Monday, January 29, 2007

More "Civility" Nonsense

Another column where I get to repurpose my Arizona political war stories for today's news!

My editor ran my column along the rail (the left side of the page) rather than its usual location as a block column, so I didn't have room for my description of libertarianism as the political philosophy favored by adolescents who never outgrew Ayn Rand novels or hoping that really hot women are attracted to nerds. If you don’t think that's funny, then go build yourself a bridge somewhere and don't let anybody else use it.

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 28, 2007

With friends like me, Tom Rawles doesn't need enemies, but if he wants to protest the war, he shouldn't have to do it so nobody notices.

Tom used to be both a (gasp!) moderate Republican and a law partner of my spouse. We even contributed to his first campaign, before he went totally over to the libertarian Dark Side.

Rawles also worked for the incumbent I defeated, and days after the election, I got called, at home, by a guy who claimed to receive radio transmissions through dental work the CIA did to him after his alien abduction. He demanded help from his congressman, and when he (finally!) paused for breath, I explained that I wasn't in office yet, and asked how he'd gotten my number. He said from Tom Rawles -- because I'd won the election, it now was my job to help him.

It only took another hour to end the call, and I immediately called Rawles. Tom explained the "joke" -- the guy was a well-known crank, and even had a telephone "budget," so he could call only designated staffers once a month; the guy kept finding new employees and giving them, at ever-increasing length, his entire delusional story.

I reminded Tom that I knew his home number, and that if the guy called my house again, I'd tell him that for the next two months while Tom was still on the government payroll, the guy could call Tom at his home.

Never say Tom Rawles couldn't make something happen if it was really important. The guy never called back, or maybe the CIA changed frequencies.

But for those of you not following the biggest East Valley story so far this year, Tom Rawles is now a member of the Mesa City Council, and at a recent Council meeting, he refused to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to protest President Bush sending more troops to Iraq. Rawles says he originally supported the war as self-defense, but it' now a civil-war-and-nation-building effort that he considers beyond the proper role of our national government.

The reaction in the usual talk radio and letters-to-the-editor precincts is as you might expect -- reciting the Pledge is part of his official duties! He's dishonoring veterans! He's a bad example for The Children! (See -- 'wingers can trot out that trope, too.) He represents me, so he has to follow my beliefs! He's a commie!

The Tribune also decided that Rawles was wrong, but at least didn't claim that the Pledge isn't a voluntary statement that citizens are free to make, or decline, as they wish. Rather, the Tribune said he was wrong because he was elected to deal with municipal, not national, matters, and because his actions reflected "at least faintly" on his community and constituents.

Instead of showily remaining silently seated, the Tribune said Rawles should have stood silently or waited offstage, so he wouldn't offend anybody. Apparently, Rawles could protest -- but only so nobody noticed.

This strikes me as patently wrong. The whole point of protest is to get noticed. Sure, Rawles took advantage of a platform given him by the voters to make his protest louder. But he says expanding the Iraq war is wrong, so why shouldn't he use a nonviolent, widely-noticed, and no-expense-to-the-taxpayer forum for his protest?

Protest also is supposed to make people uncomfortable. If everybody found both the content and delivery acceptable, protest would be irrelevant. What people find "comfortable" is an ever-changing dynamic. People used to be quite comfortable with slavery, racial segregation, or denying women the vote. Protesters had to flout convention and repeatedly make people uncomfortable to change things.

It would have been more polite if Rawles had kept his disgust with Bush's policy to himself. It also would have meant that nobody would have noticed or learned that Rawles considers Bush's escalation "morally reprehensible." Well, he does -- and instead of lectures in decorum and ersatz patriotism, maybe we should debate the war instead. Isn't that what citizens in a democracy are supposed to do?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

2007 Rock-n-Roll Arizona Marathon Photos

Here's a link to the page where you can click on all of the available ones, if somehow these two just aren't enough for you. At right, I'm crossing the finish line with Karin T., an elementary schoolteacher from Colorado, who also ran at a 9:58 pace -- and who, for four generally painful hours, was the most important person in the world.

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Sacrifice" In A Time Of War

That was my suggested title for the column, but the editor went even more inflammatory. Actually, the award for the most prescient pre-war speech goes to Sen. James Webb, who is giving the Dem response to the SOTU tomorrow night; it's worth re-reading his 2002 Washington Post op-ed. And the new CBS News poll out today has Bush's approval rating at 28 percent--will Utah let us hit the teens? Links at the blog if you're interested.

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 21, 2007

I demand more respect for my sacrifices for my country. What sacrifice, you ask? Why, just hearken to what President Bush told Jim Lehrer of PBS in his interview last week.

Bush gave the interview as part of the "support the surge" publicity campaign -- the lead-balloon-like series of speeches and appearances that has decreased support in polls for the Bush-McCain plan to escalate the Iraq war. Lehrer asked Bush that if this war was as important to America (and the world) as Bush repeatedly claims, then why hasn’t the president asked more Americans to sacrifice something to win it?

Bush responded: "Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night."

And that’s my level of sacrifice, too. Some may deride watching television as passive, but to our president, I’m helping fight the War on Terror just by clicking the remote. I’m sacrificing for my country, because you bet I get upset watching the news. My peace of mind vanishes whenever I’m reminded that Bush is our president until Jan. 20, 2009.

If this sacrifice-through-being-a-couch-potato gambit is going to set the level of Bush’s rhetoric for the rest of his term, then we Democrats can use more of it. As Steve Benen put it, we want Bush to give lots of speeches and press conferences over the next two years, because I’m curious if we can see a presidential approval rating in the teens. That’s what happens when you go from "Mission Accomplished" to "Slow Failure" (how Bush characterized his previous "strategy" in Iraq in the Lehrer interview) in less than four years.

George W. Bush may want to keep calling the same tactics by new names so he can make the same mistakes yet again -- but with 10 percent more troops! -- but you should (re)read Al Gore’s speech in 2002 opposing the invasion of Iraq, or Howard Dean’s 2003 speech at Drake University. Gore said we were rushing to war, for domestic political reasons; that invading Iraq would detract from our efforts in Afghanistan; and that while Iraq needed to be contained, it did not represent any threat to the U.S. justifying preemptive war. Dean said that the risks did not justify the invasion, especially given the lack of planning for postwar Iraq.

Compare either speech to anything Bush has said since 2002. Then you also should read the critical reaction to the speeches rounded up by Bob Somerby and Scott Lemieux, and see how that’s stood up over the past 5 years.

You already recall how Dean got trashed for his prescience, but it’s jarring to re-read the reaction to Gore. John Podhoretz called Gore "insane." So did Charles Krauthammer, who said Gore "has gone off his lithium again." The late Michael Kelly called Gore’s speech "dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts -- bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible. But I understate."

Now that’s non-angry "civil discourse" for you. In hindsight, Gore and Dean made the better call -- and for their pains, got trashed by many of the same pundits who never debated their actual arguments, but just responded with personal attacks. Now these same characters want us to swallow Bush’s and McCain’s demand that we go 180 degrees from the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (remember them?)

Why are we still getting advice from the same people who not only got Iraq wrong, but who were so certain that they dismissed now-prescient criticisms in strikingly uncivil and personal terms? They knew it all then, they know it all now, and they certainly never seem to "sacrifice" anything for getting it all so very wrong.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Rock-N-Roll Results and Fossil Creek Premiere

A tough but ultimately satisfying day at the 2007 Rock-n-Roll Arizona marathon, with a 4:20:58. Just under 10 minutes per mile (by like 2 seconds). I thought I might do better heading into December, but I had a rough final month training and two weeks out had to stop running for several days, and worried I wouldn't be able to finish. So I'm happy.

The temperature at the start was 29 degrees; how do people back east/up north run in that without people watching (so you're too embarrassed to stop)? My hands not only chapped, but around mile 18, started bleeding, but by that point I had so many other things that hurt more that it really wasn't worth worrying about.

Then following the marathon, I cleaned up and attended the premiere of the new PBS documentary on the restoration of Fossil Creek, called A River Reborn. My firm and I have been involved with this project since 1999. The documentary will air on KAET Channel 8 in Phoenix on Wednesday at 9 pm MST; information on showings in other markets eventually will appear at the NAU website about the documentary.
Been There, Done That

Yelling "Munich!" (or even "Carthage!" for the more historically inclined -- and for them, why isn't it enough to yell "Sicily and the Athenians!" in response to any idea of escalation?) isn't the proper response to questioning whether to keep throwing good money (and lives) after bad.
I would have only used the first line as the headline, but it did ask a lot of the reader not to put it into context. On the other hand, this may be the first recorded instance of a publication using the phrase "lessons of Vietnam" to refer to a Republican.
East Valley Tribune, Jan. 14, 2007

One of the last bills passed by the lame-duck GOP Congress "normalized" U.S. trade with Vietnam. Permanent normal trade relations took effect with President Bush’s declaration on Dec. 29.

Vietnam then notified the World Trade Organization of the country’s ratification of WTO requirements, and formally joined the WTO on Thursday.

Trade normalization and WTO membership complete a process that began in 1994 when the U.S. lifted its trade embargo against Vietnam. We re-established diplomatic relations in 1995, exchanging ambassadors in 1997. In December, 2001, Congress and the Vietnamese National Assembly both adopted the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Agreement. U.S. trade with Vietnam increased to more than $6.4 billion in 2004. The State Department estimates that foreign investment in Vietnam, much from U.S. companies, will exceed $9 billion in 2006.

Last November, Vietnam hosted the 14th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting in Hanoi. President Bush attended, along with the leaders of 20 other APEC members. You probably remember that picture of Bush in a colorful traditional silk tunic, called ao dai.

So, given President Bush’s call to expand the war in Iraq, it’s worth asking: What did we gain from the last few years of the Vietnam War?

We know what we lost; you can read the names of the dead and wounded. Vietnam certainly didn’t liberalize immediately, and refugees fled the country -- but more war imposed additional suffering, too. Cambodia fell apart, but we helped destabilize a regime we disliked, which got replaced by a genocidal one -- and we stood by until the Vietnamese took out the Khmer Rouge.
Thirty years later, with direct flights between San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh City, with Intel building a $1 billion plant, how did the U.S. benefit from the last years of that war?

How would today’s world be different if we’d withdrawn from Vietnam once we recognized the futility? For we did withdraw, but what did we gain by not cutting our losses and instead trying to accomplish politics by means other than war?

The "domino theory" held that if Vietnam fell, so would its neighbors, and before you knew it, the Commies would be at our shores. The national honor theory said that we had to keep fighting, even when pointless, or nobody could trust the U.S. ever again.

Instead, about a dozen years later, the Berlin Wall fell and freedom was on the march. So even if we actually could increase our troops in Iraq, what good will it accomplish -- and can we really trust the people who were so wrong about both Iraq and Vietnam to finally get one right?

President Bush’s "new strategy" is neither new, nor a strategy. We’ve been there, done that. Doing about 10 percent more of the same, at this late date, won’t change anything. It isn’t a new strategy, just a refusal to face facts. And based on our Vietnam experience, what, exactly, will additional sacrifice gain us?

We shouldn’t look back in 30 years and realize that many died simply to avoid admitting a mistake. President Bush visited Vietnam and wore an ao dai, yet he still learns nothing from history.

It’s fair to attack Democrats in the 1990’s as irrationally devoted to welfare. We refused to reform or change it, despite the evidence, clinging to the hope that if we just put enough money into the effort, it theoretically could work. But in the real world, it never did; welfare needed to be scrapped, and eventually even Democrats had to recognize reality.

But why do Republicans have the same irrational devotion to a badly planned, poorly executed, and fatally flawed war? Bush refuses to change course, despite the evidence, clinging to hope that just a bit more money and lives will make a difference. Iraq is his welfare system, and he just won’t admit failure -- or that 30 years from now, we’ll have gained nothing from his folly.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's Illogical, Too.

My law school classmate David Wu (D-OR) makes a Star Trek analogy in his one-minute speech in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 10. Apparently, "Faux Klingon" is a term of art in the Trekkie world. Now there's video, too! Not everyone approves.

Monday, January 08, 2007

"Character," "Authenticity," and Other Political Nonsense

This column will teach those of you who corner me at parties for free advice that run a risk that you might end up in a column. Fair warning. But it gave me a chance to rant about one of my long-standing grievances, about the importance of "character" in politics.

In business, nobody would hire a CEO based on his or her "character" or that he or she is "really authentic." Instead, you would (or at least should, or it would be really embarrassing to see it in The Wall Street Journal if you didn't) hire based on past records and future plans. Accomplishments should matter, not such subjective qualities as "character." Isn't there an entire tradition of the hard-charging SOB CEO, whom nobody likes but who really gets the job done (and gets paid outrageous amounts accordingly)? But in politics, it's the fuzzy stuff that people get all worked up about, even as they simply cannot define it (other than "I like that person, for some reason, therefore he/she has good character. Q.E.D.") It's absolute nonsense.

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 7, 2007

I recently got cornered at a social event by an incredibly earnest young man, seeking my advice on getting more involved in politics.

The kid has been a pretty active Democrat. He helped the Kerry campaign in 2004, as a college student. Then he snagged a D.C. internship with his home-state senator, a prominent full-fledged ‘winger Republican.

He must have done well, because the kid’s been asked if he would work with the senator’s campaign in 2008, as an unpaid intern and then, if he pans out, as paid staff. He wouldn’t be in the inner circle, but he’d have the excitement of working on a high-stakes political campaign.

It’s pretty intoxicating to work for a campaign. It’s all-consuming; you readily believe that you’re important and that your job has big, earth-shaking implications. You get "face time" with famous, important people (just ask them). You learn things before they appear in the newspapers or on the Internet. You’re surrounded by other young people, often from other places, and youth, distance, and commitment-to-the-cause easily lead to wonderfully intense and brief romances.

The kid seems ready for his get-in-on-the-ground-floor chance to join the glamour and tedium of a big-time campaign, but it’s for a Republican, and one who disagrees with him on a plethora of issues. Whether it’s a woman’s right to choose, stem-cell research, or escalating the war in Iraq, the kid’s professed beliefs are at odds with the guy he’d be trying to elect.

But the kid is willing to overlook mere issues, because as part of his internship, he got to see the senator in private. Took "stock" of his "character" -- to the extent a college student can know what character is. Found the guy "authentic" and nice to his staff, even if he supports policies totally at odds with the kid’s nascent beliefs. The kid’s ready to sign up today, but needed to ask me one question first: If he works for Mr. Republican, will it hurt him in the future when he wants to work for Democrats?

I bit my tongue because I know the kid’s family and wanted to be nice, but I have absolutely had it with the politics of "character" and "authenticity." First, those terms have absolutely no content. They’re meaningless platitudes. A University of Virginia survey showed that 72 percent of people agreed with the statement that "all views of what is good are equally valid." Meanwhile, 77 percent also agreed that "we would be better off if we could all live by the same basic moral guidelines." Go figure.

Second, the search for "authenticity" is a rigged game, as Bob Somerby has documented at great length and depth at his The Daily Howler website. Democrats are always fake, Republicans are always authentic. Democrats flip-flop, but Republicans are "shrewd" and "strategic" by changing positions. Remember, the most "authentic" GOP presidential hopeful last year was former Sen. George Allen, R-Va., of Macaca, hidden Jewish ancestry, and growing-up-in-Southern-California-flying-a-Confederate-flag fame. "Authenticity" is nonsense; it’s results that matter.

I didn’t want to take it out on the kid, but I tried to be very clear. If you want to work for a Democrat, I told him, you’ll probably be asked exactly what you believe. I don’t think he heard me. I think the campaign’s glamour and sizzle spoke far louder than such trifles as policy, beliefs, and outcomes.

The kid still has time to grow up, but right now he seems interested in politics for the worst possible reason -- because what’s important to him is that he becomes important. But politics only makes sense as a means to making a better world. You may have to campaign based on people’s self-interested, or even selfish, interests ("Are you better off today than you were four years ago?") but that shouldn’t be why you campaign or why you serve.

I hope someday the kid learns to ask not what politics can do for him, but what his politics can do to improve the world.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

You Could Pay For What You Get Here For Free, But With Food

Political analysis (and either last week's or next week's column, as I do tend to stay on message -- or "recycle" -- my new stuff) available at the next Valley Citizen's League lunch on Jan. 10, at the ASU Downtown Center (formerly the Mercado, of Fife-and-me fame).

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Voters Are Just Not That Into Us

I ended the year by looking back at the column that ran last year at this time and revisiting one of the two predictions. (The other was wondering how people who kept saying that Gov. Napolitano was beatable because her re-elect number was just above 50 percent were the same folks saying that Sen. Kyl, with a lower number, would roll over Jim Pederson.) Kyl did win by just under 10 points, but Napolitano won by just over 27 points. And the fun part is that she carried every county, so according to Arizona law, for the next 4 years, the Democratic candidate will be listed first on every general election ballot, in every county. How long do you think it'll take for the GOP-controlled legislature to try to change that?

Notice the bonus Sex in the City reference?

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 31, 2006

A year ago, I wondered whether in 2006 initiatives would drive the election results. Examples from other states weren’t favorable. Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a minimum wage increase in 2004, while Gov. Jeb Bush -- who opposed the initiative strongly, fearing its impact on his race -- cruised to reelection.

In late 2005, groups seeking a California constitutional initiative banning gay marriage announced they weren’t getting the needed signatures. They missed the deadline for putting the issue on the June primary ballot, which at the time might have seemed like good news. That was election where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lost all five of his high-profile ballot initiatives -- badly.

Schwarzenegger then immediately started compromising promiscuously with the Democratic-controlled state assembly, signing on to all sorts of new initiatives. Arnold then won reelection easily, having stolen the Democratic candidate’s thunder on global warming, education, and health care. Meanwhile, the California gay marriage vote never happened.

Despite these inauspicious portents, state Republicans still hoped to frame the 2006 election around their initiative and referendum proposals. The legislature sent a slew of issues to the ballot, ranging from making English the state’s official language to blocking illegal aliens from recovering punitive damages in lawsuits. The GOP hoped these ballot propositions would rouse the GOP base and force Democrats to debate GOP wedge issues instead of their own.

Well, it didn’t work. A slew of anti-immigrant initiatives passed easily, but candidates with the more restrictive immigration profile were defeated. In an even bigger surprise, Arizona voters defeated the gay-marriage-and-domestic-partnership ban, too. Either all these wedge issues were counterbalanced by the initiative to create a higher state minimum wage (not likely), or else if your party is losing a war and your majority in Congress is doing everything it can to come up with new and newsworthy ways of demonstrating their financial and moral corruption, then many itty bitty state initiatives won’t help that much.

Or maybe Democrats should thank not just Iraq and Mark Foley, but also Sen. Jon Kyl. In their post-election post-mortems, state GOP leaders noted that they were "substantially" outspent by the Democrats, in part due to Kyl’s fundraising.

State GOP national committeeman Randy Pullen told the Associated Press that his party’s efforts in state legislative races were hampered by Kyl scooping up available GOP dollars to fight off Jim Pederson’s contributions to his own campaign.

It’s an interesting theory. You’ve probably heard, multiple times, about the $10 million Pederson spent of his own money in his Senate race, but almost every time without any mention of how much Kyl spent, as if the incumbent’s ads appeared on TV all those times merely by magic and guile.

It’s true that Kyl didn’t spend any of his own money on his campaign; instead, it was entirely other people’s money -- $15 million worth, money that wasn’t available for other Republican candidates.

So when it comes to initiatives’ impact on candidates, the Iraq-Foley-Kyl Corollary applies: A bad war, a bad Congress, and an incumbent raising $15 million means a shotgun blast of wedge-issue initiatives won’t make it a Republican year.

My own theory, however, is depressing for Arizona politicians, because it’s not about us, instead it’s about the national mood. We’re a state of newcomers; still over half the population, well over half the registered voters, and even more of the actual voters all moved here from somewhere else, meaning that something else was more important to us than existing social and community ties. Consequentially, we’re just less "into" politics than elsewhere.

Our electorate lacks deep roots; so many people don’t know what happened here five years ago that candidates can’t care about it, either.

With no history, we have no historical or political inertia, so whatever’s happening nationally matters far more than any local issues or personalities. It’s the first rule of Arizona politics: It’s not about you. Democrats got handed a good year nationally, and that made it a good year in Arizona, too.

And if President Bush (and Sen. John McCain) do escalate the war in Iraq, I bet 2008 will be a good year, too.