Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Goodbye, Karl

While there was much to comment on in tonight's State of the Union address, one observation from several commentators was the partisanship displayed on the floor of the House.

If the President truly wants to make the last three years of his term successful, I have a suggestion. Boot Karl Rove out of the White House. Send him to the RNC if you like, but get him out of the White House.

The partisan rancor starts with our democracy. Whichever candidate gets the most votes wins. The winner then has no reason to care about the concerns of people who didn't vote for him or her. If a candidate wins by one vote, she has all the marbles and the losers have none. As long as she can keep the majority that voted for her happy she doesn't need to care about the people who didn't vote for her.

The rancor is increased by having only two major parties and the use of party solidarity to pass legislation. If you want to be elected to the House, Senate or Presidency you must be a member of one of the two major parties. They have the power and, more importantly, the money. The parties believe that any success by the opposition is unacceptable. The opposition must always be derided as incompetent, out of touch and without ideals or ideas since any success for them is a loss for us. Even more importantly, they need the outrage and angst created by a good (bad?) opponent to mobilize their supporters and bring in the money. Therefore, the best way to govern is to not cooperate, because cooperation implies your opponent does have something to offer. Republicans have no incentive to seek or accept any cooperation from Democrats. Cooperation with a Democrat gives them standing which weakens Republicans and vice versa. The best strategy is to pass legislation by demanding party unity and preventing Democrats from taking any actions for which they can claim success.

The Democrats have been frozen out of the legislative process for several years. The Republicans call them poor sports, but won't even let them on the field. The Democrats are left to stand on the sidelines and try to disrupt the Republican playbook through whatever means they can find. Like filibusters. Republicans love this since they can then use these very actions to prove Democrats have no ideas other than opposition. It is the publicly expressed hope of several key Republican strategists to keep Democrats from returning to power for decades. How do they do that? By continually showing that Democrats have no ideas and have nothing to offer the country. Certainly not a strategy to win friends across the aisle. And who leads that campaign? Karl Rove.

Who are the second and third most powerful people in the White House? Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. You can pick their relative positions. We know what the Vice-President does (sort of), but what is Karl Rove's job in the White House? No matter what title he has, he is the take no prisoners political strategist. He makes sure that the President wins politically, which also means helping Republicans win politically. A rejuvenated Karl Rove recently resurfaced to map out strategy for the 2006 mid-term elections. His strategy, the tried and true, make the Democrats look soft on defense and terrorism. This is the second or third most important person in the White House trying to once again bury the Democrats. The President is not running in 2006, so why is Karl Rove still working to trivialize Democrats?

The President has had the majority in both houses for at least four years and still complains about how the Democrats won't cooperate. With the second or third most important person in this administration working every day to politically screw them, why would any Democrat want to play nice?

It is not up to the party out of power to make concessions. They have little to give and the party in power has a disincentive to accept any help. At this point if Republicans want to tone down the partisanship, they will need to take the lead and probably make the most concessions.

President Bush is not running again and I suggest that if he truly wants to be treated kindly by history he should become the President of all Americans and not just the leader of the Republican Party. What is more important to the President, electing Republicans or doing the country's business? Instead of using the White House to elect and re-elect Republicans as a way to pass his legislative proposals, why not work with legislators to create legislation that a majority of Representatives and Senators from both parties can support? He might not get exactly what he or his base wants, but he would quiet the partisan rancor and end up with programs and laws that a majority of legislators thought were good for the country. Not just programs and laws that party leaders steamrolled party members to pass.

Mr. President, send Karl Rove packing! Let the RNC fight the political battles and you work for all of us.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Definition of a Pickle

Sad pickle faceOne definition of pickle from Dictionary.com

4. Informal. A disagreeable or troublesome situation; a plight.

Example: Your goal is to spread democracy in the Middle East and the Palestinians elect a terrorist group to govern them.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Call Me, They'll Never Know

Tonight on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Obermann they did a segment on the idiotic way the White House is trying to parse and manipulate language to obsfuscate. They showed a clip where White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan tried to prove that the recently disclosed NSA wiretapping operation does not represent domestic spying by explaining the difference between the words "domestic" and "international". To prove his point he used the example of your phone bill where a call from the U.S. to a foreign phone is listed as an international call, not a domestic call. Therefore, spying on these calls is not "domestic" spying.

Egad! Did he realize he gave away the underlying secret that has made the White House so touchy on this subject? A call made from a U.S. phone to a foreign phone shows up on your bill as an international call, but what about a call made from a foreign phone to a U.S. phone? Aha, it doesn't show up at all! Using McClellan's analogy we now know that the NSA can't snoop on calls coming into the U.S. from foreign phones! To hide from the NSA all al Qaida has to do is call the U.S. from some other country and we'll never know!

Anyone else would be fired immediately for such a gaff, but no one else would take his thankless job, so he is probably safe.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Fair and Balanced?

Alan 'Hit Me Again' Colmes
I generally watch Fox News Sunday (FNS). I like to get a conservative point of view now and then, and it plugs the hole in my area between Meet The Press on NBC and This Week on ABC.

Chris Wallace is generally pretty even handed, but occasionally his convservative bias shows through. He is certainly better than Tony Snow. By the way, I know that Washington, D.C. is not a really large city, but I was surprised several years ago as the Monica Lewinsky story was breaking when Tony Snow admitted on the air that he personally knew Linda Tripp (Monica Lewinsky's "friend"). I appreciated the disclosure, but it seemed odd that a conservative news anchor had some kind of relationship with a low level Pentagon employee who secretly taped conversations to harm a liberal president. I never heard what their relationship was; they could have just been neighbors. It just struck me as very odd.

If you really think Fox is fair and balanced, just watch the panel discussion on FNS. The regular panel members include: Brit Hume, who I suggested in a previous post should be the chairman of the RNC. He doesn't even try to hide his bias. Mara Liasson, who works hard to be fair and balanced. Bill Kristol, who is a well known conservative thinker and writer. He can generally defend his position with reasoned opinion and without name calling or put-downs. Juan Williams is the token liberal. I like Juan, but it is clear that he is on the panel because he often ineffectively states his position and he obviously will take Hume's crap to stay on the show.

Yesterday, Brit Hume responded to a statement by Williams with "That's crap" or something like that. Later, Juan tried to explain that the Abramoff scandal was indeed a Republican scandal. He explained how part of the Republican "K Street Project" was to push lobbying groups to fire their employees who were Democrats and hire Republicans. Instead of a thoughtful discussion of Juan's point, Brit came back with a smart ass remark asking Juan if he was suggesting the need for civil rights legislation for lobbyists. Brit doesn't attempt to hide his disrespect for Williams. One day Juan should stare back at Brit and say, "No, Brit, that is not crap, but I can believe to an asshole like you most things sound like crap". Obviously Juan would never work for Fox again, but wouldn't that be satisfying? Hume is the managing editor of Fox News? Doesn't that make it harder for other commentators to give it back like they are getting it?

While I'm venting about Fox I've got to say that I do like to hear conservative points of view. While I might not agree with them very often, Bill Kristol, George Will and David Brooks are bright people with positions they defend with reasoned responses. A person's personal views of politics, or anything else for that matter, must be tested against well reasoned opinions of people with opposing views. Otherwise your opinions may be no more than illusions.

Having said that, Hannity and Colmes is worthless. I watch some of the Fox shows frequently, but Hannity and Colmes turns my stomach. I try to watch occasionally, but I'm generally nauseous after about five minutes. If you like someone who is unreflective, rude, obnoxious and pontificating, Hannity is probably your man. And, like Juan Williams, Alan Colmes plays the part of the ineffective, out-of-touch, hit me again liberal.

I'm sure Juan Williams and Alan Colmes are fine people, but I couldn't and wouldn't play the part of the liberal patsy. And I can't respect either for staying with Fox.

As far as Fox being "Fair and Balanced", this is just another example of the Republican/conservative belief that if you tell a lie often enough people will start believing it. Why can't they just be honest and say "We are a conservative news organizaion that is committed to balancing the views from the liberal media." Not simple or catchy enough. How about "We are right and proud of it!"

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Brit For RNC Chair

After watching Fox News Sunday this morning, it is clear that Brit Hume is missing his true calling, Chairman of the RNC.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Are We Terrorists?

Pakistani tribesmen search a house that was destroyed after an airstrike in Damadola, January 14, 2006. REUTERS/Ali ImamA recent Reuters news article says that Pakistan now believes as many as four al Qaeda members were killed in the Predator airstrike last week. I would imagine that the administration and the CIA are breathing a little easier now. An attack that killed 18 presumably innocent villagers without killing a top level terrorist would have been hard to explain. But even so, does killing 4 terrorists justify killing 18 Pakistanis?

Are you bothered that we killed 18 other people to get those four terrorists? I want to kill terrorists as much as anyone else. I have no problem killing those guys. I hope we can get some more.

But what if the 18 civilians were men, women and children from Peoria, IL? Would we make the moral trade-off quite so easily? If an al Qaeda member crept into Peoria some night and blew up 18 people, what would we call that person and what would we like to do to him and people who supported him?

What message do we send to the people of the world when we are willing to kill innocent people to achieve our military and political goals? I know that innocent people are always killed in wars and the President keeps telling us this is a war, but there is something about this attack that bothers me. Are we really willing to kill innocent people around the world on the chance it may save some of us? Are American lives worth more than Pakistani lives?

I suppose you can justify the civilian deaths in Iraq because the fighting there is needed to defend their new freedoms, but how do we justify the deaths of these Pakistanis? They might have been providing support to al Qaeda, but we aren't even sure we killed any terrorists so what would make us believe these people were not just innocent civilians?

This bothers me. I can see why some people might think we are also terrorists.

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

What's In A Name?

The abortion debate is not likely to end soon. I've suggested that we try to come together on a position that may not satisfy everyone, but might give a common goal that many of us could agree on. See Let's Make Abortion Rare.

We need a tag that quickly and clearly defines this view. Each side has used a term that tries to capture in a positive way their position.

"Pro-life" replaced "anti-abortion" which was too negative. I've argued that for many people who claim this position, "pro-life" is a misnomer. They should more appropriately be called "pro-birth" because they are more interested in making sure a child is born and much less about it's future. Too many pro-lifers care little about what happens to the mother or child after birth. In their zeal to insure that no abortion ever be tolerated, they lessen the moral weight of their arguments.

"Pro-choice" replaced "pro-abortion" as its proponents tried to remove the moral implications of an abortion. It is not the act or its consequences that are important, it is just important that women have the right to choose. In their zeal to insure that no abortion ever be prevented, they lessen the moral weight of their arguments.

What would be a good tag for people who believe that we should work to make abortions rare through positive actions, but retain the right of women to choose to have an abortion with reasonable restrictions? There is the obvious temptation to call the movement "pro-something". "Pro-rare?" "Pro-moral?" Neither of those is promising. How about an acronym? Keep abortions legal, but make them rare (KALBMTR)? Ugh! Make abortions rare, but legal (MARBL). Better, but someone with more imagination can suggest a better name.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Robertson on Robertson

OK, I've changed my mind, it is now time to pray for Pat Robertson to come down with facial shingles (see Shingles For Robertson).

Pat Robertson has managed to utter another outrageous statement. Of course, I knew he would. He won't stop until he is no longer able to open his mouth. I don't predict or wish any bad things to happen to Reverend Robertson (except for the shingles), but we all die and bad things happen to many of us.

What kind of comments will we hear when Rev. Robertson dies or suffers from some serious disease or injury? I think a comment, in the Robertson tradition, would go something like this.
Did he really believe he could continue to make those outrageous statements without incurring God's wrath? There is a price to pay for pretending to speak for God. You can say he was an old man and his time had come, but I think God finally got fed up with his pretentious panderings. I liked the man, but I don't expect to meet him in Heaven.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Intelligent Design Explained

Monkey contemplating human skull
With apologies to Arthur C. Clarke,

Any sufficiently complex natural phenomenon will prove intelligent design to the insufficiently skeptical.

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Immigration Is A Population Issue

Population policy in the US and the world is not a hot topic, but it should be. Especially with the looming debate on immigration. Many of the world's problems are related directly or indirectly to population. China, the worlds most populous nation, is already suffering from many problems caused by over-population and has implemented government programs to try to control its population. You may disagree with some of its population policies, but they have at least recognized the problem and are trying to resolve it. Read Lindsey Grant's essay "China As An Emerging Nation; What It Means To The Rest Of US" for more information.

China and India (the world's second most populous country) are poised to become future super powers because of their large populations of cheap, skilled labor. The U.S. (the world's third most populous country) cannot grow its population fast enough to compete. Even if we could, our high level of consumption of resources per person would doom us. If we could lower our consumption (and standard of living?), we might be able to compete, but a declining standard of living should not be our goal.

Increasing immigration for cheap labor may do us all much more harm than good. It is obvious that cheap labor around the world has harmed the manufacturing base in the U.S. Do we really believe that bringing cheap labor to the U.S. will make us stronger? Or will it just lower the standard of living for even more Americans? For an example, read Lindsey Grant's essay "Social Security And The Fear Of Aging" which explains why mass immigration makes the problems with social security worse, not better.

If we want to increase immigration, we should encourage people with skills we need, like scientists, to immigrate. We should maintain our standard of living through innovation, wise use of resources and education, not cheaper goods, cheaper services and an ever growing population. Cheap labor may mean cheaper goods and services, but only for those who make enough money to afford them. If we win this race to the bottom with cheap labor, what is the prize?

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Why All The Secrecy?

In two previous posts I suggested that the NSA wire tapping story may have involved wide scale wire tapping and that there was more to this story than we are being told. In the past I've read accounts that indicate the government can scan massive amounts of telecommunications data looking for specific items and then focus on those conversations. Many political pundits have wondered why the administration didn't just go to the courts for approval for their wire taps. One reason may be that the way they are wire tapping is highly technical and highly controversial. The administration did not want to divulge details of this technology because it is so new, current laws may not cover this new technology and/or they did not want to face possible legislative limits on this new technology.

I came across an article that more clearly states the technical possiblities. The article on arstechnica.com is titled "The new technology at the root of the NSA wiretap scandal". You can agree or disagree with the authors opinions (be sure to read his/her followup post), but the technical discussion is very interesting.

The President may have tipped his hand when he kept saying that release of the New York Times article gave our enemies information they didn't previously have. Terrorists have to suspect we are trying to intercept their communications, but they may not have understood how sophisticated the technology had become or that we were using it to monitor communications to the US.

I don't like to be cynical, but I lived through Watergate and know how easily illegal government actions can be rationalized and hidden. How sure are we that this technology, if it exists, is not being used on purely domestic telecommunications?

On Meet The Press this morning, William Safire described how his home phones were, unknown by him at the time, tapped by the FBI for six months while he was working in the White House. It started when he had made an innocuous comment that was misconstrued. It can happen to any of us.

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Which is it Charles?

On Fox News Sunday this morning (Why do they call it Fox News Sunday?) Charles Krauthammer reiterated the administration claim that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here. A little later he asked why we hadn't been attacked in the US since 9/11. He then proceeded to answer his own question by crediting President Bush's secret NSA wiretapping program.

Which is it Charles? We haven't been attacked because all the terrorists are busy fighting us in Iraq or because our wiretapping has foiled all attacks?

Obviously we don't know why we haven't been attacked again. It might be because of the secret wiretapping, but for security reasons we are not going to be given any details. It might be because they are all fighting us in Iraq, but I doubt it (see my previous blog, Bush Divulges Secret Info). The fact is we don't know why we haven't been attacked here in the US since 9/11. I would assume that it is probably a combination of many factors (but not because we invaded Iraq). Maybe the terrorists just aren't ready.

Mr Krauthammer is basically echoing the administration line, "Trust us". Who was the sage who said "Trust, but verify"? Oh yeah, Ronald Reagan. If the NSA program is so crucial, why not bring in the top political leaders and describe the successes and risks of the program? Then the President could propose legislation to clearly authorize this kind of wiretapping. While they couldn't give details, the legislators who were briefed could attest that the value of the intelligence gained was significant and the risk to privacy was minimal (assuming it has been).

This won't happen for several reasons. One, I believe, is because there is more to this story than we've been told.

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