Running Scared: Observations of a Former Republican
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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Best in Show

posted by Jazz at 8/21/2004 02:31:00 PM

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I have now gone to two AKC dog shows in two weeks. For many years I had avoided them. I worked for many years as a Humane Society volunteer and have always been keenly aware of the plight of homeless animals. (We have five shelter pets living with us.) I had long felt that somehow the dogs involved in these AKC shows were some sort of "livestock" for an elite breeding pool, and not real pets being given good homes. I was also concerned about the problems of inbreeding that can arise from restricted gene pools.

I now must admit I was wrong. The dogs I have seen at these shows are happy looking, playful, healthy dogs and their owners absolutely dote over them. The people who were showing these dogs were also some of the most friendly folks I've ever run into. They patiently answered endless questions from us, and proudly showed off their dogs and let us spend time with them.

If you get a chance to go to a local dog show, do it. It's a very inexpensive day out for entertainment and we had a fantastic time. One show was a standard "judging" type show where the various breeds were put on display for judges and rated against the ideal breed standard. The second was an "agility competition" and that was more fun than I can describe. The agility courses which these dogs ran though with their trainers were challenging, and required a lot of disciplined training to accomplish, but were not at all cruel or harmful for the dogs. Quite the contrary, while many dogs did not accomplish all the maneuvers successfully, they seemed to be having a blast. (Often far more so than their poor owners who ran along huffing and puffing behind them in the mud of that rainy day. The dogs just enjoyed running and barking and rolling in the grass.) I saw a number of owners fall down, but no dogs.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Darned Good Work if You Can Get it

posted by Jazz at 8/20/2004 03:12:00 PM

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According to today's White House Briefing report by Dan Froomkin, President Bush has spent a grand total of 254 days at his ranch in Crawford since taking office. And yes, for those of you keeping score, that includes a lot of time during the never ending "War on Terror" since 9/11. That works out to approximately 20% of his presidency. If you add in the days spent at Camp David and at the Bush family compound at Kennebunkport, Maine, that percentage nearly doubles.
President Bush spent the day yesterday on his Texas ranch riding his mountain bike and watching the Olympics on TV. But don't call it a vacation. Bush arrived at his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel ranch in Crawford on Wednesday night, where he'll spend a week enjoying a bit of down time. (That's the White House's preferred phrasing.) A CBS News tally shows that President Bush is now making his 38th visit to his Prairie Chapel ranch since taking office.
This is far and away a record for any president in the history of the country. And it was done during what Bush himself describes as one of the most tumultuous and significant periods of our history. (Or he would if he could pronounce "tumultuous.")

In the midst of all the other accusations flying back and forth, and the media's eagerness to jump on every morsel, I really can't understand why this isn't brought up more often in White House press conferences. Has anyone taken the time to ask John Kerry what percentage of time he plans on putting in "on the job" if and when he takes his seat in the West Wing? It would be good to find out and to hold him to it after the election.

GOP: Where to next?

posted by Jazz at 8/20/2004 11:37:00 AM

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Too many times, the "movers and shakers" in both of the major political parties see very single election for any office or seat as a do-or-die proposition - as if losing a single one is the End of the World. Not always, and this is a point in time where I think the Republican party needs to be taking the long view, looking further down the road, taking advantage of things that are going to be coming up.

If you're not familiar with Charlie Cook, he's a political analyst and the author of "Off to the Races" which is syndicated in a number of papers. He generally seems to be an authentic non-partisan observer, though he did recently call all Democratic voters "whackos." The point I'm getting at is that Cook is pretty much the analyst's analyst. He has successfully predicted the outcome of better than 97% of the elections he covers nationally over his career. He digs into poll numbers at a far more granular level than "who is the nicer guy, more moral family man, stronger leader" etc. He analyzes individual states and regions to find out what is most important to those people and how they are polling in the fields that will influence their votes. The short version of the story is that he has pronounced ten states as still being "in play" for the 2004 presidential election, however all but two of them are pretty much in the bag, and Kerry is going to win. He gives Bush Minnesota, Nevada, and Missouri, but says that will not be nearly enough to make up for Kerry taking Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and Bush should lose the popular vote again by only a slight margin, but will lose the electoral college by around 27 if not more.

Of course, he freely admits that this is only a mid-August snapshot, and it could be altered radically with a big ticket news item in late September or October. Examples might be the CIA pulling Osama out of a basement in Virginia (don't laugh) or a sudden, unexpected upsurge in the economy and job growth numbers. (Highly unlikely at this point, but possible.) All things remaining close to constant, however, apparently Kerry will win, while the GOP maintains or slightly increases its hold on the House. The Senate should go to an increasing, but still slim, lead for the Democrats. But this should always be tempered with the knowledge that there are still a lot of very conservative Southern Democrats (the Blue Dogs) who will often buck the party line, so passage of liberal legislation there is not assured either.

In general terms, this is good news for everyone. I think the government works best when opposite parties control the Executive and Legislative branches. It forces some compromise and cooperation where it might not otherwise exist, and more moderate, centrist policies tend to win out over extremes to the left or right.

Also, for the Republicans in specific, losing an election or seeing some shockingly unexpected numbers is often the "slap in the face" that a party needs. It forces them to stop, re-evaluate, and say, "Ok, ok, we get it. We got your message. This isn't working, and we'll need to adjust." I know that a lot of us were hoping that would be the case when Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and took the White House with effectively no mandate from the people. Unfortunately the GOP also had enough of a stranglehold on the Legislative branch that extreme right wing policy could be bludgeoned through almost everywhere, and we were off to the races, drunk with power. This of course led to the mess we have today.

There is other long term good news for the GOP with a Bush loss in a few different areas. For one thing, if Kerry is the candidate in 2008, it will keep Hillary Clinton from seeking the nomination. With the numbers she polls at, she just might be unbeatable in a presidential race, and that's a nightmare I don't even want to consider. No matter who wins in 2008 with a 2004 Bush loss, Hillary couldn't realistically run until 2112. By that time she will be in her late sixties and may feel too worn out to run, or have simply lost interest in playing politician anymore.

Against a good, solid, moderate Republican ticket, I can't imagine Kerry being very hard to beat, so this could be win-win scenario for the GOP.

The question is, who to put up against Kerry in 2008? If we'd had the opportunity to replace Bush with a different candidate this year (sadly impossible) we could have had a great chance with John McCain. For a running mate, it would have been a dream ticket to get Christy Todd Whitman, but now she's been pretty much tainted by her association with Bush and her meek withdrawal to "spend more time with her family" after Bush dismantled the E.P.A. Olympia Snowe would be an ideal candidate, being one of the most moderate members of the GOP, and it would bring a woman to the ticket demonstrating that the Republicans are willing to do more than just pay lip service to having a "big tent" for membership, and not just put up the same old white billionaire boys club candidates.

By 2008, though, McCain may already be on his way to retirement. Some other promising possibilities are Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, or Candice Miller from Michigan. They all represent a younger, newer breed of Republicans that are looking to get back to old school GOP values such as smaller government, reduced spending and deficits, and increased states' responsibility and autonomy. If the Republicans were actually the first party to put up an all female ticket, for example Snowe - Blackburn, it would revolutionize the party and open the doors to a lot of participation among women and minorities.

So, in conclusion, if Bush does wind up being ousted (as it now looks) this shouldn't be seen as some signal of impending doom for the Republican party, but an opportunity to really move forward in the very near future. And we certainly need something like that to get us back on track.

As ye sow...

posted by Jazz at 8/20/2004 08:36:00 AM

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... so shall ye reap. While it was long predicted, apparently George W. Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war may be coming home to roost faster than anyone thought. I recall seeing this exact concern expressed in the media (though not nearly loudly enough) as soon as he explained this madman philosophy. The basic question was, "If we are to justify a pre-emptive strike on a sovereign nation, what is to prevent other nations from citing our example and doing the same?"

Today, the nation of Iran announced that they were not ruling out the possibility of pre-emptive strikes against Israel and, by association, American interests if they felt that a military strike against their nuclear facilities was possibly coming. To quote Iran's defense minister, Vice Adm. Ali Shamkhani:

"We will not sit to wait for what others will do to us," he said. "Some military commanders in Iran are convinced that preventive operations which the Americans talk about are not their monopoly. Any nation, if it feels threatened, can resort to that. We are certain that Israel would not carry out such an attack without a green light from the United States. So you cannot separate the two."
Gen. Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, a commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, seemed happy to chime in on the subject also:

"If Israel fires one missile at Bushehr atomic power plant, it should permanently forget about the Dimona nuclear center, where it produces and keeps its nuclear weapons."
This was apparently a reference to suspicions that Israel was going to repeat it's strike against Iraq's nuclear facilities at Osirak in 1981. Only this time, of course, in Iran.

During the cold war, we had a policy called MAD. (Mutually Assured Destruction.) It was a terrifying and yet appropriate name, but you have to admit, it worked. The whole idea was based on a rather loose understanding between countries that,

1.) If you don't invade another sovereign nation first, the rest of us won't attack you.
and,
2.) If we do attack each other, it will be such a devastating fire fight that nobody will survive.

Now we have a president who believes in limited engagement wars where MAD does not apply, and a policy of pre-emptive warfare which takes away every other country's security blanket. It's no longer a given that if they don't strike first, they won't be struck. In light of that, it's easy to see how some countries may think they have nothing to lose in launching a first strike.

And yet the most recent Gallup-Harris poll here in the United States still showed that almost 40% of the citizens of America supported Bush's policy of pre-emptive war if it was done in the name of "The War on Terror." (Apparently even if the countries in question seem to have nothing to do with terrorist attacks on the United States, e.g. Iraq.)

Frankly, these days I have no time to be frightened of what people in other countries may do to harm us. I'm far too busy being scared to death of our own citizens. Nearly 1,000 dead and many thousands more crippled, maimed, and disfigured - all for a war to overthrow a country that had nothing to do with bringing down the World Trade Center towers.

Shall we invade Iran next, George? I mean, you've got the army in the neighborhood anyway, right?




Thursday, August 19, 2004

It's Time to Ditch the Olympics

posted by Jazz at 8/19/2004 08:20:00 AM

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The elderly monk supervised the young novice in putting a shiny copper penny and a wheat roll on top of a black marble pillar in the temple foyer.

"Master," asked the novice, "why do we perform this ritual every month?"

"No living person remembers, my child, but it is an ancient and revered tradition."

The puzzled acolyte paused, then asked, "If we don't even know why we do it, why do we continue?"

The older monk slapped the boy on the back of the head. "Just because we don't remember why we perform a ritual is no reason to stop. If you stop having rituals, you're no better than the barbarians."
How long have the Olympics been going on since they were re-introduced? Better than a century, I suppose. I think there's still something wonderful and magical about them for those who are engaged by the pure drama of human physical exertion incorruptible by money. (Well, at least superficially incorruptible anyway.) But the number of people who seem drawn to it has been steadily decreasing. Ratings on television for the Olympic games have been dropping each time they happened during my lifetime. The drama is gone and the legendary "purity" of the event has been corrupted for viewers by drug scandals, corruption of judges, and a host of other things.

The next strike against them is the false hope of an economic boon to the country and city hosting them. The Olympics can come to an area and provide a temporary shot in the arm of tourist dollars, but leave behind massive infrastructures that lay largely unused when there isn't an actual Olympics going on to justify them. It has nearly ruined some host cities.

Last, but far from least, is the problem of terrorism. You can't get a much higher profile target for terrorist groups than an international convention with TV coverage. By their nature, the games tend to happen in an extremely spread out area, with simultaneous events happening across many square miles. Providing proper security under such conditions is a dream.

I think it's time for the United States to get out of the Olympics business. Americans could still go to other countries and compete in them on their own dime, if they wished, but we should stop bidding to have the events hosted in the U.S.A. and stop pushing it as some sort of national culture. We have more than enough competition in most of these sports right here at home, both professional and amateur. And for some of the other sports - who really cares? Have you ever felt inclined to run out and buy a poster of a famous biathalon champion to hang on your wall? Shooting guns while standing on snow skis is just asking for trouble. And is curling really even a sport? If you have that much time on your hands to do sweeping, stop by my house. The dust bunnies are out of control.

Yes, the Olympics are an ancient tradition and that's just grand. But just because something is ancient, that doesn't mean you have to keep doing it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Cost of Dissent

posted by Jazz at 8/18/2004 03:16:00 PM

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Apparently, as I think many of us have suspected, you can't be a member of our party (the GOP) and express any dissent from the talking points of George W. unless you are ready to end your career. This was proven again today by retiring congressman Doug Bereuter (R. Nebraska) when he made some public remarks leading up to the end of his term in office. It took his leaving office for him to finally come out and state that we had botched the entire affair in Iraq, as reported today in the Lincoln Journal Star. Bereuter had already criticized some of Bush's massive tax cuts, so he was certainly no longer "in favor" with the White House, and I suppose this was just the end of the line.

It's a shame, too, because Bereuter was really one of the good guys. He was an old school GOP member who believed in smaller government, fighting deficits, reductions in spending, and THEN cutting taxes. He's served 26 years in the House and had often had his name on the short list for cabinet level positions in previous administrations. He was also known for being friendly to bipartisan issues.

Anyway, on to some of his comments.

"I've reached the conclusion, retrospectively, now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed, that all things being considered, it was a mistake to launch that military action. That's especially true in view of the fact that the attack was initiated without a broad and engaged international coalition. As a result of the war, our country's reputation around the world has never been lower and our alliances are weakened."
To put this in perspective, this guy was not only a member of the House for two and a half decades. He was a senior member of the House International Relations and Intelligence committees. When it comes to having a finger on the pulse of our place in the international community, as well as what the CIA and company are up to, he was pretty well in the loop.

The next question this leaves for me is what will happen with his seat in the House, particularly given the environment surrounding this election year. It should be interesting.

Jon Stewart Makes You Go "hmmmm"

posted by Jazz at 8/18/2004 07:44:00 AM

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Last night Comedy Central ran the Bill Clinton interview episode again. Bill had a lot to say, as usual, and was promoting his new hernia-inducing book. (Slightly smaller, it should be noted, than the unabridged Oxford dictionary.) The president didn't look very well physically, I thought, but still spoke forcefully.

Jon, for his part, brought up a point that really doesn't seem to be getting much attention. It was announced recently that Haliburton is once again in the news and will likely be charged regarding billions of dollars of fraud which was allegedly perpetrated during Dick Cheney's tenure as their CEO. And yet from the media we don't hear much more than a whisper.

Jon asked Mr. Clinton, (paraphrasing) Doesn't it ever just make your head explode? You look at this story, think back on your time in office, and think "Travelgate? Are you f&%@ing kidding me!?"

People keep on insisting that the media is one monstrous left wing conspiracy against the GOP. I am honestly mystified by this.

Check this out

posted by Jazz at 8/18/2004 07:42:00 AM

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Check these guys out.

Political Brew

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

I'm sure glad there is no "Big Brother."

posted by Jazz at 8/17/2004 06:58:00 AM

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If the alarmists and conspiracy theorists were actually on to something, we would be experiencing political harassment and intimidation such as were seen during the McCarthy era. In this more enlightened age of secure, alert citizens and high-tech media watchdogs such things aren't likely to be going on.

Or are they?

An August 16th, 2004 article in CNN disclosed that the FBI has been very busy in recent weeks, with activities ranging all over the country. What have they been up to? One would assume, in this era of "The War on Terror" that they are chasing terrorists, murderers, kidnappers or other criminals threatening our society. Sadly, not even close. They are busily chasing down people who organize anti-Republican, anti-Bush demonstrations. FBI agents are visiting the homes of people who run web sites featuring dissent against the current administration, or organizers of protests at political rallies. They aren't bringing warrants, or conducting searches, or making arrests. They are just asking questions - questions about whether these people are engaging in or planning any illegal activity, or if they know of anyone who is planning such activity. Then they not-very-subtly remind them that failing to report such knowledge is a federal crime. They have succeeded in intimidating several activists to the point where they cancelled trips to protest rallies they were trying to organize.

The Justice department, as usual, has no problem with this. The same people who, as we recently learned, thought that it was "ok" to torture prisoners in "The War on Terror" has decided that such investigations "will not provide a chilling effect on first amendment rights to any significant degree." How comforting.

Meanwhile in Florida, the bastion of fair voting standards, state police officers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando and interrogated them as part of an odd "investigation" that has frightened many voters, intimidated elderly volunteers and thrown a chill over efforts to get out the black vote in November. As reported in this article by Bob Herbert of the New York Times, this is all being done under the ironic guise of investigating voter fraud.

The officers, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which reports to Gov. Jeb Bush, say they are investigating allegations of voter fraud that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March.

Officials refused to discuss details of the investigation, other than to say that absentee ballots are involved. They said they had no idea when the investigation might end, and acknowledged that it may continue right through the presidential election.

"We did a preliminary inquiry into those allegations and then we concluded that there was enough evidence to follow through with a full criminal investigation," said Geo Morales, a spokesman for the Department of Law Enforcement.

The state police officers, armed and in plain clothes, have questioned dozens of voters in their homes. Some of those questioned have been volunteers in get-out-the-vote campaigns.

I asked Mr. Morales in a telephone conversation to tell me what criminal activity had taken place.

"I can't talk about that," he said.

I asked if all the people interrogated were black.

"Well, mainly it was a black neighborhood we were looking at - yes,'' he said.

He also said, "Most of them were elderly."

When I asked why, he said, "That's just the people we selected out of a random sample to interview."

Many of the elderly black voters who found themselves face to face with state police officers in Orlando are members of the Orlando League of Voters, which has been very successful in mobilizing the city's black vote. One person who received multiple "visits" by the police is 73 year old Ezzie Thomas, the president of the Orlando League of Voters. Apparently Ezzie has been causing trouble since the days of Martin Luther King's marches by traveling around Florida every year trying to get more blacks to register to vote.

Let's hope that after four decades of putting up with this nonsense that Ezzie is wise enough to just slam the door in their faces.


Monday, August 16, 2004

Welcome to the Data Quality Act

posted by Jazz at 8/16/2004 10:23:00 AM

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In case you aren't familiar with the Data Quality Act of 2000, you might want to look into it. It was written by an industry lobbyist and slipped into a giant appropriations bill in 2000 without congressional discussion or debate. It consists of just two sentences directing the OMB (the president's Office of Management and Budget) to ensure that all information disseminated by the federal government is reliable. But the Bush administration's interpretation of those two sentences could tip the balance in regulatory disputes that weigh the interests of consumers and businesses.

In the first 20 months since the act was fully implemented, it has been used predominantly by industry, not by consumer or labor advocates primarily interested in public safety. Of 39 petitions with potentially broad economic, policy or regulatory impact filed in that time, 32 were filed by regulated industries, business or trade organizations or their lobbyists. Seven were filed by environmental or citizen groups. Some environmental groups are boycotting the act, adding to the imbalance in its use.

Here are a few examples from this excellent article by Rick Weiss of the Washington Post.
� The American Chemistry Council and others challenged data used by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as it sought to ban wood treated with heavy metals and arsenic in playground equipment.

� Logging groups challenged Forest Service calculations used to justify restrictions on timber harvests.

� Sugar interests challenged the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration over dietary recommendations to limit sugar intake.

� The Salt Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce challenged data that led the National Institutes of Health to recommend that people cut back on salt.

� The Nickel Development Institute and other nickel interests challenged a government report on the hazards of that metal.

� The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers petitioned the CPSC to retract data that ranked the risk of lint fires in various clothes dryers.

How many examples do we need of this administration trying to cook the books in defiance of sound science to the benefit of industry and the risk of the public before somebody starts seeing a pattern here?