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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Though she has come under much criticism from the White House for her visit to Syria this week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D, San Francisco) has put more pressure on Syria than the current administration has. She has gone face-to-face with the President of Syria and confronted him about his support of terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. She has even gone to Saudi Arabia and questioned them on their refusal to allow women in politics.

While I’m not a fan of Pelosi, she has shown more international leadership in two days than President Bush has shown in seven years.

President Bush, who began isolating Syria when they refused to back his incursion into Iraq in 2003, has called the visit by Pelosi counter-productive. The President has often attempted to use the supposed “pressure” of diplomatic isolation during his time as President. He has refused to deal with Palestine, Syria, Iran, and North Korea. He has not seen much success:

– The Palestinians continue to refuse to recognize Israel, have moved closer to Iran and Syria, and the tensions between Israel and Palestinians continues to exist.
– North Korea tested a nuclear weapon.
– Iran continues its uranium enrichment program, continues to fund Hezbollah, and continues to help stir up fighting in Iraq.
– Syria has continued to fund Hezbollah and Hamas, and, during its isolation, drawn closer to Iran.

Back before World War II, the League of Nations was considered incredibly weak because one of the only forms of punishment it could incur was what was known as a “Diplomatic Sanction.” It was essentially regarded as a slap on the wrist, but it was all the League could do – part of the reason why the League was dissolved and the United Nations created in its stead.

Little has ever been accomplished by cutting off ties with a region. No progress was made with China until Nixon’s landmark visit in the 1970’s. Little progress was made with the USSR until the detente. Iran has been isolated since the 1970’s, and, by looks of it, that hasn’t worked.

How can you deal with a problem if you refuse to speak with those responsible. How can you broker peace if you refuse to speak with the other side?

In a political environment where the word “compromise” seems to have completely disappeared, the idea that we would not compromise in diplomacy seems inevitable. Our brusque attitude toward other countries, however, is hurting our global popularity. Our refusal to deal with potential threats to world security is being noticed by those in other countries, and as our popularity declines, another’s rises.

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President Bush is speaking out against increasing fuel efficiency and emissions standards in response to a ruling handed down by the Supreme Court this week.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2). The President, as well as the domestic automotive companies, Ford and General Motors (GM), have opposed such regulations for the past several years, stating that the costs will hurt the industry.

Lacking federal action, several states have taken up the issue, most notably California, which has passed into law a bill that will require the states CO2 emissions to be reduced by 25% by 2020. Other states in the West and Northeast are passing or considering similar measures.

The automotive industries have long claimed that such regulations will increase production costs and harm the industry, spending millions on lawsuits in attempts to overturn emissions and fuel efficiency regulations. However, when examining the fiscal earnings for the automotive giants, one can see that they bleeding money as it is because of this issue. Almost every other industrialized country has higher emissions and fuel efficiency standards than the United States. Those include Japan, Germany, Great Britain, France, Taiwan, and even China. California’s plan, which has been lambasted by GM and Ford, would increase the standards for automobiles in the state by 2011 to the point that China requires right now. The emissions standards are so much higher in other countries that many of them no longer allow American-made automobiles to be sold in their countries, and so GM and Ford have seen a serious drop in sales and incoming money.

Honda and Toyota, in the meantime, are seeing steady growth and are not having the same kinds of fiscal problems that the American automotive industry is having.

President Bush has also stated that the U.S. should not have to increase its standards until the rest of the world does as well. He stated: “Whatever we do must be in concert with what happens internationally. Unless there is an accord with China, China will produce greenhouse gases that will offset anything we do in a brief period of time.” First, as stated above, China has higher standards than the U.S. does.

Secondly, this is an embarrassing lack of leadership by the United States. We should not be waiting for “what happens internationally.” We should be leading the way, head and shoulders above everyone else. Instead we are lagging far behind. Instead of racing to achieve energy independence and cut back on our need for coal and foreign oil, we are languishing in the Age of Petroleum.

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The campaign fund-raising figures have been released, and there are a few early winners, and a few early losers.

The winners are quite obvious: Senator Hillary Clinton (D, New York) $26 million, Senator Barack Obama (D, Illinois) with $25 million, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) with $23 million.  The loser is also quite obvious as Senator John McCain (R, Arizona) raised “only” $12 million.

Senator McCain has long been known for his attempts to lessen money’s influence in politics; however, money still plays a major role, and he will need better fund-raising over the next several months if he wishes to stay in the race. His less-than-stellar fund-raising figures have been attributed to a disorganized fund-raising team, and a lackadaisical attitude among the fund-raising staff. Needless to say, the campaign announced a reorganization of their fundraising efforts would take place.

The most intriguing part of the figures lies with Senator Obama and former Governor Romney’s fund-raising totals. Romney, though trailing in most polls, took in a massive amount of money over the first phase of fund-raising. Many have attributed this to his ties in the corporate world, as well as to the Mormon church. His multi-million dollar lead on both former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (who raised around $17 million) and Senator McCain shows that Romney is to be taken very seriously.

Senator Obama’s ability to raise money, as evidenced by his $25 million, must be making those in Senator Clinton’s campaign a little worried. Not only did Obama, who does have nearly as many fund-raising connections as Senator Clinton, raise nearly as much money as Clinton, but he did so with nearly twice as many contributors (100,000 for Obama as opposed to 50,000 for Clinton), showing his widespread appeal, and the ability to go back to some of those contributors for more donations.

It’s still very early, but with the number of highly recognizable candidates (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, John Edwards) fund-raising has been outrageous so far. The previous highs for fund-raising at this point were nearly $15 million less than Clinton and Obama’s totals. Howard Dean in 2004, who started off in January with the largest campaign war-chest, had around $40 million. It looks at those some of this year’s candidates will reach those totals by this June.

While this year’s candidates’ ability to raise money is remarkable, it also serves as more evidence that more and more money is required for a presidential campaign, and that the campaign needs to  be shortened, and the amount of money spent on it lessened.

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President Bush continues to prod Democratic leaders in Congress, calling on them to pass the emergency spending bill that has drawn so much attention in the news – mostly due to the withdrawal timetables added onto it.

However, along with his calls for them to pass the bill as soon as possible, the President has also stated that if any bill comes to his desk with a withdrawal timetable on it, he will veto it – which would further prolong the process.

Due to the narrow margin by which both bills were passed in the House and Senate, it is highly unlikely that any bill with a withdrawal deadline could overcome a presidential veto, but, in the end, it’s more about the message Congressional Democrats are trying to send to the President.

Just the mere fact that they were able to pass the bills with timetables attached – even among defections from their own party – was a big step, but just one step. The Democrats need to pass the spending bill, timetable or not, and knowing that the President will veto the bill, it will be interesting how they respond when he does. A deal will have to be brokered, seeing as the bill needs to be passed, but cannot be with a timetable attached.

Vice President Cheney echoed President Bush’s sentiments, calling for the Democrats to pass the spending bill, or the Pentagon would start feeling the “financial pinch,” as the Times puts it.

In response to this, Senator Reid (D, Nevada), the Senate Majority Leader, stated that he would attempt to pass Senator Feingold’s (D, Wisconsin) bill which calls for an immediate financial cut-off for all troops in Iraq. Such a measure would most likely not pass in the Senate, and if it did, would also be immediately vetoed by the President, so Senator Reid’s remarks were, in reality, empty threats.

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John McCain and a congressional delegation visited Iraq recently, and commented on the relative peacefulness and safety of Baghdad’s largest marketplace.

The Iraqis had other things to say.

Most of the Iraqis in the market pointed out that the relative safety had more to do with the increased security for the Congressmen (Sharpshooters on the rooftops, attack helicopters, Humvees, shut-off vehicle access, etc.) rather than the actual state of affairs in the marketplace. They referenced recent attacks that have killed dozens of people – mostly women and children – in the marketplace.

Senator McCain, running for President in 2008, has staunchly supported the Iraq War and has voted against attempts in Congress to call for a troop withdrawal. While a longtime fan of McCain, I’m disappointed in his apparent disregard for the opinions of the Iraqis in the marketplace, as well as his misleading statements – statements which could be construed as an attempt to justify his own position on the war.

While I agree with McCain that withdrawing is not a good plan, I also think that misrepresenting the situation is dishonest and manipulative.

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Presidential primaries didn’t used to be like this.

Back in 1968 Robert Kennedy joined in the primary in March of 1968. In today’s primary system, he would not have the funding in place, and would’ve missed most of the state votes.

Because the voting starts in January and doesn’t end until June, the process is dragged out for a long period of time, requiring huge amounts of money. In a competitive race, this creates a long campaign that saps money and energy. In order to have enough money to last from pretty much November of 2007 through June of 2008 (and then beyond if you win the primary) you have to begin fund-raising far in advance, which is why so many candidates announce over a year and a half ahead of time. It’s April of 2007, and in the U.S. we knew the candidates by mid-February. There may be a few more to announce (notably Newt Gingrich), but it’s almost a year before the first primary votes in New Hampshire and Iowa.

By creating such a long campaign, the primary system, in effect, bores and alienates most voters. The American public has a very short attention span, with 24 hour news networks constantly changing to the most sensational story. Because most people tune out the primaries, turnout (which is already incredibly low) drops lower, thereby amplifying the effect of those who do turnout – the people who are most politically active, aware, and inclined: the more extreme ends of each party.

Not to mention the fact that by having the first few primaries spread out state by state, that the winner of the first few states usually quickly builds momentum, his votes begin to snowball, and we have a de facto winner by March (and the primary doesn’t end until June).

Think on that for a moment. If we know both candidates by March and the general election is not until November that creates a seven month long campaign for the general election. Seven long months of pot shots, negative ads, and general mud-slinging.

All of these things boil down to this: if Candidate A wants to be President, he needs to be prepared to campaign from November of 2007 to November of 2008. That’s 52 weeks of campaigning. You’ll need a minimum of $1 million a week for the primary, which is state by state. The primary campaign runs typically from November to June. That’s about $35 million minimum for a primary that ends early. In reality you’d need more around the range of $50 million for the primary. If the candidates follow campaign finance reforms, they’ll be limited to around $75 million for the general election.

Do the math. That’s $125 million dollars.

Imagine this alternative:

The parties’ conventions are held one week apart – one the last week of August, the other the first week of September. That gives each candidate two full months to campaign. Now, if the primary needs to be done with by the last week of August then the voting should probably be finished by the first week of August. All fifty states hold primaries. Many of the states hold elections on the same day. If the primaries would begin at the beginning of May, that would be three months of primary elections. That cuts the election process down from 10 months to 6 months.

If, by the previous calculation, the existing process would cost around $125 million, then that’s an average of over $10 million per month. If you cut the campaign back by just 4 months, you’re saving over $40 million in campaign dollars, relieving the American people of four months of mud-slinging, and, by cutting back on the amount of time needed to campaign, allowing for more time to govern.

Now, this plan will most likely never come to pass, as the parties and individual states determine the primary systems.

But just imagine.

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Democrats in the House and Senate voted to keep a troop withdrawal timetable in the Iraq appropriations bill (a bill allowing an additional $122 billion in war funds) by razor thin majors.

The motion (which, to clarify, did not pass the bill, merely kept a clause in the bill calling for a timetable) passed 50-48 in the Senate, with Mike Enzi (R, Wyoming) and Tim Johnson (D, South Dakota) not voting because they were absent. A similar motion (calling for troops to be recalled by September ’08) passed in the House by a margin of 218-212.

While Senator Kennedy (D, Massachussetts) called the votes “momentous,” in reality, they showed just how divided Congress still is on the matter of Iraq, and President Bush has vowed to veto any bill that contains a timetable for withdrawal. Given that the vote was so close, it’s highly unlikely that the Democrats will be able to muster the 2/3 majority needed to overcome a Presidential veto.

Both Democrats and Republicans defected from their party lines, and even moderate Republicans were extremely worried about setting a concrete timetable for withdrawal. They had this to say:

“This bill should be named the Date Certain for Surrender Act. A second-year cadet at West Point could tell you that if you announce when the end will be, it’s a recipe for defeat. We cannot give up just as we’re starting to turn things around in Iraq.”
John McCain (R, Arizona)

“I don’t think it’s wise to have an abrupt withdrawal from Iraq. This doesn’t mean I support an unending commitment of our troops in Iraq. I don’t.”
Susan Collins (R, Maine)

“It would be the bugle of retreat. It would be echoed and repeated through every minaret in Iraq: the coalition forces have decided to take the first step backwards. We cannot send that message. Not at this time.”
John W. Warner (R, Virginia)

While I consider myself liberal-moderate, I also find myself siding more with the Republicans on this issue. Iraq is not going to solve itself. Yes, we’ve created a terrorist recruitment ground there. Yes, we’ve lost thousands of troops.

Will pulling out fix those things? Well, it will end the casualty rate, but it will not end the terrorist presence, stem their ability to recruit, or help stabilize the Middle East in any way. As I’ve stated in a previous post, leaving Iraq will, beyond being a serious moral blow to our military and our country, create the kind of chaotic situation in which terrorism thrives.

We’ve seen this kind of example throughout history, a failed democratic project that slips into chaos. What does it lead to? There are two very famous examples. Two men rose to power and changed history: Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Other governments that have arisen from a chaotic state are usually despotic in nature: European feudal governments after the Viking invasions in the 9th and 10th century, Japan after Commodore Perry forcefully opened the country to trade, China and Russia after their early 20th century revolutions, Hitler and Mussolini, Tito in Yugoslavia, the Taliban, the list goes on.

Doe we want to be responsible for creating another despotic state in the Middle East? Wasn’t the goal to create a model democracy?

I’m not saying that Iraq is going well. Or that the current course will lead to victory if given enough time. However, pulling the troops out IS NOT THE ANSWER.

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