Sunday, September 30, 2007

Phillies 6, Nationals 1
Marlins 8, Mets 1

Phillies win the NL East.

All the agita, all the hours spent looking at this monitor or writing on TGP or BSG, all the aggravation my wife has had to suffer... right now, it's every bit worth it.


I've been waiting a long time for this. Just wish more of our friends--mvpsoft/Dave Snyder of, Jeff Lamana of phila[, Tacony Lou of the I Love Misery Phillies blog--were with us to see it, and hoping that wherever they are, they're celebrating too.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Newt, Newt, Newt...

UPDATE: That was quick-Gingrich bows out before he even officially steps in.

About thirteen years ago, when I was early in my senior year of college and it started to become clear that the Democrats risked losing their congressional majority, Newt Gingrich seemed like just about the scariest guy in the country. He had little positive to say about policy, but waged the sort of strident rhetorical war against the Democrats that has become commonplace in the years since but was pretty shocking at the time. He blamed Democrats and "liberalism" more broadly for everything from the seemingly stagnant economy to a woman, Susan Smith, drowning her small children. The media adored him, but to me his brand of unhinged demagoguery was reminiscent of Greg Stillson, the unhinged politician from Stephen King's novel "The Dead Zone," creepily brought to life in the movie by Martin Sheen, whose presidential ambitions, if fulfilled, would lead to nuclear apocalypse.

Though Gingrich won that November and became Speaker of the House of Representatives, within a couple years it was clear that I'd overestimated Newt and underestimated Bill Clinton, his great political rival. Clinton won re-election in 1996 and his Democrats cut into Gingrich's House majority. Two years after that, Gingrich had led the push for Clinton's impeachment but lost again in the mid-terms, and he resigned. For most of the next five years or so, he was perhaps best known for writing a shitload of reviews, and of course for the revelation that at the same time he was leading the charge to impeach Clinton, he was also cheating on his wife with a much younger woman.

But like Clinton, Gingrich is both shameless and inexhaustible, and he set out to rehabilitate himself as a man of ideas and principle. As the collapse of George W. Bush Republicanism accelerated, Gingrich saw an opening: in the last two years, he's called for the Republicans to make a clean break with their president and look to the future. And if none of the Republicans who've announced for the 2008 presidential race would do that, then the man who once declared that his goal was "to save western civilization" would make himself available for the job.

In recent weeks, Newt has made it clearer and clearer that he's going to run for president. He's trying to raise $30 million to do it; he's cultivated James Dobson, the Christatollah of modern Republicanism, who's evidently more interested in a candidate who will hate on the gays and the slutty women than one who isn't a serial adulterer and hypocrite. Never short on ambition or ego, Gingrich still sees himself as a savior.

What's interesting to me, though, is that the man who rose to power on a wave of vicious attack politics and did so much to pave the way for political monsters like Karl Rove, now wants to run what sounds like the highest-minded campaign of modern times:

During a recent breakfast with a Politico reporter and other journalists, Gingrich made it clear he has given a great deal of thought to how he would run, starting with a national television ad that would be heavy on his policy ideas.

That might be followed with DVDs of his agenda to households in early-voting states.

Gingrich vowed that he would not participate in group debates like those that now sprinkle the campaign calendar.

“I’m not a penguin,” he said, referring to the field of candidates at the debates as “a row of penguins.” Instead, he said, he wants to hold one-on-one, 90-minute “dialogues” on such topics as fixing specific inner cities.

“If I did run, I wouldn’t do any dog and pony shows,” he said. “I’d debate anybody who wanted to for 90 minutes — one-on-one, for 90 minutes, in either party.”

Sounds good, no?

But here's the punch line: Gingrich's own legacy pretty much ensures that he's not going to get traction through this content-heavy approach. Consider you’re a TV network news division or a print/new media editor: given the choice between a detailed examination of Gingrich’s views on realigning tax policy to support inner-city entrepreneurship, or talking about how he was getting blowjobs from a woman a quarter-century his junior while trying to impeach Clinton for doing the exact same thing, which way are you likely to go?

Add in that he’s going to get shivved sotto voce by the many vicious scumbag Republicans who loathe him–like Tom DeLay, who led an unsuccessful coup against Gingrich in the mid-'90s-–and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.

I’ve long considered the withdrawal announcements of Republican presidential contenders the way that other men think about pornography; when Newt hangs ‘em up, I might be incapacitated for days.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Republicans' Questionable Bet
Josh Marshall today points out just how remarkable it is that 151 Republicans in the House of Representatives--enough to sustain a presidential veto--voted against expansation of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), and prophesies both a legislative defeat and the wrath of a vengeful electorate:

[T]his is one reason there is an as-yet-unrevealed though in many ways profound antipathy for President Bush among many congressional Republicans. He's not running again. And he couldn't care less how much he damages his party over the next 18 months. Often political leaders face a choice -- stand for principle and possibly have a strong political issue at the next election or achieve some substantive accomplishment. Here the Dems appear to have every likelihood of achieving both. They'll probably get SCHIP and while also having the president inflict what may turn out to be a fatal political wound on a number of House Republicans. He'll bring them down in the noble cause of keeping lower and middle income kids from getting health care.

I think this is true as far as it goes, though there are a couple premises that might throw his analysis into question: of those 151, how many of them are truly in competitive seats? Are they really putting their heads in the lion's mouth by Supporting Our President in redder-than-dried-blood districts? While I've heard for years that a lot of congressional Republicans detest Bush and view him as a political anvil, I suspect this sentiment is a lot stronger among the 50 or so Republicans who didn't vote with the president than the 151 who did.

It's possible, maybe even likely, that most of those 151 Republicans view this as a vote on principle--that government shouldn't subsidize health care for (those they regard as) the non-poor. I happen to think this is a blinkered and idiotic viewpoint, profoundly ignorant, in the way that only those for whom health costs are simply not a day-to-day consideration, of just how much of a financial whammy this can put on families. But their mileage, obviously, differs.

The real issue here, I think, is the Republicans' calculation that not only would "defeating" expansion of S-CHIP not hurt the prospects of individual Republicans next year, but that it won't hurt the overall party brand either. They're gambling that the Democrats have neither the political killer instinct to run on this issue in the 2008 campaign (Voiceover: "Republican Congressman X voted for 12 tax cuts that gave the richest 0.1 percent of Americans an extra million dollars a year, but when it came time to support health care for poor children, he decided the cookie jar was empty," as the camera slowly pans across black-and-white pictures of kids in desolate settings), nor the power and savvy to frame the debate, which they think might again revolve around fear and terrorism. Whether or not they're proven right could tell us a good deal about the state of our public discourse.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton... ClintonBush?
The beat goes on for Hillary Clinton, solidifying her frontrunner status in her race for Kinder, Gentler Empress. Two items from Political Wire today remind us that for all her posturing as a "change" candidate, she's easily the Democrat closest in both worldview and style to the members of that Other Great Family now holding the White House in our pathetic little War of the Roses knockoff.

The first is that Bush is communicating with the Clinton campaign, as well as other Democratic campaigns, to urge them to keep their options open regarding his Kickin' Ass War in Iraq. The second is that the campaign got a story that GQ had ready to run on infighting in Hillaryland spiked by threatening to block the magazine's access to Bill Clinton, who was the subject of a cover story. That's the sort of bullying of the media that we're used to seeing from the bunch in office now.

I don't think any of this is very surprising. From fundraising tactics to flag-burning, Hillary Clinton is by far far far the Democratic candidate most ideologically and temperamentally compatible with the sociopaths and idiots on the right who have gotten us into this mess. She’s perfectly comfortable with the Executive Branch SuperDuperPowers that Bush and His Loyal Bushies have amassed; hence her support of the atrocious Patriot Act and non-opposition, or at least sotto voce opposition, to the Military Commissions Act and the effective repeal of the Fourth Amendment.

Similarly, she’s fine with the premises that underscored our Iraq Adventure–that we can do what we want in the world by virtue of overwhelming force, and that there’s no moral qualm about waging wars to secure resources.

I wish the press would ask her a bit more directly about her views on all these things. But I won’t hold my breath, so long as there are stories to be told about cleavage and such.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My Support: the Kiss of Death
I realized something on my way home from the gym tonight: for as long as I've been entitled to vote, my presidential candidates of choice have never even won the nomination, much less taken office.

In 1992, I defended Bob Kerrey through innumerable late-night freshman year dorm hall arguments (in truth, I had little better to do). Four years later I didn't really have an opinion; I wasn't going to vote for the Republican, and Clinton was going to get remoninated. In 2000 I was a big Bill Bradley fan; last time around, at different points I was for Dean, Clark and Edwards. It was almost like I was consciously avoiding anyone even sort of viable.

I mention this because the Hillary Clinton train continues to chug along. Wes Clark, probably the 2004-cycle candidate I was most into, endorsed Lady Triangula this weekend. She's evidently suffering no damage from Norman Hsu's troubles (and presumably her scores of advisors are offering up prayers of thanks that O.J. is back in the news--it really is the '90s again!). And the Obama and Edwards campaigns can't get any traction.

All this despite the fact that Sen. Clinton still doesn't seem to have any answer for why she's running for president, beyond the zombie mantra of her flacks: "strength and experience, strength and experience, strength and experience..."

But history suggests that if I don't get a candidate's appeal, that candidate probably has a good thing going.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Loose Ends
A few semi-random links and musings on current events:

  • Ed Kilgore ponders the "interesting times" of the last ten years in American politics--impeachment, a contested election, a major attack on American soil, a disastrous war of choice, and the partial destruction of a great city, all for the first time since the 19th century or ever--and provides an important reminder that the Republican Party, based on its current crop of presidential candidates, seems fairly proud of what they've wrought. It's astonishing, and endlessly depressing, that we share a country with millions of these people; it's almost enough to lead me to the conclusion that maybe the country just isn't so hot, after all. The fact that the Imbecile-in-Chief continues to play transparent political games with the tragic Iraq war is bad enough; that he's more or less allowed to get away with this by a still-supine press corps and a perpetually timid Democratic opposition is perhaps worse.

  • Speaking of the Party of Lesser Evils, Philadelphia Inquirer political columnist and blogger Dick Polman sets out the story of Hillary Clinton and Democratic fundraiser/criminal fugitive Norman Hsu. I remember being very turned off, in the waning days of the 1996 campaign, by some of Bill Clinton's scummier fundraising activities that were then coming to light; it doesn't seem like they've learned much, or repented at all.

    The FBI is conducting preliminary inquiries into Hsu's bundling activities and business dealings; the Manhattan DA is investigating whether Hsu bilked a private equity firm in a Ponzi scheme. But what interests me is how the Clinton campaign has reacted to all this:

    With all the speed of a turtle trundling through molasses.

    Its first response, last June, was total denial. When a California businessman reportedly emailed the campaign to warn that "there is a significant probability that a man using the name of Norman Hsu is running a Ponzi scheme," a campaign official emailed back to say, "I can tell you with 100 certainty that Norman Hsu is NOT involved in a ponzi scheme. He is COMPLETELY legit."

    Its second response, also last June, was to search public records for information about Hsu, but aides turned up nothing. Apparently they didn't look very hard, because The Washington Post pointed out yesterday that "a commonly used public record search shows that Hsu had multiple business lawsuits filed against him dating back to 1985, filed for bankruptcy in 1990, and was a defendant in two Californis court matters listed as possible criminal cases."

    The campaign's third response, when suspicions about Hsu surfaced in the press in late August, was to praise their bundler. A Clinton flak said: "Norman Hsu is a longtime and generous supporter of the Democratic party and its candidates, including Senator Clinton. During Mr. Hsu’s many years of active participation in the political process, there has been no question about his integrity or his commitment to playing by the rules, and we have absolutely no reason to call his contributions into question." The campaign also said that it would not return any of the Hsu-related campaign contributions.

    The campaign's fourth response was to grudgingly give ground. After it became clear that Hsu was a fugitive from justice, and after other Democratic candidates made it clear that they intended to purge themselves of Hsu money, Clinton did the same, by donating to charity $23,000 that Hsu had personally donated. But the campaign made this announcement in the early evening, after most East Coast news deadlines...and made it clear that Clinton was refusing to give back the donations that Hsu had bundled from others.

    The campaign's fifth response came this past Monday evening. After learning that the FBI was on Hsu's trail, and after learning that The Los Angeles Times had obtained those aforementioned emails (the heads-up from the California businessman, and the 100 percent denial from the campaign), Clinton decided to give back the donations that Hsu had bundled from others. That's the $850,000. But the campaign, to soften the blow, made this announcement in the early evening (sound familiar?), after most East Coast news deadlines, and after the network news shows had gone on the air in the East, mostly with the dominant coverage of the Petraus hearings on Iraq. And now the campaign is refusing to disclose the names of the 260 bundlees who are poised to get their money back.

    I hope that any of her rivals who choose to attack The Empress on this--I doubt Obama will, for both style and substance reasons, but Edwards certainly might--will note that Sen. Clinton, like Bill, always has had a high comfort level with pay-to-play politics and disdain, if not disgust, for attempts to regulate the system. She was the leading opponent within the Democratic Senate caucus to the McCain-Feingold reform, mocking Russ Feingold for his naivete and complaining that the reform would destroy Democrats' political competitiveness.

    As quarterly reporting numbers for the congressional campaign committees and the presidential candidates themselves have shown again and again, this hasn't exactly been the case--and while I'm not saying that Feingold foresaw the political and technological changes that would make the Democrats more than competitive in fund-raising, I think the point is that he put principle first whatever the outcome. Has Hillary Clinton ever done as much?

  • Related to all this, the recent news about next year's Senate races--most notably the retirements of John Warner (VA) and Chuck Hagel (NE) and the possible/likely candidacies of Mark Warner and Bob Kerrey to replace them--combined with the likelihood that the Democrats will nominate Senator Clinton, could contribute to an outcome that I believe is unprecedented: the Democrats lose their House majority while making big gains in the Senate. I've written before about my belief that Sen. Clinton will endanger, probably doom, many of the Democratic Representatives who won last year in districts where Bush defeated John Kerry in 2004. And I'm still waiting for some smart national political reporter to contact the offices of, say, Reps. Ellsworth in Indiana, Shuler of North Carolina, or Boyda of Kansas to ask them how they feel about running "with" someone perceived as a veritable devil by many of their constituents. But I think her impact in the Senate races will be much more limited. Mark Warner has his own base in Virginia, as does Kerrey in Nebraska. Democratic takeover efforts in New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Oregon, all Kerry-supporting states, probably won't be hurt by Sen. Clinton. She may or may not lower the odds for a takeover in Colorado, and she probably removes whatever slim chance the Democrats had for upsets in North Carolina, Kentucky and New Mexico. But they should still anticipate a good year in 2008, with a larger Senate majority--enough to kick Joe Lieberman out of the caucus. The question will be whether Harry Reid has a Democratic Speaker and President to work with.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Re-tethering War to the Public
Watching some of the testimony of Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus to the Senate this morning--and trying to swallow my disgust at this show having been scheduled for September 10-11--I was reminded again of how far most of us are from the real effects of this war. We're saddened by its toll and outraged by how it's been mismanaged, but it's still a theoretical exercise for the overwhelming majority of Americans.

As I've written here before, one reason this is so that it's just way too easy for this country to go to war. Presidents can commit forces with very little short-term political risk, and while the bill comes due eventually--as it did for the Republicans last November--by then it's difficult to disengage, even if you don't have an ill-informed narcissistic sociopath at the controls. From this premise, I've reluctantly come to the opinion, in the last two years, that we need to reimpose some kind of political check on decisionmakers' tendencies to start wars and commit forces.

This could take the form a draft, of course; Charlie Rangel among others has advanced this argument. And it's fairly compelling; no question that the prospect of sending everyday people to fight and die would seriously raise the bar for military intervention. But the objections of the professional military to reinstituting a draft--mostly that it would dilute the quality--are legitimate too.

So maybe there should be another mechanism--some kind of tax that goes into effect whenever a military commitment lasts longer than six months. At the least, this would require the public to pay for its wars rather than put them on the credit card, as we've done in this instance. And it would speed the day of political reckoning.

I don't think this would mean that the country could never act; the Afghanistan War enjoyed overwhelming support at the time, and probably still has majority support. I have little doubt that majorities would have sustained that support despite a tax surcharge. At least initially, the same might have held true for Iraq.

The larger point is that some structural change that would involve the whole country in any war effort would be very good for our democracy. It is proper that the Republicans paid a heavy political price for the war last year, and might do so again next year. But with a draft, or a war tax, or something that required fuller public engagement, the president would have had to do what McCain and others always wanted him to do: talk to the public honestly about the war, and make a persuasive case that our involvement is justified.

This notion of selling the public on a set of policies has disappeared under Bush. There's a great piece in this past Sunday's New York Times magazine about Jack Goldsmith, a conservative who resigned from the Bush Justice Department in 2004 over administration policy regarding torture, wiretapping, and related measures. He agreed with Bush, Cheney and the rest about the threat of terrorism and the need for "strong measures"; his issue mostly was that they attempted to get what they want through unilateral decisionmaking.

The story includes a line I found resonant: "the power of the presidency is the power to persuade." This was the key to the successful presidencies of, among others, Lincoln, FDR, Reagan, and Clinton: they could bring the country around to their views, and their policies enjoyed popular legitimacy.

This war in Iraq hasn't enjoyed popular legitimacy at least since 2004, and that lack arguably has been as damaging as the debt we've incurred and the human losses we've suffered.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Technology's Great; the Content Stinks
What a time to be alive. It's Sunday afternoon, I'm sitting in Brooklyn, New York, I've got two computers on the desk in front of me. One is showing the Eagles game, one is showing the Phillies game. The picture is pretty good on the Eagles, perfect on the Phils.

Problem is that the Eagles look like a bad high school team, losing 10-0 after fumbling a punt recovered in the end zone and with three sad excuses for drives, and the Phillies... well, it's hard to have faith in a team that lost two games where they led by five runs or more within the last week.

Still, I'm here, and work isn't getting done. So it's clear who the real sucker is.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Why Petraeus is Not to be Trusted
At least not by Philadelphia baseball fans. Here's the General:

And here's former Phillies General Manager Ed Wade:

Wade ran the Phillies for eight years, with no playoff berths to show for it. Eventually he spent more and more money, at grievous opportunity cost, yet the team never got closer to its objective. Sound familiar?

But for those who don't have an irrational detestation of Ed Wade, there are other reasons not to trust the general either. Paul Krugman sums them up:

Gen. Petraeus has a history of making wildly overoptimistic assessments of progress in Iraq that happen to be convenient for his political masters.

I’ve written before about the op-ed article Gen. Petraeus published six weeks before the 2004 election, claiming “tangible progress” in Iraq. Specifically, he declared that “Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt,” that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward” and that “there has been progress in the effort to enable Iraqis to shoulder more of the load for their own security.” A year later, he declared that “there has been enormous progress with the Iraqi security forces.”

But now two more years have passed, and the independent commission of retired military officers appointed by Congress to assess Iraqi security forces has recommended that the national police force, which is riddled with corruption and sectarian influence, be disbanded, while Iraqi military forces “will be unable to fulfill their essential security responsibilities independently over the next 12-18 months.”

Krugman also cites this powerful piece of reporting from the Washington Post on Thursday, by Karen DeYoung. She found that the statistical gains championed by defenders of "the surge" are very, very dubious. The statistics "selectively ignor[e]" certain trends (such as escalating violence between different Shi'ite militias) in making assessments, and generally stacking the deck in favor of the wished-for conclusions. (Again, sound familiar?) One number the defenders don't cite is the civilian death count for August: 1,809, the highest monthly total this year.

Like Krugman, however, I fear that Congress will make a political decision to sustain "the surge" and generally defer to the White House. In part, this is because the sight of an Army uniform clouds their judgment; in part, I think, it's because somehow in our society, when we have a choice between "more war" and "less war," the structural factors pointing toward "more war" are almost irresistible. But that might be another discussion for another time.

For now, just don't trust the guy who looks lilke Wade.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bill Clinton's Empathy Has No Bounds
Maybe this is to be expected given Bubba's own scandal history. But I still thought this was kind of cool:

Bill Clinton will appear on Larry King Live tonight to peddle his latest book and his wife's presidential bid. However, his comment on the sex scandal surrounding Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) will likely grab more headlines.

From an advance transcript:
"Well, first of all, I think we ought to recognize that this is a very traumatic time for him and his family. And whatever happens or doesn't, most of his political career was behind him. So whatever your party, we should be hoping that he and his family can work through this in a way that leaves them as whole as possible.

"I think that that is more important than the politics of this. The politics of this will have to be resolved by him and the Republicans in the Senate.

It's a particularly nice grace note considering Craig's reaction at the time of BlowGate.

All that said, I suspect Clinton, that great political mind, knows that the longer the Craig fooferall lingers, the worse this month will be for the Republicans--particularly considering the intent of the Republicans to focus on other subjects.