Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Only wimps are Republicans
Last week, while reflecting on Bob Dole throwing away his last shreds of credibility, several writers pointed out that this should not have come as a surprise to anyone. Bob Dole has always been a vicious, partisan attack dog. What’s surprising is that after each round of attacks, he pulls out his genial, self-effacing, good ol’ Bob persona and convinces us that this is the new Dole. Then the party calls on him to be a vicious, partisan attack dog and the old Dole is back.

In going over the history of this cycle (perhaps we should call it a flip-flop), I was reminded of an argument he brought up as Ford’s running mate in ’76. In his vice-presidential debate with Walter Mondale, Dole characterized all of the twentieth century American wars as the Democratic Wars. Democrats, he argued were the party of war because we entered WWI, WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam during Democratic administrations. He did not follow his argument through by pointing out that the only two of those we won were won by Democratic administrations.

Obviously, Republicans don’t know squat about winning serious wars. Sure they can see us through a couple week commitment in Grenada or Panama, but how do they do with a long-term commitment like Viet Nam or Lebanon? They cut and run. Just this week Bush showed the true defeatist nature of the Republican Party when he said we can’t win the war on terrorism. To steal the right wing punditry’s favorite adjective, serious people will be voting Democratic this year. Anything else is just letting the terrorists win.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Not classy
I have never subscribed to the philosophy that if you oppose a candidate you must hate their family, yea verily, even unto the seventh generation. A lot of people on the left believe this and it's practically an article of faith on the right (witness how Hilary hating has been transfered practically unchanged into Teresa hating). I don't make jokes about the Bush twins and I usually have had nice things to say about Laura. Until now.
"Do you think these swift boat ads are unfair to John Kerry?"

"Not really. There have been millions of terrible ads against my husband."

What kind of childish logic is that? "Someone, somewhere said some bad stuff about my husband, so it's okay to slime John Kerry." If she had argued that Kerry was responsible for the "terrible ads" there would be a sort of "he hit me first" logic (still childish, but logic of a sort). But she doesn't make that logic, just "George is hurting, so Kerry should hurt too." That's petty, mean-spirited, and should be beneath her.

I suppose my own reaction should be a sad shake of the head and a pious murmer about how politics brings out the worst in all of us. But I'm not in that mood. I'm going to bitch and carp.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Bad dog, Karl
On a side note, I wonder about Karl’s self image. Retainers like Rove usually flourish in anonymity. Their glory comes in the part they play in building the success of their master or cause. What happens when they become infamous in their own right? Karl is not becoming famous as a good servant, he is becoming famous (whether accurately or inaccurately) as the pioneer of a new level of political discourse. The good servant, the good retainer, does not draw attention to himself; he focuses attention on his master. In this, at the peak and end of his career, Rove is a failure. His name is becoming an adjective. Long after he retires from the political scene, people will characterize certain low actions as “Rovian” in their despicableness, as in “That was a Rovian dirty trick.” By becoming the issue himself, he is a failure as a tactician.

As long time readers know, I would be the last person to deliver a cheap shot (stop laughing, dammit). Is Rove's mom still alive? What does she think about his name becoming a byword for dirty fighting.
Beware the ire of the Rovian attack beast
Many of the analyses of the Swift Boat brou-ha-ha have pointed out how this is the archtypical Karl Rove offensive. The typical Rove smear uses deniable surrogates to deliver the message. The typical Rove smear attacks the subject’s strong points and converts them into vulnerabilities. These are both true, but we are leaving out one element of the classic Rove attack morphology.

In military terms, Rove does not commit all of his troops to a single battle. Rove fights the political equivalent of a guerrilla war. He wears his opponent down with pin-prick attacks from multiple directions. This is not surprising coming from someone who came of age at the peak of the cold war. A corollary of the MAD doctrine (“Mutual Assured Destruction” not “What, me worry?”) was that if the great powers could not confront each other directly, they would confront each other through surrogates. Both sides were guilty of this horrendous crime against the less powerful countries of the world. The current situations in the Middle East and Central Africa are, from one perspective, the last flickerings of the immoral policy of proxy war. Being immoral himself, it is no wonder Rove sees this as a model to be emulated.

The third element that Karl watchers are leaving out is the strategy of disequilibrium. Rove has many more tricks up his sleeve than just the Swifties. Having weathered their attack with minimum damage, we should not assume we are safe or even that we have time for a deep breath of relief. We beat back the first attacking Hun, there are a thousand more behind him.

The Rove method involves keeping the opposition off balance by delivering multiple unrelated attacks from different directions. Be assured that his next attack will have nothing to do with Viet Nam. As soon as we have our attention laser focused on the Mekong Delta in 1969, someone is going to bring up Kerry’s divorce, or an obscure Senate vote in 1993, or a favor he did a constituent in 1985. When we focus on that, he’ll change direction again. Rove does not care if we destroy the Swifties. They are completely disposable.

While we spend all of our energy responding to Rove’s proxy attacks, his candidate deals with the issues. This is brilliant. Americans have been primed by their media to believe that some vague thing called “character” is the most important issue in an election. Rove’s attacks usually question the opposition’s character. When his strategy works best, the opposition is constantly neglecting issues to defend character. On one hand, Rove determines the agenda that the other side must address. These are never issues that the opposition can win. Meanwhile, Rove’s candidate talks about things that do work well for him and do sound like real issues to the mainstream press and their audience.

The result of this pattern of proxy character attacks on the opposition while his boy addresses the issues is twofold. Most casual news consumers will only see the pattern of repeated claims that “something is wrong with that opposition guy.” Only partisan news junkies who dig into the issues will see the secondary pattern of “all these claims are bogus.” Complimenting this negative slant is the fact that the Opposition, being constantly on the defensive, never launch their own attacks and never calmly address the issues. The bottom line is a perception that Karl’s guy is the one who talks important stuff, however shallowly, while I heard that other guy is some kind of creep.

All this brings me around to my main point. We should not feel good about beating back the Swifties. Rove has a score of these attacks in the wings. Many writers have described the Rove method as “if you throw enough mud, some is bound to stick.” That is a naive oversimplification. The Rove method assumes that as a foundation and adds, “if mud doesn’t stick, try dung, then pudding, then paint, then gravy, then bile, then library glue, then baby poop, mud again, warm tar, herbed bread crumbs, cheese sauce, Silly Puddy ™, that stuff that collects in the trap of your kitchen sink, toe jam, more pudding…” You get the idea.

The attack has just begun. We need to brace ourselves for the next assault.
Questions that need to be asked
Most of us are aware of the hypocrisy of the speakers’ roster at the Republican convention. They plan fill our TV screens with a happy image of reasonable moderation and inclusiveness while passing a platform (and nominating a candidate) filled with hateful intolerance and cultural extremism that most people would find frankly repulsive. That’s offensive enough, but Amy Sullivan points out that the hypocrisy of some of their religious allies manages to be an order of magnitude worse.
Between Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Pataki, their states are responsible for 35 percent of the abortions performed in the U.S. And yet you'll hear nary a peep of protest about this from the conservative Catholic League, a supposedly "non-partisan" organization that has been frothing in continuous outrage over John Kerry's pro-choice leanings.


The silence coming out of the Catholic League regarding the prominence of a bunch of heretical babykillers at the GOP Convention is simply deafening...

It’s understandable that the GOP will make a tactical decision to soft pedal, or even misrepresent, some issues in the name of getting and keeping power. It is the nature of political parties that the health of the party is more important than the successful pursuit of any single issue. That’s what sets parties apart from other political organizations.

The Catholic League is supposed to be a non-partisan lobbying group working to support the doctrine and agenda of the Catholic Church. They have no business signing on to compromise their values for the good of the Republican Party. It’s one thing for a politician or voter to decide that political considerations are more important than religious doctrine. One of the rights of free thought is to decide how to rank our values. It is something else for a religious group to decide politics are more important than religion. That’s just corruption. Were these guys corrupt before hand or did the GOP corrupt them? Just wondering.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

What gives me the willies
Genetic tinkering gives Nicholas Kristof the willies.
My concern is ... with the possibility that we will irreversibly change what it is to be human. Geneticists have tried to improve apples over the last 50 years, producing larger, prettier species that just aren't as tasty or as interesting as they used to be; it would be a tragedy if we did to humans what we've done to apples.

The fact Nick Kristof worries whether in some dystopic future people will be as tasty as they used to be is much, much too much information about how Nick's mind works. That gives me the willies.
Tangled Bank
Wolverine Tom has the latest Tangled Bank. Tangled Bank is the science geeks' "Carnival of the Vanities". For those of you who haven't run across the carnival phenomenon in blogging, a word of explanation is in order.
A carnival is a weekly showcase of good weblog writing, selected by the authors themselves (that's the vanity part). Each week, one of our crew will highlight a collection of interesting weblog articles in one convenient place, making it easy for everyone to find the good stuff.

I've been following the Tangled Bank since it started and have discovered some great science and politics of science bloggers through it.

I'm bringing up the Tangled Bank both because I think you should be reading it and because I have a self-serving interest in it. The next installment of Tangled Bank will be hosted by a non-scientist, a self-proclaimed grumpy liberal and under-employed history guy. I'll let you guess who that might be.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Trouble on the Res
When Bush appeared before the Unity: Journalists of Color convention two weeks ago and responded to a question about what tribal sovereignty meant in the 21st century with: "Tribal sovereignty means just that; it's sovereign. You're a -- you've been given sovereignty, and you're viewed as a sovereign entity" most of us snickered and filed it away as just another example of what an inarticulate boob he is. But some people bristled on a more fundamental level.
One word caused the most stir.

A five-letter word that George W. Bush uttered 3,000 miles away, one week ago today, at a gathering of minority journalists.

A word that has since raised eyebrows across Indian country, and one that, almost immediately after leaving the president's lips, had Democrats licking theirs:



To many Native Americans -- and Democrats, alike -- the president's answer spoke volumes about what they see as his ignorance of Indian issues. And to many, the operative word in Bush's response was the verb "given."

Native Americans feel that sovereignty is an innate state, an inalienable right; it is not a gift from the great white father. To suggest such a thing is to undermine the ultimate base from which their group identities and rights spring. Gifts can be taken back. It's not a slip of the tongue that can be easily overlooked or ignored.

Bush's verbal slip isn't the only problem Republicans are facing with Native Americans this year. In many ways their problems with Native Americans parallel their problems with other minorities. A certain portion of every minority is rich, culturally conservative, or owns businesses. These sub-groups should be a natural constituency for Republicans. But for over thirty years these voters have given the majority of their votes to Democrats for the simple reason that Republican pandering to racists, religious bigots, and immigrant haters drives them away. The same strategy that made the Republicans the dominant party in the South makes them repulsive to most minorities.

The conventional wisdom is that this will be a very close election. Though some have debated that interpretation, it’s wise for both campaigns to act as if it will be and to contest every vote. The idea that this will be a close vote lends special weight to small, cohesive constituencies. Any move that will grab a thousand votes at a time is better than converting one at a time, but any such move has the potential of alienating another constituency.

Though Native Americans are a cohesive group large enough to tip the balance in any one of a half dozen Western states, any Republican move toward courting their vote runs the risk of offending their core constituency, defensive, white males. Nowhere is this problem worse than in South Dakota.

South Dakota has about 16,000 Native American voters. In the last few elections, the precincts encompassing the Pine Ridge Reservation were among the last to report election results. These were very close elections. As more districts reported, the safer the Republican candidates looked. Then the overwhelmingly Democratic Pine Ridge Votes came in, reversing the results. Tim Johnson was elected to the Senate in 2002 by 524 votes. Stephanie Herseth, won the state's only House seat earlier this summer by less than 3,000 votes. A similar situation removed Slade Gorton from Washington’s delegation in 2000. These last minute reversals did not go over well with the angry white guy voters.

Of Johnson’s election Robert Novak said on Crossfire: "(Republican candidate John) Thune would have been elected to the state's other Senate seat, but the election was stolen by stuffing ballot boxes on Indian reservations.” Despite protests by the Governor of South Dakota and other state Republicans, Novak refused to apologize for his unfounded characterization and even repeated it. National Review repeated the accusation in a long article, making it a permanent part of the Conservative persecution mythos.

The Native Americans' struggle for voting rights in the West in many ways parallels the Black voters in the South. Among my books I have a 1902 geography text that includes a table of voting rights in the 44 states. Many Southern and Western states have poll taxes and literacy tests. Many states exclude felons, duelists, the insane, paupers, and the military from the vote. California excludes the Chinese. Most Western states exclude Indians. Though federal law guaranteed reservation Indians the vote in 1939, many Western states used a variety of tactics to make voting difficult right up to the present day.
When Edna Weddell, a Yankton Sioux tribal elder who gets around with a walker, tried to vote in South Dakota this month, a poll worker stopped her. She had to produce a photo ID first, she was told. Ms. Weddell's granddaughter pointed out that South Dakota law allows voters who do not have an ID with them to sign an affidavit instead, but the poll worker would not budge. Ms. Weddell was forced to retrieve her ID from home before she was allowed to vote.

Last year, after Indians had made the difference in Senator Johnson's election, the Republican-controlled State Legislature passed a new voter ID law that posed a particular hardship for Indians, who often do not have driver's licenses. They were assured that the new law would not present a problem, since it stated that any voter without ID "may complete an affidavit" instead. But many Indians were concerned that poll workers, who are often hostile to them, would ignore that provision.

That seems to be precisely what happened on June 1, and voting rights activists do not believe the mistakes in applying the law were accidental. As evidence, they have produced instructions used in Corson County on Election Day, apparently written by the Corson County auditor, saying: "Some voters are reporting that ID is not required. Please inform the voters that ID is in fact required." South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson insists that county auditors were all properly trained on the new law. In Corson County, "the auditor chose to add some additional instructions," he says. "I don't know why."

That was this June. Other tricks include making registration difficult and inconvenient and gerrymandering districts (useful for limiting Native American influence in state politics, but less useful in national elections). Though in the past, both parties have been guilty of trying to keep Native Americans away from the polls, today it most often the Republicans who do so. Any outreach that they try to make to minority groups runs afoul of their largest constituency, rural White males.

If some of this sounds familiar, it should. For years it has been a standard talking point among Republicans and Conservative talking heads that Democrats can’t win an election based on white males alone. To most of us this sounds as if they are saying that only White males are “real” American voters and women, non-Whites, non-English speakers, non-Christians, recent immigrants, and city folk are “special interests.” When called on it, the talking heads protest that’s not what they meant, they were just sayin’, you know?

Sadly for them we do know. So too do the voters who are not native born, White, male, Christian, English speakers. And that’s the biggest problem the Republican Party faces in the West and elsewhere. Though they like to pull out the red and blue map and crow over how big their part is, the truth is the Republican Party has tied its fortunes to a shrinking constituency.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Great. Just bloody great
The Iranian government has announced that it might be willing to start Bush’s next war for him.
Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani warned that Iran might launch a preemptive strike against US forces in the region to prevent an attack on its nuclear facilities.

"We will not sit (with arms folded) to wait for what others will do to us. Some military commanders in Iran are convinced that preventive operations which the Americans talk about are not their monopoly," Shamkhani told Al-Jazeera TV when asked if Iran would respond to an American attack on its nuclear facilities.


Shamkhani, who was asked about the possibility of an American or Israeli strike against Iran's atomic power plant in Bushehr, added: "We will consider any strike against our nuclear installations as an attack on Iran as a whole, and we will retaliate with all our strength.

Very few of us on the left would be able to protest against a war in response to another country attacking our armed forces, even if was perfectly clear that they were manipulated into doing so. I’m sure Wolfowitz and the other planners at the Pentagon are grateful to Minister Shamkhani for laying out just what they need to do in order to have a war with Iran and make it Iran’s fault.
I’m back. Don’t pay the ransom
This couldn’t have come at a worse time. With so much happening in the news, my employers have actually demanded that I do some work for my paycheck (the bastards!). Though looking at from today’s perspective, I’m not sure I would have provided anything more than cheerleader noises.

It has been exciting, hasn’t it? Kerry hit back at the Swifties and hit back hard. The mainstream press is doing the job that we so often complain they’re unwilling to do. The fight is still going on and it will no doubt be a week or more before we can tell who got he worst from it. It might be November before we know.

I want to make two points here. First, we Blogistanis give the mainstream press a lot of grief for engaging in “he said/she said” reporting. That is, just reporting what the sides say, never digging any further, never pointing out inconsistencies or falsehoods, the latter in a misguided attempt at objectivity. We need to send some positive reinforcement to those outlets that have done their job. Top on the list are the Washington Post, the New York Times, Chris Matthews, Knight Ridder Press, and the Chicago Tribune.

My second point is, however fun this has been, it has no bearing at all on the problems we face now and will face over the next four years. Rather than tracking down every loose end on the Swiftie story, we need to turn our attention back to issues that matter a quickly as possible. Although this brou-ha-ha has been a genuine threat to the Kerry campaign, once it has been dealt with the longer term effects of it has been to force Kerry to spend money he would better have saved for October and to distract the rest of the country from the miserable job Bush is doing.

A little righteous indignation is good for the blood circulation from time to time, but now we need to get back to work driving Bush from office in shame.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Quote of the day
We noticed a bear sleeping on the common lawn and wondered what was going on until we discovered that there were a lot of beer cans lying around.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Our little Scottie has finally grown up
It’s time to fess up that I was wrong about something. Ever since Scott McClellan took over for Ari Fleisher as Bush’s official spokesman, I have mocked McClelland as a pale reflection of Fleisher. I usually say that all McClellan can do is repeat the talking point of the day over and over while Fleisher was a world-class liar. Though my admiration for Fleisher remains undimmed, I now have to admit that our little Scottie has grown into the job. He is just as shameless a sack of it as Ari ever was.

Submitted for your approval: the official White House transcript of McClellan’s daily press gaggle, yesterday on the road on-board Air Force One en route to Eau Claire, Wisconsin .
Under the President, funding* for our veterans has more than doubled over the previous eight years.

Look at that asterisk! When most of us speak publicly, we can manage an aside, maybe even a parenthetical comment--but how many of us can speak with footnotes? Let’s take a look at the footnote.
* by nearly doubling the funding increase of the previous eight years

This is truly Fleisheresque. In public he said “more than doubled” but in the transcript it was quietly modified to “nearly doubl[ed].” That’s impressive enough, but what does “funding increase of the previous eight years” mean? Is this a further qualification of his original exaggeration?

Yes. The mighty Seb at Sadly No! explains.
... veterans funding $36bn in 1994, $47bn in 2001, and is estimated at $65bn for 2005. So the "Bush increase" is estimated at $18bn, while the "Clinton increase" (from 1994 to 2001) was $11bn. Put another way:

In Bush's first three years funding for the Veterans Administration increased 27%. And if Bush's 2005 budget is approved, funding for his full four-year term will amount to an increase of 37.6%.

So, when McClellan says “funding… more than doubled” he means the increase nearly doubled. And by nearly doubled he means the increase in funding rose by 63% in actual dollars ($18bn is 63% larger than $11bn) or 39% as a proportion (37.6 is 39% larger than 27). The actual funding increased 38% from Clinton’s last budget ($47bn in 2001) to Bush’s hoped for next budget ($65bn in 2005).

In McClellanese, a little over a third larger is close enough to more than twice as much to baldly make that claim in public. The student is finally the equal to the master.
Minor point
Over the weekend I saw Bush on TV addressing a hand-picked, friendly crowd somewhere. At one point he said something to the effect of, "John Kerry wants to raise taxes on the richest families." "Now, why would you want to take money away from the people who create jobs?"

I've heard the trickle-down argument so often over the last quarter century that I usually don't give this nonsense any attention. I had been reading about Kerry's tax plans earlier in the day, and for that reason the comment got my attention this time. The Kerry proposal that Bush was referring to was a plan to roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals. The wealthy don't create jobs out of their personal pocket money.* For the trickle-down theory to work, the corporations need to keep more money and neither Bush nor Kerry were talking about corporate taxes here.

* Okay, maybe a few jobs. They hire another pool boy or buy some luxury goods. If Lear is selling a few more private jets this year they might hire another upholstery seamstress. Luxury goods are a very small sector of the economy. The number of new jobs in this sector is not enough to have a significant effect on the employment situation of the economy as a whole.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

This will be interesting
Colorado just qualified a ballot referendum to change the way they allocate their electoral votes and, if passed, to make it effective for this election. If this election is as close as the last one, this change would tip it in Kerry's direction.

First, a quick civics review. Each state gets as many electoral votes as the number of their Representatives and Senators combined. Thus the smallest states (by population) are guaranteed three electors.* Forty-eight states have a winner-take-all system of allocating their electoral votes. The actual practice is usually that your vote for president is really a vote for the state-wide slate of electors chosen by that candidate's party. Five weeks after the election the electors meet in Washington and cast their votes. In Maine and Nebraska, the electors are chosen in the congressional districts with the extra two electors being awarded to the overall winner.

Lesson over. Back to Colorado.
If passed, Amendment 36 would make Colorado the first state to allocate electoral votes proportionately according to the popular vote, rather than giving a winner all of the state's electoral votes.


Republican Gov. Bill Owens and state party chairman Ted Halaby have criticized the proposal, saying it would lessen the state's clout in presidential elections. They warn candidates will ignore the state and its nine electoral votes if the measure passes.

Julie Brown, campaign director for the Make Your Vote Count effort that supports the measure, dismissed their concerns. "It begs the question on which is more important -- a two-hour presidential stop at a tarmac at Denver International Airport or true representation by the voters."

Katy Atkinson, a spokeswoman for the opposing Coloradans Against a Really Stupid Idea, promised a challenge if the measure passes and is applied in this year's presidential race. The proposal's backers want it to take effect before Colorado's electoral votes are cast in December. "They are ripe for a court challenge on this," Atkinson said. "If this is a close race like the one four years ago, we could be thrown into a situation where we are the Florida of 2004. We'd be the laughing-stock of the country. All those Florida jokes would be applied to Colorado."

They have little to worry about; Florida is putting up a valiant struggle to keep the title.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not this is a good idea, let's just look at its potential effect on the election. If this system had been in place in 2000, Al Gore would have won the election. He would have taken four of Colorado's nine votes and wouldn't have needed Florida. If Florida had not had the power to decide the election, its voting woes would have been a local issue little noticed outside their borders. If this system is voted in and allowed to be used this fall, it will have the same effect as moving a small state from the Bush column to the Kerry column.

For this reason, the Republicans are going to fight to the death to stop this measure. The anti 36 groups are about to become one of the best funded referendum related movements in the country. If it passes, the law suits will be big and loud. The worst case scenario would be another close election with the presidency resting on the decision of this lawsuit and Scalia getting to chose the president again (gosh, I wonder who he'd pick). If it passes and survives the challenges. The republicans will probably decide they like it and referenda in California and New York with the hope of peeling fifteen or twenty electors off in each state. The Democrats would respond by going for Texas and Virginia and the end would finally be in sight for the Electoral College.

Not that many people would miss it.

* This results in the smallest states by population being slightly over-represented and the largest states being slightly under-represented in presidential elections. If electoral votes were apportioned strictly according to population, Alaska and Wyoming would get about two-thirds of an elector each. The electoral college gives the average Alaskan and Wyomingan about five times as much influence as a straight popular vote would.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The administration keeps its word
Rumsfeld made this promise to old Europe and, by god, we’re going to keep it.
President George Bush will announce tomorrow that the US military will pull up to 100,000 troops out of Europe and Asia in the biggest redeployment since the end of the Cold War.

The plan will see a number of US bases in Germany closed down, and troops returned home or redeployed to Eastern Europe.

The redeployment - first reported by The Observer in February last year in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq - will be presented by Bush as a logical response to the war on terrorism when he addresses the 2.6 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars at its annual convention in Cincinnati.

In February last year, however, when the proposal was first mooted, Pentagon officials presented the closure of the bases in Germany as punishment for Germany's refusal to back the war in Iraq. [My italics]


According to the Post, two-thirds of the reduction will come from Europe, most of them Army soldiers in Germany, and most will be reassigned to bases in the US.
Officials said exact details of the moves have not been finalised, but some of the troops from Germany and South Korea will be moved to Nato expansion countries in Eastern Europe.

Good thing Western Europe isn’t an important trading partner or anything. Good thing South Korea isn’t close to any potential trouble spots. Good thing this administration never does anything dangerous and counterproductive for purely petty and spiteful reasons. Thank god we have a man of character like Bush in the White House. Good thing I’m a gentle and retiring soul or I might say something sarcastic.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Let the pandering begin
Conventional wisdom has it that the military and members of military families are a safe constituency for the Republican Party. It’s normal political behavior to take care of your core constituencies. For that reason, I’ve been a little puzzled at the shabby way the administration has treated current and former military members for the last three years. The list of military grievances against this administration should be familiar to most of us: cutting or attempting to cut funds for veterans’ hospitals, dependant education, raises, combat pay, and death benefits; extending tours of duty; and stop loss orders.

Last winter I began waiting for the big pandering. That is, I expected Bush to announce some ridiculously expensive initiative to give endless goodies to military families. I didn’t expect him to deliver on the promise; with most of these Rovian initiatives it’s the announcement dog and pony show that most matters. I’m still waiting.

This week presented Bush with a new chance for pandering and, as an added bonus, he gets to show up his father. Hurricane Charlie.

Most experts who post-mortemed the 1992 election felt that the first President Bush’s slow and awkward response to Hurricane Andrew and his failure to visit the damaged area quickly enough were a major blow to his reelection effort. The current President Bush cannot win the White House without Florida. For the past few weeks, Kerry has not only polled ahead of Bush in Florida, he has been widening his lead. Nothing the president or Brother/Governor Jeb Bush has tried has been able to pull Florida back into their column. For the Bush clan Hurricane Charlie is a golden opportunity.

Bush and his handlers are perfectly aware of these facts and are not going to make the same mistakes. Jeb Bush has already visited the area. The president has already declared a large chunk of Florida a federal disaster area and is on his way to survey the damage.

Hurricane Charlie is a free political opportunity for Bush. He has an almost empty stage on which to appear decisive and generous to the people of Florida. Unless he does something completely stupid, Kerry will be unable to criticize him. Any criticism would be quickly spun as begrudging the people of Florida their desperately needed aid.

How unfair is it to expect Bush to politicize this? After all, wouldn’t any president rush to the aid of Florida? Helping Florida and politicizing that help are two different things. We have an elaborate mechanism primed for natural disaster relief; all the president has to do is sign the papers to send it into action. Any president would do that. Politicizing it comes in the form of thrusting his face in front of the cameras and in the form of aid above and beyond the normal limits of disaster relief. When his father recovered from his initial inaction, he announced that Homestead Air Force Base, totally destroyed by Andrew, would be completely rebuilt. Homestead was an obsolete base and already on many short lists for the next round of base closures. Bush’s promise amounted a bold promise of excessive pork for southern Florida.

Ask yourself this, if Charlie had passed through the center of Puerto Rico, an American territory that does not vote in presidential elections, how far above and beyond the normal requirements of disaster relief would Bush go?

Friday, August 13, 2004

Out of touch
Last night, the Bushes appeared on "Larry King Live" (for some bizare reason the transcript is named "Amber Frey Testifies: Day 2"). After some nice words about Nancy Reagan, King asked a series of questions about anger and lack of civility on the campaign trail. Toward the end of this section, Bush made the following statement.
But I just don't see it. When I travel the country, and I've been traveling a lot, there are thousands of people who come out and wave, and they are -- you know, they respect the presidency. Sometimes they like the president, but I have this -- I don't have a sense that there's a lot of anger.

He doesn't believe there is anger in current politics because, when he's on the road,he only sees happy people who love their president. What are we to make of this? Is he really that isolated? Does his staff do such a good job leveraging law enforcement agencies to hide protestors and make sure he only sees supporters that he actually believes that's all there is? Does he really not know that there are people out there who disagree with him? This should a terrifying prospect for anyone, on either side of the political divide, that sincerly cares about this country.

Immediately after that scary admission, he returned to the routinely annoying.
KING: In view of that, do you think that it's fair, for the record, John Kerry's service record, to be an issue at all? I know that Senator McCain...

G. BUSH: You know, I think it is an issue, because he views it as honorable service, and so do I. I mean...

KING: Oh, so it is. But, I mean, Senator McCain has asked to be condemned, the attack on his service. What do you say to that?

G. BUSH: Well, I say they ought to get rid of all those 527s, independent expenditures that have flooded the airwaves.

There have been millions of dollars spent up until this point in time. I signed a law that I thought would get rid of those, and I called on the senator to -- let's just get anybody who feels like they got to run to not do so.

KING: Do you condemn the statements made about his...

G. BUSH: Well, I haven't seen the ad, but what I do condemn is these unregulated, soft-money expenditures by very wealthy people, and they've said some bad things about me. I guess they're saying bad things about him. And what I think we ought to do is not have them on the air. I think there ought to be full disclosure. The campaign funding law I signed I thought was going to get rid of that. But evidently the Federal Election Commission had a different view.

Here two the famous straight talker's least attractive features are on display: His pettiness and his self-absorbtion. The latter is obvious; when asked about a dirty deed inflicted on an opponent, his response is, "they've said some bad things about me."

The pettiness is more subtle and embedded in the whole exchange. If this kind of ad is wrong--and he implies that they are by including them in a category that he thinks should be banned--he should do the right thing and condemn them. McCain had no trouble doing that, but Bush can't. Bush needs to extract payment before he'll do a good deed. Kerry must help him ban all 527s before he will condemn this one especially low example of independent campaign advocacy.

This more than knee-jerk pettiness; it's calculated and planned. If he sees them, or reads a trancript, or in anyway educates himself on the issue, he'll know how bad they are and, arguably, be obliged to take a stand. Bush has had a week to see the ads, but he has not. Larry King doesn't ask him why not. Bush is able to maintain deniabilty, "I haven't seen them; I don't know that they're really that bad." By remaining ignorant he can continue to milk the situation for advantage (and let the ads run). Calculated pettiness crosses the line into meanness.

We can do better than this for a president.
Who are these people?
My wife gets the Gallup press releases every morning at her work e-mail. Several jobs and e-mail accounts ago, I did too; now I let her triage them for me. Today she came up with a great question.

The latest horserace poll has these numbers: In the the straight Bush/Kerry match-up, 50-47. In a Bush/Kerry/Nader match-up, 48-46-3. I've noticed the same pattern in other Gallup polls and in polls from other firms. Nader doesn't draw just from Kerry, he draws from both sides (something Nader has always claimed, but who listens to anything Nader says anymore?). So who are these voters torn between Nader and Bush? What issues make them tick? Did they misunderstand the question or what?

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Kerry saves another life
That's three, if you count the hamster.
Former U.S. Sen. Chic Hecht of Nevada is a staunch Republican, but he thanks his lucky stars for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

On July 12, 1988, Hecht was attending a weekly Republican luncheon when a piece of apple lodged firmly in his throat.

Hecht stumbled out of the room, thinking he might vomit but not wanting to do it in front of his colleagues. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., thumped his back, but Hecht quickly passed out in the hallway.

Just then, Kerry stepped off an elevator, rushed to Hecht's side and gave him the Heimlich maneuver -- four times.


"This man gave me my life," the 75-year-old Hecht said Thursday.

How soon before the attack ads from "Congressional Diners for Truth" start to appear?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Quote of the day
We have a winner. Mr. Matt Gunn (via Atrios).
I couldn't get a job with CIA today. I am not qualified.
--Rep. Porter Goss, March 3, 2004, Washington, DC
Our ally in the War on Terrorism
You're the total autocrat of an isolated desert country. The only things your country has going for it are undeveloped oil deposits and a strategic location. But then, what else do you need? You've had a book of your sayings declared sacred scripture and placed in all the houses of worship in country. The people must pass a test on your words before they can get a drivers license. Your likeness graces giant gold statues all over the capitol and the world's largest hand-woven rug. At the beginning of every school day, the children swear an oath of allegiance to you. Grand buildings spring up at your command, including one of the world's largest mosques. Young men in your country must be clean-shaven and short-haired because that's the way you like it. What can you do next to make your mark in the world? How about building an ice palace in the desert and teaching your nomad citizens to ski?
1000 dead, revisited
Last month I wrote about the upcoming milestone of the 1000th American military death in Iraq. Today Reuters is running the first major media piece that I have seen on this topic. They point out some obvious things. Compared to Viet Nam it's a small number, but it's bigger than any military loss we've had since then. Bush's best strategy is to promise to stay the course while Kerry's is to mostly express respectful sorrow and otherwise remain quiet. The titled experts quoted by reuters seem to be less cynical than I am, none of them mentioned Rove trying to use the milestone as a campaign tool.

My feelings remain about the same as they were last month; we should avoid any appearance of crass exploitation on our side and be prepared to cry bloody murder if the Republicans try to make campaign props out of the dead.

One interesting point Reuters hinted at, but didn't expressly point out is that the 1000 mark is likely to arrive about half-way between the RNC convention and the first debate. That means it could be the thing that destroys whatever convention bounce Bush gets and send him into the debates on the defensive. To my thinking, this makes it all the more likely that Rove will try to appropriate the dead as a tool to be used against the Democrats.
Update on Heinz-Kerry slander
The three Miami Republicans who promised to link Teresa Heinz-Kerry to Castro held their press conference yesterday. As expected, they merely recycled old, already debunked lies about the Heinz Foundation and provided nothing new. Except for the farthest right reaches of Blogistan (Free Republic, WorldNet Daily), the accusations are not getting much national coverage. That's completely appropriate, considering this slander is being brought up now as a desperate move by the old anti-Castro Cubans in Miami to deal with local political damage.

Fortunately, the local crowd is fully capable of rebutting this nonsense:
"This is incredible that the Bush campaign has stooped so low and talked these three Cuban congressional members into telling straight-out lies," said Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, who is helping the Kerry campaign in Florida.

Whatever their reasons or intent, their actions are despicable. They are spreading known lies about a family member of a candidate just order to gain a few political points. This is much worse than cheap jokes about a candidate's kids (though, just for the record, I'm against that, too). I hope it backfires in a big way.

The Farmer over at Corrente has some great additional background on the group that originally produced these lies (Capital Research Center) and the Miami politicians currently diseminating them.

Correction: In my first post below, I incorrectly identified the three Miami Republicans, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as state house representatives. The body they embarass is the House of Representatives in DC. They represent districts 21, 25, and 18, the three southern-most districts in Florida covering Miami, Hialeah, Homestead, the Keys, and the southern Everglades.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

This is classy
NEW YORK The lights of Empire State Building will dim for 15 minutes tonight in tribute to actress Fay Wray.

They both achieved international fame in the 1933 film classic King Kong, when the big ape appeared to climb the skyscraper with the actress in his hand.

Wray died in her sleep Sunday in her Manhattan apartment. She was 96.
Just when you think they couldn't get any lower
The GOP surprises us again.
Meanwhile in Miami, three Republican [state house] members -- Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, his brother Mario and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- will charge [in a press conference later today] that Teresa Kerry's foundation has "connections" to and has helped finance "Fidel Castro's Internet network."

A Diaz-Balart spokeswoman would not elaborate, but she did say it involved the Heinz Endowments' financial ties to a group called the Tides Center and the Tides Foundation.

This is a repeat of an already debunked slander produced by a group of Richard Mellon Scaife funded hit men called the Capital Research Center and repeated by the freepers, the usual talking heads, and Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Scaife was the main source of funding for a number of anti-Clinton projects in the nineties, collectively refered to as the Arkansas Project. These have been well documented by David Brock, Joe Conason, and others. Even earlier, Scaife had turned his guns against Sen. H. John Heinz III for the heinous crime of being a moderate Republican and traitor to his class. Since the Senator's death, Scaife transferred his animosity to Heinz's widow and her new husband.

Joe Conason explained all this two weeks ago in the context of the Shove-it-gate phony scandal and the nice folks at Media Matters published a link rich article on it. We'll see if the latest attack has anything new to offer.

Update: I've had a few minutes to think about this and get more annoyed. This smear should clearly be considered in the context of Florida politics: the old generation of right-wing Miami Cuban expats have been losing influence. Some of the younger genration have even been voting Democratic. I'm not an expert on local Florida politics (I've never been within a thousand miles of the state), so I don't know who Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are or what their agenda is aside from delivering the state to the Bushs. I hope it is a sign of desperation and their last hurrah.

Meanwhile, I don't think this is one we should let pass. This shouldn't just be passed around the Left and Right Blogistan echo chambers (one side goes "yay," the other goes "boo" and never the 'twain shall meet). We should denounce this kind of dirty trickery in the loudest terms to local newspapers and our circle of Republican leaning friends, relatives, and co-workers. This is on a level with Rush Limbaugh calling Chelsea Clinton a dog.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Things I didn't know
Here are some of the things you can learn while picking up a high school diploma at one of those private sector schools so loved by Bush and the religious right. Personally, I'll stick with my public school education any day.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A chain of private California schools that taught immigrants there are 53 U.S. states and four branches of the U.S. government was ordered to stop handing out phony diplomas this week, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer said on Friday.

Authorities seized the assets of California Alternative High School and asked a judge to stop the company's 30 schools statewide from handing out "high school diplomas" to students dreaming of a better life through education, Lockyer said.


Students learned that Congress had two houses -- the Senate for Democrats and the House for Republicans; that the U.S. flag had not been updated to reflect the addition of Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico to the "original" 50 states; that the federal "administrative" branch oversees the Treasury Department; and that World War II occurred from 1938 to 1942.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

After the weekend
We spent the weekend at my Mom’s. For those of you who have been following my occasional comments about my Mom’s cancer, her recovery is going great. Since returning home from my sisters’ in Alaska, her blood tests have continued to improve, her hair has grown back, she has gained back most of the weight she lost (to the extent that she is now complaining about gaining weight), and best of all, she has enough energy that she wants to drag us out to do fun things.

In fact, she’s lots more fun than we are. We’re happy to stay home and take naps on the weekend. Mom took us to the new Maryhill winery to taste the wines. Maryhill has been around for about four years. Their first vintages were produced from grapes they bought from the neighbors. Their vineyards are now mature enough that they are producing wines from their own grapes.

I’m not sure who’s behind the winery (I suppose I should put on my investigative cap and find out; could be Lithuanian mafia), but they have enough cash that their plan is to develop the winery itself as a major concert venue. They are on the right track. This year the have four concerts: The Temptations, Hootie and the Blowfish, Don Henley, and Willie Nelson, a very nice line-up to appeal to yuppie geezers, like I almost am. They are new enough, that not many people know about it and the shows aren’t sold out. That will probably change next year (if the second Bush administration allows concerts by anyone except Christian rock bands). If you live in the Pacific Northwest, this is your chance to get in on a hot thing before it becomes hot.

Their wines are very good. We’re not experts, but we’re finally at the age where we care about more than price when buying wine. Price is still first, but we have elevated food compatibility from distant second to close second. And food means something other than chips and clam dip. Their 2000 Syrah (first vintage, I think) is one of my wife’s favorite steak wines. I’m still looking for the perfect clam dip vintage.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Uh... just ick.
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch Labour party wants to pass a law making unsolicited toe-licking an offence after police were unable to prosecute a would-be Casanova with a taste for female toes because he had committed no crime.

A police spokesman said on Friday a man had been detained after women sunning themselves in Rotterdam's parks and beaches claimed he would sneak up on them and begin to lick their toes.

"The officers had to let him go. Licking a stranger's toes is rather unusual but there is really nothing criminal about it," the spokesman said.

Dutch press reports said the man, who is about 35, had been licking the toes of strangers for about three years but was only recently caught by police.

He's been doing this for three years and hasn't had the crap beaten out of him yet?
He won't rest
Stumping in Michigan yesterday, Bush said, "we're not going to rest until everybody who wants to work can find a job." He made that promise in the same month that he's taking a two week vacation. Of course, he usually takes a four week vacation in August. It would be nice to think that the change is because he is concerned about our jobs, but we know that's not true. He admitted a month ago that the change was made so he could protect his job. Thanks, George.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Has George Bush killed an innocent person?
The Harris County crime lab in Houston has been shaken by a number of scandals over the last few years. In each case, people convicted of crimes on the basis of tests conducted by the lab have been exonerated after inaccuracy and incompetence by the lab were revealed.
Six independent forensic scientists, in a report to be filed in a Houston state court today, said that a crime laboratory official - because he either lacked basic knowledge of blood typing or gave false testimony - helped convict an innocent man of rape in 1987.

The panel concluded that crime laboratory officials might have offered "similarly false and scientifically unsound" reports and testimony in other cases, and it called for a comprehensive audit spanning decades to re-examine the results of a broad array of rudimentary tests on blood, semen and other bodily fluids.

Elizabeth A. Johnson, a former director of the DNA laboratory at the Harris County medical examiner's office in Houston, said the task would be daunting.

"A conservative number would probably be 5,000 to 10,000 cases," Dr. Johnson said. "If you add in hair, it's off the board."


A state audit of the crime laboratory, completed in December 2002, has found that DNA technicians there misinterpreted data, were poorly trained and kept shoddy records. In many cases, the technicians used up all available evidence, making it impossible for defense experts to refute or verify their results. Even the laboratory's building was a mess, with a leaky roof contaminating evidence.

The DNA unit was shut down soon afterward, and it remains closed.


"In Harris County," said William C. Thompson, a professor of criminology at the University of California, Irvine, who has followed the crime laboratory scandals closely, "defendants were prosecuted with flawed scientific evidence and defended by court-appointed lawyers who lacked the knowledge and resources to challenge it and complain about the injustice. Now that the scandal has come to light, the system is relying on the same inept, timid lawyers to make it right."

Let’s put some of these pieces together. In Harris County, people have been convicted of crimes on the basis of bad evidence for possibly twenty-five years. Since Texas reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the state has executed 323 people. Seventy-three of those executed were for crimes in Harris County. George Bush was governor during six of the years that Texas was executing people. During his time as governor, Bush never granted clemency and executed more people than any governor in the twentieth century.

The responsibility of the governor in the execution process of Texas is inescapable. No one is executed unless the governor signs an order with that person’s name on it that specifically and unambiguously says “kill this person.” Lacking exact statistics, I’ll estimate that 17 or 18 people from Harris County were executed on George Bush’s orders.

Knowing what we do now about the quality of scientific evidence used in trials that occur in Harris County, and knowing what we always have about the low quality of defense counsel allowed for trial and appeal in Texas, it is very probable that George Bush ordered the execution of an innocent man. The only real question is how many did he order killed.
This explains his social and environmental policies
Everyone and their dog have already blogged this, but I can’t resist.
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we," Bush said.
"They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."
No one in Bush's audience of military brass or Pentagon chiefs reacted.

I almost feel sorry for Scott McClellan trying to put a good spin on this.
"But the American people know this president speaks with clarity and conviction, and the terrorists know by his actions he means it," McClellan said.

A jury of his peers
At the same time as the new government of Iraq tries to gain some semblance of legitimacy in the eyes of the world and its own people, it is also trying to make a show of being a worthy partner to the prosperous democracies of the world. A key milestone in both of these efforts will be the trial of their former leader Saddam Hussein al Tikriti.

In the West, the usual standard of judicial fairness is the trial by a jury of one’s peers. Finding this jury might be harder than some of us would initially assume. Saddam’s natural peers are scumbag former dictators. Finding twelve scumbag former dictators to fill a jury box (and two alternates in case one gets sick, assassinated, or extradited) is a fairly iffy proposition. One of the occupational hazards of the job of scumbag dictators is that very few of them survive their retirement parties.

I’ve done my best and come up with a possible jury pool:
  • Slobodan Milosevic – Yugoslavia 1988-2000
  • Augusto Pinochet Ugarte – Chile 1973-1990
  • Jean-Claude ”Baby Doc” Duvalier – Haiti 1971-1986
  • Charles Taylor – Liberia 1996-2003
  • Alfredo Strossner – Paraguay 1954-1989 (who knew this Nazi loving old bastard was still alive?)
  • Mengistu Haile Mariam – Ethiopia 1977-1991
  • Chun Doo-hwan – South Korea 1980-1988
  • Manuel Antonio Noriega – Panama 1981-1989
  • Mullah Mohammed Omar – Afghanistan 1996-2001
  • Thojib N.J. Suharto – Indonesia 1967-1998
  • Moussa Traore – Mali 1968-1991
  • Sitiveni Rabuka – Fiji 1997-2001
  • Lennox Leslie Wongamu Sebe – Ciskei 1981-1990
  • Efrain Rios Montt – Guatemala 1982-1983

We may have trouble getting some of these former dictators to answer a jury summons, so we might need to pad out the jury pool with Saddam doubles and dictators still in power. Sadly, there are plenty of the latter available.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

A moment for third party thoughts
Russ Barnes, writing at the American Street, has a post defending the two-party system. He is addressing that faction on the left that pine for a pure progressive party and barely tolerate the Democratic coalition and it’s spokesbeings. These days, this faction is most easily identifiable by their scorn for Kerry and mantra like repetition that “we must keep his feet to the fire” after he becomes president. You know the feeling. I think most of us have at least flirted with the idea of third party partisanship and some have comfortably settled there.

Russ scolds the third party partisans for being unrealistic purists and suggests the most practical method of achieving a progressive agenda is to be patient, invade the existing party, and warp it to our own goals. He points out the thirty-year campaign by the religious right to take over the Republican Party as a model.

I have given a lot of thought to third parties over the past years. I think Russ is right about the anal purism, impatience, and impracticality of most third parties in this country. I don't think the two-party system that we stumbled into (and institutionalized through extra-constitutional methods) is the miracle of stability that it is often painted as. I think we have just been lucky. The two-party system could easily become the source of paralysis and destructive confrontation as it did before the Civil War and as it is doing now.

Third parties are a way to break that dangerous deadlock. While most people look to third parties to be ideological purists, further out than the primary parties, it is also possible that they might be the source of pragmatic compromise at the center.

Third parties can arise in (at least) three ways. The most visible and least successful way is to start at the top and run a candidate for president, whose showing will legitimate the down-ticket candidates. I don't know why people continue to try this. It never works. The second method is to work up from the bottom. Organize locally. Run candidates for small offices and build up. School boards lead to city councils, which lead to state legislatures, which lead to congressional representatives and governors, which lead to senators and eventually the top. I'm not aware of this model ever making it higher that the state level. The third method, the only method to my knowledge to ever succeed on the national stage, and the one no one is trying now, is to co-opt existing elected officials.

The Republicans in 1856 did not run a bunch of unknowns for office; they co-opted the remnants of the Whig Party, the failed Free Soil Party, and some northern abolitionist Democrats. In 1912 the first Progressive Party gained a caucus through the secession of 14 congressmen and one senator from the Republicans.

Today the most likely, influential or successful third party would be a centrist caucus made up mostly of moderate New England Republicans. If Snowe, Chaffee, and Collins joined Jeffords, they would hold the balance of power in a 48-4-48 Senate. They could force both parties to compromise. If a few others joined them, say McCain, Voinovich, and Leiberman, they would hold a big enough block that neither of the other parties could hope to displace them by holding out for the next election. A dozen or so House members, if mostly Republican, could do the same.

This might not be the best scenario for liberals and Democrats to achieve their goals, but it wouldn't be the worst either. And it certainly would be a good way to disarm the insane right wing cabal that currently is running the Republican Party and the country into the ground. A small secession, such as this would force the GOP to make a strong swing back toward the center in hopes of reabsorbing the secessionists and keeping power. It would at least provide us with the entertaining spectacle of the GOP mugging Tom DeLay and Rick Santorum.

I offer this, not in the hope that it will really happen, but as a thought experiment and suggestion that a big Democratic victory in November isn't the only way to return some semblance of sanity to our political culture.
Protestant humor
I found this over at Philocrites.
What do you get when you cross a Unitarian Universalist with a Mormon missionary?

Someone who knocks on people's doors for no apparent reason.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

”Gentlemen. We’ve got to protect our phony-baloney jobs!”
One of the behaviors that is most guaranteed to make me cynical about our political system is the tendency of our leaders to let themselves be stampeded by events and the news cycle.

A tragedy happens. A photogenic blond girl named Betsy, who lives in Idaho, is kidnapped, raped, and killed. The story gets national news play for two weeks while the townspeople search for her and discover the horrible truth. For those two weeks people all across America wear ribbons of Betsy’s favorite colors. After the tragic denouement, our leaders gather, and pass a bill making it a federal crime kidnap, rape, and kill photogenic blond girls. They call it “Betsy’s Law” and it passes by a massive majority. Then they all go home and campaign for re-election on the basis of having led the fight for “Betsy’s Law.”

Why did they need to make it a federal crime kidnap, rape, and kill photogenic blond girls? Was there some gaping hole in the Idaho law code that made it legal there? Did the people of Idaho feel that kidnapping, raping, and killing photogenic blond girls is a part of their traditional culture that shouldn’t be criminalized? No and hell no. Kidnapping, raping, and killing photogenic blond girls is illegal in every state in the union. Even Alabama. Our leaders in Washington passed a completely unnecessary law and added a layer of federal intrusion into perfectly adequate state law enforcement. Why?

The cold fact is that when a highly publicized tragedy occurs, our leaders feel that they must be seen doing something. On a psychological level, the more the tragedy makes us feel helpless, the more they are inclined to leap into that void and be seen helping. The annoying part of all this is that they are not compelled to do something actually helpful, they are just drawn to tragedy by the desire to be seen. Sadly, that “oh my gawd, we’ve got to do something” instinct is independent of whether the something is helpful, stupid, or actually counterproductive.

Sometimes this rush to be in front of the camera “doing something” is just embarrassing and silly, as when first term state legislators try to ban this season’s teen fad because they find it offensive. Sometimes it creates real problems, as with mandatory sentencing guidelines. Sometimes it endangers the republic, as when congress passed the Patriot Act without actually reading it first.

All of this is by way of introducing the current unseemly rush to be the first to claim credit for endorsing the “Intelligence Czar.”
“Oh my gawd, we’ve got to have an ‘Intelligence Czar.’”

“What will he do?”

“I don’t know, but we’ve got to have one.”

“How much will he cost?”

“I don’t know, but we’ve got to have one.”

“How will he relate to the existing intelligence structure?”

“I don’t know, but we’ve got to have one.”

“Who will he be answerable to?”

“I don’t know, but we’ve got to have one.”

“Wasn’t the Department of Homeland Security created to do what he’s supposed to do?”

“I don’t know, but we’ve got to have one.”

“Wasn’t the National Security Council created to do what he’s supposed to do?”

“I don’t know, but we’ve got to have one.”

“Isn’t the Director of Central Intelligence already supposed to do what he’s supposed to do?”

“I don’t know, but we’ve got to have one.”

“Shouldn’t we think this through first?”

“No time. Gotta do something.”

I’m not, in principle, opposed to having someone somewhere coordinate our various intelligence gathering efforts and intelligence interpreting projects. But I do have a lot of preferences about who does it, where they fit in the power structure, who they answer to, what protections for our civil rights are included in their mandate, and so on. I am also, in principle, opposed to the name “Intelligence Czar.” The original model for Czardom was a bunch of feeble-minded, unbounded thugs more concerned with protecting their hereditary privileges than with helping the people of their country (I’m also opposed to the spelling “czar;” “tsar” is more accurate in English orthography.).

For once can we have an intelligent debate about what we need instead of an unseemly and dangerous stampede to claim brownie points in time for the election? Probably not. Sigh.