Monday, August 28, 2006

Competence Is So Overrated

The editor gave the column a block quote, a paraphrase of the last sentence of the next-to-last graf: "Talk radio callers seem more concerned about illegal immigration rather than gay gamblers seeking Internet porn and family planning services." CAP: Your go-to supposedly-biblical source for the latest right-wing absurdities on gays, gambling, and gynecology!

Governor's Race

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 27, 2006

The Roman playwright Terence, and centuries later Charles Dickens, both get credited with saying, "Charity begins at home." But in Len Munsil's household, charity begins at home -- and stays there. His motto: Nice work if you can get it, tax exempt.

Munsil's prior gig, before deciding to run for governor, was heading the Center for Arizona Policy. CAP applied for and received what's called recognition of tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. That means CAP gets all sorts of benefits under the tax code as a "social welfare organization." (And it also means that CAP's IRS filings are public records, available to any enterprising reporter, of which this market does not have a surplus.)


Heading CAP wasn't charity work; between 1997 and 2004, Munsil's compensation package exceeded $1.1 million, over $1 million in salary and another $117,000 in pension contributions. His salary in 2004 topped $200,000 -- and that's just his salary; over the years CAP also paid his wife more than $50,000 in salary and benefits.

A huge part of CAP's "social welfare" and "community benefit" mission was paying Len Munsil; his compensation package was almost half of CAP's total revenues in 1997, but he did grow the organization; despite his remuneration increasing by roughly 15 percent annually, his total compensation during the 1997-2004 period represented "only" an annual average of roughly 16 percent of CAP's revenues.

This is pretty amazing stuff for a humble nonprofit. But let me predict Munsil's reaction to accusations that he's less than charitable: He'll break out the "a Democrat attacked me!" card, as if the Lord spoke from Sinai saying, "Here are Ten Commandments -- but for Republicans, they're optional."

But when it comes to doing little but being paid lots for it, Munsil may be the most competent of the Republican gubernatorial candidates, and that ain't saying much. Quick: Name one thing any of the four GOP contenders has accomplished.

I'm waiting.

I'm still waiting, but let me note in the interim that at least Ned Lamont ('76) actually served in public office. Sure, he was a one-term town councilman in a wealthy Connecticut suburb, but compared to these blind men, he's the proverbial one-eyed king. As Lyndon Johnson once said, I'd feel better if any of these guys had run for dog catcher. Instead, they want to start out as governor, a job that normally doesn't come with training wheels.

Just ask Jesse Ventura. Next to this crowd, "The Body" -- who served as mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, before his one term as governor -- is a major political scientist.


Tribune opinion writer Le Templar knocked frontrunner Don Goldwater as needing more than a famous name, but at least he's jumped in with both feet with the immigration hard-liners. He won the coveted "Russell Pearce primary" for the endorsement of the state's most prominent anti-immigration politician. (Pearce is so anti-immigration that he even supported a proposal by Democrats Terry Goddard and Bill Brotherton that would have actually fined employers who hire illegal aliens, something that no other Republican was willing to do. Unlike Pearce, their anti-immigrant fervor managed to stop short of the extreme step of cooperating with Democrats.)

Munsil and CAP, however, have been conspicuously absent on the immigration issue -- late, and certainly not loud. On this issue, Munsil is -- dare I say it? -- more moderate than the competition. Instead, Munsil is banking on those issues where he is anything but moderate.

CAP described itself as "the only organization in Arizona actively presenting a biblical perspective to the Legislature and media on marriage, gambling, homosexuality, pornography and abortion." That was an effective recipe for right-wing soufflé in the past couple elections, but on talk radio these days, the callers seem more concerned about undocumented foreigners rather than gay gamblers seeking Internet porn and family planning services.

So what matters more to the GOP base in 2006, whacking illegal immigrants, or whacking gays, gambling, and gynecology? Out of sensitivity toward CAP's self-proclaimed anti-gambling mission, I'll refrain from saying, "Place your bets!"

Monday, August 21, 2006

He's Wrong About French Existentialism, Too!

My proposed headline is above, but the editor didn't go for it. I did get one email complaint about this week's column; No Exit isn't a novel, but a play. I fixed the last line by removing "novel" and enjoyed the chance to respond to the critic by noting that he was (wait for it) literally correct.

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 20, 2006

You probably heard that President Bush read The Stranger by Albert Camus. Yes, the leader of the political party that brought us “freedom fries” perused one of the seminal works of French existentialism. You heard me -- a book written in French. What’s up with that?

(Meanwhile, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the GOP has restored french fries and french toast to the Capitol cafeteria menus. That publicity stunt aged about as well as two-day-old fries -- which actually originated in Belgium, but hey, what’s a fact to those guys?)

Bush’s literary disclosure spurred considerable puzzlement over why he would allow it to be known that he read this particular book. Sure, it’s a well-known part of many college curricula without any big words, but it’s about a dissolute young Frenchman who shoots an Algerian and is executed for murder, without remorse or regret. Yes, it makes absolutely perfect sense, while we’re battling over the hearts and minds of the Islamic world, for Bush to disclose he’s just read a novel about a soulless murderer of an Arab.

As one commenter noted, if Bush wanted to read Camus, he should have chosen The Plague, about a doctor who treats victims of an outbreak in Algeria, despite the immensity of the disease all about him, because he believes he must do whatever he can, however tiny in the face of the disaster, to relieve the suffering of others. And if Bush wanted to explore existentialism, he might have wanted to use it to examine his own all-or-nothing, good-versus-evil rhetoric, and how that may play well to his GOP base in this country, but it’s worse than counterproductive in accomplishing our goals, at home and abroad.


Bush (and his enablers) continue to insist that we fight one big global conspiracy, all connected and coordinated. Whether it’s Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Palestinians in Gaza, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Shi’a and Sunni in Iraq, the Iranians, or the latest, the alleged conspiracy by Britons of Pakistani descent to blow up transatlantic aircraft, to Bush it’s all the same, part and parcel of one big gelatinous global conspiracy (the name of which keeps changing; now they’re trying out “Islamofascism.” We’ll see if that term has a longer shelf-life than “freedom fries.”)

There are two problems with Bush’s “with me or against us” worldview. The first is that it doesn’t make sense, even here at home. Let’s assume the worst about the British conspiracy, that subsequent events will justify the initial breathless reports and tossing out all those liquids and gels at the airport. Do you really think that our solution to aircraft security is keeping U.S. troops in Iraq?

As Josh Marshall put it, “Is there anyone in the country who can say honestly, in their heart of hearts, that when that moment of fear hit them after the recent reports out of London, they said to themselves, ‘Gosh, I’m glad we’re in Iraq?’ ”


And Bush’s black-or-white world view isn’t helping abroad, either. As noted by Sir Max Hastings -- he’s the token conservative among columnists at The Guardian (U.K.), so given my precarious perch here at The Tribune, I tend to pay attention to fellow contrarians -- his description of the West in battle with Islamic extremism perfectly mirrors the rhetoric and framing of those Muslim radicals who see everything as a Judeo-Christian plot against Islam:

The madness of Bush’s policy is that he has made a willful choice to amalgamate the grossly irrational, totalitarian, and homicidal objectives of al-Qaeda with the just claims of Palestinians and grievances of Iraqis. His remarks on Saturday invite Muslims who sympathize with Hamas or reject Iraq’s occupation or merely aspire to grow opium in Afghanistan to make common cause with Bin Laden. If the United States insists upon regarding all Muslim opponents of its foreign policies as a homogeneous enemy, then that is what they become.

If Bush really wanted to read a French existentialist, he picked the wrong book and author. Based on our options in Iraq, he should have gone with Jean-Paul Sartre: No Exit.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Joe Lieberman: Fighting for Joe Lieberman! (click link!)

I realize with this column that I'm on the wrong side of this one with both my father-in-law and with my late father's second wife's third husband, but so it goes; I've been driving my wife crazy long enough with my columns that it's time other members of the family started feeling her pain. And maybe the grandfathers will reconsider now that Bush has refused to endorse the Republican in the race and instead "supports the democratic process in the state of Connecticut, and wishes them a successful election in November." To wildly paraphrase Jon Chait in today's LA Times, if you really believe that what Democrats really need to do is support more wars, is a guy who's in bed with Bush the way to do it? Probably not.

Before I wrote the column and was noodling around with the idea, a reporter from the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix called and asked for my opinion about Lieberman's loss. (Nobody is asking me to comment, as a college classmate of Ned Lamont, on his victory, however. Hence the lede.) My short summary, applicable to both Lieberman and McKinney, from my Jewish News quote:

"Voters like people who are independent, and if they like a politician they'll essentially allow the politician to hold views that are very different from their own on what seem to be very significant issues," said former congressman and former Arizona Democratic Party chairman Sam Coppersmith. "But there comes a point where a politician's independence ends and where self-absorption begins, in that voters can sense the difference between someone who's independent and someone who has lost touch with the voters and their concerns."

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 13, 2006

If history is written by the winners, why are only Joe Lieberman, and his elite pundit supporters, all over the airwaves explaining his loss?

Have you even heard Ned Lamont’s voice since he became the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate? Instead of Lieberman’s tendentious explanations of his defeat, isn’t anybody curious about Lamont’s explanation of his win?

For all Lieberman insists on mimicking GOP talking points -- was it Lieberman, or GOP chair Ken Mehlman, calling Democrats “the party of Ned Lamont and Maxine Waters”? -- Lieberman and Cynthia McKinney in Georgia were textbook examples of incumbents who lost touch with their constituents.

Voters do like politicians who demonstrate “independence,” and will support someone who doesn’t share their views on several issues, even major ones, if voters decide they like the guy. Being “independent” can get voters to like you more.

But too much incumbency and independence can fray a politician’s connection to the represented. Always being surrounded by staffers and supporters who agree 100 percent can change an incumbent’s residence to his or her own out-of-touch little world.

In extreme cases, a politician’s independence becomes a separate reality. In McKinney’s case, her constituents finally lost patience with her bizarre conspiracy theories and blaming her own failings on racism. In Lieberman’s case, his national political obsessions and beyond-Panglossian ignorance of reality in Iraq led voters to conclude he no longer represented Connecticut but instead the panelists on the Sunday morning talk shows. Being the favorite Democrat of people who never vote for a Democrat isn’t a winning primary strategy.

As for the “Bush hatred” meme, what if a prominent Republican -- call him “Maverick McCain” -- said Republicans who distrusted President Clinton must acknowledge that he’s commander-in-chief, and that “we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.” Just imagine the next GOP primary.

Lieberman ran what Mark Schmitt called a “checklist liberalism” campaign. He voted with the customary Democratic interest groups -- environmentalists, women, labor -- and got the customary endorsements. He thought those endorsements would make up for supporting the loathsome bankruptcy bill, or being the one Democrat that Republicans use to tar all other Democrats. “Punching the buttons” on drilling in ANWR, affirmative action, or abortion used to be enough back in 1996, or maybe 1986. But it didn’t work in 2006.

Lieberman seemed blind-sided by the change. His statewide organization had atrophied, and his efforts to emphasize his support of good old liberal causes, or what he did in the 1960’s, didn’t convince voters to ignore their current concerns. He tried to take the Iraq war “off the table” and do his best to “change the subject.” But just as Democrats running in 2002 couldn’t ignore the war on terror, so Democratic voters in Connecticut weren’t about to let Lieberman simply ignore their biggest concerns.

Republicans are welcome to talk about Lieberman’s independent bid as a key 2006 issue. But that assumes that any undecided voters know, or can be taught to care, who Joe Lieberman is. Or, more accurately, was.

Maybe predicting politics in November or in 2008 really is, as Joe Bob Briggs once called it after watching those Sunday morning talk shows, nothing more than making straight-line projections from the present. But, as Schmitt notes, in 2008 either something will have changed in Iraq to change the dynamic, or we will be in our sixth year of an inconclusive, bloody, and unnecessary war. Already, a majority of Americans consider the Iraq War a mistake. By 2008, Connecticut primary voters won’t be ahead of the curve; the curve will have caught and passed them.

Republicans may not want to campaign on a platform of “every incumbent deserves re-election.” Last Tuesday, three incumbent members of Congress went down to defeat in primaries -- and not that many states held primaries. The last non-redistricting year with so many incumbents defeated in primaries was 1994, and that general election was even less fun for incumbents. Break out those “change vs. more of the same” banners, kids, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Setting the Record Straight: More on the Deceptive Hamdan Brief

My suggested headline was "Kyl, Graham Still Haven't Set 'The Record' Straight" but the editor juiced it up a bit. Good for him. The editor put the last sentence of the sixth paragraph ("Nobody's saying [they can't fake it] although to regular people that looks, well, odd") as a bold box quote in the dead-tree version.

The brief itself is here; the passage at issue is on pages 16-17.

East Valley Tribune, July 23, 2006

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. last week wrote an op-ed in The Tribune answering questions that nobody’s asking, and ignoring the actual, uncomfortable questions, regarding the now-infamous amicus brief that he and Sen. Jon Kyl filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, last month’s the-president-is-not-above-the-law decision. (Hamdan didn’t say that terrorists have constitutional rights; it did say that the president needs to follow the Constitution, which says he’s the president, not “the decider.”)

We did learn from Graham that even his colleagues recognize that Jon Kyl is such a stiff that even his ad-libs must be fully scripted (“Mr. President, I see we are nearing the end of our allotted time.”) But none of the other senators who inserted written statements in the Congressional Record went through the charade of a fake conversation (“If I might interrupt”).

More importantly, none of those other senators have pretended that their written statements weren't inserted into the record and were delivered live. Only Graham and Kyl, in a terribly convenient omission, insisted that what never happened be "presumed" to be live.

Graham graciously allows that other senators’ written statements deserve due weight, just like his and Kyl’s. And that’s accurate; nobody is saying that Graham’s and Kyl’s written statements shouldn’t be considered just like written statements from other senators. But what critics are saying -- particularly other lawyers who understand their professional ethical obligations not to mislead any tribunal, much less the Supreme Court -- is that Graham and Kyl shouldn’t get away with pretending that their written statement, inserted in the Congressional Record after the fact, was better than everybody else’s.

However, that’s how they tried to portray it to the Supreme Court. In their amicus brief, they demanded special treatment because their written statement lacked the tell-tale written-statement bullet. Their brief instructed the Court that the Graham-Kyl written statement, inserted in the Record but not spoken, was bullet-less -- and therefore “presumed to reflect live debate except when the statements therein are followed by a bullet, indicating ‘statements or insertions which are not spoken by a Member of the Senate on the floor.’” [Emphasis in original] And, said the Kyl-Graham brief, at-the-time live debate is better than after-the-fact written statements.

That’s the other question that Graham’s op-ed never answered. Nobody says he and Kyl can’t insert stuff in the Congressional Record; that’s what it’s there for. Nobody’s saying that their written statements can’t be faked to look like an actual speech, although to regular people that looks, well, odd.

But Graham and Kyl simply can’t insert stuff in the Congressional Record, faked to look like actual live debate (or, if you buy Graham’s spin, written ahead of time, but then, oops! Out of time!), then omit the written-statement bullet, and then tell the Supreme Court that the statement should be given special weight because it is “presumed” to be live debate.

(Graham’s reference to an earlier debate, on a prior version of the amendment, is similarly deceptive. That debate revealed, in Graham’s words, that Sen. Levin had “made some very good points” about “weaknesses” in the original version, which Levin had helped to correct with the later version -- which included the point at issue in Hamdan. So the prior statements in the “extensive live debate” aren’t “consistent” because those statements concerned Graham’s earlier, weakness-containing version.)

It’s also fun that Kyl dismissed criticism of his deceptions by John Dean, calling him a convicted criminal. Of course, Dean pled guilty to helping Richard Nixon’s Watergate cover-ups and crimes. Does this mean that Kyl finally is willing to call Nixon a crook? It’s 30 years too late, but it still would be refreshing.

I guess America is now a country where, in the words of the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, “The president is always right.” But if it’s now official GOP dogma that the Constitution is defunct, at least be honest about it -- instead of deceptive like Kyl and Graham.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Known Unknowns, Unknown Unknowns, and Flat-Out Incompetence

I'm still a column behind, and I usually don't do too much national stuff, but Rumsfeld was just too big a target when I had to file my column last week. Hope you enjoy it. My suggested headline is above, but the editor went a bit wobbly on me. He also took out the Hayworth joke (copying the email to the managing editor and publisher) so I apparently stepped over some sort of line. Or tried to, anyway.

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 6, 2006

On, the business book "classic," The Rumsfeld Way: Leadership Wisdom of a Battle-Hardened Maverick (McGraw-Hill 2002), is available from the shocking-and-awesome price of $0.01. But even that low, low price may sag after Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s Senate testimony last week.

Rumsfeld insisted that he had never, ever led anyone to believe that the Iraq war would be a quick, telegenic demonstration of next-generation American whiz-bang supremacy. Maybe some people thought Iraq would be the Grenada invasion with less humidity, but he wasn’t one of them, Rumsfeld insisted: “I have never painted a rosy picture. I have been very measured in my words, and you’d have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I have been excessively optimistic.”

Really? Let’s try.

In a November 2002 radio interview, Rumsfeld admitted that he couldn’t precisely time how long military involvement in Iraq would last, but he would predict an outside limit: “I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks or five months, but it won’t last any longer than that.”

In February 2003, Rumsfeld issued another, similar prediction. Again, he wouldn’t give an exact duration -- but he still thought he could guess the maximum: “It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.”

Before the invasion, Rumsfeld also stated that war with Iraq would not turn into World War III. (No, that would be, according to Newt Gingrich, the current Israel-Hezbollah fighting in Lebanon.) In that regard, the jury is still out. U.S. involvement in World War II still lasted longer than the Iraq war, but in less than 4 months, that won’t be true anymore.

Then, thanks to, here are some additional descriptions that don’t look quite as good as they once did -- and Rumsfeld’s Defense Department issued them all of 6 months ago, in a February 2006 report to Congress:

Page 3: “Terrorist attacks have failed to create and spread sectarian conflict.”

Page 9: “Increasingly robust Iraqi political institutions will provide peaceful means for reconciliation and bridging divides.”

Page 23: Insurgents have “failed to deter development of the Iraq Security forces” and “failed to damage Iraqi public trust in the Iraq security forces.” (The same day as Rumsfeld’s testimony, The New York Times front page carried an article headlined, “In Iraq, It’s Hard to Trust Anyone in Uniform.”)

Page 24: “The overarching term ‘insurgency’ is less of a useful construct today” because “previous synergy among enemy groups is breaking apart.”

Maybe now we all can agree that Rumsfeld and his crew are every bit as arrogant as Robert McNamara and the Whiz Kids were, and about as successful. You’ve got similar haircuts, wireframe glasses, MBAs; the only difference is that Rumsfeld seems less tethered to reality than was McNamara. We’ll see if Rumsfeld lives long enough to have McNamara-style regrets; now that would make a heck of a movie.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

More on "Americanization"

We're back. The Tribune editor chopped my lede's parenthetical--apparently worried that the usual readership won't catch a reference to Boswell and Johnson--but I have more faith in my blog readers. He also deleted my paragraph about older Anasazi sitting around complaining about these newcomers who insist on being hunter-gatherers instead of adopting true American ways, and changed "Native Americans" to "American Indians" ruining the scan of the sentence--but left in the Yiddish. I don't understand my editor. The Tribune did add a disclosure to my column that I've contributed to Hayworth's opponent, former Tempe Mayor and state Sen. Harry Mitchell (and you can and should, too!), but left off my other disclosure that I've never owned a Ford vehicle.

East Valley Tribune, July 30, 2006

To J.D. Hayworth (and to Joe Eule, the dollar-store Boswell to Hayworth’s talk-radio Johnson) “whatever it takes” means taking some thoroughly-discredited part of American history -- the internment of Japanese-Americans, or anti-Semitic college admissions quotas, or slavery -- then bleaching out the racism, and trumpeting “what’s left” as honest, American virtue.

That’s the basis for Hayworth invoking notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford as justification for Hayworth’s vision of “Americanization.” After all, Henry Ford did many other things besides being anti-Semitic. True; he also found time to receive the Third Reich’s highest honor given to non-Germans, and founded a car company that was quite successful last century, less so today.

After all, says Hayworth, many historical heroes did things we find upsetting or immoral today, like Thomas Jefferson keeping slaves. Also true; most Americans today, however, don’t look to Jefferson for advice on how to handle the domestic help. We focus instead on how his political thought still shapes our view of our country and our future, and gloss over Jefferson’s ideas on proper treatment of young women working in his household.

The problem with using Henry Ford and his call for “Americanization” is that Ford’s entire concept for the term grew out of his conviction that Jews couldn’t ever become “true” Americans. Not only was Ford wrong, but the anti-Semitism was the core of Ford’s entire theory. You take out the anti-Semitism, and “what’s left” is nothing at all. Buppkes, as some might say. It’s like claiming that the Civil War was an abstract philosophical debate, with armies, over the proper balance between federal power and state autonomy. You’ll just have to understand that black Americans aren’t quite so willing to pretend that slavery had absolutely nothing to do with it.

The other problem is that if there was a better historical analogy than Henry Ford, you’d think Hayworth would use it. I realize these guys never admit to making a mistake; why else are we fighting in Iraq? But if there was a better old-fashioned folk hero model of Hayworth’s vision of America-should-be-as-I-want-to-remember-it-decades-ago, and not the politically-correct-culturally-diverse-why-are-there-billboards-in-Spanish America of today, shouldn’t he use the alternative instead of bigoted old Henry Ford?

Hayworth’s problem is that all the other historical analogies don’t work any better than Henry Ford, anti-Semite. In Pennsylvania, I’ve read politicians’ complaints that more than a third of the population is native speakers of a foreign language, who don’t seem to want to learn English but prefer living in neighborhoods where English is hardly spoken. People worry that English is endangered and embattled. A major political figure warned that these “aliens . . . will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion.”

The problem is that the complaints date from 1776, the foreign language was German, and the politician was Benjamin Franklin. (Thanks to Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania for unearthing the data and the Franklin quote.)

Probably the older Anasazi used to complain that these Johnny-come-lately Athabascan immigrants were keeping to their own ways and language, and don’t understand what it means to be an American -- that is, if the Anasazi had such a concept.

It seems laughable today that Americans of English descent fretted over German immigrants’ complexions, and nobody seems to much care that the only natives with a valid complaint about how immigrants ruined everything are the Native Americans.

That’s the sorry historical record of complaints of fraidy-cats like Hayworth, who don’t understand the power of the American idea. They fear that suddenly we’ve lost the ability to incorporate the best of the rest of the world into a vibrant, eclectic, healthy, and constantly changing country. Well, we haven’t, no matter how scared and angry Hayworth is.

That’s the last part of Hayworth’s response, that any criticism of his nonsense reflects the critics’ bitterness or partisan bias. So remember that anytime Hayworth criticizes Gov. Napolitano. By his own standards, you must ignore him, because after all, Hayworth’s just a bitter little man who lacked the guts to run against Janet.