Sunday, July 27, 2008

John Dickerson on Obama's Iraq trip's John Dickerson writes that Senator Obama has not shared much of his thinking on Iraq, and that if Obama's position has evolved after his trip [as it must have according to Dickerson], Obama is not admitting his initial views were wrong. So, Dickerson says, Obama is like Bush.
I don't know. Obama's position on the Iraq war and the "surge" - defined as the increase in troops - has been that it takes US focus away from the more important war in Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Dickerson also buys the new McCain-speak that the "surge" had two parts - the increase in troops, as well as the change in military tactics that General Petraeus tried. Dickerson says Obama opposed these other tactics as well, but does not give concrete examples or even a link to a story that the surge included these other tactics, or that Obama opposed them. Talk about not sharing information!
Dickerson also says that Obama suggested troop withdrawal, rather than an escalation, might have had similar or better effects, but faults Obama for not presenting evidence to support his views. First, I have only heard Obama say we don't know what would have happened. Second, given the Anbar Awakening (predating the troop surge) and the drawdown by the Sadrists, perhaps things could have gotten better - this is simply a matter of acknowledging possible outcomes. The increased numbers of US troops helped, and this is something Obama has acknowledged - now, even if he didn't before.

The bottomline is this: Obama's calls in the past six years have been far more often right rather than wrong, and Obama has displayed a faculty for nuance much more pronounced than any other national politician (for which he has often suffered, e.g. on abortion rights and yes, foreign policy). The Iraq War was unnecessary to begin with, and we have since found out that Saddam Hussein never had WMDs, nor the capabilities to develop WMDs; I don't think Sunni Osama bin Laden was welcome in Saddam's secular Iraq either. Bin Laden is still on the loose; the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are growing stronger by the day. And yet, McCain continues to spout the line that attacking Iraq was right because Saddam Hussein was developing WMDs, as recently as this morning's appearance on Wolf Blitzer. [For fun, other McCain statements on Iraq are here, via The Carpetbagger Report.]

Will Dickerson call out McCain for continuing to be wrong and refusing to acknowledge his mistakes despite facts on the ground? Or will he continue to swallow McCain talking points and nit-pick Obama's positions, fearful of alleged Obama-mania in the press, just like he sometimes did during the Democratic primaries?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

In the darkest hour...

One enduring thought that always sticks in my mind: A person's character is defined by what s/he does in her/his darkest hour.

While the last week was not John McCain's darkest hour by any stretch, it was dark. Obama's foreign tour - prompted by repeated criticisms by McCain! - was successful by all counts, beginning with Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki's endorsement of Obama's Iraq plan, and continuing through a 200,000-crowd in Berlin to hear Obama speak. All this while, McCain had to struggle to gain any good press (though he also escaped bad press given his continuing gaffes). So in a sense, it was a dark hour for McCain - how does he fight back against the avalanche of good news* for Obama?

With allegations that Obama is unpatriotic, and would put his personal ambitions before the country. With a negative ad that even Mark Halperin had to admit was an attack ad (via Swampland). Less vile, but equally disingenuous - accusing Obama of traveling abroad and giving political speeches in foreign countries while ignoring pressing concerns back home, even though McCain himself had suggested the trip and given such speeches outside the US. Last but not the least, adopting Obama's plans for Iraq and Afghanistan, while continuing to say Obama was wrong for proposing the very same ideas.

Almost 40 years ago, Senator McCain was a prisoner-of-war, and in his darkest hour, stuck it out for over five years at the Hanoi Hilton despite the possibility of early release as an Admiral's son. And yet, today at a time of much lesser travails, he uses deception so easily just to win a media cycle.

[*Not good press - WaPo's editorial board revealed its anti-Obama bias quite clearly this week.]

Obama's foreign trip - McCain's criticism

As Senator Obama completes his quite-successful week-long trip to Afghanistan, the middle-east, and Europe, Senator McCain is criticizing Obama for holding speeches overseas:
"I'd love to give a speech in Germany... as president [not as a candidate]."
Of course, McCain himself has toured Europe, Colombia and Canada as a presidential candidate, and has even given a speech in Canada that was paid for by his campaign. [Maybe because the speech was a month ago, McCain forgot about it?]

Hopefully, the MSM will pick up Obama's rebuttal:
"It's hard for me to understand Sen. McCain's argument. He [McCain] was telling me I was supposed to take this trip. He suggested it, thought it was a good idea," [Senator Obama] told reporters... "John McCain has visited every one of these countries post-primary that I have. He has given speeches in Canada, in Colombia, Mexico. So it doesn't strike me that we've done anything different than the McCain campaign has done, which is to recognize that part of the job of the next president and commander-in-chief is to forge effective relationships with our allies."

Maybe John McCain come back with "I don't know where Obama got the idea that I have visited these countries and given speeches there as a presidential candidate." A la his debate answer on not knowing much about economics... God bless Tim Russert, I will miss him. Hopefully, Chuck Todd will continue the fine work, albeit online and not on MTP. [On MTP, I watched just one episode with Tom Brokaw... UGH.]

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan

Wednesday's WaPo editorial finds Obama's strategic vision eccentric for its focus on Afghanistan. Among others, both Yglesias and Ackerman find fault with the editorial, and point out that the WaPo editors think fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is not as important as securing Iraqi oil supplies.
Obama has called for increased US military action in Afghanistan by withdrawing troops from Iraq. This position is apparently supported by Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, based on Admiral Mullen's characterization of the Afghanistan conflict as "urgent" and "growing."
Yet, the WaPo editorial says this shift in focus is "eccentric", as "there are no known al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan." This may very well be true - at present. However, al-Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, is apparently hiding along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The Taliban, close allies of al-Qaeda, are growing more active, even forcing US troops to abandon an outpost along the Afghan-Pakistan border after 9 US soldiers were killed, following a massive jail break in Kandahar earlier in the year that freed 400 Taliban inmates and hundreds of other prisoners. Apparently, the Taliban control more of Kandahar ($$) than does the Afghan government.
Further, according to an unnamed "senior Defense Department official", al-Qaeda activity was increasing in Afghanistan as of Dec 2007, with al-Qaeda seeking to return to its former base of operations. Al-Qaeda apparently has a new Afghan chief, who has called for more foreign recruits - apparently succeessfully. According to Taliban sources, from the USA Today report:
"al-Qaeda has financed the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, [senior Taliban Qari Mohammed] Yusuf told the AP. In the chaos created by the Taliban groups, al-Qaeda has been able to steadily recruit, re-establish its public relations wing, plot new attacks and re-establish areas of operation on both sides of the border." [emphasis mine - RS]
In response to the growing violence, troop levels in Afghanistan have been increasing, so that as of April this year, there were 32,000 US troops out of an international force of 70,000 in Afghanistan (compared to ~150,000 US troops in Iraq). Still, another 3 brigades have been requested by the US commander, which fits with Obama's call and probably the basis of Admiral Mullen's assessment. Since the security situation in Iraq has been improving as per Admiral Mullen, a shift in focus seems feasible - and perhaps essential.

So - what exactly is eccentric about Obama's strategic vision, again?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Obama as a centrist/his bipartisanship

A couple of very interesting reads:
John Avlon, author of "Independent Nation..." and chief speechwriter/deputy policy director of Rudy Giuliani's Presidential campaign, says Senator Obama's campaign - and secret of his success - has been Obama's constant centrism. He offers good examples of Obama's bipartisanship in the US Senate, and also facets of Obama's policies that are not the usual far-left litany (e.g. Obama wants to expand the military!)
Kirk Dillard, an Illinois State Senator, has praised Barack Obama and has been featured in an Obama ad... But he has faced a lot of opposition from his party - the GOP! Here's a story about Dillard's struggles on Politico.

From the horse's mouth...

Per Reuters, via TPM:
"U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes... Whoever is thinking about the shorter term is closer to reality. Artificially extending the stay of U.S. troops would cause problems.... The Americans have found it difficult to agree on a concrete timetable for the exit because it seems like an admission of defeat to them. But it isn't," [Iraqi PM Nuri al-] Maliki told Der Spiegel.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On fund-raising and debts

Senator Obama raised $52 million in June this year, his second-best monthly haul. Even the DNC did reasonably well (for the DNC!) In the mean time, some Clinton supporters say they will find it easier to help Senator Obama ONLY if Obama helps Clinton pay off her debts. Not to mention pressuring Obama to pick Senator Clinton as his VP.
A couple things. The Clinton debt figure touted is around $22 million. Senator Clinton has apparently asked the public not to help alleviate her personal loans - $11 million - to her campaign, which is a good start (a la Mitt Romney!)
However, much of the remaining debt - as much as $5 million - is actually owed to Mark Penn! I mean, Mark friggin' Penn!! The guy who might be, short of the Clintons, solely responsible for her defeat! The guy who devised the message(s) - and ran the polls needed to check if his message was working! Talk about a conflict of interest... Not to mention sheer incompetence and short-sightedness. I see absolutely no reason to help that portion of Senator Clinton's debt. Nor should Mark Penn expect any of it to be paid. So really, if anything, the Clinton debt that needs to be paid off is closer to $5 million.

But I'd take issue with this entirely - does Obama really have to help pay off the debts accumulated due to Senator Clinton's campaign mismanagement? The very debts accumulated to try and show Obama as unelectable and inexperienced, during a seemingly-never-ending campaign that appears to have ended with plenty of supporters on both Democratic sides bitter, and with some Clinton supporters either refusing to vote in November or even supporting John McCain?

As for PUMAs, Hillaryis44 and other such nuts - grow up. Far from Obama's supporters forming a cult of personality, it is people like these Clinton supporters who are Kool-Aid drinking cultists. From what I read, apparently Obama choosing a female-VP-not-named-Clinton would be an insult to Senator Clinton, and would result in a major backlash. Why, are there no other competent legislators who happen to be women out there? Governors Janet Napolitano and Kathleen Sibelius, Senators Blanche Lincoln and Amy Klobuchar, not to mention Speaker Nancy Pelosi - are these all incompetent, just-plain-lucky, undeserving legislators? Just because they didn't run for President doesn't diminish their capabilities. And as I have said earlier, Senator Clinton's performance in arguably the two most important endeavors of her career - universal health care in the early '90s and her Presidential campaign - have been incredibly subpar for someone described by her devotees as hypercompetent and highly accomplished. So I have no idea why Senator Obama should pick her as his VP, to placate her childish, immature supporters.

[Edit: Actually, I do - read the comments below. Senator Clinton would be a competent, able deputy, but I don't like blackmail. Also, not all Clinton-supporters are childish/immature PUMAs, thankfully.]

Can't you tell I am feeling just peachy today?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

In Boston...

Am in Boston for a couple weeks... In-between 14-h work days, have a day off tomorrow (Sunday). Might get a chance to roam around the city. Maybe even bike. Nice.
Just returned from Hellboy II. Great movie; apparently critics love it too (Ebert's back, good!) Rather poignant who Hellboy fights (and kills, of course); the Tooth Fairies are something special. Excellent dose of escapism. Must-watch!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Today's Tweety - I mean Chris Mathews - show

Just watching Tweety's show - I suppose the local NBC station is showing it late, perhaps to accommodate Wimbledon.
The talking heads are discussing bipartisanship - and keep making the point that McCain has a better record of working across the aisle, while Obama talks but hasn't walked.
Morons - they only focus on the US Senate, not on the eight years Obama spent in the Illinois State Senate. I suppose if it didn't happen in DC, it doesn't matter. That probably happens to people when they spend way too much time in DC... Happens to journalists, politicians, even activists.

Obama has done a lot in the Illinois State Senate - gathering bipartisan support for legislation on video-taping police interrogations, for one, and apparently also for ethics and health care reform (WaPo link via Wikipedia). Per the WaPo article:

"...he reached Republican-dominated Springfield as a committed liberal...

Yet he emerged as a leader while still in his 30s by developing a style former colleagues describe as methodical, inclusive and pragmatic. He cobbled together legislation with Republicans and conservative Democrats, making overtures other progressive politicians might consider distasteful.

Along the way, he played an important role in drafting bipartisan ethics legislation and health-care reform. He overcame law enforcement objections to codify changes designed to curb racial profiling and to make capital punishment, which he favors, more equitable."

Add that long record to his work in the US Senate, on nuclear non-proliferation with Dick Lugar, the now-famous plan to reduce US fuel consumption in co-operation with Republicans Lugar, Gordon Smith, and Norm Coleman (in addition to Democrats Dick Durbin, Jeff Bingaman, and Joe Biden), etc... So what do these talking (pin)heads mean that Obama hasn't walked his talk?

Obama on his faith... including abortion rights?

WaPo has a decent write-up on Obama's address to St Louis' African Methodist Episcopal Church. As Obama says, he probably won't win the votes of single-issue Evangelicals who are opposed to gay rights or abortion rights. But there are other areas - poverty alleviation, helping the sick including people infected with HIV/AIDS, stewarding the environment - where Obama is better than McCain. By showing up - and making it clear he is interested in their vote - hopefully Obama can do better than Kerry's abysmal 21-78 loss among White Evangelicals in 2004 (23% of the electorate, and perhaps the difference between Bush and Kerry; Kerry won 56-43 among the rest).

Incidentally, the WaPo also quotes Obama's position on abortion rights, as stated to the AME Church. Earlier, Obama stated that "mental distress" should not qualify as an exception to bans on late-term abortion. Now, this was weird - did he mean only physical threats to the mother's health were reasonable exceptions and a mental disorder/illness was not OK?
So, Obama's fuller position is, according to his statements before the AME Church:

"Historically, I have been a strong believer in a woman's right to choose, with her doctor, her pastor, her family," he said Saturday. "And I've been consistent in saying you have to have a health exception on any significant restrictions or bans on abortions, including late-term abortions.

"It can be defined by physical health. It can be defined by serious clinical mental health diseases," he continued. But "it's not just a matter of feeling blue."

OK... So there are exceptions made for "serious clinical mental health diseases." That sounds much better. And I am pretty sure there aren't women rushing out for an abortion just because they have suddenly had a change of heart - much as the GOP/religious right would try to hype the situation. [My opinion is based solely on my gut - not on any actual knowledge.]
Here's a good comment on the initial report, from a TPM post - apparently by a neonatal nurse.

Not politics? On whom not to marry

Maureen Dowd quotes extensively from a Catholic priest, Father Pat Connor, who counsels people on whom not to marry. Some choice quotes (delivered mostly to women!):
"Does he have a sense of humor? That covers a multitude of sins." - Ummm, does that mean a sense of humor is not good to have?
"Imagine a religious fundamentalist married to an agnostic. One would have to pray that the fundamentalist doesn’t open the Bible and hit the page in which Abraham is willing to obey God and slit his son’s throat." - Oh brother!
And this really hits home, as it is often advanced as a reason for men to marry back in India:
"Don’t marry a problem character thinking you will change him. He’s a heavy drinker, or some other kind of addict, but if he marries a good woman, he’ll settle down. People are the same after marriage as before, only more so." [emphasis mine - RS]
To end:
“After I regale a group with this talk, the despairing cry goes up: ‘But you’ve eliminated everyone!’ Life is unfair.” - Mr Right, or Mr Right Now? :-)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Jay Cost's take on Obama's ad-buys

Via, here's Jay Cost's take on Obama's ad-buys in 18 states. Cost says the aggressive buys in states like Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, Georgia and Indiana show Obama's Chicagoan confidence. Cost however goes on to declare that Democrats looking to expand the electoral map beyond the Kerry-2004 states should follow President Clinton's 1996 victory pattern, playing for Kentucky, West Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas. These latter five states apparently retain a Democratic advantage in registration, unlike the four red states. But, says Cost, Obama is not advertising here because he lost big to Senator Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Hence, Cost concludes, Obama will either win in a landslide, or lose like Kerry.

Let's look at the facts. Obama has bought ads in Nevada, New Mexico and Iowa - states President Clinton won, but Kerry lost by just 21k, 6k and 10k votes respectively (Wiki). Contrast these with Kerry's losses in Cost's "Democratic 5" - margins of 350k in KY, 100k in WVa, 350k in TN, 100k in AR, and 380k in LA. In addition, President Clinton lost Colorado by just 1.37% or 20k votes (link via the Wiki) respectively, while Kerry lost CO by 100k (<5%). If one was a Democratic Presidential candidate, would one not make a play for NV, NM, IA and perhaps CO?

In one sense, I can see that Cost is suggesting the 2008 electoral playing field will be like 2004, including states Kerry lost by not much. I would also agree that the same factors that cost Obama the Democratic primaries in KY and WV could make Obama lose the two in the GE - particularly racism. As for TN and AR - these two are Clinton turf, which explains why President Clinton won the GE there in 1996 and Senator Clinton won the primaries this year. However, Al Gore could not even carry his home state of Tennessee, let alone Arkansas, even as he won the popular vote in 2000 (Wiki). These factors, combined with Kerry's losing margins, suggest that TN, AR, KY and WV would not naturally be on this Democrat's winning strategy (or that of another Kerry/Gore-type), even in an expansionist plan.

For the other part of the puzzle - Obama buying ad-time in ND, MT, IN, AK and GA. ND and MT may be long-shots, but Obama does well in Western states (CO, NV, NM) - yesterday's Rasmussen MT poll actually has him 5% ahead! The June Alaska polls also have Obama within 5%. Indiana borders Obama's home state of IL and some parts share the Chicago media market, so folks should be familiar with Obama (the IN Democratic primary this year was very, very close). A June SUSA poll has Indiana as a tie, with Obama up 48-47.

Georgia, IMHO, is part of Obama's broader "southern" strategy, together with NC and VA. VA has been steadily turning blue. As an InsiderAdvantage poll (via write-up says, GA has a high percentage of African-Americans and youth, both of which favor Obama. There is also the Bob Barr factor in GA.

To wit - the past is not necessarily a predictor of future success. President Clinton had his winning electoral map; but that doesn't mean that's the map a Democratic Presidential candidate should follow in 2008. That is the map a White Southern Democrat would follow - if it was 1996.

A decade later, ground conditions and state politics/demographics are different, which means a state like Virginia, which President Clinton did not win in either 1992 or 1996, could turn Blue in 2008. However, even a White Southern Democrat like Al Gore, let alone a Northern liberal like John Kerry, failed to carry the south (which includes KY, WV, LA, TN, and AR). Perhaps this prompted Thomas Schaller to opine that Obama would be the latest Democrat to fail in the south, with the possible exception of Virginia.

However, Obama - as a young Black Midwestern Democrat - has strengths and weaknesses that a Kerry or a Gore or even a Bill Clinton did not have, as well as other factors like eight years of George W Bush, and even Bob Barr. So while NC, GA, IN, AK, MT, ND may seem like a stretch... Not necessarily. And current polls bear this out.