Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pork, the farm bill, and Idaho's favorite son.

Political commentary at its finest ties loose ends together to make a mockery of the entire system.

As noted by Taegan Goddard's Political Wire, the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine takes an otherwise seemingly boring issue and bluntly, comically says what's wrong with it.

The committee's attack on the Farm Bill - which renewed government subsidies to farmers even while demand, and prices, for agricultural products rise - also pokes fun of the entire Congressional atmosphere. Why should the a bunch of corrupt nimrods be allowed to line their own pocketbooks and pass problematic public policy?

For the YouTube kids:

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Engagement with a "known enemy."

The bustle surrounding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad obliterated the opportunity to engage in a tentative partnership in the Middle East and potential for a degree of stability in the region.

Protesters of Ahmadinejad's audience at Columbia University and attempted visit to Ground Zero laid out a litany of reasons why the Iranian head of state had no reason to be here. Among them...
- Ahmadinejad is the head of a "terrorist state," igniting instability with his regime's support of Shia militant group, Hezbollah.
- Such collaboration with terrorists makes Ahmadinejad an ill-suited figure to pay respects to the victims of 9/11.
- Ahmadinejad's presence here is a national security risk.
- The U.S. should not allow a forum for Ahmadinejad's hate speech.

The third reason makes sense. Ahmadinejad, himself, not being the security risk. But the fact that Americans, by and large, hate him leaves Ahmadinejad open to assassination attemps, angry mobs and injury, which would be for Iran a de facto act of war.

Regular readers of this blog (wherever they are) know I'm the opposite of an Ahmadinejad sympathizer. But as Columbia University Lee Bollinger said in his bungled introduction, nations have to engage their adversaries.

President Bush actually surprised me in his statement that Ahmadinejad should be allowed to speak to show that America is an open society that embraces free speech. Wow, if only he felt that way all the time...

But Bush should have met with Ahmadinejad to discuss ways forward in the current conflict and Iraq.

Though it is true that Iran's regime largely supports Hezbollah, its Shia leadership's unfriendliness with Sunni Al Queda could be a large asset. Consider Iran's previous jailing and deportation en mass of Al Qaeda operatives. Remember that in regards to 9/11, Iran openly condemned the Al Queda hijackers.

The lost opportunity was noted by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

New York’s hot blast of nastiness, jingoism and xenophobia toward its guest, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, only served to pump him up for his domestic audience. Iranians felt that their president had tied everyone in knots, including the “Zionist Jews,” as Iranian state television said.

While Bush condemned Ahmadinejad's thuggery through journalists, why not have had a one-on-one debate about Iranian government's penchant for locking up dissidents, homosexuals, and Iranian-Americans?

Congress is looking for reconciliation in Iraq between Shia, Sunni, Kurdish groups to coincide with a troop pullout. Wouldn't bargaining with the leader of a large, influential, neighboring, predominantly Shia nation be an asset? Access to nuclear energy could be a bargaining chip.

Dowd was perhaps overly optimistic in comparing Reagan's courting of Gorbachev to bring down the "Evil Empire" to the potential of Bush's engagement of Ahmadinejad to dissolve the "Axis of Evil." Gorbachev is decidedly more reasonable than Ahmadinejad and even becoming an influential, respected thinker on the world stage.

But more could and should have come out of Ahmadinejad's visit than an enriched anti-U.S. sentiment in Iran and a heavy show of disapproval here of Iran's regime. Bitch-slapping feels good, but diplomacy helps solve problems.

Back in Iraq, Sunni militants are threatening and carrying out a renewed wave of suicide bombings and other terrorism in a perverse celebration of the holy month of Ramadan...

Shia Iraqi President and Bush met today, saying the "The task before us is gigantic."

No kidding...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wisconsin's next president?

Strategic Vision's new poll puts pugnacious pug-nose Rudy Giuliani and old hand Hillary Clinton as the top running 2008 presidential candidates among Wisconsin voters.

Giuliani picks up 28 percent of 800 polled, staying relatively close to the 25.3 percent favorability noted in August by UW-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin on his blog . Close behind, notes Strategic Vision, is actor, politician, lawyer, lobbyist Fred Thompson at 24 percent, with Madman McCain and Repulsive Romney becoming ever more irrelevant.

What pleased me was that Rep. Ron Paul, who actually is a conservative, is hovering near Squawk-box Mike Huckabee, beating the approval Paul received in many national polls. Paul's small-government, anti-imperialist, fiscal conservatism likely appeals to the Wisconsin's progressive past. Bob La Follette was a Republican. Is Libertarianism the new Progressivism?

H-Bomb Hillary, meanwhile, is double the preference to her nearest rival, New-Blood Barak, at 44 and 22 percent, respectively. The choice makes sense; on qualities most important for the next pres, Wisconsin Democrats chose experience over charisma.

John Edwards, despite his good looks and overtures to farmers, is polling 11 percent. Apparently an endorsement by Wisconsin Democratic Chair Joe Wineke didn't pay dividends.

Among other findings:

70 percent of Wisconsinites think President Bush is a tool, with 74 percent saying he's doing a bad job on Iraq.

65 percent of those polled want to get the hell out of Iraq in six months...Can't blame them.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Three responses, no answer.

Bush layed out three responses to Patraeus's report on what the future of the U.S. is in Iraq, but was short on answers about our mission there, says a New York Times news analysis. Granted, his responses aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

Of Bush's responses
- Due to successes in the surge, U.S. can very gradually return to pre-surge levels.
- Iraqi leaders can be sure that the U.S. is in there as long as the job, whatever is is, requires. However, (slap on the wrist) Iraqi government needs to do more.
- Insurgents and conspirators (Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Iranian mullahs, whoever else?) against the U.S. occupation can expect U.S. forces to maintain a long-term presence to fight against them.
In the speech, Bush said this to the Iraqis, of particular relevance to the Sunni ally killed today:
"As you do, have confidence that America does not abandon our friends, and we will not abandon you."

To the U.S. Bush said:
"Americans want our country to be safe and our troops to begin coming home from Iraq. Yet, those of us who believe success in Iraq is essential to our security and those who believe we should bring our troops home have been at odds."

"Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home. The way forward I have described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together."

On the message to Americans, were the desire for success in Iraq and the desire to keep a minimum sacrifice in American lives mutually exclusive?

I see value in a stable Iraq, but the U.S. troops ought not, and cannot, be the main drivers of that effort, giving up thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

For all Bush talks about changing the way forces respond to meet the objectives, ostensibly to nurture stability in Iraq and enable Iraqi forces to maintain security, little has been said about the strategy for Iraq to achieve a needed political solution.

Maybe bring in some outside help. Say NATO, the UN??

Another question is, does U.S. presence aid in that political solution when a majority of Iraqis, including militant nut jobs, want us to leave?

The News analysis pointed out a possible answer to political progress and the potential to withdraw, or lack thereof.
Mr. Bush’s underlying message was that Iraq would operate on its own clock — and that Americans should not expect to have leverage over its decisions.

“Guess what, this is Iraq,” one senior administration official told reporters on Thursday afternoon as they pressed him on whether Mr. Bush had abandoned hope of bringing about change in the time frames he had discussed in January.

Guess what, our armed forces, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, cousins are over there. Why the hell are we leaving their fate in the hands of Iraqis, who have little common perspective on what political progress looks like? Should we even expect progress from the war-weary Iraqis? Should the troops have to?

Reader Reconsiders Routine

Alt-weekly, the Chicago Reader will reformat, notes Phil Rosenthal at the Chicago Tribune.

Prefacing a buyout by Florida-based Creative Loafing, the Reader will change to a tabloid format from its now quarter fold. The paper is also looking to cut delivery staff that distributes its 135,000 copies weekly and print at the presses of Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Printing at the Journal Sentinel press is noted to allow more colors for publication, but Chicago's alt-weekly will have to come out on Wednesdays rather than Thursdays. This is probably because the Milwaukee press has to print out a different popular alt-weekly for Thursday, Madison, Wis.'s Isthmus.

The Reader's format changes are good and should pay dividends in the long run considering that the paper can adequately be delivered. The tabloid format makes paper's easier to read, being opened like a magazine rather than a newspaper. The Reader likely gets most of their readers during daily commutes.

The Tribune Co.'s Redeye (a crappy -6-day- paper put out to appeal to the "twenty-something crowd" that basically condenses longer stories from the Tribune and has a more liberal editorial bent) is in tabloid, and is widely read on the way to work. I gather because its easy to read in tight quarters, and it's free and better than picking your nose.

So, kudos to the Reader.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Clearing The Ashes

The Chicago Transit Authority accepted a short-term $24 million bail-out from Gov. Blagojevich.

This pending approval by the Regional Transport Authority on Friday.

CTA's repeated full-page ads in the Tribune lay out the drastic cuts in public transport that would have taken place Sept. 16th; however, the "doomsday" cuts may take place in November if the transit authority doesn't figure out something long-term.

The proposed changes:
- 600 CTA employees will be laid off.
- Fares will increase 50 cents to one dollar per ride.
- 39 bus routes will be cut.
- Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

Falling short $110 million dollars last year, the CTA is in dire need of funds. The legislature was not able to get enough votes to pass a $0.0025 sales tax increase to make the CTA solvent in the long-term.

Blagojevich didn't support such a tax because of it's cost to working class folks. You know, the million or so people who would have to pony up an extra 50 cents per ride to get to work every day.

Instead, the Gov. wants to close tax loopholes used by large corporations in order to ensure the CTA's long-term viability. We'll see if he can do that by November 4. hmmm...

Israeli Defense Policy: A more nuanced approach?

Rogue rockets from the Gaza strip injured dozens of Israeli soldiers yesterday morning, reports the BBC. But retaliation is considered unlikely.

"Despite the pressure on (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert) to order a broad offensive against militants in Gaza, his leeway for military action is restricted by accelerated diplomatic efforts to resume negotiations with the Palestinians," notes the Chicago Tribune.

Likud officials, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, have urged a strong ground attack in retaliation. It is exactly what Defense wants to do after those responsible for the rockets, Islamic Jihad, are dancing in the streets and claiming "a victory for God."

But Israel wouldn't win the "public relations" war. Let's consider another conflict.

Olmert has undoubtedly learned things from last year's incursion in Lebanon, after which he openly stated a desire to reconsider the way Israel responds to terrorism.

In Lebanon last year, Hezbollah members kidnapped Israeli soldiers and shot off rockets toward border towns, kicking off a month-long battle that killed hundreds and displaced thousands. Israel received international condemnation, save for the U.S., for bombings that affected Lebanese civilians.

Israel, of course, won the military battle, but Hezbollah gained a twisted victory among Lebanese by making themselves martyrs and promising rebuilding resources to the broader population. Lebanese government officials have felt Hezbollah's heat for most of this year, while Olmert has struggled with weak approval ratings.

What does that have to do with today's Israeli response?

While Islamic Jihad claims a victory and distributes candy in the streets in Gaza, Olmert likely considers military retaliation as a further strengthening of the militant group's hand. Rallies and candy can taste as sweet as victory, but a military strike by Israel would only be bitter.

Israeli defense officials have to consider the repercussions of a military strike on efforts toward peace.

Also, Islamic Jihad can claim a small victory by embracing a nihilist "let's pick a fight" ideology. But can the militant group provide anything else to the broader Gaza population other than hatred and revenge? Say, basic services and economic future?

Likely not.

The incompetence inherent in militant groups would be exacerbated by the cutting off of resources by Israel. This is to be considered next week, reports the Tribune.

Less rockets, more sweating, seems to be the strategy.

What is interesting is that Washington could be learning about the value of persuasion over force. Potentially.
The State Department denounced the Palestinian rocket attack but urged Israel to show restraint. "We would only counsel -- in this case Israel which has suffered injuries and losses as a result of attacks -- to take into consideration the effects of what they might do in self-defense on the overall political process," said spokesman Sean McCormack in the Tribune.

Use of force could be dampening any success of political processes? Washington war hawks, are you listening?