would never believe that Americans take those right-wing nut jobs seriously anyway.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Hard Right

Well put: "There's an obsession with purity, both of ideology and motive at the expense of assessments of actual consequences; a valorization of action and mobilization, a disdain for thoughtfulness, caution, detail, comity, and consensus. "

The Economist endorses Kerry

Probably the best endorsement I've read. It hints at what I consider to be the bottom line: Bush has lost almost all credibility with half the American electorate and people in other countries. They will never trust him again. Even if you agree with everything he says (and I don't) this distrust will prevent him from accomplishing his foreign policy goals.

I disagree with The Economist on a few issues that are relatively minor, by the standards of this campaign:
  • I was on the fence on the Iraqi invasion, and I still am.
  • I agree that Bush was "inspiring" after 9/11 and that he "grasped the magnitude of the challenge well". But the "war on terror" has little in common with the traditional concept of war. There was indeed a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. But just as the "war on poverty" is not a war, potential terrorists who hate America cannot be fought in a war unless they reside in a terrorist-friendly country (and most don't).
  • I don't agree that Kerry "has seemed to hark back to the old Clintonian view of terrorism as chiefly a question of law and order". That's not what Kerry has said, and besides that's not what Clinton thought (as Richard Clarke and several other sources have attested). The main obstacle Clinton (and Bush) faced was a pre-9/11 mindset on anti-terrorism. Kerry won't have that problem. In fact, based on what likely Kerry cabinet members Wesley Clark, Richard Hoolbrooke and Rand Beers are saying, Kerry would be more creative and coordinated with other countries in his fight against terrorism.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Welcome to the Green Zone (review)

Just read Welcome to the Green Zone by William Langewiesche. I recommend it for anybody who wants to get past the partisan spin and get a feeling for what Iraq was really like for those who tried to "reconstruct" it.

The piece left one lasting impression on me: Imagine for a moment that you have a country with a powerful political movement. This movement has nationalistic tendencies ("we know best", "people in other countries are corrupt and/or incompetent"). It has religious fundamentalist tendencies and sees the world in simple moral terms ("we are good, terrorists are evil"). And, curiously given its power, it is constantly on the defensive; it typically responds with ignorance or counter-attack to both suggestions from outsiders and criticism from insiders.

Now picture this movement being responsible for invading another country with the aim to create a democracy. What will happen? How will they go about it? Welcome to the Green Zone gives you a pretty good idea, and it mostly confirms what you would expect.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Why Are Republicans More "American"?

Having lived in Europe, Boston and now suburban Atlanta I have formed opinions about America. I definitely subscribe to the idea that the "red" (Republican) parts of the country are quite different from the "blue" (Democrat) in terms of jobs, values, and tolerance and respect for others (such as foreigners like myself). These words from Matthew Yglesias - albeit a bit extreme - resonate with my general impression:
Virtually all of the globally competetive sectors of the American economy, film, television, music and other media, software, financial and legal services, etc. are concentrated in Blue America. The Reddish portions of the country are living off federal subsidies, tarrif barriers, and military spending.
Yglesias is commenting on a provocative piece by Paul Waldman, in which he wonders why being a 'conservative from Texas' is a good thing while a 'liberal from Massachusetts' is not:
In today's politics, it is acceptable for Republicans to traffic in ugly stereotypes and assert outright that people who come from some areas of America are not really American.

To hear [Bush] tell it, Massachusetts is not a state now on its fourth Republican governor in a row or one with one of the lowest tax burdens in the country, as the Boston Globe recently reported, but some sort of Sodom on the Bay, with 90% tax rates, mandatory Wicca ceremonies in public schools, and an anarcho-syndicalist majority in the state legislature.
Waldman makes this prediction for the future...
But this will in coming years become very much the GOP's problem. At this point, it's hard to imagine them nominating someone for president who doesn't hail from the Old Confederacy, given the current makeup of their party and the relative power of the factions within it. As they become increasingly isolated geographically, more and more Americans will see the Republicans as the alien group that doesn't understand their lives.
... but he does not speculate why. How come it's ok to make fun of the North but "un-American" to make fun of the South?

My two cents: It is because the North (including "mainstream media") is trying to compensate for having mocked and humiliated the South in the past. Many Southerners I've met react defensively on topics like racism, poverty or "culture". I am not quite sure how this defensiveness came about, but when asked people have quoted defeat in the Civil War and the embarrassement of subsequent poverty and/or racism (the Klan or acts like the Emmett Till abduction). Northerners, sensing this defensiveness, have basically adopted a "politically correct" style of not mocking a "minority" group (the same way they try not to mock ethnic minorities). Hence Republicans can run television ads with words like these without fear of counter-attack:
Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Linus on Open Source

Taking a break from politics, here are some wise words from Linus Torvalds:
Nobody should start to undertake a large project. You start with a small _trivial_ project, and you should never expect it to get large. If you do, you'll just overdesign and generally think it is more important than it likely is at that stage. Or worse, you might be scared away by the sheer size of the work you envision.

So start small, and think about the details. Don't think about some big picture and fancy design. If it doesn't solve some fairly immediate need, it's almost certainly over-designed. And don't expect people to jump in and help you. That's not how these things work. You need to get something half-way _useful_ first, and then others will say 'hey, that _almost_ works for me', and they'll get involved in the project.
I have definitely fallen into these traps.

Sullivan on Faith

Read this if you consider yourself secular person and you live in America:
'He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.' That's the view of a disillusioned Republican secularist, Bruce Bartlett, formerly of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, now one of a growing number of conservatives who feel shut out of the current Republican leadership because, well, they're not 'born-again.'
Does this scare you a little? If not, why?

Brzezinski: How to Make New Enemies

A good piece that accurately descibes the problem:
Both candidates have become prisoners of a worldview that fundamentally misdiagnoses the central challenge of our time. President Bush's 'global war on terror' is a politically expedient slogan without real substance, serving to distort rather than define. It obscures the central fact that a civil war within Islam is pitting zealous fanatics against increasingly intimidated moderates. The undiscriminating American rhetoric and actions increase the likelihood that the moderates will eventually unite with the jihadists in outraged anger and unite the world of Islam in a head-on collision with America.
Brzezinski then proposes a comprehensive plan for turning the Middle East around:
... the best way to influence the eventual outcome of the civil war within Islam is to shape an expanding Grand Alliance (as opposed to a polarizing Holy Alliance) that embraces the Middle East by taking on the region's three most inflammatory and explosive issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the mess in Iraq, and the challenge of a restless and potentially dangerous Iran.
Unfortunately, the combined right-wing and pro-Israel bias in U.S. politics will make this plan politically impossible for years to come, even if Kerry wins. Unless he proves to be as good of a political manipulator of public opinion as Bush is. That's not likely though. Persuading a nation requires a leader who subscribes to a simple vision with a deep and honest conviction. For all his good instincts and bravery (yes, I think the anti-war protests were actually brave) Kerry does not seem to be a man with a clear vision for the future. Certainly not a simple vision.

A Web of Bunk

What has changed in the years since Gennifer Flowers, says Rieder, is that a handful of national newspapers no longer can operate as journalistic gatekeepers -- effectively blocking stories that are unverified or unverifiable and driven by people whose political motivations are plain to see.

The explosion of the Internet leaves us, in effect, with no gatekeeper. Sometimes important information gains currency that way. The problem is that anyone with Web access can run any cockamamie story up the flagpole -- and if enough people salute, prompt the mainstream press to deploy its resources.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Matthew Yglesias: John Kerry For President

A great endorsement well worth reading. What a writer, can't believe this guy is barely twenty!

Jews, Israel and America

Scott had gone around and asked Iraqis on the streets what they called American troops - wondering if they had nicknames for us in the way we used to call the Nazis 'Krauts' or the Vietcong 'Charlie.' And what did he find? 'Many Iraqis have so much distrust for U.S. forces we found they've come up with a nickname for our troops,' Scott said. 'They call American soldiers 'The Jews,' as in, 'Don't go down that street, the Jews set up a roadblock.' '
Maybe it's time for Bush and Rummie to hire another public relations spokesperson? That should set them straight.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Bush Supporters: Not In Touch With Reality

From Yglesias, referencing PIPA:
[Bush supporters] think he supports stuff he doesn't actually support but which they do support, and because they think Iraq had actual WMD (they didn't), that Duelfer discovered evidence of major WMD programs (he didn't), that most experts believe Iraq gave substantial aid to al-Qaeda (they don't), that world opinion was either behind the Iraq War or closely divided (it wasn't), and that world opinion is either behind Bush or closely divided (it's for Kerry 2 to 1).
So why are these people so misinformed you may wonder? This answer makes a lot of sense:
'The roots of the Bush supporters' resistance to information,' according to Steven Kull, 'very likely lie in the traumatic experience of 9/11 and equally in the near pitch-perfect leadership that President Bush showed in its immediate wake. This appears to have created a powerful bond between Bush and his supporters--and an idealized image of the President that makes it difficult for his supporters to imagine that he could have made incorrect judgments before the war, that world public opinion could be critical of his policies or that the President could hold foreign policy positions that are at odds with his supporters.'

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Tough Enough?

From Matthew Yglesias (he's commenting on Ezra Klein):
The notion that a group of hardcore killers, willing and eager to detonate a nuclear device in an American city, would be impressed or scared by the 'toughness' of a US president is absurd. Moreover, the idea that any American president would lack the toughness to stand up to a group of hardcore killers, willing and eager to detonate a nuclear device in an American city is absurd. The issue is not toughness, it's whether or not you have policies that would be effective in preventing hardcore killers from acquiring a nuclear device.
Thank you. I've been looking for a way to describe a gut feeling with words. Now I have it.

Conservatives and "Intellectual Transparancy"

This is why Andrew Sullivan is head and shoulders above most other Conservatives:
...I do think there is an issue of intellectual transparency here. I was a strong backer of the war in Iraq and still am. But precisely because of that, I feel compelled to grapple with the obvious difficulties that have ensued. I feel I missed certain important things, was deluded on a couple of important points (WMDs, for example, and Bush's competence in general), and now I'm making amends, of a sort. It's not pretty and I've been slammed and ridiculed for this. I've lost thousands of readers. But I cannot see I have much of a choice. Bush's failures are so glaring you have to put blinders on to ignore them.
So I ask my readers (if I have any, besides my dad) who supported the war and now support Bush: Are you being honest with yourself? Is the famous Bush "determination" so powerful and important that it overshadows anything that has happened in post-war Iraq? Is the mainstream media really so biased that it can be blamed for all the "bad" reports on Bush's foreign policy? Can you look at yourself in the mirror when you answer "yes" to these questions? :) (feedback to is welcome)

Bush: Kerry Unable to Win War on Terror

ABC News: Bush: Kerry Unable to Win War on Terror:
'The next commander in chief must lead us to victory in this war and you cannot win a war when you don't believe you're fighting one,' Bush told hundreds of supporters in a northern Iowa farming community.
What exactly does Bush mean here? What does it mean to be "fighting a war", exactly? And what is it that Kerry has proposed that will prevent him from "winning"? Can anybody explain this to me? (send to

Bush does not "Know His Enemy"

Just read Follow the Mullahs by Stephen Grey. This highlights the differences I have with Bush's foreign policy:
According to Alastair Crooke, the former European Union negotiator with Hamas and other radical Islamic groups, who is now working on a project to increase Western policymakers' understanding of Islam, many such groups, including Hamas and Hizbollah, are utterly opposed to the activities of bin Laden and Zarqawi - indeed, to any form of jihad outside what they regard as occupied territory. Yet the U.S. government classifies Hamas and Hizbollah in the same terrorist category as al-Qaeda. 'The biggest mistake the West makes is to disregard these differences and to demonize almost the entire spectrum of political Islam,' Crooke says.
How can you fight an effective "war" if you show no interest in knowing your enemy?

Americans: Multilateralists and Bush supporters

Good overview of Bush and Kerry's world views in the CS Monitor:
Surveys show consistently that the foreign-policy views of American voters are more in line with Kerry's than with Bush's. 'On a good number of [foreign-policy issues], John Kerry is much closer to the public stand than is George Bush,' says Benjamin Page, a specialist in electoral decisionmaking at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. He points to high support for US action within multilateralist frameworks and low support for preemptive military action.

In addition, he says the public 'is much less interested in democratizing the world' than the president says he is, while Americans are 'much more supportive' than Bush of international treaties like the Kyoto climate-change accords.

That leads Mr. Page to say it's a 'puzzle' why American voters aren't more attracted to Kerry's foreign-policy stance. But the puzzle is solved by the evidence that foreign policy for many voters post-Sept. 11 is less specifics and more a leadership issue - where Bush scores well."
It is a little early, but we can already try to compare pre-Dubya foreign policy (1945 - 2000) with post 9/11 policy (2001 - 2004). Bush would argue that we are now much better off because we are safer. This is difficult to measure. Kerry (in his current incarnation) would argue we're much worse off because the world, which used to love us, now hates us (broadly speaking). My take: Being the object of more of the world's hatred can't be a good thing.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Divided Government

From CNN, October 2000:
Divided government creates legislative gridlock, canceling out the extremes of each party's policies -- the Democrats' spending plans and the Republicans' deep tax cuts, which both could spur inflation. That will free up market forces to propel the stock market higher, experts said.
Now, imagine if the WSJ had known that the Republicans under Bush would not only enact irresponsible tax cuts but they would also grow the government by more than 22%. Count me among those who think "split government" (or "divided government") would be best for the country. Right now that means vote for Kerry.

Kerry: Can He Admit Mistakes?

This was not my immdidate reaction to the Mary Cheney thing, but now in retrospect I think I agree with Joan Vennochi in the Boston Globe:
There is no way to prove it, but I agree with conservatives who argue there was nothing accidental about Kerry's reference to 'Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian' during the last debate. It followed an earlier mention by his running mate, John Edwards. Whether the intent was to discourage evangelicals who oppose homosexuality from turning out in large numbers for Bush or to remind voters in general of GOP hypocrisy on the topic, two mentions of Mary Cheney are not political accidents. They are political calculations.

Unhappily for Kerry, voters did not appreciate the second reference. Even in ugly presidential campaigns, there are lines of human decency involving family members. Bush probably does not want to talk much about his twin daughters' hard-partying ways any more than Kerry wants to discuss the see-through dress his daughter wore to the Cannes Film Festival.

Kerry could have moved past the Mary Cheney controversy with a simple apology: 'I did not mean to offend Mary, Dick, or Lynne Cheney; if I did, I'm sorry.' Instead, his campaign escalated the rhetoric. This gives voters a chance to reconsider whether they want a new president who is not only taller and better-spoken than the current president, but one who coldly considers an opponent's daughter 'fair game,' as Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill argued after the debate. It undercut the message Kerry told voters he took from his mother from her hospital bed: 'Integrity, integrity, integrity.'

It also draws a picture of yet another presidential candidate who won't admit when he is wrong.
My friend Jay had this to say:
I wasn't able to get to the Sullivan article with that link, but I'll give you my thoughts. It's all a question of motive. It is obvious that Kerry had some reason for using Cheney's daughter as an example for his point, and I feel that his motive was political. Nothing he said was offensive, in fact, it was quite respectful. But the question is, what point was he trying to make by mentioning Cheney's daughter as an example? Was it to point out that the President and Vice President were in disagreement on the issue? Was it to make sure that the radical Christian right wing was aware that Cheney had a gay daughter? I do believe that he had a political motivation for saying what he said, and even though his words were respectful, I don't think it's appropriate for him to use his opponents family members in such a way as to give himself an advantage. But I would catagorize it as a minor breach of decorum, not a major insult to the Cheney family.
I think that is going to far. Kerry may have been unwise, but I don't think family members are off-limits completely. This was my response to Jay:
I must admit the whole motive thing (that Kerry might be trying to convince bigots to stay home) had not occurred to me until I read about it in the conservative press. Of course nobody why except Kerry (and even if he told us I'm sure most people wouldn't believe him anyway). But my first thought was that a) he was trying to put a more "human" face on the constitutional amendment issue, and b) it was a continuation of his "I am a uniter" type of arguing where he constantly quotes Republicans in support of his views (like he does all the time with Senators Lugar and Hagel on Iraq).

Personally I doubt he was speaking to the bigots, I honestly think he's a better man than that. Also, I don't think he would be that stupid. I find it more likely that he figured it would be a) safe and b) a "good point" for him since Edwards and Cheney talked about it already (and Edwards probably scored some points since Cheney appeared to disagre with Bush).

What Americans REALLY think of Europeans

Read the responses to The Guardians Ohio letter-writing initiative to find out what Americans really think of Europeans. I don't think most Europeans really grasp the hatred most Bush voters feel towards socialists, Europeans, UN and other "threats". Here are some of the finest:
Have you not noticed that Americans don't give two shits what Europeans think of us? Each email someone gets from some arrogant Brit telling us why to NOT vote for George Bush is going to backfire, you stupid, yellow-toothed pansies ... I don't give a rat's ass if our election is going to have an effect on your worthless little life. I really don't. If you want to have a meaningful election in your crappy little island full of shitty food and yellow teeth, then maybe you should try not to sell your sovereignty out to Brussels and Berlin, dipshit. Oh, yeah - and brush your goddamned teeth, you filthy animals.
Wading River, NY

Harlan, Kentucky
Unfortunately, it all boils down to this:
I just read a hilarious proposal to involve your readership in the upcoming US presidential election. At least, I'm hoping that it is genius satire. Nothing will do more to undermine the Democratic cause in Ohio than having patronising Brits wander around Clark County telling people how to vote. Just, for a second, imagine if the Washington Post sent folks from Ohio to do the same in Oxfordshire. I'm saying this as a Democrat, and as someone who has spent the last few years in the UK. That is, with all due respect. Please, please, be rational, and move slowly away from the self-defeating hubris.
United States

'Conservative' Bush Spends More than 'Liberal' Presidents Clinton, Carter

This is old news (2003) but it is important that people understand Bush's non-defense spending record:
The new estimates show that, under Bush, total outlays will have risen $408 billion in just three years to $2.272 trillion: an enormous increase in federal spending of 22 percent. Administration officials privately admit that spending is too high. Yet they argue that deficits are appropriate in times of war and recession. So, is it true that the war on terrorism has resulted in an increase in defense spending? Yes. And, is it also true that a slow economy has meant a decreased stream of tax revenues to pay for government? Yes again.

But the real truth is that national defense is far from being responsible for all of the spending increases. According to the new numbers, defense spending will have risen by about 34 percent since Bush came into office. But, at the same time, non-defense discretionary spending will have skyrocketed by almost 28 percent. Government agencies that Republicans were calling to be abolished less than 10 years ago, such as education and labor, have enjoyed jaw-dropping spending increases under Bush of 70 percent and 65 percent respectively.

Coupled with the Bush tax cuts this has got to be the most fiscally irresponsible president in a long time. So, if you're a fiscal conservative voting for Bush in 2004 you're seriously misinformed.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Bush's "Royal Court"

Sullivan is dead on as usual:
But what you get increasingly from the president is an arrogance and contempt for critics that is bordering on dangerous. You saw this in the first debate when Bush looked genuinely shocked to hear anyone voicing criticism of his policies in his presence. That obviously hadn't happened in a very long time. You see this in the thuggish ways in which opponents are removed from campaign events, jailed and fired from their jobs. You realize eventually that Bush's cabinet is actually a royal court, in which criticism is simply treachery.
All Republican congressmen and most senators are also members of the "court". The few senators that dare to critisize Bush are like regional Dukes who have a substantial following and military (i.e. political) might on their own (people like McCain, Luger, Chuch Hagel).

Sunday, October 17, 2004

A Coherent Argument for Bush

Via Sullivan, finally an intelligent rationale for supporting Bush. It really comes down to what you think about this:
I don't believe, in his gut, Kerry believes that we face an existential challenge with regard to the war on terror.
I think he (Greg of is right, Kerry doesn't believe we're facing an existential challenge. And neither do I. I think the present threat to the Western world is just like the threat to the UK from IRA. Except there are ten million who sympathize with the terrorists, not a hundred thousand. There is an underlying cause for grievance (repression, inequality) among a people bound by religious beliefs and cultural heritage. Among them is a small minority of (mostly) young men who have taken to arms.

I will give Bush (and the neocons) this: The long-term solution to Islamic terrorism is to remove the two major causes for grievance. Promoting democracy in the Middle East addresses one of them (the other being US support for the Israeli repression of Palestinians). Bush has made some progress, I think Arab dictators are more afraid and more inclined to change now than they have been in a long time. But in order to succeed you need success in one key area; you must win the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens. And here Bush is failing so miserably he has to go.

Kerry may not scare as many Arab dictators, and he may favor a return to "normal" foreign relations which include propping up Arab dictators. He may (unlike Clinton) favor Bush's status quo on Palestine (most American Jews are Democrats, and the American public in general has been scared into silence over anything that has to do with Israel). But Kerry genuinely believes in multilateralism which means he can't possibly piss off as many people as Bush did. Add some fiscal responsibility and restraints on corporate hand-outs and I think you have a good enough reason to support Kerry.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Bush: Human Again

E-mail from a Sullivan reader:
I agree with your assessment of the humanity conveyed by Bush this evening. But for me this was a transition from loathing an arrogant man who isolates himself to seeing a man who finally has realized that he may lose and has to answer to the American people. I question whether he has ever truly felt that before. Tonight he almost seemed overcome by it. The recent article in TNR, 'Legend in His Own Mind', by Noam Scheiber, portrays Bush as man manipulated by those around him who play to his egotistical and ritualistic tendencies. I saw a different Bush tonight. A Bush, who perhaps for the first time since the beginning of his presidency, was truly questioning himself. He seemed unsure of himself and because of that open to new ideas. To me, that made him stronger. But he is four years too late. Kerry questions himself all the time. Call it flip-flopping if you like. I call it strength. And I am voting for Kerry.'

Third Debate News Polls

Kerry Wins Debate in CBS Poll; Candidates Even in ABC News Poll

CBS said its poll of uncommitted voters found 39 percent said Kerry performed better, 25 percent picked Bush and 36 percent called the results a tie.

The ABC poll of 566 voters found 42 percent picked Kerry as the winner, 41 percent chose Bush and 14 percent said they tied.
Given that many more Republicans voted in ABC's poll, Kerry clearly did better among the undecideds. Although one could sum up all of the debates this way: Everyone did ok except for Bush in the first debate. That will surely be the pivotal event if Kerry wins the election.

On a side note: I've written many posts about losing faith in American democracy lately. And I still think the country has some major issues that need to be fixed for the country to function politically for another few hundred years. But, flawed as they were, these four debates have done a lot to restore my faith in the political systems ability to "correct" itself. By now people have had a chance to see the "real" candidates and they can make an informed decision. I will disagree with the majority if they pick Bush but at least I won't think they made their decision exclusively based on the word of Karl Rove and the Swift Boaters.

Of course, there's a flip side of this argument: The country is four debates away from having no functional democracy at all. What if there is another terror attack in September 2008, the whole country acts like a bunch of idiots again and grants the sitting president anything he wants, and one of his wishes is that we skip the presidential debates on the grounds of national security? Think about it... it's not that far-fetched.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Israel 'worried over world image'

BBC reports:
A secret Israeli report warns Israel's world image could fall as low as South Africa's during the apartheid era in the next decade, local media report.
Of course, here in America all we hear is that Israel is our most trusted ally in the "war on terrorism" - a "beacon of light" in a sea of undemocratic and corrupt countries (including Palestine). The famously thrifty American taxpayer is willing to spend $200bn on a war in Iraq and at least $38bn on homeland security while he refuses to pressure Israel and Palestine into making peace.

With $238bn America could easily make Palestinians happy (thus taking away the number one grievance of potential terrorists) and make Israel safer and more prosperous in the process. How many horrible tragedies like 9/11 will it take before American voters see the light??

National Competitiveness

American conservatives who think "socialist" policies such as welfare and national health care should take a look at this report.. Five "socialist" Nordic countries are among the 10 most competitive countries in the world, and Finland is considered more competitive than the United States.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Republican Congress more Corrupt than Democrats?

Kevin Drum makes a strong case by summarizing the Boston Globe 3-part series. It seems clear to me that both Dems and Reps have been corrupt in the past, and thus they both share the blame. That being said, it seems that present-day Republicans are taking the corruption and sleeze to unprecedented heights. On most objective measures they are more than twice as likely as Dems to employ dirty tactics.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Why America Leans Right

Great read by George Will. Ever since I moved to the American South I've been puzzled by what I see as the stubborn support of Bush in spite of his obvious failures both as a President and as a man.
Conservatism's 40-year climb to dominance receives an examination worthy of its complexity in "The Right Nation," the best political book in years. Its British authors, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge of the Economist, demonstrate that conservative power derives from two sources -- its congruence with American values, especially the nation's anomalous religiosity, and the elaborate infrastructure of think tanks and other institutions that stresses that congruence.
He continues:
Micklethwait and Wooldridge endorse Sir Lewis Namier's doctrine: "What matters most about political ideas is the underlying emotions, the music to which ideas are a mere libretto, often of very inferior quality." The emotions underlying conservatism's long rise include a visceral individualism with religious roots and anti-statist consequences.
This jazzes with what I've observed. The most "American" of all Americans are white men in the "heartland" (i.e. outside the North East and California). I know that is a non-PC statement and I'm not sure if I can explain it well. But it has to do with values, and what's "cool". There is a quintessential set of beliefs that run through America, embodied by the white male. There are other beliefs in other ethnic communities, but they either move towards the core, white American values over time (like in many Asian immigran communities) or they stay as parallel but subordinate communities that have no coherent and constructive alternatives (such as many urban black communities).

Bottom line, if you're "real man" in the eyes of most Americans you hold a set of beliefs and values that are "American", and the Republicans have aligned themselves very closely with them.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Politics: Friends, family find silence is golden

Here's a link to a piece on my pet issue. Will update with more comments later.

Advice for Kerry: Answer the Questions!

I found myself getting almost angry with both candidates last night, because the DON'T ANSWER THE DAMN QUESTIONS! More often than not they didn't answer the moderator's question, not to mention each other's questions. Kerry is an experienced debater. Why doesn't he base at least 40% of his answers on a question? Right now it's more like 5%, and it just looks bad when he's just pushing his campaign talking points.

I think this is Kerry's best option for defeating Bush, simply because he is capable of thinking on his feet and still sound presidential. Yes the sentences may not be as crisp and polished as pre-made talking points but he would sound sincere, honest and "in touch" with the debate. And I don't think Bush will be able to counter him. Bush thinking on his feet works well when he's joking with the "common man" but in a debate about real issues he just sounds like a simpleton. What saved Bush (and enabled him to get a draw) in Friday's debate was that he could keep throwing out his campaign talking points. Since Kerry did the same Bush didn't look like an idiot.

Note that I may be wrong on this. Professional political consultants may have evidence showing people really don't care whether participants answer questions. But I have a hunch that they do. I think it's pretty much universally true that people look better when they present things they have thought about and understand.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Second Debate - see Sullivan

This is a must read summary. I agree with every word. And since I can't write like that I'm grateful Andrew Sullivan is here.

Second Presidential Debate: A Draw

Kerry stronger on issues, better command of detail. But Bush really shone in the town hall forum. He looked relaxed and far less defensive and repetitive. I don't think tonight changed anybody's mind.

Apparently people who know a lot about polling think that a draw might favor the challenger. I don't know much about this but apparently the independents are more likely to swing towards the challenger when it comes time to vote (i.e. when they have to make up their minds). Apparently, the reason why they're "independents" to begin with is that the hesitate to support the incumbent. As they get to know the challenger they tend (about two thirds, apparently) to go with him beucase they were just "making sure" that he wasn't terrible.

Come to think of it, if this can be found on random blogs then it is obviously well understood by political consultants. The Republican strategy of tainting Kerry from the very beginning with flip-flopping and Swift Boats suddenly makes perfect sense to me...

Upcoming Bush V. Kerry II

It seems that bloggers like to make predictions about the outcome of future events. If you're "right" you get to brag, if you're "wrong" you get to frame your post-event commentary around your earlier comments (something along the lines of "these factors made X happen even though I predicted Y:"). So, even though I'm not a "real" blogger I'm going to amuse myself by jotting down some thoughts.

Many seem to think Bush will be more aggressive tonight. Since he can't defend his own record he'll go after Kerry's with everything he's got. There's something to that. In Bush's mind Kerry is a despicable and immoral flip-flopper and he needs to be exposed as such.

On the other hand, the town hall format means that winning the sympathy of the audience will be important. No doubt Bush's famous social skills will alert him if the crowd is not responding well to his attacks, causing him to tone it down. I fully expect him to be joking a lot, perhaps adapting a tone of self-mockery at times, something he does really well.

As for Bush and substance, Sullivan today pointed out that conservative magazines like National Review and The Weekly Standard are starting to acknowledge the grim realities in Iraq (as this cover shows). This could mean the Bushies now realize the dangers of seeming hopelessly "out of touch". If so we may see a similar change in Bush tonight.

Apparently Karen Hughes has briefed Bush extensively on his defensively aggressive posturing, so I expect him to control himself better this time. Watch for a lot of smiling (of varying authenticity). He won't avoid playing defence completely though. Nobody can when you've been shielded from reality by yes-men while you retain a near-religious conviction that you are "right" and your opponent is "wrong".

How defensive Bush seems will probably end up being the most important factor in the whole debate. Will Kerry manage to attack without alienating the audience? Will Bush feel that he has the support of the audience so that he can shrug off attacks and hard questions from the audience? My guess: He'll be better than in the first debate but not well enough to "win" this debate.

As for Kerry I suspect he'll look much like he did in the first debate. For his sake I hope he thinks on his feet and answers the questions on the fly instead of relying on scripted responses. He should appear even more confident and controlled, which is basically what helped him gain over 5% last time. He may even show signs of too much confidence. There is a slight chance he will attack far more forcefully (many Dem pundits have been calling on him to "finish Bush off"), but if he's smart he won't risk it. As Clinton said, you must show "respect for the office". There is only one good reason to attack feverishly and that is if Bush shows no signs of insecurity or irritation and he needs to "tipped over the edge".

That's pretty much it. Kerry will do more of the same. Bush will a) work the audience well (joke with people who ask questions, etc) and b) avoid becoming as irritated. Past readers will recall I judged the first two debates +5 for Kerry and +1 for Edwards. This one will be a +3 for Kerry.

Oh and while I'm at it: If my prediction is right (Kerry win by +3 or more) I also think Kerry will win the election on Nov. 2. Unless Bush captures Bin Laden at the last minute of course.... :)

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Last Word on VP Debate

I think this piece by Sullivan (quote below) sums up my lasting impression of the debate. I personally thought it was very close (Edwards a little better on delivery) but that's in part because I respect Cheney's intelligence and his command of the facts after 30 years or more in politics. In terms of voter impact Sullivan gets it right though:
Here's my best shot. Inevitably, at this stage of the game, especially after the wild swings of the race in the last month or so, people are getting committed to seeing their side win. Bias undoubtedly affects judgment. My deep disenchantment with Bush doubtless contributed unconsciously to my feeling that Edwards won. And vice-versa with some die-hard Republicans. But most of the people actually rooting for one side or the other are not the people who will decide the election. Those people are undecideds. And for them, it seems to me, the debate wasn't even close: Edwards won.

Aim Is to Rule Out Palestinian State

Sharon Chief of Staff Says Aim Is to Rule Out Palestinian State:
Israel's plan to withdraw from some occupied land aims to rule out a Palestinian state indefinitely, with full U.S. approval, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's chief of staff said in an interview published Wednesday in The Haaretz daily.
So why would the Palestinians ever accept this? And if they won't, why would this bring the Israelis peace?

Mary and Heather

Cheney deserves credit for this:
Dick Cheney's gay daughter Mary and her lover/partner/girlfriend/whatever Heather Poe were on stage last night with the entire family after the debate.

Cheney's Best Moment: On Gays

Kevin Drum's analysis of CNN's reaction meter makes perfect sense to me. I felt that Cheney showed a rare glimpse of greatness and integrity on the gay marriage issue:
According to CNN's little reaction meter gizmos, Cheney's best moment came when he talked about gay marriage. But wasn't that the very moment where Cheney came closest to disagreeing with George Bush? After a desultory discussion of state vs. federal control of marriage, he stopped dead and said merely that '[the president] sets the policy for this administration, and I support the president.' And he refused to answer the followup question. How much more clearly can you say that you disagree with the boss but really don't want to talk about it?

VP Debate: My Final Take

A draw on foreign policy (see below), plus one to Edwards on domestic policy (on a scale of -10 to +10). Many more points to Edwards on style, but not enough substance to warrant a decisive win. Unlike Kerry on Thursday Edwards never really thought for himself, tayloring his responses to what Cheney said.

On my (new-found) scale I think the Kerry / Bush debate was a +5 for Kerry. Which means it was a really solid performance but there is also lots of room for improvement. Friday will be interesting.

As for the blogs, most of the right-wing ones see a huge Cheney victory and most left-wing see a huge Edwards victory. Which probably means a draw. The one exception is Sullivan - he thought Cheney got crushed, worse than Bush on Thursday. That seems strange to me. I agree with him that Edwards will probably play better with undecideds though (all those white women).

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

VP Debate Half Way

My view: It's a draw so far. Both are holding their own. Cheney has a better command of the details but Edwards has the better style. And of course Cheney has some pretty bad policies to defend.

Cheney was aggressive and persistent in his critisism of Kerry's record in the senate. I agree with this somewhat, Kerry's record is not great. Yes he was in Ted Kennedy's shadow but that's no excuse for not using his position in the senate for public good.

Luckily for Kerry/Edwards, Cheney was just rambling on about the senate record though.

OUCH - just heard Cheney saying that tonight was the first time he met Edwards. That one hurt. Edwards answer on Israel/Palestine was very confusing, I don't really know what he was saying.

Still I think it's a draw, Edwards speaks slowly and convincingly, and he's not letting Cheney rattle him which is huge.

Edwards' Table Manners

Good pre-debate discussion of John Edwards' strengths and weaknesses:
Particularly worrisome for those rooting for him in the veep debate, two of Edwards' worst primary debates—the Larry King-moderated debate in Los Angeles and the Dan Rather-moderated debate in New York City—occurred when the participants were seated at a table with the moderator, just as Cheney, Edwards, and PBS's Gwen Ifill will be here on Tuesday night.

Here's a speculative explanation of why Edwards did poorly in those debates: Edwards is a highly theatrical performer on the stump. He is, at heart, an actor. That's how one member of the media who has followed Edwards this campaign described him to me. Bill Clinton, this person said, was no different in front of a crowd than he was on the campaign plane. But for Edwards, this reporter said, "It's acting." He's a different guy backstage. Maybe Edwards has a tough time "getting into character" when he is seated at a table with his opponent, instead of roaming free onstage as he would in a courtroom. He's one of those actors who looks great on a proscenium, but who doesn't translate to the quieter media of film and television.

More than 4 in 10 Still Link Saddam to 9/11

Rumsfeld's comments came as a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found that 42% of those surveyed thought the former Iraqi leader was involved in the attacks on New York City and Washington.

In response to another question, 32% said they thought Saddam had personally planned them.

The same poll in June showed that 56% of all Republicans said they thought Saddam was involved with the 9/11 attacks.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Back-room dealing a Capitol trend

Via Kevin Drum, from Boston Globe, a report on how the GOP is slowly killing what is left of decency in the legislative process:
With one party controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, and having little fear of retaliation by the opposing party, the House leadership is changing the way laws are made in America, favoring secrecy and speed over open debate and negotiation. Longstanding rules and practices are ignored. Committees more often meet in secret. Members are less able to make changes to legislation on the House floor. Bills come up for votes so quickly that elected officials frequently don't know what's in them. And there is less time to discuss proposed laws before they come up for a vote.

'There is no legislative process anymore,' said Fred Wertheimer, the legendary open-government activist who has been monitoring Congress since 1963. 'Bills are decided in advance of going to the floor.'

Democrats are part responsible:
Democrats are arguably suffering from their own decisions: It was the then-majority Democrats who changed the makeup of the Rules Committee to give the majority more than a 2-to-1 advantage over the other party, acknowledged a Democratic staff member close to the panel.

"Our hands are not clean, no question," the staff member said. "But it's like a thin layer of dust compared to what the Republicans are doing."

Stupid and Anti-Democratic

Peter Beinart in TNR comments on the latest Bush arguments, notably that critisizing the President on foreign policy is "demoralizing" and electing Kerry would "help the terrorists".

American Attitudes towards Multilateralism

Zakaria analyzes a new poll of American attitudes towards the UN.

Kerry backgrounder

Very good , not just about Kerry but about the "two Americas" as well:
Outside the house is a space where a fire hydrant used to be. In 1997, after his wife, Teresa, racked up huge parking fines for blocking the hydrant, they had it moved, prompting citywide fury.

"You're talking about two of the most sensitive issues in the city," says Susan Orlean, a New Yorker writer who lives in Boston. "Parking and anything to do with the fire department, which is revered only second to the church. It could only have been worse if she'd asked a priest to bless it."

"The whole incident resonated as a sense of their entitlement and arrogance," says Jon Keller, political analyst for the local television station, WB56. "He's the least liked political figure in the state. Nobody around here has ever warmed up to him."

Friday, October 01, 2004

Media Bias: Fox and the networks

This piece by Howard Kirtz in WaPo quotes a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs which says that "the networks" (presumably CBS, ABC and NBC) are biased 60/40 in favor of Kerry while Fox is 80/20 biased in favor of Bush.

That sounds about right to me.

GOP View on Debate

This guy - Joseph M. Knippenberg is Professor of Politics and Associate Provost for Student Achievement at Oglethorpe University - points out some of the inconsistencies in Kerry's arguments:
The $200 billion he says we’re expending in Iraq includes funds for Afghanistan, where he says we’re not doing enough. So we should do more in Iraq to get the job done, but spend less to do it. How?
Much of this is valid critisism. But what happens if you apply the same standard of logic to Mr. Bush's direct statements? It seems to me that you can take the words of any pollitician, especially when they're running for office, and much of it just doesn't make sense.

The bigger point, which Knippenberg doesn't address at all, was that Bush was defensive and annoying while Kerry was presidential. Why is it that these right-wingers have such a hard time looking at two sides of an issue? Most liberal articles I read point out one or two things that Kerry did badly, yet conservative writers and blogs (with the exception of Andrew Sullivan) don't even try to sound balanced. I wonder why that is. The only logical explanation I can come up with is that the Republicans are much more "extreme" in their views. That is; Michael Moore is a one on a scale from one to ten, Bill O'Reilly is a ten, and George Bush and most Republicans are an eight. John Kerry and most blue state "liberals" (like myself I suppose) are a four or a five. Maybe even six (post 9/11).

Faith vs. reason

Insightful from Salon:
But onstage the incumbent president ran out of programmed talking points. Unable to explain the logic for his policies, or think on his feet, he was thrown back on the raw elements of his personality and leadership, and he revealed even more profound issues than the policies being debated.

Every time he was confronted with ambivalence, his impulse was to sweep it aside. He claimed he must be followed because he is the leader. Fate in the form of Sept. 11 had placed authority in his hands as a man of destiny.

News Report from Iraq (clip)

This clip (windows media format) talks about current conditions in Iraq.

Those Little Lights...

The New Republic agrees that Bush struggled to fill his time. I didn't realize that he insisted on those little lights though, this is very funny:
Bush demanded that those little warning lights be prominently displayed on the podium to embarrass Kerry when he delivered long-winded answers. The opposite happened. The tight time limits helped Kerry--always at his best when on deadline--control his message. Instead the lights served to emphasize that Bush didn't always have enough to say to fill out his time. In previous debates Bush would sometimes answer a question with a short declarative sentence and a sharp nod of the head. The lights would have made this embarrassing, and at times Bush started repeating stock lines and seemed as though he were filibustering. The Kerry campaign used the lights brilliantly. Before the debate they even mischievously demanded that the lights be removed when in fact they knew they would help Kerry. 'We protested too much on the lights and you all fell for it,' Joe Lockhart told me.

Debate with the Sound Off

Wifey had heard on NPR that you could tell the outcome of many debates without hearing the sound. Then today Sullivan posted this e-mail from a reader:
I got home late and didn't see the debate on its first run, and just as I sat down to watch the rebroadcast on C-SPAN, I got a phone call that I had to take. So I put the TV on mute, and spent the next hour or so talking on the phone and just watching the candidates. It was pretty interesting, actually. It's often said that part of what people look for in the debates are facial expressions, posture, body language and just relative poise, and at least on that measure, Kerry won in a landslide. Watching on C-SPAN's split screen there was a stark contrast between the candidates. Kerry looked confident, stood fully upright throughout, even looked commanding. Even when being criticized (and you could guess when that was happening), Kerry just smiled, nodded and took it. Bush on the other hand often looked irritable, kept oddly twitching his lips (which was pretty noticeable on mute), rolled his eyes, hunched over the podium, sighed (that horrid crime Al Gore was convicted of), and basically looked insulted that he had to be there as if he was thinking but I've already TOLD you that talking point.

Fred Kaplan of Slate on Debate

This pretty much sums it up:
It seems to me that Kerry slammed this thing out of the ballpark, not just on points but also on punch lines, style, and demeanor. I find it unfathomable that anyone would conclude otherwise. But obviously, some people will. Toward the end of the debate, Bush looked uncomfortable, annoyed, startled perhaps that Kerry was all of a sudden speaking so concisely. Bush started saying things like, 'I know how the world works.' He also said foreign policy was 'hard work' at least 11 times. Will people find this folksy and hard-nosed or simply exasperated and imperious? I don't have the slightest idea.
I guess the only sure thing is that Kerry's supporters will be more energized. For the first time in this campaign the thought of a Kerry presidency actually excites me a little. We'll see how long that lasts :)

Most Big City Editorials Give Nod to Kerry

Very good summary.

Robert Novak flatters Kerry

No knockout punch, but good news for Kerry: "Although Bush certainly was not entirely on the defensive, Kerry was the attacker throughout. Kerry may have undercut Bush's great advantage as commander in chief."

That's very flattering coming from the douchebag for liberty (Robert Novak)

Economist's Take

Good summary of the actual policy statements made, not so good about the "softer" issues of personality and style.

Yes, Kerry "penned notes" and Bush "appeared annoyed". But more importantly, Bush was either repeating pre-made talking points or struggling to come up with something to say most of the time. Kerry actually used his brain (and his penned notes) to come up with clear responses and follow-ups.

Neighbor Search

Via friends in Boston: Neighbor Search
My name is in there. Scary.

The best blog on the Debate

Unexpectedly I did not think Sullivan was very good. He "winced whenever Kerry mentioned Halliburton and cringed when he went back to Vietnam" which may be natural for a conservative but compared to Bush' cheap shots I (see my unedited notes above) this was peanuts. I agree that "The notion that all our problems will be over in Iraq if only we have a summit is ludicrous" but I thought "The pathetic isolationist strains - about spending money there that we should be spending here" were highly relevant and definitely not "depressingly off-key". The tax-payers should care how their president spends their money, no? Isn't that a core belief for a Conservative?

Josh Marshall, on the other hand, talkes about what I found to be the most striking part about the debate: The defensiveness of Bush:
What occured to me somewhat while I was watching the first time and even more on the second go through was just how long it's been since President Bush had to face someone who disagrees with him or is criticizing.

Every president gets tucked away into a cocoon to some degree. But President Bush does notoriously few press conferences or serious interviews. His townhall meetings are screened so that only supporters show up. And, of course, he hasn't debated anyone since almost exactly four years ago.

Frankly, I think it showed. It irked him to have to stand there and be criticized and not be able to repeat his talking points without contradiction.
On Kerry, Josh' conclusion was also the most important in my view (and this was echoed by Stephanapoulis on ABC):
If you look at the dynamics of this race and the small but durable lead President Bush has built up over the last month, it comes less from people becoming more enamored of President Bush or his policies as it has from a steep decline in confidence in Sen. Kerry.

To put it bluntly, the Bush campaign has created an image of Kerry as a weak and indecisive man, someone that -- whatever you think of President Bush -- just can't be trusted to keep the country safe in these dangerous times.

Often they've made him into an object of contempt.

Whatever else you can say about this debate, though, whatever you think of his policies, I don't think that's how Kerry came off. I think he came off as forceful and direct. And I suspect that most people who were at all genuinely undecided came away from the 90 minutes with that impression.