Thursday, November 27, 2003

An Opening for Democrats?

Here is an letter from my friend Walt, and the replies of both myself and friend John, regarding the possibility of the Democrats winning his vote in 2004, principly on the issue of terrorism. What is interesting is that Walt may move leftward even as John may move rightward - maybe there's a consensus developing here:

From: Walt
Subject: I may vote Democratic in 2004


For the first time in over twenty years, I am willing to seriously consider voting for the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004. This is a new development in my political awareness.


I first became politically aligned in 9th grade, during the 1970-71 school year. This was the time of Earth Day, the Clean Water Act, and the Kent State Massacre. The single event which helped most to awaken my political mind was the December 1970 cover of National Geographic Magazine, which featured a duck swimming through an oil spill, and which signaled a conscious commitment by that magazine to join the environmentalist movement. From that time through High School and college, I basically had a liberal world view, and hence I voted Democratic in 1974, '76, '78, and 1980.

Beginning in 1978 and lasting until 1981, I re-examined this world view. This was the era of the snail darter, the establishment of affirmative action, the Vietnamese Boat People, and communist expansion into Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Angola, Ethiopia, South Yemen, and Afghanistan. After a 3-year period of questioning my own beliefs, I finally settled on a mainstream Republican world view, characterized by a foreign policy of defense against communist expansionism, and a domestic policy promoting capitalism. Although I was (and still am) somewhat sympathetic to liberal positions on the environment, sexual behavior, and separation of church & state, in a two-party system there are only two choices, and I have been voting a straight Republican ticket since 1982.


By now it should be clear that the Democratic Party was on the wrong side of history vis-à-vis its acceptance of Soviet imperialism from 1968 to 1990. That's OK - the Republican Party was on the wrong side of history vis-à-vis black civil rights from 1945 to 1970. The world goes around for everybody, and we all have a turn in the sun, followed and preceded by a turn in the dark. The Cold War is over now, decisively won by Reagan, Thatcher, and their supporters, and it is time to move on. I do not judge the Democratic Party in 2003 by its Soviet policy in the 70s and 80s.

We all know what the big foreign policy issue is today: how to protect our land from terrorist attacks. My position on this is that I want to protect US soil from destruction, and US citizens from mass murder. I want this very much, and I am willing to re-examine old paradigms and change them if necessary, in order to protect ourselves.

President Bush has done much about this. He has attacked terrorists and military dictators in Afghanistan and Iraq, he has increased diplomatic cooperation with and/or pressure on many countries, he has made it difficult for foreigners to get visas, he has authorized the Patriot Act, and he has improved airport security. However, there is arguably much he hasn't done. He hasn't caught or killed Bin Laden or Saddam, he hasn't deported many illegal aliens, and he hasn't made it more difficult for foreigners to enter the country illegally. Are we now safe from terrorist attack? I don't think so.


For me, the Cold War is ancient history, and although I still prefer Republican capitalism to Democratic socialism, domestic policy is on the back burner this year. I am willing to let the Democratic Party govern for 4 or 8 years, if they can fight terrorism more effectively than Bush has. In other words, I am willing to consider voting Democratic, for the first time in over 20 years. I will listen to Democratic hopefuls, and judge them by the following tests:

Is fighting terrorism a priority for the Democrats, or not?

What do they propose to do in Iraq? In Afghanistan?

What do they propose to do about visa applications?

What about foreign Muslims currently in the US?

What about illegal aliens entering the US?

Do they wish to repeal the Patriot Act? If so, will they monitor foreigners or US citizens sympathetic to fundamentalist Islam, or will they allow them to act freely?

Is fighting terrorism a priority for the Democrats, or not?

I am not much interested in "Bush shoulda done X or Y". Monday morning quarterbacks make good couch potatoes; but in national leaders, I look for something more. Specifically, I wish to hear candidates tell us how they plan to fight terrorism in 2005, and whether they are able to "think outside the box".

So: will I change my vote for the first time since 1982, or will I vote Republican one more time? It depends. I already know how Bush handles the terrorist threat; now I'd like to hear what Democrats have in mind. Unfortunately, I haven't yet heard much Democratic talk along the lines I've indicated, and that worries me; but it's still early.


Hi Walt:

So far the Democratic candidates haven't offered much in the way of realistic terrorism defense measures, but if there's any hope in the matter, it's that Bush hasn't either, and so there's room for improvement everywhere. The trouble with terrorism is that it can be very flexible, relying sometimes on state sponsorship, sometimes on non-state actors like Al Qaeda, and it can be based on religious, tribal or clan loyalties. Terrorism based on conspiracies within alien host countries might well be impossible for the U.S. to eradicate short of internal revolution. An appropriate containment strategy is required.

Bush acted decisively against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and paradoxically against Iraq (whose closed society and inward-looking nature actually served to quell most Iraqi-based terrorism against the West, even if only temporarily), but by failing to commit sufficient resources to the struggle, Bush may have only heightened the threat. The Taliban and Saddam may yet return to power, and Al Qaeda has many new recruits if it can regain its balance (and since many of its homelands, like Saudi Arabia, are off-limits to our forces, it will find its balance).

Al Qaeda's center of gravity is very hard to locate, based partly in small villages in Yemen, crowded cities in Egypt, and wherever Saudi Wahhabi schools have taken root - Sudan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, among other places. We need the cooperation of people all over the world to stop terrorism, but some of our other actions, like our farm policy and tariffs tend to get in the way. When we do commit our armed forces, if terrorism is what we want to attack, we should go after these places - not Iraq. Iraq is a distraction in the war against Sept. 11th style-terrorism. In particular, we have to stop coddling the Saudis.

Gephardt, Liebermann, and Edwards supported the intervention in Iraq, but Edwards has since tried to backtrack. Because Dean did not support intervention, he actually has the widest room to maneuver on the question: it wouldn't surprise me if Dean, in office, flipped and committed even more troops to the battle, or came up with a different approach. Kucinich, Sharpton and Braun all have (probably impractical) neo-isolationist impulses regarding Iraq, and Kerry and Clark are all over the map. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

The left-wing intelligentsia in the U.S., who actually don't have that much influence on the Democratic party, really disgraced itself on Sept. 11th, an error which I interpret to class distinctions. The folks at 'The Nation' didn't know any bond traders or firemen or police officers (even though they shared the same city with them) and so they took far too lackadaisical an attitude regarding the potential of large-scale terrorism even after a full demonstration of the concept right in front of them. Even though many of them now support Dean, I think they would be surprised how little Dean will reciprocate that support.

I'm worried that our actions against terrorism have been ineffective. We're using Guantanamo to hold indefinitely, and in incommunicado, a variety of combatants. We should start processing them - release some, imprison others, and shoot the rest. We need to stop giving carte blanche to Saudi authorities who have been implicated in supporting Al Qaeda, people like Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Bandar bin Sultan. We have a new Dept. of Homeland Security, but how effective is it, really? We have struck at Al Qaeda, but it's likely to strike back. We have to remain focused on the real sources of danger, and stop trying to run everything in the world - for example, stop terrorists from entering the country, but not stop even illegal aliens from entering the country - FOCUS.

By the way, I disagree with your statement that "by now it should be clear that the Democratic Party was on the wrong side of history vis-à-vis its acceptance of Soviet imperialism from 1968 to 1990". After 1945, both Democratic and Republican parties worked together against the Soviets (Truman's containment doctrine), and both parties accepted Soviet imperialism from 1968 to 1990 (Nixon's detente strategy). The left wing of the Democratic Party did not accept Soviet imperialism for the most part: rather, it objected strenuously to imperialism of all kinds, especially with regard to U.S. intervention in SE Asia, which could be (and was) interpreted as a neo-imperial enterprise. Of course, one can argue whether efforts against U.S. efforts meant tacit support for Soviet imperialism - I would maintain not.

The Soviet Union eventually collapsed of its own internal rot, exacerbated by revived nationalism in the Caucasus, the Baltics, and elsewhere. Once Gorbachev released internal terror, collapse raced ahead: the Soviet Union never reformed to become a more-or-less 'normal' society, like the one Gorbachev envisioned. Reagan's new arms race had only glancing effect on the process of collapse: the Soviets never made a serious effort to keep up with the increased pace of the arms race.


Hi Walt:

Thanks for sending your thoughts on the upcoming election. I can fully understand your concern about terrorism in view of the nature of the work you do. The prospect of some lunatic crashing a plane into a nuclear facility is mind-boggling and seems to be the proverbial "worst-case scenario" of an attack on any nation. Close monitoring of air traffic by the FAA is the last line of defense and certainly needs to be as strong as possible but the preceding lines of defense are trickier to figure out. The September 11 attacks were possible because of lax security at airports and childish inter-agency rivalries between the FBI, CIA and other organizations. It seems to me that after the ruinous espionage conducted by the Walker family, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hansen there should have been major changes in procedures and monitoring of employees. And perhaps there should have been an effort to combine federal law enforcement agencies into a single unit. That might have allowed federal agents to pick up on the numerous clues that something major was about to take place. One can hope that a positive effect of that attack will be to develop a system for effectively preventing such terrorism in the future.

Clearly removing the Taliban and hitting the heart of Al Qaida in Afghanistan was a proper and response to the September 11 attacks. Using military force to overthrow Saddam was more problematical. It's good that he is no longer in control of Iraq but the price for the US, both in terms of lives that continue to be lost and our standing in the international community, is higher than we were led to believe. I'm concerned that we may be looking at a decade or more of US presence in Iraq and I would vote for a candidate for president who has a clear plan to stabilize that nation and remove American forces within a reasonable length of time, even if it involved initially sending in a larger military force in the short term. It may be many years before it becomes clear whether overthrowing Saddam in the manner we did was the right thing to do but in the meantime the president should do everything possible to try to mend fences with other nations which opposed the war.

Aside from terrorism, I have a list of several other topics which I feel must be addressed by the powers that be in Washington and any candidate who can address them honestly and forcefully will have my vote regardless of his or her political affiliation. They are:

1) Deficit spending MUST be halted. As it stands our nation is effectively bankrupt. The entire federal revenue for 4 years would be required to pay off the current debt. The fact that a character like Ross Perot could have a good shot at the White House purely on that issue alone demonstrates that the American people want to see it addressed. And, for all the talk to the contrary during the last 25 years, the republicans have been the worst offenders there. That makes it very hard for me to trust them.

2) Tort reform MUST be enacted. Every aspect of the American economy has been ravaged by having to defend itself against frivolous lawsuits. Personally I would like to see a loser pays civil tort system as exists in all of western Europe. Any candidate who would propose that would have my vote.

3) The manufacturing base of the US economy must be rebuilt. It has been altogether too easy for us to buy imported products and overlook the US manufacturing jobs that have been lost in the process. China has somewhere round a $100 billion trade surplus with the US. There is no excuse for that. It won't be an easy problem to solve but we must start moving to cut that figure.

4) Health care costs must be controlled. The much-vaunted health care system and the absurd health insurance system that funds it have been out of control for at least a decade. People who need insurance cannot afford it and even a minor illness can financially destroy a family. This is inexcusable and a disgrace to the nation. Is national health care the answer? I don't know, but I do know that the current system must be changed and I'm waiting to hear of a workable plan from any candidate. Of course this point and the previous one are DIRECTLY related to my second point (tort reform).

5) Tighten up bankruptcy law. It has become almost a routine matter for people and corporations to shrug their shoulders at their irresponsible--or criminal--conduct and file bankruptcy. It will take a national change in attitude but we need a leader who will at least try to address the problem.

I could add a few more such as crime control (making the death penalty a real tool in fighting crime instead of the rare event it now is) and taxation of internet and mail order retail purchases (a pet peeve of mine since I get wealthy customers--the people most able to pay taxes--asking me to ship multi-thousand dollar bikes to their out -of-state vacation condos so they can cheat the local economy out of sales tax revenue. It's legal and a totally obscene tax subsidy for the rich--a single mother can't ask the local grocery store to have her stuff shipped to her vacation home in another state.) but I'll leave it at that. The nation as a whole needs to address the breakdown of the family unit which has come about in the last 40 years and no president can do much about that.

I've voted for democrats exclusively since 1984 (in 1980, I cast what I feel was my worst vote--for John Anderson). In general I have been greatly concerned about the way republicans have allied themselves with religious extremists. The democrats have made their share of mistakes but they have not tried to erode the separation of church and state. I've seen the power of churches in small towns and large cities and it frankly scares me. Fundamentalist Christians are closer to fundamentalist Islamists than most people think and the main thing that separates them are the constitutional limits that define our nation.

Bill Clinton, despite his personal shortcomings, worked to reform welfare, reversed deficit spending and made an effort--imperfect to be sure--to improve an unfair and ruinously expensive health care system. He had international support and was addressing terrorism quietly, although in retrospect not nearly to the degree that was needed. Had his personal life not been such an embarrassment to the nation I think he might have had a real shot at greatness. I see the record deficit spending of George Bush and legislation being quietly passed to help big business, all done with plenty of pomp and flag-waving and feel like we're on the wrong track. I don't know who among the democrats I will vote for. Lieberman impresses me but I don't think his campaign will last. Clark has a background that would make him electable; I don't agree with him on everything but he seems honest and sincere. Dean is good but probably does not have the support he would need to win. If John McCain could get the republican nomination I would probably vote for him.

So that's my long-winded take on the election. I hope you had a good Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 24, 2003

Those Who Like Factory Farms....

Don't check out the MEATRIX!

Bush Practices Shock and Awe on the Queen's Gardens.

Maybe next time with low-level nukes.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration wants to abandon nation-building in Iraq.

Andrew Sullivan appreciates Howard Dean's fundraising (even if he looks askance at Dean otherwise).

Germans worry about Guantanamo.

And where did the caffeine in the sea come from (as if we didn't know).
So Much for the Stiff Upper Lip

Last night I went to see the British import "Love, Actually", with Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson. What an incredibly dumb and stupid movie it is! Hugh Grant was OK - there is a nice moment when he, as the British Prime Minister, basically tells the American President to go to hell (a very popular position in Britain these days) - but the movie's concept is so idiotic that nothing can save it.

Apparently the screenwriter had noticed how pleasant the scene is at London's Heathrow Airport, when long-separated people see each other again, and hug and kiss. That's OK, for a 15-second movie. Then introduce lots of first and second-rate British actors, many of them gorgeous but vapid, and link all these people we don't care about with many, many, various inane love stories, and have "I Love You" romantic moments, over and over and over again, like an endless Heathrow Airport receiving line gone haywire, or a Paul McCartney inspired "All You Need Is Love" computer virus (or its sister virus "Silly Love Songs") replicating itself in a Darwinian frenzy across the Internet, for 2 1/2 excruciating hours. Awful doesn't even begin to describe the experience.

It didn't help that we had come into the theater halfway through the movie. At the movie's end, I thought it was the worst movie I had ever seen in my life, but then we stayed to see the beginning of the movie, and I saw that Hugh Grant had actually had some nice moments. So, among the worst ever, probably better than "Last House on the Left", or various Wes Craven nightmares, but not much better.

Computers and romance - a bad combination!

DO 10 I=1, 5000000000
WRITE(6,*, ERR=999)"I LOVE YOU!"
GO TO 1000
999 WRITE(6,*)"YOU JERK!"
1000 STOP

There, don't you now feel ever so much more loved?