Saturday, October 8, 2011

Is Syria the next Arab Spring?

Several years ago, I read an interview, I think in the New York Times, with Syria's young president Bashar al-Assad and his attractive wife. Both educated in the West, he as a medical doctor and ophthalmologist. That career was interrupted when he was pressed to take up the leadership of Syria upon the death of his father.

The article painted this couple as the enlightened, educated Westerners who had great ideas about modernizing and democratizing their country. I was impressed at the time, and have looked for reforms, knowing that it would be slow and difficult because he would be going against Syria's tradition and his father's regime.

Then we began to hear accusations of Syria meddling in Iraq, providing exile and support for the people in opposition of the invading Americans.

I was not in favor of our invading Iraq either, so a neighbor helping resist an imperialist invasion from afar did not strike me as so reprehensible.

I was still reluctant to see him as just another tyrant of a Middle East country ripe for revolution. And he did early on announce some reforms and promised others. But it has grown more and more difficult to dismiss the tyrannical tactics that the Syrian miliatary has been using against demonstrators. Either Bashar Assad has no power over the military, or the impression I gained was wrong about his intentions.

Today, the news has erased any doubts I had about this regime. At two different funerals today, troops fired on mourners. One funeral was for an important opposition leader who was gunned down in his own apartment yesterday. Up to 50,000 people were marching in mourning when police opened fire on them. If there was provocation, other than their presence in large number, the media have not reported it.

The other was a much simpler funeral in another province. Again no reason given in the news for why the military started shooting at the crowd. Of course, we know that this is a favorite terrorizing tactic of the opposition

Don't they know that nothing ignites a crowd like an assassination of a leader, or an innocent young person, and then killing people who are mourning those deaths?

This may be the kindling that ignites a full-blown revolt in Syria -- joining Tunisia, Egypt, and Lybia.


"Christian values" and new respect for Romney

We're so accustomed to Mitt Romney's shifting stance to accommodate the changing tides that I find myself amazed -- and feeling a bit of respect -- after his speech at the Values Voters Summit yesterday.

As background, the day before Romney's appearance, a senior Baptist pastor from Dallas who was chosen to introduce Rick Perry later told reporters that Mormons are not Christians and therefore can't go to heaven. Asked if he would vote for Romney if he is the nominee, he said: “I’ll hold my nose and vote for Mitt Romney. . . . I would rather have a non-Christian who embraces Christian principles [Romney] than a professing Christian who governs by un-Biblical principles [Obama].”

In addition, the speaker scheduled to follow Romney on the program was another radical evangelical preacher who railed against the threat of Sharia law being imposed on the U.S., said that homosexuality is a threat to public health, that Mormons are not Christian, and that we have not had another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil because crowds often sing "God Bless America" at baseball games during the 7th inning stretch.

Wow !!! If only it were that simple to protect us from terrorists, we wouldn't need the vast, expensive and invasive Department of Homeland Security.

That's the climate that Romney went into. And here's what he said:
"Our values ennoble the citizen and strengthen the nation. We should remember that decency and civility are values, too. One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line, I think. Poisonous language doesn't advance our cause. It's never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind."
Bravo !! Romney just moved up a notch in my respect.

Well, not all that far. The cynic in me looks at his record of pandering. Perhaps he was really sending a message to less radical conservatives and independent voters, knowing that he's not ever going to be the first choice of the crowd he was addressing. Maybe the religious right will "hold their nose and vote" for him if he is the nominee, and the GOP power brokers and right-leaning independent voters will credit him with courage and leadership.

In fact, with this speech, he might just have locked up the nomination, although there will still be a lively and acrimonious campaign to go through with Perry and, for a while, Cain too.

He will also be a more formidable candidate for Obama to beat, I believe.


"Take the money and DON'T run."

I just wonder how all the people who have contributed to Sarah Palin's political action committee feel now that they've been left at the altar.

She's no innocent in this. It's been obvious for months that she was not a viable candidate, despite her coy flirtations with the voters and the media. OK, as Jon Stewart points out, that could be just narcissism, wanting to be wanted and adored, competitive in grabbing the spotlight from others.

I would say, "Yes, that too." But it's basically about greed. Consider those who actually donated money to her campaign efforts. How do they feel about buying the ring and then being left at the altar?

Stewart exposes her: only two weeks ago she sent out a letter requesting contributions to her PAC. To quote from the letter:
"As you know, Governor Palin is on the verge of making her decision whether or not to run for office. Someone must save our nation from European socialism. Do you think it should be Governor Palin? If so, can you send your best one-time gift to SARAHPAC . . . and show her that we support her if she decides to run?"
Realize that this PAC is completely controlled by Sarah Palin. However, she has to file a report of how the money is spent. Granted that she made some contributions from the PAC to other candidates in local races. But she has also claimed such expenses as $25,000 for that bus trip that was widely proclaimed as just "a family vacation," touring America's historic spots -- all of which happened to be in the political hotspots of the moment. Some other payments charged to the PAC went to her parents ($3200) for "correspondence management and card mailing."

But Stewart says that's the rule for PACs, and:
"The only thing that would have been dishonorable or shady is if Palin had known all along what her decision was, yet continued to dangle indecision to her unsuspecting donors."
And then -- he delivers the coup de grace: a video clip from last June 28th of Bristol Palin spilling the beans on FoxNews when asked if she thought her mother had made a decision about running:
"You know, she definitely knows. We've talked about it before. But some things just need to stay in the family."
That was on June 28, 2011. The letter to donors went out in late September.

There you have it. Sarah Palin at her most devious and deceitful.
Take the money, and don't run.
Bah, humbug. Now we know what the Palin family value really is:


Friday, October 7, 2011

New Democratic muscle

Man, it feels good !!! The Democrats are beginning to exert some power into their rhetoric and actions.

Obama is sounding like his old combative campaign self, declaring: "I will not cave" on the jobs bill; calling them the "Do Nothing Congress" a la Harry Truman; and frankly admitting that he is through trying to negotiate with Republicans who refuse to compromise. Yesterday, he said Republicans should pass his jobs bill or expect angry voters to turn them out of office in 2012. Later he was quoted:
"If Congress does nothing, then it's not a matter of me running against them. I think the American people will run them out of town."
And now Harry Reid is playing hardball parliamentary politics in the Senate. I do not begin to understand the fine points of their arcane parliamentary procedures. But yesterday Mitch McConnell moved to table the debate on China trade in order to push prematurely for a vote on Obama's jobs bill, hoping to embarrass the Democrats who are not yet united on the bill. The Senate Parliamentarian ruled that McConnell's motion was in order, even though they had already voted cloture on the trade bill and were in the middle of discussing it.

Reid then appealed the ruling. I can't follow what happened next, but essentially it called into question the rules about filibuster, evoking what was referred to several years ago as "the nuclear option." McConnell would have needed 60 votes -- and they didn't have them because two of their key Senators wanted the trade bill to pass, given the importance of trade with China in their states. Something like that.

One Senate Democratic aide put it this way: "McConnell likes to think of himself as a parliamentary wizard, but he had his lunch eaten twice today by Harry Reid."

For now, Reid has prevailed; and the Republicans are vowing revenge.
The main point: There is new muscle in the Democratic camp.
And that is an exciting development.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Elizabet Warren for Senate #3: First debate

Elizabeth Warren participated in her first campaign debate Tuesday night (although she's been in the hot seat plenty of times in hostile, Republican-led committee hearings). This was between the seven Democrats vying for the nomination to run against Scott Brown.

Warren did not challenge her fellow Democrats but clearly aimed at Brown. It sounds like she handled it extremely well. Here are some notable quotes.
"Forbes magazine named Scott Brown Wall Street’s favorite senator. I was thinking that’s probably not an award I’m going to get."

"America's middle class has been hammered, squeezed and chipped at for a generation now, and it can't take it much longer. . . . This is my life's work. I've done research on it, I've written about it, I've advocated for these families. . . . I went to Washington to try to work on the bank bailout and bring some transparency and accountability to it."

"The people on Wall Street broke this country, and they did it one lousy mortgage at a time. It happened more than three years ago, and there has been no real accountability, and there has been no real effort to fix it. That’s why I want to run for the United States Senate."
To a question about the military and our current wars, she said that:
. . . all wars should be paid for "in present time. It means either all of us go to war, or none of us go to war."
Meaning that those of us who send others off to fight should at least all sacrifice to pay for it. No more Bush-style "credit card" wars.

OK. Senate in 2012. White House in 2016.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Could the GOP White Knight be Black?

OK -- I may be over-doing this GOP election bit, but if you're still reading, you're probably at least marginally interested. So, I've been thinking some more about too readily dismissing Herman Cain.
Could the White Knight the GOP base has been seeking turn out to be a black man?

What if we wind up with a general election choice between two African-American men?

Wouldn't that be historic?
Here's a little more polling data. First, repeating what I put in the last post about this question from the WashingtonPost/ABC News poll:

Regardless of whom you support, do you like [----] more or less, the more you learn about him/her?

Cain---------70% more-----12% less.
Romney-----38% more-----42% less.
Perry-------29% more------56% less.

That's pretty dramatic. Liking Cain a whopping 70% more vs people liking both Romney and Peery less as they know more about them -- Perry's "less" almost double his "more." Polling included independents as well as Republicans.

Here's more. According to ABC News, among those paying the most attention to the campaign, Cain comes in #1 with 36%, followed by Romney at 24% and Perry at 12%. I assume that their category of "most attentive" would include what I've referred to as establishment Republicans, those who wield power in the party.

More: The Gallup poll also does a measure they call "positive intensity score," which measures the percentage of those with a "strongly favorable" opinion of a candidate minus the percentage with a "strongly unfavorable" opinion. As I understand it, one who is very polarizing would get a low score (the negatives offset the positives, as in Gingrich, Palin), while someone who was everybody's second choice and no one really disliked would have a higher score. This is probably a good indicator that they would vote for that person if he/she were the nominee.

Cain's positive intensity score of 26 is the highest of any GOP candidate so far this year.

So there you have it -- sounds much more favorable for Cain than my too-easy dismissal in the last post, where I assumed Cain was "flavor or the week." My reading now is that these additional data probably reflect the impression that Cain makes of being genuine, straight-talking and not being scripted or playing political tricks.

Will it last? Experts are still highly skeptical. And the traders on Intrade (which treats candidates as if they were stocks that people buy, and their "value" is "market-driven") gives him only a 3.1% chance of being elected in 2012. Actually, Intrade has a pretty high reliability as a predictor. But they're betting on getting elected; we're talking here of winning the nomination.

And remember that going from 4% to 16% in a few weeks is mostly the result of picking up Perry's supporters when he flamed out (Perry lost 13%, Cain gained 12%). So that could simply mean that Cain was second choice among Perry's crowd when he disappointed them. He might not rise much higher than the 16% he has now. Like Paul, he may strongly appeal to a core base but not be able to expand beyond that very much. Time will tell.

Another factor to consider: As others drop out, who gets their share? The also-rans and those with no opinion add up to 31% that somebody will eventually get. Romney is still in the lead and will undoubtedly pick up some of those.

Great political theater -- if you like that sort of thing.


Outrage -- rise up, taxpayers !!!

There is the awful Defense of Marriage Act on the books. Bill Clinton signed it into law in another era, and he now says it should be repealed.

The Obama administration announced last February that the Justice Department would no longer defend the law in cases brought against it. This was based on opinions by constitutional scholars.that parts of the law are unconstitutional. Obama himself used to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago, and he concurs.

But John Boehner and House Republicans couldn't stand to let it go. So they hired an outside law firm to defend the law in federal courts. The original fee was to be $500,000, but now they have signed a contract with the law firm to cap costs at $1,500,000.

And guess who pays the bill? The United States citizens -- the taxpayers.

This is not responsible government. This is politics at its worst -- because as taxpayers we have no direct say in the matter. In a time where Republicans are pushing austerity and budget cuts -- schools, poverty programs, infrastructure and energy investment, etc -- they insist on throwing away precious tax money on such a fool's quest. All to please their right-wing political base.

A spokesman for Nancy Pelosi called it a boondoggle and said it was "absolutely unconscionable to defend the indefensible" DOMA.

I'm sure there will be plenty of petitions to sign opposing this move. Please sign them.

Is it possible to get a court order to stop this from happening -- at least forcing Boehner to explain what he plans to cut in order to pay for it -- just as he tried to insist on equal cuts in spending to pay for disaster relief for hurricane victims?


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

GOP field now (probably) set

Chris Christie announced today that he will not be a candidate for president in 2012, ending the groundswell of pressure on him to run. Citing his love for being governor of New Jersey and not wanting to leave that job unfinished, he said of the presidency, "Now is not my time."

His answer to a question of whether he might consider a VP nomination: "I don't think there's anybody in America who would think my personality is best suited to be number two."

The field is probably set now -- barring a last minute foolish leap by Jeb Bush (and consider the baggage he would have to carry) or a reconsideration by Mitch Daniels or Tim Pawlenty. Both very unlikely. Michael Bloomberg? Rudy? Neither could make it with the current rabid, right-wing crowd.

So: Michele is toast -- two more top aides have left the campaign, and several others are returning to her congressional payroll, probably a signal that funding is drying up.

Perry continues to be confronted with a new potential skeleton in the closet almost every day. With his sources of financial backing, he can probably stay in the race. Depending on how well he does in the early primaries, he could still emerge in a two-man finale with Romney. But his poll numbers have dropped from 29 to 16 -- with Romney staying the same at 25.

Herman Cain is the one who has picked up the majority of voters turning away from Perry.

A WashingtonPost-ABC News poll, conducted over the last 3 days among Republican and Republican-leaning Independents, has some startling news:

You choice, if you were voting in a primary or caucus today: [with comparison to the same question in June and in September]:


Other/no opinion----16--------13---------15

Look at Perry and Cain between Sept and now -- from 29/4 to 16/16 in a matter of a few weeks. Almost everybody else stayed within one point of where they were in September.

What does this mean? More indication that conservative voters are flailing about, trying to find the White Knight and wanting it to be somebody other than Romney. But he just keeps on keeping on, above the fray of what's going on among his challengers. And nobody can land a knockout blow on him, even though 75% want someone else.

Is Cain likely to get the nomination? No. And unless Perry can resurrect himself, he isn't either. Bachmann is long gone. Paul is too quirky and fringey; he has a loyal following, but he can't grow his base very much. If Gingrich hasn't fooled the crowd by now, he's not going to. Santorum and Huntsman are stuck in the cellar. You don't come from there at this late date -- 3 months till the actual voting begins.

Maybe I'm too quick to dismiss Cain. Another question in the poll: "Regardless of whom you support, would you say that the more you hear about X, do you like him/her more or less?

Cain got 70% more, 12% less.
Romney got 38% more, 42% less.
Perry got 29% more, 56% less.

So -- although I still think he's less likely to get the nomination because he's such an outsider, and the GOP powers that be obviously would prefer Romney -- still the people like Cain. And it's easy to see why: he's so open and genuine, he has pithy one-liners, and he also targets the hot button issues that the conservative base eats up. Plus -- and this is a very big plus -- he has no elective record to have to defend. They also like him because he's an outsider. But winning the Republican primary is a different battlefield than winning the general election. It's appealing to be against things; but to win the general election you've got to show some concrete and workable plan for what you would do. A catchy phrase like his 9-9-9 taxation plan will have to be fleshed out; now, he gets by with the sound-bite and no details.

As political theater, this is really fun to watch. Let's see what they do now that it looks like the White Knight is not going to come. Think "Waiting for Godot."


PS: I didn't even mention the former governor of Alaska. Another question asked in the poll: "Would you like to see Sarah Palin run?" The answer: No 66%, Yes 31%.

You betcha !!!

Breaking story: This could be IT, folks

Hold on to your seats, folks. This could be the tipping point, the big break-through in convincing conservative politicians that climate change is real and that we must do something about it.

A report from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture says that, if two West African countries, Ghana and the Ivory Coast, experience a 2.3 Celsius degree jump in temperature by 2050, the climate won't be suitably cool enough to grow the crop that the farmer's in those countries rely on as their sole crop. Their whole national economy would collapse.

Furthermore, almost half of the world's supply comes from those two countries. This could be devastating.

Oh, yes, of course you want to know what the crop is, don't you?
Cocoa -- from which the world's supply of chocolate is made.

Give up chocolate?

Maybe now those Repubs pandering to the Tea Party will take climate change seriously. I can see the bumper stickers now:

"Rick Perry Wants to Take Away Your Chocolate."

"Vote for Mitt and Kiss Your Hershey's Goodbye."

"Republicans Hate Valentine's Day."

Newspaper headlines:
"Unemployment Soars to 50% in Hershey, PA
Due to Chocolate Factories Closing."

"Obama Wins Pennsylvania by a Landslide."


Monday, October 3, 2011

New troubles for Perry

Add a new possibly damaging factor to Rick Perry's string of flaws that are surfacing as his front-runner status put him under the investigative microscope.

We've already had the amateurish, unprepared debate performances; the questionable kickback money from the drug company that markets the HPV vaccine he mandated; the suspicious insider trading that has made him a millionaire since he first got elected to state office; and the first-hand word from lobbyists that Perry was right when he said he can't be bought for $5,000 -- it takes $100,000 to even get in to talk to him about some deal.

Now we have allegations from the reliable, non-sensational McClatchy news service that he has played fast and loose with Texas' public pension funds and the healthcare fund for Texas teachers.

At the same time he's calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme, those Texas pension funds have a total unfunded liability of $41 billion; and other funds have promised benefits they will never be able to pay under current financing models. And critics say that Perry has not made it a priority to do anything about these problems, despite the prediction that the teachers' healthcare fund will go bankrupt in 2014.

Further, Perry has tried to gain control of the Teachers Retirement Board that sets policy and makes investments. As governor, he makes appointments to the Board; but in addition critics say someone from his office tried to "strong-arm" their decision to make risky investments in projects that Perry wanted to push.

The former chairman of the Texas Pension Review Board called the pension systems "a ticking time bomb. . . . I just don't think you should be making wild bets with other people's money." Perry removed him from office a year before his term was to expire.

So: the Flavor of the Week has flaws -- pretty big ones.

There's just barely time for the GOP to try out one more imaginary White Knight.

"Chris Christie!!, Where are you?"

It's pure political theater, writ large.

Fun to watch.

Embarrassing before the world.

Pathetic that this is the best they have to offer.

Scary that one of them could wind up as our president.


Good news in MA

In just three short weeks since she announced her run for the Senate, Elizabeth Warren has surged to a statistical tie with Scott Brown -- despite the fact that 37% of those polled said they had never heard of her.

Imagine what the poll numbers will be when they start debating and she defends raising taxes on the wealthy with her already-famous line:
“I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever,’” Warren said.

“No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
That's the kind of pushback against the crazies and the know-nothing rhetoric we need.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

HRC milestone

The 15th annual Human Rights Campaign fund-raising dinner in Washington made headlines on two counts this week:

1. For the first time, a group of gay, active duty military officers attended wearing their uniforms. Of course, in prior years, that would have been sufficient evidence to trigger an investigation and discharge under DADT. Now DADT is well-burnt toast.

2. President Obama gave the keynote address. Actually, it's not his first time speaking at an HRC banquet. What was notable about it was that he took the occasion to chastise the Republican presidential candidates for not speaking out against the audience members who booed the gay active-duty soldier who asked a debate question from Iraq via satellite visual hookup.

Ann Coulter, among other right-wingers, has stood up for the audience, saying they weren't booing the soldier but the subject of his question: the repeal of DADT. Maybe so, if you want to give them the benefit of doubt. But it fits with other crowd reactions at other recent debates where the crowds have wildly applauded Rick Perry for all the executions in Texas and shouted "Yeah" when the moderator asked if we should just let someone die who doesn't have insurance and can't afford medical care.

So Obama looks good here -- on both counts. He provided the leadership for the repeal of DADT, with some good help from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Admiral Mullen. He was also lauded at the meeting for his call to overturn DOMA and for the Justice Department decision no longer to defend DOMA in the courts on grounds that it is unconstitutional.