A Cautious Man
June 29, 2008
 
Sunday Night Springsteen
The title of the previous post used a line from a relatively obscure Springsteen song - Goin' Cali -

He went down to the desert city where the rattlesnakes play
And left his dead skin by the roadside in the noon of day
Sun got so hot it almost felt like friend
It could burn out every trace of where you been
So, for Sunday night, a little rattlesnake speedway action, in the Promised Land (from 1978 in Passaic, New Jersey) -


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Down To The Desert City Where The Rattlesnakes Play
From Atrios, we learn about an incredibly vapid, stupid and clueless commentary in today’s Washington Post -

Why Not A Debate In Dubai?

By David Ignatius
Sunday, June 29, 2008; B07

Here's a crazy idea that's being discussed by the rulers of the Persian Gulf city-state of Dubai: What if they were to invite Barack Obama and John McCain to come to the desert oasis for a presidential debate?

Yes, I know: This is America's presidential campaign, not a traveling roadshow to be shared with foreigners. And if the candidates can't even agree on a schedule of town meetings out in the American heartland, why should they travel to a sheikdom that's 7,000 miles from Washington -- and a short boat ride from Iran?

But the idea of a Dubai debate is appealing, not least because it would link the epochal 2008 campaign with a world that cares passionately about where America is heading. The United States is unpopular abroad these days in part because of a perception that we're arrogant -- that we don't care what the world thinks. An overseas debate would help change that perception.

I think that embracing the idea of a debate in Dubai will give the world a quite different impression, but more on that in a moment.

According to Mr. Ignatius' column, "The idea for this debate emerged in conversations and e-mails over the past week with officials in Dubai. … Dubai's leaders 'realize the importance of such an idea and are ready to receive the candidates and organize the event,' one senior official told me." Since so far this idea only seems to be covered in his column, and not in other news sources, one can only assume that this is something that Mr. Ignatius himself thought was a good idea. After noting that the campaigns appear to be cool to the idea (appropriately, in my view), Mr. Ignatius practically gushes over the perceived charms of this oil-rich oligarchy –

So the chances that a Dubai debate will actually happen are pretty slim, which is too bad. For it would be a good venue to engage the Middle East. As much as any place in the Arab world, Dubai is a symbol of modernization and change. It's a bit over the top, to be sure, with an artificial ski resort, man-made islands in the shape of a palm tree and rococo hotels with make-believe canals and Arab castles.

What's likable about Dubai is that, as a boomtown, it's a city that's "too busy to hate," as was said a generation ago of Atlanta. I wish that the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part, would send an ambassador to Israel. But the UAE has been a strong supporter of the peace process and a key Arab ally in fighting terrorism. The 2006 congressional attack on Dubai Ports World, and its bid to manage some American ports, was sheer poppycock.

Elections are always about change and renewal, but that's especially true this year. The success of a charismatic African American named Barack Hussein Obama has inspired young people around the world, just as it has young Americans. John McCain, the torture victim who demands that we stop torture, also wants to make a new start. The message of Campaign 2008 is that America is turning a page.

A quick glance of some of the realities of Dubai would show what a stupid idea this really is. Dubai and the UAE aren't even close to being any sort of democracy (what part of the word "Emirates" doesn't he understand?). The vast majority of the residents aren't citizens, and are mostly imported workers from other Arab countries, Iran and South Asia. Human Rights Watch describes the conditions of those foreign workers in Mr. Ignatius' "city that's too busy to hate" as being little better than slavery or involuntary servitude –

Dubai, with its glittering new skyline of high-rise buildings and its profusion of luxury resorts and real estate, is the most globally emblematic evidence of the economic rise of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As the UAE undergoes one of the largest construction booms in the world, at least half a million migrant construction workers are employed there. Behind the glitter and luxury, the experiences of these migrant workers present a much less attractive picture—of wage exploitation, indebtedness to unscrupulous recruiters, and working conditions that are hazardous to the point of being deadly. UAE federal labor law offers a number of protections, but for migrant construction workers these are largely unenforced.


All of the construction workers interviewed for this report said that their employers confiscated their passports upon their arrival in the UAE, also commonly known to be a “custom” of employers in the UAE to protect against their migrant workers’ absconding. Although UAE courts have ruled that employer confiscation of passports is illegal, employers continue the practice totally unfettered by any concern that the government will enforce the law.


In most other places, a worker faced with hazardous working conditions and unpaid wages, in a free market economy that has an extreme shortage of labor, would move to a different job. But this is not an option for the migrant construction workers of the UAE, who like all other migrant workers in the country are contracted to work only for a specific employer. A worker seeking to move to a different employer is eligible to do so only after working for two years for the present employer and obtaining his or her consent to the move.

So, it's Mr. Ignatius' brilliant idea that the next American President will change the perception of the United States in the Muslim world by taking part in a "Democracy Show" in a place where millions of those Muslims are practically enslaved and exploited in dangerous working conditions. In a Muslim world where Al Qaeda points to the United States as an enabler for Persian Gulf royal families, as a means to stir up hatred and violence against Americans, that's a really, really stupid idea.

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June 23, 2008
 
George Carlin
We learned today that he died. To be perfectly honest, George Carlin meant a lot more to me as a personality, as a commentator, and as someone who challenged the powerful, than Tim Russert ever did.

Sorry, that's just how I feel.

Kevin Smith has a great essay on him, in Newsweek.

I know that everyone is talking about his "7 Dirty Words". When I was a kid (we're talking '76, '77, here), we had the "Class Clown" album, which that routine is on. My mom wasn't a big fan of that one, but my seriously Catholic mom would laugh her head off listening to another routine on that album, "I used to be Irish Catholic" -



And just before the "7 Words", was Mr. Carlin's piece on Muhammad Ali, which also made an impression on a high school kid back then (Ali had lost his title because of his conscientious objector status, although he later won it back) -

(Ali) had an unusual job: beating people up.

It's a strange calling, you know? But it's one you're entitled to.

Government didn't see it that way. Government wanted him to change jobs. Government wanted him to kill people.

He said, "No, that's where I draw the line. I'll beat 'em up but I don't want to kill 'em."

And the government said, "Well, if you won't kill 'em, we won't let you beat 'em up! Ha ha ha ha!"

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June 22, 2008
 
Sunday Night Springsteen
Summer's here and the time is right, and all that.

Summer is a recurring theme for our favorite musical artist. "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" would be an obvious choice. However, tonight let's go back to a song that I first heard over thirty summers ago.

The rangers had a homecoming in Harlem late last night
And the Magic Rat drove his sleek machine over the Jersey state line
Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge
Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain
The Rat pulls into town rolls up his pants
Together they take a stab at romance and disappear down Flamingo Lane


Kinda makes one feel old and young at the same time. So, tonight it's Jungleland.


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Money Don't Get Everything It's True
What It Don't Get, I Can't Use

We're being told that we are supposed to be upset because Senator Obama decided to forgo public financing, and the spending limits that accompany it.

Senator McCain is arguing that it's a "broken promise", but nobody can find any promise other than a questionnaire response indicating that Senator Obama was willing to negotiate a real spending cap. The existence of independent groups, which Senator McCain said he could not stop or control, pretty much eliminated that possibility.

I don't understand why everyone is forgetting that donation limits are still alive and well. I thought the public financing/spending caps were there in order to encourage/reward candidates who dropped out of the race for campaign cash, and all the attendant problems with that. Senator Obama has a valid point – it's a new world of communication and connection out there. You're reading my random thoughts on this topic, not because you know me, or because I've been published by a news source that you look to for information, but because we're here on the internet. Just as Mr. "Cautious-Man-who-thinks-he's-all-that-because-someone-visited-his-site-today" can communicate in a way that wasn't as common four, or certainly eight years ago, raising campaign money is different now, also. It doesn't have to be a "fat cat" game any more, as Senator Obama has demonstrated.

(Of course, it doesn't hurt that all the Clinton fat cats are now available to be tapped for cash also, but I digress.)

Why would Senator Obama need to make sure that he has as much money to spend as possible? Do I really need to ask that question? Does anybody really think that the prospect of a Democratic President, a fairly progressive Democratic President, and (yes, I will go there) an African-American Democratic President, won't encourage some people to go all out to do whatever they can, to prevent that?

If anyone doubts this, just look at what happened four years ago. The smear campaign against Senator Kerry, and anybody associated with him, was disgusting. We received a reminder of that campaign in today's NY Times, which had a story about the men who served with Senator Kerry, and who therefore were also abused and mocked by the "Swift Boat" smear. These are men who had their lives made fun of, because they committed the "crime" of (a) serving this country, and (b) doing so under the command of someone who would eventually run for President.

For most people, “Swift boat” has become a political verb, a synonym for the kind of attack that helped destroy the presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry in 2004.

But for a group of Vietnam veterans at the center of the attacks, it is still a fresh fight.

On Friday, the group, who served with Mr. Kerry in Vietnam, sent a letter to T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire Texas oilman who helped finance the 2004 attack advertisements, taking him up on a challenge he issued last November: that he would give $1 million to anyone who could disprove a single charge the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth made against Mr. Kerry.

The letter-writers served alongside Mr. Kerry during the events that the Swift boat group insisted he had embellished or made up to win his military decorations.

Identifying themselves as “patriotic, concerned veterans” they say the accusations of the Swift boat group damaged their reputations and deeply affected their families, “tarnished the sacrifices we made, called into question the medals we were awarded and challenged the very authenticity of our service.”

What is truly amazing, is the fact that the "Swift Boat" smear is still believed by people, and that right-wingers still insist that it was a fair attack on Senator Kerry, despite all the holes that were poked in that argument –

Extensive news media accounts undermined the Swift boat charges in 2004, pointing out that some of the Swift boat critics had written statements in Vietnam lauding Mr. Kerry for extraordinary bravery in the incidents they later said he made up. One critic had himself received a medal for heroism during a hail of gunfire he later claimed Mr. Kerry had concocted to win his third Purple Heart.

But that did not blunt the political impact.

Four years ago, it was considered an acceptable political tactic to spread lies about American veterans, who had done nothing to deserve the garbage that was thrown at them. I don't think that anything is inconceivable, with respect to what might happen in this campaign.

And Senator Obama has every right to want to be ready to meet anything that is thrown at him. And nowadays, that requires money, because he certainly can't rely on the media.

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June 21, 2008
 
"If I Look A Little Different, It’s Because I’ve Changed"
As we all know, George W. Bush turned out to be very different from the first George Bush. And, as it turns out, the John McCain running for President now is very different from the 2000 version. In fact, he's so different from the "first" John McCain, that we may as well distinguish between the two, by calling the 2008 version "John W. McCain" -

Ask any American what they know about John McCain and they will probably reply that he is a war hero who survived years of brutality in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. They might add that he is a maverick, free-thinking spirit who values independence and integrity above toeing the party line.

That is the Old John McCain, the one that has been written about in umpteen newspaper profiles, the one whose campaign bus is called the Straight Talk Express. But while all eyes have been on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, a new John McCain has been emerging. For the past 407 days, since he threw his hat into the presidential ring in April 2007, McCain has been criss-crossing the country, presenting an image of himself that runs counter to his long-standing reputation.

That article quoted from above (as do many, many others) describes how the "new" McCain is different from the "old" version. There's the change on taxes, the retreat on immigration, the changed attitude towards megachurch pastors who try to influence politics, etc. The description of his appearance at an NRA event makes this point -

If Old John McCain had turned up to this annual convention of the National Rifle Association - one of America's most hard-core rightwing affiliations - the results could have been ugly. Old John McCain is loathed by the gun-toting right. After all, this was the man who proposed granting citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants, and - which is worse? - did so hand in hand with that enemy of the nation, Ted Kennedy. The same man who accused televangelists such as the late Jerry Falwell of being "agents of intolerance". The candidate whom the NRA opposed when he last ran for president, in 2000, swinging its four million active members instead behind George Bush.

So how did New John McCain get on this time in front of some 3,000 NRA supporters? He began by squinting into the teleprompter. And then he started pressing buttons. Button 1: "At the outset, let me recognise the life of a great American, Charlton Heston." (Huge cheer for the film actor and NRA president who died in April.) Button 2: "I opposed the ban on so-called 'assault weapons' which was first proposed after a California schoolyard shooting." (Another big cheer.) Button 3: he tells the crowd he stands for low taxes, less government, a bonfire of federal bureaucracy. Button 4: he vows to fight on in Iraq until the war is won. Button 5: he chucks in a reference to the greatness of America, and to God.

I'm not the first to refer to him as John W. McCain, of course (see for example a reference from Mother Jones), but I think that it's a good habit to get into.

[Edited to add] Sonofagun, I should have done more research before posting. There's an actual John-W-McCain.com! There's also a "Wikiality" page for "John W. McCain". Cool.

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"I Can Feel The First Breeze of Summer ..."
And "Summer's here and the time is right", and all of that.

I don't know about you, but part of me wishes that the campaigns would just take the first part of the summer off. There's going to be a lot of noise, without much useful information.

It harshes my attempted summertime mellow.

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June 08, 2008
 
Sunday Night Springsteen
Quite the week in politics. But, it's far from over.

The words from this song came to mind this week, in thinking about what is really at stake in the November election.

You know that flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we'll do
And what we won't


Whether it's in politics, or in war, or in how to treat a fellow human being, there are a lot of people who are happy to do the things, that we should say we won't do.

So, "Long Walk Home". Live on the morning of the album's release, in New York on the "Today" show -


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Down Here It’s Just Winners And Losers
I watched Senator Clinton’s speech yesterday with the Cautious Daughter, who has just finished her first year of college. While the Cautious Wife has been very much a Clinton fan (we have been avoiding political discussions in the Cautious Household), my peace-marching daughter did not seem as enamored of her. In watching the speech, she commented that Senator Clinton seemed to have spent a lot of time talking about herself. I replied that I thought her speech was a good blend of looking back at what she had accomplished, and looking forward to electing a Democratic President in November.

I deliberately referred to the Cautious Daughter’s attendance at the peace march last fall, because I think that the Iraq War is a big reason why Senator Clinton is not going to be the nominee. What if she had joined then-Senator Corzine, then-Congresman Menendez, and Senators Kennedy, Boxer, Reid, Feingold, Wellstone, Levin, Leahy, etc. in voting against the Iraq War resolution in 2002? Could Senator Obama have gained any traction in his campaign, if he did not have that significant difference between himself and Senator Clinton? Even with his clearly better organizational efforts in the caucus states, there may not have been a viable Obama campaign. He may not have won Iowa, and therefore the early primaries would have looked completely different.

I think what did in Senator Clinton was compromise – that is, compromising with her own principles. She compromised when she voted for the Iraq War, and later excuses didn’t cure the fact that it enabled President Bush to invade the following Spring, even though the inspectors had in the meantime returned to Iraq. And, she compromised in how she conducted her campaign. She engaged in the divisive talk about religion, criticizing the people of Trinity UCC and going over the top in using Senator Obama’s poor choice of words (the “bitter”, “guns” and “religion” comment). She engaged in the divisive talk about race, stressing how she would win the “hard working” Americans, the “white Americans”. And she compromised in acting like a Republican, embracing the notion that we’re electing a “Commander in Chief”, as if the President was some kind of Generalissimo.

The back page of the New York Times “Week in Review” section has a dozen essays under the title “What Went Wrong. It includes Mark Penn whining that “The Problem Wasn’t the Message — It Was the Money”. In that article, he demonstrates the attitude which was fatal for the Clinton campaign, in my humble opinion: “Even schoolchildren got the message that Mrs. Clinton was ready to be president on Day One. As a result of her campaigning and ads, people saw her as a strong commander in chief, a good steward of the economy and a champion for people who needed one.” He should face facts - they had plenty of money, but they had the wrong strategy, and they presented their candidate in the wrong way.

A news article which is also in the Times today, entitled “The Long Road to a Clinton Exit”, shows how badly they were handling things, and what Mr. Penn really meant with that “on Day One” talk –

Mr. Penn shaped a message that she was “ready to lead” a nation “ready for change,” talking in early meetings about her need to spark a “movement” and dismissing Mr. Obama as a glamorous personality who would not connect with working-class voters the way she could, campaign officials said. “He may be the J.F.K. in the race,” Mr. Penn told Mrs. Clinton last year, according to an insider, “but you are the Bobby.”

Backed by Bill Clinton, Mr. Penn pushed for aggressive attacks on Mr. Obama, something other advisers resisted. At one point, Mr. Penn argued that Mrs. Clinton should find subtle ways to exploit what he called Mr. Obama’s “lack of American roots,” referring to his Kenyan father and his childhood years in Indonesia and even the offshore state of Hawaii, the campaign officials said. Mr. Penn recommended that Mrs. Clinton own the word “American” — she should talk about the “American century” and her “American Strategic Energy Fund,” and so forth. She should add flag symbols to her logo, he suggested.

My mom reminded me earlier today that President Clinton has been known to call someone a “scumbag” – I believe that word applies to Mr. Penn. That portrait of the campaign is consistent with what Congressman Rob Andrews said the other day –

Rep. Rob Andrews, who supported Hillary Clinton throughout the primary season, disclosed he received a phone call shortly before the April 22 Pennsylvania primary from a top member of Clinton's organization and that the caller explicitly discussed a strategy of winning Jewish voters by exploiting tensions between Jews and African-Americans.

"There have been signals coming out of the Clinton campaign that have racial overtones that indeed disturb me," Andrews said at his campaign headquarters in Cherry Hill Tuesday night after he lost his bid for the U.S. Senate nomination. "Frankly, I had a private conversation with a high-ranking person in the campaign ... that used a racial line of argument that I found very disconcerting. It was extremely disconcerting given the rank of this person. It was very disturbing."

As Carl Bernstein wrote, as part of that same “What Went Wrong” collection –

Faced with unanticipated adversity, Hillary and Bill Clinton took the low road too often, and voters noticed. So did the party leadership and superdelegates, who abandoned her and the idea of a Clinton Restoration.

Barack Obama’s candidacy was the Clintons’ worst nightmare. They had dreamed of the day when an African-American could be elected president. But they never anticipated it would happen on their watch and were utterly confounded.

I think the party decided that compromising with darker forces – war, religious intolerance, and racial bigotry – was not a criterion on which the next Democratic President would be nominated.

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June 01, 2008
 
Sunday Night Springsteen ...
... isn't Springsteen this week. Three reasons:

(1) I missed a week, and we'd been so good lately. So, I didn't want to miss two weeks in a row, even if I couldn't come up with a good Springsteen video.

(2) This is R.E.M. performing live, and they've performed live with Mr. S., so it's close enough. If this is a problem, you may request a refund.

(3) Still trying to get my head around the fact that Senator Obama felt it necessary to let Senator Clinton, Sean Hannity, and the rest of the champions of ignorant religious bigotry drive him away from his own church.

Anyway, it's "Losing My Religion" -


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