Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Democratic Debate Response

So instead of listening to the talking heads on MSNBC review tonight's debate, I'll just do it myself. First, I want to say that Tim Russert should never be allowed near a candidates' debate ever again. He has no idea how to state a question properly, and he has no idea what to ask in the first place. His questions were too often irrelevant or inappropriate. His question to Sen. Clinton about White House secrecy was horribly botched, for example - how can Sen. Clinton, if elected, do anything about the wishes of a previous president with regards to secrecy, even if said former president is married to her? And what the hell was he doing asking about UFOs to Rep. Kucinich? Russert too often appeared to be trying to get candidates to make frivolous, counterfactual promises and endorse bold policy moves instead of asking actual, substantive questions that could elicit thoughtful, informative responses. It's irresponsible "gotcha" journalism at its worst. There are far better ways to get politicians to discuss specifics - Russert should think of them.

MSNBC's format, also, left a lot to be desired. How do you expect education policy to be properly discussed in thirty seconds? How do you give health care such short shrift? What's the point of asking Sen. Obama about his kids' Halloween costumes? And the entire "electability" discussion was completely unnecessary, uninformative, and otherwise worthless.

Anyway, here I'll give my rankings of the Democratic candidates and describe how I think they did in this debate. From the top:

T-1. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton: Sen. Clinton continues a near-flawless campaign. I appreciated her answer to Russert's stupid question asking her to pledge to not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons, and I also appreciated her refusal to not take war with Iran off the table. She seems to understand that rash decision-making and over-dedication to ideology is what got us into this mess, and the worst thing we can do now is make rash, ideological decisions that are nothing but a reaction to failed Bush policy. Her refusal to attach herself to a specific policy at Russert's begging is a natural reaction to all the flip-flop gotcha crap that has infected our political discourse like a bad virus, and until we quit calling "flip-flop" on anyone who has their mind changed by experience or good evidence, I'll give Clinton - and the other candidates - the benefit of the doubt on that. Domestically her ideas seemed sound, minimalist - and baby steps are generally how things get done in Washington.

T-1. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson: Gov. Richardson is the only candidate other than Sen. Clinton to not categorically rule out war with Iran. His argument for why Sen. Clinton was wrong to vote for the designation of Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization made sense (he thought it was just the sort of saber-rattling that ultimately benefits the Iranian regime), and his domestic policies were sound and reasonable. I like the concrete goals set by his energy policy. 50 MPG may seem like a high bar for Detroit, but given enough time it's a high bar that Detroit is more than capable of reaching. And you have to admit - a debate between Richardson and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson would be awesome. You could drink every time they say "um" - and be toasted in ten minutes. Oh, and Richardson calling out the rest of the candidates for attacking Sen. Clinton was the badass moment of the debate.

3. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden: Surprisingly, Biden was the only other candidate that refused to speak in platitudes the whole time. Biden's positions are always well thought out, and even though he has taken to some more bombastic rhetoric of late, he would still bring a thoughtfulness to the presidency that we desperately need. This debate was his best performance yet - he only seemed to discuss his policy agenda and little else. For the normally undisciplined Biden, that's a hell of an accomplishment. His little stand-up routine about Giuliani was a great way to get back at Rudolph the Red Faced Mayor for his attack on Clinton, and a good way to deal with Richardson's critique of the anti-Clinton tenor of the debate thus far.

4. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama: Not his best debate. He seemed more interested in attacking Sen. Clinton than introducing America to his policy ideas - bizarre because, when he did introduce policy ideas, they were seldom much different from Sen. Clinton's. He's starting to show a lack of temperance that will get a president into trouble (ask Dubya). His inexperience is starting to show - his campaign is panicking and he hasn't spoken in more than platitudes in any significant way, which is a problem at this late date. He'll make a great candidate in 2016, though.

5. Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd: Dodd seemed to just join the "pile on Clinton" chorus during the foreign policy debate - unbecoming of someone who has his long, distinguished foreign service record. I don't remember anything new that he added to the domestic policy debate, though that was done in such whirlwind fashion and he got passed up by the moderators a lot. His one domestic moment - criticizing New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer for giving unauthorized immigrants a driver's license - rang hollow with anyone concerned about road safety. He had no good answer for Clinton's explanation that Gov. Spitzer was dealing with a Congressional failure, and instead degenerated into Lou Dobbs-esque rambling.

6. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards: Sen. Edwards actually benefited from being forced to package his ideas into 30-second soundbites. The "lightning round" discussions of health care and education were the only times he sounded remotely intelligent. The rest of the time he spoke in platitudes, failed to discuss policy, and launched gratuitous attacks on Sen. Clinton. He's way off his excellent 2004 form. He doesn't realized that we're tired of the bleating about corruption and how the system doesn't work - we want to know what he'll do about it. He consistently failed to address that tonight.

7. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich: I learned from the debate that Rep. Kucinich cares about two things - ending the Iraq war immediately and instituting single-payer health care. Kucinich benefited from having former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel around - Gravel took the moonbat aura away from Kucinich. With Gravel gone, Kucinich is left to act crazy. It's a bad rap, and Kucinich's ideas shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, but he does have a "my way or the highway" attitude about his ideas that the past seven years have proven is very, very bad for a president.

So there's my list. Feel free to discuss. Next Republican debate I'll rank the candidates on that side. Anyone know when that is?

Oh, and a bonus link to an excellent article about how Rudolph The Red Faced Mayor is not really a moderate. The idea rings true - you can't call someone a moderate based on one or two issue positions. Goldwater believed in abortion rights - doesn't make him a moderate.

Patriot Acts

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's nefarious scheming continues - he apparently conspired to have the entire Washington Redskins team replaced by local high-schoolers.

Seriously though, I watched the first three quarters of Sunday's 52-7 embarrassment, and I left with the following question - are the Pats really that good, or is the rest of the NFL that pathetic?

I ask because I don't think the 'Skins have any right to be 4-3. They have no offense, the vague shadow of a defense, and weak special teams. They only won four games because Philly, Miami, Arizona, and Detroit are even worse than they are (and Detroit's 5-2). And I ask because it's kind of odd leaving a 52-7 game thinking, "you know, we should have won that" - the 'Skins had at least 35 points worth of self-inflicted wounds.

I'll give the Pats this much - they have a great passing game and a second-to-maybe-Indy offensive line. But beyond that? Their running game is ordinary. Their defense is anchored by solid linebackers, but outside of Samuel and Harrison they have no one in coverage. Several times during Sunday's game, 'Skins receivers got open only to be missed by Jason Campbell. And their playcalling? I think I saw them call five different offensive plays the entire time. I think they called the same 5-yard over-the-middle route to Wes Welker a hundred times. And who doesn't know what's coming when LB Mike Vrabel enters the game on offense near the goal line? (Answer - 'Skins LB Marcus Washington.)

Sure, the Pats might be the best team in the NFL this year, and if they get past Indy next week they could even go undefeated and be remembered as a great team. But I wouldn't put them at the head of the class - yet. I've seen nothing from them that would put them above the '89 Niners, the '91 'Skins, or the mid-90s Cowboys in the pecking order of best teams that I've seen play. Now let's see if they can prove me wrong. If a talented team like Indy can play a near-flawless game at home and still lose, it'll definitely help the Pats' case for inclusion among the greats.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Larry's Right

I rarely agree with Sen. Larry Craig, but in this case, he's absolutely right. I don't possibly understand how coming on to someone could possibly be against the law. If that's "lewd conduct," the cops could just go into a nightclub and fill their jails at discount prices.

Now if only Sen. Craig had respect for other bits of the Constitution...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My Head Hurts...

So apparently Iran is buying planes from China, built in Russia, and orginially designed by... Israel (in partnership with the U.S.)? Excuse me?

Someone should check the Israeli government for signs of Milo Minderbinder.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Poll Dancing

The latest poll from Rasmussen:

Clinton (D) - 45%
Giuliani (R) - 35%
Colbert (I) - 13%

Clinton (D) - 46%
Thompson (R) - 34%
Colbert (I) - 12%

Yes, that Colbert. A late night cable satirist is polling in the double digits. And among voters 30 and under, Colbert is beating the Republican, whether that's Giuliani or Thompson.

Wow. Just... wow.

Cormac McCarthy + Ridiculous Parents = Criminal Charges?

In Texas, they can't tell the difference between literature and porn.

How To Stop Nuclear Proliferation?

Remember back in early September (yah-dee-ah) when Israel bombed a target in Middle of Nowhere, Syria with seemingly no provocation? And remember how Syria responded with extremely muted outrage, remarkable because a) Arab countries display outrage at Israel for everything and b) Syria had been half-assedly trying to start a war over the Golan Heights for the entire summer? I suspected something was up, but now we have confirmation - it was an extralegal nuclear reactor.

The reactor was years away from producing anything. But this raises an interesting question - if you know a country has an illegal reactor, and you know they're trying to keep it a secret, and you're the first to find out about it, should you make a stink and employ diplomacy or just bomb the fucker?

Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to both. The bombs-away method is nice because the country trying to build the bomb has no recourse to fight back without revealing their nuclear program and creating massive problems for themselves. It sets the nuclear program back significantly, and frightens the nation pursuing the extralegal reactor. It also avoids the possibility of a situation like the one we currently face with Iran, where their clearly illegal nuclear program is allowed to proceed because diplomacy allows them to play for time.

However, diplomacy is not without its advantages, and force not without its disadvantages. A botched bombing could cause real damage to civilian targets, creating a huge pretext for the reactor-building country to go to war/stage diplomatic pressure without revealing anything. And as UN non-proliferation czar Mohammed ElBaradei points out at the end of the Post article, the use of force will lead to countries hiding their reactors better, thus leaving the non-proliferation regime with little ability to stop the program. Diplomacy seems to have (finally) worked in the case of North Korea, where a draw-down of isolation was offered in exchange for the dismantling of the Yongbyon reactor. And diplomacy leads to the most permanent solution - in a diplomatic solution, a regime agrees never to pursue nuclear weapons, whereas force can only send the pursuit of weapons back to start.

There's good arguments on both sides, and it's probably best that this debate be taken on case-by-case. In this case, it's tough to fault Israel for carrying out a low-risk (the nearest town was 8 miles away) attack on a nuclear reactor in a neighboring country, especially given how the Iran situation has turned out.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Short-Lived Grantish Inquisition

In the "little known moments in history" department, apparently General Grant at one point during the Civil War ordered all Jews out of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Fortunately, President Lincoln pulled rank on Grant and rescinded the order. It doesn't appear that anyone tried to enforce Grant's order.

Oddly enough, the event quickly vanished down the memory hole - the only real description of the event was from a history of Lincoln written by a Jewish writer some 40 years later.

And the flabbergasting tidbit from the end of the post...
In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant was an honored guest at the dedication of Adas Israel, which is now the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington, DC.

How soon we forget.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Outsourcing Fake Outrage

It's often taken as a given in America that no one does fake outrage like our politicians and punditocracy. All the bluster over how someone's actions are emboldening terrorists or destroying marriage or sending your job to India or turning America into North Mexico has convinced many Americans that we had a monopoly on the stuff (or if we didn't, we were in a cartel with Iran).

Well, this week Turkey and China decided to try their hands at fake outrage. The Turks are all up in arms over a bill wandering around Congress that would declare the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians a "genocide" (itself an exercise in fake outrage - I don't see why Congress is more keen to call a spade a spade now than it has been in the 90 intervening years). And the Chinese have decided to throw a hissy fit over President Bush's honoring of the Dalai Lama.

The Armenian genocide occurred in the aftermath of the First World War, when Ottoman Turkish leaders decided that the Armenian minority, which sided with the Russians against the Ottomans, was a threat to the security of their (moribund) state. The Turkish government seized Armenian property and shipped Armenians off to work camps, where hundreds of thousands of Armenians died of starvation. The modern preferred Turkish response to the mention of the Armenian genocide is to stick fingers in their collective ears and say "we can't hear you." (There are some Turks who still believe that the Armenians had it coming.) It's illegal to talk about the Armenian genocide in Turkey. This, despite the fact that when the Ottoman Empire dissolved, those responsible were sentenced to death in absentia by a court in Istanbul. And despite the fact that Kemal Ataturk's secular republic was founded partially as a response to the excesses of the Ottoman government, including the Armenian genocide.

One wonders how the Turkish government can continue to insist that one of its country's darkest hours - which occurred under a previous government, no less - never happened. Germany has made great strides in coming to terms with both its Nazi past and the Communist oppression of its eastern half. Americans are constantly lamenting the cruel things our government has done, from black slavery to Indian removal to Japanese internment camps. Why is it a point of national pride in Turkey to not admit your government did something really, really bad in the past? No one is suggesting that the current government is responsible for the genocide. Why fight it? Why not recognize that it happened? And is it such an important point that you have to mollify your nationalists by pretending to be outraged when another country recognizes it?

As bizarre as the Turkish rage over Armenia is, the Chinese anger over the Dalai Lama receiving honors in America is superbly odd. The Dalai Lama has long sought autonomy for Tibet, the Himalayan region currently controlled by China. However, the Dalai Lama has done so peacefully - there is no "Tibetan rebellion" to speak of. The Dalai Lama is also much more than the leader of a separatist movement - he is a spiritual guide to millions and an advocate for dissidents' rights in numerous other places, most notably Burma. Moreover, the Lama constitutes no threat to the Chinese state. The Chinese "outrage" over the Lama's honors seem to me to be nothing more than an exceptionally transparent effort to boost Chinese nationalism and draw their people closer to their government.

I suppose the land of diplomacy is filled with fake outrage - I just never noticed it until now. But at any rate, let's not let Turkey or China's windbaggery keep us from doing what's right. They'll get over themselves eventually; bullshit decays after all.

(Bush is already opposing the Armenian genocide resolution on the grounds that the Turkish government doesn't like it. The Turks are an important staging area for troops headed to Iraq... which makes me question everyone's motives in this little episode...)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Our Republic Is Screwed

Too many of us base our votes on things that have absolutely no bearing on their ability to legislate/run a country, such as the happiness of a candidate's marriage:
Thirty-five percent of the women surveyed said their perceptions of the candidates' marriages would affect their vote in November 2008 either "a great deal" or "somewhat."

35%!?!?!?! Ladies, over a third of you think that a candidate's happiness in his/her marriage has anything to do with their policies and their leadership style? How? What am I missing here? Abe Lincoln had a (reputedly) horrible marriage, and he did okay. Bill Clinton obviously was unhappy enough to screw around with a fugly intern in the Oval Office.

Also, only one couple, the Edwardses, were viewed as happy by the majority of the women surveyed. Conclusion: American women are way too cynical.

When The SCHIPs Are Down

One of the most pathetic stories of the SCHIP battle is the conservative loonies who decided to take out their frustrations over the SCHIP bill on a 12-year-old boy. E.J. Dionne, who has been on a bit of a cold streak with his columns lately, issues a truly awesome smackdown of the right-wingers' attacks on Graeme Frost and his family.

Anyway, the argument over the SCHIP bill is a lot more nuanced than the talking heads on either side of the issue would have you believe. Republicans don't hate children for opposing the expansion (as the left would have you believe) and Democrats don't want to forget about poor kids (as the right would claim), nor do they want Big Brother to control your health care budget (another claim bordering on lunacy).

The idea behind SCHIP is this: the federal government pays states to provide health care for children whose families are too well-off to qualify for Medicaid but not well-off enough to afford health insurance on their own. The states themselves determine who is eligible, what benefits the eligible kids receive, and how much each family needs to pay in premiums. The federal government currently allows states to insure children in families that make up to 200% of the federal poverty line, or $37,700 for a family of four. States may insure up to a higher income level with Administration approval (the Bush administration has approved NJ's 350% insurance level but rejected NY's 400% level).

Currently, SCHIP insures about 6.6 million kids nationwide, and is widely regarded as a successful program. The problem is this - with health care costs rising, states with high costs of living such as NJ and NY are seeing the need to raise eligibility levels to cover the gap between those who qualify for Medicaid (100% of poverty) and those who can afford the cost of private employer-offered insurance (which averaged around $11,500/year for a family of four). Alas, this costs more money than the SCHIP program currently has.

Both President Bush and the Democratic/moderate Republican coalition in Congress want to boost funding for SCHIP - the argument is about how much the funding should be increased by. Bush wants a $5 billion bump; Congress wants $35 billion.

Thanks to increasing health care costs, though, the $5 billion increase isn't really much of an increase. The best-case scenario here is that the amount of federal aid to states keeps pace with the rising cost of health care, keeping most of the current enrollees insured but not allowing any additional enrollees. As such, states that want to expand SCHIP - say, to keep up with population increases - will have to fund such an increase themselves. Democrats claim that their plan will enable states to increase the number of kids insured from 6.6 million to around 10 million. The Democratic plan pays for the SCHIP expansion by raising the current excise tax on cigarettes to $1/pack (it is currently $0.39/pack).

Unsurprisingly, I side with the Democrats on this one. If SCHIP is not expanded to allow states to expand their coverage levels, more and more families in high cost-of-living areas will be forced to make the decision to forgo health insurance. This will have the perverse effect of costing governments and states (not to mention hospitals) more as these kids end up receiving only emergency-room care that their families can't afford. There is a legitimate concern that private insurers could suffer from losing current clients who are at the margins of affordability; however, that's a sacrifice I'm more than willing to make if it means more insured kids.

Ideally, I would like to see a program that offers a progressive subsidy to families who purchase portable (non-employer-based) private health coverage. Of course, this would require nuking our current health care system and replacing it with something completely new and more costly, and we have neither the political will nor the money to do so right now. As I understand it, Sen. Clinton's new health-care proposal aims to do something like this with a mandate-and-subsidy program (based, ironically, on something done by Massachussetts under Gov. Romney), so stay tuned if she wins the White House in '08 and Democrats get larger working majorities in both houses.

Update: The Republicans in the Energy and Commerce committee - one wonders why that committee is dealing with this bill - put out this completely inexplicable press release saying... something or other. I'm not sure what. (Via Wonkette)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Rather Unique SCV Member

Here's a rather fascinating article about a black man who is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Apparently his grandfather - whom he knew - was a slave who went to war with the sons of his owner. Eventually the grandfather became a soldier himself, fighting under (of all people) General Nathan Bedford Forrest. He would serve out the war as a chaplain, conducting services for soldiers on both sides of the war. When he died in 1934, a Confederate flag draped his coffin.

It's a fascinating story that leaves me with a ton of questions I'd like to ask this guy. Starting with this: wasn't it illegal for black men to fight in the Confederate army? How did he get away with fighting for the South? Especially under the notoriously racist Forrest?

Anyway, black Confederate soldiers deserve more study. What were their motivations? How did they get around the rules? Did they confuse the crap out of Union soldiers? And what effect did they have overall?

Snakes on a Base

So the D-Backs just got done thoroughly manhandling the Cubs in three games (helped, no doubt, by the cheering from the upper reaches of Section 301 in Game 2). I can't say this was a surprise to me, but...

Eight out of ten ESPN experts, as well as this guy, picked the Cubs to win, many in four games. So I have this question to ask - how the heck were so many people caught off guard by this? The D-backs won 90 games in baseball's toughest division despite an ugly 4-13 stretch in the middle of the season. The Cubs got 85 wins out of the godawful NL Central and wouldn't have even made the playoffs if not for an ugly tailspin by the Brewers. (The Brewers! They trailed the Brewers for most of the season! How can you trust a team like that?) By those stats alone the D-backs should have been favored. Who cares that the D-backs can't hit? No one can hit in the playoffs. You win in the playoffs behind reasonable starting pitching, an awesome bullpen, and solid defense. Arizona has all three.

Sure, I'm still trying to figure out how Stephen Drew is over .500 for the playoffs, but I'm not surprised that the team that was by far the better team season-long won the series easily. Why is everyone else?

Oh, and Stanford 24, USC 23... college football has officially jumped the shark.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Age Happens

Having a wife and future baby? Doesn't make me feel old. Drowning in '90s nostalgia? Doesn't make me feel old. Having a 26th birthday and thus entering a different marketing demographic? Doesn't make me feel old either.

But reading the phrase "fourteen-year veteran Gus Frerotte?" Now that makes me feel old.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Touchdown Moses

With apologies to Steve Buscemi... Define irony: the existence of this T-shirt.

I was going to write something snarky here, but it would be completely superfluous.

(The letters say "Notre Dame Fighting Irish," in case you were wondering.)