Saturday, November 28, 2009

Something Pathetic

There is something genuinely pathetic about Americans and our politics. To quote retired Army major Andrew Bacevich, from his book The Limits of Power:

"Paradoxically, the belief that all (or even much) will be well, if only the right person assumes the reins as president and commander in chief serves to underwrite the status quo. Counting on the next president to fix whatever is broken promotes expectations of easy, no-cost cures, permitting ordinary citizens to absolve themselves of responsibility for the nation's predicament. The same Americans who profess to despise all that Washington represents look to - depending on partisan affiliation - a new John F. Kennedy or a new Ronald Reagan to set things right again. Rather than seeing the imperial presidency as part of the problem, they persist in the fantasy that a chief executive, given a clear mandate, will 'change' the way Washington works and restore the nation to good health." [pp, 171-72]

Oh, how the official or unofficial ideology persists in our minds. Recently I participated in a panel discussion about the presidency and one the panelists, not a thoughtless person by any stretch, said that if only we could restore Madison's dream of having "ambition counteract ambition" [Federalist Paper #51] we could make the nation's government healthy again. Well, if something doesn't work the first time, why think it will work the second time? For some reason that is unsupported by the events of the past 40 or fifty years, if not earlier, people still cling to the idea that the "imperial presidency" and that the right person will lead us into the promised land. I ask students every so often why they trust one person more than, say, 535 persons and they look at me like I am insane. Then I ask them would they want to abolish student government and leave all the decisions up to the one person, the student body president. Ah, you can see it in their eyes, that would not be a good thing! But here we are waiting to hear what Obama has decided on Afghanistan as if his decision could have the ability to solve the "problem" of Afghanistan. Think about that, seriously, for just a little while and you will sense how fantastic such "thinking" is. We know as little about Afghanistan as we knew about Vietnam, both places with histories of thousands of years. But of course we will enter and, lo and behold, none of that history will matter as we, magically, transform these places into what we want them to be, just like we transform land from farm land to subdivision or from vacant land to Disneyland! What a wonderfully pathetic innocence.

Here is another example. The conservatives who support Sarah Palin as if she were some kind of "savior." As a friend of mine said recently, and he is conservative, "When is going rogue conservative?" Indeed. And Sarah Palin who claims to be anti-government, especially anti-national government, wants to, is lusting to be president. As I have said too often, any politician with a family who seeks to go to Washington is a liar or is delusional. It will do his or her family no good at all, no matter how you cut it. Washington is a corrupt and corrupting place - which is why the best of our politicians (a) don't stay very long or (b) leave that place frequently. Sarah Palin's alleged conservatism is merely a disguise which masks her ambition and as even James Madison came to see shortly after "his" constitution went into force, ambition is not sufficient for creating a decent government or society.

To quote Bacevich again:

"At four-year intervals, ceremonies conducted to install a president reaffirm this inclination [to think one person can make us healthy]. Once again, at the anointed hour, on the steps of the Capitol, it becomes 'morning in America.' The slate is wiped clean. The newly inaugurated president takes office, buoyed by expectations that history will soon be restored to its proper trajectory and the nation be put back on track. There is something touching about these expectations, but also something pathetic, like the battered wife who expects that this time her husband will actually keep his oft-violated vow never again to raise his hand against her."

Yes, pathetic is the right word. And those who will pay for Obama's hubris are the troops, the grunts, who always pay for the delusions of our politicians.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Obama and "Change"

Well, with 30,000 more troops on the way to Afghanistan to "finish the job" as Obama put it we know, once again, that Obama's idea of change was limited, by and large, to a change of political parties in the White House and little else. The poverty of Obama's language reflects the poverty of our ideas, that is, our conventional ideas about politics. Anyone who remembers Vietnam will remember that Obama is merely repeating policies tried before. The government of Vietnam was corrupt and we kept saying that we would punish them unless they changed their ways but they did not and we did not. And we did not because we could not. Obama has hitched his wagon to Karzai and his government and there is only one alternative, which is the Taliban, so he cannot actually do anything but ask Karzai to end the corruption, which Karzai will not do in part because his brother is involved and in part because the "corruption" serves to keep him in power. Obama apparently has never read Eisenhower's Farewell Address and Ike's warning about the "military-industrial complex" and its threat to republican government in the United States. You could call that "corruption" if you wanted to, but it wouldn't make much difference given how essential this complex has become to how we live in the United States today. But then as pointed out here before, Obama said nothing, not a word, about the militarization of American society when running for office so we have gotten what we could have predicted we would get. Obama will fail in Afghanistan which is not the worse thing to happen there. More American soldiers will die, more Afghans will die, more lies will be told to the American people to make it look like we are succeeding, whatever that means, and eventually we will abandon Afghanistan just as the Russians did, the British did, and even Genghis Khan did.

Besides, our troops have nothing to fight for. Only the American empire is implicated in this war and because we say we don't have an empire and say we are not imperialists, we have nothing to fight for. If you have an empire and are imperialistic but can't admit it, your wars are pointless and your troops will know this, just as happened in Nam. That war destroyed our military for a long time and this war will do the same thing. It's a shame but, as noted, predictable given what Obama did not say during the campaign.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Our Official Ideology of National Security

This is very much worth as is the entire book.

Selection from Andrew Bacevich’s The Limits of Power

“Aspirants to high office likewise testify to the core tenets of this [unofficial] ideology, hoping thereby to demonstrate their essential trustworthiness. Here is the version offered in December 1991 by the then-governor of Arkansas, a liberal Democrat whose foreign policy credentials were nonexistent but who had his sights trained on the White House.

'I was born a half-century ago, at the dawn of the Cold War, at time of great change, enormous opportunity, and uncertain peril. At a time when Americans wanted nothing more that to come home and resume their lives of peace and quiet, our country had to summon the will for a new kind of war – containing an expansionist and hostile Soviet Union which vowed to bury us. We had to find ways to rebuild the economies of Europe and Asia, encourage a worldwide movement toward independence, and vindicate our nation’s principles in the world against yet another totalitarian challenge to liberal democracy. Thanks to the unstinting courage and sacrifice of the American people, we were able to win that Cold War.'

This was a rendering of history with all the details airbrushed away – no allusions to Vietnam, no reference to CIA coups and attempted assassinations, no mention of collaborating with venal autocrats like Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista, Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza Debayle, or the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos. Yet the passage served Bill Clinton’s purposes precisely, allowing him to situate himself well within the American political mainstream. Clinton understood, quite correctly, that were he to stray too far from that mainstream – as, for example, George McGovern did in the presidential campaign of 1972 when he summoned America to ‘come home’ – he would doom his candidacy. Although Clinton himself had done absolutely nothing to win the Cold War – he had actually labored mightily and successfully to avoid military service – through his repeated use of the term we he established his personal identification with that struggle. He was one with ‘us,’ and ‘we’ had prevailed in a historic contest, thereby gaining a great victory for freedom.

Fast-forward sixteen years, and another would-be president wih sketchy foreign policy credentials unhesitatingly ripped a page out of the Clinton playbook. ‘At moments of great peril in the last entury,’ declared Senator Barack Obama,

'American leaders such as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy managed both to protect the American people and to expand opportunity for the next generation. What is more, they ensured that America, by deed and example, led and lifted the world – that we stood for and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond our borders. As Roosevelt built the most formidable military the world had even seen, his Four Freedoms gave purpose to our struggle against fascism. Truman championed a bold new architecture to respond to the Soviet threat – one that paired military strength with the Marshall Plan and helped secure the peace and well-being of nations around the world.'

Like Clinton, Obama was intent on identifying himself with the cause that ‘we stood for and fought for.’ Like Clinton, in recounting the heroic narrative in which Roosevelt, Truman, and their successors had figured so prominently, he was testifying to the narrative’s essential truth and continuing validity.

Yet almost inescapably he also subscribed to George W. Bush’s own interpretation of that narrative. As Obama went on to explain, ‘The security and well-being of each and every American depend on the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders.’ Like Bush – like those who preceded Bush – Obama defined America’s purposes in cosmic terms. ‘The mission of the United States,’ he proclaimed, ‘is to provide global leadership grounded in the understanding that the world shares a common security and a common humanity.’

Clinton’s rhetorical sleight of hand, mimicked by Obama, illustrates the role that the ideology of national security plays in shaping electoral politics. That role in chiefly to provide a reductive and insipid, if ultimately reassuring view of reality. Accept the proposition that America is freedom’s tribune, and it becomes a small step to believing that the ‘peace process’ aims to achieve peace, that Iraq qualifies as a sovereign state, and the Providence has summoned the United States to wage an all-out war against ‘terrorism.’ Indeed, to disagree with these sentiments - as the Washington consensus sees it – is to stray beyond the bounds of permissible opinion.” [pp. 78-81]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More from Wendell Berry

"Our speech has drifted out of the world into a realm of fantasy in which whatever we say is true. The President of the republic [Nixon] openly admits that there is no connection between what he says and what he does - this in spite of his evident wish to be re-elected on the strength of what he says. We find it not extraordinary that lovers of America are strip mining in Appalachia, that lovers of peace are bombing in...Asia, that lovers of freedom are underwriting dictatorships. If we say we are lovers of America and peace and freedom, then this must be what lovers of America and peace and freedom do. Having no need to account for anything they have done, our politicians do not find it necessary to trouble us with either evidence or argument, or to confess their errors, or to subtract their losses from their gains; they speak like the gods of Olympus, assured that if they say they are our servants anything they do in their own interest is right. Our public discourse has been reduced to the manipulation of uprooted symbols: good words, bad words, the names of gods and devils, emblems, slogans, flags. For some the flag no longer stands for the country, it is the country; they plant their crops and bury their dead in it." A Continuous Harmony, pp. 122-123, in an essay entitled "Discipline and Hope."

It is amazing to me that words written in 1971 still ring true today, perhaps even truer today than in 1971. Here are some more of Berry's words:

"Though I can see no way to defend [our] economy, I recognize the need to be concerned for the suffering that would be produced by its failure. But I ask if it is necessary for it to fail in order to change; I am assuming that if it does not change it must sooner or later fail, and that a great deal that is more valuable will fail with it. As a deity the economy is a sort of egotistical French monarch, for it apparently can see no alternative to itself except chaos, and perhaps that is its chief weakness. For, of course, chaos is not the only alternative to it. A better alternative is a better economy. But we will not conceive the possibility of a better economy and therefore will not begin to change, until we quit deifying the present one." Same source, pp. 116-117.

Some more from Wendell Berry...

Selection From Wendell Berry
From A Continuous Harmony

“It appears to me that the governing middle, or the government, which supposedly represents the middle, has allowed the extremes of left and right to force it into an extremism of its own. These three extremes of left, right, and middle, egged on by and helplessly subservient to each other’s rhetoric, have now become so self-righteous and self-defensive as to have no social use. So large a ground of sanity and good sense and decency has been abandoned by these extremes that it becomes possible now to think of a New Middle made up of people conscious and knowledgeable enough to despise the blandishments and oversimplifications of the extremes – and roomy and diverse enough to permit a renewal of intelligent cultural dialogue. That is what I hope for: a chance to live and speak as a person, not as a function of some political bunch.” [p. 84]

This was first written in 1971 but it seems to me that it still has some "legs," as some like to say. And wouldn't that be nice, to be able to speak not "a function of some political bunch?" And it seems to me that a lot of people would like a New Middle....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Response to News about Fox News

I received an email telling me that I should watch Fox News this Sunday, Nov. 15th, for an expose on Obama and his allegedly radical roots. And it also told me to be concerned, very concerned, about the direction of our country. This is my response, sent to all listed on the email, most of whom I don't know. Should be interesting if some respond.

Oh, I have been concerned about the direction of this country since, well, since about 1960 when JFK was elected president with fewer popular votes than Richard Nixon. And JFK’s assassination, well, there isn’t room here to deal with that. Then, later, I learned it wouldn’t have made much difference as Nixon came to office with a “secret plan” to end the Viet Nam war, after which as many or more US soldiers died in Nam than had previously. And Viet Nam was “lost” anyway! What a plan! Of course, Nixon also tried to subvert the democratic process by means of what became the Watergate scandal, just as Reagan subverted lawful government, with the help of convicted felon and Fox News commentator, Ollie North, in what came to be known as the Iran-Contra Scandal. And also Reagan stationed Marines in Beirut against better advice and 220 of them died there, for no reason whatsoever. And then of course there was Clinton or the Clintons and zippergate and other items of scandal, including his impeachment and trial. The Senate couldn’t even convict Clinton! A travesty! Al Gore could have been president, the inventor of the internet! Another travesty! Then Bush comes in and lies about or made mistakes about WMDs in Iraq, fails to prepare for the aftermath of the invasion, at great expense, both of money and the lives of American soldiers. Thousands died this time due to government failure and impotence. And apparently the latest terrorist at Fort Hood was on the radar during Bush’s tenure and he or his administration failed to act on the intell they had on this guy and more soldiers died. Far fewer died though than died in the 9/11 attacks, which Clinton and Bush failed to prevent. So if Fox News shows us that Obama is a radical, with Marxist leanings and advisers, I for one will not be opposed as our political system has been dysfunctional for a long time now. So, I say, go for it Fox. Whatever can undercut the legitimacy of our existing political institutions is fine with me as that is what is needed most of all. The current institutions have failed us for too long now.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Principle v. political power

Kate Michelman and Frances Kissling have written an op ed in the NY Times today, Nov. 12, in which they say that the Democrats have traded women's rights for political power. To rephrase as bit, we might say that the Democrats have traded principle for political power.

Well, isn't that just peachy? Duh! Don't the ladies know that this how the system works and was meant to work, trading principle for political power. Why did LBJ keep sending troops to Viet Nam after he was told by his good friend, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, a rockhard conservative, that the war was lost in Viet Nam? Political power. Why will Obama send more troops to Afghanistan even though he suspects that the cause is lost? Political power. Why did Bush invade Iraq? Political power. Why did Bush christen our response to 9/11 a "War on Terror"? Political power. Why did the Democrats abandon the idea of a single payer health care system? Political power. It is always about political power. Any actions on behalf of principle or principles may be labeled "aberrations."

Moreover, this was the way the system was designed to work. James Madison helped to create a political system that would operate on the basis of calculation. Interest groups would form, lots of them, and the only way to get anything done would be by means of calculation and compromise. Of course, in such a system politicians become master calculators, or at least pretend to be, and especially calculators on how to maintain their political power. How many articles have been written analyzing how congressmen are voting based on their chances for re-election? I have seen quite a few and they always read as if these people were behaving in a wholly natural way. I can hear them now: "Let me see. The decision is whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, which I know is a losing cause. However, if I vote against sending more troops there, I will be labeled a wimp, a coward, an opponent to the War on Terror. It is better, that is, safer to send the troops. When it doesn't work out we can blame the Afghans, who every one knows are corrupt and incapable of governing themselves! Yes, that's the ticket."

Politics in the land of the free and the home of the brave is rarely about principle. And, in fact, it is so rarely about principle that we have forgotten how to think about, talk about, and act on principles. What we get these days are the ravings of those on the right and the left, which pass for principled arguments. For Real!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A quote from one of the best commentators on "the environment," Wendell Berry from his book, A Continuous Harmony.

“The speech of politicians, political rhetoric, grows out of the pretense that the politician is not a man, but is somehow infallible. This sort of speech, no matter whose it is, is preparing the world to fight – to the last man – the final war.” (p. 60)

Another quote from the same source:

"There seems to me a fundamental distinction between God the Creator and God the Ruler. God the Creator is the God of mystery, a presence felt but not known. God the Ruler is a man-god, limited by (and to) the human understanding. God the Creator rules by creating, by the continuous ramification and metamorphosis of formal energy, as the life forms keep rising out of and falling back into the earth. But God the Ruler rules by decree and by whim, like a tyrant, like the tyrants who invented him. If God rules as Creator, then worship involves the humility of creating, aligning oneself with the creation and drawing on its energy, not the mindless and inert humility of obedience to 'revealed' laws." (pp. 35-36)

Some thoughts on the presidency

These are some thoughts drafted for a discussion of the myths of the presidents, a gathering at the place I "work." I have focused on the office itself because if so many presidents screw up then it seems plausible to consider that there might be something wrong with the office itself, as well as with its occupants.

To focus on individual presidents in order to break some of the myths about them is a worthwhile endeavor. However, we should also spend some time talking about the office itself and some of the myths about it because our faith in this office would make an interesting study in what might be called “social delusions.”

Bottom line: What many political scientists call “the modern presidency” has been responsible for some our greatest political missteps. In fact, some of these missteps are so serious that they might be labeled “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Here are just a few example:
 Truman’s decision to incinerate parts of Japan with nuclear weapons.
 Truman’s, Ike’s, JFK’s, LBJ’s, and Richard Nixon’s culpability for the Viet Nam War which killed 58,000 plus Americans and millions of Vietnamese. [Oh, the lies that were told to us by our leaders.]
 JFK’s invasion of Cuba and his repeated attempts to assassinate Castro.
 Nixon’s Watergate attempt to subvert the democratic process.
 Reagan’s “little wars” in Nicaragua and Genada.
 Reagan’s stationing of Marines in Beirut, leading to the deaths of 220 Marines and 299 soldiers all told.
 Clinton’s “zippergate” and the subsequent bombing he did to distract us from his domestic troubles.
 The failure to prevent 9/11.
 “Shrub’s” “war on Terror” including his invasion of Iraq in search of non-existent WMDs, whose non-existence was probably known at the time. [More lies!]
 And “coming soon”: Obama’s Afghan Adventure? I suspect so.

So who is to blame for this state of affairs? Two sources at least, the Founding
Fathers and the Progressives.
A. The Founding Fathers: You don’t like this? Well, check two sources for confirmation.
1. The Anti-Federalists: some saw all of this coming, especially the ravages of war, of presidential wars. Some also saw what is euphemistically called today “life inside the beltway,” that is, a life of comedy and corruption.
2. Our earliest “great” presidents, Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson all knew the presidency was dangerous and sought to rein it in.
B. The Progressives, as they are called by some. Some examples meant to be brief.
1. Thomas Jefferson v. Teddy Roosevelt:
TJ: “a little revolution every so often is a good thing.”
TR: “a little war every so often is a good thing.” Why? To prove our manliness, forgetting that manliness is always accompanied by hubris.
2. Woodrow Wilson and the savior mentality. “The war to end all wars.” Not so much. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Plato
3. FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society: both needed war to prop them up.

The Progressives believed in a “transformational politics,” with the president
leading the way, say into a Great Society, into the 21st century, into a war to eradicate evil in the world, but always riding the waves of history regardless of the destruction this involves – or the lies.

Such an office! You could be forgiven for entertaining the thought that we would be better off without it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Methland: the Book

A must read: Methland: the Death and Life of an American Small Town, by Nick Reding. It can be found in the "true crime" section of Barnes and Noble but it is much more than a book about "true crime." Or I might say it is a book that includes in the category "true crime" the political crimes of our nation.

Reding spend two years in Iowa, yes, that's right, Iowa investigating the effects of meth on small towns in Iowa and other "heartland" states. Actually, though, he was investigating the effects of certain policies, such as globalization and the creation of huge corporations, on the life of those small towns and those who live and/or use to live in them. Meth, produced both in small "labs" and in large "labs," becomes the drug of choice because it allows people to work hard and because it makes people feel good, when little else does.

"Crank in Oelwein [Iowa] back in 2005 was largely considered a small-lab problem, as it was in most of the country. The year before (2004 statistics had just been released when I went to Oelwein), there were 1,370 methamphetamine labs seized in Iowa. In Illinois, the number was 1.098. Tennessee had 899, Nebraska had 65, and Georgia law enforcement officers seized 175. In Arizona, the number was 71, and in Oregon it was 322. Missouri beat them all with 2,087. Between 1998...and 2004, there had been an increase of nearly 500 percent. And that's really only the tip of the iceberg."

This seems staggering. And it gives point to what Sheriff Bell, in Cormac McCarthy's novel, No Country For Old Men, said: "I think I know where we're headed. We're bein bought with our own money. And it aint just the drugs. There is fortunes bein accumulated out there that they dont nobody even know about. What do you think is goin to come of that money? Money that can buy whole countries. It done has. Can it buy this one? I dont think so. But it will put you in bed with people you ought not to be there with. It's not even a law enforcement problem. I doubt that it ever was. There's always been narcotics. But people don't just up and decide to dope theirselves for no reason. By the millions." Indeed!

Methland: Read it and weep!

Some thoughts, not mine, on the election

For those who like to wonder about these things, here are some thoughts, with historical perspective, on the races in New Jersey and Virginia. Of course, any analysis depends on how many people voted and that doesn't seem available right now. More later. [This is from for those who are interested.]

"Republicans Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie won their gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, respectively. With stories spinning in all directions about the predictive value of yesterday's elections, perhaps a look at the historical record of the Virginia and New Jersey off-year elections will prove of interest. In all eight gubernatorial elections since Ronald Reagan's first term, Virginia has given the party of the incumbent President a loss. In New Jersey, the President's party has lost six gubernatorial elections in a row`. Here are the data.

Year President Virginia Winner New Jersey Winner Net House
2009 Barack Obama (D) Bob McDonnell (R) Chris Christie (R) ?
2005 George W. Bush (R) Tim Kaine (D) Jon Corzine (D) Dem +31
2001 George W. Bush (R) Mark Warner (D) Jim McGreevey (D) GOP +7
1997 Bill Clinton (D) Jim Gilmore (R) Christie Whitman (R) Dem +5
1993 Bill Clinton (D) George Allen (R) Christie Whitman (R) GOP +54
1989 George H.W. Bush (R) Doug Wilder (D) Jim Florio (D) Dem +7
1985 Ronald Reagan (R) Gerald Baliles (D) Tom Kean (R) Dem +5
1981 Ronald Reagan (R) Chuck Robb (D) Tom Kean (R) Dem +27

In both states, it seems pretty clear that the voters tend to show their disappointment with the new President by voting for the other party, no matter which party controls the White House. Most likely many people had some expectations from the newly (re)elected President, didn't see them satisfied and wanted to send the incumbent a message. The correlation (12 out of 12 and 14 out of 16) is too strong for just chance. This year's results should be interpreted in this light. While the results are not encouraging for President Obama, they are hardly surprising.

What about the predictive value of these elections? The House of Representatives midterm election the following year is probably the best metric since Senate elections are full of big names and partisan identification doesn't play as big a role there as in the House. The fifth column in the table above shows what happened in the House election in the year following the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races. Since 1982, the Democrats have swept both gubernational elections three times (1981, 2001, and 2005). In the House elections the year after, the Democrats experienced a small win, a small loss, and a big win. The Republicans also swept the two gubernatorial elections three times (1993, 1997, and 2009). In the midterms a year later they won big and lost small once each. So all told, sweeping the two governor's race gives you a 60% chance of picking up House seats the next year, hardly a sure thing. In short, the only pattern that seems constant over the years is the President's party doing badly in the two gubernatorial elections.

Will these results affect policy? Quite possibly. Democrats from conservative districts are likely to get antsy about voting for health care reform, climate change, immigration, or anything else on the President's agenda. Obama is going to have to convince them that running for reelection under the slogan "I blocked change" is not going to be a winner. But he will have his work cut out for him. In some cases the conservative Democrats may say (privately) to him: "Look, can't you just water all these things down so they don't change anything but you can still claim victory?" Of course, the progressive caucus in the House won't White House be fooled, so an internal struggle within the Democratic Party could ensue.
Democrat Owens Wins in NY-23

Speaking of intraparty warfare, what the Democrats are about to go through will be nothing compared to what the Republicans are in for. Democrat Bill Owens won the special election in NY-23 to replace former representative John McHugh who President Obama chose to be Secretary of the Army. The 11 Republican county chairman in the district handpicked assemblywoman Deirdre "Dede" Scozzafava as their candidate because she was moderate enough to have a chance to win in this R+2 district. Conservatives revolted and backed Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman. Numerous Republican 2012 candidates, including Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, and belatedly Mitt Romney endorsed (or sort of endorsed) Hoffman against the official Republican in the race. This past weekend, Scozzafava saw the polls saying she would come in third and dropped out of the race. To make matters worse, Monday she endorsed the Democrat. The election results as of 4 A.M. are Owens 48%, Hoffman 45%, and Scozzafava 6%. Four precincts haven't reported yet and the absentee ballots haven't been counted yet, but they are unlikely to change the outcome.

While not quite as weird as last year's race in NY-13, this race is going to generate a lot of bad blood between mainstream Republicans and conservatives. Party officials and former officials, like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, are going to be saying to conservatives: "If you refuse to accept moderate candidates like Scozzafava, Nancy Pelosi is going to be Speaker for life." Conservatives are going to saying: "If we don't get candidates we like, we'll make sure you lose." It is going to be very nasty.

Also noteworthy is that Palin, Huckabee, Pawlenty, and to a lesser degree, Romney, may have scored a few points with conservatives, but backing an insurgent loser against the wishes of the Republican party is never a great selling point in a primary. If anything, this episode enhances the (probably fairly slim) chance of Gingrich, who can at least campaign saying: "Unlike the other folks in this race, I am a Republican, have always been one, and always support our candidates."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Karzai and "Corruption"

From the NY Times today, front page, a headline: "Obama Presses Afghan Leader on Corruption." Well, you know what follows: If only we could get rid of the "corruption" in Afghanistan then all would be well. Problems: (1) Does anyone remember the same assertions being made in Vietnam, about their governments? All the time with: Oh, they are so corrupt. Why won't they clean up their mess? (2) Well, they don't because what we call "corruption," they call government. That is, this alleged "corruption" is how the government worked in Vietnam and it is how the government works in Afghanistan. It is also how, in similar but not identical ways, government works in the United States. Does anyone really think that the highly profitable drug trade we have in this country could exist without the cooperation of government officials? If so, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn I will sell you, Miss Little Nelly Sunshine. Government and "corruption" go together like or even better than love and marriage! You want corruption? How about Halliburton and Dick Cheney and how much money the former made while the latter was Vice President. The Times points out that Karzai's brother is "a suspected player in the country's booming illegal opium trade." And it also points out that one General Dostum was involved in the killing of thousands of Taliban prisoners of war early in the war there. But despite the fact that Obama asked for an investigation of this General this past summer, Karzai allowed him to return and reinstated him to his government position. Why? Because he is a necessary part of the government. You know, like General McChrystal, who participated the cover up of Pat Tillman's death by "friendly fire' ["friendly fire isn't"], is now advising Obama. So to ask Karzai to end corruption is to ask him to do the impossible. But it makes a good sound bite and, thereafter, more American soldiers can die and be maimed for the sake of this sound bite. Just like in Vietnam. For Real!