Friday, July 01, 2005

John Sharp for Governor

John Sharp
Originally uploaded by mwthomas87.

OK, I’m all ready to jump aboard the John Sharp for Governor bandwagon as soon as it launches.

The Burnt Orange Report says that former Texas Comptroller John Sharp will soon announce his candidacy for governor.
Charles at Off the Kuff and Matt at Just Another Blog offer their thoughts as well.

I’ve always thought that Sharp was a heck of a good guy. During the years that I was a political reporter I met many politicians, both Democratic and Republican, who I liked. Sharp was one of those who I just liked personally, and I would probably support him today even if he were a Republican. The fact that he is a Democrat is just an added bonus.

He should have been the first Texas Aggie governor rather than Rick Perry.

I don’t have anything against Chris Bell other than I don’t think he has a ghost of a chance of winning the governor’s race. I think Sharp does, although it will still be a tough fight. Hopefully, if Sharp gets in it would encourage Bell to run for lieutenant governor instead.

There is not a lot on the net that I can find about Sharp right now, but here is a good interview with him from back when he made his first race for Lt. Gov. against Perry.

Sandra Day O’Connor retiring

Let the fighting begin.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court and a key swing vote on issues such as abortion and the death penalty, said Friday she is retiring.

This is huge. Now Bush has the chance to truly alter the makeup of the court by replacing one of the swing votes on many key decisions with another Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia clone.
Democrats had better buckle down for this one because it will make the Robert Bork battle look like a Sunday stroll in the park.

Think Progress has a good rundown of some key 5-4 court decisions where O’Connor made the difference for the liberal side.
I think it would be equally interesting to see a list of decisions where she made the difference for the conservatives.

Iran’s new president

I have to admit that it looked at first like Iran’s new president really was one of the hostage takers who held American embassy workers captive back in 1979.

But after reading this story today I’m not so sure.

In Tehran, Abbass Abdi, a former student leader involved in the seizure, said Mr. Ahmadinejad had played no role, although he had wanted to. "He was a student at a different university," Mr. Abdi said, "and we kept the plan secret among our own members who we trusted. He called after the embassy was captured and wanted to join us, but we refused to let him come to the embassy or become a member of our group."

So he wanted to join the group, but wasn’t allowed to be because he was at the wrong university.
Meanwhile the photograph, while intriguing, is not definitive proof by any means.

A photograph of a blindfolded American hostage being led by a man with some resemblance to a young Mr. Ahmadinejad was posted on various Web sites in recent days. But his office posted a photograph of him in that era seeking to show there was little resemblance. A close aide to Mr. Ahmadinejad, Kaveh Ejtetehadi, called the claims of his involvement "absurd."

It confused me that he would deny his involvement if it were true. Being anti-U.S. is not exactly a career killer over in Iran these days.
But if Mr. Ahmadinejad really were involved, I would be curious to find out what, if anything, he knew about this.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Another inane editorial

Tom Toles
Originally uploaded by mwthomas87.
The Express-News has another inane editorial about Iraq. This time they give a big thumbs up to President Bush’s vacuous speech on Tuesday and they endorse his short-sighted view that -

”...establishing a timetable for a withdrawal of American forces, would undermine the new government of Iraq and give succor to its enemies...”

As I’ve said before, this either means that we are stuck there indefinitely, or we will just sneak out one day without telling anyone.

In the meantime, our refusal to set any kind of timeline for withdrawal eliminates any kind of incentive for the new Iraqi government to get its act together and take charge of their country. As William Saleten pointed out in his excellent column (see previous post) this is the Republican equivalent of welfare - except that it is more expensive in both dollar amount and lives lost.

The editorial goes on to add this final hedge however -

...if it becomes evident that Iraqi forces can't or won't stand up — and at this point, that isn't the case — it will also be time to bring American forces home.

And who will make that determination? Certainly not this president who has bet his entire political fortune on this ideologically-guided venture in the Middle East. We will have to wait for the next president to come along - no doubt someone who will promise that they have “a secret plan to end the war.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Iraqi welfare

Kevin Drum today calls attention to an interesting column by William Saleten in Slate that equates the war in Iraq with welfare and uses some of the Republican’s own arguments against them.

President Bush explained how he plans to get our troops out of Iraq. "Our strategy can be summed up this way," he said. "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

I've heard politicians say this sort of thing before. But the politicians were liberals, and the downtrodden people they talked about were needy Americans. As these folks learned to support themselves, government would no longer need to support them, the liberals promised. As the poor stood up, we would stand down.

For 40 years, the central argument of the Republican Party—George W. Bush's party—was that liberals had it backward: If you prop people up, they'll never stand up, and you'll never stand down. You have to let go. As you stand down, they'll stand up.

Which brings us to the occupation of Iraq. In blood and money, it's fast becoming the most expensive welfare program in the history of the world. Like other welfare programs, it was a good idea when it started. Like other welfare programs, it has begun to overtax the treasury and the public. Like other welfare programs, it warps the behavior of its beneficiaries. But in one respect, it's unique. It's the one welfare program conservatives can't criticize or even recognize, because they're the ones running it. ...

Saleten goes on to argue that one reason for the drop in public support for the war is because people are beginning to see that it has turned into a huge welfare program for the Iraqi people.

Is it any mystery why polls have turned against the occupation? The people being polled are Americans. The people deriving a "better life" are Iraqis. Bush spent half the speech obscuring this gap. He equated Iraqi terrorists with the 9/11 hijackers and kept insisting that we're fighting for "our" freedom and security. But that spin lost its force long ago, when Saddam's weapons of mass destruction failed to materialize, forcing Bush to reframe the war as a democracy-spreading project. It's a noble war, but it's noble because it's altruistic. And people get tired of altruism....

He goes on to note that setting a timeline for withdrawing our troops would prod the Iraqi politicians to stop their bickering and get busy making the tough decisions and compromises necessary to become self-supporting.

The elections were five months ago. What have the assembly's Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish leaders done for the past five months? Bickered over every petty dispute. How much of the constitution have they drafted? Zip. Why are they bickering instead of buckling down? Because they can. Because they don't have to cut fast deals, meet the deadline, and give every faction a stake in the government to hold off the insurgency. They don't have to do these things, because 140,000 American troops are propping them up.

If welfare causes dependency for poor people in the inner cities, then the same logic applies to the security welfare we are providing for the Iraqi government. We can continue to provide them with truckloads of foreign aid, but its time for them to step up and take charge of their own security situation. And the fact is they will have little incentive to do so until we give them a real deadline for withdrawal.

This isn't our story. It's the Iraqis' story. They have to write it, and they have to start by drafting a constitution in six weeks. If they think Uncle Sam will prop them up till the job is done, the job will never get done. That's what conservatives used to understand about big government, before they started running it.

Failure to define victory

I didn’t have a chance to watch President Bush’s speech last night but I did come across this handy summary over at TPM Cafe that distills it all down to its key elements:

“Global war on terror, September the 11th, 2001, terrorists, terrorists , totalitarian ideology , freedom, tyranny,  oppression,   terror, kill, terrorists,   September the 11th, freedom, enemy , war,  terrorists, kill, murderous ideology , terrorism, terrorists, free nation, war on terror, freedom, violence and instability,  dangerous, violence, bloodshed, violence,  sacrifice , war on terror, violence,  killers, freedom, criminal elements, hateful ideology, freedom, liberty,  democracy, terrorists, war on terror, terrorists, Osama Bin Laden, murder and destruction, enemy, terrorists, car bombs, enemy, terrorists,  suicide bomber, enemy, terrorists, violence, terrorists, terrorists, terrorists , freedom, enemies, September the 11th,  Bin Laden,  enemy , free, tyranny, terrorists, anti-terrorist, free, al Qaeda, free nation, terrorists,  terrorists, enemy, terrorists, anti-terrorist  terrorists, terror, enemy, tyranny, enemies, freedom, freedom, ideologies of murder, atrocity, September the 11th 2001, car bombers and assassins, freedom, freedom, flying the flag, freedom, freedom, September the 11th 2001, enemies”.

Seriously though, I think it was unfortunate that Bush did not take my advice and give us a timeline for withdrawing our troops or even defining what he means by “completing the mission.” If by that he means “to find and defeat the terrorists”, then what we have is an open-ended, ongoing military occupation that will never run out of reasons to continue on and on indefinitely.

The NYTimes editorial today sums it up well:

We had hoped that he would seize the moment to tell the nation how he will define victory, and to give Americans a specific sense of how he intends to reach that goal - beyond repeating the same wishful scenario that he has been describing since the invasion.
Sadly, Mr. Bush wasted his opportunity last night, giving a speech that only answered questions no one was asking. He told the nation, again and again, that a stable and democratic Iraq would be worth American sacrifices, while the nation was wondering whether American sacrifices could actually produce a stable and democratic Iraq.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bush stays the course

Kevin Drum has a good graph illustrating President Bush’s declining poll numbers since the 9/11 terror attacks boosted them to unrealistic heights.
Now that they have dipped to their lowest point, Bush will make another effort to revive his stalled agenda with a nationally televized speech later tonight.

I can barely contain my enthusiasm.

In the meantime, the man who should have been president gives us a sample of what we would be hearing from our president if he had any realistic idea for salvaging our adventure in Iraq.

He first outlines some of the “Legitimate reasons... to criticize the Bush administration for its handling of the conflict”:

Our mission in Iraq is harder because the administration ignored the advice of others, went in largely alone, underestimated the likelihood and power of the insurgency, sent in too few troops to secure the country, destroyed the Iraqi army through de-Baathification, failed to secure ammunition dumps, refused to recognize the urgency of training Iraqi security forces and did no postwar planning.

He then details many of the things that we should be doing currently to relieve the pressure on our troops and speed the process along for Iraq to take charge of its own security efforts.

If we had a parlimentary system like Great Britain and Israel, Bush would be in danger of being ousted in a no confidence vote later this year. As it is, however, we are stuck with this administration for another two and a half years.

The odd thing is that if Bush were to announce tonight a timeline for pulling our troops out of Iraq by early next year, his popularity would probably skyrocket again. It would be no problem at this point to “declare victory” and bring the troops home. We’ve confirmed that there are no WMDs. Saddam Hussein and his sons have been deposed. Iraq has a new government in place and a new constitution. I’m sure if Bush were to run through this list of “success stories” and cap it off with a timeline for withdrawal, Republicans would rally around him and Democratic opposition would be undercut. Then he could focus on salvaging his domestic agenda - using some of the money that would be saved by pulling out of Iraq to fund his Social Security privatization scheme, pushing for more oil drilling in national parks and preparing to appoint more right-wing judges to the Supreme Court.

But don’t worry. Bush won’t do this. Instead, he will say that we need to “stay the course” and “finish the job”, whatever the heck that is.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Barton’s bullying

I agree with Atrios about what should be the proper response to this.

There is a street name in Houston that always made me laugh everytime I saw it because it summed up my feelings about my former Congressman when I lived in College Station.

The fact that today Joe Barton is using his position as chairman of the House Energy Committee to harass a legitimate climate scientist over the global warming issue is nothing short of disgusting. But then, I never expected anything better from this sorry excuse for a public official. Nevertheless, Barton should not be allowed to get away with this kind of heavy-handed bullying just because he doesn’t like the results this scientists’ research has produced.

On a different subject, there was another example today
(also via Atrios) of Republicans using threats and bullying tactics to try and get there way. In this instance they are upset because billionaire financier George Soros is a member of an investment group looking to buy the Washington Nationals baseball team.

Republicans haven’t proved to be very good at actually governing, but they are certainly making big strides when it comes to abusing their power in office.

Gurwitz and the Downey Memo

The Downey memo (snicker). That’ll teach Jonathan Gurwitz to turn in his column at the Express-News without checking the page before it goes to print.
The headline they put on his Sunday column is “Downey memo fuel for hatred”. Of course, they should have put “Downing memo” or more accurately “Downing Street memo.” The fact that the editorial folks at the Express-News are so unfamiliar with the whole Downing Street memo controversy that they would let a mistake like this go through unnoticed is really a sad testament. Pathetically sad. I’ll bet they don’t have any trouble spelling Aruba. As of Monday morning they hadn’t even bothered to correct the version online.

But screwed up headlines aside, I had some other problems with Gurwitz’ Downing Street memo column. He starts off by claiming that this sentence from the July 21, 2002 Cabinet Office paper

"Although no political decisions have been taken, U.S. military planners have drafted options for the U.S. Government to undertake an invasion of Iraq."

“directly contradicts” the main point of the July 23, 2002 Downing Street memo which states that "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" to invade Iraq.

How could they be fixing intelligence around an invasion policy that didn’t exist, he asks?

But saying that no “political decisions have been taken” is not the same thing as saying no decision on invading Iraq has been made. Clearly the decision to invade had been made at that point and the talk about “political decisions” was meant to infer public decisions. A political decision is one that is out in the open for everybody to see. What is clear from these memos is that the decision to invade had already been made but the administration was keeping it all hush-hush. They were still trying to build their case by having the intelligence fixed around the policy before letting the American people and their representatives know about it.

So there is no contradiction between the two documents as Gurwitz tries to claim.

Next, Gurwitz briefly raises the right-wing conspiracy theory that maybe the documents are fake and repeats the lie that the reporter who wrote the initial stories for the London Times “destroyed the originals”, when in fact he only destroyed photocopies he had made of the original documents.

The Republicans in Congress have refused to hold hearings on these matters which could help to clear up some of the confusion. And when Democrats, out of frustration, sought to hold their own informal hearings the Republicans impetuously refused to even allow them to use empty committee rooms, forcing them to hold their hearings in a basement. That is why Gurwitz can lampoon the “mock impeachment of President Bush that took place in the Capitol basement”.

But Gurwitz makes one final observation that is quite surprising for a conservative pundit and is yet another example of why I like him:

”Legitimate reasons exist to question the wisdom of going to war in Iraq and to criticize the Bush administration for its handling of the conflict.”

Wow! How many other conservative commentators would admit to that? Not many. Most tend to take the stand that anybody who is critical of the war in Iraq is a traitor to their country.

But Gurwitz goes on to warn people to avoide thinking too much about the Downing Street memo. Sounding a lot like Yoda from Star Wars he warns:

”Following the twisted and incongruous path of the Downing Street memo, however, leads to a fever swamp of irrational conspiracy theories, ignorance and hatred.”

That’s right, my young padawan! Be warned. The Downing Street memo is the path to the dark side! Or is that the Downey memo?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Alamo City Blogfest 2005

The Alamo City Blogfest on Saturday was very enjoyable. We had about a dozen people representing seven local blogs show up at McAlister Park. For most of us it was the first time to meet people we had come to know only through blogging. It was officially a non-partisan event with bloggers from both the right and left sides of the political spectrum in attendance.
It wouldn't have happened without The Ranting Raven and his wife who did the bulk of the work planning and organizing the event. They rented the pavillion, provided most of the food and supplies - chicken and BBQ from Bill Miller's - and helped keep everyone up to date on the event through the Blogger Gatherings web log.

In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Raven and their 15-year-old son (as well as myself, my wife and our almost 2-year-old son) other attendees were Julia Hayden (a.k.a. Sgt. Mom) of The Daily Brief; Roscoe Ellis of Roscoe Ellis: Live Journal; Matt of Just Another Blog; Peter Bryant and his wife of B and B; and Eddie of The Red State.

A number of folks were unable to come due to last minute committments including Bill Crawford of All Things Conservative; Christina of Feisty Repartee; and Dagney of Dagney's Rant.
We also missed Sean-Paul Kelley of The Agonist; Mark Harden of All Things Conservative; and Lucius Cincinnatus of The Jeffersonian.
There are also a number of other bloggers in town who may or may not have been aware of the local gathering. Fortunately, the Raven is considering organizing another one of these Blogfest get-togethers later this fall when the weather is cooler. That one should have the potential to be much larger. Keep checking the Blogger Gatherings web site for more details as they develop. And if anyone has suggestions as to when and where would be a good place to meet, please leave a comment or send an e-mail.

Roscoe has some pictures up on his website from the event.

Raven has more pictures up here.