Thursday, November 30, 2006

Carter: Peace, Not Apartheid for Palestine

NOTE: I really am composing my follow-up to the Dixie topic, believe me. I just suffer a bit from blogger ADD and all this interesting stuff keeps coming up, like this one.

Former President Jimmy Carter has penned a new book critical of Israel and US policy in Palestine entitled, "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid" . With regard to that title I humbly give reference to an earlier post from these very pages on the subject. This is a book I definitely plan to pick up.

Democracy Now! has a post up about the minor controversy surrounding this book. The entry is notable not only for Mr. Carter's viewpoint -- one that is rarely if ever heard in our ostensibly free press -- but also for it's citation of the sharp criticism of those views coming not only from the political right and the usual assortment of Israelophiles collectively known as the "Pro-Israel lobby" but also from the supposed political left in the form of such persons as incoming House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the incoming Judiciary Chairman John Conyers. Check this out...

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is accusing Israel of creating an apartheid system in the West Bank and Gaza. The charge comes in his new book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."

The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been deeply involved in Middle East policies for the past three decades. As president he negotiated the Camp David Accords - which secured a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt.

In his new book, Jimmy Carter writes, "Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land."

Carter criticizes Israel for building what he describes as an imprisonment wall through the West Bank. He accuses Israel of strangling the residents of Gaza where the poverty rate has reached 70 percent and where the malnutrition rate mirrors countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. And Carter is critical of Washington's role. He writes, "The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories."

OK, so you get the gist. Mr. Carter dares to call Israel's policies towards Palestinians and the US government's complicity therein what they really are -- apartheid policies. Per my previous post referenced in the link above, consider the peculiarities of this supposed "lone middle-east democracy". I now repost my citation of Bruce Dixon's "Israeli Apartheid" from The Black Commentator:

Imagine, if you will, a modern apartheid state with first, second and eleventh class citizens, all required to carry identification specifying their ethnic origin. First class citizens are obliged to serve in the armed forces, kept on ready reserve status until in their forties, and accorded an impressive array of housing, medical, social security, educational and related benefits denied all others.

Second class citizens are exempted from military service and from a number of the benefits accorded citizens of the first class. They are issued identity documents and license plates that allow them to be profiled by police at a distance. Second class citizens may not own land in much of the country and marriages between them and first class citizens are not recognized by the state. Second class citizens are sometimes arrested without trial and police torture, while frowned upon and occasionally apologized for, commonly occurs.

Citizens of the eleventh class, really not citizens at all, have no rights citizens of the first class or their government are bound to respect. Their residence is forbidden in nearly nine-tenths of the country, all of which they used to own. The areas left to them are cut up into smaller and smaller portions weekly, by high walls, free fire zones and hundreds of checkpoints manned by the army of the first class citizens, so that none can travel a dozen miles in any direction to work, school, shopping, a job, a farm, a business or a hospital without several long waits, humiliating searches and often arbitrary denials of the right to pass or to return. Posh residential settlements for the first class citizens with protecting gun towers and military bases are built with government funds and foreign aid on what used to be the villages and farms and pastures of the eleventh class citizens. The settlers are allotted generous additional housing and other subsidies, allowed to carry weapons and use deadly force with impunity against the former inhabitants, and are connected with the rest of first class territory by a network of of first-class citizen only roads.

Citizens of the eleventh class are routinely arrested, tortured, and held indefinitely without trial. Political activism among them is equated to “terrorism” and the state discourages such activity by means including but not limited to the kidnapping of suspects and relatives of suspects, demolition of their family homes, and extralegal assassination, sometimes at the hands of a death squad, or at others times by lobbing missiles or five hundred pound bombs into sleeping apartment blocks or noonday traffic. Passports are not issued to these citizens, and those who take advantage of scarce opportunities to study or work abroad are denied re-entry.

The apartheid state in question is, of course, Israel. Its first class citizens are Israeli Jews, the majority of them of European or sometimes American origin. The second class citizens are Israeli Arabs, who enjoy significant but limited rights under the law including token representation in the Knesset. The eleventh class citizens are not citizens at all. They are Palestinians.

And let us not forget the views of Oren Ben Dor, an Israeli citizen who teaches Philosophy at Southampton University's School of Law in the UK. On the recent Isreali demolition of the entire nation of Lebanon he writes...

"What exactly is being defended by the violence in Gaza and Lebanon? Is it the citizens of Israel or the nature of the Israeli state? I suggest the latter. Israel's statehood is based on an unjust ideology which causes indignity and suffering for those who are classified as non-Jewish by either a religious or ethnic test. To hide this primordial immorality, Israel fosters an image of victimhood. Provoking violence, consciously or unconsciously, against which one must defend oneself is a key feature of the victim-mentality. By perpetuating such a tragic cycle, Israel is a terrorist state like no other."

Again, this is an Israeli talking. So, getting back to the DN's coverage of Carter's book:

Some of the most vocal critics of Carter's book have been fellow Democrats. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "It is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based oppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously."

Lets stop right there for a moment and take that in. It is actually "wrong" to suggest that ISRAEL instutionalizes ethinially based oppression? Nancy, dear Nancy, what else would you call it? Ethnicity is literally everything if you live in Israel. I vigorously question the "vigor" with which such a manifestly accurate "allegation" can be rejected.

John Conyers does only slightly better...

John Conyers, the incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, urged Carter to change the title of the book, which he described as "offensive and wrong."

What a disappointment! These quotes are incomplete and absent the context of the actual question the speakers may have been asked so I should moderate my criticism some. But taken at face value these statements really bother me. Not because they're suprising. They are not. The power of the Pro-Israel lobby is the stuff of legend and the subject of conspiracy theories the world over. And it is also probably wise for the Democrats, having yet to enjoy their first day at the congressional helm, to avoid picking big fights by co-signing controversial viewpoints at this juncture (regardless of whether or not those viewpoints should actually be controversial at all). Still, this kind of outward attack on Carter's work strikes me as more than avoidance on thier part. Simply withholding an endorsement would have accomplished that. But instead they took that extra step to almost excioriate Carter's valid commentary, virtually ruling out any acknowledgement of the facts on the ground.

As this episode illustrates, in case anyone doubted it, that the power of the "Pro-Israel"* lobby it is quite real. Behold the power of cheese.

* - I say "Pro-Israel" in quotes because that framing implicitly assumes that fairness to Palestinians is "anti-Israel", which it is not. As Mr. Ben Dor argues, the state of Isreal as currently constituted is unsustainable specifially because of it's institutionalized system of ethnic and religious-based injustice. No nation and especially nothing approaching a democracy, can survive a constant state of war, especially if that war is waged against both it's own citizens and it's immediate neighbors. A peaceful and, most importantly, equitable solution to this crisis is the most "Pro-Isreali" stance one can take. The alternative is it's eventual collapse and descent into sectarian and ethnic chaos.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'll get back to the Tom Schaller stuff soon enough. In the meantime I'm enjoying my holiday, getting all fat and happy. So, while it's still not too late, please by all means have a Happy Thanksgiving with your family, friends, the meal with all the trimings, the big game...

...or whatever it is you enjoy.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Whittling Dixie, Part II

In my earlier post I republished several bullet points posted at The Gadflyer by Tom Schaller to explain why he believes this month's mid-term elections vindicated his position outlined in his book, "Whistling Past Dixie". The following is the first installment of my unsolicited, point-for-point rejoinder, adjusted to reflect the corrected criteria outlined in the update to my original post:

1) Schaller says, "5 of 6 gubernatorial pickups outside the South (84%)": True enough. 5 of the 6 new Democratic governors came from outside the south (defining the south as the states that made up the confederacy). In what will be a recurring them here, this analysis ignores, A) the limited number of seats up for grabs in the south in the first place and B) existing Democratic governors in the south.

So yes, 84% of the Democrats' gubernatorial pickups were gained outside the south. At first glance that may look like a very significant figure. However, when one considers that 28 of the 36 governorships contested were also outside of the south (78%) that number looks a lot less impressive. The small variance that does exist between southern and non-southern states here (6%) is not an eye-popping number. It is certainly not large enough to justify conclusions like Schaller's. In fact, one could argue that it actually disproves his point because, at least on a percentage basis, the Democrats' performance in the south is fairly comparable to their results outside of it.

Also, three of the seats in contention in the south were already held by Democrats. This means that any wins in those states (wins they did get, by the way) go by undetected using Schaller's statistic which only measures new "pickups".

Applying a similar methodology to these gubernatorial races, without filtering the results for pickups we find that 3 out of 8 gubernatorial elections held in the south (OK, AR, TN) were won by Democrats (37.5%). Not a majority (yet) but just one win shy of 50%. This hardly qualifies as a blowout.

Furthermore, a quick check of the National Governors Association's website (PDF file) reveals that there were six existing Democratic southern governors. The entries in bold represent seats in contention in this election:

  • Kathleen Blanco (Louisiana)
  • Michael Easley (North Carolina)
  • Brad Henry (Oklahoma)
  • Phil Bredesen (Tennessee)
  • Tom Kaine (Virginia)
  • Joe Manchin (West Virginia)
When added to the new Democratic southern governor or Arkansas elected Tuesday you arrive at a grand total of 7 out of the 13 southern governorships held by Democrats (54%). Looking at the totality of the data, in what possible way can this be construed as evidence that the Democrats should write off the south as a lost cause?

2) Schaller says, "5 of 6 senatorial pickups outside the south (84%)": True again but, as is the case above, by narrowing the focus to pickups alone this analysis ignores the limited number of senate seats up for grabs in the south to begin with. The south only represented 4 out of the 16 seats the Democrats could have possibly picked up. Conversely, that means that 12 of the 16 possibilities (75%) were available outside the south so it should come as no surprise that most of the gains also occurred outside the south in a comparable proportion.

By using this statistic Schaller also ignores existing seats already held by Democrats which were retained in these elections. A list of US Senators at the Senate's website shows that there were 2 southern seats already held by Democrats that were in contention this year. They were Bill Nelson's seat in Florida and Robert Byrd's in West Virginia. The Democrats won them both.

Take the Virginia seat acquired by Jim Webb and add it to the 6 total existing democratic seats in the south…

  • Blanche Lincoln (AR)
  • Mark Prior (AR)
  • Bill Nelson (FL)
  • Mary Landrieu (LA)
  • Robert Byrd (WV)
  • John Rockefeller (WV)

…and you end up with a total of 7 out of the 28 seats held by Democrats (25%). Not as strong a figure as the gubernatorial numbers, I'll admit, but hardly a case for giving up on the south altogether. Without these seats there is no democratic majority in the senate for any of us to celebrate over.

(Results culled from CNN)

Again, although these figures show that the Democrats have some work to do in the south they don't represent a compelling case for giving up on that work altogether. In this election in particular we've been given a good reason to think the opposite approach is appropriate.

Underscoring this point is this glaring factoid: No defending Democratic governor or senator lost his/her re-election bid this year; not in the south or anywhere else. Not a single vacated governorship or senate seat previously held by a Democrat was won by a Republican. Absolutely every single instance of turnover in this election happened at the expense of Republicans in both the south and elsewhere. The disaffection with the GOP is a nationwide trend. Any call for the Democrats to intentionally squander that opportunity in the south or anywhere else is just plain crazy bordering on suicidal.

There are now 7 of Schaller's bullet points to go. I will press on further in future posts…


Iran: The Next Act

I'll get back to the Tom Schaller stuff soon enough, but this just has to be posted...

Hersh: CIA Analysis Finds Iran Not Developing Nuclear Weapons
Agence France-Presse
Sunday 19 November 2006

Washington - A classified draft CIA assessment has found no firm evidence of a secret drive by Iran to develop nuclear weapons, as alleged by the White House, a top US investigative reporter has said.

Seymour Hersh, writing in an article for the November 27 issue of the magazine The New Yorker released in advance, reported on whether the administration of Republican President George W. Bush was more, or less, inclined to attack Iran after Democrats won control of Congress last week.

A month before the November 7 legislative elections, Hersh wrote, Vice President Dick Cheney attended a national-security discussion that touched on the impact of Democratic victory in both chambers on Iran policy.

"If the Democrats won on November 7th, the vice president said, that victory would not stop the administration from pursuing a military option with Iran," Hersh wrote, citing a source familiar with the discussion.

Cheney said the White House would circumvent any legislative restrictions "and thus stop Congress from getting in its way," he said.

The Democratic victory unleashed a surge of calls for the Bush administration to begin direct talks with Iran.

But the administration's planning of a military option was made "far more complicated" in recent months by a highly classified draft assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency "challenging the White House's assumptions about how close Iran might be to building a nuclear bomb," he wrote.

"The CIA found no conclusive evidence, as yet, of a secret Iranian nuclear-weapons program running parallel to the civilian operations that Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency," Hersh wrote, adding the CIA had declined to comment on that story...

I've made this point repeatedly on these pages but I just don't think I can emphasize it enough, just in case someone is reading this. This nothing short of a replay of the exact same thing they did in the runup to the war in Iraq. Now we're stuck in that ongoing disaster in Iraq. Not only have they learned all the wrong lessons -- if anything at all -- from that experience but they don't seem to care in the least about the consequences of it. Instead, they're going to try to do it to us again! Enough is enough.

"Can't get fooled again", folks.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Whittling Dixie

Tom Schaller speaks! Responding in The Gadflyer to Joshua Holland's post, which echos many of my critiques of Schaller's Whistling Past Dixie, Schaller offers the following bullet points to explain why this election vindicates his position:

Sure, we can cherry pick here and there to find southern wins. And I never said there would never be southern wins at any level, ever again.

But let's look at this week's results through some quick bullet points:

  • 5 of 6 Gubernatorial pickups outside the South (84%)
  • 5 of 6 Senatorial pickups outside the South (84%)
  • 24 of 29 House pickups outside the South (83%)
  • Speaking of the House, here are the "flip" rates for each region (and I include KY and OK with the Confederate South, to keep Josh happy): Northeast: 11 wins from 36 GOP-held seats, or 30.6% "flip rate"; Midwest: 9 of 60, 15%; 4 of 44, 9.1%; but in the South, just 5 of 91, for a meager 5.5%.
  • And of those 5 southern wins, two were in races that were tainted by deposed incumbent scandals, and required voters to write-in the GOP candidate (and they still were close).
  • For the first time in more than half a century, the minority party in the South is the majority party in both chambers of Congress--a truly stunning development.
  • 254 of 275 net new Democratic state legislators (92%) outside the South, the vast majority coming from the Northeast and Midwest, yielding nine new chamber majorities (six in the Midwest, one in Oregon, both in New Hampshire…none in the South).
  • The measly 21 southern state legislative seats the Democrats netted are only 1 fewer than the combined 20 U.S. House seats the Democrats picked up in the Midwest and Northeast alone.
  • Finally, here is the two-party Democratic (D%-R%) performance, by region, according to exit polls: Northeast, +28%; Midwest, +5%; West, +11%; and South, -8%.

In my next few posts I'll be taking these on point for point. I think dealing with it all at once would result in a post of prohibitive length so please bear with me.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Whistling Through (NOT past) Dixie

With Tuesday's long-overdue and merciful election results now a reality some of the folks on The Gadflyer -- a blog I really enjoy reading, just so you know I'm not sniping at them -- have taken this as an opportunity to unite in praise of one Tom Schaller, author of Whistling Past Dixie: How the Democrats Can Win Without the South.

Before I begin with my reservations about that, I have to preface my comments with the admission that I have not read that book. I have only read commentary about it. So, if any suppositions I make here are an inaccurate or incomplete representation of Mr. Schaller's position, I apologize in advance and invite the opportunity to be corrected.

However, if the commentary I've read both from supporters and critics alike is accurate, Schaller's main argument seems to be that the south is so far out of reach for the Democrats that they have no reasonable expectation of making any headway there anytime soon. As such they should concentrate their efforts on the rest of the country and pretty much write the south off.

Now the good people at The Gadflyer are touting Tuesday's election as a vindication of that strategy with one contributor even adding that it all certifies Schaller as brilliant. Now, I have no intention of questioning Mr. Schaller's expertise on this subject nor his intellect. But I think before we heap this kind of praise on him for this particular work we should take a closer look at what really took place Tuesday.

From where I'm standing, far from being any vindication of the idea that the Democrats should regard the south as a dead zone, the exact opposite seems to be true. Consider the following:

First, much of south was off the table for this election so it's difficult to use this a gauge with which to judge claims the Gadflyers are making. In the Senate only four of the 14 states that would traditionally be considered "the south" (south of the Mason-Dixie line -- DIXIE!) were contested at all. And a quick examination of the red/blue map shows that there is a fair share of blue in that same region.

Arkansas, the state that elected Bill Clinton to two gubernatorial terms:
  • 3 out of the four seats up for grabs were won by Democrats. The state was an incumbent sweep in districts that were not competitive, however. Still, 3 out of 4 ain't bad.
  • In the race for governor Democrat Mike Beebe defeated former DEA chief, Asa Hutchinson, handily 55-41%.


Bad juju.

Florida's senate and key house races:
  • Democratic Senator Bill Nelson trounced Katherine "Voter Purge" Harris.
  • Democrat Tim Mahony won the seat vacated by disgraced Rep. Mark Foley.
  • GOP candidate Vernon Buchanan barely edged out the Democrat Christine Jennings by less than a single percentage point.
  • DemocratRon Klein defeated incumbent Republican Eugene Shaw by 4-points.

  • 6 of the 13 seats up for re-election were won by Democrats.
  • In a key race the Democrat John Barrow defeated the Republican Max Burns in the 12th district
  • Incumbent Democrat Jim Marshall held off challenger Mac Collins in another key race
  • No key races were won by republicans in Georgia, of all places.

  • A key race in KY's 3rd district was won by a Democrat, John Yarmouth, over a Republican incumbent, Anne Northrop.
  • Democrats only won 2 of the seats contested here but, obviously, one of them was in a pivotal race against a long-time GOP incumbent.
  • This is Kentucky I'm talking about here. It so southern there's literally no way to even pronounce it's name without sounding southern yourself. I dare you to try!


The Dems didn't win a majority of the seats here, taking only 2 of the 7 seats but, once again, they took the one that mattered -- the "key race" in the 2nd district holding on to a seat already held by the embattled incumbent William Jefferson. So you see the first sign that embattled Republicans are getting ousted while similarly situated black Democrats can hold on even in the deep south state of Louisiana.

  • Ben Cardin handily defeated the highly-touted Republican Michael Steele for that state's vacant senate seat.
  • Democrat Martin O'Malley won in a strong showing against incumbent governor Robert Ehrlich.
  • None of Maryland's house races were pivotal in the determining the balance of power but still, 6 of the 8 seats were won by Democrats.


Not much action here but the house seats up for grabs were split 50/50 and Republican Trent Lott retained his senate seat as expected.

North Carolina:
  • In the only race seen as "key", Democrat Heath Shuler soundly defeated the Republican incumbent Charles Taylor by an eight point margin, representing what I believe is his first win since leaving the Vols.
  • 6 of the 12 seats contested were won by Democrats.


Not much good here. One Democratic incumbent won in a heavily Democratic district. But even that fact alone also helps my point. There are heavily democratic districts in every state in the union. Build on that.

South Carolina:

What can I say? It's South Carolina. I never said this thing was going to be easy. Still again, two Democratic incumbents won in heavily Democratic districts that actually exist in South Carolina.

  • In the race for Bill Frist's Senate seat Harold Ford, Jr -- a black man in Tennessee, shamelessly attacked by race-baiting opponents with thinly veiled references to "the taboo", fell to his Republican opponent but made a strong showing in the heart of Dixie by bringing in 48% of the vote.
  • The incumbent Democratic governor, Philip Bredesen, handily defeated his Republican challenger, Jim Bryson, by 39% of the vote.
  • None of the house races in this state were thought to have a major impact on the balance of power but it is telling that the Democrats won 5 of the 9 seats up for grabs.
  • This is Tennessee I'm talking about, people.

  • Texas is Texas. This is the state that is mostly responsible for the Bushit we put up with today. Yesterday they also gave us another 6 years of Kay Baily Hutchinson.
  • 12 out of 32 House seats went to Democrats but, as we all know, this state was gerrymandered out the whazoo a couple of years back.
  • Despite all of this, once again ij the race that mattered the Dems broke through with Nick Lampson taking the Sugar Land seat vacated by the slimey yet disturbingly popular, Tom Delay.

You all know by now that an incumbent Republican senator with Presidential aspirations was narrowly ousted by the Democratic challenger, Jim Webb, with the fate of the Republican congress hanging in the balance. Nuff said.
West Virginia:

  • Democratic incumbent Senator Robert Byrd retain his seat as expected.
  • The state was an incumbent sweep with Democrats retaining 2 of the 3 seats contested.

In addition to the above results the Dems took seats that looked all but lost until recently in the old border states like Indiana, Missouri and Kansas plus the big sky state of Montana -- states that are not technically "the south" but share a lot in common with it politically.

Taken altogether I'm missing the part where these results constitute any compelling argument that the Democrats should write the south off. If anything the exact opposite seems true. One can talk all day about historical results, polling data and high-end political calculus. But this election appears to me to be, if anything, a stunning vindication of at least the idea behind Howard Dean's 50-state strategy for rebuilding the Democratic party.

Make no mistake about it. "Whistling past Dixie" is not a new idea nor is it a good one. It is essentially what the Democrats have done for much of the past 30 years -- sometimes consciously and other times not -- and all it has earned them is a shrinking political footprint in a nation where the vast majority of Americans agree with their policy positions on most of the issues. Simply put, it's a non-starter. It's absolutely crazy to advocate growing the party by relegating it to a semi-national or regional status with a publicly enunciated strategy to ignore the south. This is especially true considering there are so many natural reasons for southerners to support you if you'd only get out there and show them why.

More importantly, the spectacle of even talking about writing the south off (let alone actually doing it) could have the lethal effect of validating all the right-wing rhetoric about Democrats being elitist, "northeastern liberals" who don't care about the "real Americans" in the south (and extended into "the heartland"). The GOP will be free to paint them all as snobs looking down their noses at middle and lower income constituencies that reside there. This is exactly the wrong the message to send.

Meanwhile, the GOP will be attacking you on every front on every square foot of this nation, all over the country, not just in the south. What could be more suicidal than to adopt this reverse southern strategy?

Now, I'm not saying that succeeding in the south on a consistant basis is going to be an easy thing for the Democrats to accomplish. But simply giving up on it altogether seems to me to be the easy and foolish way out. A national party competes nationally.

Note: I would have liked to have posted my thoughts on this in the comments section at The Gadflyer but, unfortunately, they don't seem to have one.


I just got my first celebrity response in the comments section this past Friday from Joshua Holland of Alternet and The Gadflyer. In the words of Peoples Hernandez, "We got Hollywhoo!"

Mr. Holland pointed out that "Schaller specifically limits his analysis to the eleven states of the confederacy", not the broader south-of-the-Mason-Dixon Line analysis I'm using here. I will make the proper adjustments now while making note of one important objection -- there are more than 11 states that were part of the confederacy.

Maryland is out: It truly wasn't a confederate state and is considered by all a border state despite it's south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line geography. However, even after correcting this my point doesn't change a great deal. Maryland is the only non-confederate state I've included here and, although the great gains made there did help my argument, it was just a bonus. Move my reference to it to the paragraph on border states instead and everything is all hunky-dory.

West Virginia stays: Although there was no state of West Virginia in the confederacy there was the old state of Virginia. A quick peek at a Civil War era map of Virginia seals the deal:

Look at little fat? That excess you see to the west is none other than West Virginia, which was part of the state of Virginia at the time of its secession from the union – a bona fide part of the Confederacy. West Virginia stays.

Oklahoma stays: Although Oklahoma was technically Indian Territory during the civil war, any analysis of the American south that includes Texas but excludes Oklahoma would strike me as particularly meaningless. Let's hope this is not what Schaller has done.

Finally, if we look at the confederate criteria technically I should have included Missouri. However, to avoid the appearance of gratuitously taking advantage of the situation, I'll continue to exclude it.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The End of Electoral Conspiracy Theories?

I've made reference to how glad I am to have seemingly been wrong about about another round of apparently massive electoral fraud being on the horizon for these elections. So, to discuss my wrongness in greater depth, I think it's appropriate check out Glenn Greenwald, one of my favorite bloggers, who has a very good and interesting post up at Crooks & Liars about the meaning of the Democratic victory last night. He argues first:

American Democracy Still Works
See? He's lost me already. :-)

He continues:

The basic mechanics of American democracy, imperfect and defective though they may be, still function. Chronic defeatists and conspiracy theorists — well-intentioned though they may be — need to re-evaluate their defeatism and conspiracy theories in light of this rather compelling evidence which undermines them (a refusal to re-evaluate one's beliefs in light of conflicting evidence is a defining attribute of the Bush movement that shouldn't be replicated).

Karl Rove isn't all-powerful; he is a rejected loser. Republicans don't possess the power to dictate the outcome of elections with secret Diebold software. They can't magically produce Osama bin Laden the day before the election. They don't have the power to snap their fingers and hypnotize zombified Americans by exploiting a New Jersey court ruling on civil unions, or a John Kerry comment, or moronic buzzphrases and slogans designed to hide the truth (Americans heard all about how Democrats would bring their "San Francisco values" and their love of The Terrorists to Washington, and that moved nobody). It simply isn't the case that we are doomed and destined to lose at the hands of all-powerful, evil forces.

All of the hurdles and problems that are unquestionably present and serious — a dysfunctional and corrupt national media, apathy on the part of Americans, the potent use of propaganda by the Bush administration, voter suppression and election fraud tactics, gerrymandering and fundraising games — can all be overcome. They just were...

Given the results we've seen overnight it's hard to argue with what Greenwald is saying. I admit to being among those who expected something absolutely nutzo to happen and clearly I was wrong (and I couldn't be more pleased to be wrong). However, I would be lot more hesitant to blanketly dismiss the "conspiracy theories" surrounding black box voting. We seen far too many unexplained anomalies to start feeling so at ease about such things. Last night's elections, though a relief, have no bearing on past events.

He is correct to note that our opponents are not all-powerful and not evil geniuses (I'd just drop the "genius" part). Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the cards are fundamentally and structurally stacked against progressive politics in our society. Call it a death by a thousand cuts. From black box voting, to the corrupt corporate media, the wealth-dominated tribute system we call political campaigns, to the dominance of corporate money in congress, to growing cartelization of our economy, to the swelling gap between rich and poor; justice-seeking Americans face an increasingly uphill battle. That is NOT a conspiracy theory.

So, yes, all these things can be overcome. If the GOP grotesquely overreaches and shoots itself in both feet the way it has, we'll be fine. But it shouldn't take the kind of perfect storm of scandal we've seen so far to bring down a party with the GOP's track record. If simply winning requires the opposition to pratfall to this extent we're already in deep, deep trouble as a nation. They should have been in trouble on their authoritarian policies alone, let alone the scandals.


Super Tuesday!

Well, this is a pleasant surprise and relief!

The House went down and it went down hard. All fall down! The majority has literally flipped.

Say hello to your new Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers.

Say hello to your new Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel.

Say hello to your new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

The Senate is still slightly up in the air but it is just about teetering over the edge. The GOP has already been uprooted from their seats in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. The Dems need 3 more seats to control the Senate and Tester leads in Montana, Webb holds a slim lead in Virginia with the polls just about done reporting and in Missouri, Claire McCaskill has just declared victory (St. Louis rocked Talent's snotbox tonight) .

It looks as if we have a real shot of wresting control of both houses from the Repugnacans by the morning (knock on wood)!

I have never been so glad to be so wrong. Thank goodness. Now lets keep the pressure on the Dems to behave like a true opposition party and place a check on this maniac, radical and disasterous Bush administration.



Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Doctrine of Pre-emptive Excuses

I'm watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN today and Ken Mehlman is on talking about how unreliable exit polling is, how it all has an inherent bias. He had the nerve to cite the 2000, 2002 and 2004 elections as proof that exit polling is problematic. This is a man who speaks for a government that promotes the use of exit polling themselves to as a means of safeguarding elections in several nations:

The reliability of exit polls is so generally accepted that the Bush administration helped pay for them during recent elections in Georgia, Belarus and Ukraine. Testifying before the House Committee on International Relations Dec. 7, John Tefft, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, explained that the Bush administration funded exit polls because they were one of the "ways that would help to expose large-scale fraud." Tefft pointed to the discrepancy between exit polls and the official vote count to argue that the Nov. 22 Ukraine election was stolen.

The hypocrisy is jaw-dropping.

Mehlman also said that they are already getting data back from the early voting period that show that the Republican exceeded expectation by double digit in every single jurisdiction where early voting was held. That would be truly amazing, would it not?

This guy sounds like he's faithfully setting up their pre-emptive excuses for what, if it transpires, would be the most blatant electoral theft yet.

Just imagine: "Supermajority for the GOP! Who saw that coming? It just showz-ta-go-ya, you can't trust polling at all. Listen to Ken Mehlman instead."

I'll post the video if it becomes available.

UPDATE: Wolf is now talking to CNN's impartial and objective political analyst from the American Enterprise Institute (though Wolf somehow, for the 1-millionth time, forgot to tell us that), Bill Schnieder who studiously informed us that this election is not just about Iraq and that voters think things like terrorism and the economy are more important. "The most trust name in news", ladies and gentlemen.


More On Election Hypocrisy

In the wake Daniel Ortega's apparent victory in Nicaragua's presidential election yesterday I made reference to the following comments of an official at the US Embassy in Managua:

The U.S. Embassy said it was too soon to "make an overall judgment on the fairness and transparency of the process..."

"We are receiving reports of some
anomalies in the electoral process, including polling stations that opened late and closed early," the [US] embassy said.

Well, here's the thing. The US mid-term elections began this morning and, only a little after 10AM eastern time, already we're having the exact same problems...

New Rules, Machines Frazzle Voters Early
Problems Crop Up Early As Poll Workers Tangle With New Voting Machines, Databases, ID Rules


Nov 7, 2006 (AP)— Programming errors and inexperience with electronic voting machines frustrated poll workers in hundreds of precincts early Tuesday, delaying voters in Indiana and Ohio and leaving some in Florida with little choice but use paper ballots instead.

In Cleveland, voters rolled their eyes as election workers fumbled with new touchscreen machines that they couldn't get to start properly...


Election officials in Delaware County, Ind., planned to seek a court order to extend voting after an apparent computer error prevented voters from casting ballots in 75 precincts. Delaware County Clerk Karen Wenger said the cards that activate the machines were programmed incorrectly...


In New Mexico, some voters complained they had received phone calls giving them incorrect information about where in vote...

CNN reports the following:

Glitches delayed voters in dozens of Indiana and Ohio precincts. In Delaware County, Indiana, officials planned to seek a court order to extend voting after an apparent computer error prevented voters from casting ballots in 75 precincts.

Florida officials, working to avoid a repeat of the vote-counting debacle of 2000, fielded extra voting machines, paper ballots and poll workers.

In the Jacksonville suburb of Orange Park, Florida, voters were forced to use paper ballots after an electronic machine broke...

So, in the wake of this and so many previously well-documented anamolies in our elections -- strictly taking our cues from unnamed officials at the US Embassy in Managua, Nicaragua -- I have wonder if it's also too early make a judgement on the transparency and fairness of our own elections. I mean, that would only be consistant, right?

PS - I may have never mentioned on this blog what I've been telling my personal friends repeatedly lately, that I have this sinking feeling about this election. Despite of the optimistic polling about voter disaffection with our onerous GOP leadership I can't help but feel like something crazy is about to happen. With all the crimes we know about that haven't been properly adjudicated -- let alone the ones we have yet to learn about which may turn out to be worse -- I can't help but speculate that certain people can't afford to lose this election and, having proven themselves capable of any amount of evil in my mind,... well, I just can't help but be wary going into this election. Is that wrong? I certainly hope I'm wrong.


Election Day

I'm going to vote this morning. In the evening I'll try to find a good place to track the election returns live and in real time. I did this during the '04 election and it was very interesting to see how the initial returns all changed and moved uniformly in a Bushwardly direction, one after the other. States where Kerry had a large lead all narrowed. States where Kerry had a small lead went to Bush. In states where bush started with any lead at all, the lead widened. There wasn't any race I saw that moved even slightly the other way (or so it seemed). So I think it's important, for m own benefit, that I watch for this strange pattern again. It'll be interesting to find out just how tainted our democracy has become.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Nicaragua, Ortega and US Government Hypocrisy

It's back to the future in Nicaragua:

Daniel Ortega wins Nicaragua presidency
By TRACI CARL, Associated Press Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua - Former Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega appeared headed for victory Monday in his longtime quest to regain power, 16 years after a U.S.-backed rebellion helped drive the former Marxist revolutionary from office. Early results from Sunday's presidential election gave the Sandinista leader a strong lead over his four rivals. His victory, if confirmed by final results, would expand the club of leftist Latin rulers led by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who has tried to help his ally by shipping cheap oil to the energy-starved nation.

Ortega, who led Nicaragua from 1985-1990, has repeatedly said he is not the Marxist revolutionary who fought U.S.-backed Contra rebels, a war that left 30,000 dead and the economy in shambles.

But while he has toned down his leftist rhetoric and pledged to continue free-trade policies, the United States remains openly wary of its former Cold War foe. Washington has threatened to withhold aid to the nation, fearing a return to the socialist economic policies of the 1980s.

The race has generated intense international interest, including a visit by Oliver North, the former White House aide at the heart of the Iran-Contra controversy. That effort to oust Ortega's Moscow-leaning Sandinista regime created a huge scandal in the United States when it became known that Washington secretly sold arms to Iran and used the money to fund and arm the Contra operation.

With 15 percent of polling stations counted, Ortega had 40 percent of Sunday's vote, compared with 33 percent for his closest challenger, the wealthy banker Eduardo Montealegre....


Ortega's supporters flooded the streets, setting off celebratory fireworks, waving the party's red-and-black flag and swaying to the candidate's campaign song, set to the tune of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance."

The U.S. Embassy said it was too soon to "make an overall judgment on the fairness and transparency of the process..."

Here are the things that strike about this story. The following quote, for instance:

We are receiving reports of some anomalies in the electoral process, including polling stations that opened late and closed early, the [US] embassy said.

Oh, henny-penny! Heaven forbid! So, if these anomalies happen in US elections it's no big deal at all. No threat to democracy or anything. Long lines and late opening polls are all just a natural part of democracy and freedom, you know. Any suggestion to the contrary is a crazy conspiracy theory! But in Nicaragua the exact same thing is an indication of fraud according to the US govt. Imagine that!

I suppose it's important to note that Ortega's party is NOT the ruling party in Nicaragua at this time. Nicaragua's current government is controlled by Ortega's opposition. Now why would THEY, of all people, rig an election for Ortega?

OK, then there's this:

At stake are millions of dollars in potential investments, many from foreign companies drawn to Nicaragua by its cheap labor, low crime rates and decision to join the new Central American Free Trade Agreement"

Please take the time to see The Corporation. I'm watching it now (yet again). It covers all this kind of stuff. Apparently these are the only things some people care about.

This news item touches on Daniel Ortega's history as a communist leader, his seizure of property and so forth. So, many Americans may wonder how such a person, with such a background can retain so much political popularity? I'd like to suggest a possible answer. Perhaps the alternatives, like the death squads that the opposition, with massive help from the US government, unleashed on the countryside had something to do with it.

The authors here go out of their way to give the impression that the civil war in Nicaragua was something Ortega alone brought to the country with his rule. But really all his regime did to start that war was to win an election. The US, either directly or indirectly, did the rest. Remember Iran-Contra? The Contras themselves? Those were our boys, so to speak. This story gives short shrift that fact, so I thought it was worth pointing out.

So, to summize, what Nicaraguans see on the one hand is this communist movement overthrowing a tyrranical, murderous US-supported regime like the Samoza dynasty . On the other hand they see the US government responding to this by helping to create, fund, train and assist death squads in the name of capitalism and "free trade". Now, years later, Ortega is back and "free trade" is again the issue. If you're an everyday Nicaraguan, who looks like a bad guy in this context?

The ugly truth is that our government's policies that promote strict, laissez faire, "free market" capitalism at the point of a gun (or missile, or rocket, or cluster bomb) and insist on its implementation as an exploitative rape of a nation's people and resources, promoting ideologies that exhault profit above human lives, are the biggest recruiting pitch the socialist/communist set could ever have. That's why you see all these socialist and semi-socialist movements making a comeback in Latin America. We, by our policies, make capitalism look like the big, bad wolf to the impovershed people of the world. What's worse, in all honesty, is that in it's current form, the way we push it to the "third world"... it is.


So now we all agree now, right?

I have watched with great amusement the recent parade of neo-conservative pundits and politicos across my television screen denouncing Bush and Rumsfeld for their "incompetence" in handling the war. Here we have nearly the entire body of the neo-con movement stumbling over themselves to hold a televised John Kerry-alike contest. Watching people Andrew Sullivan and Richard Pearl attack Bush's Iraq War policy is something akin to watching the flying monkeys attack the Wicked Witch of the West. A lot of liberals seem to be taking a false sense of comfort in this development.

But is this latest trend really a vindication of the "incompetence" argument as a winning political position? Of course, complaints about the Bush Administration's incompetence are manifestly true and certainly deserve examination but is it all there is?

On the surface it may appear to some that this flip-flop on the part of the neo-cons represents some kind of mea culpa or an acknowledgement that there was something wrong with the war itself. But that's not really what's happening here. Instead, what I think this spectacle does is bring into sharp relief the weakness of the "incompetence" argument advanced by many Iraq War opponents. That weakness lies in the calculated, weak-kneed decision on the part of the some of the Democratic leadership to frame the debate around the "incompetence" of the conduct of the war instead of the the real issue -- the wisdom, necessity and morality (the lack thereof) of the war to begin with.

Focusing on the competence issue to the exclusion of the greater issues concerning the morality gap, the wisdom gap and the necessity gap of this war comes with a heavy price that we see being exacted today. It comes with the implication that we all agree the war was the right thing to do. It suggests that the only remaining question is how to go about fighting it. Because of that this tact is just fine by the neo-cons. It represents an unwarranted and unforgivable surrender of the debate by the so-called opposition party, providing an easy-access political escape hatch for everyone involved.

"It's not the war that's wrong, it's the handling of it that was wrong," they can say.

So, with the Bush administration's political ship, as represented by poll numbers, sinking like a lead balloon, the main cheerleaders for this war are free to abandon ship, attach themselves to another vessel and pursue of the exact same agenda. That is what is happening now.

In the meantime, because so many Democrats have chosen to fight this battle on the on the grounds that the is simply a question of incompetence, ignoring the immoral, unnecessary and foolish aspects of it, they find themselves without a retort as these right-wingers gleefully usurp their argument completely, pretzelize it beyond all recognition and use it to promote the very agenda it was supposed to speak against.

So it goes that the neo-cons will come to say: "So, we're all agreement then, right? Great! On to Iran!"

The Lesson: You can not attempt to win a debate by conceding your strongest points at the very outset. The Dems who poo-pooed their anti-war constituents as "out of the mainstream" are now having their traingulating asses handed to them in the grand scheme of things. The sheer volume of Bush/GOP crimes may yet allow them to win control of the congress (we can only hope). But their own refusal to be a true opposition continues to hamper their progress on the major issues and enables, even excuses, the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush administration.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Back Down to Earth

I really enjoyed this little baseball-induced hiatus, I must tell you. Watching my favorite boys of summer throw a big pie in the faces of all the supposed experts was very, very satisfying. Watching Jeff Weaver's moment in the sun, shutting down his old team to deny them the World Series title they seemingly felt entitled to was absolutely priceless. Yes, I enjoyed this quite a bit.

After having spent the past month in ostrich mode, burying my head in the sand of the baseball playoffs and pretending that our nation wasn't being transformed for the worse and the scary around me, I've come to a better understanding why a lot of people live their entire lives this way. It's just plain easier on the nerves. It's easier to submerge yourself into your own life, your own interests, family and problems and not let all the external ugliness bother you than to worry about events out of your personal control. Life is short, right? There's enough stress to go around without going out looking for more of it. This was the most relaxing and soothing month for me mentally because of that. It helps to unplug from all the ugliness we're seeing in the world and in our government and rejuvenate one's self. This month really drove that point home for me.

But guess what? We can't afford the luxury, folks. Not for long we can't.

Someone once said "May you live in interesting times," or something to that effect. I had always taken that saying as a kind of toast, wishing for excitement and dynamism in your life. I'd never considered it's darker implications and the reason I hadn't, I think, is because until recently I didn't consider the times we live in to be particularly interesting. Well, lo and behold, we are indeed living in interesting times today and now that they're here I feel forced to reconsider the whether that seemingly harmless wish was a toast. When you look back through history the most interesting times to read about are the ones of great suffering for the people who lived through them. They're engrossing and entertaining for the reader, no doubt, but hell on wheels for the actual participants. So this wish is actually a curse.

We as a nation, as a generation, are experiencing the beginning of our own "interesting" time and it is being ushered in with our own unwitting, blissfully ignorant consent. We cannot allow this to continue. We do so at our own peril So, I for one am coming down off my high and delving back into this darkness.

Don't misunderstand me. I know I'm a political, social and intellecutal nobody in the grand scheme of things. I have virtually no readership or influence to do much of shit other than shake my fist at the wind. But I will shake this fist with everything I have and I will join with others who see and feel the same things I do. If that makes me less fun at parties then so be it. This exercise will at least reach the small group of people in my own circle and, if nothing else, provide an outlet to express these concerns and preserve my sanity. Any additional benefits will be considered a bonus.