Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Democrats’ Concern for Veterans (II)

AP’s Pauline Jelinek covers a story about Iraq and Afghanistan combat-generated post traumatic stress disorder that gets facts in perspective. Some, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have suggested mental disorders affect 20% of those returning from combat areas. Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker notes that PTSD is widely misunderstood by the press and the public—and that what is often just normal post-traumatic anxiety and stress is mistaken for full-blown PTSD. Schoomaker does report that PTSD was up recently because 1) 2007 was the most violent year in both conflicts; 2) more troops were serving their second, third or fourth tours of duty, which dramatically increases stress, and; 3) officials extended tour lengths to 15 months from 12. Two of these factors are changing for the better in 2008.

Still, the Surgeon General’s latest statistics indicate PTSD affected 2.7% of those serving in combat areas, a figure in the neighborhood of the Veterans Administration’s nearly 4% estimate.

Democrats’ Concern for Veterans (I)

It seems strange to have Democrats, led by Vietnam veteran and Virginia Sen. James Webb, offering a bill with generous education benefits for military enlistees, and John McCain opposing the bill. What gives?

As one might guess, things aren’t what they seem. No reason to question Webb’s sincerity, or those of some supporters. Webb based his bill on the benefits offered World War II veterans, many of them draftees. The reason McCain and Bush oppose Webb’s bill is that it would encourage volunteer enlistees (from an all-volunteer, zero draftee military) to leave after one hitch, since Webb’s bill provides no increase in educational benefits for re-enlistees. McCain’s bill, supported by Bush, would scale up educational benefits the longer one serves, and McCain would also make educational benefits transferable to a family member, which would further encourage continued service. Democrats unsurprisingly denied senators the chance to vote on Republican McCain’s bill.

Dark minds like mine believe Webb’s bill appeals strongly to Democrats because its effect is to undermine military recruitment, thus hurting the military machine and thereby making future wars less likely.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Behind the Story: Taking Back the White House (II)

“For as it is written, the last shall be first and the geek shall inherit the earth.”

--David Brooks, New York Times, May 23, 2008

As a student of the media, I am transfixed by the question, “Why is the media so willing to bend truth to win the White House?” Why is winning the presidency “the only thing?” The U.S. went into Iraq after destroying al Qaeda’s base in Afghanistan to make sure that an oil-rich, dedicated American enemy didn’t become al Qaeda’s next base. Iraq nearly did, a fact the media covered in detail. Yet now that the U.S. has largely defeated al Qaeda in Iraq, the media ignore that truth while still treating Iraq as a major American failure. Unreal.

Unreal, unless one believes American warriors are the world’s greatest danger. Vietnam transformed America. It was moral to oppose America’s war in Vietnam, even though that opposition cost the Democrats power (Nixon’s victories in 1968 and 1972). The media gained control over the American elite in 1965-72 by educating the country on Vietnam, using Vietnam to capture the moral high ground. Then they consolidated victory in the wonderful three years of 1973-76 when they engineered Nixon’s removal as president and helped deliver overwhelming Democratic congressional majorities in 1974, then helped put Carter in the White House in 1976. Power returned to Democrats, but as a transformed, moral Democratic party that opposed war, sought a Cold War truce, and worked for human rights around the world.

For the media, those were the Golden Years. It’s so different now, with newspaper circulation rapidly declining along with major TV network viewership. As “Mad Money’s” Jim Cramer says, "The world got changed by two companies. Apple is taking away the profitability of TV, and Google is taking it away in print. And it's never going to reverse." So the media are in the fight of their lives. But a total victory in November for Democrats, restoring power to those who believe in a moral (anti-Iraq war) foreign policy and in a well-financed, moral government passing legislation that benefits the people, well, that’s worth fighting hard for, and in the process perhaps demonstrating media still count.

The media have totally digested the #1 political lesson of “It’s the economy, stupid.” A bad economy turns out the regime in power, so for seven-plus years, media have looked for every sign the Bush-led economy is in trouble. Since Bush’s economy mostly produced jobs, lowered unemployment, provided growth, avoided recession, and reduced the deficit growth rate, convincing Americans we are “on the wrong track” economically is a major media achievement. So Iraq, the economy, and Katrina, a mess Bush mishandled on national TV to the media’s delight, have soured the national mood. Media, take a bow.

“Nuclear scientist” Jimmy Carter represented a triumph of the intellectuals in 1976, but Carter was deeply religious, and won millions of votes on that basis. In the end, Carter deeply disappointed his media cheerleaders. Obama is different. Goes to church, but tunes out his pastor. Obama’s win will represent a true triumph of the American intelligentsia, secular but religiously believing government programs improve our lives.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Behind the Story: Taking Back the White House (I)

The big fault line in politics today is between believers and non-believers, or those who go to church and those who don’t. So what do non-believers believe in? What’s the oil in their crankcase?

Answer: better living through government. Non-believers reached where they are through thinking. Their brains control the secular world. In the absence of God, they are god. And their church, the priesthood who knows what’s best for the rest of us, makes good things happen through government.

Government brought about equality for women and ethnic minorities, for gays and lesbians. Government brought workers into the middle class by protecting unions. Government feeds, houses, and nurses the elderly through Social Security and Medicare. Government educates and nurses the children, and it provides for the poor and weak. Government protects non-human living things and the environment, and government pays for itself by taxing those who are more fortunate.

Government’s allies include the media and entertainment industry; they believe in better living through government, and they directly benefit from first amendment protection. It also includes lawyers who enjoy constitutional protection. And there are those benefiting from government money—civil service employees, teachers, contractors, academics, and the non-profit sector.

Government does better when Democrats run Washington, and worse when Republicans control the House, Senate, or especially, the White House. Republicans have had one or more of these pieces of power for all but 6 years since 1968 (85% of the time), and every year since 1994.

As Obama says, “Change we can believe in”.

Obama's Pre-emptive Strike on McCain

"McCain faces an expanding and energised Democratic Party that is desperate to retake the White House."

--The Economist, May 19, 2008

And what goes for the Democratic Party goes for their media friends as well--desperate to retake the White House. Example: Newsweek has written an exceptionally biased preventive attack on John McCain. It’s designed to help Democrats treat any McCain criticism of Obama as, in the words of McCain advisor Mark Salter, “a below the belt, Republican attack machine distortion that should discredit [its] authors.”

Here’s a statement from the Newsweek article, written by Richard Wolffe and Evan Thomas, that identifies the authors' degree of bias. Talking about how Obama may be different as president from the [highly effective] campaigner we now know, they say of Bush, “It was only after he became president that voters began to grasp Bush's failings as an executive—his disdain for expert opinion, his stubborn approach to policy or rivals, his fatal lack of follow-through.” O.K.

Some excerpts from Wolffe’s and Thomas’s pre-launch attack on the McCain campaign:

 The Republican Party has been successfully scaring voters since 1968, when Richard Nixon built a Silent Majority out of lower- and middle-class folks frightened or disturbed by hippies and student radicals and blacks rioting in the inner cities. . . It is a sure bet [emphasis added] that the GOP will try to paint Obama as "the other"—as a haughty black intellectual who has Muslim roots (Obama is a Christian) and hangs around with America-haters.

 Sen. John McCain . . . may not be able to resist casting doubt on Obama's patriotism. And the real question is . . . can—or [does he want] to—rein in the merchants of slime and sellers of hate who populate the Internet and fund the "independent expenditure" groups who . . . give a bad name to free speech.

 Team Obama has . . . a plan for the coming mud war. [They will] put McCain on the spot. . . Recently, when a reporter asked McCain, "Does it bother you at all that you might actually benefit from latent prejudice in the country?" he answered: "That would bother me a lot. That would bother me a great deal" . . .So if McCain. . . exploit[s] Obama's ties to the fiery Reverend Wright, the Obama-ites can question his sincerity—is he really the "Straight Talk" candidate?

 And if McCain can't stop others from the sort of innuendo and code that Republicans have learned to frighten voters, [emphasis added] Obama can cast doubt on McCain's credentials as a commander in chief. ("In other words . . .they can say that McCain is either a hypocrite or impotent.")

 The model is the notorious [emphasis added] Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who unfairly [emphasis added] but effectively questioned John Kerry's war record in 2004. Indeed, two of the most experienced attack artists are already gearing up[:] Floyd Brown, who produced the infamous "Willie Horton" commercial that used race and fear of crime to drive voters away from Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988, [and] David Bossie, already deep into a mudslinging campaign against Obama [with his] documentary that will portray Obama as a "limousine, out-of-control leftist liberal … more liberal than [Vermont Sen.] Bernie Sanders, who is a socialist."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

GOP Depression Coming? (II)

Republicans will no longer be the American political force they were just four years ago. The best evidence comes from American National Election Studies data, summarized by Alan Abramowitz of Emory University. Abramowitz has found that:

 In American politics today, whether you are a married white Christian is a much stronger predictor of your political preferences than your gender or your class.

 Between the middle of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, the proportion of whites has fallen by about 15%, the proportion of married persons has fallen by about 25%, and the proportion of Christians by about 10%.

 Married white Christians have gone from close to 80% of the electorate in the 1950s to just over 40% of the electorate in the first decade of the 21st century [see chart]. The proportion of married white Christians among voters under 30 has plummeted from almost 80% in the 1950s to less than 20%.

 Between the 1950s and now, Republican identification among married white Christians increased by more than 20%, going from about 40% to over 60%. However, the ability of the GOP to continue to offset the diminishing size of its married white Christian base by making further gains is questionable.

 In the 2006 House elections, married white Christians under 30 were just as likely to vote for a Republican as married white Christians over 30. Similarly, voters over 30 not married white Christians were just as likely to vote Democratic as voters under 30 not married white Christians. So voters under 30 are now significantly more Democratic than older voters because they are much less likely to be married, white, and Christian.

 Republicans will need to find ways to reduce the Democratic advantage among voters who are not married white Christians in order to maintain the party's competitive position. However, given the [groups’] generally liberal views, this will not be easy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

GOP Depression Coming? (I)

Mississippi’s open seat went Democratic, a big, serious sign Republicans are headed for a massacre at the polls in November. The Wall Street Journal ran a recent poll that showed only 27% of the country is currently Republican, the lowest percentage for either party in the poll’s 20 year history. Still, the poll found John McCain remains competitive with Obama:

 McCain's current political viability contrasts with that of his party. It underscores the extent to which his personality and image, rather than issues such as the war and the economy, could shape this presidential election.

 [Yet] 43% say they have "major concerns" that Sen. McCain "will be too closely aligned with the Bush agenda." His vulnerability to the Bush link is one that Democrats already are exploiting, with near-daily attacks from the national party suggesting a McCain administration would amount to a third Bush term.

One reason Republicans are likely to crash in November: McCain will run away from the “Republican (meaning Bush)” label as fast and hard as he can, leaving the rest of the GOP high and dry. He has no other real hope for survival. McCain polls well because:

 By 54% to 35%, voters say they identify with Sen. McCain's "background and set of values," which the pollsters describe as traits such as honor, trustworthiness and patriotism. "It's not about the war. It's not about the economy. It is pure and simple about values," said [Democrat pollster Peter] Hart.

Potential Republican Disaster

The election everybody will be watching this evening is for an open congressional seat in Mississippi, not Clinton’s expected victory in West Virginia. As Congressional Quarterly notes:

"If Travis W. Childers, a Prentiss County Chancery Clerk, beats Republican Greg Davis [pictured], mayor of Southaven, in [today]'s election, Childers would become the third Democrat in recent months to take over a Republican-held seat. Democrat Bill Foster, a scientist and businessman, won Illinois' 14th District seat on March 8. The seat was formerly represented by Republican J. Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House. On May 3, Democratic state Rep. Don Cazayoux won a Republican-held seat in Lousiana's 6th District."

All three seats were “safe Republican”. Democrats winning yet another special election in the Spring signals a landslide victory for congressional Democrats this Fall.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Can Israel survive?

The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg, has written a thoughtful piece to mark Israel’s 60th anniversary. One way to understand the profound difference between Israel and the U.S. is that 94% of Jewish Israelis said they are willing to fight for their country, while only 63% of Americans are willing to fight for ours. Yet at the same time, a remarkable 44% of Israelis said they would be ready to leave their country if they could find a better standard of living abroad. There are already roughly 40,000 Israelis in Silicon Valley and more than a half million in the U.S. Life is so dangerous in Israel, a country most of its Arab neighbors still won’t accept.

Goldberg lasers in on the key paradox Israel faces. To make headway with its Palestine neighbor, Israel must stop building settlements on the West Bank, and get ready to give most up. It must, but it can’t, even though we are talking about only 200,000 people. It’s the settlers who are most determined to stay, and sons of the settlements now account for more than 25% of the Israeli officer corps.

Sharon might have fixed the settlement problem. Tragic.

Friday, May 09, 2008

No Champagne for Sarkozy

This blog has raved about Nicholas Sarkozy’s efforts to reform France and improve its economy. But a year after coming to office, the International Harold Tribune’s Katrin Bennhold writes that the reforms he promised are mostly unrealized. According to Bennhold:

Most strikingly . . . Sarkozy never abolished the 35-hour week, a Socialist law that has become emblematic of the complex French rules on labor.

Rather than raising [the] limit, Sarkozy has created complex incentives to ignore it: a tax break on overtime, costing the state $9.3 billion, and a law forcing companies to pay workers who prefer cash to extra time off. . .

On factory floors and in boardrooms, the changes were welcomed, although not as the revolution that many had sought. "A bonus," said Laurence Parisot, president of the Medef, France's biggest employer federation. Clara Gaymard, managing director of General Electric in France, was less diplomatic: "This is not the real reform of the labor market we expect."

Bennhold concludes:

Ever since a clear defeat in local elections in March, Sarkozy's own center-right party has become less eager for unpopular measures. Slowing growth and rising inflation have [further] complicated Sarkozy's call for change.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Iraq: A Price for Maliki's War on Shiite Militias

Here is our latest monthly highly abbreviated version of the Iraq Index, published and updated twice a week by Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution:

Americans Killed in Action, Iraq (monthly average)
2003: 32
2004: 59
2005: 56
2006: 58
2007: 63
2008: 34
April: 49

Americans Killed in Action, Vietnam (monthly average)
1965: 128*
1966: 420
1967: 767
1968: 1140
1969: 785
1970: 413
* = First U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam, 5.3.65
Vietnam table compiled by Galen Fox using Defense Department sources.

Crude Oil Production (m. bbls./day)

Prewar Peak: 2.50
Goal: 2.20 (Revised upward, 1/08)
actual: 2.23 (4/08)

Electricity (megawatts)

Prewar: 3,958
Goal: 6,000
actual: 4,030 (4/08)

Since our last monthly report, the monthly American KIA total rose by 20 from 29 in March. Al Maliki's attack on the Shiite extra-legal militias in Basra and Sadr City--whatever its progress--has taken a toll on American as well as Iraqi government fighters. Nevertheless, the monthly American KIA average remains at half the rate of 2 a day sustained for most of the Iraq war, and to date only the monthly average for 2003 is lower than that for 2008. [Please note: the number of KIA is almost always lower than the media-reported total of American deaths, which covers all causes, including non-hostile. Our Iraq and Vietnam figures are KIA only.] Fatal helicopter crashes bring the biggest surge in combat deaths; none have occurred since August 2007.

In April, oil output decreased from 2.38 to 2.23 million barrels a day. Revenue from oil exports continues at all-time highs, with March's total the highest on record. When complete figures are in for April, its revenue should be at or near the top, partly due to oil's all-time high prices. There has been a sharp drop-off in attacks on oil and gas pipelines since August 2007. From June 2003 to August 2007, for over four years, Iraq had to deal with an average of 9 pipeline attacks a month. From September on, the number of attacks has dropped to just one a month. This sharp reduction in pipeline disruptions contributes to Iraq's rising oil revenues.

As with oil, output dropped for electricity, declining from 4,220 megawatts in March to 4,030 megawatts in April. Perhaps disruptions associated with Maliki's offensive against the Shia militias have affected both oil and electricity output. Still, electricity output remains above the 4,000 megawatt threshold. The 4,000 megawatt level may be significant; Iraq needs 8,500 megawatts to meet its demand, and gets from 2,000 to 4,500 megawatts from privately-owned generators.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Obama 0.5

“At stake is not simply the leadership of our party and even our country. It is our right to the moral leadership of this planet.”

--Robert Kennedy, announcing for president (1968)

I watched Obama on “Meet the Press”. He’s got a new approach. He emphasizes the struggles of his (white) single mom, the fighting patriotism of his (white) grandfather in World War II, the hard work of his (white) grandmother in the Midwest during the depression and war, and of his wife’s blue-collar, sole family breadwinner father, like “your (white) dad, Tim (Russert), [who] looked nothing like Michelle's dad, but they lived that same American dream.”

So how does Obama go after the white, working-class voters Clinton is winning because she’s white and he ain’t? He reminds people he’s ½ (0.5) white by discussing his white heritage. Obama's new approach might not be in time to win Indiana tomorrow, but with this “I’m white too” message plus sufficient money, he may cut into Clinton’s white support in Kentucky and West Virginia later.

Meanwhile, Obama is attempting to assert his moral leadership by blasting Clinton for her “pandering” (along with John McCain) call for no gasoline tax this summer. Obama rightly suggests Clinton will say anything to get elected. Obama is with nearly every thinking person in denouncing Clinton’s proposed (it won’t happen) cut in gas taxes when we actually need for gas taxes to go up.

But then there’s foreign policy, where Obama makes less sense. Noting one of the chief outcomes of our Iraq intervention is a stronger Iran, he then proposes that we put pressure on Iran—he doesn’t want to “take military options off the table”—by withdrawing our troops from neighboring Iraq without winning there first. Boy, Barry, that will show Iran! You bet.

Or maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe I should understand Iraq isn't about national security, it's a morality play. War is immoral, and since we started the Iraq war, we must lose. I should just accept that Iraq is, truly is, the Vietnam of our generation. Iraq defines us morally the way Vietnam defined Robert Kennedy’s America in 1968. Until we rid ourselves of our Iraq stain, we can’t lead the world to victory in Iran or anywhere else.

But Iraq isn’t Vietnam. Lesson 1.0.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Consensus Anyone?

Newsweek’s Robert Samuelson says the oil crisis demands that we start drilling for oil at home--in the Arctic wilderness, offshore in Florida, the Gulf, and the West Coast. Doing so could double our current proven reserves. We should drill with environmental sensitivity.

Tom Friedman of the New York Times is back after writing a book that has got to be about the energy crisis and how to fix it. Anyway, that’s the subject of his first column back at the paper. Friedman writes, “We have no energy strategy. If you are going to use tax policy to shape energy strategy then you want to raise taxes on the things you want to discourage — gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars — and you want to lower taxes on the things you want to encourage — new, renewable energy technologies. We are doing just the opposite.” Like Samuelson, Friedman wants to lower demand for oil and increase energy supply. But his solution is to have government subsidize solar and wind power.

Don’t we need solar power, wind power, and oil, and nuclear energy, and taxes to limit consumption? Can’t we get together on this?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

ABC’s Betsy Stark no prophet.

A month ago, after the stock market rocketed to its best 2nd quarter take-off in 70 years, ABC’s Betsy Stark told us it would likely go back down again in a few days like a “see saw”. I decided to watch for that swing. It didn’t come. Today, the stock market was up yet again. The Dow cleared 13,000 points for the first time since January 8, and the S&P 500 similarly topped its key 1,400 level, also for the first time since January. The market is responding positively to signs the Fed has stopped cutting interest rates, which could translate into a stronger dollar and declining oil prices.

ABC News led its broadcast tonight with a story about the high price of food, then much later, briefly mentioned the Dow’s clearing 13,000. Bad News Betsy, always on the alert for signs the economy is crumbling and paving the way for a Democratic victory in November, was nowhere in sight.