Monday, September 03, 2007

What Impressed Me This Week

The usual suspects: Iraq, Iran, and a bunch of other stuff. And oh, in case you didn't know, the rich are getting richer, but no one else is.

The Iraq War news this week was bad in both senses. The war is not going well, and Congress is not going to do anything about it. Check out the year-over-year graph of U.S. troop deaths here. The National Security Network has a summary of reports on the cooked statistics the administration is feeding us.

It's increasingly looking like President Bush is going to try to continue the Surge far into 2008. That explains why he has increased his appropriation request from $150 billion to $200 billion. When the Democrats caved in to Bush in July, the glimmer of hope was that in September some key Republicans would start coming around. No sign of that so far. And no sign of the Democratic leadership growing a backbone.

When pressed, Democratic leaders will explain that it takes 67 votes in the Senate to sustain a veto, so Republican support is needed to pass a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq. In truth, we just need 41 senators who are willing to filibuster any Iraq appropriation bill that doesn't have a timetable in it. Or a bare majority in the House who will refuse to pass a bill without a timetable. Either total could be achieved without a single Republican vote.

A number of Democratic presidential candidates are in the Senate: Clinton, Obama, Dodd, Biden. This would be a fine time for one of them to demonstrate their leadership qualities, don't you think?

In addition to money, you need soldiers if you're going to keep a war going. The generals are increasingly worried that our current strategy is breaking our soldiers down. See here, here, and here. Or listen as war-supporter Bill Kristol gets an earful from a military wife.

The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh has been claiming for a long time now that the Bush administration was going to attack Iran. The number of people who agree has been going up lately. The Times of London reported Sunday that the plans for a massive air attack are all in place. Ordinarily I don't get worked up about "plans" because it's standard procedure in the military to plan for everything. But these reports come in the context of heightened rhetoric. President Bush Tuesday:
Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust. Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere.
Notice he says nothing about who would start such a nuclear holocaust. I'll bet a lot of people in the Middle East noticed. Whether Bush intended to make a nuclear threat or not, he did.

Same-Sex Marriage in Iowa
My summary of the case got so long that I finally wrote a separate article about it. Judge Hanson's opinion is a very good statement of the current legal logic in favor of same-sex marriage. Conservatives have been getting outraged about it, but not answering its points.

Census Data
The Bureau of the Census put out a press release Tuesday summarizing economic data from 2006. The headline numbers were OK: real median household income was up for the second year in a row, and the poverty rate went down for the first time in this decade. But the underlying numbers were disturbing.

While household income was up, the real median income of people who worked full-time all year was down for both men and women. So working people made less money, but more people worked, with the net result that household income increased a little.

The number of people without health insurance reached an all-time high of 47 million. The number of children without health insurance increased from 8 million in 2005 to 8.7 million in 2006.

The really depressing thought comes when you put these numbers in a larger context. There's a business cycle in the U.S., which (to oversimplify greatly) is that the economy grows for about seven years and then contracts for a year. 2006 was Year 5 of this expansion, and economists are debating whether the housing-loan problems are going to tip us into recession a little early. So we should be near the top of this cycle.

The right way to look at numbers like the ones above isn't to compare one year to the last, but to compare to a similar point in the previous economic cycle. Think about it this way: Your bank balance on payday is bigger than it was the day before, but the more interesting question is how it compares to last payday.

To make that kind of comparison you have to dip into the detailed report that the press release summarized. And there you see that all these numbers were at their best in 1999. Median income was higher, the poverty rate was lower, fewer people lacked health insurance. In fact, the poverty rate bottomed in 1973. That's more than 30 years with no progress in the fight against poverty in America.

How does all this square with the rosy statistics you hear about the economy as a whole? It's simple: All that increased income is going to the people at the top. The long-term trends on the income of the people in the middle (that's what median income is) are flat or down.

My current bit of wishful thinking is that Mike Huckabee's candidacy will take off among Republicans. Huckabee is getting some national attention from finishing second in the Iowa straw poll -- a ridiculous event that Romney won and McCain, Giuliani, and Thompson were smart enough to stay out of.

The interesting thing about Huckabee is that he is the only Republican candidate whose campaign has positive content. He' s not just posturing about getting tough with terrorists and illegal aliens. The Washington Post quotes him as saying, "I'd like to think the people of the country are looking for somebody that's not running because he's mad and angry." And: "The pro-life movement has often been castigated for its focus on the child in the womb, and once the child got out of the womb, he was on his own. My point is, for us to show true credibility, we must show as much compassion for the child sleeping under the bridge or in the back seat of the car as we do for the one in the womb.

That's what pro-life really means."

He has taken Obama's one-America message and translated it into conservative language: "I'm so tired of thinking our goal is to beat Democrats. No. Our goal is to lift up America. And if we lift up America, people will elect us." I saw him on C-SPAN talking about "the vertical dimension" -- not whether the country goes right or left, but whether it goes up or down.

Now, he's definitely no liberal and I'm not thinking about voting for him myself. He's a hawk on Iraq. He's pro-life. He doesn't believe in evolution. And he wants to replace all income and inheritance taxes with a federal sales tax. But a Huckabee campaign might actually discuss those issues rather than demonize Defeatocrats. A Huckabee vs. Obama race would stand a good chance of lifting the level of debate in this country.

But I believe Republicans would lose a debate like that, and I think they know it. Their only chance is to fearmonger and demonize, and Huckabee is not the right candidate to do that. I don't think a reasonable voice has a chance at the Republican nomination.

But I'd like to be proven wrong.

Bush's legacy
In Sunday's New York Times is an article In Book, Bush Peeks Ahead to His Legacy. It's about an author who got to interview President Bush extensively, and it's scary for a number of reasons. For example, when asked about disbanding the Iraqi army -- now considered one of the major blunders of our occupation strategy -- Bush remembers wanting to do the opposite, and can't remember why that didn't happen. And it apparently doesn't bother him that he can't remember. "Hadley's got the notes on all of this stuff," he says. Think about what that means about his thought process.

Another tidbit: "Mr. Bush said his top commander in Iraq, Gen.David H. Petraeus, would perhaps do a better job selling progress to the American people than he could." Now you know the purpose of General Petraeus' upcoming report: Not to tell us honestly what's going on, but to "sell progress" to us.

And consider this:
Mr. Bush said he believed that Mr. Hussein did not take his threats of war seriously, suggesting that the United Nations emboldened him [Hussein] by failing to follow up on an initial resolution demanding that Iraq disarm. He [Bush] had sought a second measure containing an ultimatum that failure to comply would result in war.
Bush appears not to remember that the arms Saddam was supposed to get rid of didn't exist. How exactly could he "comply" in order to avoid war? And how could the UN have "emboldened" him not to comply when there was no way to comply?

The general picture I get is of a man only tangentially in touch with reality. And possessing the power of the presidency for another 16 months.

Craig Resigns
The most over-hyped story of the week was the fall of Senator Larry Craig of Idaho. In case you spent the week on Mars, it came out this week that back in June an undercover cop arrested Craig in a bathroom in the Minneapolis airport for what he interpreted as an attempt to solicit sex. Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and paid a fine. This incident confirmed rumors about Craig that came out last October and had been steadfastly denied. After a few days of defiance, Craig announced his resignation from the Senate on Saturday.

My reaction: Why is it news that a family-values conservative is gay? And not loving-relationship-gay like the couples suing for the right to marry in Iowa, but seeking-scuzzy-meaningless-sex-gay? We did this story already with Ted Haggard, and it was better then because it had a drug angle.

The Republican spin on the story -- somebody must have gotten a prize for this one -- is that it proves that Republicans clean up their act. If Craig had been a Democrat, I heard again and again, he wouldn't have been forced to resign. My reaction is: If he'd been a Democrat, he could just be gay. He wouldn't have to be all repressed and self-destructive about it.

The Democratic spin is to point at David Vitter, the Republican senator from Louisiana who has been implicated in the D. C. Madam scandal. He's not resigning, and his seat doesn't come up until 2010. The difference? The governor of Idaho is a Republican and will replace Craig with a Republican. The governor of Louisiana is a Democrat and would replace Vitter with a Democrat. That's the real reason why the Republicans want Craig to go and Vitter to stay.

Other Interesting Stuff
Time did a mostly positive article on John Edwards. TPM video realized we soon won't have Alberto Gonzales to amuse us any more, so they put together their top 10 Gonzales moments. I think this video proves beyond reasonable doubt that Gonzales is either dishonest or brain damaged.

Over at the Balkinization blog, David Luban discusses an article by Emma Schwarz in U.S. News and World Report about the growing number of attorneys in the Justice Department's civil division who are unwilling to be involved in the Guantanamo detainee cases.
It seems unlikely that the civil division lawyers are objecting to the Guantanamo cases on moral grounds. ... Schwartz's story suggests that they find the [Bush administration's] legal position too farfetched to sign off on; remember that lawyers are prohibited from making frivolous arguments. That raises the rather urgent question of what that legal position might be; presumably, we will find out soon enough.


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