Saturday, April 28, 2007

I guess he's going to choose to do it 'the hard way.'

In my last post I asked whether Rick Renzi is going to resign. Since the FBI raided his family business and he was dropped from ROMP (Regain Our Majority Party-- a Republican fundraising group that is presently raising funds for Republican congressmembers in marginal districts), Renzi has since resigned from his congressional committees, leading to intense speculation that he was planning to resign from Congress. Yesterday, however, Renzi said that he doesn't plan to resign, and that he will fight the corruption charges being leveled against him. He claimed that what we are seeing is a partisan attack. Yeah, right. Those Democrats, they sure run the FBI and Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department, especially for the purpose of getting Rick Renzi. But the paranoia aside, it seems that Congressman Renzi intends to fight this out to the bitter end.

So be it.

The evidence is rapidly accumulating that his large and complicated web is unraveling. Details of the Sandlin land deal have grown into a wide reaching investigation of alleged bribery, kickbacks and other schemes with Renzi running for Congress essentially out of the proceeds. The FBI raid last week resulted in the seizure of documents, presumably related to the ongoing investigation. And with Attorney General Gonzales in the crosshairs for the firing of U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton in what it is increasingly clear was an effort to sidetrack the Renzi investigation, don't expect that Congressman Renzi will get any more favors from the Justice Department-- Attorney General Gonzales is desperately trying to hold onto his own job, and the last thing he will do is stick his neck out again to save Rick Renzi's.

I'm not sure whether his leaving the committees will make much difference, because Rick Renzi has scores of absences from committee meetings and committee votes during the past four and a half years, so by resigning from the committees he was serving on he only makes official what was unofficial before-- that he's just not interested in the day to day work of House committees. However, as the only member of Congress without any committee assignments, I'm not sure what exactly Mr. Renzi is supposed to do. More to the point, as the print edition of the Arizona Republic pointed out this morning, his no longer serving on the committees will cause his source of donors to dry up.

Politically, it is hard to see how Renzi can survive this, even if he tries to stay in Congress. He does have broad support here, having crafted a coalition of Republicans and Native Americans (since he has spread a lot of Congressional money around on the reservations.) But while his support is broad, it is not deep. I've met Republicans (and occasionally others) who are willing to go the wall for, say, Jon Kyl or Jake Flake-- they just fundamentally believe in and support those candidates. I may disagree with their supporters, but in many cases they are voting for Jon Kyl or for Jake Flake very specifically because they like them. On the other hand, I've hardly ever met anyone who was excited about Rick Renzi. Republicans vote for him because he is a Republican, Native Americans vote for him because they expect Federal money back as a reward, but I don't ever think I've met anyone who was really jacked up about voting for (or working for) Rick Renzi. At events I've seen him or his representatives at like parades and fairs, the only people wearing 'Renzi' attire were his campaign staff-- mostly college age interns imported from someplace else (like Renzi himself is) and presumably expected to don his campaign wear. So what I'm saying is that if, say, Jon Kyl for example were involved in a similar scandal (not that I have any hint or reason to believe right now that he might be), he'd have some core level supporters who would stick with him no matter what. Renzi just doesn't have that depth of support.

Renzi refusing to resign also puts the GOP in a pickle. On the Democratic side, State legislator Ann Kirkpatrick, who represents the Navajo reservation in addition to Flagstaff and Sedona, had been considering running against Renzi even before this all broke. I'd say at this point it is highly likely that she will run, and if/when she does she will make a formidable candidate. On the Republican side, they have a tough situation. If Renzi left Congress soon enough then they could put together a challenge, possibly by former State Senate President Ken Bennett. But if he stays and fights, then do they run against him in the primary and risk weakening him further? If not, then might he end up being indicted a la Tom DeLay and Bob Ney and hand the seat to the Democrats anyway?

On the national level, he also puts the GOP in a jam. Last year when they lost soundly in November the two main issues according to exit polling were Iraq and the 'culture of corruption.' As I blogged on Wednesday, with the President failing to budge on getting us out of Iraq and finally beiong confronted on it by Congress, that issue will work to the advanted of Democrats in 2008. So now thanks to Rick Renzi, the corruption issue will now be front and center. In other words, the GOP will be heading into the 2008 election cycle without having gotten out from the wrong side of the two issues which worked so devastatingly agains them in 2006, and Rick Renzi fighting it out will be like Bob Ney and Tom DeLay trying to fight it out were in 2006-- the kind of slow drip story that will keep GOP corruption in the headlines (although after Renzi, ongoing investigations against Reps. John Doolittle, Tom Feeney and Gary Miller will keep the pipeline running.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Is Rick Renzi planning to resign?

Hat tip to The politico via Arizona Congress Watch

A week after FBI agents raided his family's business, Republican Rep. Rick Renzi of Arizona has asked to be dropped from his party's top campaign program to protect vulnerable incumbents, a clear sign that he is considering a resignation from Congress.

Renzi asked to be dropped from the Regain Our Majority Program, which raises money for the GOP's most vulnerable incumbents, an aide to Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) confirmed Tuesday.

The congressman's office did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

Last week, FBI agents raided the Arizona offices of a Renzi family business as part of a federal investigation into whether the congressman was paid for helping to arrange a land swap that would allow the two largest mining companies in the world to access to a major copper lode in Arizona, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

Renzi swiftly resigned his seat on the House intelligence panel on Thursday night after telling Boehner that his family's business had been raided.

Renzi's decision, however voluntary, is a clear sign that members have heeded Boehner's call for Republicans to step aside if they are in the crosshairs of a federal investigation following two years of non-stop scandal in the 109th Congress that contributed to the GOP's demise.

Rick Renzi needs to go. Even during the DeLay era, he was consistently named as one of the most corrupt members of Congress. Though he has managed to win election three times because he has proven himself to be a master of negative advertising, Renzi has apparently used his tenure in Congress to enrich himself, his family and his associates from the Federal till. Even Republicans here acknowlege that he is dishonest and corrupt, but he's managed to still win only by smearing his opponents.

Last year Republicans took, as President Bush said, 'a thumping' at the polls, and election day polls showed that voters were punishing them for two main reasons-- 1. Iraq, and 2. GOP Congressional scandals.

Well, they seem to want a repeat of that in 2008, since the House Republicans for the most part are still backing the President on Iraq, and with accidents like Rick Renzi (and California Congressman John Doolittle) waiting to happen it looks like 2008 may turn into another scandal-plagued year for the GOP.

The best thing that Rick Renzi could do for his party, his constituents and the institution of Congress would be to resign, effective immediately.

UPDATE: Tedski at Rum, Romanism and Rebellion says he has information that Renzi may resign by Friday.

Also, in addition to Renzi, we see (credit to HB over at CH Truth) that the Carpet Bagger Report has provided us with a nice summary:

* FBI agents raided Rep. John Doolittle’s (R-Calif.) home, forcing him to step down from his seat on the House Appropriations Committee.

* FBI officials have been leaning on Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) for additional information about his connections with Jack Abramoff.

* Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) is facing a Senate Ethics Committee inquiry, stemming from his efforts to push a federal prosecutor to bring a baseless charge against Democratic state officials in his home state.

* The FBI is investigating Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) for a series of land deals.

* A former aide to Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has pleaded guilty to accepting illegal gifts from Abramoff.

* The Justice Department investigation into former Rep. (and current Nevada governor) Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) has intensified.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How many more families deserve the truth but aren't getting it?

Today we learned during testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, we learned just how far some in the Pentagon and the administration were willing to go in order to perpetuate a good image, and prevent Americans from learning the truth about two events that made headlines during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In perhaps the most damning evidence of a cover up to date, Army Spc. Brian O'Neal, a member of the Army Ranger team that also included Pat Tillman, testified that he was ordered to lie about the circumstances surrounding Tillman's death.

WASHINGTON - An Army Ranger who was with former NFL star Pat Tillman when he died by friendly fire in Afghanistan testified Tuesday that he was told by a higher-up to conceal that information from Tillman’s family.

"I was ordered not to tell them," Army Spc. Bryan O’Neal told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which was also looking at how the military portrayed the rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

He said he was given the order by then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey, the battalion commander who oversaw Tillman’s platoon....

"He basically just said, 'Do not let Kevin [Tillman, Pat's brother and also a Ranger] know, he’s probably in a bad place knowing that his brother’s dead,'" O’Neal said. He added that Bailey made clear he would "get in trouble" if he told....

Mary Tillman said family members were "absolutely appalled" upon realizing the extent to which they were misled. "We’ve all been betrayed. ... We never thought they would use him the way they did."

We also learned from Lynch that the army made her out to be something she was not. She said that the official story that they put out, claiming that she had been involved in the firefight during which she suffered extensive injuries, was not true. In fact her rifle jammed because it was full of sand and was never fired during the battle, and most of her injuries were suffered when the vehicle she was riding in crashed.

The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don’t need to be told elaborate tales,” Lynch told the committee in prepared testimony.

And she is right about that. To be honest, both Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch do qualify as heroes-- they went, after all. Since I have not gone, I certainly can't condemn those who have, and who continue to do their best job on behalf of America (though I certainly do condemn those who have sent them there, especially Iraq, because of an agenda backed by lies.)

It is an old saying that truth is the first casualty of war. Perhaps, but that doesn't mean that we should just accept that and not ask for the facts. The Tillman family could have been satisfied (as much as the word could apply) with the official story of his bravery, wrapped up nicely and sealed with the posthumous Silver Star that went along with it. But they weren't willing to accept a lie, no matter how brightly it glittered, and neither should we.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mr. Bush, tear down your wall.

It seems that now the Bush administration has a new plan for unifying Iraq: build a wall around Sunni neighborhoods, presumably at a cost of millions of our dollars, and with barbed wire, guarded gates and barriers.

The residents don't like it a bit, and feel that it will divide them from their relatives, friends and jobs which are on the other side of the wall, as well as dividing their city.

In 1960, the construction of the Berlin wall became a symbol of failure, in that case the failure of the system that the Soviets set up in East Germany to even satisfy the people there enough to prevent them from leaving their homes and fleeing into West Berlin. Presidents from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan mocked it's mere existence as proof of the failure of the Soviet system.

And this will be a symbol of a failure as well.

Mr. Bush, tear down your wall.

Friday, April 20, 2007

FBI raids Renzi business at same time Gonzales testifies. Is raid to prove that he isn't obstructing justice?

Yesterday Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee and was pushed hard by Republicans as well as Democrats on the panel about his role in the U.S. attorney firing scandal.

At about the same time, FBI agents raided the Patriot Insurance Agency in Sonoita. which is owned by Republican Congressman Rick Renzi's wife, Roberta Renzi. The raid was part of a far reaching corruption investigation of Renzi that was first reported on last fall. Renzi announced within hours after the raid occurred that he was resigning from the House Intelligence Committee.

This is important news, and very closely related to the Gonzales testimony. While the firings of seven of the eight attorneys may have been unethical, or may have (in the case of Carol Lam) been intended to punish the attorney for a past investigation of a Republican congressman, or in other cases to clear the position for a Karl Rove protege or to punish another attorney for moving too slowly on an investigation against a former top Democratic legislator in New Mexico, none of them is likely to actually be grounds for the filing of criminal charges.

On the other hand, the firing of Paul Charlton in Arizona is the case that is the most dangerous to Gonzales and the Justice Department. If it can be shown (as has recently been hinted at) that the firing of Charlton was explicitly for the purpose of obstructing, slowing down, derailing or otherwise interfering with the investigation of Congressman Renzi, then it would be grounds for the charge of Obstruction of Justice, which is a serious felony, and one which John Mitchell, another former Attorney General, went to prison for back in the Watergate era.

And that is why Republicans have begun to abandon Alberto Gonzales. They know the other seven firings are just 'window dressing.' The real smoking gun is likely to involve the Charlton firing and the Renzi investigation. If it were simply a matter of ethics charges or the Attorney General behaving in a more partisan manner than has been done in the past, which is what some on the right would want you to believe, then it is hard to see why Republicans on capitol hill (who are no stranger to partisan games themselves) would be abandoning him.

But it is more than this, and after a delay of several months, all of a sudden it looks like the Renzi investigation is moving forward again. Maybe Alberto Gonzales is realizing that he may have to walk the plank for Rick Renzi, and this may show that he is reconsidering whether he should or not.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Woulda, coulda, shoulda,... Should they, Could they, Would they?

What would they do at Virginia Tech if they could go back to last week? What would they do, what should they do, and perhaps most importantly what could they do? We've learned that Cho had been identified as a mentally disturbed student who had stalked and harrassed other students, and had been counseled. We keep hearing that 'he couldn't be forcibly committed,' since he had at that time never actually attacked anyone. And thank God, I might add, in what might seem an inappropriate place to express this thought-- but that's why it's appropriate-- that we don't live in a society where anyone can be locked up because of concerns about what they might do or might be considering.

But that's what makes the story today out of the University of Colorado a classic 'gray area.' Today during a classroom discussion of the Virginia Tech shootings, student Max Karson said that he "understood why someone would kill 32 people." This comment frightened other students in the class, and one female student asked Karson directly if she should fear violence from him if she came to class Thursday. His response, "not this Thursday," (emphasis on the word, 'this,' with the suggestion that she might have to fear it some other Thursday) together with the original comment caused the University of Colorado to have him arrested and taken downtown.

Now, I have trouble understanding why Cho did what he did, but don't get all sanctimonious here-- I've read online over the past few years literally hundreds of comments in which people claim that they 'understand' why the perpetrators would commit mass murders, everything from the Oklahoma City bombing to 9/11 to the Haditha massacre, to the degree that if 'understanding' this is itself an indicator of future violence, then you need look no farther than the comment pages of some blogs to find literally scores of possible future mass murderers.

Karson's second comment is more chilling, with the implication that he might commit violence next Thursday, or the Thursday following, or some other Thursday (or some other day for that matter.) However, this fits a long pattern by Karson. It seems that he has been publishing a newspaper of his own for some time (called the Yeti news, similar to one called the Crux he published when he went to high school in Amherst, Massachusetts.) He has said some truly outrageous things designed to get a rise out of people, and they do. For example, he was once suspended from his high school after he wrote that 'he wouldn't have dated his (male) principal if he knew that he was a 'child molester,' and was defended at that time by the ACLU. Later, while at CU he wrote an article suggesting that women did not feel pain in their breasts or their vagina and describing sex in a manner that many felt lauded and condoned rape.

Max Karson, who bailed himself out, says that everything he says is satire. Some people who know him say that he is much more of a publicity hound than an actual threat. Max's dad, Michael Karson, who is a professor at the nearby University of Denver, defends Max's latest and says that Max was just making an 'academic contribution' to the class. Of course, what else would his Dad say? I'm not sure that I'd want to be in his dad's class though. Next thing he will say was that Cho was just 'donating bullets.' We haven't heard anything on this yet from CU's most controversial academic, Ward Churchill, but I'm sure we will soon.

Now, let's figure debate what the University of Colorado should do. If they do nothing, then they may take some criticism, but they won't have to worry that Max will sic the ACLU on them again (I might add that I in general support the ACLU-- I don't always agree with them, but thank God they are around to stand for people's rights in situations where no one else will.) If the University suspends him or takes other action which could damage Karson academically then they open themselves up to the possiblity of a lawsuit, maybe costing them hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars (remember that Max Karson has never actually hurt anybody.) Then again, if he is another Cho.... (and don't forget this is in Colorado, where the spectre of Columbine still haunts some people.) Then again, how many false alarms is it worth getting sued over in order to prevent one real one-- or do you prevent it? Could taking action like imprisoning a disturbed person end up being the catalyst that actually does push them off the edge.

I'd recommend that people who think 'hindsight is always 20/20' chew on this post. What should the University of Colorado do, within the framework of what is legal, about Max Karson?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Virginia Tech shooting

This has been a truly horrible day. Not only in Blacksburg, Virgnia, but in the whole of the U.S. It's been a horrible day in New York City, a horrible day in the Amish country of Pennsylvania, a horrible day in Oklahoma City and a horrible day in Littleton, Colorado. The victims of today's mass murder may be hundreds or thousands of miles away, but this is a day when America has reacted with unified shock and revulsion about as strongly as any day since September 11.

There will be plenty of time to assess blame. But let's not be too hasty to assign it. Let the university administration have a few days to explain why they didn't order a general evacuation. Let the police explain why they waited outside while shots were audibly emanating from the building. And more than anything else, let's remember that this was a rampage by a lone nut.

We know he was apparently a student from China who entered on a student visa. UPDATE: This information proved to be false. The student was Cho Seung-hui, a South Korean native. There will be those who will exploit this tragedy to try and further their own anti-immigrant agenda. That would be a cheap shot if they do. Yes, this man went crazy with a gun. But how many millions of immigrants come here and never do anything like this (or for that matter, how many apparently normal Americans do?)

There are those who will blame the guns. This is stupid, since if the guns were legally confiscated, those who wanted to do something evil would still be able to come by them (even if it was on the black market), and then things would go as they are now, or worse. To be honest, I favor CCW laws, with appropriate training and certification. One never hears about someone going berserk with a gun in an army barracks or a police station, for example. It's invariably where they expect to find defenseless (as in unarmed) people.

There are also those who will blame society (video games, music, etc.) Now I've got my problems with society, but if you hear someone say this then just keep in mind that this fellow was exposed to Korean, not American society earlier in life.

As I said, and with the recent example of the Duke rape case in mind, let's take a stop back, let the authorities do their job and see what we learn.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Does this mean that crude oil is really ancient chicken soup?

So it turns out that Tyrannosaurs Rex was just A BIG CHICKEN.

Who knew? Just think how many buckets of fried chicken it would have filled.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Michael Savage needs to go.

As if the current Imus flap were not bad enough, today Michael Savage (one of the ugliest mouths in talk radio) attempted to do him one better.

Imus, as I'm sure you know already, is in a lot of hot water after he used the word, 'ho' to refer to African American female basketball players from Rutgers University. The word is a contraction of the word, 'whore' and is one of the most derogatory terms that can be used in describing an African-American woman, seething both racism and sexism in the extreme.

While Imus certainly deserves to be taken off the air for his remarks and replaced by someone who knows enough to not use the term, he at least has the excuse that it was not premeditated, as he and his sidekick (who used the word first) spontaneously launched into their racist rant.

But tonight Michael Savage invented a really stupid rap song which used the word 'ho' in a context in which he suggested violence against women and the ghetto. He created it in a premeditated manner and then repeated it several times on his show.

If Imus must go (and he should) then how much more should Savage go? On top of that, Savage defended his 'song' by claiming that he is covered because (he claims) Al Sharpton never complains about rap music. I'm not sure how that would excuse him if it were true, but in fact it is not true at all.

That is in fact a bald faced, out and out lie. Al Sharpton has talked about the need to 'clean up the music,' (including, as I blogged at the time, at James Brown's funeral, in front of everyone who had anything to do with the black entertainment industry.)

In other words, Savage (and Rush, and a host of other right wing talk show hosts) never listen to what Al Sharpton actually says, so they put words into his mouth (or in this case fail to put them there) to fit the caricature of Rev. Sharpton that they have created in their minds. This would be a matter of some disturbed ramblings except that these guys get listened to every day by millions of (almost all white, conservative) Americans, so they undoubtedly now also believe that Al Sharpton never says anything about rap music (and hence they undercut his credibility by the crassest means possible-- the big lie.)

Michael Savage, who is a well known racist and homophobe, today stepped way over the line and he deserves to be canned. He says he is protected by 'free speech.' No, free speech protects him (and me, and you) from criminal prosecution for what he is saying. It does not protect his show, his job or his sponsors, anymore than the same could be said about Don Imus.

And the worst part is that it is really so unnecessary. Why do right wing shock jocks feel the need to use words that demean or insult entire ethnic/ gender or other groups? How would not using these words dilute their message? If they want to talk about African-American women then they can say, 'African-American women.' They could even personally insult someone, by calling them a 'blithering idiot' or whatever else they wanted to call that person. But terms like, 'ho' are meant to apply to a group of people, and to dehumanize all of them.

And so there should be no place for it on the airwaves.

Duke rape case just the tip of the iceberg in a broken criminal justice system.

Today the North Carolina Attorney General announced that the rape charges and all other charges against three members of the Duke LaCrosse team were being dropped, and went so far as to declare that the men were innocent. He pointedly, without naming Durham county prosecutor Mike Nifong, indicated that the prosecutor in the case had committed a serious ethical breech in continuing to push the case even when more and more evidence piled up that contradicted the accuser's story, including DNA evidence, other witness testimony and contradictions within her own story of such a magnitude that they simply could not be reconciled.

Now, I wish the three young men the best with their lives. Now that they have been cleared, they will certainly be in line to sue the county prosecutors office, and possibly others. Potential targets could include members of the media, Duke University, Mr. Nifong personally and conceivably even the accuser personally if they can prove that she intentionally gave false statements to the police.

What this does though is crack a lid on a larger issue. This case got national exposure and high profile coverage. Also, the accused had access to some very good legal representation. But is there anyone who believes that Mike Nifong is the only prosecutor in America who might be willing to twist evidence, move ahead on a case that shouldn't be pushed forward in the face of inadequate or exculpatory evidence, or pull out all the stops to try and send people who he knows full well might be innocent to prison?

Over the years we've seen more and more evidence of innocent people being released from prison, and in fact just today Florida moved forward on a bill that would pay people falsely imprisoned $50,000 per year of false imprisonment. This is a good bill which should become law and hopefully will serve as a model for other states.

In fact, given the adversarial nature or our prosecutorial system and the fact that prosecutors are generally either politicians who have to run for election themselves or are answerable to politicians, it is quite likely that there are many more Mike Nifongs out there, who simply have not made the mistake of trying to railroad rich white kids at an elite university who can afford good attorneys and get national press coverage, but have instead done so to poor, mainly minority defendants who can only afford a public defender. Certainly that was the case with Anthony Porter, who came within two hours of getting a lethal injection a few years ago in Illinois, along with the majority of the other over one hundred and counting former death row inmates who have since been exonerated (this is in contrast to the thousands who have simply received a new trial or had their sentences commuted on a technicality.) In fact, the one hundredth man exonerated after having spent time on death row in the United States for a crime that he did not commit was an Arizonan, Ray Krone.
I mention this only because of the fact that while those on death row may have been sent there for a different crime-- murder-- than the majority of prisoners, those one hundred give us a snapshot of those sent to prison and later exonerated. And the large majority of them are poor, minorities (Krone was an exception) and had been represented by public defenders. Some public defenders are quite good, but then it is also true that many lawyers who are chronic losers and can't get hired anywhere else, end up as public defenders.

Life in prison can also be tough for the innocent. They are of course convicted felons, like all the others in prison. And there is no doubt that at least 95% of the people in prison are guilty as heck and should be there, and we know some of what goes on in there. And then comes the parole hearing. As we read last week after Anthony Capozzi was exonerated after living in prison for 22 years for a series of rapes that he did not commit,

He had been denied parole five times since becoming eligible in 1997. His refusal to admit the crimes made it impossible to complete a mandatory sex offender program, his defense said.

“It’s the biggest Catch-22,” [his lawyer] said.

How many have simply realized that the real truth didn't matter and confessed to a crime they did not commit in order to get out of prison (or for that matter to cut a plea deal before they go in?)

It would be a mistake to suggest that the problems with the criminal justice system begin and end with the Durham county prosecutor's office. It is true that in even the best criminal justice system mistakes are bound to be made (one big reason I oppose the death penalty). But the criminal justice system we have in America is far, far from the best, and perhaps we should go through it from one end to the other and try to figure out what it will take to, as Joe Friday used to say, focus on 'just the facts.'

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Response to several emails

I've received several requests to post the letter I had published in the print edition of the USA Today last week since it is apparently not available online.

The letter was in response to an article they had the week before on the last four living American veterans of World War I (also dubbed 'the war to end all wars.')

The letter read as follows:

Your feature on the last remaining World War I vets was as riveting as it was poignant. Truly this 'war to end all wars' has been forgotten, and those who are today remembered only in Flanders Fields have been forgotten along with it.

Also forgotten is the lesson that the world should have learned. As horrible as World War I was, it did not end war. The idea that the way to prevent future wars is by fighting a war now was as much a myth then as it is today.

Super-Duper Tuesday frought with peril

It's official. New York has moved its primary up to February 5 (the unofficial 'start date' of the open primary season, after Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina have held their caucuses and/or primaries.)

What this does is bring us closer to a 'national primary.' New York may be one of up to twenty-four states voting on that day, including the four largest (California, Texas, New York and Florida.) This means that more than half of the voters in the country will likely be voting on February 5. The day even already has a nickname. the old fashioned 'Super Tuesday' (when a half dozen or more states might vote together) wasn't good enough for this one, so it is being tagged, 'Super-Duper Tuesday') No apologies made to former Miami Dolphin's receiver Mark 'Super' Duper either.

A national primary day is not necessarily a bad idea, in that it gives voters from all different parts of the country an opportunity to be heard. On the other hand, that didn't work very well in 2004, in which Iowa and New Hampshire in essence picked John Kerry for the rest of us and with most states voting by March 2, no one else had much of a chance to stop his momentum (we can see how well that worked.) Of course it meant that he had from March to November to run against George Bush, but then that worked both ways-- while Kerry was skiiing in Idaho after wrapping up the nomination in March, the GOP was spending millions of dollars 'defining' him, as well as organizing the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (which they officially rolled out just after the Democratic convention) so that by election day in November, 46% of the voters in the country absolutely refused to vote for John Kerry-- a very thin margin to work with, and one which he failed to overcome.

Traditionally, Iowa and New Hampshire have begun the process and picked candidates like a Jimmy Carter or a Ronald Reagan or a Gary Hart or a Paul Tsongas-- candidates that people may be surprised by, but who then undergo a thorough vetting by both the media and by the voters in the larger states, over a period of weeks or months so that if they are found wanting then there is time for a better candidate to emerge. This system worked well for many years (though the argument that New Hampshire and Iowa are two of the three 'purple states' in the middle-- states which switched parties between the 2000 and 2004 general elections is bogus; Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans are often very conservative and Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats are often very liberal-- if the states are 'purple' it is only because the conservatives and liberals exist in approximately equal numbers.)

A true national primary would be having everyone vote on the same day.

But what we have now is a situation that seems the worst of both worlds. Iowa and New Hampshire can get the momentum rolling for a candidate and it snowballs so fast with the front loaded primaries that it is over before anyone can really examine the candidate. That certainly happened in 2004.

So now we see that this kind of mistake could be repeated, but even worse, with the nominee selected a month earlier-- and nearly seven months before the convention and nine before the election. The real failure is one of leadership, on both sides. There are many reasons states move their primaries up. It may be that they are just sick of not having a voice. It may be that with the increasing exposure and ad dollars that Presidential campaigns bring in these days they want the shot for their economy. It could be that they want to help local favorites (certainly one motivation for the early New York primary is to help local favorites Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and Rudy Giuliani for the Republicans.) Or this year especially, it might be just part of the 'stampede mentality'-- everyone else is doing it, so why not us?

I'd like to suggest a couple of possible scenarios that could bring the problems here into perspective. I would rate each at about a 5-10% probability (meaning that they probably won't happen, but certainly they are possible, and if this happens every four years then sooner or later one of them will).

Scenario #1: First, take it on the Democratic side: Obama wins Iowa, Clinton recovers and wins New Hampshire and Edwards takes South Carolina. In Nevada the frontrunners all disappoint while Richardson (who has now clearly moved to the front of the 'second tier'-- exactly where John Edwards was last time around) does surprisingly well. On 'Super-Duper Tuesday,' Feb. 5, the mixed verdict produces no clear winner at the polls== but all the candidates do well enough to make it clear that no one will have a majority heading into a brokered convention. The months between that day and the convention is filled with the candidates wasting time and money attacking each other in an increasingly acerbic battle to pick up the few remaining delegates and go into the convention in as strong a position as possible-- and no one still enters with a sure nomination. This could drag on for months, and end with a nasty convention fight. The one saving grace for the Democrats is that if there is a brokered convention and none of the candidates can gin up a majority, there is a consensus candidate they could draft from the floor who is respected across pretty much all sectors of the party-- namely Al Gore-- who could probably be nominated and run a strong campaign in the fall.

Same scenario GOP side: Suppose that Giuliani puts together a win in Iowa, but former Massachusetts neighbor Mitt Romney wins New Hampshire. Veteran John McCain (who this time around has the support of Pat Robertson) wins in veteran-heavy South Carolina, but Georgia neighbor Newt Gingrich does very well there. Super-Duper Tuesday again produces a mixed verdict, with everyone doing well enough to effectively deny the nomination to anyone else. The Republicans fare worse in such a scenario since if they don't have a nominee in place by the convention they don't have an Al Gore as a backup-- a single unifying candidate that likely they could get a majority of the delegates to agree on if none of the announced candidates can garner a majority.

Of course in any case such a scenario would really harm either party if it happened to them but the other party had a nominee by February. That nominee could then collect lots of cash to use in the general, unify his (or her) party and let the other side squabble amongst themselves, all at the relatively cheap price of absorbing an occasional potshot from the other side when they aren't too busy wasting their resources on each other.

Scenario #2: A party nominates a candidate over a couple of weeks from late January to February 5. The candidate has maybe been cruising in the shadow of the frontrunners (as was the case with John Kerry and John Edwards in 2004) who self-destruct in a negative ad war (exactly what happened in Iowa to Howard Dean, who had been the front runner, and Dick Gephardt who was just behind Dean in Iowa). The relatively unknown candidate wins Iowa, rides the momentum (and the negative momentum of the former front runners) to a win in New Hampshire and sweeps Super-Duper Tuesday. That candidate has the nomination all sewed up by early February. Then it happens. The media, which had been focusing on the front runners, maybe with an assist from the hawks on the other side of the political spectrum, finds a scandal. Not just any scandal. A 'the candidate is a child molester,' or a 'the candidate authorized the terrorizing of a person who knew something embarrassing about the candidate to keep them quiet,' or a 'the candidate while in the Senate leaked classified information to Iranian agents' level of scandal. While I am in no way suggesting that I have any reason to believe any of these charges about any candidates currently running in either party, I am suggesting it as a hypothetical-- the type of scandal that makes the candidate a pariah. Or, perhaps no scandal at all but comments that reveal the candidate to be unstable, bigoted or otherwise unsuited to be President. Unelectable, and with the BEST scenario possible being a brokered convention, if party leaders can convince the candidate to quit and release his or her delegates. The worst part about this is that it would drag on for nine months (especially if the candidate refuses to step aside), and not only cost the party the Presidency but likely seriously damage members of the candidate's party all up and down the ballot as they couldn't flee the top of their ticket fast enough.

This scenario could be avoided if the media and others began digging when a candidate jumped up and won a primary, but now we've arranged it so that they won't have time to do their job until the die has been cast.

We are playing with fire here. If one of these things does not happen next year, then it will in 2012, 2016 or some other election year. But sooner or later one party will get burned by such a scenario.

One other beef I have with this primary schedule. Bad enough to have it essentially over in a day, but if so then why a day in February? The Iowa and New Hampshire verdicts in January made sense when the Presidential primary season went on until June, but if we insist on compacting this so much, then why not at least move it closer to the conventions? February until September is much too long a time. I'd recommend that if there is to be a national primary, that it be no earlier than June.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Xenophobia on parade

Last night I was listening to some right wing jock go on about a theme that has become all too common, both in the media and in right wing blogs. The topic was how 'Islamofascism' (a term first coined by Limbaugh if I remember right) was bent on taking over the world, and how we are at war with Islam. Though they may sometimes say 'militant Islam,' they seem to often lump all Muslims as one. I gave the example the other day of Tom Tancredo saying that if the U.S. is attacked by a few fanatics then we should 'take out Mecca' (a city of a million people in a country which is officially an ally-- and about the one thing that really would be guaranteed to make us enemies of all 1 billion muslims in the world-- the huge majority of whom have nothing to do with terrorism). It is worth noting that the most frequent targets of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are muslims who do not agree with them.

While I certainly don't want to discount the continuing threat posed by a relatively small number of people on the fringes of Islam, I would like to keep this in perspective. For example, I was disappointed recently in England when some schools made a concession to no longer teach the Holocaust in history classes because some muslim students are taught Holocaust denial (I wonder if they would have made the same concession if put under pressure by Nazi students). However, it is worth noting that when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently hosted a conference on the topic, students at Tehran University responded by burning his picture-- clearly we should recognize that not all muslims believe the same thing and that there are muslims who find this sort of thing every bit as repulsive as most of us in the west (or of Jewish ancestry, which I am). To try and fit one billion people all into the same boat shows only the narrow minded thinking of the right.

But, let's for a moment suppose that they believe (as they do) that we are in a war with Islam, and that Muslims are indeed such a threat. Of course their next move would be to try and keep out muslims, as they are. How about then, a group of Christians, more religious and with stronger family values than most Americans, hardworking, grateful for what they have (and not envious of those who have more, but rather aspiring to achieve it themselves) and who appreciate America so much that they are willing to risk their lives if need be just for the privilege of living in America? Wouldn't people like that be the natural allies that those on the right would be looking for, to strengthen America against the perceived threats from inside and outside the country?

Well, no-- not if they are from Mexico or Latin America. Wrong skin color, wrong language, wrong kind of Christian apparently.

OK, so what about fellow Americans?

No, the far right is suspicious of most of us too. If we dare suggest that maybe diplomacy is a better option than to try and militarily force our way into another country, and that perhaps it is time to seek a negotiated settlement in Iraq because we don't see any good coming out of continuing to fight there, then we are automatically 'anti-American,' 'want to lose,' 'surrender-mongers,' or some similar title.

In fact, ultimately the far right reminds me of an old show I once saw in which Carroll O'Conner (who played Archie Bunker) tried to make fun of prejudice. He began (dressed as and looking like Archie) by saying he didn't like this or that ethnic group because of..., couldn't trust this or that group,... (including large groups like 'women' or 'Hispanics') and at the end said, 'so who does that leave? Just me and this other guy. And I don't like him too much...')

It seems as though the far right is truly xenophobic, believing that if you are not one of them then you must be working with some great global conspiracy to try and destroy America and set up a one-world government.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tom the fruitcake enters the race.

The latest entrant in the Presidential sweepstakes is Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO).

Tancredo, if you don't know who he is, made headlines a couple of years ago when he suggested on a radio show that if the United States is attacked again by terrorists then we should 'take out Mecca.'

More recently, he guaranteed he will lose Florida by comparing the state to a third-world country.

Well, at least he is speaking what's on his mind. But I'm glad he's not running in my party.

Of course here in Arizona we have recent experience with Tancredo. He came down to campaign for his good friend Randy Graf in a race for an open Congressional seat along the border. Graf, like Tancredo, supports kicking out all undocumented aliens and then building a wall along the border, and he loves to verbally attack 'them Mexicans.' And the results of the race were pretty telling-- in a district that had not voted for a Democrat in well over a decade, he lost by double digits to new Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. People along the border, where trade with and through Mexico provides a significant source of income, just didn't buy into the rhetoric.

Tancredo however has always been popular with the same folks who used to idolize Helen Chenowyth; the black helicopter folks who have a xenophobic outlook and who believe (contradictorily) that America should not have anything to do with the rest of the world and that America should use military force to do whatever it wants, wherever and against whoever it wants. They are big supporters of the militias, and believe that people in other countries (especially people with dark skin in those countries) are out to 'get' America.

It will be interesting to watch Tancredo in the GOP debates. Not for the inevitable bombs he will hurl that may embarrass some of the other candidates. But to watch and see how often they agree with him.
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