Sunday, October 31, 2004

A state of failure

Daniel Benjamin discusses what is arguably the Bush administration's biggest foreign policy blunder, the failure to attack terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's camp in northern Iraq before invading Iraq. Other reports have accused the administration of refusing to attack al-Zarqawi before the war for fear of undermining their case against Iraq. Benjamin avoids that damning accusation and instead blames the adminstration's focus on states that aid terrorists, as opposed to the terrorist networks themselves:

It seems never to have occurred to President Bush and his advisers that in a globalized world, where borders are porous and technologies of massive destructiveness are available, hidden networks can be far more dangerous than a state, which can be threatened and contained. Yet that surely has been the lesson of the last three years. It is an added irony that the administration's inability to fully assimilate the threat from "non-state actors" is leading, thanks in part to Zarqawi, to the failure of its effort to reinvent Iraq as a stable democracy in the Middle East.


Saturday, October 30, 2004

Either or

With all the campaign sign-stealing, headquarters breaking-into, and former Florida secretary of state attempted homicides this election season, I think we all need to read this to help us put things into perspective.

Osama and me

Who wrote the script for the latest Osama bin Laden tape, Michael Moore?

Referring to the president, Mr. bin Laden said: "It appeared to him that a little girl's talk about her goat and its butting was more important than the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers."

Friday, October 29, 2004

Facts are still stupid things

The biggest problem with President Bush's position on stem cell research is not his conviction that using embryonic stem cells for medical research is unethical or immoral. It's that he has been dishonest about the compromise he struck, which allowed for federal funding on research for existing stem cell lines only. At the time, it seemed like an extremely thoughtful solution that tried to balance the potential of stem cells to cure disease versus the serious moral objections that many Americans have to this kind of research.

But while the president trumpets this policy in the face of criticism that he is standing in the way life-saving medical research, scientists continue to raise questions over the viability of the eligible stem cell lines:

All of the human embryonic stem cells available to federally funded scientists under President Bush's three-year-old research policy share a previously unrecognized trait that fosters rejection by the immune systems, diminishing their potential as medical treatments, new research indicates.

A second study has concluded that at least a quarter of the Bush-approved cell colonies are so difficult to keep alive they have little potential even as research tools.

The president is entitled to believe that stem cell research is immoral. But he can't keep trying to have it both ways.

Kerry Republicans

Reagan disciplie Jude Wanniski endorses John Kerry:

I’ll still vote Republican for the rest of the ballot on Tuesday, where I find the smaller issues more to my taste in the G.O.P. But I will cast my first vote for the Democrat in a presidential contest since I pulled the lever for Lyndon Johnson in 1964. And I will do so with enthusiasm for the Senator's views on how to manage the world, having come to appreciate the way his mind works. It changes with new and better information. If he does win, he will have a Republican House and probably a Republican Senate to work with, finding acceptable common ground on important domestic issues. But most of all, I think he will little by little make the world a less dangerous place than it has become these last four years.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Sunshine State

The perils of electronic voting.

Didn't need no welfare state...

George Will does a pretty good job summing up the dilemma faced by Democrats, not only in this election but in those to come. He makes the argument that economic issues don't have the same resonance in presidential elections that they once did:

Economic conditions have lost some of their political saliency because people understand that presidents have precious little control over those conditions -- and that better government policies, especially the Federal Reserve's monetary policy, and better business practices (inventory control, etc.) have made business cycles less menacing.

In the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, contractions were frequent and ferocious enough to fray the social fabric. There were three contractions of 5 percent of GDP, two of 10 percent and two of almost 15 percent. Since 1947 the most severe, that of 1982, was just 1.9 percent. Democrats' unavailing attempts to inflame economic hypochondria founder on a fact that John Makin of the American Enterprise Institute notes:


"By Election Day 22 years (264 months) will have passed since November 1982, and during that time the economy has been in recession just 14 months -- a mere 5 percent of the time. From the end of World War II through 1982, the economy was in recession more than four times as frequently (22.4 percent of the time)."

The traps awaiting both parties, of course, are Social Security and health care, and I'm not sure either party is adequately prepared to deal with these challenges. Another reason that economic issues have been of diminishing importance is because at least two generations of middle class Americans have had access to employee-provided health care and pension benefits. But the cost of private health insurance is skyrocketing, and more and more companies are cutting back or defaulting on pension benefits. I think Kerry's health care proposal is reasonable, but his promise to resist privatization of Social Security, while vowing not to raise taxes or raise the retirement age, means he is either living in fantasy land or pandering. Bush has no realistic plan to address rising health care costs, while his plan to partially privatize Social Security would require Americans to drastically change their saving habits (not a bad thing) and would incur billions in transition costs.

Perhaps by 2008, it could again be the economy, stupid.


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Oh, and by the way--Mary Cheney is a lesbian

The New York Times has some fun with President Bush's statement in an interview that he supports the rights of states to allow homosexuals to enter into civil unions. The story notes that the president's position is in opposition to the Republican Party platform, but frankly, that's not a big deal. Party platforms are written by ideologues, and they have little more than symbolic value. The GOP platform has consistently called for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, for example, even though few Republican candidates have staked out such a conservative position on abortion.

What I don't understand about the president's position--which isn't too far from John Kerry's position, except that Kerry opposes the proposed gay marriage amendment--is why bother drawing a distinction between marriage and civil unions. Obviously, for most Americans, myself included, a wedding entails a religious ceremony and a commitment not only between two people but between two people and God.

But the law does not require people to get married in a religious ceremony, and the law does not compel clergy to marry anyone. The minister who married my wife and I was free to turn us down. And the law recognizes marriages performed by judges. So why should a religious objection to gay marriage be codified into law?


Monday, October 25, 2004

If I only had a brain

Have fun giving the president a brain.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The road to nowhere

Bill Steigerwald blasts Pennsylvania's management of its transportation systems, from roads to buses to taxis. I know from working with Bill, who is a friend, that he and I disagree over the value and necessity of public transportation--I think it is an important service, while he would prefer a return to privately run transit systems--but he gets a lot of things right in this well-written rant:

Our government-regulated taxi "market" is monopolized by a company that has been charging high fares, providing lousy service and discriminating against poor and blacks since the 1930s. Our beloved $1 billion-plus county-built airport, designed for one doomed tenant to monopolize, turned out to be too big.

Meanwhile, our government highway professionals have not merely made us world-renowned for potholes and lousy roads. They've given us no beltway around Pittsburgh, but we have an interstate cutting through Downtown.

We've got new tollways to the boondocks like Route 60. But we're still stuck with two-lane parkways and Route 28 jam-ups and bad signage and fewer synchronized traffic lights than Baghdad.


We've been victimized for generations by federal, state and local governments and their transportation gurus. Their mismanagement has probably done more long-term damage to the region's economic health than the collapse of the steel industry.


Saturday, October 23, 2004

Keeping the wolves at bay

The New York Times has a lengthy article that I'm just starting to read about the Bush administration's faltering plan to use military tribunals to try suspected terrorists. I haven't heard John Kerry bring this up very often, perhaps because he is afraid of being labeled soft on terror. Here's how the article begins:

In early November 2001, with Americans still staggered by the Sept. 11 attacks, a small group of White House officials worked in great secrecy to devise a new system of justice for the new war they had declared on terrorism.

Determined to deal aggressively with the terrorists they expected to capture, the officials bypassed the federal courts and their constitutional guarantees, giving the military the authority to detain foreign suspects indefinitely and prosecute them in tribunals not used since World War II.

The plan was considered so sensitive that senior White House officials kept its final details hidden from the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and the secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, officials said. It was so urgent, some of those involved said, that they hardly thought of consulting Congress.

White House officials said their use of extraordinary powers would allow the Pentagon to collect crucial intelligence and mete out swift, unmerciful justice. "We think it guarantees that we'll have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve," said Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a driving force behind the policy.

But three years later, not a single terrorist has been prosecuted. Of the roughly 560 men being held at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, only 4 have been formally charged. Preliminary hearings for those suspects brought such a barrage of procedural challenges and public criticism that verdicts could still be months away. And since a Supreme Court decision in June that gave the detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment in federal court, the Pentagon has stepped up efforts to send home hundreds of men whom it once branded as dangerous terrorists.

"We've cleared whole forests of paper developing procedures for these tribunals, and no one has been tried yet," said Richard L. Shiffrin, who worked on the issue as the Pentagon's deputy general counsel for intelligence matters. "They just ended up in this Kafkaesque sort of purgatory."

UPDATE: The article paints a vivid picture of the behind-the-scenes meetings and deliberations that went into creating the system for trying terrorists. In the administration's defense, it is a reminder of how frightening and unprecendent the Sept. 11 attacks were, and the problems posed by more conventional solutions, such as relying on the civilian criminal justice system. Nonetheless, there are a couple of points to keep in mind, not only on this issue but on the broader issue of how many civil rights we should be expected to sacrifice for the war on terror. Namely, how will we know when the war is over? As the president himself has said, there will likely be no peace treaty signed, no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. Also, this is interesting:

But all of the critics were not outside the administration.

Many of the Pentagon's uniformed lawyers were angered by the implication that the military would be used to deliver "rough justice" for the terrorists. The Uniform Code of Military Justice had moved steadily into line with the due-process standards of the federal courts, and senior military lawyers were proud and protective of their system. They generally supported using commissions for terrorists, but argued that the system would not be fair without greater rights for defendants.

"The military lawyers would from time to time remind the civilians that there was a Constitution that we had to pay attention to," said Admiral Guter, who, after retiring as the Navy judge advocate general, signed a "friend of the court" brief on behalf of plaintiffs in the Guantánamo Supreme Court case.

It should be no surprise that the military, charged with defending our freedoms, may value them more than the rest of us.

When news breaks, we fix it

Via Andrew Sullivan, a rather amusing newspaper correction from the Washington Post. One can only imagine what the conservative media will do with this:

In the Oct. 17 Sunday Source, the "Gatherings" story described a Republican barbecue held to watch a presidential debate. The item reported "the possibly unprecedented occurrence of a young woman in a cowboy hat pretending to make out with a poster of Dick Cheney." The item should have explained that the woman was asked to pose with the vice president's picture by the photographer working for The Washington Post. The woman also did not pretend to "make out" with the picture; at the photographer's suggestion, she pretended to blow a kiss at it. The item should have explained that the party was hosted in response to a request from The Post, which discussed the decorations and recipes with the host and agreed to reimburse the cost of recipe ingredients.

The definition of insanity, part deux

From today's Trib:

Burger has put together a group of foundation leaders and others interested in Downtown, to try to come up with a new plan. While there is no timetable, he said, "I think the Downtown will have a resurgence in the next few years as a serious retail market," with stores that aren't typical to suburban malls.

STOP PLANNING. It hasn't worked. If you want to see an example of the great things that "planning" has brought to the city--aside from the now empty Lazarus and Lord & Taylor buildings--spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon at Allegheny Center on the North Side. Or East Liberty, before sanity prevailed and the pedestrian mall was eliminated. I don't think we can survive any more planning.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Onward Christian soldiers

If you have any doubts that the Republican Party has been hijacked by the religious right, read on:

The Republican National Committee is employing the services of a Texas-based activist who believes the United States is a “Christian nation” and the separation of church and state is “a myth.”

David Barton, the founder of an organization called Wallbuilders, was hired by the RNC as a political consultant and has been traveling the country for a year--speaking at about 300 RNC-sponsored lunches for local evangelical pastors. During the lunches, he presents a slide show of American monuments, discusses his view of America’s Christian heritage -- and tells pastors that they are allowed to endorse political candidates from the pulpit.

Barton, who is also the vice-chairman of the Texas GOP, told Beliefnet this week that the pastors' meetings have been kept “below the radar.... We work our tails off to stay out of the news.” But at this point, he says, with voter registration ended in most states and early voting already under way, staying quiet about the activity “doesn’t matter.”

Barton’s main contention is that the separation of church and state was never intended by the nation’s founders; he says it was created by the Supreme Court in the 20th Century. The back cover of his 1989 book, “The Myth of Separation,” proclaims: “This book proves that separation of church and state is a myth.” Barton is also on the board of advisers of the
Providence Foundation, a Christian Reconstructionist group that advocates America as a Christian nation.

Click here for an explanation of Reconstructionism.



The definition of insanity

A deal for a New York company to buy the Downtown Lazarus building has fallen through, and one wonders if the sale wasn't scuttled because of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's insistence that it should control the use of the building:

Jerry Dettore, acting executive director of the URA, couldn't be reached for comment yesterday. Dettore said earlier in the week that the agency is "trying to achieve a quality re-use of the building."

Dettore had said the URA was "exchanging draft language" for a lease with J.J. Operating, and hoped to restrict use of the building to "something that is compatible with the quality of Downtown."

The "quality of Downtown"? Do the shuttered buildings the URA owns throughout the Fifth-Forbes corridor reflect the quality of Downtown? The URA and its friends in city hall are elitists who care little for what really works in a city and care a lot about hanging onto their prescious political power. They claim to love the city, but they hate what make cities unique, what makes them succeed. They want to turn Downtown into an outdoor suburban shopping mall. How else to explain Lazarus and Lord & Taylor? A "quality re-use"? Let the building be sold to someone who knows what to do with it. The market will decide what is and what isn't a quality use.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Clarence Thomas ordered extra copies

Wal-Mart has decided not to sell Jon Stewart's book in its stores because it includes a fake photo of the nine Supreme Court justices, disrobed:

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burk says: "We felt a majority of our customers would not be comfortable with the image" of the naked justices.

To be honest, when it comes to imagining the Supreme Court naked, the phrase "not be comfortable" doesn't do justice. It makes me want to close my eyes, crawl under the bed, and cry for mommy. But that's just me.

Business is booming

An interesting perspective on abortion and George W. Bush by a Christian ethicist:

Under President Bush, the decade-long trend of declining abortion rates appears to have reversed. Given the trends of the 1990s, 52,000 more abortions occurred in the United States in 2002 than would have been expected before this change of direction.

How could this be? I see three contributing factors:

First, two thirds of women who abort say they cannot afford a child (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Web site). In the past three years, unemployment rates increased half again. Not since Hoover had there been a net loss of jobs during a presidency until the current administration. Average real incomes decreased, and for seven years the minimum wage has not been raised to match inflation. With less income, many prospective mothers fear another mouth to feed.

Second, half of all women who abort say they do not have a reliable mate (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life). Men who are jobless usually do not marry. Only three of the 16 states had more marriages in 2002 than in 2001, and in those states abortion rates decreased. In the 16 states overall, there were 16,392 fewer marriages than the year before, and 7,869 more abortions. As male unemployment increases, marriages fall and abortion rises.


Third, women worry about health care for themselves and their children. Since 5.2 million more people have no health insurance now than before this presidency - with women of childbearing age overrepresented in those 5.2 million - abortion increases. ...

What does this tell us? Economic policy and abortion are not separate issues; they form one moral imperative. Rhetoric is hollow, mere tinkling brass, without health care, health insurance, jobs, child care, and a living wage. Pro-life in deed, not merely in word, means we need policies that provide jobs and health insurance and support for prospective mothers.

A correction collection

Regret the Error is dedicated to newspaper corrections.

Pray for us sinners

On the religion beat today, there appears to be a backlash brewing against Catholic Church leaders for their efforts to convince the faithful not to vote for John Kerry and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Kerry's support among white Catholics is on the rise, and locally, clergy and laity signed an ad advising Catholics not to base thier vote on a single issue.

On the other side of the Reformation, a local Presbyterian elder made some assinine comments praising Hezbollah while on a trip to the Middle East. As the Trib tells it:

An East Liberty Presbyterian Church elder has ignited a furor for extolling Hezbollah, a radical Islamic group with a history of terrorist activity.

Ronald H. Stone told members of the fundamentalist Lebanese organization this week that he found Islamic leaders easier to deal with than Jewish officials. He also commended Hezbollah for expressing goodwill toward America.

Hezbollah is responsible for the 1983 suicide bombing of the barracks in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. Marines.

It's bad enough that Stone paid a compliment to a terrorist organization; why go a step further and excacerbate one of the world's most volatile conflicts by unfavorably comparing the attitudes of one side to another?

Stone's pastor and the Presbyterian Church (USA) dissociated themselves from his remarks, but this nonetheless comes at a bad time for the Presbyterian church, which recently agreed to begin divesting from companies that do business in Israel. I don't agree with everything that Israel has done in its conflict with the Palestinians, but I also don't believe Israel deserves to be put in the same category as, say, apartheid South Africa. And Mr. Stone needs to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the State Department.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A lean, mean fighting machine

Slate's Fred Kaplan says that reports of a military transformation by Donald Rumsfeld have been greatly exaggerated.

Going out of business sale

Republican legislators tell Pittsburgh officials to stop playing games with fiscal reform. Among the tough-love solutions they propose, according to the Trib:

Pittsburgh must privatize city services, sell off its authorities' assets, charge residents a garbage collection fee and make deeper spending cuts before it receives the Legislature's approval for new tax revenue, five key Republican state lawmakers said Tuesday in a letter to the state-appointed oversight board.

Even then, the cash-strapped city must strive to lower taxes, not increase them, the lawmakers from Pittsburgh's suburbs say in the 18-page document, which they call a "blueprint" for the city's recovery. Half of any new revenue should go directly to paying down the city's massive debt, and all new taxes must be reviewed after two years.

Particularly welcome is the legislators' call to sell off the assests of the city's largely unaccountable and bloated authorities, especially the URA and the Stadium Authority, which was created to manage Three Rivers Stadium. You may not be aware of this, but THE STADIUM WAS IMPLODED THREE YEARS AGO.

More good news for Pittsburgh--Commonwealth Court has blocked the firefighters union's attempt to blackmail the city, through a bogus referendum, into keeping staffing levels unnecessarily high.



Monday, October 18, 2004

Roughing it

Funny, but I thought I heard the president say during the debates that he had given our troops everything they needed--and everything the commanders asked for:

Sanchez, who was the senior commander on the ground in Iraq from the summer of 2003 until the summer of 2004, said in his letter that Army units in Iraq were "struggling just to maintain . . . relatively low readiness rates" on key combat systems, such as M-1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, anti-mortar radars and Black Hawk helicopters.

He also said units were waiting an average of 40 days for critical spare parts, which he noted was almost three times the Army's average. In some Army supply depots in Iraq, 40 percent of critical parts were at "zero balance," meaning they were absent from depot shelves, he said.

He also protested in his letter, sent Dec. 4 to the number two officer in the Army, with copies to other senior officials, that his soldiers still needed protective inserts to upgrade 36,000 sets of body armor but that their delivery had been postponed twice in the month before he was writing. There were 131,000 U.S. troops in Iraq at the time.

In what appears to be a plea to top officials to spur the bureaucracy to respond more quickly, Sanchez concluded, "I cannot sustain readiness without Army-level intervention."

Gambling the city away

You almost have to feel sorry for Mayor Murphy. He gets blasted--and rightly so--for ramming a budget through City Council in 2003 that relied on nonexistent tax revenues. So now what happens? The state-appointed oversight board that is supposed to right the city's sinking fiscal ship rejects Murphy's five-year budget plan--because it failed to include $17.6 million in gambling revenues that don't yet exist. It's almost enough to make you laugh--unless you are a city resident like me, in which case it makes you want to curl into a fetal ball and sob.


Sunday, October 17, 2004

Save--but just not until I get re-elected

Daniel Gross discusses President Bush's "Ownership Society" and his call for Americans to save more through personal retirement accounts and health savings accounts, even as he has pointedly refused to ask them to make war time sacrifices:

Historically, in wartime the government has promoted national thrift and sacrifice for the greater good. In the Civil War and the two World Wars, hugely successful war-bond drives helped finance victory. More importantly, they laid the groundwork for postwar booms. "People scrimped and patriotically accumulated a lot of bond assets to help the war effort," said Richard Sylla, a historian at New York University's Stern School of Business. "So when peace returned, they suddenly had the wherewithal to spend."

But the message since the Sept. 11 attacks has been the opposite, a strange and occasionally dissonant conflation of patriotism and consumption. As New Yorkers flocked to Ground Zero to volunteer, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani exhorted Gothamites to patronize TriBeCa restaurants. President Bush appeared in ads urging Americans to fly and stay in hotels. These days, it seems, they also serve who only spend like there's no tomorrow.

In other words, Bush asks Americans to spend for their country's good, then tells them they have to save in anticipation of the day when Social Security and employee-provided health insurance are relics of the past. And John Kerry is the flip-flopper?

Who's driving this thing?

The PG has a doom-and-gloom article about the rate hike and service cuts that the Port Authority has promised if it doesn't get more state funding. I value public transportation--thanks to the generosity of my employer, I ride for free--but as I've said before, someone needs to take a good hard look at how the authority operates. Does it operate more bus lines than it should? Do all the T lines have enough riders to justify their existence? Does the authority spend its money wisely? I've been on buses that were standing room only, but also ones in which I could have stripped naked, and no one but the driver would have noticed. Is there a happy balance we can strike?

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter

I've decided I've had just enough righteous indignation from Republicans over John Kerry's reference to Mary Cheney during the final presidential debate last week. Initially, I thought it was gratuitous as well, but all these valiant conservatives rushing to the defense of the Second Family have made me change my mind. Was Kerry's reference an invasion of privacy? Well, considering the Cheneys have openly discussed their daughter's sexuality in the past (when it suits their own political purposes, I might add) and given that Mary Cheney works for the Bush/Cheney campaign, then I would have to say no. Was John Kerry trying to pander to anti-gay bigotry without alienating homosexuals, who are reliable Democratic voters? Only he knows that. But I'm not sure why that should upset Republicans, considering the president is pushing for a constitutional amendment that would codify anti-gay bigotry, and that a big part of his party's base--conservative Christians--regard homosexuality as a sin. Dick Cheney and other prominent Republicans have said they don't believe in a constitutional amendement to ban gay marriage. So tell me--which candidate is really pandering on this issue?



Sound off

President Bush gets a vote of confidence in a survey of military members and their families, with a few exceptions:

The poll, by the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey, found that 62 percent of the military personnel and their families said the administration had underestimated the number of troops needed in Iraq. That sentiment was expressed by 58 percent of the service personnel and 66 percent of the family members.

Reservists had been assigned too large a share of the military effort, according to 59 percent of those who responded to the poll. ...only 38 percent of the sample said the National Guard and Reserve soldiers were properly trained and equipped before deploying to Iraq. The poll found that 42 percent said they had not been adequately trained and equipped, and 7 percent said they had been properly trained but not adequately equipped.

Caught in the Crossfire

Jon Stewart tells the Crossfire boys what's what.

Friday, October 15, 2004

A president who happens to be Catholic

What he said.

It's a great place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live here

The Trib nails the Riverlife Task Force today for the civic group's opposition to selling advertising space in Pittsburgh parks and other recreational spaces:

These unelected, pompous elitists are at it again. Not content with ruling Pittsburgh waterways and river banks, intent on imposing its misguided will on Route 28 motorists, the task force now has come out against selling advertising space in parks and other city-owned recreational spaces. The idea is part of an excellent plan to raise money for the cash-strapped city. Perhaps the task force would like to donate some money to the city instead of costing it money.

Amen. You'll recall that the Riverlife Task Force also called for a laser X over the Point, and recommended putting shields on North Shore street lights to reduce excess light. It would make the city look great on a postcard, but might not do much for your peace of mind as you walk to your car at night after a Pirates game. (OK, so no one goes to Pirates games. I'm just trying to make a point here.)

I have news for the task force--there are people who actually live in the city, and who are more concerned with maintaining adequate services at a reasonable tax rate than with making sure that the suburbanites hanging out at Station Square have a nice view as they ride up the incline. And if throwing up a Coke billboard behind the outfield of a city ballfield is what it takes to keep Pittsburgh out of bankruptcy, then by all means, go ahead. If you don't like it, stay in Sewickley.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos

I'm seriously considering voting for Betsy Summers, the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. I share many views with Libertarians (not all; otherwise, I wouldn't be a Democrat) and I'm not thrilled with either of the major party candidates. Well, I take that back--I don't know much about Democrat Joe Hoeffel, but I don't think he is going to win, and I'm at a loss as to why he would run such a lackluster campaign if he were serious about beating Specter. (I've read that some people think he is merely trying to boost his name recognition in anticipation of a run against Santorum in '06.) Specter, meanwhile, has based his re-election bid solely on how much pork he has brought home to Pennsylvania. It is shameless and sickening.

Plus, I like the idea of supporting third-party candidates, whose voices are consistently shut out of American political discourse. Our winner-take-all electoral process favors a two-party system, but the GOP and the Democrats have extended their natural advantage by erecting barriers to ballot access, excluding third-party candidates from the presidential debates and gerrymandering congressional districts to favor one party or another in perpituity. It would seem that the public would be better served by being exposed to more ideas, not fewer. (The Constitution Party also has a candidate on the ballot for the Senate in Pa.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

What's a truth standard?

It seems like this debate has been going on for 10 hours. Bob Schieffer (sp?) is a horrible moderator, asking loaded and/or softball questions. Neither candidate is turning in a great performance. George Bush gave a strong answer on abortion. Kerry did a good job defending his health care plan. Bush surprisingly seemed to concede the point to Kerry on raising the minimum wage, and Kerry would have us believe that rolling back the tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans will produce a bottomless pool of money that will pay for everything he proposes. Bush got in a nice shot by finally reminding Americans that John Kerry voted against the first Gulf War, despite praising the president's father for raising an international coalition to fight it.

This campaign is exhausting. Is it Nov. 2 yet?

Distinctions without differences

Andrew Sullivan aptly notes that there isn't a whole lot of difference between the Bush and Kerry plans for Iraq, mainly because there aren't a lot of options. I was happy to see Sullivan remind everyone that Kerry's "nuisance" comment isn't a whole lot different from something Bush said over the summer:

Throughout this week, the president has pounced on Kerry's assertion in a New York Times Magazine interview that he wants to return to the days when terrorism was a mere "nuisance." Here's how Bush described the difference in approach on the campaign trail: "I couldn't disagree more. Our goal is not to reduce terror to some acceptable level of nuisance. Our goal is to defeat terror by staying on the offensive, destroying terrorists, and spreading freedom and liberty around the world." But, of course, that is what Kerry says as well in his more stirring moments. Bush, for his part, earlier this year blurted out that the war on terror could not be won like a conventional war, with an armistice signed on an aircraft carrier. And no president can guarantee the complete abolition of terror as a tactic. So the slow reduction of Jihadist terrorism to a minimal and far less threatening level is, in fact, the aim of both candidates. Bush stresses democratization more powerfully; Kerry is more concerned with nurturing alliances. Both are right. But the different emphases do not, in practice, lead to radically different options. Kerry is not going to try and destroy nascent democracy in Iraq; and Bush is not keen on alienating allies if he doesn't have to.

Foodstuffs

I'm at a bit of a loss as to why the federal goverment is giving an East Liberty organization a $700,000 grant to open a Shop 'n' Save across the street from an existing Giant Eagle, and not far from a Whole Foods grocery store. (Full disclosure: My father works for Giant Eagle in their corporate HQ.) The store is supposed to create 500 jobs, but it could just as easily cannibalize business from the other two. (I realize Whole Foods isn't in quite the same category as Giant Eagle and Shop 'n' Save. Whole Foods, incidentally, was the beneficiary of a similar grant.) Competition is a good thing, but not when one side gets a boost from government. (Giant Eagle certainly isn't clean--several of their stores have been the beneficiary of tax-increment financing.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

With friends like these...

Just what John Kerry needs: the endorsement of the Germans.

Blowing smoke

Ditto.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Dread Scott

Slate--what would I do without Slate?--offers more evidence that Bush's odd Dred Scott reference in the debate was code for the anti-abortion movement, which often likens Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott. It's quite clever, really--reaching out to the social conservatives without sending a signal to moderates. Unfortunately, Bush's overall answer to the question of what kind of judges he would appoint was so rambling--Kerry's wasn't much better--that his reference to the infamous slavery case seemed particularly bizarre and invited much scrutiny.

It is important to note that not every person who thinks Roe v. Wade was a bad decision opposes legalized abortion. The court in Roe v. Wade could merely have ruled on the Texas law in the case before them, rather than issuing a sweeping ruling that negated every state's abortion laws. By the time Roe was decided, many states were relaxing their abortion laws--the most oft-cited example is California, where Republican governor and future president Ronald Reagan signed of the nation's most liberal abortion law. A more narrow decision would have sent a signal to other states that their abortion laws might not pass constitutional muster, but it at least would have allowed the question to be decided by elected officials. Instead, the court ended all debate, leaving abortion opponents feeling alienated and voiceless. The rest is history.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The path to war

Slate's Fred Kaplan deconstructs the president's latest rationale for war, which is based on the Duelfer report, the same report that contradicts his original rationale for war. It's too bad John Kerry isn't as articulate in rebutting the president's arguments:

Imagine it's the fall of 2002. President Bush goes before the Congress and makes the following case: Saddam Hussein is trying to break the sanctions. If he succeeds, he might try to resume his program to develop weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, I ask for your authority to invade Iraq now. Would anyone have signed on?

UPDATE: More on the Duelfer report:

But a little-noticed section of the 960-page report says the risk of a "devastating" attack with unconventional weapons has grown since the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq last year.

The Bush administration, which went to war primarily to disarm the Baghdad regime of suspected illicit stockpiles, has not previously disclosed that the insurgent groups that have emerged and steadily expanded since Hussein's ouster are trying to develop their own crude supplies of such deadly agents as mustard gas, ricin and the nerve gas tabun.

Neither of the two chemists who worked for (terrorist group) Al Abud had ties to Hussein's long-defunct weapons programs, and Duelfer's investigators found no evidence that the group's poison project was part of a "prescribed plan by the former regime to fuel an insurgency."

Right on

George Will discusses a new book that analyzes the ascendency of American conservatism, but he does miss a few points. It is true that Clinton's greatest successes came when he steered to the right, and that his most liberal proposals died an ugly death. But as Will himself has noted in other columns, many of the assumptions of American liberalism--a much more moderate variety, even at the height of The New Deal/Great Society era, than its European cousins--remain unchallenged by the right. Nobody disputes that government bears some responsibility for helping senior citizens with retirement and medical costs. Thanks to George W. Bush, the GOP has conceded a large federal role in public education. Even a conservative idea like medical savings accounts is a concession that the federal government has some responsibility for helping people meet their health care needs.

What Bush has understood is that there is no political gain in trying to radically shrink government. Just ask Newt Gingrich. What he aims to do is reduce middle-class dependency on government through partial privatization of Social Security, free market solutions to the health crisis, and school vouchers and faith-based initiatives. At the same time, as Paul Krugman and Jonathan Rauch have noted, he is trying to slowly shrink government by reducing its revenue sources--namely income taxes. You may disagree with what he is doing, and it does raise a number of social justice questions, but it's hard to argue that it isn't a coherent governing philosophy.

Likes pigs at the trough

Is it any wonder that the city's public employees unions are outraged by the proposed budget cuts? How can City Council expect anyone to take them seriously when they spend tax dollars on books about Charles Barkley and picture frames? Kudos to the PG's Tim McNulty for his blunt assessment of why these spending habits, regardless of how small a portion of the budget they represent, are a problem:

The miscellaneous spending by council is, of course, just a tiny fraction of the city's budget. In 2004, it was budgeted at $265,000 in a $389 million spending plan.

Still, council members pride themselves on their tough oversight of city spending. What they choose to spend their own money on, behind the scenes, only reaffirms some critics' charges that the city's spending is out of control.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Jack's Place

I stumbled upon an interesting new local blog.

Debate detritus

Factcheck.org (you're familiar with that site, aren't you, Mr. Vice President) clears up the great timber debate of '04. They would seem to be the source for Kerry's contention that the president qualifies as a small business owner. And Slate has a couple of articles about the debate, one giving the clear advantage to Bush and the other leaning closer to Kerry, nonetheless noting that Kerry seemed adrift answering some domestic policy questions. The second piece reminded me of Bush's weird reference to the Dred Scott decision as an example of the damage that activitist judges can do. Without doing any actual research, it seems to me that the Supreme Court justices could have arrived at that decision by being the strict constructionist Bush praises, seeing as how the Constitution at that time classified blacks as three-fifths of a person. The Constitution was ultimately amended, after a little thing called the Civil War.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Want some wood?

George Bush's four-year assault on the English langauge continued tonight, and John Kerry I think broke his own record for the phrase "I have a plan." I'll have to wait for the verdict from Fox News to be sure, but I'd give this one to Kerry. Each man was better at refuting the other's arguments than at supporting their own, but Bush seemed agitated, almost angry during the first half of the debate, and he even seemed to debate moderator Charlie Gibson at one point. Kerry gave what for him were principled answers to the stem cell and abortion questions, while Bush was successful at times at using Kerry's Senate record against him. Kerry parried well except when it came to the Patriot Act question--he never reconciled his criticism of the law with his vote in favor of it. Kerry also came out swinging, and never let a question go by without taking a swipe at the president.

The president's attempts at humor fell flat, but then again, most of the time, so do John Kerry's, and his Boston Red Sox joke was out of place. Most aggravating, of course, is Bush's insistence that the recent U.S. weapons inspector report on Iraq, which refuted his original rationale for going to war in Iraq, somehow supports his decision to go to war in Iraq. Kerry, in characterizing the president's environmental policy, used a word that also is apt in describing Bush's Iraq policy--"Orweillian."

Everything must go

$11.75 million down the drain.


Thursday, October 07, 2004

Yes men

Eric Alterman perfectly captures why President Bush and his administration deserve to be sent packing:

Clearly the evidence was confusing. Clearly it was easy enough for even experts in the field to misread in either direction. But because these Bush ideologues wanted an invasion they read it only one way and worked overtime to de-legitimize anyone who sought to question them. That is the point of phrases like: “no doubt… There isn't any debate about it…. [It is] beyond anyone's imagination… know for a fact…sure he does… leaves no doubt…. No question…. No doubt…. Absolutely sure.”

For this colossal lack of judgment, every single top administration official deserves to be fired or lose his or her job. But in fact not only has no one been so or done so, the only people to leave the administration were those who insisted on telling the American people the truth.

Misunderestimated

Interested in seeing the president's debate notes?

Oil withdrawal

Thomas Friedman warns that the Bush administration's energy policies are fueling terrorism. It's not an original argument but a cogent one nonetheless. America's oil dependancy props up corrupt and repressive Middle Eastern regimes. Friedman says the most progressive Arab nations are those with little or no oil to export, such as Bahrain and Dubai.

Mr. Bush says we're in "a global war on terrorism.'' That's right. But that war is rooted in the Arab-Muslim world. That means there is no war on terrorism that doesn't involve helping this region onto a more promising path for its huge population of young people - too many of whom are unemployed or unemployable because their oil-rich regimes are resistant to change and their religious leaders are resisting modernity.

Friedman advocates a gasoline tax, but a more farsighted solution would be to put a stop to our sprawling development practices. Build denser, walkable communities. Eliminate zoning codes that segregate residential and commercial development. Create a reliable funding stream for public transportation.

Of course, not all the blame lies with politicians. Much of it rests with ourselves. Americans have deliberately chosen a way of life that is not only bad for their health and their communities, but for the nation and perhaps the world as well.

P is for paranoia

During the late 1990s, public school officials, aided by the media, scared parents and children into thinking that a shooting spree a la Columbine could happen anytime, anywhere, even though school violence actually was on the decline. Time and money was wasted installing expensive security equipment and conducting disaster drills, and many students were unjustly and harshly punished for relatively minor offenses under zero-tolerance policies.

Well, just when it seemed that common sense might again be making a return, the U.S. Department of Education, despite having no specific threat information, is telling schools to be on the lookout for potential terrorists. This is all the result of the bloody attack on a school in Russia that left 340 people dead:

The effort is the latest by the Education Department and other federal agencies to encourage school officials to maintain and practice a plan for responding to emergencies. ...The federal government is advising schools to take many steps to improve the security of their buildings. Those include installing locks for all doors and windows, having a single entry point into buildings and ensuring they can reach school bus drivers in an emergency.

Guess what? Most schools have been doing this stuff for years. All this latest warning will do is create a new climate of fear in a place where it can do the most damage.

UPDATE: Floor plans and security information about schools in six states were found in Iraq, according to ABC News.



Wednesday, October 06, 2004

If I were running things...

I stumbled upon the Pittsburgy city government channel while watching TV last night, and they were showing the news conference in which Ed Rendell played Santa Claus and announced the state was giving $73 million for redevelopment projects in Allegheny County, including $4 million for the Steelers' North Shore amphitheater. Then I recalled the RAND Corp. op-ed that ran in Sunday's PG, which called for the city to shift its redevelopment efforts from Downtown to the city's other neighborhoods. What would $4 million buy in the city's neighborhoods? How many sidewalks could it repair? How many sets of sidewalk steps, which the RAND writer noted are a unique and detiorating Pittsburgh feature? How many building facades? How many vacant lots could it clear and prepare for development?

I'd prefer not to dwell on it. I'd hate for you to see a grown man cry.

The Hammer falls

Naughty, naughty, Tommy boy.

Senator Edwards, meet Vice President Cheney

I wasn't able to blog last night after the VP debate because my ISP, Comcast, was having problems. (Frankly, I'm surprised any of you slept without hearing from me.) It was just as well--the debate was a bit of a yawner, even though I felt it was a relatively substantive exchange. Cheney was, well, Cheney: sharp, smug and smarmy, the kind of guy you hate if he's an opponent but who you desperately wish played for your team. I think Edwards' attempts to out-smug Cheney may have have come off once or twice as impudent, but he seemed to hold his own well enough. My friends at Fox gave the foreign policy portion to Cheney, but frankly I heard nothing new from either side on that issue. Edwards' swipe at Cheney about falsely linking Saddam to 9/11 would have been more effective if he had actually done it in the debate, as Bush seemed to do. Cheney failed to defend his own congressional voting record, and I can't decide whether I liked his pot shot about not having met Edwards the entire time he's been VP, and thus president of the Senate. (At one point I expected Cheney to lean over and say to Edwards, "Obi-Wan never told you about your father, did he?")

Bottom line: I don't think either man hurt the top of the ticket last night, or helped it all that much. Now go eat your Cheerios.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Who's the best pilot you ever saw?

Like most kids, I'm sure, I once dreamed of going into space. (Hell, still do.) When I was 10, my brother took me to see "The Right Stuff", the story of the original Mercury Seven astronauts, in which Dennis Quaid gave a memorable performance as Gordon Cooper, the last American to fly solo into space. Cooper died Monday at age 77.

Iraq for the Iraqis

A consensus seems to be arising on both sides of the Iraq debate that the best way to bring peace to the country is to turn over responsibility for its security to the nation's nascent police and military forces. Implicit in that belief is that American forces by their very presence are now doing more harm than good. Taking a whack at this conventional wisdom is the neoconservative journal The Weekly Standard, which makes a convincing argument that what is really needed in Iraq is a good old-fashioned ass-whupping, American-style:

The situation is worse in 2004 because American officials and soldiers have become even more attached to the idea that Iraqi forces are the key to our salvation. Consider the symbolism of what we are doing. Do Sunni militants, ex-Baathists, and ordinary Iraqis think American soldiers, who come out now only in heavily armed convoys and rarely spend the night, look like troops that have the will to beat diehard Sunni fundamentalists? How does it look when the Americans hunker down in their heavily armored vehicles while the Iraqi security forces voyage out in easily obliterated pick-up trucks? The Iraqis are getting pummeled much worse than we are. For whom does this inspire confidence? For whom fear? And the worst is still to come.

The writer, Reuel Marc Gerecht, basically makes the same point that President Bush does--that it is American weakness, not strength, that encourages terrorism--but argues that we are showing weakness at the very moment when strength is most needed. He predicts a Bush victory, but in the absence of an opponent who is demanding more aggressive military action in Iraq, Gerecht fears the situation may continue to deteriorate.

Of course, we now have Paul Bremer saying that more troops were needed last year, when he was the U.S. administrator in charge of Iraq. The White House won't say whether Bremer asked for more troops at the time; Bremer has indicated that he did:

In an earlier speech Sept. 17 at DePauw University, Bremer said he frequently raised the issue of too few troops within the Bush administration and "should have been even more insistent" when his advice was rejected. "The single most important change the one thing that would have improved the situation would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout" the occupation, Bremer said, according to the Banner-Graphic in Greencastle, Ind.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Somebody tell the president

I think Rumsfeld's chip must be malfunctioning. He's letting the truth slip out:

During a question-and-answer session before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Rumsfeld was asked to explain the connection between Saddam and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, which is blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

“I have seen the answer to that question migrate in the intelligence community over a period of a year in the most amazing way. Second, there are differences in the intelligence community as to what the relationship was,” Rumsfeld said. “To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.

“I just read an intelligence report recently about one person who’s connected to al-Qaida who was in and out of Iraq. And it is the most tortured description of why he might have had a relationship and why he might not have had a relationship. It may have been something that was not representative of a hard linkage.”

UPDATE: Rumsfeld now says that his comments were misunderstood.

Reefer madness

Chicago considers taking a small step toward a saner drug policy.

Is that an F-16 in your pocket, or are you just happy to see us

So it seems that our efforts to defeat terrorism include selling planes to Pakistan--essentially ruled by a military regime--that it can use against India, the world's largest democracy. Aren't we fighting a war in Iraq to spread democracy to the Muslim world? Or just to nations we don't like?

Forget Poland

Poland, unlike the United States, apparently has an exit strategy for Iraq. The Bush administration is downplaying Poland's planned withdrawal next year. Personally, I blame John Kerry.


Sunday, October 03, 2004

And the dead will rise

Try sleeping tonight after reading this.

The objective truth

Bill Steigerwald gives the straight dope about America's "objective" news sources.

Are you reading, Mayor Murphy

Instead of focusing solely on Downtown, Rachel Rue of the RAND Corp. argues that city leaders and civic organizations should focus their redevelopment efforts on all of Pittsburgh's 91 neighborhoods. Those are what make Pittsburgh unique, Rue argues, not a big department store or a new stadium:

An alternative model of city planning and development would conceive of planning as taking place in and through the neighborhoods. Neighborhood development corporations, which already exist in many neighborhoods, would have a strong role in setting priorities and coordinating efforts within neighborhoods.

City planners would coordinate the collection of neighborhood plans, developing strategies to connect neighborhoods to each other and to the rivers, and thinking about how their different characters and assets complement each other. The Central Business District would be thought of as one of the neighborhoods -- centrally important and dominant, but still only one of 91.

This model has several advantages. Most notably, the residents and business owners in a neighborhood typically know better than anyone else what needs attention and what kinds of changes will benefit them. For example, if you don't live on the South Side Slopes, it is unlikely to have crossed your mind until recently that the many flights of sidewalk steps lacing the hills need maintenance at a minimum, and at best could be made into a positive attraction.

The sidewalk steps are relics of Pittsburgh's past. There are many others -- old buildings with the remnants of extraordinary architectural character under dilapidated surfaces. These buildings can often be restored with a relatively small investment of funds and a significant contribution of community energy and individual elbow grease.

Part of the problem is that there isn't as much apparent glory for politicians in repairing sidewalks and the facades of the small businesses that dot neighborhood business districts as there is in opening a big department store or stadium. And many of our political and corporate leaders will blanch at the phrase "relics of Pittsburgh's past." They are ashamed of the city's past, and think that is what holds her back. In fact, it is not the past that haunts us but the present--a present full of failed leadership and bankrupt ideas.

A true party system

Kudos to the organizers of yesterday's Pennsylvania senatorial debate for including the Libertarian and Constitution party candidates.

Friday, October 01, 2004

And one more thing...

This was one of my favorite moments from last night's debate.

Thumbs up

Roger Ebert has a Web site. And Stephen King has finished the Dark Tower series. The final installment is excellent.

It can still be the economy, stupid

Andrew Sullivan discusses Dick Cheney's scare tactics and why domestic issues still matter in a post-9/11 world:

Moreover, there is a connection between domestic issues and the war. Long-term deficits will cripple our ability to wage war across the globe as we may have to; and a deeply divided country - polarized by both sides for political gain - is not conducive to winning wars. And that leaves aside the many legitimate complaints pro-war advocates have made not about the decision to go to war itself - but the unplanned, hapless and increasingly desperate way in which it has been waged.

Freedom

The Innocence Institute at Point Park University is what journalism should be about. Check out their blog.