Monday, August 22, 2005

August 20, 2005

General Dean's Hollow Army

If General Eisenhower had the kind of troops on D-Day Howard Dean is stuck with today we'd all be wearing lederhousen. Every time Dean says anything even remotely true about the mess Republicans have made – domestically, fiscally or internationally – his own party leaders feel compelled to rush out and apologize. They remind me of an abused spouse who, after every beating from her abuser, refuses to press charges blaming herself for saying the wrong thing.

Dean sent Democratic Party mice running for cover again last weekend when he (correctly) stated that if Iraqi's adopt a constitution based on traditional Islam's rules for (mis)treating women, Iraqi women would be worse off than they were under Saddam.

Now, that statement is demonstrably true. A high school freshman on her first day in debating class could win that side of the debate without cracking a book. Just look at Iran, Saudi Arabia or even "liberated" Afghanistan, where traditional Islamic law (Shahria) calls the tune. In those countries women are treated (oppressed actually) in ways that would send Sen. Barbara Boxer into orbit if it were happening anywhere in the US. And, rightfully so.

Iraqi Shiites are demanding just those kinds of laws in the newly liberated Iraq. Nevertheless top Dems elbowed their weasely way to the nearest CNN microphone to denounce Dean's (completely correct and defensible) observation. Leading the Democrat damage control squad, the dapper senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, who wants to run for President in '08. He was the first to find an open mic and once again denounced Dean's statement.

It was the second time Biden cut the ground out from under Dean. The first was last June when Dean described Republicans as "evil," and that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay "belongs in jail." (Which in fact may come to pass since he is under criminal investigation in Texas.) Biden was sent right out to hoist a white flag before GOP snipers took offense:

"He doesn't speak for me with that kind of rhetoric and I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats," Biden told ABC News, flashing his overly-whitened teeth, used car salesman grin. People are starting to take note of this Dem strategy of "surrender early and often."

The Democrats' problem is partly a lack of strong leadership. Its main spokesman on foreign policy has become Sen. Joseph Biden, a man who -- how to put this politely? -- seems more impressed with the force of his own intellect than an objective evaluation would warrant. Listening to Biden, you sense how hungry he is to be president, but you have little idea what he would do, other than talk . . . and talk. (Full Text)

And talk he did. Asked if he thought Democrats needed to rein Dean in, Biden said, "I don't presume to suggest that I could rein in any chairman. But I think that the response from the bulk of the elected Democrats - I don't imagine would be much different."

That statement is true, up to a point. If Biden is referring to fellow Democrat office holders, yes, he is sadly correct. They are a scared and beaten bunch. Their nerves have been shattered and frayed by ten years of no-holds-barred bombardment from GOP storm troopers. Democrats now suffer from the political version of post-traumatic stress syndrome, flinching at any sound or movement that might trigger an enemy counter attack.

Pity poor General Dean. He inherited an army that can no longer fight. Instead they surrender faster than Italian soldiers offered the choice between a fight or chocolate bars and American cigarettes. Dean's troops have no fight left in them. They need a rest. A long rest.

Which brings me to an observation my pal Tony Seton made in an email to me this morning: "This would be so the time for the eruption of a third party to take 30 congressional seats."

I suspect most non-Republicans, (and the growing number of former Republicans) feel the way I do. They find little in either party to inspire or motivate them to even bother voting any longer. If the Dems insist on putting up one of their tired old-guard leaders, like Hillary and Biden, then they will lose four elections in a row.

So, Tony is right, this is a rare moment of opportunity for solid and sane independent candidates. And they should grasp it because the field has opened for them in ways not available before. In the past independents didn't have a chance because they lacked the financial support and organizing muscle of a party apparatus. But there is a valuable lesson for independents in what Cindy Sheehan pulled off down in Crawford this month. I don't even have to tell you what it was, because you have been bombarded with Sheehan's protest on the news for two solid weeks.

It's the same lesson I and other anti-war organizers learned during the Vietnam era. We could get our message on the evening news any time we wanted to. All it took was a compelling news hook and a dash of gorilla theater, and the media came running.
The media have become like a pack of stray dogs. Put some food out for them and they show up. Keep putting out fresh goodies and they keep showing up. Voila! All-you-can-eat of free publicity.

Underfunded independent candidates can do the same because, if there's anything the media loves it's a good underdog story, like Cindy's. They lap it up. News satellite trucks are magnets – for other news satellite trucks. Get one to show up and the others will show up shortly. (Hell, MSNBC will even airlift their newest media maven, chubet Rita Cosby, in by helicopter to beat the others out of that all-important exclusive interview with the "maverick candidate who is bucking the system..." etc, etc. blah, bladdy blah.)

So, instead of bemoaning the shallowness of today's news media, go ahead and just use them. It's okay, they actually like it. It makes their job easier if you just cut to the chase and tell them what the news is, otherwise they have go find it themselves. They hate it when that happens.

And, if a candidate can supply the media a ripping good yarn about his/her candidacy, they will take it from there and embellish it further. That's what I call the big "M" – media buy in. Once you have it, it's hard to lose it.

I know that sounds a bit cynical coming from a former newsman, but I am afraid that's the state of the media today. So, use it or lose. The Bushites certainly know how and have beaten Democrats silly using it.

Maybe if 20 or 30 independents unseat incumbents in '06 and '08 it would spark a renewal --not of the Democrat or Republican parties, but of America and our own decaying democracy.

Watch the Rats

There's an old saying that goes, "You don't need to ask what's happening when you see the smartest rats jumping off a ship." The Daily Kos spotted just that this week and presented the evidence:

"You can support the troops but not the president." --Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Well, I just think it's a bad idea. What's going to happen is they're going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years." --Joe Scarborough (R-FL)

"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?" --Sean Hannity, Fox News,

"[The] President . . . is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy." --Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)

"I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning . . I didn't think we had done enough in the diplomatic area." --Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today" --Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

Judicial Activism, You Say?
Memo to White House Press Corps: Ask the President if he considers this an example of "judicial activism:"

A Navy man's wife who had an abortion after her fetus was diagnosed as brain-damaged with no hope of survival, must repay the government $3,000 because federal law bars funding of such abortions in the military, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday. (Full Story)

Memo to Howard Dean: Check with Biden before you call this an example of Christian fundamentalist driven judicial activism. It might offend a voter in Kansas. And dare I say, God forbid.
August 18, 2005

Who hasn't watched a dog chase a car and wondered what the hell he thinks he's going to do should he catch it.

Well, this week the Palestinians caught that car. Now what?

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is the materialization of Arafat's worst nightmare -- the day when Palestinians would no longer have the Israelis as a foil and diversion to obscure their own deeply seeded shortcomings.

For those who elbowed, embezzled, even murdered, their way to the top of the Palestinian "leadership," the Israeli occupation has been a gift -- their own version of bin Laden and the Axis of Evil boogymen. Any Palestinian reformer who tried to blow the whistle on corrupt Palestinian leaders was branded a traitor to the cause or a collaborator. They were either "with us or against us." Opposing Palestinian leaders was, "aiding the Zionists," and talking about Palestinian corruption was "letting the Israelis win."

Well, starting this week Palestinian leaders will finally have to stand up and deliver. As you know I am not a big fan of governance in the Arab world. After all, what's there to be a fan of? Even the two Middle Eastern nations that would like to become more progressive and democratic, Egypt and Jordan, dare not try. Because the ultimate power over the minds and actions of their people resides not within their state houses, but within their mosques. Even the smallest steps towards western-style government or human rights (particularly women's rights) are made literally at the risk of their leader's lives.

The Palestinians actually have a leg up in this regard because of their large Palestinian Christian community and a history of secular tradition lacking among their Arab neighbors. But, if those secular forces are to prevail the very first thing the Palestinians must do is deal with the Islamo-fascist Hamas forces that currently have the run of Gaza.

HAMAS was formed in late 1987 as an outgrowth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Various HAMAS elements have used both violent and political means, including terrorism, to pursue the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in Israel. It is loosely structured, with some elements working clandestinely and others operating openly through mosques and social service institutions to recruit members, raise money, organize activities, and distribute propaganda. HAMAS’ strength is concentrated in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. (Full Intel Report)

But I remain pessimistic. The Middle East has never bought into the West's idea of representative government. The Middle East has been, and largely remains a collection of tribes. Their idea of governance finds a lot in common with governance as practiced by US inner city street gangs. Living within artificial nations whose boundries were dictated by others, these tribes interact only at the fringes, at friction points where tribes must rub against each other for geograhical or mercantile reasons. First they talk, and if that doesn't work – and it usually doesn't – they'd fight. One way or another matters of tribal-state are resolved until the next friction point flares.

What central government services there are in that part of the world are doled out by tribal leaders. That's why when Saddam, a Sunni, ruled Iraq the Sunni tribe was rolling in clover while the Shiites and Kurds sucked canal water. (Saddam's idea of welfare reform was killing a few hundred thousand Shiites.) Which also explains why the Iraqis can't agree on a constitution. The idea that all tribes would be treated equally is entirely foreign to them, even objectionable.

In Gaza it's been Hamas handing out the goodies while the so-called official Palestinian "leadership" busied themselves embezzling billions in foreign aid. (Investigators are still trying to find roughly $1 billion Arafat stole and secreted out of the country before he died, which is why his widow, now living very well, in France has been so quiet.) None of the new Palestinian leaders, some of whom also worked for Arafat, and must know, or at least suspect, where that money went, are saying nothing. For them the money was stolen fair and square and it's time to move on. Apparently the Bush administration agrees and is cutting new checks (reportedly $3 billion) for both Israel and this new batch of Palestinian leaders. We can only hope this bunch is less larcenous than the last.

So this week the world – including the Arab world – watched Jews expelling Jews from Gaza. It was all televised live, and for a reason. Israel wanted the Arabs to see them expelling Jews from Arab land. Moderate Jews were finally telling crazy fundamentalists Jews, "enough with the Bible Title reports! Comply with what your nation's leaders have democratically voted, or else."

This week we saw Israel actually enforce the "or else" part.

Now it's the Palestinians turn to deliver a similar message to the religious/tribal nuts on their side: "Hamas, turn in your weapons or put your militias under Palestinian government control and behave, or else."

More than just Israelis will be watching. Donor nations of the West which have, for the last quarter century, poured good money after bad too many times already. This time the Palestinians either stand up and deliver, or else. And that begins right now by proving they can govern tiny Gaza. If they can't do that then I believe any sympathy Palestinians now enjoy will disappear, and with it their dream of a state of their own on the West Bank.

Because the last thing the world needs is another Arab state filled with angry young Arabs with nothing to do with their lives but itch for a fight.

No comments: