Sunday, December 23, 2007

Broder: Obama Finds His Address

Herr 'Dean' of the DC Press Pundits, David 'Hacky McHackhack' Broder, is a walking catalog of inside the beltway conventional wisdom. He's self-proclaimingly cyncial and hard-bitten, which means that he's living out a stereotyped delusion of the journalist as hero. In this recent piece, however, even he acknoweldges the power of Obama's orotory (albeit with backhand swipes every step of the way): Obama Finds His Address:
"And then, as the shouting becomes almost too loud to bear, he adds the five words that capsulize his whole message and sends the voters scrambling back into their winter coats and streaming out the door: 'Let's go change the world,' Obama says. And it sounds as if he means it.

In every audience I have seen, there is a jolt of pure electric energy at those closing words. Tears stain some cheeks -- and some people look a little thunderstruck."
We'll see if he's right.

Backpost finished on 2009-11-29. Been holding onto this for a while, not sure why.

Obama's Experience

This article gives an example of Obama's experience and why his methodology, and talent, should be valued. This story, from a few days ago on, about Obama's central role in changing Illinois' death penalty rules: "Barack Obama can honestly claim to have made a difference on a matter of life and death."

Briefly put: when Hillary, and now, shamefully, Bill Clinton denigrate Obama's experience, they are in the wrong. Hillary has held 1 elected office - and has been unremarkable in it. Obama has had a few years in legislative work, in a much more difficult arena of state politics (which he achieved without relying solely on his spouse's fame).

Biden Criticizes Princeton

From almost two years ago, a skeleton in Joe Biden's clost, from the The Daily Princetonian: Biden uttered this shameful comment during the Sam Alito hearings:
"I didn't even like Princeton," he said, to laughter from the gallery. "I mean, I really didn't like Princeton. I was an Irish Catholic kid who thought it had not changed like you concluded it had," referring to Alito's earlier statement that Princeton had changed its traditional ways before he enrolled.
Well, he lost my vote. Bigot.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Counter-Predictions for TPM

This is the body of a letter I sent to the TPM regarding their predictions for the Iowa/New Hampshire and beyond: "How We See it":
In general, I believe that your prediction of the potential nominees is on the mark. Two caveats, one for each prediction:

1. Democrats - I don't think you can rule out Obama even if Hillary gets #1 in Iowa and New Hampshire for two reasons:

(a) Obama has a lot of money- that gives him the ability to fight loud for a long time (unlike Edwards in '04 who kept running after it was clear that Kerry had clinched it, but it was largely a futile gesture).

(b) Hillary's negatives are pretty high. I think that Kerry was able to lock up the nom in '04 because most Democrats accepted the expertise of the early primary voters, assuming that since all the non-screaming candidates (e.g. Kerry, Edwards, Clark) were all major unknowns that they felt "if the early voters accepted one of them then, OK, let's just take that one." I heard this from my parents who accepted at face value Kerry's front-running status (and the false-positive crossover appeal of his military record) even though I, as a political junkie, felt that he was the kiss of death.

I don't think there'll be a front-runner repeat of 04 with Hillary because we KNOW that woman very very well. Even if she wins the first three contests (IA, NH, SC), I assume that all that will do is force Edwards to leave the race. Edwards is so far splitting the anti-Hillary vote, and if he drops he'll leave a loud Obama to provide a valid alternative contrast to Hillary. And when the field clears between these two well-funded choices, I think that Obama will get much more popular.

I think a model for Hillary vs. Obama could be 1984's Mondale vs. Hart -- if Mondale had more money, was more hated, and actually had no governing experience and if Hart was smarter, had more substance, and a lot more money. I was only 12 at that election, but in looking at the data I'm impressed at how many states Hart managed to win.

2. Republicans - Huckabee is not going to be easy to eliminate.

To consolidate a blog post I wrote on this, I think that Romney's support is very soft. He is the default candidate because all the other candidates are sick jokes and because Mitt's got looks, money, and clean living. But he's also a laughable phony. What scares me about Huckabee is that even though he has very little money and little staff, he is a very impressive Evangelical poster child and that gives him a built-in power base. Four words: "Passion of the Christ" - that movie made money because of the massive outpouring of Evangelicals who were probably not compelled by Madison Avenue but because thousands of them heard about it in church every Sunday. I think this power-base and free communication network can explain Huck's explosive rise in Iowa and South Carolina and also how he's tied with Giuliani nationally. Add real money and a real staff to Huckabee and I think he'll be a Goldwater on Christ.

While Huck has a dark side (a temper, the gifts in office, his compulsion to cover up and lie) and a dumb side (much of his policy ideas), I would posit that the scandals won't bother Evangelicals. Why? Three more words: "George Dubya Bush." How many scandals did Dubya accrue? His dark side is darker than Huck and his dumb side deeper. But the Evangelicals gave him a pass because (a) he was Born Again, and (b) every time he committed a sin against The Lord or against The Human Race, he'd just accept Jesus again and he'd be as right as rain. And if the Evangelicals accepted that with the Bush, then they'll be even more generous with Huckabee. Because while Bush is reborn, Huck is a freakin' preacher!

For example, Huck's biggest scandal (so far) is freeing Dumond, yet I believe the Evangelicals will just look at it as an act of Christian charity and move on. Seriously. And I don't think the Evangelicals will care that he's got liberal-ish views about spending government money to help the poor because that also fits into the preacher paradigm.

The only way I think Huck is knocked out is if somehow the fervid support he'll get from the Evangelical base is statistically too small to offset the GOP's anti-Evangelical voters. Given the stripping away of almost every group from the GOP over this scorched earth years of Bush-Cheney, I don't think there's enough anti-Evangelicals to stop Huck.
2009 Update: Hey, these predictions held up pretty well. Yay me.

Backpost finished 2009-12-14.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lieberman Endorses McCain

So Lieberman did it, he endorsed McCain for 2008. One can surely wonder how a life-long Democrat, someone who won the VP as a Dem 2 terms ago, could endorse someone from the other side? Well, even if you didn't ask it, my mom did. And here was my answer:

Over the weekend I was hearing rumors that this would happen. I am not entirely surprised... Lieberman is a rare politician who actually takes things personally. McCain stayed loyal to him, they are very good buddies, and close. Don't forget, also that McCain had toyed switching to the Democrats at one point (2002 I think) and was even considering being Kerry's running mate in '04. Even though McCain is crazy conservative on some issues, he isn't on others and same thing with Joe as a liberal.

Alls said and done, McCain probably called in a chip to Lieberman and since Hillary, Dodd, Obama and Edwards all abandoned him in '06, Lieberman felt that he could allow McCain to cash that chip.

Again, the way I see it is that Lieberman - the Independent - is not supporting the party (GOP) for president but the man (McCain). And if McCain wins (which is still unlikely, but, hey, ya never know), Lieberman could very well be his running mate.

Lieberman has angered me with his intransigence on national security and constitutional issues... but considering the way the Democrats threw him under a bus in '06, I can't entirely blame him. Just slightly...

Backpost finished 2009-12-14.

Why do the money-cons hate Huckabee?

An interchange between me and Prof. Kleiman of The Reality Based Community. What makes him classy is that he responds to his emails (unlike TPM or Sullivan):
Dear Dr. Kleiman,

I like the list of theories you give for why the money-cons, and the GOP DC establishment, hate Huckabee. I believe that the class-consciousness, and the Northern Elite snobbery, against Huckabee also informed the deep irrational hatred directed at Huckabee's predecessor: William Jefferson "Bubba" Clinton. Hillary is hated on her own grounds (and I am with you on all those reasons as well), but she's one of the establishment. I said it back during the 90s that "Bubba" was hated by the Press and by the GOP because he was perceived as poor white trash with delusions of grandeur. And the same thing is playing out with Huckabee.
He responded, in part, with this:
I'm sure you're right, but Fred Thompson is also pretty "trashy," and they have no objection to him. Indeed, he's probably their favorite.
Then my re-response:
I assume it's because "Hollywood" Fred Thompson was a Senator and a lobbyist. No matter how much cow-poo was on his boots when he walked into Congress, that stuff disappears pretty quickly. Governers, as you well know, are considered provincial and un-"experienced" when it comes to foreign policy. Some states can probably get away from that image (e.g. anyone from the coasts), but completely land-bound Hillbilly country?

Also, another difference between Thompson and Huckabee is the big cultural difference between Arkansas and Tennessee. I grew up both in upstate New York and in Memphis, Tennessee and TN is far more 'urbane' (especially Memphis) than the surrounding area.
Pic from here. Backpost finished 2009-12-14.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Edwards Stronger Than Is Often Reported

John Edwards is (still) a strong presence in Iowa. It must be remembered that pretty much only reporters and political junkies have been following the candidates closely up until Thanksgiving. After T-giving, and really only for the few weeks before any of the people line up to vote, do the vast majority of voters actually pay attention.

Hence why Hillary's front-runner status was probably just the moonlight echo of her husband's sun. But when people are taking a closer look they see the shrill butcher than we political obsessives have seen all along.

See here one informed Iowan's take on the current state of the Iowa race. Basically: Obama #1, Edwards #2, Hillary #3 and falling.

And the following clip (true, it's from Fox, but its of a focus group of Iowa Democrats), who say that Edwards won the most recent (and last) debate.

If Hillary gets third in Iowa then her only reason for candidacy - electability - will be destroyed. And if Obama comes first then the main fear about him - inelectability - will also disappear.

1964, 1984... 2008?

There are certain elections that are "gimmes." When one candidate, often an incumbent, is so popular and powerful that the other party doesn't have a chance. The most recent examples are LBJ in 1964 and Reagan in 1984. LBJ inherited the mantle of a beloved martyr and Reagan successfully expunged the malaise of the 70s. They were well-nigh unbeatable.

I'd think it's best, in those elections, to play a Goldwater: to nominate an honest and principled ideologue who - because a win isn't expected - can at least paint the party in as positive a light as possible. Of course, the Democrats couldn't manage that in 1984 - instead of nominating Gary Hart*, which would have been a perfect antidote to Reagan - i.e. a young, vigorous new ideas, new new deal, face for the party vs. the antiquated Cold War Codger - the Democrats went for the candidate of the money and the machine: Walter Mondale. It's sad, really, especially if you look at the primary map (found from here)
Yellow is Mondale and Pink is Hart. Hart still would have lost to Reagan, but he would have probably stopped the hemorrhaging of 'Reagan Democrats' because he was the choice of the Mountain West, Florida and California.

But as I said in a previous post, in general the machine-money candidate will beat the populist-maverick. It's what got W the nom' in 2000. And it's what I now predict will happen with the GOP if (when) they pick Romney.

If the GOP choose Romney they'll be pulling a '84 instead of '64. Just as the Democrats should have gone with Hart, the GOP should probably go with Ron Paul (who is as close to Goldwater you can get).

Note About the Gimme

My claim that this is a 'gimme' election is because the GOP is in tatters right now, and rightfully so. The only person who could unite them is Hillary and not just because Republicans hate her more than they hate themselves. It's because she's also hated by independents and Democrats. If the Democrats choose any of the other major leaguers (Edwards, Obama, and even Biden or Dodd... I'm leaving off Richardson because the guy is a buffoon with sneaky hands) then I think the election is in the bag.

Especially if it's Obama. I'm catching a vibe on even the Republican blogs that if Obama is the candidate, then they will be playing only a half-hearted game. They'll be demoralized because Obama has the star quality that makes for a Democratic winner. But they also will have respect for him - I believe - because he'll be a giant slayer. He'll be "The One Guy Who Could Beat a Clinton." The GOP couldn't beat Bill twice and now Hillary twice... and anyone who beats Hillary may get a pass in their book.

One anecdotal (or should I say 'blog-ic-dotal) proof is from Red who linked to the same clip I posted of Barack's Hillary smackdown and said
"Give Barak Obama Credit: He is good."

I will breathe a lot easier if Obama or Edwards gets the nomination.

* Note Hart's famous 'Monkey Business' implosion was in 1987.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Third Clinton Campaign Official to Resign

First, it was an Iowa precinct chair who was caught forwarding emails that allege Obama is a secret Moozlim.

Second, from this Monday, another Iowa campaign worker resigns for, yes, sending out the Moozlim emails: Clinton volunteer asked to resign

And third, today, Bill Shaheen - a co-chair of the Clinton campaign! - is stepping down for comments he made basically alleging that Obama could have been a drum dealer. Or something like that.

Add onto these three self-inflicted wounds the kindergarten comment and today's debate slap-down and you see a candidate that is actually NOT VERY GOOD AT CAMPAIGNING. But it does add more weight to my belief that the problems of the Clinton administration were probably brought on by her. She's really BAD at this, no?

Obama 1, Hillary 0

Short story behind this clip:

Obama was asked by the moderator in today's debate (paraphrased): "You have no foreign policy experience and all your advisers are from the Clinton administration, how do you think that will bring change to Washington."

All the candidates started laughing at the question. Especially Hillary. Who said - amidst cackling - "I wanna hear that!"

At that point, and precisely that point, Obama got a smile on his face and - after waiting for the laughter to die down: "Hillary, I'm looking forward to you advising me as well."


It's perfect Hillary and Obama. She sees her opponent get a question that sounds as if it were written by she herself. And instead of letting him squirm and answer, she has to blurt out an attack line. And because of her attack line, Obama - the smartest person currently running for president - smashes her into the boards. She brought it on herself because she is vicious, petty, and - I gotta say - dumb.

h/t, TPM

GOP: It now looks like Romney

While there may be no real GOP front-runner, it's becoming more of Romney's game now. Giuliani, while a strong candidate because of his 9-11 halo, has some insane skeletons in his closet. The most recent is Shag-Gate (TPM has done great work on this) wherein Rudy spent millions of my tax money to have the police walk his then mistress' dog. While this is run-of-the-mill New York City graft, that doesn't play well outside the cynical world of Nu-yawk. The scandals (and there are now quite a lot) plus his disastrous personal life (which echo each other) plus his liberal policies on abortion, guns, immigrants and Da Gays, may be enough to sink Giuliani for good.

And on Tuesday Romney got a crucial endorsement by National Review. That endorsement, plus his successful speech the other night defending his right to be a religious whackjob, has established him as the candidate of the GOP establishment. Combine that with his money, and with his movie-star looks and persona, and I think he's the guy. Unless he makes some spectacular gaffe, his money and acceptance by the GOP machine politics should get him the nomination.

While I don't discount Huckabee's success in Iowa is impressive, Huck doesn't have the money, the support of local GOP machine politicians, the policy-knowledge, or the staff to make it much farther. Being a media darling is great, being a populist is great, but it's hard to defeat the candidate of The Money and The Machine (note, this is why I still haven't ruled out Hillary... but, like above, her current wounds are all self-inflicted and gaffes can kill anybody).

If it is Romney, then I am worried about who his Veep pick would be. TNR has said a few times now that the rest of the candidtaes hate him and won't work with him. Will that matter if he offers them the VP slot?

I believe Romney will choose a rock-ribbed conservative as his running mate; I believe it will be Rick Santorum. By doing that, even when Romney flops over to the center-left in general election (which he is guaranteed to do), he can thus pander his true centist bona-fides while winking at the cultural conservatives with Santorum.

Just Not That One

Mormons have some pretty freaky religious ideas. It's possible that theology involves - and I'm not making this up - space aliens and that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers, or that each person has the chance to be a god. These beliefs make Mormonism to be both freaky and idolatrous. Yet, because I am a Democrat, I don't care. I don't care if the president - or any elected official - is of one religion or no religion. Note, since Romney is a Republican and since Bush-Rove ensured that the GOP is dominated by the Christian Right, religion has become a litmus test for the GOP.

But, because I'm an equal-opportunity cynic, I must point out that while Democrats don't have a religious litmus test, we seem to have tests based on ethnicity. A black candidate - or a woman, or Latino - achieves a special protected status. Just as George W. Bush is venerated by the GOP because he's a born-again-Christian, Hillary Clinton and Jesse Jackson are accepted as Democratic standard bearers because of what they look like, and only because of what they look like.

I'm not proud of these litmus tests, on either side, but (as I said in the earlier post), I prefer the "Minority Cred" litmus test over "Soldier of Christ" litmus test.

But, as it's still early in the primary season, I'm glad I still have a choice. And both parties can play this game: it's called "Just Not That One." It goes like this: "I find nothing wrong with nominating/electing a [fill in the blank], but just not that one."

Examples: I have no problem with electing a woman president, just not that one (Hillary). I have no problem with elected a Mormon, just not that one (Romney).

The good thing about this game is that when we actually find a decent candidate who exemplifies the glorified group, then the support can be extra hearty. This, I believe, will be the strong wind in Obama's sails.

I now believe that a lot of Americans, at least 60%, would be happy to have a Black president. Happy. Even more happy with a Black president than a woman president, but there's that too. I think the majority of Americans - after being inured to strong prejudice over the past decades through the positive exposure to black Sports and Entertainment stars.

And now that we have a candidate who's not only talented, but extremely way-very-to-the-top talented, I think that people are ready to vote for a black president. For years, even liberals, could say "I have nothing wrong with a black president, just not that one (Jesse Jackson or, heaven help us, Al Sharpton). Even a run-of-the-mill hack politician wouldn't be able to rise over the 'not that one' hump. A black or woman candidate of the below average ability of Gore or Kerry, wouldn't get the votes.

And this brings us back to Hillary. Hillary is as talented as Gore or Kerry. But that's not enough to rise above 'not that one.' I don't need to vote for her just because she's a woman because, like Kerry, she sucks. I'll happily vote for a woman president... just not that one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Video of the Day: Ask a Ninja

Stumbled across this guy from I don't know where - he's so good: "Ask a Ninja"

Backpost finished 2009-12-20.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The First Black President

The Obama-Clinton battle is heating up and the Clinton's allies seem to be leading the Rovian-counterintuition-assault against Obama's 'blackness.' Andrew Young, UN Secretary under HGM Carter, claimed that Bill Clinton has more 'black' cred than Obama(from NPR):

Mr. YOUNG: Bill is every bit as black as Barack.
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. YOUNG: He's probably gone with more black women than Barack.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Now besides the fact that this is disgusting (especially about the women... do you really want to bring that up, ugh), it is also crazy as hell that the Clintons and their allies want to abuse their popularity in the black community this way. Please, Bill, don't do this. You were called 'black' because you were attacked with blind hatred - i.e. bigotry. And the black community understood bigotry. But don't confuse your 'honorary' status with the real thing.

Backpost finished 2009-11-29. Pic from here.

Herb Alpert Appreciation

I didn't know it at the time, but I was positively influenced by the music of Herb Alpert at an impressionable age. One of my favorite films growing up was the deeply psychedelic and incoherent James Bond quasi-spoof Casino Royale (1967). I taped Bond movies off CBS/ABC back in the day and I had no idea that Casino Royale wasn't supposed to be canonical. And it blew my mind. The last quarter of the movie - from the escape from Dr. Noah to the end credits - is one of my favorite movie experiences of all time.

And Herb Albert's music is, pardon the pun, instrumental my experience. His other songs are fun too (see below). I bought the CR soundtrack - yet the best songs aren't on there! I had to make them myself by distilling my DVD into mp3s.

Anyway, when searching online I found this for other fans: Herb Alpert instrumental collection in full length music wavs.

And, here's Homer Simpson's version of Herb's Spanish Flea. Hee Hee.

Backpost finished on 2009-11-26. Pic is the cover of the soundtrack.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Torture Update

So the Times reports that the Canadian government officially believes that the United States tortures!:
Late last month, a federal judge in Canada ruled that the United States had violated international conventions on torture and the rights of refugees.
This is a matter of international law! How long will the US Press use the Cheney-Orwellian language to obscure the fact - clearly known by every other country but ours - that we torture! This is despicable.

Pic is the well-known Abu Ghraib torture still. Backpost finished on 2009-11-26.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Good New Yorker Funnyness

Great humor piece in this week's New Yorker by some dude named 'Yoni Brenner'. Note the gratuitous use of monkeys.

The author is probably this guy, because he can write this about himself:
When I first decided to enter the priesthood, believe me, I lot of people told me I couldn't do it. "You're too young," they said, "You're Jewish," they jeered, "You're a woman!" they cried. And then they would say, "Oh, sorry," and, "You were far away, we couldn't tell," and, "You've got to admit, you've got a really high voice." But naysayers be damned, I did it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


The problem is not that 'electability' is hard to determine. It's that the primary voters suck at it.

John Kerry was not electable, but people I know (including family members, I'm sorry to say) were convinced that while Kerry was horrible, he'd be 'electable' because he was acceptable to Independents. The fact is that Kerry - as I've said before - was a boring, effete, waffling, liberal from Massachusetts with actually little going for him besides heroism expressed 40 years earlier. If actual independents would have been asked in early 2004 if they would elect someone boring, callow and shallow, they would have said "NO"

Yet, instead of Bill Clinton in 92 & 96, the Democrats nominate gawky, irritating nerds. Here's the key to electablity, something I wrote a while ago (from my old blog, Sept 15 2004):
A conclusion I make from this [a collection of polls], as a die-hard Democrat, is that my fellow party-voters are a collection of fumbling chuckleheads. Back in the primaries they voted not for the candidate they wanted, but for somebody they thought “Swing Voters” would vote for. In general, as an anthropologist, I am reluctant to call a group of people, a culture, idiotic. Generally, a mass of people do something that is in their best interest. Not in this case.

I said it back then, too, Kerry is a poor candidate. He has the charisma of untanned leather. He makes Gore look like P Diddy. He also has gaping gaps in his trained moral reasoning. How could he support the Iraq war? I’m not talking about flippy-flops, and despite my [initial] support for the war (see my post on 9/11/03 for nuances) – if Kerry were any fashion of real deal he would have voted against the war. The comparisons to Vietnam are clear for a sidelines observer, for someone who ostensibly based his youth on ‘Nam-opposition, he should have been the first to vote against. He didn’t. He’s a weenie.

The Democrats primaried Kerry because of what they thought someone else would want. This is stupid because of a countervailing psychological rule: when in doubt choose real over potential. Put simply, the Democrats liked Edwards, but thought a Swinger will like Kerry better. Except that Edwards had inherent and established value while Kerry had potential value. Is it any surprise that people still like Edwards and nobody – even Democrats – like Kerry?

If I had a chance to talk to the Democratic leadership (alert me next time a pig flies) I’d tell ‘em straight out – the only way a Democrat wins is with charisma. That is it. Yet the party keeps nominating these policy robots (Stevenson, Humphrey, McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry) as if the power of ideas will outweigh the natural human desire to look up to a leader.

Successful Democrats? All charismatic bastards. JFK, Clinton, LBJ, even Truman. A Republican doesn’t need charisma in America, despite the majority of the country’s population being democrats, the state-electoral college thang makes the states significant, and there are more Republican states. The GOP can run moral reprobates (Nixon, Bush II) and spineless crackers (Bush I) and win as long as the opposition is a standard Democrat weenie.

Both parties know these heuristics:
Evil GOP vs. Robot Dem, GOP wins
Weenie GOP vs. Robot Dem, GOP wins
Charisma, no matter whom, always wins.

1960: JFK v. Nixon – Charisma/evil
1964: LBJ v. Goldwater – Charisma
1968: Humphrey v. Nixon – evil/robot
1972: McGovern v. Nixon – evil/robot
1976: Carter v. Ford – the only exception which is manifest evil is hard to win
1980: Carter v. Reagan – doofus/Charisma
1984: Mondale v. Reagan – Charisma
1988: Dukakis v. Bush – possibly the worst election in my lifetime; gads what a waste
1992: Clinton v. Bush v. Alf – Charisma
1996: Clinton v. Dole v. Alf – Charisma
2000: Gore v. Bush v. Nader – don’t get me started on the election results

If the Democrats had only nominated any one of the candidates with charisma – this would have been no contest. E.g. if the ticket were flipped and you had Edwards as the candidate with Clark, Dean, or even Kerry as VP, then we'd be having red-terror alerts every day of the summer just for Bush to barely catch sight of the donkey's rear.
Back in 2004, I said that Kerry was annoying - just as annoying as Mondale, Dukakis, and Gore. And now we got the howler monkey in a pantsuit: Hillary.

Backpost finished 4/15/08, 1:57 PM. Why didn't I publish this at the time? The whole thing was written and just sitting there.

Smart Guy Alert

This blog is very good: Jay Cost at Real Clear Politics' Horserace Blog. And by 'good' I mean 'he thinks like I do'

The above link is an example of what I like. His main point in that post is that despite the blog's unfortunate title, the primaries are not a horse-race to the general voter. The voters only start paying attention very close to the actual election. The pundits and political junkies (like me) think that voters are paying attention like we do. Note, they don't.

What this means, in short, is that early polls are not worth much. Candidates - like Obama and Giuliani - who wait for the month before Iowa/New Hampshire to start spending mucho dinero and to levy their best attacks are being very smart.

He also gives some good info about the effects of Negative Campaigning (something I've wondered about for a while).

From Overkill to Meltdown

At least I hope so; I hope Hillary's oozing bile is melting her candidacy apart from the inside. Her attacks on Obama have gone from "too-much" to "totally nuts."

I. Bad Mud

The first - and I'm not making this up - is accusing Obama of having his own secret life-long plot to become president. How does Hillary know this? Well, as her campaign pointed out in a long, resourced, press release, they have proof that Obama has been planning to president ever since kindergarten.

Again, I can understand you think that I'm making that up. It sounds like a joke. After two days of the press hammering Clinton, her lead campaign troglodyte, Mark Penn, tried to claim it was a joke. It ain't. Compare the first 'proof' of the press release to the last:

Twice in One Day: Senator Obama Tries Rewriting History, Again Claims He Hasn't Been Planning White House Run

At an event in Boston this evening, Senator Obama claimed for the second time today that he is "not running to fulfill some long held plans" to be elected President, contradicting statements his friends, family, staff and teachers have all made about him.


Immediately after joining the Senate, Senator Obama started planning run for President. "'The first order of business for Senator Obama's team was charting a course for his first two years in the Senate. The game plan was to send Senator Obama into the 2007-2008 election cycle in the strongest form possible'...The final act of the plan was turning up the talk about a potential Presidential bid, which was greatly aided by his positive press and suggestions by pundits that he run for President." [U.S. News and World Report, 6/19/07 ]

In kindergarten, Senator Obama wrote an essay titled 'I Want to Become President.' "Iis Darmawan, 63, Senator Obama's kindergarten teacher, remembers him as an exceptionally tall and curly haired child who quickly picked up the local language and had sharp math skills. He wrote an essay titled, 'I Want To Become President,' the teacher said." [AP, 1/25/07 ]
The first paragraph is opposition research; it's a bad attack, and one I'd expect from any bush-league outfit, but it fits the profile. The last paragraph follows the same format but it's completely bats**t crazy.

II. Really Bad Mud.

The second piece of Hillary meltdown overkill came out this afternoon. A bit of context first. The Washington Post has been under fire by the majority of the non-Fox news world for a story that ran last Friday on the front page that discussed the rumors of Obama being Muslim. The story topic ain't the problem... it's that the long news piece didn't actually say the magic words, that the rumors are completely false. It's a big issue, and others have been savaging the Post (including the heilige Tom Toles), so you can find out about that elsewhere.

Anyway, the false rumors about Obama have been spread by anonymous emails, much like the general mud and slime of electioneering (cf. push-polling, robo-calling, firing US Attorneys)

So, with that context, we can understand the crazy news today that an Iowa county chair for Hillary has been caught sending some of these "Obama is a Muslim" emails.

The Hillary campaign has dismissed the woman. The official statement is:
"There is no place in our campaign, or any campaign, for this kind of politics. A volunteer county coordinator made the mistake of forwarding an outrageous and offensive chain e-mail. This was wholly unauthorized and we were totally unaware of it. Let me be clear: No one should be engaging in this. We are asking this volunteer county coordinator to step down and are making it clear to every person involved in our campaign that this will not be tolerated."
Note that they describe her disgusting behavior as a 'mistake,' and don't bother explaining that the rumor is false.

For those who believe that this was a mistake by the Hillary campaign, I have a great bridge to sell you.

And we've got 4 more weeks. Obama is leading in Iowa now and is climbing in New Hampshire. And Hillary may already be having her "Dean Scream" moment except that the scream is lasting for weeks.

P.S. The cartoon above ran today on the front page of the Des Moines Register

A Note About Drinking

I should emphasize that despite my celebration of "Repeal Day" (see below), I am still not a fan of public drinking. The TNR story I linked to describes this as the 'officially' reccommended celebratory practices:
There are no outfits to buy, costumes to rent, rivers to dye green. Simply celebrate the day by stopping by your local bar, tavern, saloon, winery, distillery, or brewhouse and having a drink. Pick up a six-pack on your way home from work. Split a bottle of wine with a loved one. Buy a shot for a stranger. Just do it because you can.
Because I am a religious Hebrew, I need to ask: why do people go to bars? I mean, I understand going to pubs... because in the UK those were often the 'public house' meeting place when the whole neighborhood would gather. A type of goyishe 'beit-knesset,' as it were.

The need for fellowship I understand and pubs served beer and food and had a big crackling fire, good furniture, and was generally a place to build a community.

But that doesn't seem to be what a bar is. I've been to only a few and they seem to be places where you drink alcohol, smoke, play loud music, troll for romantic hookups and/or throw darts at a porous circle hung on a wall.

The social aspects seem to be much lowered in modern America, and the emphasis is on the booze. So I ask: why do you go to a bar to drink alcohol when it's cheaper to buy a bottle of booze and drink at home?

That question will tell you a lot about what I know (and don't know) about what other people consider to be fun.

Repeal Day

Today, as I was informed by TNR, is "Repeal Day" - the anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment - repealing Prohibition.

I do like being reminded that this country, based on freedom and liberty for all, forbade the sale and transport of alcohol. It's important to remember that whenever we talk about our "freedoms" and about the separation of church and state, that in 1919 a bunch of religious zanies convinced enough other crazies in 36 states to ban alcohol. So when you think "It Can't Happen Here" - referring to anything our current crop of crazies want, from banning abortion, or science, or other religions - remember prohibition.

To further emphasize that point: while it was the 18th Amendment that prohibited alcohol, it was the 21st Amendment that we celebrate today. What were the 2 Amendments that came between? Well, the 19th gave women the vote (1920) and the 20th changed the date of assumption of Federal office from March to January (1933).

The 20th makes sense when you realize that Hoover (who will soon be called the "20th Century version of George W. Bush") who was roundly kicked out of office in 1932, was still able to mess the country over for 5 more months. When Jan 21 2009 rolls around we will thank the 20th Amendment with almost the same fervor that it inspired back in '33. [Fun fact: the GOP renominated Hoover to run in 1932; those kidders.]

But it's the 19th that hammers home the point about prohibition. That we're such a free country that we thought of restricting individual freedom even before we allowed 50% of the country to even vote! Yes, America is truly the land of the Free... but when do we say the freedom actually started?!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dave For President

The Knight-Ridder folks (the best newspaper chain around, even though they changed their name to the hard to remember and pronounce McClatchy) are hosting a Q&A forum with perennial Presidential candidate Dave "Dave Barry" Barry.

An example:
"Q - Dave, if you were both President of the United States and a turkey, would you pardon yourself for Thanksgiving?
- Butterball Bill, Chaska, Minnesota 11/21/07

A - Yes. Also, when congress brought me bills to sign into law, I would poop on them, and people would say to Congress, 'What did you expect? He's a turkey!'
- Dave Barry 11/22/07"
And you can ask Dave whatever you want. I'm thinking of a few right now.

Hillary's Overkill

Something that I've remarked before, that Hillary's counter-attacks on her enemies have been "disproportionate" (to use a fun Lebanon loaded term). When Edwards, Obama, Dodd et al attack one of her policies, she (or her Campaign Team) launches into an over-the-top retaliation. E.g. Edwards says she's not answering a yes/no question with either a yes or a no and she calls him a mud-slinging Republican wannabe.

Well, it appears that the overkill is part of her style; it explains many of the failures of the Clinton Admin; and while over-aggression may work for the GOP, it's not good for Democrats.

A narrative about Hillary's overkill - and what we should expect to see in the next 4 weeks before Iowa's caucus, is her from CQ Politics.

{2009 Update: Pic of Marvel's Overkill, from here.}

Sunday, December 02, 2007


There are people who believe that the Bush Administration hasn't consciously created and enforced a policy of torture. These people are either (a) seriously not paying attention (about 80-90% of the US population), (b) are credulous folk who believe the nice George when he says "[Read my lips] We do not torture," (c) the rest are Republican meat-heads who will echo whatever Bush/Rush/Headvoices tell them to believe.

There are people who do believe it's now American policy to torture. These people are either (a) Michael Moore types who believe that Bush regularly rapes kittens and purposely eats chili so he can use the Constitution as a Ty-D-Bowl wipe; (b) hardline Republicans who dearly hope we are torturing people because what's the point of being powerful if you don't boot people in the head? And then there's (c) people who read the papers/internet.

When my children ask in 10-15 years, "Daddy, what did you do when our government turned criminal?" I'll need a good story to tell them. I spoke out about the issue from the pulpit, I've written to my representatives. But, sadly, until it becomes a proven fact, I can't do much more. Before the Press and Congress confirm the facts, anyone who claims we torture has only circumstantial evidence.

However, there's some more recent evidence that not only do we torture, but that it's international knowledge. Other countries' governments know we torture, but Congress is still in the dark. [Barfing sound.]

Scott Horton, from Harpers, on December 1, cites two disturbing examples of how this plays out internationally:
Is America a nation that tortures? The question is being asked all around the world. It’s not a matter of idle speculation. Under international treaties, which many nations, not being liberated by the law-what-law?mantra of the Neocons, treat very seriously, there are specific prohibitions about cooperation with nations which torture. In particular, there is article 3 of the Convention Against Torture, which forbids any state party to return a prisoner to a nation where he is likely to be tortured.

In 2006, I had an off-the-record discussion with the chief law enforcement officer of one of America’s most important allies. Having read the torture memoranda out of the Justice Department, and having seen the reports issued by the Department of the Army dealing with abuses in Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantánamo, I asked, is your Government in a position to engage in prisoner exchanges with the Americans or to allow American interrogators unfettered access to persons in your Government’s custody? He responded in a manner that showed the question had been studied carefully. “I can assure you that we take our obligations under article 3 very seriously. We will not speak publicly about this, but of course we have terminated cooperation with the United States in ways that would violate article 3. And of course we have reached the only possible conclusion, which is that the United States has embraced torture as a matter of formal policy.” This is a nation which continues to be one of our dwindling number of allies, but it faces increasingly steep challenges in cooperating while it complies with the requirements of law.

And this judgment is a very broad one—now shared almost universally by America’s allies. We don’t have to consider what the enemies think.

More evidence of this phenomenon in a very important decision handed down on Thursday by Canada’s Federal Court. Professor Jaya Ramji-Nogales, who’s been patiently tracking the matter, furnishes a report:

Yesterday, the Canadian Federal Court issued an opinion in the case Canadian Council for Refugees, Canadian Council of Churches, Amnesty International, and John Doe v. Her Majesty The Queen. This case challenges the “Safe Third Country Agreement” between Canada and the United States that came into force in December 2004. This agreement provides that, with limited exceptions, individuals who first enter either Canada or the United States and then attempt to cross a land border into the other country in order to lodge an asylum claim must be returned to claim asylum in the first country they entered. In assessing the constitutionality of the agreement, the Canadian Court found that the United States does not comply adequately with Article 33 of the UN Refugee Convention, which prohibits return to persecution, or Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture, which prohibits return to torture — specifically naming the Maher Arar case as an example of the United States’ failure to protect.

As one of the experts who described the ways in which U.S. asylum law (in particular, the one-year filing deadline) violates international law, I am proud to note that the court found “the Applicant’s experts to be more credible, both in terms of their expertise and the sufficiency, directness and logic of their reports” and “more objective and dispassionate in their analysis and report” than the government’s experts. Of particular note, the Court found that “it would be unreasonable to conclude that the one-year bar, as it is applied in the U.S., is consistent with the Convention Against Torture and the Refugee Convention” and that this bar “has a disproportionate impact on gender and sexual orientation claims” for asylum. The Court also found that women making asylum claims based on domestic violence are not sufficiently protected under U.S. law. The long decision is well worth a read, and while it bodes well for asylum seekers in Canada (assuming that the judge’s final order, after further submissions, follows this opinion, and that the decision survives appeal), it reads as a damning critique of the treatment of those seeking protection in the United States.

That’s the long version. Here’s the short version: “We do not torture?” That claim has been formally reviewed by a court and found to be a lie.
Just to review: according to two close allies, Canada and an as yet unnamed country, have legally considered our country to be one that tortures. Is that proof enough?

The ticking sound you hear is the silence from Congress. Grrr.

{2009 Update: First pic from here, second from here.}

Friday, November 30, 2007

Those Wacky Sudanis

As you've probably read today (e.g. this NYTimes story) the government of Sudan has convicted British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons of Crimes Against Islam for allowing her 7 year old students name a teddy bear Mohammad (which, according to the Wiki, was chosen because its the name of a boy in the class). The punishment for Gibbons could have been death or whipping, instead she got 2 weeks in jail and deportation.

Today, hundreds of Sudanese protesters called for Gibbons' execution.

Now, I won't take the time to explain why this situation is disgusting. It does underscore just how dangerous it is to be a first grade teacher. Parent teacher conferences with radical Islamicists must be tense. I can imagine that there's heavy grade inflation.

But the real issue is that the people of Sudan are asking their government to execute this woman for her crimes against Mohammad. Because we all know he needs all the help he can get. However, this is also the same government that's in part responsible for the genocide in Darfur.

As the State department, uh, states:
The Sudanese government’s disastrous decision to arm, direct, and pay Northern Arab tribes, now called the Janjaweed, as their proxies in the war against Darfur’s rebels led to genocide and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and the destruction of their villages and livelihoods
I just find that you need to have your priorities *seriously* out of whack when you consider a crime against a Teddy Bear to be of graver concern than ethnic cleansing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Great Line from Balloon Juice

Baloon Juice by John Cole is a great daily read. Cole was until recently a Republican, but the horrible malfeasance and icompitence of the Bush adminstration and the compicity of the GOP establishment has driven him away from the party. He's what we now call an indipendent which really means "former-Republican who can't recognize his/her party, but can't bear being formally aligned with the party of Ted Kennedy."

His anger at the GOP is even more vicious than mine (proof: his entire blog). Here's what he said at the beginning of last night's GOP debate:
Like a Cowboys/Browns Superbowl, I am rooting for injuries.
I forgot to add that he's a Steelers fan. Heh heh.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Peace in the Middle East?

I found this note I wrote to myself on Sunday, February 19, 2006 4:45 PM

Do you think there will ever be peace in the Middle East?



Because of every reason why we have war in the first place.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Billy Connolly Quotes

I just saw a well-recommended movie, The Boondock Saints (review anon, except to say [spoiler] that only an American director would cast a Scot as the father of two Irishmen) and it features a hiterto unknown (to me) comedian, Billy Connolly. Why he's significant for the movie is not only because he plays a crucial character but because the irresolute director decided to have him voice the entire commentary. Which is ludicrous on one side because he has maybe 10 minutes of screen time and he's a freakin' actor!

On the plus side, Connolly has a *great* Scottish accent and is a pleasure to listen to. And he appears to be funny, at least according to the IMDB quote page:
"In Scotland, there is no such thing as bad weather - only the wrong clothes."

"Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares?... He's a mile away and you've got his shoes!"
{Backpost: the bulk of the message was here already, it was updated on Feb 23, 2009; pic from google-images, and the recommendation webpage needs further elaboration.}

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kinsley Agrees With Me

A very good op-ed in the Post by Michael Kinsley, about experience, life experience, Obama and Hillary. I'd quote bits, but really the whole thing is gold.

Kinsley is an odd duck; I find that he's either wholly right or wholly wrong. But people like that are valuable to me because it's easy to tell when it's the one or the other.

He is now supporting Obama. I'm still with Edwards, mainly because the model Edwards represents is the 1940s-60s Democrat (economic populist, out to help the little guy, pro-Labor, culturally moderate and a foreign policy hawk). I'd choose Obama over Hillary in a heartbeat but I'm still worried that Obama's attitude of "Change the System" and "I'm Smart, Reverent and Thrifty so I'll Be a Good President" sounds way too much like the dreaded Carter campaign of 1975.

But, still, ANYBODY BUT HILLARY. Please, please, please.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fun: The Bugle

The Bugle, is the 'audio newspaper for a visual world' by John Oliver & Andy Zalzman. Oliver is a senior correspondent on the Daily Show and, as the Bugle proves, a gifted comedian on his own. Zalzman is funny too, but in a standard 'all British people can be funny' type of way.

My favorite show so far is episode 10, but I have a lot of back issues to listen to.

Backpost finished 4/12/08, 8:44 PM, I had just the link, which would have been more useful when I originally logged it; sorry.

Monday, November 19, 2007

I Finally Figured Out What Hillary's Experience Is

It's not in leadership - of which she has none - but experience in CAMPAIGNing.

That's the lesson from the recent dustup. She's blaming Obama for being inexperienced, even though he's been in elected office longer than she has. It's a code not only for "my husband" but also "I can campaign better than anybody." And, note, by campaign I mean "sling mud and stomp on the faces and necks of voters til they barf all the way to the voting booth."

A lot of the verve for this desire in Democrats to have an "experienced" campaigner is to defend against the Swift Boat attacks that supposedly felled Kerry. Except why are we ignoring the fact that Kerry was a HORRIBLE candidate?!

More stories about the above (Ambinder, Digby).

Watson and race

James Watson, the larcenous claimant to the discovery of DNA is also a racist and eugenicist. How great.

See this recent UK Times story for some charming racism:
... [Watson] is "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really", and I know that this "hot potato" is going to be difficult to address.
I've spent many years showing how hard-science cannot teach morality - it's not in its possible ends nor means. Watson, unwittingly, helps me in that goal.

h/t Sullivan and Slate. Pic from here. Backpost finished 2009-11-26.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Idaho in 2002

In 2002, a congregant of mine when I was in NY told me that his father was running for the US Senate. In Idaho. As a Democrat. He all were sympathetic at the quixotic quest, but were supportive nonetheless. Now, when I'm looking at the open and (possibly) vulnerable GOP Senate seats, I see on the CQPolitics page for Idaho that in 2002 my friend's father was running against... Larry Craig.


Bush/GOP Party Building Legacy

An excellent article from Sabato's Crystal Ball, with charts, numbers, data. Yum.

Upshot? From 2000-2004 it looked like "Bush" (aka Rove) was on his way to building a GOP majority akin to FDR's Democratic majority way back when.

But from 2004-6 all the trends reversed to below the levels they were at in 2000!

{2009 pic from here.}

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Writers Strike

Naturally, as a Democrat, I support the writers in their labor dispute. Also, because they're the guys who bring me the Funny every day on the Daily Show. This Youtube clip, written and acted by the Daily Show writers, shows just how logical their stance is. And my friend who's a TDS writer is mocked...

[h/t - Sullivan]

Is Ron Paul an Anti-Semite?

Rep. Ron Paul has been accused so it needs to be cleared up. (Some accusations: from John Podhoretz at Commentary, some guy at the NY Sun, and another random guy at the right-wing Pajamas Media).

Most of the accusers are neo-con wannabes who assume that anyone against the Iraq War (or their desired Iran War) are against Israel and thus anti-Semitic. Note, these wannabes also assume that when someone criticizes any "neo-con" or even uses the term then they are anti-Semitic. For the record, when the neo-cons start keeping Shabbas, then I'll listen to them about what is Jewish.

The two main arguments that he's an anti-Semite are that (1) racist and quasi-Antisemitic comments were made in a newsletter under his name, and (2) he has voted against American aid to Israel.

According to this July 2007 NYTimes story both accusations can be explained away via Paul's inveterate idiosyncrasies:
In the 1996 general election, Paul’s Democratic opponent Lefty Morris held a press conference to air several shocking quotes from a newsletter that Paul published during his decade away from Washington. Passages described the black male population of Washington as “semi-criminal or entirely criminal” and stated that “by far the most powerful lobby in Washington of the bad sort is the Israeli government.” Morris noted that a Canadian neo-Nazi Web site had listed Paul’s newsletter as a laudably “racialist” publication.

Paul survived these revelations. He later explained that he had not written the passages himself — quite believably, since the style diverges widely from his own. But his response to the accusations was not transparent. When Morris called on him to release the rest of his newsletters, he would not. He remains touchy about it. “Even the fact that you’re asking this question infers, ‘Oh, you’re an anti-Semite,’ ” he told me in June. Actually, it doesn’t. Paul was in Congress when Israel bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant in 1981 and — unlike the United Nations and the Reagan administration — defended its right to do so. He says Saudi Arabia has an influence on Washington equal to Israel’s. His votes against support for Israel follow quite naturally from his opposition to all foreign aid. There is no sign that they reflect any special animus against the Jewish state.
As far as I can tell, Paul is ideologically simplistic but his backing of Israel's right to defend itself is the most important aspect of his practical philosophy. I believe that he didn't say the racist stuff because many people have come forward and 'testified' that he doesn't talk like that. His support for Israel is limited by his even greater support for Libertarian Ayn-Randism.

His biggest problem as it relates to 21st Century Identity Politics is that his libertarianism is quite attractive to fringe groups, wackos, neo-Nazis, and the like. The fact that someone ghost wrote racist comments under his name is proof of this... that Paul attracts, and seems to hire, Klan type wackos who think he holds their views. Note, I don't think he does. But can he be held accountable for being passive about the wackos he attracts?

Well, the GOP has those same Klan wackos as part of their voting bloc (the whole immigrant bashing path demonstrates this). The GOP does more than Paul does in courting those people. Paul seems passive about the wackos; he doesn't pander to them like the GOP has done with the "southern strategy" racism and Tancredo anti-immigration-ism. Now *that* stuff is racist.

I'd say that Paul is too small time to be held accountable for the wackos he attracts but if he starts getting into a national office, he needs to be explicit in his anti-anti-Semitism and anti-racism.

And, note to the Republicans crying "anti-Semite" about Ron Paul: (1) clean your own house, (2) I thought you didn't like identity politics?, (3) you guys say vicious things about Muslims and anyone who makes unsubstantiated blanket statements about an ethnicity should be under suspicion for racism, so your claims of anti-Semitism are disingenuous (a.k.a. you're a bunch of slimeball liars).

{2009 Update: Ron Paul as Che T-Shirt pic from here.}

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Great Ike Quote

From Scott Horton's must-read Harper's blog, a quote from Pres. Eisenhower about military spending:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?

–Dwight David Eisenhower, “The Chance for Peace,” speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Apr. 16, 1953.
Ike is considered a moderate Republican although I put him more in the Bloomberg school of the GOP - i.e. a Republican because that would get him the best shot at the office he wanted, not because he was ideologically committed to the party.

Does Edwards Hate Hillary?

I can imagine he does. Why? For ideological and personal reasons:

  1. He is against the politicians who are captives of the big corporations and their lobbies. What he did professionally as a trial lawyer was go after pharmaceutical companies, and other soulless little-people-crushers... and these are the people who give Hillary money. In fact, while it may have been a fatal error, his decision to go for public funding was to demonstrate you could run for president while not being in the Lobbyists' pockets.

  2. Hillary is a bad and constant liar. Edwards seems to be a true goody-two-shoes and he's against her style of politics.

  1. She's a mean person who has a good chance to lose in the general election. What's to like?

  2. She claims to be a feminist and a representative of all that's best in the roaring modern woman when she is clearly an anti-feminist figure. Edwards resents that (his wife talks about this).

  3. And now I find that there's bad blood in the past. See this story from a 2003 Newsweek: "When she wanted prime time [on CSPAN] -- and lots of it -- to explain in a lengthy floor speech why she was backing Bush on Iraq, [Hillary] Clinton asked [Senator] Byrd to give her a chunk of his time. He happily agreed. When the hard-charging and Hollywood-handsome Sen. John Edwards rushed to the floor at the last minute and asked to speak, Democratic leaders had no time left to give him. Clinton couldn't restrain a triumphant grin at the plight of a clear rival--in fact, one who is seeking the 2004 nomination. She spoke to him in a near shout--loud enough for the galleries to hear. "Just stand there and look pretty, John," she said. He smiled wanly, and rushed from the chamber." (Emphasis mine)
"Just stand there and look pretty, John"?! Even if I wasn't supporting the man, I'd be angry at that idiocy. She needs taking down (and she's dropping more now and just wait until tomorrow night's debate!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dummies Update

OK. Here is the worst title of them all:

Depression for Dummies.

It'd be funny except I've known a few people who've attempted suicide in my time as a professional...

For Dummies

I really can't stand the title conceit for the "_ for Dummies" book. I guess it was cute for the first 15 minutes, and maybe it still helps give people a good shot of modesty. But, yeah, really? It's just insulting. And there have been some good authors who write these books and yet who can read a book that says "Judaism for Dummies/Complete Idiots."

An example of the absurdity of the Dummies books is this one: "Endometriosis For Dummies" Let's be serious here: how many people are not, uh, "dummies" when it comes to this topic? I have no idea what it is, and I'll be damned if I'll let an arrogant yellow book call me stupid.

Update: It can also lead to some VERY insulting titles, like this here "Alzheimer's for Dummies" or "Baby Names for Dummies" (e.g. my favorite? Moron P. Mouthbreather III) or its followup "Infertility for Dummies" (doesn't that just break the ice for a crushing emotional burden? "Here ya go dummies... kinda glad you can't breed!")

About Time! Beggars Banned from Kotel Plaza

According to the Jerusalem Post ("Praying, yes - begging, no", the Jerusalem police are finally cracking down on this odious practice:
Praying, yes - but begging, no.

That's the state's decision after years of mounting complaints of aggressive - and often violent - behavior by scores of beggars at the Western Wall.

The long-delayed decision to enforce the ruling starting Thursday was taken after groups of beggars disregarded warnings from Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch over the last year not to harass visitors.

A year and a half ago, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz instructed Rabinovitch and police to act against the beggars in accordance with the law. The haredi rabbi first tried to persuade the charity-seekers to change their violent ways, assuring them that if they asked for money in a respectful fashion he would not distance them from the holy site.

His pleas fell on deaf ears, and organized groups of beggars continued to come from the central region and violently harass visitors.

"They really went overboard and became brutal," Rabinovitch said, adding that he had received thousands of complaints from visitors, some of whom were even deceived into paying admission to enter the site. "It pains me that we have come to this."

Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said police were helping to remove violent beggars. But many of the panhandlers vowed not to leave.

For years, it has been almost impossible to reach the Western Wall without being accosted by a platoon of beggars rattling change or dangling ribbons for sale.

Visitors have been physically assaulted for giving "too little," while a donation - especially a sizable one - to one beggar often results in a swarm of others eager to get their share.

On Thursday, the beggars had been distanced from the Wall itself, but were still stopping visitors in the adjacent plaza, with their calls for a dollar or a euro in exchange for a red ribbon or a skullcap.

The Jerusalem Municipality has said the beggars usually do not accept assistance offered by city social workers.
And you add this to the awesome teshuva given by my new favorite Gadol Ha-Dor, Rav Shlomo Aviner:
24 Marcheshvan 5768
Prepared by Rabbi Mordechai Friedfertig

Question: When I visit the Kotel, there are so many people asking for money, should I give money to the beggars? What about people on the street? What about people who knock on my door and ask for money?

A. Most Beggars are Swindlers

The Halachah is that we do not give money to beggars until we clarify that they are truly poor. This is a "Takanat Chazal" (Ruling of our Sages) since most beggars are swindlers. This ruling is found in the Gemara in Baba Batra (9a) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 251:10) and it applies to this day. Ninety percent of people who ask for money today are swindlers. If someone asks for money we do not give it until he provides verification from a reliable Rabbi. If someone asks for food, however, we give him immediately. What if he is being deceptive? It is a potentially life-threatening situation and we therefore provide food without delay. Today, most beggars in Israel do not ask for food because there are many soup kitchens, and if you offer them food, they say that they prefer money.

B. Is Giving Tzedakah to Someone who is not Poor a Mitzvah?

The halachic authorities discuss if one fulfills the mitzvah of giving tzedakah if the recipient is in fact not poor. They point to the Gemara in Baba Batra (8b) and explain that not only does one not fulfill the mitzvah, but he also loses out on the mitzvah to give that money to truly poor people. Perhaps you will say that giving tzedakah is still worthwhile even if the person is not poor since it strengthens one's personal character trats (tikkun midot), as the Rambam explains in his introduction to Pirkei Avot, that by performing an act over and over, one will achieve proper characteristic traits. This, however, does not occur when one is performing an act which is not beneficial. A person is cruel if he does not give to the poor, but he is not kind if he gives to the wealthy. We have to give to truly poor people. A person should not buckle under emotional pressure from a beggar: I have many children and a husband who is sick, you have a kippah but you are not really observant, you give a shekel and they throw it down, etc… If a person was poor before he asked for money at the Kotel, after a day he would no long be considered poor: They collect 1000 shekels a day!

C. Rabbinic Verification Even to provide rabbinic verification is problematic today.

Anyone can print a Rabbi's letter or signature off the internet in thirty seconds. One time some people from a tzedakah organization in Ashdod came and asked for my signature. I did not know them and asked if they had other Rabbis' signatures. They told me that they had the support of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I said: If so, I will blindly support it. Please send me the letter. When I received it, I saw that in the signature there was an extra "alef" in the last name "Schneersohn" and instead of being signed by the last Rebbe – Ha-Rav Menachem Mendel, it was signed by the previous Rebbe – Ha-Rav Yosef Yitzchak, who died almost sixty years ago! It was a forgery! Often times there are people who request money for yeshivot or organizations which do not exist, never existed and will never exist. One time I signed a letter in support of giving money to the poor. I found out that they were giving $1000 to anyone about to be drafted into "Nachal Ha-Charedi" (Ultra-Orthodox unit in the army) to convince them not to join. They claimed they were poor: They were in great spiritual poverty if they were about to join Tzahal. I called and requested my name be removed from the letter, but they did not. I called again, no response. I called again, no response. I sent a letter, no response. I sent a letter from a lawyer and they called: "Why not talk like a mensch? Come on, let's talk," etc… We have to be extremely careful about where we give our money.

In sum: We only give tzedakah to people who we can verify are poor or to trustworthy organizations. Give to one, two, three trustworthy organizations. It is not possible to provide for every poor person in any event. Most beggars are not evil people, they are mentally and emotionally unstable. We do not judge them, but we only give tzedakah to actual poor people.
I've been saying what Rav Aviner said for YEARS but have not been able to get a Gadol to back me up. Finally.

{2009 Update: Lego beggar pic from this fun site.}

Rabbi Akiva and his students

Recently, I commented on this this fellow's blog; his entry was:
Posted by Larry Lennhoff at 9:15 AM, Tuesday, July 31, 2007 A quick thought about Rabbi Akiva. It is out of season I know, but it occurred to me that 1000 pairs (couples?) of students died for each additional year Rabbi Akiva stayed away after from Rachel after he became a Talmid Chacham.
My response:
Hi Larry,

Just floated to your blog after seeing a comment you made on Hirhurim.

I gave a drasha on this topic. I think the answer to your question is seen in the Aggadata (TB Nedarim 50a) - when Rabbi Akiva returned after 14 years with his 24000 students, they repudiated Akiva's wife: "So she went to see him, but the disciples wished to repulse her. ‘Make way for her,’ he told them, ‘for my [learning] and yours are hers.’"(translation Soncino)

Hence I think the Gemara is telling us that the nature of the students' sin was related to Akiva's absence from his wife.
See this article for some more sources. Just to expand on the point I made in the Drasha: the fact that the original students - i.e. the ones who died - didn't get to see their Rosh Yeshiva in a human, loving, normal family relationship, they grew to believe that their Torah knowledge was more important than human relations. The fact that they would brush a woman aside - to treat her with disrespect - can be extrapolated to how they must have treated each other.

{2009 Update: Pic of Hadrian and Rabbi Akiva from here.}

Hillary the Bully

Seems that others echo my point about Hillary's attack on Edwards. According to the New Republic's Noam Schreiber and Mike Crowley:
the Clinton campaign relies heavily on what game theorists like to call “retaliatory escalation”—a.k.a. “club[bing] would-be attackers over the head with their own words.”

Case in point: Yesterday, John Edwards slammed Clinton for coaching audience members at a Q&A, calling the tactic “what George Bush does.” The Clinton team responded, “What George Bush does is attack Democrats and divide the country … Sen. Edwards' campaign resembles that more and more every day.”

And it worked! The exchange didn’t get much play in the papers, but CNN ran the headline, “Clinton camp accuses Edwards of acting like Bush.” Coaching the audience? Below the fold.
I really really hate Hillary.

What's the Matter with Iowa/New Hampshire

While I may still be a defender of the Electoral College system (more on that later), I am pretty pissed off over the primary system. The current system, or so I've been told, was introduced by the Democrats by Senator Loser McGovern following the 'disaster' of 1968 - when the Democratic nominee was not the winner of the primaries. Hubert Horatio Humbert Hubert Humphrey was the choice of the party bosses and not the rank-and-file Democrats. So in 1972 the rank-and-file got to choose their champion - and who woulda guessed it was Loser McGovern - and we've gotten horrible populist liberals for pretty much every cycle (except for the glorious anomaly of 1992).

Note, HHHH Humphrey could have won in 1968 if it weren't for Wallace. So why did we need to improve our system?

And the Wiki confirms the McGovern idiocy:
McGovern had led a commission to redesign the Democratic nomination system after the messy and confused nomination struggle and convention of 1968. The fundamental principle of the McGovern Commission—that the Democratic primaries should determine the winner of the Democratic nomination—lasted throughout every subsequent nomination contest.
The current season's primary weirdness (with many states jockeying to be 'first' or at least much earlier) seems to be tied all the way back to this McGovern Disaster.

As it stands, we have two states which disproportionately determine the candidates: Iowa and New Hampshire. I can't find statistics yet to prove this, but it's pretty common knowledge that the first primaries create a snowball affect, such that if you win Iowa and New Hampshire (and to a lesser extent South Carolina, the #3), then you got yourself the nomination. This, in recent history, is how we got reamed with John Freakin' Kerry as the nominee in 2004. [Barfing sounds]

It's bad enough that two states dominate the fate of our nation. And they're not bad, considering that both are "purple" states and represent two important regions (Midwest, Northeast). The problem is that they are freaky elections.

Iowa is not even a primary, it's a caucus. And it's crazy. Read this good Washington Post piece to get an idea of how crazy it is. Basically instead of a vote, the Iowaians have to go to a meeting - which lasts for hours - and argue out loud about the candidates and then - again after a bunch of hours - 'vote with their feet.' How dandy.

This 'caucus' naturally is better for the candidates that appeal to people who have WAY TOO MUCH FREAKING TIME ON THEIR HANDS. The counts out the young people, parents with young kids, parents in general, the employed. And yet this freaky state gave us Kerry - and the whole devastating loss of 2004.

New Hampshire is a straight out, good ol' meat and potatoes vote-in-a-booth primary. Except, get ready for more dandy-ness, it is not a "closed primary" - which means that independents can vote in the Democratic primary. On one side, I like that because independents are usually more moderate. On the other side, why are non-Democrats choosing my freakin' nominee.

The primary system is quite broken. My suggestion is to have a rotating lottery of primary states - the order set by the RNC & DNC together - and that way each region can get their turn to mess us all up.

Either choose a few states to go first or be nice to the candidates and split the U.S. into 8-10 regions, and pair them into opposite types (e.g. Southwest and California or New England and Texas) and choose randomly from the pairs.

{2009 Update: Many pics from this guy's website - he has a lot about the primaries through history. And it's either in Spanish or whatever the Basque speak.}