Saturday, May 31, 2008

Some humor to lighten up a sad situation.

Today, Barack Obama resigned from the church he has belonged to for twenty years, Trinity United Church of Christ.

He said that the reason he was resigning was because every time that a member of the clergy said anything there, it would be attributed to him, even when the comments did not reflect his own deeply held beliefs.

And he is right about that. The black churches in general (and Trinity United is no exception) provide a refuge in a community that is often overrun with crime, drugs and poverty. It provides young people with hope and a way forward, and helps people in the community meet their temporal as well as spiritual needs. But because of a handful of inflammatory statements, culled from hundreds of hours of sermons that have been videotaped, the church has been misrepresented and used as a campaign issue against Obama.

Even after resigning from the church, some out of touch reporter looking for a story asked why he didn't go further and 'denounce the church.' His reply was characteristically blunt: he won't denounce it because it doesn't warrant denouncing. The church does a great deal of good for many, many people and there is no reason to denounce a church, with a membership of thousands, because of a handful of stupid remarks made from the pulpit.

It is a sad day in America when someone is forced to resign from a church just because of what somebody else said.

I will say though that now that Barack Obama is no longer a member of this church, I have some humorous thoughts about some churches he could join instead:

Catholic: In case another spiritual advisor says something loopy, Obama can enquire of the Monsignor about excorcism.

Jewish: Hey, what the heck? It might help him in Florida. Then again there is that circumcision requirement (ouch.)

Hare Krishna: Imagine how much money they could raise for the Obama campaign by bugging travelers in airports.

Muslim: Polling shows that as many as seven percent of the American people are so behind the times that they've never even heard of Rev. Wright and believe that Obama is a muslim. Might as well make them right about something.

Anglican: Technically the British monarch is at the head of the church, so if he got elected President would that return the United States to formal recognition of British rule?

Southern Baptist: He'd be in the front row for some more race-baiting sermons. Only the race would change.

LDS: Just in case he doesn't get elected President this gives him a backup plan. He could go visit his relatives in Kenya for two years. On a mission.

Born again: We've had two Presidents who were born again Christians. Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. On second thought-- pick a different church.

Jehovah's witness: How is this for getting votes? Stand there and pitch to the same voter ignoring requests to leave, until he or she says yes?

FLDS: Just in case he gets tired with Michelle, he could get another.... and then another.... and then another.... Why would he want that? Simple. He could really play with Bill Clinton's mind and get him back for some of those campaign attacks.

Hindu: Just in case he gets tired with God, he could get another.... and then another.... and then another....

Falun Gong: Imagine how well this would go over with the Chinese.

Tibetan Buddhist: Same as the above.

Wiccan: Can put a hex on the McCain campaign.

Taoist: Life is not all black and white (or red and blue) but can come together. Plus, this would help with the Korean community.

Atheist: If there is no God, that makes the President of the United States the most powerful being in the Universe. This might appeal more to the Clintons.

Pentecostal: These folks are the most in shape folks there are. For a guy with a packed schedule, you can go to church on Sunday AND get your calisthenics done all at the same time.

Penitente: New Mexico is always a close state, and besides that, the cactus whip would be better for persuading wavering superdelegates than anything Hillary's got.

Mennonite: Join a nineteenth century church, to contast to Republicans who still have nineteenth century ideas.

Satanic: He could invert his flag pin and get fifty pentagrams at once!

Quaker: In line with his pledge to leave Iraq.

Voodoo: If he's behind in the campaign maybe he can get a McCain action figure and some pins...

Animism: It would give him a stronger case to make for ending global warming.

Eastern Orthodox: According to the Julian calendar, today is May 15. So he could theoretically produce a document proving that he joined the Eastern Orthodox church before Father Pfleger spoke at Trinity United on May 25, and save himself the headache if nobody discovers the ruse.

Ancient Inca: Helps get rid of problems. For example, for his induction ceremony he could have Reverend Wright and Father Pfleger wrapped head to toe in ropes and dropped down a volcano high in the Andes.

Ancient Egyptian: Who better than a sun worshipper to discuss alternative energy?

Ancient Greek: Offers a path to victory in Iraq: pray to Mars. Hey, it makes as much sense as anything the Bush/McCain administration has proposed.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Governor should reconsider her prison transfer plan

The Governor's office has put forward a plan to reduce overcrowding in state prisons and save money by sending some prison inmates to county jails around the state.

I think it's a terrible plan, and I have to take issue with her office on this one, even though most of the time I've been supportive of the Governor's initiatives.

First of all, there is overcrowding in state prisons. However there is also overcrowding in county jails (that is certainly true here in Navajo county, where the jail is often full.) It is certainly true that a lot of prisoners don't need to be locked up and there are alternative forms of sentencing (and I wrote a post questioning whether all the people we incarcerate should be just a couple of months ago) but foisting the problem of which prisoners to keep in prison and which can be released to probation or some other status onto counties is the same kind of 'pass the buck' approach that we've seen at times from Washington and trying to make the problem 'local' does not constitute a solution. Looking at and modernizing sentencing guidelines is actually something that we should be doing both on a state and national level, but that isn't something that this plan does anything to address.

Cost is another issue. The state paying counties to house prison inmates is nothing new, and most county jails now include some state inmates. In general however these inmates are subject to careful monitoring, and the money that the state pays the counties is spent paying the extra costs. But with the significant number of new prisoners that are being recommended for transfer, it is likely that many counties will have to expand their facilities and hire more staff, and so far there is no indication that any money that the state sends them will be sufficient to cover all of this.

The most damning issue, in my opinion though is one of the categories of prisoners who will be tranferred. In some cases, I don't have a problem (for example they want to send repeat DUI offenders-- that's fine.) One category though is prisoners, often violent felons, in the last year of their sentence. The theory is that if they are in the last year (of presumably a much longer sentence) they will be less likely to behave violently, try to escape or do anything else that will tack anything onto their sentence. Unfortunately I don't see that as the case-- I've read plenty of stories about prisoners in the last year of their sentence doing things that earn them more time. Not all prisoners fit the stereotype of the patient older inmate scratching off numbers one by one on the wall of his cell. Many of them are impulsive or don't think things like that through very effectively. More ominously many are members of prison gangs or otherwise are more prone to be violent. Sending them into a county lockup will also give them a whole new pool of potential recruits. Besides all of that, some prisoners want to remain in prison because they can't function on the outside and they know that. So they will often commit crimes against guards or other inmates while in prison in order to buy themselves more time behind bars. These inmates are most likely to be dangerous in the last year of their sentence.

It is true that when prisoners get out of prison they often have no job prospects or any other way making a living except to return to a life of crime (a career path that is always available.) And we do need more job training programs, halfway houses and perhaps even an employment placement office for ex-convicts. But I'm not sure how having them finish their sentence in the county jail is going to help them when it comes time to find a job after they get out.

I am glad that under the leadership and at the recommendation of Mr. J.R. DeSpain, our county commission unanimously sent a letter to the Governor raising several objections to the plan. But ultimately it's not up to anyone in the county, but rather to bureaucrats in Phoenix. I hope that they and Governor Napolitano reconsider this decision and look for real solutions to prison overcrowding instead of handing the problem to the counties.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

McClellan is telling the truth

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan is out with a book in which he claims that the Bush administration deliberately skewed facts in order to 'sell the Iraq war.'

So the die hard Bush loyalists are calling him a liar.

Only thing is, he isn't the first guy to say this. His account of how the country was mislead and stampeded into war reflects what was earlier said by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and by former Chief of Staff to Collin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson.

And they called them liars too.

OK. When the Bush administration ends and there are all those 'kiss and tell' books out there, they must all be written by liars too. Will the Bush-can-do-no-wrong chorus just stick their fingers deeper into their ears and yell louder?

At what point do we start to blame the Bush administration for incompetence, if for no other reason than for hiring so many 'liars'?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Eleven cheap shots at McCain being old:

While websurfing tonight I came upon a blog called elecric venom and a humorous post on John McCain's age. At the risk of being politically incorrect, I have to admit that I posted eleven cheap shots over there, and they were too good not to also post over here.

Best thoughts about McCain being old:

1. He was an ace pilot in the war. In fact, he survived at least one dogfight with the Red Baron.

2. He went to junior high school with Strom Thurmond.

3. If McCain loses the election, he could team up with Bob Dole on those viagra commercials.

4. If they make another 'Indiana Jones' movie, McCain could play himself in it.

5. He thinks of himself as a Republican maverick, like Teddy Roosevelt. In fact, the truth be known, McCain really is Teddy Roosevelt.

6. McCain had a chance to sign the Declaration of Independence, but he decided to steer an 'independent' course and try to reach across the aisle to the British instead.

7. McCain is against torture. He became convinced it doesn't work during the Inquisition.

8. McCain, as a teenager, used to baby sit Ronald Reagan.

9. McCain's confusion over which Muslims are the Shiites and which are the Sunnis is understandable. He's used to thinking of them all as Saracens.

10. McCain has recently been speaking out against Global Warming. He remembers how hard it was for everyone the last time the ice sheets melted and flooded the land bridge to Asia.

11. And finally-- Al Gore may have invented the internet, but McCain has never been properly credited for his invention of the fishing net.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Remember acid rain?

Every once in awhile I will put up a comment on another blog that I feel would stand in its own right as a post.

And that is the case here. On Ann Althouse's blog (one of several I frequent where there are a range of views represented) she took some pictures of the forest and posted them in a post entitled, the view from the forest floor.

I thought about how great it is that liberals and environmentalists won a big battle a generation ago. The comment I posted was this:

I am reminded of how back in the late 1970's and early 1980's, many northern and especially Canadian forests were being destroyed by acid rain. So a campaign was launched to put in scrubbers in the smokestacks of power plants to sharply curtail emissions of sulfuric and nitric acid caused by the burning of sulfur-containing coal.

And opponents of the plan howled about how doing that would ruin the economy, and how all the power plants would go out of business, and how electricity would become so expensive that nobody could turn on their lights for more than a couple hours per day, and how America would lose out to the Soviet Union because the Russians cared nothing for the environment and somehow allowing our coal-fired plants continue to be inefficient was supposed to put us at a competitive advantage. They called it all a matter of bad science and said that it was something else that was killing the forest and reducing power plant emissions of sulfuric and nitric acid would not change that.

Well, the opponents of the plan lost. The environmentalists won that battle. The new emissions standards were passed by Congress and mandated by law, and the scrubbers were installed by the local utilities.

And let's take a moment to look back at the results. The world didn't end. The economy did quite well during the rest of the 1980's and for most of the 1990's, thank you. The power plants did not go out of business. Electricity did not become unaffordable. The Soviet Union continued to be inefficient until it died and America prospered.

And the northern U.S. and Canadian forests are much healthier today than they were then.

Success is having the vision to think about what the future could look like, and then the persistence to make it so.

There are many things that still need to be done, and many battles to be fought and won against determined opposition. But every now and then it is worth appreciating progress that has been made, if only to raise our morale and realize that today's battles too, can be won.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Texas may lose their fight over FLDS children, and it will be an expensive loss.

I've in the past been quite critical of some of the aspects of the FLDS church, in particular their practices of forcing teenage girls into marriage (such as I blogged on here) and kicking out teenage boys (as I blogged on here.)

I've also made it clear that my problems with them have to do with child abuse in particular, not polygamy in general (what sexual relations consenting adults have with each other, and in what numbers, is not a matter which interests me, nor is it a matter which should warrant the interest of the state.)

However, following the recent raid in Texas, I wrote a post in which I expressed concern about civil rights violations by the state of Texas in their decision to remove hundreds of children from the FLDS compound, with no specific evidence that any of them in particular had been abused. The determining factor, in fact, was their religious identity and nothing other than that. It is true that several of the teenage girls were pregnant, but without being too blunt about it I suspect that if you go to any community in America you will find that a significant number of teenage girls are pregnant. My eldest daughter was pregnant when she was fifteen. I'm not suggesting that this is a good thing, but it's not grounds to remove a child from their home in the absence of any specific evidence of rape, incest or another crime causing the pregnancy (and as noted, they had none about specific children who they removed.)

Since then, Texas' case has been unraveling and they have been embarrassed by a steady stream of bad news about their case. The first came when it turned out that the phone calls that Texas authorities had received, claiming to be from an abused teenager named, 'Sarah' inside the compound, actually turned out to be a hoax after they were traced to a woman named Rozita Swinton in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her motivation was apparently a progressive, but misplaced mindset. These phone calls had provided the original justification for the raid and the warrant to go in, in the first place. What is especially troubling is that it is not all that hard to reverse trace a phone call and verify the caller's location (in fact this was obviously done but the information was apparently not examined until after the raid.) This leads to two scenarios, both troubling: either that Texas authorities were looking for a pretext for a raid and jumped so fast that they didn't bother to check a basic fact like this, or even more troubling that they knew the calls were phony and went ahead anyway.

Texas authorities then claimed that they had reason to believe that a man named Dale Evans Barlow had abused some of the children at the ranch. Only problem is that there is no evidence that Dale Evans Barlow was ever at the ranch. In fact during the time period in question, Dale Evans Barlow was checking in weekly with his Utah probation officer. It is conceivable but a bit far fetched to suppose that every week he met his probation officer, drove for about 36 hours to the Texas compound, stayed there a couple of days to abuse some girls, then drove 36 hours back to Utah and met with his probation officer, and then repeated this pattern every week. Texas Rangers did travel to interview Dale Barlow on April 12, but left without making an arrest, and they have no evidence at all that he ever did travel to Texas during the time when he is alleged to have committed the crime (though no one can even name who made the allegation in the first place, unless perhaps it was made by Rozita Swinton while she was pretending to be 'Sarah.')

Then we have the case of Pamela Jessop. Pamela Jessop was a pregnant teenager who was removed from the compound. She maintains that at the time told them that she is eighteen (legally an adult) and showed them her birth certificate to prove it. Records seized at the scene by the Texas authorities confirmed that her age was eighteen, so they knew how old she was. They forcibly kept her in custody anyway so that when she gave birth they were in a position to give her a choice of either returning to the compound without her newborn child (she also has a one year old) or to stay there with the newborn. Jessop has hired some attorneys and they are considering filing a Federal lawsuit against the state of Texas.

Which leads us to what happened earlier this week. State authorities returned to the compound, claiming that they believed there were more children inside. They were denied admittance despite having a search warrant.

Understandably after what happened last month, the FLDS at the ranch are not very welcoming of another search warrant. More to the point though this feels a lot like a 'CYA' situation. When a case starts to fall apart, and especially if it is a case that could result in expensive lawsuits, sometimes authorities will dig in and desperately start trying to find any evidence they can, no matter how flimsy, in order to manufacture a case when the original charges don't pan out.

So then today the Texas Court of Appeals ruled that the mass removal of the children of 38 mothers was wrong because the state failed to prove that the children were in 'imminent danger.' Though the court stopped short of ordering all of the children returned immediately (allowing Texas to maintain them in foster care until they decide whether to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court,) the Court of Appeals made it very clear that the raid and continuing detention of the children is, in the opinion of the court, not justified by facts or evidence and may be a gross violation of civil rights occurring on a massive scale.

What Texas did earlier this week, apparently realizing that the Appeals Court cas was likely to go against them in trying to launch a second raid was an act of desperation. They realize now that they overreached in seizing hundreds of children with no specific evidence that any one of them is in danger, and now they are starting to realize that Pamela Jessop's likely lawsuit is only the first of hundreds that could be filed-- likely costing the state of Texas hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars. So this is likely to be a very expensive and painful lesson for Texas to learn about respecting civil rights.

I'd also like to point out how the 'hang 'em high, cowboy' attitude of Texas contrasts to the strategy that is being employed cooperatively by Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard (a Democrat) and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (a Republican.) Goddard and Shurtleff have cooperated to seize and place the assets of the FLDS Church under the direction of an outside board of directors where they will be used for the benefit of the community and all its members, have put FLDS leader Warren Jeffs behind bars and recently held a joint meeting in St. George in which polygamists from Colorado City and Hildale were able to openly discuss their concerns and the concerns in their community. By focusing on enforcing the law against the leaders who pushed their flock into violating it but not punishing the members of the church, Goddard and Shurtleff have created an atmosphere of at least limited communication and understanding that it is safe to say after this episode law enforcement officials in Texas will never have. And with today's court decision, it doesn't look like they will have anything else to work with either.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

photo album II

photo album I

Here these are.

Even if Hillary gets everything she wants, Obama still wins

Hillary Clinton does have a right to remain in the running as long as she wants.

And she does have a case that the voters in Michigan and Florida should not be faulted or punished because of the actions of elected leaders who gambled on moving those primaries up. The intent was to get some of the national media attention (not to mention campaign spending) that was focused on the early primary states. Of course the elected leaders lost on that account. Especially in Michigan-- Obama took his name off the ballot, and all the state got out of it was a somewhat competitive GOP primary that only saw two candidates campaign much and gave Mitt Romney his biggest win of the primary season-- a win which was not all that big, in fact. Florida at least can make the case that John McCain's win, coming just after his South Carolina win and just before Super Tuesday may have played a decisive role in the Republican race. One can only imagine what kind of thoughts must have crossed the minds of those who moved the primaries up, complaining that otherwise they wouldn't have had a voice, watching all the attention and campaign money that was lavished on Pennsylvania for six full weeks leading up to that state's April 22 primary.

At the same time, Barack Obama has a case that he can make that the results from last January don't represent what would have happened if he and Senator Clinton had campaigned in the two states. Obviously being named on the Michigan ballot would make a difference, but beyond that in both primaries a lot of independents, having been told that the Democratic primary would not matter at all, cast their votes in the Republican primaries. Obama has consistently outpolled Clinton among independents (and until Rush Limbaugh started urging conservatives to vote for Clinton, he also outpolled her among crossover Republicans) so it is virtually certain that had the primaries been competitive Obama would have done quite a bit better than he did.

But I did some math, and even if she makes her case for Florida and Michigan, she still is extremely unlikely to catch him.

According to the BBC tally if the results were counted fully and as voted, they are:


Florida: 210
Michigan: 156
Hypothetical Florida result (elected delegates): Clinton 113, Obama 72, John Edwards 13
Hypothetical Michigan result (elected delegates): Clinton 80, Uncommitted 55

If we take the numbers currently reflected on the Real Clear Politics scoreboard we see that as of right now, Obama leads Clinton 1959-1778 in total delegates (counting both pledged delegates and announced superdelegates.) There are also 55 delegates remaining to be selected from Puerto Rico, 15 from South Dakota and 16 from Montana.

If we add all 193 Clinton delegates from Florida and Michigan to her total and the 72 Florida delegates to Obama's total, we still would have Obama leading 2031-1971, a lead of sixty delegates. She would then need to replicate her West Virginia margin, 70-30 in all three of the remaining contests (unlikely given Obama's appeal in the plains states) just to get to a tie. And that's giving Clinton EVERYTHING, including counting all the rest of the uncommitted and Edwards delegates as uncommitted (not for Obama.) In reality, that won't happen-- it is no secret that people who voted 'uncommitted' in Michigan were voting primarily for Obama (and most of the rest for Edwards), and since Edwards' endorsement of Obama, nearly all of his convention delegates have unsurprisingly followed his recommendation and moved over to Obama.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Republican who wants to be Vice President (but McCain would be a fool to pick him.)

This weekend Republican runner-up Mike Huckabee went on the air and said he wants to be John McCain's running mate.

McCain is under no obligation to choose Huckabee however. It is true that the runner up is sometimes the veep nominee (for example John F. Kennedy famously chose Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan chose George Bush Sr. and John Kerry chose John Edwards.) But there is no obligation to do so. I will say that I do believe, and I say this as an Obama supporter, that Hillary Clinton has done so well this year in just barely finishing second that I believe that she has earned the right to be asked to be on the ticket (emphasis on the word, 'earned.' (though I don't know if she would accept it.) Huckabee, whose main role in this year's Republican primaries was to help derail Mitt Romney and clear the path for McCain to sweep to the nomination, has not come so close as to be able to say he's earned the right to be asked.

It may be that McCain, still trying to re-connect with conservatives, may need Huckabee, but I don't think he does. Huckabee's base of support-- white evangelical southerners, are likely to turnout in higher numbers than African-Americans in the deep south, simply because there are more of them. That will probably be enough to beat Barack Obama in the most racially polarized part of the country. And among some conservatives, economic conservatives in particular, Huckabee (who raised taxes in Arkansas) is even less popular than John McCain.

Beyond that, Huckabee, the man who proudly raised his hand during a Republican debate last year when a moderator asked anyone who did not believe in evolution to do so, showed himself unqualified in the highest degree with his remark at the NRA convention in Louisville last week joking about someone threatening to shoot Barack Obama.

Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee drew cringes Friday when he made a joke at the National Rifle Association convention about Barack Obama getting shot at.

“We believe the government should get its hands off of us as much as possible, we don’t need that much of it, we’d like less of it and we darn sure would like for it to be less expensive but the reality is and I’m worried,” Huckabee said when he was interrupted by a loud thump from backstage.

The quick-witted Southerner looked behind him and said to the Louisville, Ky., crowd: “That was Barack Obama, he just tripped off a chair and someone pointed a gun at him and he dove for the floor.”

The audience fell silent and the charismatic former Arkansas governor seemed to immediately realize he had made a mistake with the offensive jab at the Democratic front-runner.

He may have realized it was a mistake, but it took two days before he released even a weasely apology of the "I'm sorry if what I said offended anyone," variety-- the kind of semi-apologies politicians make (usually late) when they don't really mean it.

So we have a man whose base is largely the same group of voters who are likely to show up just to vote against Obama because he's black, who doesn't believe in evolution and supports teaching creationism as an alternative, and who's just told a tasteless and obscene joke about someone threatening the other party's likely nominee with a gun.

Another loose cannon running around is not what McCain needs. Clearly he and the GOP have the right to choose which ever Vice Presidential nominee they want but in my opinion it would be hard for McCain to make a worse choice than Huckabee.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The right vs. the right vs. the right

A group of communities and landowners in Texas are filing suit against the Homeland Security Department in order to stop the construction of the wall along the Mexican border.

The issue is that the Government, according to the landowners and their supporters, lied to the landowners about what they were going to do and how much of their land they would take, and then effectively seized the land while paying the landowners as little as $100 per acre. They did this by not technically taking formal ownership of the land, just saying they wanted 'access' (implying they were only there to conduct a survey, not begin construction) and in the process will bisect and render useless scores of parcels of private property in south Texas.

Federal law does allow the Government to seize land for matters of 'public interest' (though it is debatable if the wall is that) but apparently fiscal conservatives in the Bush administration balked at paying the going price for the land in the area (which might have added up to an eye-popping total if they had to actually purchase all the land along the Mexican border) and operating under the 'whatever it takes, just do it' policies that have marked the Bush administration's tenure, dealt disingenuously and likely illegally with the landowners, paying them practically nothing for the right to destroy their land.

Also an issue is that the wall built in South Texas will already have some sizeable gaps-- some land along the border belongs to Republican donors, such as the Hunt family from Dallas, and there are no plans to build anything on that particular land, just on land belonging to people who never donated large amounts of money to Republicans.

So this case pits rabid right anti-immigration right wingers vs. equally rabid property rights advocates vs. fiscal conservatives vs. wealthy Republican donors.

Get out the popcorn and watch to see how this one plays out, folks. It doesn't get any better than this. It's the kind of case that reveals the deep fissures in the Republican base.

Oh, and the real irony, almost laughable is that by the time the wall is completed it may be obsolete. Border arrests are down, despite beefed up security, all the way along the Mexican border from California to Texas. The reason why is because as the dollar continues its free fall, the value of what a Mexican can earn in the United States is declining. More and more of them are opting to stay home and work for pesos as the dollar accelerates downward, making the difference in the standard of living between the two countries less than it has been in the past. If this trend continues then the wall may be a joke by the time it is built, or maybe it will help keep Americans in so we don't hitchhike to Mexico and look for a job that will pay us in pesos that we can send back home.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

One year ago today.

One year ago today, Sergeant Christopher Gonzalez died when his unit was ambushed near Salmon Pak, Iraq. I attended his funeral a few days later, and blogged on it A hero is buried and what his community still needs.

John Edwards used to speak about 'two Americas.' One is the America of plenty, where people are employed,have health coverage, have food on the table and can take basic services like electricity and running water for granted (though they still may have trouble paying for them.) Sergeant Gonzalez came from the other America.

I'd been visiting Birdsprings chapter regularly until I got a church calling and a time for church this year that overlaps chapter meetings. But I will try and make it to this Sunday's meeting anyway. I understand they have a new flagpole. They dedicated it to Sgt. Gonzalez yesterday.

Boehner having trouble marketing change that isn't really change.

Republicans in the house, still reeling over their defeat in a special election in a deep-red Mississippi congressional district (the third such special election loss this year) that clipped the size of their house delegation to a psychologically demoralizing 199 members, want to adopt a message of change.

Of course there would in reality be no 'change' about it, just the same old, worn-out and failed mantra of 'tax cut, trickle down, deregulate... tax cut, trickle down, deregulate' that has led us to the mess we are now in. But what they want is to put it in a new package, and let the new packaging say, "change."

So, as House Republican leader John Boehner was casting about for a slogan for a Republican 'change' agenda he considered a slogan in which Republicans pledged to give voters "the change they deserve."

Only he can't do that, because the slogan is almost identical to the slogan that pharmaceutical manufacture Wyeth uses to market an anti-depressant called Effexor.

Well, maybe they should take a hint. Republicans in Congress may need an anti-depressant.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

House seat lost by GOP in Mississippi leaves 199.

The Republicans lost another special election for a previously Republican open seat tonight, as Democrat Travis Childers defeated Republican Greg Davis by a solid margin to win an open seat in Mississippi.

They may spin this as just a loss of a single seat, but it was damaging for the GOP on so many more levels than that.

This is the third such race for seats that were previously held by Republicans for decades, and like the former Speaker Dennis Hastert's seat in Illinois and another in Louisiana it went Democratic, so Republicans are now 0-for-3 in these strongly contested special elections.

But this is arguably far more damaging to the GOP than the other two. In both of those cases one could argue that the Republicans had flawed candidates. But Davis was the candidate they wanted in this race, so that excuse won't fly. Further, this is probably the most heavily Republican of the three districts. Though all are Republican, in the Mississippi first district, President Bush won by a landslide, just four years ago, with 62 percent of the vote.

Further the Republican Congressional Committee, despite having been outraised by the Democrats 6-to-1 and burned by an embezzlement scandal so that they had only $7.2 million cash on hand at the end of March according to FEC reports (vs. $44 million for the Democratic congressional committee), invested heavily in this race. So did the Democrats, but a battle of attrition ultimately favors the side better prepared to accept the costs, which is the Democrats. And then the result was the same for Republicans as if they had spent nothing.

The reason they invested so heavily is that they recognize that if Republicans can even lose this district, then there is essentially no such thing this year as a 'safe' Republican district. And you know what? They're right about that.

The Bush administration also invested a measure of what little prestige they have left, sending Vice President Cheney to bolster Davis (after all, if supporting the Bush administration was seen as a positive anywhere you'd expect it to be here.) The loss means that the Bush administration has no prestige left.

The GOP attack machine was in full gear, running ads against Childers that tied him to Sen. Obama and to Rev. Wright. Clearly they miscalculated. The voters apparently don't dislike Sen. Obama in the way that they have been trained to hate previous Democratic candidates. As to Rev. Wright, most voters know that Childers has nothing to do with Rev. Wright, and recognized the attack ads as a symptom of the shortage of anything of substance to discuss on the GOP side. Their well-oiled smear machine-- failed. And if they try to run these ads nationally and/or demonize local Democrats it likely the result will be the same. For at least the past couple of decades the Republicans have been masters of the personal smear, but that plan fell flat tonight so they will have to come up with another way to run a campaign. People have gotten wise to their game.

The loss of this seat is likely to unlock a flood of endangered Republican held seats.

And just to put the cherry on top-- a number that will compound the GOP's psychological barriers this year: This seat means that the number of GOP Congressmembers now numbers 199. Nothing screams 'minority party' louder than being back below 200.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sexist attack on Clinton goes too far

I've been plenty critical of Senator Clinton at times for both her positions on issues and for some things she's said. And I've been very clear about my support for Senator Obama and I'm glad that is getting close to clinching the nomination. But in this post I have to say that Rep. Steve Cohen, an Obama supporter from Tennessee, went just one step too far, though Cohen did apologize for the remark. Not so some bloggers, who have gleefully spread it around on the internet.

He compared her to Glenn Close's character in the movie, "Fatal Attraction". I saw that movie once, many years ago, and have no desire to see it again. Close's character plays an obsessed psychotic killer who has an affair with a married man and becomes obsessed with murdering his wife and taking her place.

To begin with, this remark is dripping with sexism. No one considers Hillary Clinton to be a psychopath, but the intent is to suggest otherwise. In fact, about the only thing that is common between Clinton and the character is that they are both female. Cohen probably considered the first real or fictional female psychopath he could think of (I guess Aileen Wuournos crossed his mind later.) Stop and think. Suppose a male Hispanic politician was compared to Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem's chillingly cold killer in No Country for Old Men.) Would it be considered a racial smear? Absolutely. And it is no less a sexist smear to compare a female politician to such a horrible character.

I know, I know. Some Republican will undoubtedly point to some post where someone compared Bush to Hitler. All I'd say about that is that it is also wrong (There was only one Hitler, thank God, and no one since then has been as completely and unalterably evil.) I have been known to compare Bush to Mussolini a few times but when I have it has not been a reference to any real or perceived Italian heritage, but rather a reference to macho but incompetent leadership and poorly planned military adventurism (and I'll let the present state of things in the world make that case.) In other words, it is a comment about policy, not a comment about DNA or anatomy.

But while I may disagree about many things with Hillary Clinton, I respect her for putting her best effort and point of view out there, and we should applaud the first woman to come as close as she did to being nominated by a major political party for President of the United States instead of passing off sexist cheap shots.

Once again, Bill Clinton says something that will boomerang against Hillary

It's been noted that Bill Clinton keeps giving the Hillary Clinton campaign headaches, and at times he's been more of a net negative than a positive. Most notably, it was Bill Clinton who first played the race card, suggesting in South Carolina that African-American voters were only voting for Obama because he was black and comparing him to 'Jesse Jackson,' thereby earning Clinton the mass defection of the previously sizeable number of African-American voters who had been supporting her in that state and elsewhere.

Well, he said something that will give her campaign heartburn again Sunday while campaigning in West Virginia. In that state, polls have been suggesting that she will win big, maybe even by more than forty percent (which would be a 70-30 percent pasting.) Of course that won't matter because well over 90% of the pledged delegates have already been chosen for the convention and West Virginia's puny delegate total of 28 delegates wouldn't do much, even if Clinton won three quarters of them (21-7 which would be a margin of +14, insufficient to change the delegate reality in which Obama has increased his margin just of superdelegates by more than fourteen just since last Tuesday.) But rather than setting her up to bask in the glow of a big win, he inexplicably raised the bar to an impossibly high level. According to ABC News he said about West Virginia:

You have to realize that if you show up in enough numbers, and your neighbors in Kentucky do, and we have a good run through the rest of these states," asserted Clinton, "We gotta have your help and get the largest number of people to show up on election day. See all this stuff you are hearing about is an attempt to discourage you. That's what this is, pure and simple, hoping, well, Hillary can get eighty percent of the vote in West Virginia, and if only 100,000 people show up it is not enough. But if 600,000 people show up, and you say we want a president than you will see the earth move.

Let's look at what he said in terms of what Bill is saying defines an 'earth-shaking' Clinton victory: 1. He is suggesting that 600,000 people need to show up to vote in the Democratic primary. Even in this year of record high turnout in primary elections, that would be extraordinary. In fact that would be nearly every registered Democrat in the state. 2. He is saying that Hillary can get 80 percent of the vote. That would be a sixty point blowout. Impressive for sure. But virtually impossible, even for Hillary Clinton in the West Virginia primary.

So now, thanks to Bill, no matter how badly things go in West Virginia on Tuesday, all the Obama campaign has to do is quote back Bill Clinton and suggest that Hillary didn't win as impressively as she was supposed to. Bill Clinton has just turned what should be a blowout win by any standard for Hillary Clinton into what can be described as 'underperforming expectations.' Conversely, by setting the bar so low for Obama (20%), Bill Clinton has in effect given him a way to say he has some momentum, even in a state in which over 90% of the voters are white.

Once again, Hillary's worst enemy isn't the media, the anti-war movement, the vast right-wing conspiracy or any other active candidate. Her worst enemy is, well we know who it is.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

John McCain did the same thing as Rick Renzi. Will he be indicted for it too?

Rick Renzi is under indictment for using his influence in Washington to push through a Federal land swap deal that benefitted campaign donor James Sandlin, as I wrote about here. Renzi helped fast track the deal despite concerns raised by environmentalists.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that John McCain pushed through a Federal land swap which benefitted long time supporter and campaign donor Steven Betts. McCain helped fast track the deal despite concerns raised by environmentalists. And even today, McCain's campaign website has a link to a press release about his Arizona leadership team in which Betts and his wife are listed as members of the financial arm of the campaign.

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- Sen. John McCain championed legislation that will let an Arizona rancher trade remote grassland and ponderosa pine forest here for acres of valuable federally owned property that is ready for development, a land swap that now stands to directly benefit one of his top presidential campaign fundraisers.

Initially reluctant to support the swap, the Arizona Republican became a key figure in pushing the deal through Congress after the rancher and his partners hired lobbyists that included McCain's 1992 Senate campaign manager, two of his former Senate staff members (one of whom has returned as his chief of staff), and an Arizona insider who was a major McCain donor and is now bundling campaign checks.

When McCain's legislation passed in November 2005, the ranch owner gave the job of building as many as 12,000 homes to SunCor Development, a firm in Tempe, Ariz., run by Steven A. Betts, a longtime McCain supporter who has raised more than $100,000 for the presumptive Republican nominee. Betts said he and McCain never discussed the deal.

The Audubon Society described the exchange as the largest in Arizona history...But it brought an outcry from some Arizona environmentalists when it was proposed in 2002, partly because it went through Congress rather than a process that allowed more citizen input.

Although the bill called for the two parcels to be of equal value, a federal forestry official told a congressional committee that he was concerned that "the public would not receive fair value" for its land. A formal appraisal has not yet begun. A town official opposed to the swap said other Yavapai Ranch land sold nine years ago for about $2,000 per acre, while some of the prime commercial land near a parcel that the developers will get has brought as much as $120,000 per acre.

Well, you get the gist. Sounds a lot like what Rick Renzi may go to prison for. Almost exactly the same thing, in fact.

Of course, John McCain likely doesn't see anything wrong with pushing land swap legislation that benefits campaign donors. He certainly didn't see anything wrong with it in 2006, when in the midst of a bunch of reports about Renzi and Sandlin, McCain recorded a robocall praising Renzi for his HONESTY AND INTEGRITY BEYOND REPROACH

Obviously John McCain has a different set of ethics than the rest of us do, if Rick Renzi represents his definition of honesty and integrity.

The question is now whether he will be indicted for committing essentially the same crime as Rick Renzi committed. And further, we know that one reason it took as long as it did to indict Rick Renzi was that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez tried to protect him by firing U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton when he started zeroing in on the connection between Renzi and James Sandlin. Wanna bet that the Bush White House pulls out all the plugs trying to protect McCain from any unwelcome probes into the relationship between him and Steven Betts?

It's time for the U.N. to forcibly do the job the Myanmar government won't do.

It's not often that I advocate that the United Nations take military action.

However, the intransigence of the Government of Myanmar, where as many as 100,000 people are believed dead from a cyclone and millions more even now at risk of dying of starvation, water-borne illness and other effects of the cyclone, may leave no other choice.

Aid workers have been turned away or refused permission to enter the country. Aid shipments have been seized by the military government. They say they will distribute the aid themselves, but from all accounts that isn't happening. Even doctors have not been allowed in, or to travel to the region. It's not like this is happening simply because of incompetence though-- the military there was quick and efficient enough to put down pro-democracy demonstrations a few months ago. I guess it is clear what the generals in charge of the government consider a crisis to be and what they don't consider to be one.

To simply allow millions of people to starve and an epidemic to start because a couple of generals are afraid that someone may talk about democracy is unacceptable behavior, and so is allowing it to happen.

I don't support unilateral action by the U.S. or any other country. Unilateral military action, even for the best of reasons, often leads to a costly engagement with unforeseen consequences (such as our ill-fated mission to Somalia a few years ago.)

For this reason intervention to feed the people should be done by the United Nations. There are concerns on the part of many nations about sovereignty, and understandably so. The history of colonialism is not all that far in the past for people in many parts of the world to have forgotten about. But while any intervention at all raises some questions about it, a U.N. force is the least likely to raise concerns about any desire to enforce a permanent occupation. The Myanmar junta has few allies in the world, but they do have one important one-- China. Of course China has a veto in the security council and has shown little concern about human suffering, but after getting a black eye earlier this year from their handling of Tibet and with the Olympics about to be underway in Beijing, I doubt if China would exercise its veto to prevent the U.N. from sending a multinational force to the Irrawaddy delta to feed people and treat disease.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Republicans in legislature back up to their old tricks-- but a bad year for it.

Apparently our GOP legislative leaders are back at it. Every year they hold a closed door session, locking out Democrats to produce a budget. It's always one with draconian cuts. Then they either fail to get it passed as some Republicans see the cuts as too drastic, or they pass it and get it vetoed by Governor Napolitano. And every year she makes them look like fools (otherwise explain why her disapproval rating in a poll last year was an astronomically low 9%-- exceptionally low especially for a politician who has made her feelings known by vetoing record number of bills.) Then they have to slap something together in June that they can actually get passed and signed, and it looks like something slapped together at the last minute.

So here they are in their closed room preparing to come back with another sham budget and be made to look like fools again. Which would be humorous, except that this year the state faces real and very serious budget problems-- so the old political gamesmanship, just by virtue of the less time they will have to work on a real budget, is itself going to cost the state a lot of money and be damaging for some citizens.

Time to vote out these clowns and elect a legislature which believes in making use of every day the legislature is in session to seriously address the state's problems.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Obama wins big in North Carolina, Hillary fails to counter it in Indiana.

It's been as bad a last couple of weeks as Barack Obama has had. After losing in Pennsylvania, he's had the news focus on all-Jeremiah-Wright-all-the-time, been accused of not being able to 'close' and had a tough time getting on message. Various pollsters and pundits were predicting that Hillary Clinton would have all the momentum tonight, and playing up her chances of taking away the nomination.

In spite of all the bad news, Obama proved he has what it takes tonight. He won the biggest prize left, North Carolina, by a crushing 16-point margin (who says he can't win in a big state?) and in Indiana, where polls out this week had Clinton winning by upper single digits (in fact a Survey USA poll showed her winning by 12 points) it was a nailbiter in which Clinton finally pulled out a win by less than two percent. In fact, the margin is so close that it is attributable entirely to Rush Limbaugh's ordering thousands of dittoheads to vote for Hillary Clinton (probably not a single one of whom would vote for her in the fall.) Winning only because she has the support of Rush Limbaugh (whose stated goal is to drag out the Democratic primary process all the way to a convention floor fight) DOES NOT QUALIFY AS A WIN (even if she does squeak out a one or two point margin.) There are numbers to back that up too: In the CNN commissioned exit poll, the question is asked how voters would vote in an election between Clinton and McCain. 16% of voters in today's Democratic primary indicated that in such a matchup they would vote for McCain. One would expect the cut off your nose to spite your face crowd would mostly be supporters of the other candidate. That is true, but not overwhelmingly so-- of those sixteen percent, Hillary Clinton got 41% of their vote. Forty-one percent of sixteen percent represents about 6% of the total vote (three times Clinton's total margin of victory.) So that is six percent of the total number of voters in Indiana who DID vote for Hillary Clinton today but who say they would vote for John McCain in the fall even if Hillary Clinton is his opponent. So yes, I think it is clear that she won Indiana because of Rush Limbaugh.

So, with things looking as bad for Barack Obama as they have at any time since Iowa, he beat back the challenge.

Hillary ran a tough race but it's time to unify the party (as she said in her own speech tonight). Obama will win the nomination and there is little she can still do to prevent it.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

It doesn't get much closer than that.

Guam caucus result:

Barack Obama defeats Hillary Clinton 2,264 votes to 2,257 votes, a seven vote margin. Each candidate receives two of the territory's four pledged delegates.

I originally wrote,

Luckily this wasn't in Florida, or the state bureaucracy, the candidates' legal teams and the courts would tell us the result sometime before the convention.

but it turns out that there are dozens of spoiled ballots which will need to be figured out. It likely won't change the delegate total, but it would be premature to say that Obama won.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Joseph Andrew concludes that a vote for Hillary is a vote for McCain-- and he's right.

Today, Joseph Andrew, a Democratic superdelegate from Indiana who was once named by President Bill Clinton as chair of the Democratic National Committee, announced that he has changed his support from Hillary Clinton, who he had supported early on, to Barack Obama. He made it clear that he wrestled with the decision, but today he wrote about why he made the decision.

Part of what he wrote is here:

Today I am announcing my support for Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States of America. I am changing my support from Senator Clinton to Senator Obama, and calling for my fellow Democrats across my home State of Indiana, and my fellow super delegates across the nation, to heal the rift in our Party and unite behind Barack Obama....

I believe that Bill Clinton will be remembered as one of our nation's great Presidents, and Senator Clinton as one of our nation's great public servants. But as much as I respect and admire them both, it is clear that a vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote to continue this process, and a vote to continue this process is a vote that assists John McCain.

I ask Hoosiers to come together and vote for Barack Obama to be our next President. In an accident of timing, Indiana has been given the opportunity to truly make a difference. Hoosiers should grab that power and do what in their heart they know is right. They should reject the old negative politics and vote for true change. Don't settle for the tried and true and the simplistic slogans, but listen to your heart and dare to be inspired. Only a cynic would be critical of Barack Obama inspiring millions. Only the uninformed could forget that the candidate that wins in November is always the candidate that inspires millions.

I ask the leaders of our Party to come together after this Tuesday's primary to heal wounds and unite us around a single nominee. While I was hopeful that a long, contested primary season would invigorate our Party, the polls show that the tone and temperature of the race is now hurting us. John McCain, without doing much of anything, is now competitive against both of our remaining candidates. We are doing his work for him and distracting Americans from the issues that really affect all of our lives.

He's right too. About two months ago, most polls showed that John McCain was behind both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. Today many of the same polls show McCain virtually tied or in some cases leading either of them.

If the math was there for Hillary I wouldn't question her continuing onward. But to win she will have to convince not only a majority of the superdelegates remaining, but an overwhelming majority. I don't see that happening.

Here are some stark facts:

1. Obama has a lead of 156 pledged delegates, with so few remaining now that for Hillary to catch him she would have to win by amazing margins in all of the remaining primaries, something in the 70% plus range. She may be delusional in thinking that she can actually win, but she won't.

2. Both candidates have raised well over a hundred million dollars-- and spent it to beat up on each other. John McCain, despite having misjudged his fundraising abilities and constraints so badly that they have seriously jeopardized his campaign at least twice (proving how bad "Mr. campaign finance's" judgement is-- the first way you can judge a candidate's ability to manage is how well he or she runs their own campaign,) may well start out the fall campaign with more cash on hand than the Democratic nominee.

3. McCain should by all accounts be getting killed. He has stated in the past his complete agreement with some of the worst and most unpopular decisions by the Bush administration-- including to stay in Iraq, the Bush tax cuts and continuing to borrow to cover deficits and for Social Security privatization. If the race was being run strictly on the issues, McCain would be campaigning in Idaho trying to avoid a fifty state sweep.

4. The campaign has become quite nasty on both sides. McCain doesn't have to go negative. It is guaranteed that the winner of the Democratic nomination will already have high negatives. People don't just forget overnight.

5. Obama keeps saying the campaign is about 'judgement.' He's not just talking about Iraq. The truth is, Hillary's campaign focused only on large and early states, which let Obama's campaign pretty much organize uncontested in a slew of midsized states like Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin and Washington as well as a lot of small states until the last minute, and it is in these states where he won by lopsided margins and ran up his delegate lead. See what I said in #2 about management ability and what we can learn about it by watching how a candidate handles his or her campaign. Obama may have lost some races, but he didn't skip a bunch of states.

Of course there are those who want Hillary to keep on winning. For example, Ann Coulter earlier this year said she wanted Hillary for President, and talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have ordered their listeners to re-register as Democrats and vote for Hillary. This 'rush' of tens, or even of hundreds of thousands of 'dittoheads' to the polls certainly made the difference in Hillary's paper-thin margin in the Texas primary, and may well continue to inflate her vote total. But even with all the help she is getting from Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, Hillary still can only claim to be ahead if she counts votes from Florida, where she campaigned one day and Obama none because the DNC told everyone the votes wouldn't count and ask the candidates to pledge not to campaign there, and Michigan, where Obama signed a similar pledge and therefore took his name off the ballot. So I guess if you don't mind Rush Limbaugh choosing the Democratic nominee, then go ahead and vote for Hillary, right alongside his army of 'dittoheads.'

But let's make it clear. Hillary won't win the nomination. She'd have to win about 2/3 of the remaining pledged delegates (she won't) and then also convince the superdelegates to take it away from Obama and give it to her. She also won't do that. So at this point given the way Republicans are gleeful to see this race going on and getting more and more negative in the process, the only thing I can say is this: A vote for Hillary is a vote for John McCain.
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