Wednesday, February 28, 2007
He’s not a liberal and politically incorrect is an understatement to describe Buck. Buck is a foul-mouthed renaissance man and delightfully entertaining. He would make a terrific blogger! Buck is vehemently opposed to the policies of the Bush Administration and nostalgic for the era of smoke filled rooms.
As an unapologetic liberal, I champion an open process that elevates people over elites selecting our leaders. Buck considers me an impractical idealist and argues that during the era of party bosses an unfit person such as George W. Bush could never have become president. I counter that elites from such an era were overly devoted to the status quo. Buck retorts that it took smoke filled room masters such as LBJ to pass civil rights legislation and Nixon to open diplomatic relations with China. I return fire and indict both presidents as warmongers who subverted the Constitution. And we’ll keep going back and forth.
As much as it pains me to admit it, I’m forced to acknowledge the era of smoke filled rooms was superior to the system we have now. At least candidates for president were vetted for their intelligence and capability to some degree in those days. Now it’s all about style, sound bites and raising money to compete in an obscene frontloaded primary schedule. Think of it this way: does anyone believe Harry Truman could’ve raised enough money to compete with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama under the current system? That said, I do not advocate a return to the era of party bosses selecting presidential nominees while smoking cigars.
Instead, I’d like to see a grass roots movement pressuring both parties to adopt the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) proposal promoting four regional primaries in 2012. Frankly, I’m more passionate about that cause then the current crop of presidential candidates in either party and believe it’s necessary for our democracy’s salvation.
The concept proposed by NASS is rather simple. Tradition is respected and both Iowa and New Hampshire are allowed to go one-two as before. The remaining forty-eight states would participate in four regional primaries. Every four years the order these primaries are held will rotate.
NASS’s proposal offers numerous benefits. First and foremost, every state has an opportunity to influence the outcome. As a New Yorker, I’ve long resented how my home state with its large population and diversity has mattered so little in selecting major party nominees for the White House. And if New York moves up their primary date to increase its influence and benefit Guiliani and Clinton, the process will be debased even more. A rotating regional primary schedule eliminates the need for states to move up on the calendar right behind Iowa and New Hampshire.
Another benefit is more time for candidates to be properly vetted and compete on a platform of ideas. The compressed schedule we currently have discourages exchanges about substance and instead facilitates “horserace” coverage. With both parties effectively selecting their nominees in February 2008, substantive debates about important issues won’t take place when voters are paying attention. The candidates will be debating at forums for contests deciding their party’s nomination in early 2008 this year.
Regional primaries will both shorten and lengthen the presidential campaign. Currently, the campaign to become a major party nominee starts a year too early and ends too quickly. NASS’s proposal will allow candidates to begin campaigning in the latter part of 2011. With the primary struggles extended, there will be more time to scrutinize policy distinctions among the candidates and assess their respective temperaments under pressure.
Most importantly, winning won’t be contingent upon which candidate can purchase the most airtime in a bloc of large states. Suppose New York joins New Jersey and California in moving its primary date up to February 5th? That means a candidate would have to get their message out through aid buys in the three biggest media markets in the country on the same day. What chance would a worthy underdog have?
I had hoped Russ Feingold would seek higher office. I’m now relieved he didn’t. This champion of public financing would’ve had no choice but to opt out of the public finance system to have any hope. Internet/netroots fundraising by itself would not have been enough to keep him competitive and I doubt he could've tapped into other donors sufficiently.
Finally, I believe adopting NASS’s proposals would generate more interest among the public and increase voter turnout. As Howard Dean has previously said, he’d rather have 100% turnout and lose because ultimately it means a healthier democracy.
While my preference is for both parties to participate, I don’t believe Republicans could be persuaded to make the first leap. Hence, I’m hoping activists inside the Democratic Party can successfully pressure the donkeys to give in. Why not pressure Democratic candidates for president this year to adopt NASS’s proposals in 2012 should they become their party’s nominee? Hell, lets make it part of the platform.
Democratic Party insiders shiver at the thought of real competition. They’re under the misconception that the strongest party unifies behind a candidate in February. In their timid hearts, Democrats still competing while Republicans rally behind a nominee means automatic defeat.
I say just the opposite is true. Let’s put capitalism in our politics and embrace competition. If Democrats adopt these rules and the GOP doesn’t, the public will pay far more attention to the Democrats and be more inclined to vote for their nominee in November. Furthermore, Democrats will become more identified with electoral reform and perceived as the party that believes in elevating the people's voice over corporate insiders . It would demonstrate a powerful contrast with the Republicans and might further expand the Democratic Party base among independents.
If I’m right, the GOP will be compelled to follow in 2016 out of self-interest to remain competitive. Buck will no doubt accuse me of naïve idealism. And I’ll counter that idealism is required to salvage our democracy. For damn sure our salvation will not come from obsessing over whether Obama or Clinton have the upper hand for Hollywood’s money. Let's start Project 2012.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Frank Rich is a liberal columnist not prone to exaggeration or fear mongering. In his most recent New York Times column, Rich noted how the CIA’s former head of the Bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer told MSNB’s Keith Olberman, that Al Quaeda,
“are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States.”I believe him. Tactical nuclear weapons are quite obtainable and these fanatics believe mass murder serves a higher purpose. Such warnings resemble the intelligence community's desperate attempt getting both Presidents Clinton and Bush to pay attention to the threat of an Al Quaeda attack prior to 9/11. Clinton was properly engaged but hamstrung politically following the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Bush wasn't even stirred by that infamously straightforward memo of August 2001.
Immediately after 9/11, I debated my fellow liberal friends about the merits of toppling the Taliban government in Afghanistan because of their support for Al Quaeda. I found myself in the unusual position of justifying a military response. The loss of innocent life utterly sickened me but there was no way we couldn’t respond. My problem was I didn’t trust an administration stocked with corporatist ideologues and imperialists.
As we’ve seen, the Bush Administration’s obsession with Iraq has facilitated
Al Quaeda's resurgence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s bitterly ironic how Vice President Cheney’s meeting with Pakistan’s President Musharraf earlier today, featured a suicide bomber targeting him. The sort of terrorists the Bush Administration opted to neglect signaled they’re very much here by attempting to take our Vice President out.
The bomber killed 23 people instead. Much of the civilized world would not have grieved had Cheney been killed. Symbolically, today’s bombing was a propaganda bonanza for Al Quaeda.
It’s said that laughing is better than crying. How comically ironic that after letting Bin Laden escape in Tora Bora in December 2001, redirecting resources from Afghanistan to the Iraq theatre and giving Musharraf’s regime billions in aid, the Bush Administration finally decided to express displeasure at their ally in Islamabad. A useless exercise, because what can Musharraf effectively do without jeopardizing his own regime’s grip on power?
America’s enemies are ascending. Our veracity and moral legitimacy is not trusted by many of our western allies. Five and a half years after 9/11, we still haven’t developed a containment policy with the civilized world that provides a bulwark against radical Islam and empowers moderates. The “global war on terror” is perpetuating a treadmill of death with no end in sight.
January 20th, 2009 can’t get here soon enough. Hopefully, the next occupant of the White House won’t be a moron. Otherwise, the next attack may be far more catastrophic than two airplanes crashing into a building.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Unicef's 52 page report makes for sobering reading. 21.7 percent of American children live in households that earn income less than half the national medium. American children rate poorly with infant mortality, low birth weight, early childbearing, family instability and child poverty. As The Nation’s Ruth Marcus reports in her fine article, “The Care Crisis,” these pitiful ratings are linked to the status of women..
I found the closing paragraph in The Nation’s editorial on Uncicef’s report especially pertinent:
“ That the two countries deemed to do the least for their own children are those that have led the war in Iraq is obvious. The reasons are less easy to pin down. One can talk about military as opposed to social spending; about pro-business, oil-driven economies; about the distractions of patriotism and the culture of aggression; about valuing the imperatives of power above the duty of care. But however one chooses to name it, the deep, intractable connection between military adventurism abroad and the neglect of needs at home has never been more starkly evident. The pity is that it's so difficult to fight the problem, so hard to focus on a pregnant teenager too scared to ask for help or a child hungry at school when the casualty figures from Baghdad demand our attention. The fog of war may be most blinding for the folks back home.”I would add that if society is judged on how the very young and old fare, unfettered free market capitalism does not measure up. I’m not advocating across the board socialism in our society. But for profit health care is clearly a failure and the time has come to develop a new model. Hopefully, the 2008 presidential campaign facilitate the change we so urgently need.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Yet as we focus on individual candidates, their platforms, tactics and even how they look in a bathing suit, it’s instructive to contemplate what these campaigns say about our culture.
We yearn for candidates that lead because most tack to the prevailing winds. Candidates who pander too much are diminished and appear inauthentic. Conversely, candidates who are too far ahead of the curve, come across as out of touch, quixotic or simply too weird for the job.
Campaign 2000 illustrated how vapid America’s culture had become. Yes Al Gore was smart and capable but George Bush was more likable because he didn't come across as a "know it all." Gore was supposed to epitomize the self-aggrandizing politician while Bush talked straight. Gore was a man who needed to “reinvent” himself and Bush was a humble man comfortable in his own skin. So we put a plainspoken liar in the White House who opted to project an image of leadership through war.
Campaign 2004 illustrated a darker side of America’s culture as perception triumphed over reality. Bush who avoided serving in Vietnam represented strength, principled conviction, and toughness in a dangerous world. Vietnam War hero John Kerry was a vacillator who could not be trusted to protect Americans from terrorists.
Kerry was compelled to pander to a fear driven culture easily manipulated by a national security state and their enablers within the corporatist media. I cringed when Kerry boasted, “I’ve killed people in war … personally.” He was desperate to break through and did what it took. Hence, Kerry’s stature was easily diminished and once again a lesser man prevailed.
I realize one can quibble about the tactics of both Gore and Kerry in 2000 and 2004. Certainly, both candidates had their failings and made agonizing mistakes in their campaigns. As a volunteer in 2004 for example, I was infuriated at Kerry’s inability to respond to the Swift Boaters for Truth smear campaign. One woman I spoke to while phone banking during this period actually said to me, “It’s on TV so it must be true.”
Ultimately, failures in both campaigns can also be attributed to our culture at those moments in time. The character of those presidential contests was a reflection of our society. Similarly, 2008 will serve as a lens upon our society. One aspect of American culture I’ve often contemplated is our desire for Champagne at the price of beer. Perhaps it stems from our bargain-hunting consumer driven culture. In that regard I’m as guilty as anyone. Money is tight and I won’t overpay for pair of sneakers if I don’t have to.
Politicians reflect that aspect of our culture when they talk to us. We’re promised an empire without cost of blood or treasure and Americans buy in. Instead people die, taxpayers are ripped off and Americans are upset at being lied to. Would they I wonder have a moral problem with our military presence in Iraq if we were winning and the price of gas plummeted?
A country can’t be run on the cheap. Everything from healthcare, education, law enforcement, disaster planning and response, infrastructure development, a genuine energy policy and national security requires investment and a high caliber civil service. A generation of conservative rule has transformed our country into a backwards-19th century patronage mill and moneymaking machine for corporatist elites. We’ve seen the results: two mismanaged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, 47 million Americans without health insurance, the decaying rot at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the systematic erosion of the middle class.
I want to believe our culture is poised for a tipping point of truth, justice and accountability. The outcome in the midterm elections gave me some hope because good people such as Virginia Senator James Webb and Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison were elected. On the state level some fine governors such as my home state’s Eliot Spitzer are now in power. But it’s the 2008 presidential campaign that will serve as the real barometer for what our country is truly about now.
Can somebody win telling it like it is? Is the country genuinely prepared to accept that universal healthcare is more important than tax cuts? Can Americans be inspired to conserve and sacrifice as we tackle global warming and seek to become independent of foreign oil? Are Americans finally capable of grasping that true leadership does not stem from a paternalistic figure projecting infallibility at the expense of accountability? Is 2008 the year the American people signal they understand you can’t have Champagne for the price of beer?
I’m not sold on John Edwards for president just yet. I need to see and here from him more. His record on Iraq does still trouble me and I wonder whether his apology for supporting the war was simply about political expediency. Nevertheless, the success of his campaign, at least rhetorically, appears to be the best bellwether for my questions. And the sickening exchange between the Clinton and Obama camps over Hollywood money makes me want to hear from Edwards more.
CORRECTION: In a crossposting on Daily Kos, a Kossack named "Beachmom" who also posted a comment here requested a link to my quoting John Kerry as saying, "I've killed people in war ... personally." I genuinely remember Kerry saying this during the 2004 campaign, repeating it and even reading about it. I recall cringing when he did so. Nonetheless, I can find no link on the Internet of Kerry saying those words. If the quote is not indexed in the major search engines then he obviously didn't say it. Perhaps I recall him saying something similar. Typically, I reference all quotes with links but in this instance relied on my memory only. Lesson learned. I am not above acknowledging my mistakes. I regret the error.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Geffen teamed with fellow Tinsle Town tycoons Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg yesterday to collect $1.3 million for Obama at a fundraising party. As Geffen noted, Dowd had harsh comments for the presumed Democratic frontrunner:
“Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don’t think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is — and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? — can bring the country together.”On her Illinois rival Geffen said,
“Obama is inspirational, and he’s not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family. Americans are dying every day in Iraq. And I’m tired of hearing James Carville on television.”For good measure he added,
“It’s not a very big thing to say, ‘I made a mistake’ on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can’t. She’s so advised by so many smart advisers who are covering every base. I think that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms.”I didn’t think much of Dowd’s column this morning. Geffen’s disenchantment with the Clintons is old news and it’s not suprising some donors are open to alternatives beyond restoring the Clintons to the throne. What really captured my attention was the heavy handed and ungraceful response from the Clinton campaign.
Communications Director Howard Wolfson made the Geffen fundraiser event bigger news with this comment,
“If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money.”The response gives the impression of lacking grace under pressure and suggests the Clintons feel threatened. Successful politicians typically follow the tag line from the old deodorant commercial, “never let them see you sweat.” Bill Clinton was a master at the game. Today, Hillary Clinton's spokesman Howard Wolfson made her appear weak with his overreaction.
Wolfson has forgotten about more political skirmishes than most political operatives have participated in. His clumsy response however gave Obama Communications Director Robert Gibbs an easy rejoinder,
"It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom.”Gibbs also gleefully pointed out that, Hillary Clinton had not condemned the comments of South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford. Ford, a Clinton supporter. Ford claimed the Democratic ticket was "doomed" if Obama was the party's presidential candidate. Translation: Democrats better not nominate a black man.
While the Clinton camp came across as heavy handed and hypocritical, Senator Obama’s team kept their composure with a measured response. Tactically, Obama prevailed but the real winner is John Edwards.
It serves Edwards best to fly underneath the radar for a spell while Clinton and Obama trade punches. In 2004, Edwards found traction as Richard Gephardt and Howard Dean destroyed each other in Iowa while he remained sunny. Governor Bill Clinton valuted from third place to the presidency in 1992, when Ross Perot and the first President Bush hurled rhetorical grenades at each other. The future President proceeded to promote his “People First” agenda with specifics while Bush and Perot took each other out.
Similarly, Edwards is served by the Clintons focusing their guns on Obama. If it continues, Edwards can deliver his retooled populist message and keep himself above negative campaigning. Hillary Clinton comes off as shrill and insecure while Edwards appears comfortable about acknowledging error over Iraq and courageous in putting forward a specific plan for universal healthcare. And while Obama’s campaign was tactically efficient, their theme of a fresh politics above invective was knocked off message.
Hence, I give this first round to John Edwards. If there are many more rounds like today, Edwards will win Iowa. Sadly, while all this horse race positioning continues, more blood is being shed in Iraq and America’s geopolitical standing is deteriorating. And no candidate in either party is offering any solutions beyond platitudes.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
“For years, employers have been pushing their workers to pay more for health care raising premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses in an effort to save money for the company and force workers to seek only the most necessary care.
Now some employers are reversing course, convinced that their pennywise approach does not always reduce long-term costs. In the most radical of various moves, a number of employers are now giving away drugs to help workers manage chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and depression.
Major employers like Marriott International, Pitney Bowes, the carpet maker Mohawk Industries and Maine’s state government have introduced free drug programs to avoid paying for more expensive treatments down the road. Companies now recognize that ‘if you get people’s obesity down, cholesterol down asthma down, you save a lot of money,’ said Uwe E. Reinhardt, a health economist at Princeton University.“
Click here to read the article in its entirety. As the article is still fresh, a subscription may not be required.
Ultimately, the rising cost of healthcare can be attributed to corporatist blowback. Corporate interests have schemed with their enablers in Washington to shift as much burden of risk upon employees and individuals as possible. Terms such as the “free market,” “competition” and “medical savings accounts” were devised as pre-texts to sell the public on putting their collective head in a noose.
Well, it turns out that noose is also draped around the necks of both major corporations and small business. Hopefully, enlightened self-interest among the business community as well as politicians desire to remain in power, will finally result in universal healthcare. Remember Harry and Louise from those 1994 commercials against the Clinton healthcare plan? Well, they're getting older and the rising cost of medicine is cutting into their savings.
Monday, February 19, 2007
On the importance of admitting error:
“The experience of Bush-style governance, together with revulsion at the way Karl Rove turned refusal to admit error into a political principle, is the main reason those now-famous three words from Mr. Edwards — “I was wrong” — matter so much to the Democratic base. The base is remarkably forgiving toward Democrats who supported the war. But the base and, I believe, the country want someone in the White House who doesn’t sound like another George Bush. That is, they want someone who doesn’t suffer from an infallibility complex, who can admit mistakes and learn from them.I would add that Edwards was shrewd to apologize for his support of the Iraq War in 2005. Senator Clinton however would appear to be insincere and pandering if she apologized at this point. That’s not necessarily fair because I believe Edwards’ initial support of the war and his later apology were both acts of political expediency over principle. Nonetheless, that’s the way it is.
And there’s another reason the admission by Mr. Edwards that he was wrong is important. If we want to avoid future quagmires, we need a president who is willing to fight the inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom on foreign policy, which still — in spite of all that has happened — equates hawkishness with seriousness about national security, and treats those who got Iraq right as somehow unsound. By admitting his own error, Mr. Edwards makes it more credible that he would listen to a wider range of views.”
Krugman had this gem about John McCain:
“Senator John McCain, whose reputation for straight talk is quickly getting bent out of shape, appears to share the Bush administration’s habit of rewriting history to preserve an appearance of infallibility.Although Krugman’s primary focus was Senator Clinton’s current political position, I thought this anecdote about Rudy Guiliani was the best part of his column:
Last month Senator McCain asserted that he knew full well what we were getting into by invading Iraq: 'When I voted to support this war,' Mr. McCain said on MSNBC, 'I knew it was probably going to be long and hard and tough, and those that voted for it and thought that somehow it was going to be some kind of an easy task, then I’m sorry they were mistaken.'
But back in September 2002, he told Larry King, ‘I believe that the operation will be relatively short,” and “I believe that the success will be fairly easy.””
“Here’s an incident from 1997. When New York magazine placed ads on city buses declaring that the publication was ‘possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn’t taken credit for,’ the then-mayor ordered the ads removed — and when a judge ordered the ads placed back on, he appealed the decision all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.When I contemplate the leadership qualities of Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Rudy Guiliani I want to cry for my country.
Now imagine how Mr. Giuliani would react on being told, say, that his choice to head Homeland Security is actually a crook. Oh, wait.”
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Liz Krueger, a longtime advocate for tackling issues pertaining to poverty, hunger and homelessness, challenged Goodman for the State Senate in 2000. Although a liberal district, Goodman was popular, well financed and enjoyed a reservoir of good will. As a liberal on social issues Goodman remained in sync with his constituents.
Krueger mobilized an enthusiastic grass roots campaign based on reforming Albany’s corrupt and closed culture. I lived in the 26th at the time and noted Krueger’s campaign appeared more visible with high-energy volunteers patrolling the streets. Nevertheless, it never occurred to me Krueger had any chance of upsetting Goodman. Yes, he was older and might not win as comfortably as before. But I had no doubt Goodman would win convincingly. I was very wrong.
As the country fixated on the delayed outcome of Bush vs. Gore, the New York Senate’s 26th District wasn’t decided until six weeks after Election Day. Goodman won re-election by approximately 190 votes over Krueger. Krueger had a slim lead that disappeared after the count of absentee ballots.
Stunned by his near defeat, Goodman soon accepted a position in Mayor Bloomberg’s administration and a special election for the 26th was held in February 2002. She won convincingly and has steadfastly pursued a progressive/reformist agenda. Krueger’s priorities as Senator are a continuation of her work in private life. As the biography from her website notes,
“For 15 years, Senator Krueger was the Associate Director of the Community Food Resource Center (CFRC) where she was responsible for directing its efforts to expand access to government programs for low-income New Yorkers. She helped monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of Federal and State programs in New York City, identifying barriers to participation, and fighting for improvements in the effectiveness of these programs.With Eliot Spitzer’s election as Governor, the reformist winds represented by Senator Krueger may finally be blowing her way. In late January, legislative leaders adopted ethics reforms she had championed for years such as closing the “revolving door” lobbying loophole, a ban on legislators accepting honoraria as well as a gift ban for legislators and their staff.
Prior to joining CFRC, Liz Krueger was the founding Director of the New York City Food Bank, building that organization into one that now serves over 1,100 emergency food programs, senior centers, day-care centers, and other community-based programs serving an estimated 5.4 million meals each year.”
Senator Krueger is the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Standing Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development. She is also a member of five other committees: Banking, Consumer Protection, Finance, Higher Education, and Rules.
For the previous two election cycles, Senator Krueger served as the Chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC). Democrats have gained under her leadership and following the recent special election of Craig Johnson in Nassau County, the Republican majority is a mere two seats.
In recent weeks there have been persistent rumors two Republicans may switch parties and deliver the Senate to Democrats. Ironic, because in 2002, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said casting a vote for Krueger was a waste due to the Republicans entrenched majority. Instead, Krueger’s efforts have the Democrats poised to assume one party rule in the state’s capitol. In five years the onetime outsider has increased her influence and remained an agent of change.
Senator Krueger agreed to a podcast interview with me and among the topics covered were: her experience as a reformist outsider and campaign leader of Senate Democrats; the possibility of future gerrymandering favoring Democrats in New York State; Governor Spitzer’s adversarial relationship with the legislature; the Governor’s proposed budget and whether New York might move up their presidential primary date to help the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Guiliani. Please refer to the media player below.
This interview can also be accessed for free via the Itunes story by searching for "Intrepid Liberal Journal."
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I must admit, the intensity from the public has surprised me. Recently, I wrote a post entitled, “Eliot Spitzer Takes On New York’s Nomenklatura” but didn’t believe he would receive this much support. Instead, I assumed the polls would largely support Spitzer even as the public remained loyal to their incumbent legislators.
So, what does this mean for the future? Will Spitzer’s tactics result in the legislature endorsing his new budget proposal and reform agenda? Critics are portraying Spitzer as a bully with a temper. I don’t know if Spitzer’s tactics will succeed but he shouldn’t be underestimated. I suspect the threat of Spitzer’s populist hammer will be followed up with soothing enticements. Fear and reward are an effective combination in life and politics. Sort of like letting the children know they can't watch television if they misbehave but there is plenty of ice cream waiting for them in the freezer.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
“Too often when a candidate throws his hat into the ring, he tosses principle out the window. Yet this is precisely what we want in a president -- principles and the courage to stick to them. Instead of Clinton saying she had been misled by Bush and his merry band of fibbers, exaggerators and hallucinators, I'd like to hear an explanation of how she thinks she went wrong and what she learned from it. I don't want to know how Bush failed her. I want to know how she failed her country.”Give it a read (click here).
Sunday, February 11, 2007
A historical overview of Pakistan is useful to provide context. Choudhary Rahmat Ali, a Cambridge student and Muslim nationalist invented the name “Pakistan.” He first published it on January 28, 1933 in the pamphlet Now or Never. Ali’s acronym was devised from the names of the "homelands" of Muslims in South Asia: P for Punjab, A for the Afghan areas of the region, K for Kashmir, S for Sindh and tan for Balochistan, thus forming “Pakstan.” An “I” was added to the English version resulting in Pakistan. Pakistan’s name also captured in the Persian language the notions of "pak", meaning "pure", and "stan", for "land" or "home", meaning, "Land of the Pure".
When the British granted independence to their dominions in India in mid-August 1947, Pakistan joined them as self-governing dominions of the British Commonwealth. Punjab and Bengal, two of the biggest provinces, remained divided between India and Pakistan. During this period, over two million people migrated across the new border and more than one hundred thousand died from ethnic conflict. Non-Muslims who lived in Pakistan were forced the leave the area, and facilitated communal violence among the populations of the newly founded nations. Their partition also resulted in tensions over Kashmir resulting in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947.
The First Kashmir War ended with Pakistan’s occupation of one-third of the state. They remained a Dominion in the Commonwealth of Nations until declaring independence in 1956. Their status as a republic didn’t last because of a coup d'etat by Ayub Khan (1958–69), who presided over a second war with India in 1965. His successor, Yahya Khan (1969–71) contended with the cyclone that caused 500,000 deaths in East Pakistan. Former Beatle George Harrison organized a benefit concert in Bangladesh at the time.
For the next thirty nears, conflict between the military and civilian rule persisted in Pakistan. When General Zia-ul-Haq became Pakistan’s third military president in 1977, he replaced his government’s secular policies with the Islamic Shariah legal code. As a result, Islamic influence in Pakistan’s society increased.
After General Zia died in a plane crash in 1988, Benazir Bhutto, was elected as the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan. She alternated power for the next decade with Nawaz Sharif, as the country's political and economic situation became more turbulent. Pakistan deployed 5,000 troops to the 1991 Gulf War as part of a US led coalition to defend of Saudi Arabia. Military tensions in the Kargil conflict with India were followed by a Pakistani military coup d'état in 1999 in which General Pervez Musharraf assumed executive powers.
In 2001, Musharraf declared himself President after the forced resignation of Rafiq Tarar. After the 2002 parliamentary elections, Musharraf transferred executive powers to newly elected Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali. There have been two more prime ministers but Musharraf remains the country’s strongman and public face. He is a dictator.
With the growing rise of Islamic fundamentalism inside Pakistan, a relationship existed between them and the Taliban prior to 9/11. Shortly after 9/11, Secretary of State Collin Powell went to Pakistan and essentially made Musharraf an offer he couldn’t refuse: cooperate in the war on terror or lose power. Musharraf became an ally. It is an alliance that resembles a gymnast holding a hot bowel of soup while navigating a balance beam.
As 2006 wound down the Taliban were consolidating control of Northern Pakistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates left for Pakistan today to discuss the possibility of a new Taliban offensive this spring. As the New York Times reports,
“Pakistan, a close U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism, has faced charges that the Taliban militia stage attacks from Pakistan against Afghan government troops and NATO- and U.S.-led coalition troops.”I have no doubt professionals inside our national security bureaucracy agonize about Pakistan and Gates trip partly reflects their concern. Is there a long-term strategy in place though or are we merely reacting tactically to events? Pakistan has nuclear weapons and is a hotbed for radical Islam. The Taliban has secured territory inside Pakistan to help carry out their operations. Furthermore, only an unpopular military dictatorship has managed to prevent religious extremists from ruling Pakistan.
Who is really in charge of Pakistan? Is the dictator Musharaf really in control or merely a nominal strongman? Obviously the Taliban are enjoying cooperation inside Pakistan’s intelligence and military. Is Musharaf talking from both sides of his mouth to survive or is he losing his grip on power?
What happens if Pakistan is taken over by religious extremists? How would India respond? India is a nation governed by nationalists that can make America’s neocons blush with embarrassment. Politicians such as John McCain have made critical comments about NATO's performance in Afghanistan recently, as you can read about by clicking here and here. Obviously, McCain prefers to inoculate the Bush Administration from blame instead of contemplating a long term strategy in the region.
But the key relationship remains between America and Pakistan. If Pakistan slides off the abyss we’ll have a far bigger mess on our hands than Iraq, Lebanon, Iran or even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Afghanistan’s war against the Taliban, already undermined because of America’s occupation in Iraq would collapse. India might well opt to occupy Pakistan, resulting in a war on the sub-continent. Such a conflict would have a ripple effect in China and Iran. Hopefully, we have anticipated this contingency and nurtured contacts inside Pakistan in case the current regime is toppled.
Pakistan is a paradox and a mirror image of Iran. They already have nuclear weapons and Iran doesn’t, regardless of the Bush Administration’s propaganda to suggest otherwise. Iran’s population is increasingly pro-American while their president enjoys making provocative anti-American and anti-Israeli speeches. More democracy in Iran would be to America’s benefit while in Pakistan it would likely result in a hostile and dangerous regime. The status quo inside Pakistan undermines America’s ability to prevent the Taliban from completely re-taking Afghanistan, but any change will likely make the situation worse.
Congress prefers debating symbolic resolutions with no tangible impact to end America’s military occupation in Iraq. The Senate was paralyzed last week by their inability to even hold a debate about in effect, doing nothing. This week the House of Representatives will have their debate about doing nothing. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is consumed with avoiding official defeat in Iraq on their watch and maneuvering to war against Iran. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is attempting rhetorical jujitsu about her record on Iraq and Republican frontrunner John McCain is off the deep end.
Is there anyone contemplating or formulating a strategy about the Pakistan conundrum five years down the road? Is there a combination of economic and diplomatic initiatives, that could help stabilize the country as an ally? Is it worth attempting to mediate or broker a peace agreement between Pakistan and India? Will Congress help formulate a strategy or merely criticize NATO for not providing more troops in Afghanistan and deliberate over non-binding resolutions in Iraq?
Why would any country of NATO deploy more troops given America’s diminished geopolitical position? Why should our allies have any confidence in America’s leadership in Afghanistan or skill in keeping Pakistan from blowing up?
Is anyone in power or running for president contemplating how we can replace the global war on terror with a more sustainable containment strategy instead? The place to start is by tackling the strategic conundrum of Pakistan. They are the finger in the dike.
Friday, February 09, 2007
To this point, Spitzer reinforces my belief that the Democratic Party’s best hopes for the future reside in state capitals where governors are tackling vital issues such as healthcare, global warming and public corruption. Brian Schweitzer of Montana is a sterling example of this new breed. Smart, innovative, tough and unafraid of picking fights with entrenched power to advance progressive ideals. They present quite a contrast to Washington Democrats who even after defeating Republicans convincingly this past November, govern as if they’re afraid of their own shadow.
In only the second month of the Spitzer Era, his administration is on a collision course with Albany’s nomenklatura. The spectacle is fascinating to watch. For readers not familiar with New York State politics, Washington D.C. is a beacon of rectitude compared to Albany.
New York State Comptroller, Alan Hevesi was forced to resign shortly after being re-elected because of scandal. Hevesi pled guilty to a minor felony charge for using state employees as drivers for his ailing wife. Click here and here to read more about Alan Hevesi and the scandal that forced him from office.
As you can discern from the links I provided, Hevesi’s fall from grace was hardly the worst scandal in the world. We’ve seen far worse in New York. Indeed, I rather admired Hevesi’s career both as Mayor Rudi Guilani’s fiscal watchdog when he was New York City Comptroller and his recent stint in Albany. Hevesi also courageously opposed the death penalty as an Assemblyman from Queens. I supported Hevesi’s failed efforts to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for Governor in 1998 and Mayor of New York City in 2001.
Nevertheless, what Hevesi did was wrong and Spitzer opted to withdraw his endorsement of the Comptroller prior to Election Day. Afterwards, there was speculation Spitzer would not encourage Hevesi’s prosecution. To his credit, Spitzer helped push Hevesi out. Spitzer's critics believed he should've publicly pressured Hevesi to resign before the election.
According to New York State’s constitution, Hevesi’s successor must be approved by the state legislature. Spitzer’s fellow Democrats controls the Assembly and have far superior numbers than the Republican controlled Senate. Hence, Spitzer had to deal with Assembly Majority Leader Sheldon Silver.
Silver is the embodiment of Albany’s establishment and for over a decade has wielded power as one of “three men in a room” governing New York State. The caucus led by Silver has seen governors preaching reform come and go, as they remained entrenched. Their districts are gerrymandered to their favor as special interests curry their favor. This is not a group easily intimidated by a new governor’s high approval ratings, even if he is a member of their own party.
Spitzer and Silver agreed that a new comptroller would be selected from a list of qualified candidates put forward by an independent screening committee. The Assembly favored one of their own, Thomas P. DiNapoli and went along with Spitzer’s plan because they believed he would be among the finalists. He wasn’t and the Assembly opted to renege on the agreement.
DiNapoli, a Democrat is well liked among legislators from both parties because of his work to help bail out financially strapped Nassau County. His efforts garnered appreciation from suburban Republicans as well as Democrats and represent the consensus choice inside Albany’s clubhouse.
Spitzer has responded with characteristic bluntness. While promoting his new budget in Syracuse, he denounced local Assemblyman and fellow Democrat Bill Magnarelli:
“Bill Magnarelli is one of those unfortunate Assembly members who just raises his hand when he’s told to do so, and didn’t even bother to stand up and say, ‘Whose interests am I representing?’"Governor Spitzer also canceled an introductory lunch with Assembly Democrats next Monday, as well as a $10,000 a plate fundraiser for the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee. Escalating the conflict even further, Spitzer’s aides have let it be known he would criticize the votes of Assembly Democrats in swing districts where Republicans could make inroads.
One can’t help but admire Spitzer’s pugnacious tenacity on behalf of principle. He used the same approach as State Attorney General when he prosecuted corrupt brokerage houses on Wall Street ripping off the middle class. Spitzer’s unwavering pursuit of corruption propelled him to the governor’s mansion. However, being governor is far different then serving as the king of your own fiefdom as New York’s top lawyer.
Governing is about achievement. Achievement requires consensus. New York’s legislature appropriates funds and their cooperation will be required to pass budgets on time and enact Spitzer’s agenda for health care reform, education investment and restructuring New York’s finances.
Also, Spitzer’s budget calls for unpopular cuts with New York’s hospitals and making the tough calls can’t help but diminish his popularity. Albany’s nomenklatura will likely play a game of rope-a-dope and wait for Spitzer’s popularity to dissipate so they can cut deals from strength. Gridlock appears unavoidable unless Spitzer adopts a more conciliatory tone.
Spitzer however appears determined to make an omelet by breaking eggs. Can he pull it off? William Cunningham who served former Governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo and most recently Mayor Mike Bloomberg, compared Spitzer’s style with former New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt:
“Roosevelt came in saying he was going to be a reform governor. He immediately got into a fight with Senator Platt, the head of the Republicans, a powerful political boss in the state. History remembers Teddy Roosevelt. You have to be a knucklehead like me to remember Boss Platt."Perhaps we New Yorkers have a ringside seat to history. Hopefully, we’ll also have a better state when Spitzer leaves office.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
"I'm not waiting online all day like last time. Screwed up my whole day and my vote for Kerry didn't count anyway. It was stolen."For good measure Jane added that I was,
"Wasting my time with these calls. It's fixed and the politicians never care about people like me."As I wrote at the time,
”Jane is a single woman raising two kids and a nurse. She's living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to be a good mother. Her children are twelve and nine years of age. Jane's job does not allow her to be home for her kids after school. She's frustrated about not being able to attentively supervise their study habits and be more involved in their school. ‘I'd like to at least meet their teachers.’ Everything from groceries, clothing, utilities and the phone bill is a hassle. She has no time and money is very tight.”Jane was also personally impacted by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. One younger brother died in Afghanistan in 2003 and the other was killed in Iraq in 2004 when he was forced to endure another tour of duty. The one in Afghanistan signed up shortly after 9/11 even though he had a football scholarship. Her other brother enlisted in the National Guard prior to 9/11 and had no choice about going to Iraq. As Jane put it to me,
"My brother in Afghanistan might be alive but they don't get enough support because of Iraq. My brother in Iraq was supposed to come home."We talked for forty minutes and I convinced her to vote after devoted listening and intense persuasion. It was an exhausting conversation and I was proud of myself for not giving up. I received an email from Jane today and she gave me permission to publish it as long as I continued referring to her as Jane.
“Robert,I share Jane's frustration after watching this week’s spectacle in the Senate. I know Democrats are feeling their oats these days but they better not lose voters like Jane.
I meant to keep in touch but I’m just too busy. I’m still going to mail that music demo like I promised. I haven’t forgotten about you. You’re so idealistic and you tried so hard to get me to vote. Well I did vote. But Robert, I have to ask? What are these people I voted for doing? Why is the Senate having a debate about having a debate about stuff that won’t make any difference? My neighbor’s son just died in Iraq. All the hurt about my brothers came rushing back when I heard. Who the hell is Joe Biden and that Warner guy? Why bother voting on something that won’t make Bush end the war? What are they doing? I don’t get it. I know you believe in this stuff but all these politicians talk like my first husband. Can’t trust any of them.”
Monday, February 05, 2007
Understandably, Iraq merits our attention. We were criminally misled into a war of choice that has jeopardized America’s geopolitical position and undermined our moral authority. Iraq is largely responsible for the Democratic Party’s congressional majority and they’ve promised intense oversight. Why I wonder doesn’t Afghanistan merit similar scrutiny? I’d be curious to learn what an Afghanistan Study Group might come up with.
It seems not enough people with power or influence give a damn about Afghanistan beyond vague references to redistributing troops from Iraq. Sloppy negligence of our war against the Taliban is too important to ignore. As important as ending the war in Iraq is, we also must demand accountability about the depth of failure in Afghanistan and properly assess whatever options we have left.
On January 27th, Dan Restrepo from the Center of American Progress, observed in an opinion piece submitted to the Boston Globe, that the Bush Administration regarded Colombia as a model for Afghanistan. President Bush even nominated our ambassador to Colombia, William Wood, to be the next chief envoy in Kabul.
I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised. It wasn’t so long ago delusional conservatives compared Iraqi society with El Salvador in the 1980s. So why not regard the nation of Colombia, currently in the throes of scandal as a model for Afghanistan? In the Bush Administration’s peculiar logic, disaster is a model for replication.
Colombia’s experience with narco-trafficking and insurgencies is certainly worth studying as Restrepo acknowledges. Drug trafficking became Colombia’s most viable economic sector and the individuals behind the narco-trade are typically ruthless and homicidal. Without viable economic sectors beyond drug trafficking, the state of Colombia has teetered on the abyss.
Restrepo also acknowledges the Colombian government may finally have the upper hand in their enduring struggle against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). However, as Restrepo also notes, unlike the FARC, the Taliban are enjoying safe haven in Pakistan. Restrepo closes his op-ed with this,
“The Colombianization of US-Afghanistan policy is rife with peril, not the least because it is unclear that US policy in Colombia has been a success or that Colombia is the shining example the administration would like to believe.”While the Bush Administration pursues their policy of “Colombianization,” the Taliban are ascending. Robert Burns reported in Time Magazine that the Taliban are exploiting their recent peace with Pakistan to increase attacks on U.S. and allied forces in eastern and southeastern Afghanistan. Most disturbingly, Burns reports that,
“Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in an interview that Taliban attacks surged by 200% in December, and a U.S. military intelligence officer said that since the peace deal went into effect Sept. 5 the number of attacks in the border area has grown by 300%.”Currently, they’re 20,000 troops in Afghanistan and they obviously can’t pacify the metastasizing crisis. Financed by the opium trade as well as donors in the Persian Gulf and enjoying a base of operations in Pakistan, the Taliban remain formidable. As recent history suggests, blowback in Afghanistan equals calamity.
It’s fashionable to say we need more troops in Afghanistan and our forces should be diverted from Iraq. Recently, I interviewed Congressman Jerrold Nadler and he offered that opinion. Caroline Wadhams from The Center for American Progress also supports a surge in Afghanistan:
“It is not too late for America to respond. Troop levels in Afghanistan should be doubled to 40,000 from the approximately 20,000 U.S. troops deployed there today. These troops should be sent from Iraq to Afghanistan under NATO leadership as reinforcements. The United States must also provide more equipment and training for Afghan security forces.”Yet I can’t help but wonder if a surge in Afghanistan is just as wrongheaded as the current one in Iraq. Are 20,000 additional troops really going to reverse the downward spiral in Afghanistan? Wadhams does note a troop surge by itself is insufficient:
“Many of the problems in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, will not be solved by military means alone. Greater investment in Afghanistan’s economy and its reconstruction is also essential to creating a stable state. The United States and the international community need to commit to a well-funded and well-managed long term economic development effort, and the government of Afghanistan should take the lead.”We can’t do squat in Afghanistan without an international consensus on how to move forward. Any consenus may also require an understanding with the Iranians who are not fond of the Taliban. Deploying additional troops is simply wasted bloodshed until we can formulate a strategy of economic development, combined with fostering alliances among Afghanistan’s most effective tribal leaders. Managing relationships inside Afghanistan’s tribal culture and their brutal rivalries is tricky business – even more complicated than initiating a rapprochement with Iran. These are not exactly Jeffersonian Democrats and the leaders harbor ambitions about emerging as top dog.
Our response in Afghanistan since 9/11 has only diminished our geopolitical position. Going forward requires sophisticated presidential leadership and sagacious oversight from the legislative branch. Otherwise, Afghanistan will join Iraq as twin failures of American statecraft. Two-more years of the Bush Administration, presidential candidates offering little beyond platitudes about Afghanistan and a congress pre-occuppied with non-binding resolutions for Iraq doesn’t imbue me with confidence.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
Without rehashing my previous post, here is a brief synopsis. In 1985, the US vs. Yonkers ruling challenged the institutionalized housing and educational discrimination of an entire city. The linkage of housing discrimination with a segregated school system was an historical watershed. Through the courts a ruling codified a remedy for both.
Critics believed the ruling illustrated an out of control judiciary while supporters of the decision hoped social justice was on the way. Instead, the fallout from the decision exposed racial fault lines in Yonkers, New York as the white community resented any effort to expand access to better, more integrated housing for minorities. Sadly, the city of Yonkers found being in contempt of court preferable to addressing their legacy of racism.
Kavanagh brings impressive credentials as a filmmaker to this documentary. In 2001, he was the field producer for Enemies of War, a PBS documentary covering the civil war in El Salvador. Kavanagh went to El Salvador and interviewed rebel commanders, Jesuit priests, officials from the Salvadoran and US governments, human rights workers and ordinary Salvadoran citizens. He covered the first elections after the ceasefire and interviewed the late Congressman Joe Moakley and his aide, Jim McGovern, who broke the wall of silence around the killing of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter by the Salvadoran military in 1989. Enemies of War was shown nationally on PBS.
With Brick By Brick, Kavanagh and his production team illustrate how a ghetto was created through public policies. It is the local people themselves on both sides who tell the story in Kavanagh's film. Truthfully, the people of Yonkers are describing a familiar tale for many American communities. I was honored to interview Kavanagh about his important documentary and the civil rights struggle in Yonkers. Please refer to the media player below.
This interview can also be accessed for free via the Itunes store by searching for "Intrepid Liberal Journal."