Thursday, January 31, 2008

Nat King Cole: “Route 66”

This is Nat King Cole (1919-1965) performing “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66.” The date of this film clip is unknown but the Nat King Cole Trio recorded this song in 1946. It was one of Nat King Cole’s signature songs.

Cole was a popular pianist and singer from the 1940’s until his death in 1965 and had many hits on the pop charts during those years.

He made history with his television program, The Nat King Cole Show, which ran between 1956 and 1957 on NBC-TV. Although he was not the first African-American to host a television program (that honor goes to Hazel Scott in 1950), he was the best known of those early pioneers. Despite the popularity of the program potential sponsors shied away from it because of the risks associated with promoting a black artist.

Cole was a chain smoker (up to three packs a day) who believed smoking kept his voice low. Nat King Cole died of lung cancer in 1965.

Will the Democrats choose a candidate who appeals beyond the party and can win over the unconverted?

For a number of weeks there has been some bewilderment by Republicans and Democrats about the nomination process carried on in the other’s party. Each party offers candidates who polarize and candidates who offer broad appeal. Democrats have wondered why the Republicans did not go with the one candidate who offers broader appeal outside the GOP ranks and the Republicans have wondered why the Democrats cannot quickly rule out the polarizing candidate running for their nomination.

Well, the Democrats can stop wondering because it appears the Republicans are coming to their senses (at least for their self interest). Following Florida’s primary the likelihood of John McCain becoming the Republican nominee for President took a great leap forward. It’s not over yet and things could change but right now the odds favor a McCain nomination.

Despite the grumbling about McCain by the pro-torture wing of the Republican Party, he remains their strongest candidate and the only real threat to the Democrats. Unlike almost every other Republican candidate in the field, McCain does have appeal for independents and even some Democrats.

The Republicans remain bewildered about what the Democrats are doing. Of course, many Democrats also are bewildered about what the Democrats are doing. Do we go with a candidate who polarizes or a candidate who offers broad appeal?

Jonathan Freedland has shares these thoughts in today’s Guardian:
This should be the Democrats' year. That's what the conventional wisdom holds anyway, citing a Republican presidency that sputters towards its end saddled with some of the lowest poll ratings on record. President Bush's State of the Union address on Monday was a non-event; even his fellow Republicans barely mention his name. One survey last week showed seven out of 10 Americans believe their country is on the wrong track, a political landscape that has to favour the challenger party. Meanwhile, the Democrats are energised, their turnout in primaries doubling as they pack out public meetings with, at one rally this week, young voters queuing around the block to get in. Surely 2008 will belong to them.

And yet politics is rarely that straightforward. When pollsters ask voters to say whether they will favour a Republican or Democrat for president, the Democrat has a handsome lead. Trouble is, there will be no generic Democrat on the ballot in November. There will be an actual person, either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, against an actual Republican. And that changes everything. As one pollster puts it, this race will "be about the candidates, not the climate". Judged by that standard, it is Republicans, not Democrats, who now seem to be making the right moves.

Of course, in this of all years, we know things can change. But, as of today, John McCain is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, thanks to a clear, hanging chad-free victory in Florida. He did that despite having much less money than his immediate rival, Mitt Romney - who saturated the Florida airwaves with 10 TV ads to every one of McCain's - in a large, complex and diverse state where the one-voter-at-a-time, retail politics of tiny New Hampshire did not apply.

Obstacles remain for McCain, starting with the fact that ultra-conservatives can't stand him. Having spent more hours than is healthy driving through South Carolina and Florida this last week, listening to talk radio throughout, I was struck by the fury McCain arouses: the special contempt for an ideological traitor. King of the genre Rush Limbaugh warns that a McCain nomination is "going to destroy the Republican party", that rightwingers will stay at home in November rather than vote for him.

Given the climate, it might be smart to propose for the White House a Republican who is not too Republican. The right may lambast McCain for failing to vote for Bush's tax cuts or for seeking restrictions on guns, but that makes the senator appealing in the eyes of moderates. Liberals could not hope for a better advocate against Guantánamo and the use of torture than this former war hero and PoW. It's true that he is a serious hawk on foreign policy, an unwavering advocate for the war on Iraq, but he is no Dick Cheney - a hate figure who would scare Democrats into doing anything to stop him. As for his position on climate change, which seems sincerely held, I encountered a green activist in Florida who once voted for Al Gore and who has now come over to McCain.

From now until Super Tuesday, the Limbaugh/Romney assault that insists McCain is not a true conservative could hurt - though McCain need only hit back by pointing out his opponent's inconsistency, especially on social issues such as abortion. "He has made a consistent point of taking both sides of every issue," a smiling McCain told me when I caught up with him in Orlando. (One reason why the senator enjoys such a good press is that he takes, and answers, reporters' questions.)

But if McCain does indeed wrap things up next week, the rightwing critique becomes a positive asset. It also leaves the Democrats in an uncomfortable position, especially if February 5 delivers no such clear verdict. First, the Republicans will have a head start in closing ranks and marshalling resources, while Clinton and Obama will still be taking lumps out of each other. Second, McCain can get on with the business of making a national case for himself as president, while Clinton and Obama will still be obliged to tailor their message for a Democratic-only electorate. That will give McCain a chance to define himself before his eventual opponent can do it for him.

The Democrats took a first step in the direction of resolution yesterday, as John Edwards closed out what had been a brave campaign: how exhilarating it was to hear a mainstream centre-left candidate use the phrase "extraordinary economic inequality" in his stump speech. It would be good if Obama and Clinton were to adopt more of that message as they compete for Edwards's voters. What would be even better is if Democrats were to show some of the sense exhibited by their Republican counterparts, and choose a candidate who appeals beyond the party and can win over the unconverted. That surely has to be Barack Obama.
It is worth noting also that Ralph Nader is making noises about running for President again and has even set up a website. The number of votes Nader takes from the Democrats – making a McCain Presidency even more possible – depends on whether the Democrat decide to go for a Clinton third term or offer a real change in Washington.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Earl Hines: “Memories of You” (1965)

Here is Earl Hines (1903-1983) performing “Memories of You” in Berlin in 1965.

Known as Earl "Fatha" Hines, he played piano in Chicago clubs in the 1920s, first as a soloist and later as a bandleader. He made several recordings with Louis Armstrong in the '20s and '30s, and then joined Armstrong again in the late 1940s to tour with the All Stars. He toured the world and made records into the 1970s

In 1968 during his 6-week Soviet Union tour, the 10,000-seater Kiev Sports Palace was sold out. As a result, the Kremlin cancelled his Moscow and Leningrad concerts as being "too culturally dangerous".

Known for his great technique and talent for improvisation, Hines' horn-like phrasing and rhythm influenced popular jazz through the swing era and into bebop.

He died in 1968 having played his last performance only a few days earlier. As he had wished, his Steinway had a very much "All Star" Christie's auction for the benefit of gifted low-income music students, still bearing its silver plaque: "PRESENTED BY JAZZ LOVERS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD. THIS PIANO IS THE ONLY ONE OF ITS KIND IN THE WORLD AND EXPRESSES THE GREAT GENIUS OF A MAN WHO HAS NEVER PLAYED A MELANCHOLY NOTE IN HIS LIFETIME ON A PLANET THAT HAS OFTEN SUCCUMBED TO DESPAIR".

On his tombstone is the inscription: "PIANO MAN".

The Clintons: Good cop - bad cop. Or bad cop - worse cop?

No one born since 1970 has voted in a Presidential election that did not have a Bush or Clinton running at the top of the ticket. Presidential politics in this country for the past two decades has come down as either being for or against the Bush’s and for or against the Clintons. The Bush reign is over for the time being but we are being presented with the possibility of a third term of the Clinton administration.

So it’s important for Democrats to understand that not everyone thinks back on the administration of Bill Clinton as the good old days. And even many of those who do are beginning to suffer from Clinton fatigue. Here are Richard Stern’s thoughts on Bill Clinton:
I know what’s happened to my feelings about Bill Clinton, so I assume that the same change has taken place in others.

I’ve been a fan of Bill Clinton’s since his first presidential campaign, I voted for him twice and felt for him deeply when the Congressional lynch mob Clarence Thomas took unto himself ganged up to throw him out of office. In one of Philip Roth’s novels there are pages about the sanctimony and hypocrisy of those days; a former student of ours (Roth’s and mine), a young writer named Isabel Cole wrote me from Berlin, “Why are Anericans surprised that they voted a man into office?” The louder the sanctimonious racket, the angrier I got about the smirking, virtue-sellers who raised it. I found the “Depends on what ‘is’ means” testimony an exhibition of strength and courage unique in presidential annals and delighted in the great public’s forgiveness and “None of our business” response to the congressional and journalistic hypocrites. I enjoyed the subsequent years of Clinton’s popularity, relished the quiet intelligence as he, say, gave a brilliant tour d’horizon of world affairs or refreshed debate by giving down to earth translations of difficult economic or political problems.

Now in the winter of 2008, Clinton’s speeches for his wife and against Barack Obama have infuriated me. They have the simplistic, insinuatingly suggestive stupidity he used to counter. They are devious in the way his accusers accused him of being. They are mean-spirited in an “I-don’t-give-a-damn-about-anything-else” mode, “anything else” standing for the Democratic Party and whoever becomes its candidate. He black-baits as if an older, meaner Arkansas voice was let loose in him; he distorts Obama’s remarks about Republicans and Reagan as if he were the liar the impeachment-mad Republicans claimed he was.

What the psychological explanation is, I don’t know. Some have suggested that he’s making up to Hillary for his liaisons with Monica Lowinsky et al. Some say he’s trying to sink Hillary’s candidacy because he can’t bear the public displays of marital solidarity he goes through on every platform on which they both stand, or because, for many years, he’s disliked her forcefulness, detailed knowledge and Clintonesque grasp of matters small and large. I don’t know and don’t care about his motives. All I know is that the charming, decent, empathetic, learned, hard-working, sincere human being I once thought so wonderful, is now covered with the marble dust of the statue he himself has been daily demolishing.
And if many of Bill Clinton’s old supporters are tiring of him then Democrats need to realize what goes for the goose goes for the gander. It is clear the Clintons are running for a co-presidency. Hillary will be running as an incumbent without the institutional advantages of incumbency in a year when voters clearly want change.

My home state of Virginia is Republican leaning but is slowly coming more “in-play” for the Democrats. If Clinton were at the top of the ticket my guess is locals running for election – outside of Northern Virginia - would keep her at arms-length and it would be very unlikely Virginia, as well as other not-as-Republican-as-they-used-to-be states, would go Democratic. Whoever the Democratic nominee is needs to pull one or two of these states out of the Republican column to take the White House. There is no coincidence that many political leaders from “red states” are endorsing Oboma – they know the Clinton name can be poison in many of these states. These states may still be winnable but it’s going to take a lot more work.

This raises a problem not only of getting elected but also for governing unless the Democrats can make substantial gains in Congress. (Congressional gains seem likely but substantial gains seem unlikely as this time given how the system is geared to protect incumbents.) Part of the calculation the Democrats need to consider is not only who can win the White House in November but also who would have the longest coat-tails to carry in a large enough majority in Congress to actually govern.

Hillary Clinton certainly stands head and shoulders above anyone running for the Republican nomination and if she is the nominee then Democrats should rally behind her. However, for the time being, the Democrats have the luxury of making a choice – fight the battles we choose to fight or fight the battles imposed upon us.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bush’s SOTU speech: Does he really believe what he says or has he just never given it much thought?

Fred Kaplan sums it up nicely in Slate:
The sad thing about President George W. Bush's eighth and final State of the Union address is that he seems to have learned so little about the crises in which he's immersed his nation so deeply.

His first words on foreign policy in tonight's address reprised the theme of previous addresses: "We trust that people, when given the chance, will choose a future of freedom and peace." He cited, as "stirring" examples of this principle, the "images" of citizens demanding independence in Ukraine and Lebanon, of Afghans emerging from the Taliban's tyranny, of "jubilant Iraqis holding up ink-stained fingers" to celebrate free elections.

One waited for the president to invoke the lamentable flip side of these images, the retreats and retrenchments that followed (perhaps the "challenges" ahead?)—but he didn't. Is he still living in the dream world of the spring of 2004? It's a pleasant world, but it had gone up in smoke by that summer. If we were truly serious about promoting freedom, it would be useful to explore the lessons of those hopes as they were not only stirred but then crushed. As with his previous State of the Union addresses, this was not seen as a time to face reality.

The president, once more, depicted the complex conflicts of our time as one-dimensional struggles between the forces of light and darkness. In the war on terror, he proclaimed, "there is one thing we and our enemies agree on: In the long run, men and women who are free to determine their own destinies will reject terror and refuse to live in tyranny. That is why the terrorists are fighting to deny this choice to people in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Territories."

The question comes to mind, as it has come to mind in all of these speeches when Bush recites this argument: Does he believe what he's saying? Does he believe that the violent battles for power in these lands really come down to freedom vs. tyranny? If so, no wonder this government has had such a hard time getting a handle on these dangers, much less trying to engage them.

He went on, "And that is why, for the security of America and the peace of the world, we are spreading the hope of freedom." Has he ever wondered why so few people in the world—not least those he aspires to help—see us that way? It is a horrible shame, a dreadful legacy of this administration, that the majority of people in so many once-allied (or at least not-unfriendly) nations, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, regard America as a bigger threat than Iran and Osama Bin Laden. To think seriously about why these views exist, to address the perception in a serious way, doesn't mean accepting their validity. Not to think seriously about this question is to perpetuate our bad image and diminish our real security.

Maybe the president believes that saying something makes it close to true. (Some of his former aides have told me they suspect this is the case.) For instance, toward the end of the address, he said that protecting the nation's security "requires changing the conditions that breed resentment and allow extremists to prey on despair. So America is using its influence to build a freer, more hopeful, and more compassionate world." The first sentence is true, the second encouraging. What's his follow-up—what are some examples of America using its influence to this end? "America is opposing genocide in Sudan," he said. (That's nice. What are we doing?) "And supporting freedom in countries from Cuba and Zimbabwe to Belarus and Burma," he added, without saying how we're doing that or in what way any of those countries is central in the war on terrorism.

"In the Holy Land … we have new cause for hope," the president said. His evidence: "Palestinians have elected a president who recognizes that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel." He did not mention the election of a parliament whose leaders believe otherwise. (This is not to suggest that the Fatah president's views are worth nothing; but failing to acknowledge the Hamas-led parliament—which was also installed in power by free elections—glosses over the real complexities of the "popular will" in territories or countries without democratic institutions.)

On Iraq, Bush had some genuinely good news to tell, but he overstated it and distorted its implications. The past few months have witnessed a dramatic decline in casualties (civilian and military, Iraqi and American). The "surge"—which Bush ordered into effect nearly a year ago, in the face of much skepticism—is indisputably one cause of these trends. But it is just one cause, and the effects being celebrated, salutary as they are, are not the effects that were intended.

Certainly the additional 25,000 troops that the surge has brought to a few areas of Iraq—along with Gen. David Petraeus' more aggressive strategy of using them (putting troops out on the streets instead of retreating to the superbases)—have increased security in the areas they've been able to occupy.

However, much of the reduced violence is related to the "alliances of convenience" between U.S. forces and Sunni insurgents against the common enemy of al-Qaida in Iraq. These alliances were initiated by the Sunnis and antedate the surge. There is also the matter of Muqtada Sadr's moratorium on violence (which, in fairness, might be due in part to the surge). And there is the simple fact that U.S. forces are paying insurgency groups not to attack them (a wise use of money, until it runs out).

More to the point, Gen. Petraeus said at the beginning that there is no strictly military victory to be had in Iraq; that the point of the surge was to provide "breathing space" to Iraq's political leaders, so that, amid improved security in Baghdad, they might settle their sectarian disputes. This political settlement does not appear to be happening; the political objectives of the surge are not being met.

President Bush said the proof of our strategy's success is that "more than 20,000 of our troops are coming home." (The congressional crowd went wild with applause.) These are the 20,000 troops that were sent over as part of the surge. The simple fact is that, by the summer, the 15-month deployment tours of the last of these surge brigades will have run out. There are no brigades ready to replace them. So, they will come home—and this would have been the case, no matter what had happened in the past year. The surge has always been short-term; that's why they called it a surge.

As for the prospect of future withdrawals, Bush said, "Any further drawdown of U.S. troops will be based on conditions in Iraq and the recommendations of our commanders." He added, "Gen. Petraeus has warned that too fast a drawdown could result in the disintegration of the Iraqi security forces, al-Qaida in Iraq regaining lost ground, a marked increase in violence."

Don't bet on any more troops coming home for good before Christmas. And if a reduction from 160,000 to 140,000 puts the situation back on the precipice, below which further cuts trigger disaster, then the situation cannot be considered at all stable.

"America is a force for hope in the world because we are a compassionate people," he said toward the end of his address. We know this to be true, at least in principle. It will take another president to demonstrate it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Electoral Compass

Are you undecided about the upcoming Presidential race? Check out the Electoral Compass USA. Answer a few questions and find out the candidate closet to your views.

Miles Davis Quintet: “Footprints” (1967)

This film clip is from a concert done on October 31, 1967 in Sweden. The band was in Europe, playing in a concert package dubbed "Newport Jazz Festival in Europe.”

Miles Davis (1926-1991) was on the forefront of almost every development in jazz following WW II until his death including bebop, cool jazz, modal jazz and jazz fusion. You can see him here playing “So What” with John Coltrane.

Will the Democrats pull it off or blow it in November?

The prospects for a Democratic victory in November appear very good. The economy is on a downturn, the electorate is polarized and the current Republican administration cannot resolve two wars this nation has been engaged in for years. The public is itching for a change. Whoever the Republican candidate is will have to either embrace or reject the record of the Bush Whitehouse. Either path that candidate chooses will carry a high price.

However, can the Democrats still blow it? Absolutely! The disappointing record of the new Democratic majority in both houses of Congress will not help the Democrats this fall. Now the reason for this disappointment is because the Democrats do not have a “governable” majority but that is the sort of nuance that is difficult to communicate in the heat of a campaign. And, of course, they have yet to govern Congress for a single full term compared to the dismal record of the previous Republican Congresses where they had governable majorities. Unfortunately, many voters do not have long memories.

Given that the election is still ten months away the Democrats and their presidential nominees still have time to screw everything up. So the prospects of the Democratic presidential nominee is good but not guaranteed. A lot depends on the continued disarray of the Repbulicans. Here is Frank Rich on the Democrats in the current issue of the New York Review of Books:
The Democrats' congressional take-over in 2006 did push their leadership to unequivocally embrace an Iraq endgame. But it has not resolved the party's intellectual dilemmas or guaranteed it a lock on 2008. President Bush still benefited from a remarkably unified Republican caucus in Congress and, for the first time in his presidency, brandished the veto pen. Unable to affect White House war policy, the Democratic-led Congress, fairly or not, lost much of the moral high ground on Iraq with voters, giving Republicans an opportunity to blur distinctions between the two parties as the public waited for a coherent exit strategy. And waited impatiently. Though repeated polls at the end of 2007 found that voters recognized the improved security in Iraq after the "surge," those same surveys found that the majorities calling for a prompt withdrawal and terming the war "a mistake" remained unchanged from the war's most violent nadir. Congress soon found itself with approval ratings as low as and sometimes lower than the President's. The number of Americans who judged their country to be "on the wrong track" remained stuck at 70 percent and higher, views that were soon to be complemented by an economic gloom as thick as any pollsters had seen since the early 1990s.

The Democrats' conflicted history on Iraq haunts the presidential campaign. Unlike John Edwards or pundits like Peter Beinart, Hillary Clinton refused to acknowledge that her support for the 2002 war resolution was a mistake. Instead, her husband disingenuously declared that he, at least, had been against the Iraq war "from the beginning." When that ruse failed, the Clinton campaign tried to muddy Barack Obama's early opposition to the war, a signature element of his presidential candidacy, by claiming (also incorrectly) that he had gone wobbly in the years since. Meanwhile, every Democratic candidate called for the war's quick end (though Clinton had the loosest timetable). Every major Democratic candidate took a muscular stand on foreign policy in general and terrorism in particular rather than emulating the party's supposed mob of–Netroots peaceniks so hyperbolically caricatured and feared by liberal hawks who had initially supported the Iraq war.

On domestic issues, the most energetic class-conscious populist appeal, made by Edwards, gained at most modest traction in the early going. Clinton and Obama, whatever the fine points of their policy differences, hewed to standard party orthodoxy. Clinton's laundry list of programs recalled her husband's centrism (and triangulation); she seemed to be campaigning for a third Clinton term. Obama's domestic agenda was united by a larger, reconciliatory theme that at times echoed Michael Tomasky's notion of a "common good." But if the early 2008 votes in Iowa and New Hampshire were any indication, the race for the Democratic nomination was going to be a scramble built less on policy than on a wide variety of factors including race, gender, negative campaigning, and the usual unpredictable events of any political season.

However much the Democrats might finesse differences on Iraq or any other issue in 2008, their best hopes for electoral victory still have less to do with their own ideas than with the sorry state of their opponents. Compared to the increasingly fractious and disheartened conservative coalition, the Democrats could pass for a model of coherence and unity. Compared to the Bush presidency, almost any conceivable Democratic ticket would seem a step up to the vast majority of voters eager to turn the page. The Democrats could yet lose the White House in 2008, especially if the general election becomes a referendum on the Clintons or race, but it would take the party's full powers of self-immolation to do so.
You can read the entire piece here.

Bush’s State of the Union: The fictional compassionate conservative will surely appear tonight

In case anyone has forgotten, George W. Bush is still the President. In the twilight of his career in national politics he carries a legacy of polarization and failure. Yet, as Jacob Weisburg reminds of below, the State of the Union Bush delivered in 2001 held promise of true leadership that valued cooperation in making this country a better place to live which he also referenced in subsequent State of the Union speeches. However, he never seemed to be able (or willing) to deliver. Whether this was because of incompetent leadership or dishonest speech making, we’ll never know. But it is fair to say this would be a very different country had he followed up on his own stated vision.

Jacob Weisburg in today’s New York Times:
AS George W. Bush prepares to deliver his final State of the Union address, it’s worth revisiting the first speech he gave to a joint session of Congress. His valedictory words tonight will provide an opportunity to reflect on the kind of president Mr. Bush was. The speech delivered seven years ago points to the very different sort of president he might have been.

Mr. Bush began his February 2001 address by hailing the new spirit of cooperation he hoped would characterize his relations with Congress. “Together we are changing the tone in the nation’s capital,” he declared. The new president’s top priority would be education. He intended to marry the liberal desire for more federal money to the conservative demand for higher standards.

The rest of the speech was similarly moderate in tone and substance. Mr. Bush planned to use part of the enormous fiscal surplus he inherited for a broad-based tax cut. But he also wanted to expand Medicare benefits, preserve Social Security, extend access to health care and protect the environment. He concluded with an exhortation to bipartisanship — in Spanish. “Juntos podemos,” he said. “Together we can.”

Mr. Bush seemed genuinely to want to be the kind of president indicated by that first address. He meant to build a broad coalition on the model of his governorship in Texas, where he worked closely with Democrats in the Legislature, made his chief cause correcting racial disparities in education, and was re-elected in 1998 by an almost 40 percentage point margin, including 27 percent of the black vote and at least a third of Latinos. I always sort of liked that George W. Bush. Whatever happened to him?

Mr. Bush never completely abandoned the compassionate conservatism we glimpsed that night seven years ago. His second speech to Congress, nine days after Sept. 11, 2001, reflected his instinctive response to the attacks, which was to appeal for national unity in a non-partisan manner. Mr. Bush’s third speech to Congress (his first formal State of the Union address, in 2002) is remembered for its reference to the “axis of evil.” But the president also boasted about his cooperation with such Democrats as George Miller and Ted Kennedy on education policy. His strongest emphasis was on public service. He proposed doubling the size of the Peace Corps and called on every American to commit at least 4,000 hours — two full working years — to community service.

The following year, in 2003, Mr. Bush pressed his case for invading Iraq and uttered the infamous 16 words (“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”). But alongside that disingenuous indictment, Mr. Bush presented Congress with a new raft of centrist-minded initiatives: $450 million to minister to the needs of children of prisoners, $600 million to treat drug addicts, $1.2 billion for hydrogen-powered cars, $10 billion in new money to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.

And so on, in each subsequent speech. In 2004, Mr. Bush used weasel words to describe the missing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He claimed to have disrupted “dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities.” But when he turned to domestic matters, the president unveiled a new science and math program for low-income students and a program to help former prisoners re-enter society. He included an eloquent plea for the kind of immigration reform that would “reflect our values and benefit our economy.”
To this day, Mr. Bush’s compassionate conservatism has never vanished completely. Some of Mr. Bush’s signature programs, like his initiative to provide AIDS drugs to Africans, have had meaningful effects. But others haven’t lived up to their rhetorical promise. What about that special training for defense lawyers in capital cases (pledged in his 2005 State of the Union address)? The initiative to encourage mentoring for at-risk children (2006)? The grants to extend health insurance coverage (2007)? Such gestures tended to linger in the air only as long as it took Mr. Bush to make them.

So often with Mr. Bush, compassionate government began and ended with the heartfelt public avowal. He was too distracted by war and foreign policy, and too bored by the processes of government to know if the people working for him were following through on his proposals. And of course, Mr. Bush’s left hand acted as if it didn’t know what his right hand was doing. After his first year in office, Democrats burned by his political strategy of polarization were disinclined to work with him on shared goals.

The Compassionate Conservative will surely pay us a final visit tonight. He remains an appealing character, but a largely fictional one. I wonder how the last seven years might have turned out if he had actually existed. In the final year of a failed presidency, I bet Mr. Bush does too.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Seattle Times endorsement of Obama

Here is a nice endorsement of Barack Obama in today’s Seattle Times:

After seven years of George Bush's failed presidency, after five years of unnecessary war in Iraq, America is ready to write a new narrative. All candidates favor the now-bromidic slogan: change. Only one candidate truly embraces the yearnings this word represents.

The Seattle Times endorses Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for president. He has the grasp, temperament and skills to right our standing in the world. He has broad insight and specific ideas to assuage our own hardworking citizens' fears of an economy turning sour.

Obama has thoughtful plans to help citizens with everyday problems: middle-class tax breaks; elimination of income tax for seniors earning less than $50,000; health care for minors.

Critics ask a fair question about Obama's experience. He has been a U. S. senator for three years, Illinois state senator for eight, lawyer, lecturer, community organizer — a résumé some say is not executive enough for a president.

American voters tend to select governors rather than senators for president, President Bush being a recent example. Bush fit the mold — governor of Texas six years — but his résumé proved to be a failed indicator.

Judgment is more important. Bush's decision to invade Iraq was the most-wrongheaded decision of our time.

Voters this time have reason to focus on other qualities, such as the courage to tell people things they might not want to hear. Obama, for example, took his pitch for higher fuel-efficiency standards to the most-challenging audience, Detroit.

And in October 2002, when our country was horribly bruised by Sept. 11, he came out against the war in Iraq: "I don't oppose all wars. ... What I am opposed to is a dumb war. ... What I am opposed to is a rash war."

Such statements might sound unpatriotic — unless, of course, the speaker turns out to be correct. In an Obama administration, American troops have a chance to start coming home.

Americans have not selected a candidate for president directly from the Senate since 1960, when they elected Sen. John Kennedy, who offered similar charisma and hope.

Obama, more than other candidates, is gut-level inspiring. All candidates speak in platitudes that make us feel good. Sometimes their words actually move us.

"We want a politics that reflects our best values," Obama said early in the campaign. "We want a politics that reflects our core decency, a politics that is based on a simple premise that we stand and fall together."

You can read the entire endorsement here.

Creationist logic: creationism is the science and evolutionary biology is the religion

The world’s first museum devoted to showing the biblical creation myth as fact opened last spring in Northern Kentucky near Cincinnati. The museum promotes creationism – the religious belief that life and the universe were created in their original form as spelled out in the Book of Genesis. In recent decades creationist proponents have attempted to present this belief as scientific to somehow give it equal standing to the use of evolution as the explanation of the development of life on earth.

The museum includes displays of those pesky dinosaurs’ bones that keep showing up all over the world. In fact, there are dinosaurs shown along humans in the world’s 6000-year existence. And, of course, Adam and Eve are positioned in such ways as to maintain their modesty – just the way God intended. They also have computer animation of how all those animals actually fitted in Noah’s Arc.

The museum certainly found a niche in the market for those interested in this type of entertainment. The facility recently expanded although another creationist museum in Texas is auctioning off a prehistoric mastodon skull to stave off that museum’s extinction.

The Creation Museum, a project of the Answers in Genesis Ministry (AIG), $27 million project designed to promote as fact an odd jumble of biblical myths intermixed dinosaurs and fossils cloaked as science. This is an excerpt of an article by Dr. John N. Moore, a founder of the Creation Research Society, appearing on the AIG website:

… the science and research practices of both creationists and evolutionists involve the very same techniques, equipment, etc. In fact, the very same objects—such as rocks—and all measurable entities are the same for each investigator. As a consequence, I avoid the expression “creation science.” I prefer the use of a hyphen—i.e., “creation-science”; the hyphen conveys that two areas of human knowledge have been joined.

In addition, though most people, including scientists, consider the biblical teaching of origins to be religious and consider evolutionary ideas scientific, we should challenge such a view. In the secular media, for instance, the debate is often described as “creationism vs. evolution,” as if the “ism” should not apply to “evolution.” This is not accurate, because believing in evolution, like believing in creation, requires acceptance of a certain presuppositional dogma and requires placing one’s faith in a story about the unrepeatable past. See Science or the Bible?

Also, the term “religion” must be defined clearly. While beliefs and worship practices, procedures, and conduct are involved in religion, any belief system that purports to be a total explanation of reality is more-or-less religion. Thus, insofar as it is an attempt to explain why the world is the way it is, held to with ardor and faith, Darwinian evolution can thus be considered religion.

So it seems we all have it backwards – creationism is the science and evolutionary biology is the religion. George Orwell would have recognized this twist in logic for what it is.

The backers of the museum and Answers in Genesis are people who do not read the Bible for the truths it may tell but as factual evidence of real events – in other words, all biblical stories are literally true. At the same time these people are products of their time and are enamored with scientific methods and the illusion of science. In the museum they have merged the two to come up with something on the level of the Flintstones – the 1960’s cartoon series about prehistoric people living in prehistoric suburbs along side dinosaurs. That there are people who will undoubtedly take this sham of a museum and the writings from their website such as above serious is rather sad, if not frightening.

(Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli and Quintette du Hot Club de France

Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) know as a Gypsy jazz guitarist, was one of the first prominent jazz musicians to be born in Europe, and one of the most renowned jazz guitarists of all time. He had an influence on different jazz styles and musical genres, including Western Swing.

Stephane Grappelli (1908-1997) was a French jazz violinist. His early fame was with his collaboration with Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France. After WW II, he had a very lively career appearing with a wide variety of musicians.

The Quintette du Hot Club de France was formed by Reinhardt and Grappelli. It was one of the earliest and most significant jazz groups in Europe. It was also one of the first and most famous of all-string jazz bands. The original group disbanded in 1939 due to WW II.

We don’t need another co-presidency

Does anyone seriously expect former President Clinton to be, as Garry Wills puts it, a potted plant in the White House of President Hillary Clinton? He has already given up his role as respected elder statesman to become an attack dog for a continued Clinton hold on the White House so we cannot expect him to turn around and become a bridge-builder to either congress or world governments or political opponents. He will most likely take on a very active role in our government behind the scenes and not accountable to anyone. (He was never accountable to his wife in either their public or personal lives before. Why would it start now?) He would become a co-president but not accountable to the public. We have already seen this type of role develop in the current White House with Vice President Cheney. Powerful personalities gravitate towards vacuums and take control. This is not a healthy trend for a democracy.

This is Garry Wills in today’s New York Times on why two presidents are worse than one:

SENATOR Hillary Clinton has based her campaign on experience — 35 years of it by her count. That must include her eight years in the White House.

Some may debate whether those years count as executive experience. But there can be no doubt that her husband had the presidential experience, fully. He has shown during his wife’s campaign that he is a person of initiative and energy. Does anyone expect him not to use his experience in an energetic way if he re-enters the White House as the first spouse?

Mrs. Clinton claims that her time in that role was an active one. He can hardly be expected to show less involvement when he returns to the scene of his time in power as the resident expert. He is not the kind to be a potted plant in the White House.

Which raises an important matter. Do we really want a plural presidency?


One problem with the George W. Bush administration is that it has brought a kind of plural presidency in through the back door. Vice President Dick Cheney has run his own executive department, with its own intelligence and military operations, not open to scrutiny, as he hides behind the putative president.

No other vice president in our history has taken on so many presidential prerogatives, with so few checks. He is an example of the very thing James Wilson was trying to prevent by having one locus of authority in the executive. The attempt to escape single responsibility was perfectly exemplified when his counsel argued that Mr. Cheney was not subject to executive rules because he was also part of the legislature.

We have seen in this campaign how former President Clinton rushes to the defense of presidential candidate Clinton. Will that pattern of protection be continued into the new presidency, with not only his defending her but also her defending whatever he might do in his energetic way while she’s in office? It seems likely. And at a time when we should be trying to return to the single-executive system the Constitution prescribes, it does not seem to be a good idea to put another co-president in the White House.

You can read the entire piece here.

Using Kumbaya moments to conveniently confuse political divisions with civilizational differences

Blake Hounshell at FP Passport:

Author Ian Buruma, who is in Davos at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, has picked up on a tactic increasingly used by undemocratic countries such as China and Iran in defending themselves from international criticism: demanding that Westerners stop "imposing" their values on cultures that supposedly have a different understanding of what democracy means.

As Buruma put it me this morning, this is clearly self-serving hogwash. "It's much less a division between East and West along civilizational lines than some people like to see it," he said. "It's really a political division," he added, pointing out that the Indians and the Japanese, or even the Indonesians don't see things that way. Few people may buy the argument, Buruma said, but nonetheless it's an effective way of neutralizing the democracy issue because people don't want to be seen as dissing other cultures. "When people discuss this in terms of culture and civilization, then you get a lot of that pious stuff," he noted, referring to the kind of Kumbaya moments that former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami has made into a veritable Davos fetish. "People have the habit of expressing fine sentiments as soon as civilization and culture come up."

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf pulled the culture card at a breakfast Buruma attended and found the Pakistani leader to be "completely out of touch," fixated on the notion that "any bad news about Pakistan is a distortion by the foreign press." After all, Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown, and George W. Bush had assured him that "everything is fine." Musharraf also tangled with Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, who had the temerity to suggest that Pakistan's human rights record could use a little improvement. Musharraf's response, essentially "We have our own human rights," was underwhelming, to say the least.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: “Dat Dere” (1961)

Art Blakey was one of the inventors of the modern bebop style of drumming. He was, and remains, influential on mainstream jazz. His band, the Jazz Messengers, was a proving ground for many jazz musicians for over 30 years.

“Dat Dere” was composed by Bobby Timmons who played the piano for the Jazz Messengers between 1958 and 1961.

Backing Pakistan’s terrorist regime

The United States has poured millions of dollars into Pakistan since September 11th for purposes of combating the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces who took refuge in that country following the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001.

However, the policy is a failure. The Musharraf dictatorship ruling Pakistan has not proved to be a reliable ally. It has cut deals with terrorist groups promising to leave them alone and has seemingly been willing to cede territory to home-grown Taliban-like groups as it focuses the resources of the armed services on cracking down on pro-democracy activists.

Musharraf has learned that he is not held accountable for what he does as long as says what the Bush administration wants to hear. He has learned how to recite certain buzzwords, catch phrases and American myths, popular with certain elements of the American political scene, to justify his actions. In return, President Bush congratulates him for taking “positive steps.” Despite all the lofty rhetoric about democracy, the administration has backed the Musharraf dictatorship and it’s very ineffective and half-hearted campaigns against the above terrorist groups while tuning a blind eye towards corruption, cracking down on pro-democracy activists, assassinating independent minded leaders of Baluchistan, and having either direct or indirect involvement in the assassination of his chief political rival, Benazir Bhutto. It is all too reminiscent of how the United States previously centered its Middle East policy on the disintegrating authority of the Shah of Iran.

Peter Tatchell reflects upon Musharraf in the Guardian during the dictator’s current visit to Britain:
… Britain and the US are long-time allies and supporters of Musharraf's dictatorship. Despite occasional mild admonishments, our government, in our name, supports him politically, diplomatically, economically and militarily; selling Musharraf the weapons he uses to suppress his own people. Since 2001, the US has bankrolled Musharraf to the tune of $10bn. US fighter planes are used to bomb and strafe pro-nationalist towns and villages in annexed and colonised Baluchistan. Without western aid to support this state terrorism, Musharraf's regime would fall.

Musharraf will, as usual, claim that he is saving Pakistan from Islamic fundamentalism and holding the fort against the terror threat of al-Qaida and the Taliban. He will portray the "tribal regions" of Pakistan, like Waziristan and North West Frontier, as hotbeds of extremism and terrorism that only he can control; wilfully suppressing all knowledge of the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by his subjugating army in the these regions and the legitimate liberation struggles of the people there.

Our prime minister will fall for this hogwash and spin. He will parrot Islamabad's line that we need Musharraf as an ally in the so-called "war on terror" and that without him the country would be taken over by Islamist extremists.

Nonsense. The extremists are already in the Pakistani government, army, police and intelligence services. These state agencies are heavily infiltrated by fundamentalists and Musharraf has failed to remove them.

Moreover, if there were free and fair elections, the opposition parties would win and could start addressing some of the underlying injustices in Pakistani society that have allowed fundamentalist ideas to gain a foothold. Democracy is the best safeguard against dictatorship, whether of the Musharraf or Islamist variety.

The elephant in the room during Monday's Downing Street meeting with Gordon Brown will be Musharraf's complicity in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the subsequent attempted cover-up.

The Pakistani leader has form with regard to political assassinations. In 2006, his
murdered the frail 79-year-old Baluchistan nationalist leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a former provincial governor and chief minister of Baluchistan. Previously an independent nation, Baluchistan was invaded and occupied by Pakistan in 1948. Another Baluch leader, Balach Marri, was killed by Pakistani forces last November.

So far as Bhutto's murder is concerned, Musharraf was the main beneficiary. He has gained the most from her death. She was his main political rival and a likely election winner. With Bhutto dead, Musharraf's chances of election in next month's poll are much improved.

Musharraf is a guilty man. Three scenarios of guilt are possible. Either he personally ordered Bhutto's assassination or he failed to control the rogue elements in the military and intelligence services that killed her. Even if Islamist radicals murdered her, he neglected to provide Bhutto with adequate personal security and he refused her requests for greater protection. Either way, to varying degrees, Musharraf was complicit in Benazir's assassination. The buck stops with him.

Musharraf has, however, preferred to pin the blame on the rebel leader Baitullah Mehsud - a claim
endorsed by the US Central Intelligence Agency, although the CIA has not revealed its evidence or sources. But a spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud has specifically denied responsibility, accusing in turn "the secret agencies" of the state.

While there is good reason to be sceptical of such denials, in the past Mehsud has never been shy of claiming responsibility for his military operations. Moreover, he stood to gain from Bhutto's election. She had, after all, promised greater autonomy for the provinces and an end to Musharraf's brutal suppression of minority tribes and nationalities. Although Mehsud may have ordered the assassination, it seems questionable.
You can read his entire piece here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bill Evans: “Waltz for Debby”

This is the Bill Evans Trio performing “Waltz for Debby.” Bill Evans became a model for many pianists in various genres. His work fused elements of jazz, classical and ethnic music. He died in 1980 at the age of 51.

A trip down memory lane with the Clintons

Jeff Weintraub describes a peculiar phenomenon in the U.S. for the past decade and a half known as the Clinton Derangement Syndrome (or CDS for short) which he describes as “a pervasive, almost obsessive hatred of Bill & Hillary Clinton that seems to have infected large numbers of people toward the right side of the political spectrum (and not only them).” We have all suffered through the tirades and bad jokes symptomatic of CDS. It has become part of American political culture.

Yet one does not have to be consumed by CDS irrationality to ask some very fair questions about whether or not Hillary Clinton’s campaign is seeking a third term for a Clinton presidency. Former President Bill Clinton’s recent actions of trading the role of elder statesman for campaign attack dog only reinforces the suspicions that this election has as much to do about putting him back in the White House as it does her. If nepotism rules the day and Senator Hillary Clinton rides the wave of nostalgia for the good old days of the Bill Clinton administration then the two of them need to answer for the less-than-glamorous aspects of the first Clinton rule.

Rosa Brooks has these thoughts in today’s L.A. Times:
… When critics -- Barack Obama among them -- complain that it's hard to figure out which Clinton is actually running for president this year, Hillary responds with wide-eyed incomprehension: Goodness, what's this fuss about Bill? "This campaign is not about our spouses, it's about us," she explained demurely to a South Carolina debate audience. "Michelle [Obama] and Elizabeth [Edwards] are strong and staunch advocates for their husbands, and I respect that." Isn't Hillary allowed to have a supportive spouse too?

Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.

The problem for Hillary Clinton is that, as usual, she wants it both ways. She wants to be judged on her own merits and not be treated as Bill's Mini-Me. But she also wants to reap the benefits of Bill's popularity, and offers voters the reassuring suggestion that if there's a crisis while she's in the White House, there will be someone around who really does have executive branch experience -- namely, Bill -- to lend a hand.

But the Clintons are playing a dangerous game. The more they remind us of what we liked about Act I of the Bill and Hillary Show, the more they also remind us of what we hated.

It's true that the Bush administration is enough to make anyone nostalgic for the Clinton era. Compared with the catastrophes that President Bush unleashed, Bill Clinton's misdeeds seem like minor peccadilloes. Under Clinton, the United States didn't fall into a potentially devastating economic crisis, didn't rack up record-breaking debts and budget deficits, didn't adopt a policy of torturing people, didn't seek to gut international human rights standards, didn't get bogged down in any major, pointless and unwinnable wars and didn't actively alienate huge swathes of the global population.

On the other hand -- and where the Clintons are concerned, it's always wise to wonder what the hand you can't see is up to -- once you stop comparing the Clinton presidency with the Bush presidency, it no longer looks so great. On the whole, the Clinton era was a time of culture war and scandal, "triangulation" and botched reforms (healthcare anyone?), vacillation and paralysis.

On foreign policy in particular, Clinton's presidency was an era of missed opportunities. In Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda and Kosovo, U.S. policy was marred by hesitation and lack of commitment. Despite impressive rhetoric on the emerging challenges posed by globalization, nuclear proliferation, WMD and the rise of transnational terrorism and nonstate actors, Clinton developed few innovative ways to address these challenges; his approach to conflict and crisis was piecemeal. His early defeat on gays in the military left him so scarred that he steered clear of the military for most of his presidency, passively letting uniformed personnel dictate the terms of too many foreign policy decisions and ignoring hard questions about how to reshape the military to face post-Cold War threats.

Today, if Obama's mere existence at times seems to make Bill Clinton apoplectic, it's not just because Obama (whose foreign policy judgment has so far been significantly better than Hillary's on Iraq, Iran and Pakistan) is the main Democratic barrier to a third Clinton term. It's also that Obama's promise of a politics that's not just bipartisan but beyond partisan is an implicit rejection of the Clintons' all-politics-all-the-time ethos, of their willingness to let crucial national decisions be driven by petty political considerations, of their lack of interest in dealing with big questions when they could coast along with a compromise here, a favor there and some tinkering over here.

Before 9/11, tinkering kept us afloat.

But it's no longer enough. Obama offers something transformative and new, and this frightens some voters, who wonder if he can live up to his undeniable potential. The Clintons, meanwhile, offer something old and familiar. But will a trip down memory lane with Billary reassure voters or end up frightening them even more?

Sleepwalking into four more years of Republicanism with John McCain?

Senator John McCain seems to set off the right-wing Republican establishment in ways that bewilder Democrats. According to CBS news, his list of enemies include former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, former Sen. Rick Santorum (who has vowed to support any Republican but McCain), and a host of conservative talk radio hosts led by Rush Limbaugh, who has suggested a McCain nomination would "destroy the Republican Party."

It is tempting to think he must be doing something right to compile such a list of enemies from the dark side. Yet, Democrats and independents would be wise to avoid the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic. Despite a few relatively moderate positions on immigration, torture and global warming, he is otherwise a hard-core right-winger we should be leery of.

Here is Johann Hari on McCain in today’s Independent:
A lazy, hazy myth has arisen out of the mists of New Hampshire and South Carolina. Across the pan-Atlantic press, the grizzled 71-year-old Vietnam vet, John McCain, is being billed as the Republican liberals can live with. He is "a bipartisan progressive"", "a principled hard liberal", "a decent man" – in the words of liberal newspapers. His fragile new frontrunner status as we go into Super Tuesday is being seen as something to cautiously welcome, a kick to the rotten Republican establishment.

But the truth is that McCain is the candidate we should most fear. Not only is he to the right of Bush on a whole range of subjects, he is also the Republican candidate most likely to dispense with Hillary or Barack.

McCain is third-generation navy royalty, raised from a young age to be a senior figure in the Armed Forces, like his father and grandfather before him. He was sent to one of the most elite boarding schools in America, then to a naval academy where he ranked 894th out of 899 students in ability. He used nepotism to get ahead: when he was rejected by the National War College, he used his father's contacts with the Secretary of the Navy to make them reconsider. He then swiftly married the heiress to a multi-million dollar fortune.

Right up to his twenties, he remained a strikingly violent man, "ready to fight at the drop of a hat", according to his biographer Robert Timberg. This rage seems to be at the core of his personality: describing his own childhood, McCain has written: "At the smallest provocation I would go off into a mad frenzy, and then suddenly crash to the floor unconscious. When I got angry I held my breath until I blacked out."

But he claims he was transformed by his experiences in Vietnam – a war he still defends as "noble" and "winnable", if only it had been fought harder. (More than three million Vietnamese died; how much harder could it be?) His plane was shot down on a bombing raid over Hanoi, and he was captured and tortured for five years. To this day, he cannot lift his arms high enough to comb his own hair.

On his release, he used his wife's fortune to run to as a Republican senator. He was a standard-issue Reaganite corporate Republican – until the Keating Five corruption scandal consumed him. In 1987, it was revealed that McCain, along with four other senators, had taken huge campaign donations from a fraudster called Charles Keating. In return they pressured government regulators not to look too hard into Keating's affairs, allowing him to commit even more fraud. McCain later admitted: "I did it for no other reason than I valued [Keating's] support."

McCain took the only course that could possibly preserve his reputation: he turned the scandal into a debate about the political system, rather than his own personal corruption. He said it showed how "we need to drive the special interests out of Washington", and became a high-profile campaigner for campaign finance reform. But privately, his behaviour hasn't changed much. For example, in 2000 he lobbied federal regulators hard on behalf of a major campaign contributor, Paxson Communications, in an act the regulators spluttered was "highly unusual". He has never won an election without outspending his opponent.

But McCain has distinguished himself most as an über-hawk on foreign policy. To give a brief smorgasbord of his views: at a recent rally, he sang "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann". He says North Korea should be threatened with "extinction".

McCain has mostly opposed using US power for humanitarian goals, jeering at proposals to intervene in Rwanda or Bosnia – but he is very keen to use it for great power imperialism. He learnt this philosophy from his father and his granddad Slew, who fought in the Philippine wars at the turn of the 20th century, where he was part of a mission to crush the local resistance to the US invasion. They did it by forcing the entire population from their homes at gunpoint into "protection zones", and gunning down anybody over the age of ten who was found outside them. Today, McCain dreamily describes this as "an exotic adventure" which his grandfather "generally enjoyed".

Then McCain's father, John, led the US invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, at a time when there was a conflict on the Caribbean island. On one side, there were forces loyal to Juan Bosch, the democratically elected left-wing President who was committed to land redistribution and helping the poor. On the other side, there were forces who had overthrown the elected government and looked nostalgically to the playboy tyranny of Rafael Trujillo. John McCain Snr intervened to ensure the supporters of the democratic government were crushed, bragging that it taught the natives "how to behave themselves". He saw this as part of a wider mission, where the US would take over Britain's role as a "world empire".

These beliefs drive McCain today. He brags he would be happy for US troops to remain in Iraq for 100 years, and declares: "I'm not at all embarrassed of my friendship with Henry Kissinger; I'm proud of it." His most thorough biographer – and recent supporter – Matt Welch concludes: "McCain's programme for fighting foreign wars would be the most openly militaristic and interventionist platform in the White House since Teddy Roosevelt... [it] is considerably more hawkish than anything George Bush has ever practised." With him as president, we could expect much more aggressive destabilisation of Venezuela and Bolivia – and more.

So why do so many nice liberals have a weak spot for McCain? Well, to his credit, he doesn't hate immigrants: he proposed a programme to legalise the 12 million undocumented workers in the US. He sincerely opposes torture, as a survivor of it himself. He has apologised for denying global warming and now advocates a cap on greenhouse gas emissions – but only if China and India can also be locked into the system. He is somewhat uncomfortable with the religious right (while supporting a ban on abortion and gay marriage). It is a sign of how far to the right the Republican Party has drifted that these are considered signs of liberalism, rather than basic humanity.

Yet these sprinklings of sanity – onto a very extreme programme – are enough for a superficial, glib press to present McCain as "bipartisan" and "centrist". Will this be enough to put white hair into the White House? At the moment, he has considerably higher positive ratings than Hillary Clinton, and beats her in some match-up polls. If we don't start warning that the Real McCain is not the Real McCoy, we might sleepwalk into four more years of Republicanism.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


As the editorial in The State below notes, the policy differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are minute. It notes that the real difference is in how each would approach the presidency and how the nation would respond. The newspaper sees the restoration of the Clintons to another term in the White House as triggering all out political warfare whereas an Obama presidency could be unifying for the nation.

However, for many Democratic Party activists the issues of policy differences, leadership style or the country’s reaction to the next president are secondary to the question of who is electable. Right now the shape of the economy and the inability to favorably resolve either of the two wars this country is currently fighting is the torch the Bush White House is passing on to the next Republican presidential candidate. Prospects of a Republican victory are not great but, as noted here before, the Democrats would be fools to just assume a collapse of the Republicans and easy win in November. The election is ten months away giving the Republicans time to pull themselves together and for the Democrats to shoot themselves in the feet.

The race for the Democratic nomination has pretty much come down to a choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Who is the most electable? Jonathan Chait has these thoughts:

… it's obviously true that any guess about general election viability is speculative. You're predicting a future event, and you could be wrong. I think the New England Patriots would have a better chance of beating the New York Giants than would the Detroit Lions, but I can't be sure.

That said, the available data here is not very ambiguous. Hillary Clinton is a highly unpopular figure. In the last Gallup survey, 50% of respondents have a favorable view of her, and 46% negative. Sometimes her averages goes higher, but sometimes it veers into negative territory. Obama has very high ratings. In the most recent poll, 59% view him favorably, 32% negatively. The difference between plus 4 and plus 27 is enormous--a Detroit Lions v. New England Patriots-size gap.

On top of that, independents who vote in the primaries and caucuses have shown a very strong preference for Obama over Clinton. That is the closest available approximation of a swing voter. (Some Clinton supporters have pointed to her strength among lower-income Democrats in the primary, but a low-income Democratic primary voter is not the same thing as a working class swing voter.)

In 2000, Clinton ran five points behind Al Gore in the state of New York, and it's not like Gore was the most popular politician who ever lived. That's who she is--a figure who is disliked by pretty much everybody who isn't a sure-fire Democrat, and even some people who are. You can imagine Obama running a horrible general election campaign and becoming less popular. No doubt his favorable ratings would drop a bit in the face of Republican attacks, as would hers. But for him to become as unpopular as Clinton already is--without months of nation-side attack ads--is a worst-case scenario.

It's entirely possible Clinton could win if given a favorable environment and/or a sufficiently weak opponent. (Whether she could bring along as many Democratic Senators and Representatives is more doubtful, which is why so many red state Democrats are endorsing Obama.) And I'm not saying electability has to be a first-order consideration--if you think Clinton would be a much better president than Obama and are willing to accept a higher risk of a Republican winning, then go for it.

That so many Democrats think this question is complicated suggests to me that maybe people aren't good at assessing the popularity of their co-partisans. To Democrats, it's perfectly obvious that the strongest Republican nominee is John McCain. He polls very highly, everybody knows Democrats and Independents who like him, and so on. But Republicans are constantly debating this. You see Republicans spinning horror scenarios of a McCain nomination leading to a splintering base or depressed turnout. To Democrats it's bewildering that they even debate this. Lots of Republicans feel the same way about the Clinton/Obama electability debate.

Democrats would do well to pay heed.

Louis Armstrong: “Back Home Again in Indiana” (1962)

This is Louis Armstrong (a.k.a. Satchmo) playing “Back Home Again in Indiana” in 1962. For years, he and his All Stars would open each public performance with this number.

Armstrong was best known for his virtuosity with the cornet and trumpet from the 1920’s until his death in 1971 at the age of 69. However, he also became famous as a vocalist. In 1964 his version of “Hello Dolly” went to #1 on the pop charts becoming the oldest person – age 63 at the time – to accomplish that feat. The genres he mastered included jazz, Dixieland, Swing and pop.

Same sex couples as committed as heterosexuals

Two new studies confirm what many people already knew and that is same sex couples are as likely to be committed to and happy in their relationships as heterosexual couples. Still, the legitimacy scientific studies give to this fact remain helpful in dispelling myths that these relationships are somehow fundamentally different. This is all the more reason these relationships should be formally institutionalized through marriage or civil unions.

This from Rueters:
Gay and lesbian couples are just as committed in their relationships as heterosexuals and the legal status of their union doesn't impact their happiness, according to new research.

In two new studies that compared same-sex and heterosexual couples using different factors and methods to assess their happiness, scientists found few differences.

"Among the committed couples, there were very few differences that we were able to identify either in terms of how satisfied these couples were, how effectively they interacted with one another or how their bodies responded physiologically while they were interacting with one another," Glenn I. Roisman, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, said in an interview.

He and his colleagues compared 30 gay male and 30 lesbian couples with 50 engaged heterosexual couples, 40 older, married heterosexual couples and dating heterosexual couples.

They found that regardless of sexual orientation, as the level of commitment increased, so did the ability to resolve conflict -- debunking the myth that same-sex relationships are not built on the same level of commitment as heterosexual ones.

In the second study researchers, who focused on how legal status affected relationship quality, followed 65 male and 138 female same-sex couples in civil unions, 23 male and 61 female same-sex couples not in civil unions and 55 heterosexual married couples over a three-year period.

The researchers from the University of Washington, San Diego State University and the University of Vermont found that same-sex couples, regardless of their legal status, were more satisfied with their relationships and reported more positive feelings toward their partners and less conflict than heterosexual married couples.

But gay and lesbian couples not in civil unions were more likely than same-sex couples in civil unions or heterosexuals who were married to end their relationships, according to the study.

Both studies were published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

"My personal view is that I think it's very hard to make the case as has been made that these same-sex relationships are fundamentally different from opposite-sex relationships in the presence of data like these and other data in the developmental literature," said Roisman.

Senator Obama’s campaign is an argument for a more unifying style of leadership

The State, South Carolina’s largest and most influential newspaper, has endorsed Barack Obama in the state's upcoming primary as the Democrat most likely to unify America.

The editorial said Obama's campaign "is an argument for a more unifying style of leadership" and, he has "the best chance to repair the damage to America's global reputation." As for Hillary Clinton, the newspaper argues “restoration of the Clintons to the White House would trigger a new wave of all-out political warfare.”

Here is the editorial:
THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY in South Carolina this year offers voters an unusual choice. Earlier votes have winnowed out the most experienced candidates, leaving a field with fewer accomplishments and differences on policy, but including two candidates who come with the promise to make history just because of who they are.

Looking at the remaining field: Rep. Dennis Kucinich offers a bold plan on health care, but his platform is an odd fit for us and for many in South Carolina. John Edwards has morphed away from the optimist who won South Carolina in 2004. The candidate who stayed mostly above the fray four years ago is angry now, and pushing hard to turn working-class angst into political opportunity. He also has tried to one-up the other top Democrats with the least prudent plan for withdrawing from Iraq.

On positions from Iraq to health care, the policy differences between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama are minute. Much of the debate between them has involved making these molehills look mountainous or clashing over who-shifted-when.

The one most significant difference between them can be found in how they would approach the presidency - and how the nation might respond.

Hillary Clinton has been a policy wonk most of her life, a trait she has carried into the U.S. Senate. As her debate performances have shown, she has intelligence and a deep understanding of many issues. Her efforts in New York focused first on learning her adopted state’s issues in detail, and pursuing legislation that would not necessarily grab headlines.

But we also have a good idea what a Clinton presidency would look like. The restoration of the Clintons to the White House would trigger a new wave of all-out political warfare. That is not all Bill and Hillary’s fault - but it exists, whomever you blame, and cannot be ignored. Hillary Clinton doesn’t pretend that it won’t happen; she simply vows to persevere, in the hope that her side can win. Indeed, the Clintons’ joint career in public life seems oriented toward securing victory and personal vindication.

Sen. Obama’s campaign is an argument for a more unifying style of leadership. In a time of great partisanship, he is careful to talk about winning over independents and even Republicans. He is harsh on the failures of the current administration - and most of that critique well-deserved. But he doesn’t use his considerable rhetorical gifts to demonize Republicans. He’s not neglecting his core values; he defends his progressive vision with vigorous integrity. But for him, American unity - transcending party - is a core value in itself.

Can such unity be restored, in this poisonous political culture? Not unless that is a nominee’s goal from the outset. It will be a difficult challenge for any candidate; but we wait in the hope that someone really will try. There is no other hope for rescuing our republic from the mire. Sen. Obama would also have the best chance to repair the damage to America’s global reputation. A leader with his biography - including his roots in Africa and his years spent growing up overseas - could transform the world’s view of America. He would seize that opportunity. He would close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, which has damaged America’s moral standing, and strive to rebuild many diplomatic relationships.

Despite America’s bitter partisan divide, all sides should agree on this: In such an environment, little gets done. Congress has been largely useless under both Republican and Democratic leadership. Setting aside the ideological conflict for conflict’s sake to get anything worthwhile done has fallen severely out of fashion.

And America certainly has things to get done.
From terrorism and climate change to runaway federal entitlement spending, there are big challenges to be faced. Sen. Obama is the only Democrat who plausibly can say that he wants to work with Americans across the political spectrum to address such subjects - and he has the integrity and the skills of persuasion that make him the best-qualified among the remaining Democratic hopefuls to address these challenges.

He would be a groundbreaking nominee. More to the point, he makes a solid case that he is ready to lead the whole country. We see Sen. Barack Obama as the best choice in Saturday’s Democratic primary.