Monday, April 30, 2007

Giuliani's dance with conservatives

Twice divorced, pro-choice, pro-gun control, and pro-gay rights…Does this sound like a successful Republican running for office? Former mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani has a history of being all three. Yet he’s the frontrunner in a Republican primary campaign that has started little more than two years into President Bush’s second term.

“[Giuliani] produced the eight most consecutive years of successful conservative governance in the 20th century in America,” said conservative columnist George Will as he introduced “America’s mayor” to the Conservative Political Action Conference in March. Ravenous applause accompanied Will’s assertion that under Giuliani, New York's welfare rolls dropped by 600,000.

But other parts of Giuliani’s past may be catching up to him. His conservative opponent in the 1993 New York mayoral race, George Marlin, called him a “lifelong liberal” in The Politico. He notes that Giuliani ran for mayor as a “liberal Republican” and criticized 1994 gubernatorial candidate George Pataki for wanting to enact an "irresponsible" 25 percent state income tax cut.

The difference between conservative camps on Giuliani appears minimal in national opinion polls among Republican voters, with Giuliani leading by at least 10 percent among all the candidates. But with a mixed record on conservative the issues, why is he so far ahead? Does he stand a chance to win the nomination?

“My guess about Giuliani is that most people don't have a clear sense of what he stands for ... just that he's one of the "heroes" of 9/11,” John Sharpless, a UW-Madison historian and former congressional candidate, said in an email.

Giuliani has a lot of “vague positives” without much substance, Sharpless said. Voters think that he is a “nice guy.”

A Newsweek poll puts Giuliani with a 25 percent lead in a one-on-one match up with rival Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and a 50 percent lead over former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney. Other statistics back up Sharpless’s assertion that many Republican voters have false perceptions on where Giuliani stands.

The same poll, conducted at the end of February, notes that 85 percent didn’t know that Giuliani has opposed an amendment banning gay marriage. Of 1,202 Republican voters, 62 percent didn’t know that he is pro-choice and 81 percent didn’t know that has favored gun control laws.

Giuliani has had success in lowering crime and creating better economic environment in New York, which slightly contributes to his image as an effective leader, said Charles Franklin, a UW-Madison political scientist and statistician.

The New York Times reported that the number of murders dropped from 1,946 in 1993 to 714 in 2001, a 63 percent drop during Giuliani’s two terms. Giuliani also cut taxes by $2.5 billion and turned a $2.3 billion budget deficit into a budget surplus.

But Franklin said that most voters do not consider this.

“It’s hard to underestimate the lack of knowledge that people have about politicians.” he said. “What do ordinary citizens in Kansas know about crime in New York?”

Franklin agrees with Sharpless that Giuliani’s largest advantage is his image as a “Churchillian figure” post Sept. 11. A well-known personality goes a long way, and this is even more important given the lack of a “strong conservative” candidates.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, consistently vote conservative, Franklin said. But they are seen as far too divisive, while Romney is seen as too liberal.

“Conservative talk radio consistently vilifies two politicians: Hillary Clinton and John McCain,” Franklin said. “McCain continues to nosedive.”

Evangelical churches and pro-life groups have cast McCain into flames because of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform act, Franklin said, with more limits on electioneering. Other thorns in conservative sides are McCain’s opposition to the use of torture and his compromise with Senate Democrats over the ability to filibuster judicial nominees.

While the leading contenders are still in Giuliani’s shadow, Franklin sees former senator Fred Thompson as a less controversial, but consistently conservative candidate coming up the ranks. Thompson garnered 17 percent to McCain’s 22 percent and Giuliani’s 33 percent in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll held last month.

“Thompson hasn’t even started running yet and he’s showing potential in the polls, Franklin said, noting that he would likely take conservative votes from McCain.

Giuliani, meanwhile, has changed his rhetoric to be more with conservative Republicans on some issues. He blasted New Hampshire’s new civil union law for “going to far,” as it “states same sex civil unions are the equivalent of marriage and recognizes same sex unions from outside states.”

On gun control, his campaign Web site says “Rudy understands that what works in New York doesn’t necessarily work in Mississippi or Montana.” Under Mayor Giuliani, New York became the first city in New York State to file a lawsuit against the gun industry.

As American voters learn more about Giuliani’s positions, the conservative credentials of challengers may be his downfall. But up until now, few people seem to be noticing as he leads the pack. Those who do notice, have to consider how much value they attribute to “liberal stances” on abortion rights, gay rights, and gun control.

“The question is, do you need someone who is 100 percent on these issues, or someone who reaches a threshold?” asked Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, in Newsweek. “[Giuliani] wouldn’t be polling so well if he wasn’t coming close to a certain threshold.”

Monday, April 23, 2007

Iraq and the control freak

Interesting news from New York Times. As U.S. and Iraqi forces were putting a dividing wall between Shiites and Sunnis in Baghdad's Adhamiya neighborhood, members of both factions came to the streets to protest. Over one thousand according to the article.

Some Sunnis came to praise Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, in unified opposition to the wall. The action is pretty amazing, given that the Sunnis generally consider al-Maliki an oppressor of their group.

The whole idea that a wall will keep the peace between different groups is flawed. If we are fighting for a unified Iraq, is this not anathema to that cause? If the only thing keeping the peace is a wall, sectioning off areas in the city, then that would be the ultimate failure for democracy.

President Bush says that the U.S. must stay until the job is done, but the effectiveness of that is based on a lot of assumptions: the Iraqis want us there, and that our presence is doing some sort of good.

U.S. war planners invaded, took control of Iraq, and leaned heavily on the government to form a particular type. As basic needs weren't met (water, electricity) and the economy hit the fan, the Iraqi's likely thought it better to radicalize than try to work with the Americans. Is this a surprise?

From day one, the Iraqis have felt the humiliation of being occupied. We are no longer a neutral player in this. Sunni's see the U.S. as favoring Shiites, and they engage in "sectarian struggle" along with the "radical" Sadrists who oppose the occupation.

The U.S. might have been able to do a great deal of "good," but failed leadership from the highest levels has insisted that it knows what is right by dispersing various seasoned Iraqi political figures at the fall of Saddam's statue. The neoliberal economics shocked the Iraqi system; not enough infrastructure (schools, water utility) was available for the function of any political-economic system.

That a perpetual U.S. presence there is positive is single-minded. If we set a timetable, Bush says we'd "embolden our enemies." Does staying there and throwing salt in the country's wounds help?

Some would say I don't support the troops. Why? Because I don't think they should be cannon fodder for a war that I don't believe in?

Troops who have served in Iraq come back sincere that they were trying to do the best they could to help Iraqis work towards a better life. But the best efforts of many good men and women does not ensure "victory" when the realities on the ground were exacerbated by failed leadership in the first place.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Jack Bauer goes to Iraq

Iraq is going swimmingly. The New York Times reports that Iraqi forces, ostensibly trained by the U.S., are using torture to get answers out of suspected insurgents.

The U.S. captain, who was stationed where three detainees were beaten, said information led them houses that might be used by Al Qaeda cells and they (shock) got a confession out of him that he had planted roadside bombs that killed 4 U.S. soldiers.

U.S. leaders condemned the torture, though examples at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo may have set a precedent.

The tortures happened in the "thrasher" compound, located in part of Baghdad that still has sewage in the streets and a lack of electricity and clean water.

The surge policy was pitched as a way to provide security, but what use is security if you have to deficate in the street?

I've interviewed several veterans who've talked about making the necessary infrastructure. With the earnestness with which they desired to help the Iraqis, I have immense respect. But they built schools and bridges, and utilities only to have their work destroyed by bombs.

The Pentagon and Bush Administration wonder boys are putting in too little to late to create the security to maintain the efforts of our troops.

Generals in the winter of 2003 told the President, or his advisers, that the plan for the Iraq War was shortchanging the troops.

I was against the war from the start, but if we were going to do it, we should have listened then.

Give the troops enough support while Iraqis and U.S. Americans still thought there was a chance of winning the peace.

Now, Iraq is becoming a lost cause. And the "democracy" we were trying to instill was broken by an arrogant bunch of Neo-Cons. Neo-cons who have set a precedent for the Iraqi soldiers who torture.

Our "leaders" are showing that they are more like who they fear by each passing day.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Another shooting?

Another day, another shooting. Looking at the BBC News I expect to see something other than more shots in the U.S.

At the Johnson space center, a gun takes his own life and one of his hostages. A white male in his 50s, who may have been an Employee there. A SWAT team and the police could not stop it.

It's time to reconsider our gun policy here, and reexamine the way we look at violence.

An argument by James Hillman in the book, A Terrible Love of War, posits that America is far removed from much strife in the world. Most of us in the U.S. only see war on television, which gives a distorted image through frames of Christianity, American exceptionalism/patriotism, and the cruel world beyond our borders.

Killings/Shootings/Bombings seen on television make the citizen numb to violence. IF you can't feel it, you can't identify with it. Propoganda is easily spread to link nationalism to militarism.

Hillman's observations certainly have errors. I'd like to think that U.S. citizens are not as impressionable as he observes, not simply clinging to unreality of war through a nationalist lens that makes violence benign.

But the devil lies in the details.

For me, an additional factor is the way U.S. Americans are alienated/isolated from within. The states that usually show more support for the war have a predominantly rural character. Individuals may not be coming in contact with other cultures, timely news, international perspective as often.

This may lead to an atmosphere where war images in the media are more influential, in a bad way. That's not to say that urban atmospheres are the most cosmopolitan sheerly by means of having a dense population. New York and Los Angeles are not the pinnacle of civilization.

But the most important thing is to break down barriers between people through dialogue. Groups who are separated tend to caricature each other, ranging from stupid/evil/apathetic to friendly, smart, exciting.

Seung-Hui Cho was isolated, he saw the rest of the world as decadent and trivial. Can we create a conversation with such isolated individuals before someone gets shot?

Germans don't always love David Hasselhoff

...a blast from the past. Remember when SNL was funny?

I did do a German version of this for class, with a hedgehog instead of a monkey. Got an A, despite the projectile vomit.

Bombs are fun!

McCain does his best to rile up some hatred! Hey, let's sing along.
Not only do we have a faith-based policy, but we have a racist-based policy!
What about Iran's progressive dissents who are fighting to change Iran's policy? President Ahmadinejad isn't exactly popular given his provocation of the West. If the problem, as hicks say, is Islam, what about the Christian population in Iran?

McCain is telling people to "lighten up." Wow...


More outrageous behavior from liberals as well. Aric Bawdwin (Alec Baldwin) bitching out his daughter and calling her a pig.

I love American politics. Any stupid degenerate can play along!

Buying beer, handguns

Green Bay Internet gun dealer, Eric Thompson, sold a Wahlter .22 hand gun to someone in Virginia. That someone turned out to be, Cho Seung-Hui, who went on to murder 32 people at Virginia Tech.

Thompson said in State Journal that he felt terrible about the shooting, but followed all necessary paperwork. He advocates hunting, and says that guns should be out of the hands of "madmen" through laws on the books.

Thompson even linked his website to a memorial fund for the Virginia Tech victims.

There's something wrong here. Why are weapons being sold to anonymous buyers?
Face-to-face transactions allow an additional screening capacity, do they not. Hell, a 12-year-old can buy liquor on the Internet.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fighting barbarity with barbarity

Ben Hancock over at the Cap Times writes about fear of a backlash among UW-Madison Korean students. Reports from the dean of students say some threats and hate messages were left on several Korean profiles on Facebook.

The shootings last Monday had nothing to do with race, but a homicidal, reactionary maniac making vast generalizations about the students at his school. Cho called them all charlitains and snobs.

It's terribly ironic how a few reactionaries can feel justified about generalizing about South Koreans, an entire nationality. Their mentality is essentially the same as a man that they hate/fear. It's things like this that make the tragedy of Virginia Tech unsurprising.

See a related column about insecurities, masculinity, and violence at the New York Times. Registration Required.

Corporate Whore, Sweet Jesus!

The sheer brilliance in Bitter Films' take on commercialism always amuses the hell out of me. The elevator music as a man is being beaten, the fake charisma of a host announcing the Family Learning Channel, the forced enthusiasm in spite of the pains of reality.

Though dating back to 2000, still a work of genius. Not that I'm promoting it or anything. Buy stuff from Bitter Films, and save now!

Shooting Tragedy

In light of the recent slaughter of 32 people by a mad-man claiming to be a Christ-figure, this L.A. Times article raises the best point. All the media coverage of the carnage is in somewhat bad taste. Now is the time for silent reflection, and mourning of lost love ones by the families of those affected.

President Bush came to console the Virginia Tech community. Though I completely disagree with virtually any policy idea he puts forth, his presence reminds that the office of the presidency still holds a dear part of this country's persona. Bush's presence is a way to show that this country stands with the victims, regardless of politics.

At least that's what I would like to think based on my observations.

Great conversation, poor in bed

Mandates cause outrage among politicians and the public. So do sexually transmitted infections, such as the papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts and cancer.

But a possible bill by state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, which would mandate the vaccination of young girls against HPV, has started a festering but needed conversation about public health and sexuality.

HPV is the most widespread sexually transmitted infection in the United States, affecting about 50 percent of the population, according to the Center of Disease Control. The vaccine, Gardasil, targets strains that cause up to 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts.

Despite the benefits of decreasing infection and cancer, criticism of a mandate has come from doctors and public officials. They argue that the public needs more education about HPV and that Gardasil needs more testing and is too expensive. It costs roughly $360 for three shots, and some insurance companies do not cover it.

“This is something that’s not on people’s radar,” James H. Conway, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, says in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We can’t get to the point where we’re forcing people into doing something without educating them about why they’re doing it.”

I agree that much of the public needs more time to understand HPV and the immunization before it’s mandated. Also, people need the resources to get the vaccine, whether insured or not.

Fortunately, countywide efforts in Wisconsin are making that possible. Public Health- Madison & Dane County has been offering Gardasil free of charge to young uninsured girls since April 1.

“No one is turned away,” says Jeneile Luebke, the Immunization Specialist for Public Health. She notes that uninsured girls aged 9 to 18 can get vaccinated, and exceptions are made for girls whose insurance doesn’t yet cover the HPV vaccine.

So far, Luebke says that funding for the vaccinations has been adequate, and the public is receptive. But she notes that the budgets are stretched thin, forcing the county to shift funds to cover the more expensive HPV vaccine.

“[President] Bush cut the budget of the national vaccination program by 16 percent this year,” Luebke says. “The state has to make up for that.”

HPV vaccine programs are also facing some challenges from socially conservative groups such as the Family Research Institute and the Abstinence Coalition. They charge that the vaccine sends a message that teenagers are expected to have sex, making it more permissible to them.

“Any time there is a mandate, there’s a backlash,” Luebke says of such groups, countering that even if a woman is abstinent until marriage, she can still contract HPV from a husband who has previously had sex.

County vaccination programs like that of Dane County rightfully engage Wisconsin residents about the problems associated with HPV and provide intervention.

Sen. Taylor’s proposed bill is founded on the best intentions. Combating HPV must be part of the public sphere, but awareness of the vaccine and its use will take some time.

Forcing good policy will hinder its acceptance. Instead, resources should be used to support county vaccination programs and combat virulent strains of flawed ideology.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Media bias

This is a powerful take on the need to stay informed and the deficit of understanding shaped by news. News doesn't conspire to take on liberal or conservative biases, that's left to the editorial board. But there is a lot of opinion portrayed as news (Hannity and Colmes, Crossfire, Scarborough country, etc.) and practical journalistic considerations that taint the shot of reality portrayed by journalists.

News is event driven, not thought driven. Journalists have to produce the answers immediately and interestingly. So, an obvious mishap is to focus on the sensational, trivial rather than the mundane and important.

We have problems staying informed in this country. Evidence: when Rumsfeld resigned last November, Iraqis cheered as some U.S. military grunts pondered: "Who's Rumsfeld?"

After all, "There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

I forgot, my bad...

It's come to this...

Alberto Gonzales, amidst "losing" emails with regards to the firing of U.S. attorneys has arrived to have the same defense as Scooter Libby: I gotta shady memory.

Yes, whether forgetting about outing a CIA agent or what exactly led to the firings of some attorneys, the Bush Administration tends to forget the past. I find this Ironic given the fact that Bush keeps saying that history will redeem his "decisions."
...ya know, just like it did for Truman...

The defense is similar to what I used to do in preschool when I got in a spat with another kid. I said with an innocent look, "Whoops, I made a mistake." The thing is, it usually worked. However, banking on that strategy when you are over 13 is less viable.

This Administration has a poor recollection of more important things than these though. From Bush comparing the invasion in Iraq to WWII and the American Revolution (my friend Mark pointed out that the colonists were considered "terrorists") to forgetting that the British and French had already attempted to democratize Iraq in the first part of the 20th century, to no avail.

Bush even thinks the Viet Cong would've given up if it weren't for LBJ and Nixon deciding it was unwinnable. It appears he has the same philosophy for Iraq, we just have to stay there indefinately if we want people who hate us to lay down their arms.

Bush compares the Iraq to the patriots of the revolution fighting for democracy. A similar comparison has been told before.

Ronald Reagan praised the Taliban for their freedom fight against the Soviet Union. At least he could claim to have had Alzheimer's...

Friday, April 6, 2007

Rove Rap

Jon Stewart points out the sad sad state of those who make life and death decisions in our government. Expires 4/30.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Creating a crisis to look like heroes, who would do that?

Here's an interesting little take on Iran's release of 15 British hostages. It claims Ahmadinejad created a crisis, and surrendered to look like a benevolent peacekeeper.

A good point, though the analysis misses something...Let's see...
Who else started a crisis/war under false pretenses in order to look like a savior of international security?

Any ideas?

Shoving it down our throats, toilet.

Judith Davidoff over at the Capital Times points out the friction between Medicare part D and Wisconsin's very own SeniorCare.

"They have been out to get rid of all the state plans and we were the last one standing," Doyle said in the article. "This is all about the Bush administration trying to make people believe Medicare Part D is a great program."

Doyle asks for an extension of the popular SeniorCare Program, as the giant Monolith Medicare encroaches on the state.

I can't blame him. Bipartisan health care plans put forth by Wisconsin's own Sen. Feingold and Rep. Baldwin have asked for more state leverage. The idea is that health care is best left to local management rather than a federal mandate.

Studies have shown the state program to be more cost effective. As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, a 2005 study by the Wisconsin chapter of AARP found that a person with an annual income of about $15,000 and $1,000 in annual prescription drug costs would save $632 each year under SeniorCare compared to Medicare Part D.

SeniorCare also allows seniors to negotiate lower prices by forming a purchasing pool, while Medicare Part D prohibits bargaining pools.

So why do the feds insist on having it their way?

Greater policy autonomy to the states used to be a Republican philosophy, particularly attractive to fiscal conservatives. But it is no more.

The Bush Administration has warped conservatism to his own mold. The Medicare debate follows a series of attempts by feds to spend billions on policy that gives rights to Washington bureaucrats. And Wisconsin rebellion has been mixed.

Last month the New York Times reported on Madison's refusal of federally mandated phonics reading program in favor of local curricula that focus on context, meaning, as well as pronunciation. It cost the Madison Metropolitan school district $2 million in federal aid, but reading scores are better than the national average.

Also, the Administration attempts to ban gay marriage and civil unions failed. Unfortunately, Wisconsin's progressive tradition took a nap as a constitutional ban was voted in last November.

At the federal level, Bush repeatedly blasted big government in 2004 as a way to get reelected. But time and time again he's expanded the government to new levels, even beating FDR. It's no wonder that conservative support is waning, a lame duck as he wanders through the beginning of his seventh year in office.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Iranian "generosity"

Over in Iran, President Ahmadinejad has "given a gift" to Britain by returning their troops. The NYTimes reports that 15 British troops were grateful to Ahmadinejad, shaking his hand for the humane treatment.

Frankly, I'm surprised the Iranian president gave in so easily, though even conservatives within the country are chastising him for provoking the West. Ahmadinejad seems to like drama, and one wonders if this wasn't just another musical gone bad.

The question of whether British soldiers had crossed into Iranian waters is still in dispute. Did Ahmadinejad want to stage a make-believe party? Did gruff Uncle Khomeini come in and bust up playtime because it made too much noise?

Whether the soldiers return unscathed and actually were treated well is yet to be proven. They could have just wanted to play nice so that they could leave early. The assumption is that the soldiers were manipulated and tortured so that they would apologize and make the Iranian president out to be a decent guy.

But I have to wonder what the situation would be like if the tables were turned. The U.S. administration certainly has a track record in how it handles "enemy combatants." Fears for the safety of the Brits may be a reflection of the distrust we have with the most torturous parts of our own society.

Or have we come to expect torture, maltreatment of prisoners as an inevitable part of war?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

trains function, government doesn't

Former coworker Rob Zaleski over at the Capital Times is skeptical that trains will be coming any time soon to the Madison area. Despite the hopes of myself, Zaleski, and others, it's going to take a federal move to make that possible.

Capitol Neighborhoods secretary Dan O'Brien told me, at Maduro a while back, that we should look more toward Europe to get the train going. Wouldn't it be nice to ride to Milwaukee or Chicago, while sipping a glass of wine and viewing the landscape? To get get to a destination and not have to worry about parking? To help the environment, and cut funding/exploitation of the Middle Eastern world?

Those at the top, with the veto, tacitly forget -or even ignore- how oil companies gouge prices or have us twisted around the diamond ring on their middle finger.