Friday, December 12, 2003

Lord of the Oscars

So “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” is the odds-on favorite to get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

That is all good and fine, but the question remains whether or not it will finally win the Oscar this time around. Oscar voters passed over LOTR the first two chances they had and their choices haven’t fared well over time. Picking “A Beautiful Mind” over “Fellowship of the Ring” two years ago should be an embarrassment to them today and “Chicago” over “Two Towers” is rapidly approaching that same status. But if “Return of the King” wins the big prize this year (and Peter Jackson gets the Director Oscar) then I will consider all the past slights forgiven.

This year I was worried that films like “Master and Commander” starring Russell Crowe or “Last Samurai” starring Tom Cruise would displace LOTR:ROTK on Oscar night. But now both of those fills seem to have run out of steam and the new favorite of the snobby critic class is “Cold Mountain” with Jude Law and Nicole Kidman (again).

LOTR:ROTK doesn’t even make the Top 10 for 2003 according to the snobby National Board of Review. Their list includes "Mystic River" at No. 1 followed in order by "The Last Samurai," "The Station Agent," "21 Grams," "House of Sand and Fog," "Lost in Translation," "Cold Mountain," "In America," "Seabiscuit," and "Master and Commander."
Needless to say, I find this group’s assessment to be beneath contempt.

It is a shame that the snobby critics won’t give any acting nominations to the superb LOTR cast. Ian McKellen (Gandalf) should have been nominated for Best Actor for Fellowship and Cate Blanchett (Galadriel) and Sean Bean (Boromir) deserved Supporting nods in the same film. Andy Serkis deserved a nomination as Gollum in Two Towers. Now they are talking about Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) and Sean Astin (Sam) as potential nominees this time around.

Bush-style diplomacy

Small-minded, petty and vindictive. These are words that best desribe Bush’s attitude towards our allies and helps explain why we are becoming increasingly isolated in our efforts to pull ourselves out of the quagmire in Iraq.

Bush’s decision to keep the spoils of war for himself and his friends is really not surprising considering his background. It sounds sensible enough in a simplistic way and it fits with Bush’s overall “My way or the highway” style of diplomacy. But these kinds of juvenile schoolyard antics may excite Bush’s right-wing supporters, but they don’t fare as well on the international stage. I’m afraid the end result will be that U.S. troops and U.S. taxpayers will continue to shoulder the brunt of the workload in Iraq for the forseeable future.

We are essentially punishing allies like France, Germany, Russia and Canada because they were right in their initial assessment that Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat. Their doubts about his supposed arsenal of WMDs have proven to be prescient. And in a brilliant stroke of diplomacy by Bush Co., we are beating them over the head with this rebuke at the exact same time that we are going to them on bended knee with hat in hand to beg for more money to support the reconstruction efforts. The Wall Street Journal has a good story about this today on page A5:

“Former Secrestary of State James Baker did President Bush a favor by agreeing to lobby U.S. allies to write off $120 billion in Iraqi debts. But Mr. Bush did his old family friend no favor at all by angering Iraq’s major foreign creditors just before he sent Mr. Baker overseas to plead for their generosity...
“It looks terribly clumsy, poorly timed and it looks vindictive,” said Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International, which has long experience in developing world debt negotiations.”

In the meantime, we find out today that Dick Cheney’s Halliburton has been gouging U.S. taxpayers with overpriced gas and other services. That’s good to know now that Bush has cleared much of the competition away for the remaining contracts. Halliburton can continue to bilk U.S. taxpayers for the forseeable future because they have ‘friends in high places.’


I said the Iraqi contracts decision was small-minded, petty and vindictive. But William Kristol at the conservative Weekly Standard goes one step further and calls it ‘dumb.’

“A truly wise American administration would have opened the bidding to all comers, regardless of their opposition to the war -- as a way of buying those countries into the Iraq effort, building a little goodwill for the future, and demonstrating to the world a little magnanimity.
But instead of being smart, clever, or magnanimous, the Bush Administration has done a dumb thing. The announcement of a policy of discriminating against French, German, and Russian firms has made credible European charges of vindictive pettiness and general disregard for the opinion of even fellow liberal democracies. More important, it has made former Secretary of State James Baker's very important effort to get these countries, among others, to offer debt relief for the new government of Iraq almost impossible. This is to say nothing of other areas where we need to work with these governments.
This decision is a blunder. We trust it will be reversed.”

No, sorry Mr. Kristol. Bush is currently defending the decision, not reversing it. We are not talking about a wise administration here.

Josh Marshall knocks the argument that this decision will somehow encourage these governments to cooperate with us in the near future:

“Some folks seem to be under the misimpression that there's some clever bargaining going on here. There's not.
Think about it. The whole pot is about $20 billion. Let's imagine the French and the Germans both got fabulously lucky and their companies managed to land contracts for a billion a piece. Does anyone think that Germany or France are going to write off billions of dollars in Iraqi loans or invite a backlash from their anti-Iraq war publics by sending in some troops all for the privilege of having the French or German versions of Halliburton or Bechtel make a few million dollars?
Of course, not.”

Paul Krugman thinks the decision was a deliberate attempt to screw up efforts at reconciliation with our allies by hard-right elements of the Bush administration. Of course, my only question is which elements of Bush Co. are not hard-right?

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

President Dean

Like a lot of Democrats I have been worried lately that a primary victory by Howard Dean could doom the party to another McGovern-Mondale-Dukakis type of defeat. So I've been secretly hoping that John Kerry might bounce back or that Wesley Clark will ride in at the last minute and save the day.
But the truth is that it really doesn't matter whether the Democratic nominee is Dean or Kerry or Clark. Any one of those guys plus Gephardt, Edwards and Lieberman would be sufficient to beat Bush next year. These are different times than '72, '84 or '88 and Bush is in such a weak position that it will be very hard for him to recover enough to win a second term. It's funny that it took a conservative like William Kristol to point that out, but the points he makes - even the partisan jabs - are good ones and should have been more obvious to me.

"Could Dean really win? Unfortunately, yes. The Democratic presidential candidate has, alas, won the popular presidential vote three times in a row -- twice, admittedly, under the guidance of the skilled Bill Clinton, but most recently with the hapless Al Gore at the helm. And demographic trends (particularly the growth in Hispanic voters) tend to favor the Democrats going into 2004."

Kristol tends to soft pedal the obstacles facing Bush next time around but even so doing he makes it clear that they may be insurmountable:

"Bush is also likely to be the first president since Herbert Hoover under whom there will have been no net job creation, and the first since Lyndon Johnson whose core justification for sending U.S. soldiers to war could be widely (if unfairly) judged to have been misleading."

Kristol also bursts some of the Republicans' wishful thinking regarding Dean the candidate:

"But is Dean a credible alternative? ... Dean has run a terrific primary campaign, the most impressive since Carter in 1976. It's true that, unlike Carter (and Clinton), Dean is a Northeastern liberal. But he's no Dukakis. Does anyone expect Dean to be a patsy for a Bush assault, as the Massachusetts governor was?
And how liberal is Dean anyway? He governed as a centrist in Vermont, and will certainly pivot to the center the moment he has the nomination."

Kristol even lays out Dean's attack plans for the campaign:

"On domestic policy, Dean will characterize Bush as the deficit-expanding, Social Security-threatening, Constitution-amending (on marriage) radical, while positioning himself as a hard-headed, budget-balancing, federalism-respecting compassionate moderate. And on foreign and defense policy, look for Dean to say that he was and remains anti-Iraq war (as, he will point out, were lots of traditional centrist foreign policy types). But Dean will emphasize that he has never ruled out the use of force (including unilaterally). Indeed, he will say, he believes in military strength so strongly that he thinks we should increase the size of the Army by a division or two. It's Bush, Dean will point out, who's trying to deal with the new, post-Sept. 11 world with a pre-Sept. 11 military."

I know that Kristol is just trying to scare his conservative readers into not being complacent in the upcoming election, but he does so by laying out some very hard truths that most Republicans have refused to acknowledge so far. Democrats actually have cause to be optimistic about the next election. We have a big opening before us just waiting for someone to step up and take advantage of it. If that someone is Howard Dean, then so be it.

Green growth strategy

Jan Jarboe Russell has been writing a political column for the Express-News for at least a decade, maybe two. But judging from her naïve column this Sunday, you might think she was just starting out in the business.

Russell gave a glowing endorsement to the Green Party growth strategy being advanced by Houston attorney David Cobb, who helped to found the Green Party in Texas.
Russell acknowledges (a bit late) that Ralph Nader played the spoiler role in the 2000 election that helped popular vote loser George W. Bush win the White House. But she thinks a Green Party presidential bid by Cobb this next time around will be just fine because he has promised to only campaign in the “40 or so safe states.” (Golly, I’d sure love to have access to his crystal ball to know precisely which states those will be!)

Unlike Nader, Cobb says his only goal is to build the Green Party and not to win the White House. Of course, his promise not to campaign in the non-safe states only applies if the Democrats nominate a candidate who he agrees with. If Joe Lieberman or Wesley Clark get the nod then the deal is off, he says.

Cobb, of course, is an idiot. And it is sad that Russell can’t seem to recognize this. What Russell doesn’t seem to understand is that serving as a spoiler is the only thing a Green Party candidate can do on the national level. Just by placing his name on the ballot in every state helps to draw votes away from the Democrats and thus benefits the Republicans. It doesn’t matter where he decides to “concentrate” his time and efforts.
The 2000 election in Florida was so close (the official tally was less than a 200 vote difference) that it didn’t matter if Nader had campaigned there or not. He would have drawn enough votes away to tip the scales to the Republicans without ever stepping foot there during the campaign.

The Green Party is like a cancer eating away at the Democratic Party. Every vote that goes to a Green candidate helps to get a Republican elected. It is not just the presidential race in 2000 where this has happened. On at least two occasions in New Mexico the Green Party helped to elect Republicans to Congress in districts that would have gone Democratic otherwise.

Green Party drones argue that they are not taking votes away from Democrats because they are tapping into disenchanted voters who aren’t voting at all. But these are still the very voters that the Democrats need if the party is ever going to regain the majority. If these Green Party activists were really concerned about advancing the political goals that they espouse, they would join the Democratic Party and work to push it in a progressive direction. But by pulling out and supporting a third party in a two-party system is nothing short of political suicide. If we had a parliamentary system it might make some sense, but we don’t and we are not going to adopt one anytime soon.

Russell ends her column by warning that “another Nader candidacy helps Bush – again.” Yes, but so does any Green Party candidacy. Just remember, GREEN stands for Get Republicans Elected Every November!