Friday, April 27, 2007

2008 Presidential Candidate Stack Ranking Version 2.4 - Post Democratic Debate

I missed the debate (but was not the only one), choosing instead to play an afternoon round of golf at Presidio. I intended to watch the late rerun on MSNBC but fell asleep on the couch during the first question, possibly due to the beer consumed during and after the round, possibly due to the candidates replies. However, I will not let this unimportant detail inhibit me from expressing strongly held opinions on the debate that I did not see. After all, this was a "Yossarian" event. [Paraphrasing the Yossarian Principle from Joseph Heller's Catch 22 - "What if everyone was blogging about the First Debate of the 2008 presidential election?" I can only respond as did Yossarian: "Then I'd be a damn fool not to."].

Net net: Clinton was presidential. Obama and Edwards were not. Biden was funny and sharp. Gravel was entertaining. Kucinich was articulate and insane, but he has a hot wife. Richardson hurt himself, but it was just a flesh wound. I forgot the other guy's name.

Armed with these new insights, it is time to update the DWSUWF 2008 Presidential Stack Ranking. As a reminder, the DWSUWF stack ranking is a preference not a prediction. This list represents the top ten candidates DWSUWF would like to see as President, stack ranked in order of preference. Imposed on this list are two constraints: alternating political party affiliation, and a divided government outcome in 2008.

This week we only made changes to the Democrats on the list, next week (post GOP debate), we will review and update the Republicans.

Since I missed the debate, I had to find a different criteria for re-ranking the top tier Democratic hopefuls. Unity08 to the rescue. The Unity08 Dream Ticket "Would you wear this button?" test fits the bill. Now, I have expressed my skepticism about Unity08 before (here, here and here). I also thoroughly enjoy reading Ahab Jim at the Irregular Times regular harpooning of this endangered white whale. Still I signed up as a delegate on the off chance that Unity08 actually becomes something politically meaningful. I am on their list and received an e-mail invitation to create a "Dream Ticket" on their site. I must admit to having some fun with this, it is an inspired promotion.

There is a significant philosophical difference between Unity08 and DWSUWF. Unity08 believes the political cure to what ails us, is a "unity" administration, with a President and Vice President representing different parties. DWSUWF believes that our Federal government is more fiscally responsible, creates sounder legislation, governs better, and is more effective as a corruption watchdog if the Executive office and Legislative majorities are held by different parties and are at each others throats.

That said, I used the Unity08 dream ticket tool to take my favorite candidate (Chuck Hagel - R) and pair him up with all of the top Democrats as VP. Then I stared at the buttons and selected the one I would actually wear. The winner is:
Which is now reflected in the new and improved, updated and revised ...

DWSUWF 2008 Presidential Candidate
Stack Ranking v. 2.4

1) Chuck Hagel (R)
2 ) Bill Richardson (D)
3) Ron Paul (R)
4) Joe Biden (D)
5) Rudolf Giuliani (R)
6) Hillary Clinton (D)
7) John McCain (R)
8) Barack Obama (D)
9) Mitt Romney (R)
10) Al Gore (D)

Changes since the last update: Based on the Unity08 button test, Richardson is now my top Democratic contender, which drops Joe Biden one notch, although I still like Joe. I just cannot have both of my top two candidates reviled and disparaged by the rank and file of their own party. Since Hagel is my favorite, Biden has to drop down. Barack drops behind Hillary having failed the "Looks and sounds like a President" test in the debate. In the last Democratic party slot, Al Gore replaces Wes Clark. I don't think either is running, but Al is getting more publicity. And he won an oscar.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Carnival of Divided Government DUODECIMUS - One Year Anniversary Edition

UPDATED: Wednesday, May 2, 2007
"You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too--yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.
- John Lennon/Paul McCartney

Welcome to the April 23, 2007 edition of the Carnival of Divided Government - Special One year Anniversary Edition. Yes, our little bouncing bundle of blogging joy is one year old. The very first DWSUWF post was written one year ago today. In that first post we invited readers to ... um... go away. I was still getting the hang of this whole blogging thing. The next two posts were an improvement, and laid the foundation for a divided government thesis and voting strategy that we continue to build on today. By the way- I have no idea who these people are in the picture ... just found the pic somewhere out there in the ether.

As explained in earlier editions, we have adopted Latin ordinal numeration in order to impart a patina of gravitas reflecting the historical importance of the series. In this Carnival of Divided Government DUODECIMUS - Special Birthday Edition, as in all of the CODGOV series, we select volunteers and draftees from the blogosphere and mainstream media on the singular topic of government divided between the major parties (leaving it to the reader to sort out volunteers from draftees). Consistent with this topic, the primary criteria for acceptance in the carnival is to use the words and/or concept of "divided government" in submitted posts. A criteria that, to our endless befuddlement, is ignored by many of the bloggers submitting posts, which sadly results in DWSUWF reluctantly ignoring their fine submissions. In fact, for this birthday edition, we received an extensive selection of fine submissions, of which NONE - as in ZERO, NADA, ZIPPO, SQUAT - are on topic and mention "divided government". Hey! It's our birthday people! And now we are going to have take all the blogging birthday submissions and return them to wherever they came from. Because on our blogging birthday we will only link to on-topic posts, so today we offer a 100% Draftee edition of the carnival:

Divided Government Birthday Posts
Our first birthday present arrives from Kiev, Ukraine where Gingeriana posts "ПРОЛИСТЫВАЙТЕ, ПРОЛИСТЫВАЙТЕ! (LOOK AT THIS, LOOK AT THIS!) in her blog "Чемпионат мира по метанию бисера" - translated by RusTrans as "The world championship on a throwing of beads" (I suspect something was lost in translation here - possibly because she is writing in Ukrainian and I am translating as if from Russian using a free internet tool). In any case she offers a unique perspective from afar, as she calls attention to a lecture by Andrew Busch at the "Alumni Resource Centre, American Counsils, Kyiv, Ukraine entitled "Looking Ahead to 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections” and apparently finds a parallel to Ukraine politics:
"Many Americans vote deliberately to make a divided government: - if the President is Republican, than the Congress should be Democratic (and vice-versa) So, there is a big chance that since the current Congress is mostly Democrats, the next president would be again Republican. Americans do not make a big deal of President and Congress being political opponents. They find such situation to be normal and desirable, and a good balance of powers too. (Compare to Ukraine)."
Gingeriana sums it up quite well. In fact, one might make the case that it has taken DWSUWF an entire year of blog posts to say what she has distilled into one succinct paragraph. The only correction I would make to her cogent observation, is that not enough Americans "vote deliberately to make a divided government". But that's my job for the next 18 months. I'll be using the translation tool to comment on Gingeriana's post over the next couple of days. It should be very entertaining. For her.

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire finds a "A Silver Lining for Republicans" in an article that echoes Gingeriana's Ukrainian perspective of our divided government:
"So why are the Republicans in the minority in Congress? According to Rep. Tom Davis, voters don’t like either party to control both the White House and the Congress for too long. Speaking at the National Press Club today, the Virginia Republican said, “What we’ve got to remember is divided government has basically been the norm. If you go back the last 40 years, I think three-fourths of the time we’ve had divided government. One party controls the White House and the other party controls at least one house of Congress…(T)he norm is that if there’s somebody to blame — and you can blame it on one party — you end up taking a licking."
Our next birthday present is from a friend of the DWSUWF blog, Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice. Joe got his underwear in bunch over a Christian Science Monitor op-ed piece by Pat M. Holt in his post "Bush Asserts Powers While Congress Has Ceded Them?"
"... if we are living in an age of dysfunctional government, what is the solution? If a single party didn’t quite work, and divided government with both major parties don’t work…what’s next? And is there a “next”?"
Joe - Chill. Divided government is working. The pendulum is starting to move back. Congress is reasserting their authority. We see it in the Gonzales oversight hearings. We see it in a Iraq funding bill with a timetable for withdrawal that will be sitting on the President's desk this week. We see it in Republicans suddenly caring about pork and earmarks for the first time in six years. Six years of single party control pushed that pendulum pretty far out. It'll take a while and some wild swings before it gets back to the middle.

Here Joe, this'll help - read David Gaffen's post in the Wall Street Journal's MarketBeat - "Divided Government, Less Regulation — It’s All Good":
"It’s often stated that divided government is good for the markets. Bianco Research finds that this is indeed the case. But they take it a step further in a report today, showing that, more often than not, unified government results in more regulatory growth, which damps the prospects for markets — and that divided government, while good in general, can be bad if it increases regulation anyway."
The parties have to agree to increase regulation. So, no problem. The key takeaway from the post (as far as the markets are concerned) is this: in a divided government bipartisanship is bad and political polarization is good.

Tieran O Faolin is seriously confused at American Red Tory, asking the rhetorical question "DIVIDED GOVERNMENT"?
"There's a common rumor that American voters frequently prefer to split Congress and the White House between the two main parties. This is false. The only (virtual) national election we have is for President. Congress isn't a national election like for the Israeli Knesset. We have 435 House districts and 50 Senate ones (the States), and people usually vote for the incumbent - usually irrespective of attempts by Party types to "nationalize" Congressional elections - because usually there isn't a seriously credible challenger, because of partisan gerrymandering of House districts by State politicians to favor incumbents. Therefore any alleged correspondence between party positions within or between the two elected Branches of the Federal Government is coincidence, nothing more."
Actually not, Tieran. I mean, really... "Coincidence, nothing more"??? Where have you been for the last six years? With single party control, the U.S. Congress abrogated virtually all of their Constitutional responsibilities in order to further the "corresponding" party positions of the executive branch. While it it is usually true that "all politics is local" and incumbents certainly have a crushing advantage, it is certainly possible for congressional elections to be nationalized and an incumbent majority to lose as a result. We know this is true because that is exactly what happened in the last election. Although some will maintain that Americans subconsciously prefer divided government, I will grant your point that most Americans do not consciously vote for divided government. But that does not mean it will stay that way. Certainly, some of us vote that way. We'll see what we can do to increase those numbers.

Steven Teles at The Reality Based Community presents a thoughtful post on how the mechanism of divided government helps congress fulfill their constitutional duties, thoughtfully entitled "Hiring Kooks":
"This is, in part, an institutional problem--how do you ensure that the executive branch does not overweight its political strata with ideological hacks? This should be a primary function of the Senate, exercising its constitutionally orthodox power to confirm presidential nominees for political appointments. For most of the Bush years, Congress punted this function because it had been transformed into the functional equivalent of parliament, doing this bidding of their Prime Minister. But with the return of divided government, we have the ability to reassert something closer to constitutional orthodoxy. The first task of the Democratic Congress should be to engage in close scrutiny of all presidential appointees, making it clear that nominees whose primary qualification is ideological commitment will be given a good raking over the coals. This should make the administration more reticent to nominate such people in the first place, or a least to reduce their propensity to do so. Even though the purpose of this may be partisan (to embarass the administration) its effect would be wholesomely constitutional. "Ambition counteracting ambition," I think someone once called it..."
"Ambition counteracting Ambition". I like the sound of that. We'll have to figure out who said it.
Ok I figured it out. This is embarrasing, I should have known the source. The actual complete quote is excerpted here:
"Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other -- that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State."
The author is James Madison. The source is Federalist #51 written in 1788. Madison is explaining the rationale behind constitutional checks, balances and the need for seperation of powers into co-equal branches of government. The identical rationale applies to not permitting one political party to control both the legislative and executive branches. It is the rationale for divided government. It good to be regularly reminded just how prescient and smart the founding fathers of our constitution really were.

Joseph Wiesenthal
at The Stalwart is thinking about other constitutional issues, but still concludes that divided government will help in "Searching for Jihad":
"Also, let me make a point on gun control. It's probably too much to ask of people to not use a tragedy to advance their political viewpoints. Of course, both sides of the gun control debate see this incident as vindication of their beliefs. While I tend to come down on the libertarian side of things, I don't think that one exceedingly rare incident can prove one side or another. In other words, we shouldn't let one freak incident guide our policies. Unfortunately, it's usually the freak incidents that get politicians motivated to "do something", so it's inevitable that some sort of law will come out of this. I'm just glad that we have divided government, so that nothing can get done too quickly."
James Trumm at Framed finds similarities and differences between 2008 and 1968 in this post written exactly "277 Days..." before the New Hampshire primary:
"By the time the 2008 election comes around, we will have had two years of divided government, where the party that got us into a war and pushed through unpopular legislation is NOT the party in power in Congress... The voters in 1968 seemed to want someone who could check what were perceived as the excesses and abuses of the party in power on Capitol Hill; they voted for divided government. Unless the Democrats badly fumble their Congressional ascendancy, this situation won't repeat itself in 2008."
I hope he is wrong, but suspect that he is right. This is why I have said before and will say again, Chuck Hagel is the only electable Republican candidate for President. He is a rock solid conservative and has the credibility of opposing the administration on the war from the beginning. Yet we don't even know if he is going to run.

Ed Sistrunk at Grassroots Conservative Majority considers the candidates and a return to fiscal conservative principles in "Whitehouse '08":
"Republicans have historically claimed to be the party of spending discipline. Their performance while in control of both the executive and legislative branches has shredded that claim. Federal spending increased under Republican control at twice the rate it did under divided government, when Republicans controlled Congress and Bill Clinton was in the White House. Moreover, earmarks soared under Republican control. Earmarks are appropriations designated by a member of Congress for a local project within his political jurisdiction. Earmarks, commonly referred to as pork, are corrosive in two ways. First, they detract attention and resources from truly national concerns. Second, once a member has his local bridge or bus stop, he is expected to vote for the overall appropriations bill, regardless of how bloated it becomes. McCain shines on fiscal issues."
That may very well be true, but McCain is dead wrong on the war. Hagel also shines on fiscal issues, and he shines even brighter in his principled stance on the war. Ron Paul is a libertarian Republican running for president who was also right on the war, as Daniel Watson shows clearly in "Heroes & Villains: Cong. Ron Paul & Prof. Michael Ledeen" posted at Americans for Ron Paul Blog. I just don't think that Paul has a chance of winning. But he will be fun to watch in the debates.

We'll wrap this up with a dip in the mainstream media. Samuel L. Popkin and Henry A. Kim caution Democrats that history and voter preferences for divided government stand between them and the White House, in "Winning the White House? History's Against Them":
"Divided government can help presidents look moderate and the party controlling Congress look extreme. Because Democrats control the agenda, they will bring up bills they want, and bottle up bills favored by the Republican right. Bush and the GOP are now likely to be defined by which Democratic bills he signs and which he vetoes, instead of by the bills advanced from his right wing."
I'd like to believe this is true, but it sure looks to me like the Republican Party is drifting further and further from the mainstream American voter on Iraq, and as a consequence is on a hell bound train to losing all branches in 2008.

A single off-topic slice of birthday cake.
OK, it is our blogging birthday and we can be magnaminous. We will continue the longstanding tradition at The Carnival of Divided Government to include one "off-topic" submission as a grudging acknowledgement and symbolic proxy for the many off-topic submissions received. The winner for this edition is ...

Hell's Handmaiden presenting Blogs for Monsters Among Us posted at Hell's Handmaiden - just because I like the blog.

UPDATED: May 2, 2007
It is going to be a long stretch until the next Carnival of Divided Government on Memorial Day weekend. In the last week I found a few more great on-topic posts and well, I just couldn't wait to get them to you, so we''ll append them here.

Sean Aqui, posting at both Donklephant and Midtopia presents a nice overview of Senate Intelligence committee hearings into NSA wiretapping authority in "Senate Doubles Over Laughing at Wiretap Proposal":
"Well, okay, they didn't. But I wish they would. At least they were skeptical... Man, I love divided government. Rubber stamps suck."
True. A rubber stamp legislature sucks, subverts constitutional protections, and is dangerous. Divided government fixes that.

Patricia Lee Sharpe presents "The War Bill Process Proves that Divided Government is Better" at Whirled View:
"There were hearings, for a change. And before the bill with the Iraq pullout proviso was passed, there were debates, too. Now, if the President vetoes it, as he has pledged to do, he will have to justify his war policy publicly. Again. [...] In the case of federal legislation the Founders wrote a Constitution chock full of these time-consuming checks and balances, and they had it right: divided government is safer. It promotes debate. It promotes accountability. It promotes transparency. It encourages broadly acceptable action and prevents extreme legislation by ideologues. It brings the nation together. (Well, not always, and that's not necessarily bad either.)... Thank goodness for divided government!"
Well said. I left a challenge in the comments on her post, which is a preview of coming attractions here at DWSUWF.

Mark Thoma has a lot of graphs, charts and citations in his detailed review of the Economic Letter from Jason Saving of the Dallas Fed in his post "FRB Dallas: The U.S. Budget Deficit’s Uncertain Prospects" posted at the Economists View:
"...most observers are discounting the possibility of major tax cuts or spending increases in an era of divided government. So fiscal policy may look as if it’s restrained by a binding paygo arrangement over the next few years, even if the actual rule is somewhat less stringent."
Mr. Elbaum, a history teacher at Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Il., has an important lesson for his class in "Reid vs. Bush...Gotta love Divided Government!" posted at Patriot of 76:
"After a conference committee meeting (great vocabulary word!), House and Senate Democratic appropriators agreed Monday on a $124 billion bill that would fund the Iraq war but order troops to begin leaving by Oct. 1 with the goal of completing the pullout six months later... A showdown is set. A Democratic Congress vs. a Republican President. This is the beauty of divided government-it fosters debate and compromise."
With that we conclude this edition. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for all of the submissions (on-topic or not). The next edition will be the Carnival of Divided Government TERTIUS DECIMUS - Special Memorial Day Weekend Edition, to be posted sometime during the Memorial Day Weekend May 26-28, 2007. This special edition will be posted on location from a lake in the Upper Peninnsula of Michigan, during DWSUWF's annual family fishing holiday. Actual date of posting will depend on weather and how the fish are biting. Blog articles may be submitted for the carnival of divided government using the carnival submission form. Past posts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Finally, if you enjoyed this carnival, you shoul also check out these other recent fine collections:

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Quantifying Horror

How do we measure horror? Can it be quantified? Can it be ranked? Can the senseless horror of 32 students gunned down at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007 be compared to the hatred fueled horror of Sunni gunmen with automatic weapons slaughtering 48 Iraqi civilians in a marketplace on July 17, 2006? - or - compared to the inexplicable horror of 52 British commuters killed by British born and raised suicide bombers on July 7, 2005? - or - to the intricately calculated horror of 2,973 victims crushed and burned in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon? - or - to the random horror of 300,000 killed in the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami?

We experience more second hand horror in greater detail and with more immediacy and visceral impact than any generation that has gone before. The experience of horror is unique and personal. Still, we seem compelled to keep score, to compare horrific events, ranking them on a scale of best to worst. The Virginia Tech massacre headline is "Deadliest Shooting in U.S. History". Charles Whitman, Dylan Klebold, and Eric Harris can step aside. We have a new domestic champion in academic shooting horror.

We carefully count the dead, but the body count is only one determinant of how we rank and react to horror. The impact we feel depends on geography. How close is it to me? Did it happen at a place I know or somewhere I have stood? It depends on familiarity. Did the horror directly touch me or someone I know? It depends on timing. For many Americans, thirty two dead students in Virginia on Monday may feel worse than two hundred thousand victims of genocide spread out over a decade in Darfur. How we feel about a horror (or if we even take notice) also depends on whether there is a camera present, and whether editors deem it worthy of our attention. Finally, how we feel about horror depends on whether the victims look and dress and talk like us. For an Iraqi, the horror of 42 dead Iraqis last Saturday from a car bombing in Karbala feels much worse that 32 dead students in Virginia on Monday. Conversely, for many Americans the continuous horror of sectarian violence in Iraq has faded to background noise, evoking no more emotional involvement than a shake of the head and a cluck of the tongue. We will soon learn the names and see the faces of the32 innocent students and teachers killed in Virginia on Monday. We will probably never hear the names of the 42 innocent Iraqi's killed in Karbala on Saturday. This is not an indictment or a criticism of how we feel. This is simply an aspect of being human and exposed via media to more remote horror than any person can emotionally or intellectually comprehend. That does not mean we cannot or should not attempt to understand the pain of those experiencing horrors that are out of our emotional reach.

Perhaps the only way to begin to understand another's experience of horror, is to employ an analog, a "unit of measure", a quantum of horror that we can intuitively grasp. Tell an American the price of a litre of gasoline, and you are likely to get a blank stare, but the price of a gallon of gasoline is immediately and intuitively understood. Perhaps we can only understand horror in units of measure with which we are familiar.

Quantifying horror requires a familiar unit of measure informing an intuitive level of understanding that can be transferred to events in other cultures and time. For Americans, the benchmark of horror is the 9/11/01 attack on the World Trade Center. We all remember where we were and what we were doing when we learned of it. In its wake, we stopped travelling, we stopped trading, we just plain stopped to consider our lives and try to find meaning in the horror and heroism of those that died in the towers. Many Americans were connected to 9/11 by a deep and personal loss of a loved one. For many more, there was a connection to the place it occured. I fortunately did not lose anyone close to me on 9/11. I have, however, lived, worked and played in Manhattan. I attended business meetings in the World Trade Center, dined at the Windows on the World restaurant, and rode the subway below ground zero. My experience of a place, now gone, where so many died so horribly, made the tragedy more personal for me and amplified my sense of loss. Less so than those who lost friends and loved ones. Less so than those who were there in Manhattan on that day.

Still, I intuitively understand what it means to witness a horror, even at a distance, measured in units on the scale of the 9/11 WTC attack.

This week, I intuitively understand the sadness, the disquiet, the feeling of helplessness that is what it means to witness a horror, even at a distance, measured in units on a scale of the Virginia Tech massacre.

The Presidentof the United States said this in Blacksburg:
"It's impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering. Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they're gone, and they leave behind grieving families and grieving classmates and a grieving nation. "
His words were heartfelt, simple, eloquent and true. He was talking about the horror visited on Virginia Tech on Monday. His words were equally appropriate and true when applied to the horror visited on Baghdad on Sunday.

The newspaper said this about Baghdad:
"The gravest of the attacks in Baghdad occurred Sunday morning, when twin car bombs exploded in a bustling marketplace in the Shurta Raba neighborhood, killing 18 people. A few hours later, six people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a belt of explosives inside a minibus, and another car bomb killed five. Later, two car bombs several hours apart ripped through the normally calm neighborhood of Karrada in southern Baghdad, killing 13, police said."
To read the newspaper report does not help us to understand how a Baghdad resident experienced that horror. To say that Iraq experienced a "Virginia Tech horror" on Sunday, may permit us to empathize with the Iraqi's who lived through it and experienced it on that day.

Does it diminish our sorrow, or dilute our sympathy for what was lost in Blacksburg on Monday if we compare it to what was lost in Baghdad on Sunday? I think not. Perhaps it will permit us to gain a better appreciation of what is really happening to the people of Iraq.

The point is this: The Iraqi people experience a Virginia Tech quantum of horror every day. Some days two. Some days three or more. Every single day. Every day, yet another Virginia Tech sized pebble of horror dropped into the water of Iraqi society sends expanding rings of sorrow and loss and anger through the population. Every single day.

The U.N. estimated that an average of 100 Iraqi civilian war related deaths occured every day in 2006. That equates to a WTC equivalent horror unit in Iraq every month. Every single month. Try to imagine what that is like. A 9/11 every month. In a country of twenty five million people. I cannot. If the Iraqi people lose confidence in the ability of their leadership, and the United States stewardship to protect them from the violence, they will reach for a leader who will promise restore peace. Any leader. Moqtada al-Sadr waits in the wings:
"Motivated by the prospect of an eventual U.S. withdrawal, Sadr has uneasily cooperated with the current security plan, allowing U.S. troops to enter his Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City and ordering his Mahdi Army militiamen to stand down. But in the past two months, bombings have risen in Shiite areas while U.S. and Iraqi troops have killed or arrested hundreds of his fighters "The Sadrist base is becoming angry. This is mostly to preserve his base," said Joost Hiltermann, a Jordan-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, referring to the pullout. "They were under a lot of pressure because the security plan which they tacitly accepted is not working. The Americans are failing. They can't stop the bombings."
As I researched links for this post, I ran across this ScrippsNews editorial, written by Paul Cantos, a professor of law atht he University of Colorado. He explores a similar theme, more eloquently than I, and I will not find words that improve on his concluding thoughts:
"To say this isn't in any way to minimize the horror and tragedy of Blacksburg, or to claim that we put too much value on the lives of those who are close to us. Rather, it's to say that we put too little value on the lives of those who are far from us - including the lives of our soldiers, who are killed and maimed every day as they try to carry out an apparently impossible mission in the midst of a human catastrophe of unimaginable proportions."
Update April 20, 2007
"They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time." - George Bush
Thursday, April 12 - One(1) Virginia Tech Horror Equivalent (VTHE) unit of measure reported in Baghdad:
8 killed, 20 wounded in Baghdad when suicide bomber detonates inside green zone in Iraq parliament cafeteria. 12 killed 30 wounded when truck bomb destroys bridge over Tigris River.
Friday, April 13 - One Half (.5) VTHE unit of measure reported in Baghdad
Around 10 deaths and 20 wounded in a variety of mortar, IED, and gun attacks on civilians in Baghdad and Mosul.
Saturday, April 14 - Two(2) VTHE units reported in Karbala, one(1) VTHE in Baghdad:
40-60 killed, hundreds wounded including 16 children when car bomb explodes near market and bus station in Karbala. 10 killed 15 wounded in second bridge car bomb attack in Baghdad.
Sunday April 15 - 1.5 VTEH in Baghdad:
42 killed, dozens wounded in series of car bombing in Baghdad
Monday, April 16 - 1 VTEH unit in Blacksburg, Virginia:
32 students and faculty killed by psychotic gunman in Blacksburg, Va.
Wednesday April 18 - 6 VTEH units in Baghdad. 2 VTEH units across Iraq:
183+ killed, hundreds wounded in Baghdad in coordinated car bomb attack on market in Shiite neighborhoods, and 58 bullet ridden bodies found across Iraq.
Thursday April 19 - .5 VTEH units in Baghdad;
12 killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad.
Totals - 13 Virgina Tech Equivalent Horror Units in Iraq over the last week. 1 in the U.S.

The primary role of government is to "insure domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense." There is no reason to believe that Iraqi's will be any more tolerant of leadership that fails to provide this basic service than Americans. Washington Post reports:
"In Sadriya, angry residents cursed the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for failing to protect them. Smoke still billowed from the debris and sandals and glass littered the ground in Sadriya. "The government is talking about the security plan but dozens of people are dying every day. No one is protecting us," Sabah Haider, 42, told Reuters as he stood beside a dozen incinerated minibuses. Rahim Ali, also in Sadriya, said: "The Americans say they are here to protect the Iraqi people but they are doing nothing."
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Monday, April 16, 2007

And the winner is... President vs. Congress - Rounds 8, 9, & 10.

I started this series without knowing it was a series. The slug-fest between the Republican led Executive branch and the brand spanking new Democratic majority in the Legislative branch is a topic that is directly in the wheelhouse of this blog's "divided government" theme. I started the series by describing the early posturing and positioning between the pugilists. It was not until I embraced the boxing metaphor in round three that I realized it was a series. The metaphor evolved in subsequent rounds to wrestling, poker, and the Battle of the Pellennor Fields during the siege of Minas Tirith, which carried us through round seven. So now the series has a beginning and a middle, and being a series, it needs an end. Clearly the fisticuffs will continue unabated for the remaining 21 months of this presidency, but I am not interested in continuing to invent even more tenuous metaphors to describe it. So, we circle back to the beginining, call this a 10 round heavyweight boxing match, bracket the match by the calendar first quarter of 2007, and render a decision knowing an immediate re-match is in the offing.

As we last left off, the Congress was leading the President throught the first seven rounds in a close contest. The score stood at 3 rounds to 2 with 2 rounds declared a draw.

Round Eight
Harry Reid made good on his promise to continue to bring an Iraq timeline to the Senate floor until there was a straight up and down vote. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate learned that hiding behind a procedural cloture vote was satisfying neither to the legislature nor their constituents. Finally, after backroom negotiations broke the procedural deadlock, on the Ides of March three resolutions made it to the Senate floor. Two of the resolutions permitted our Senators to go on the record with the controversial stance of firmly "supporting the troops". As reported in the Washington Post:
"... senators overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that calls for ensuring the safety of U.S. troops by providing the necessary funding, training and equipment. It also states an obligation to ensure medical care for returning troops and veterans. The resolution passed 96 to 2. Two Republican senators, Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), voted against it. The Senate then took up a nonbinding resolution sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that prohibits cuts in funding for U.S. troops in the field. It was approved 82-16."
The Gregg Resolution was interesting, as the refusal by Reid and the Democrats to permit it as an amendment to the earlier cloture vote, was the pretext used by Republicans to prevent debate on the earlier non-binding resolution in opposition to the surge. The Democratic concession on that vote, was the price of bringing the binding resolution for an Iraq withdrawal date to the floor:
"The Senate today rejected a binding Democratic-sponsored resolution that would have set a target date a little more than a year from now for the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops from Iraq. Senators then approved by large margins two nonbinding resolutions that express support for the troops... The withdrawal resolution... failed to win even a majority, with 48 senators voting in favor of it and 50 against it. The White House had threatened a veto if such a binding measure reached President Bush's desk."
The failure of the vote was a victory for the President, a judgement borne out by the reaction of conservative bloggers like Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters:
"Senate Republicans turned back an effort by Harry Reid to set a fixed withdrawal date for US troops in Iraq. Reid lost by a thin margin, 50-48, as three Democrats defected to the opposition for this measure... The Democrats want to keep digging on this issue until they weaken Republican resolve to see the war through to a successful conclusion. Gordon Smith voted with the Democrats, giving them some hope for more erosion later, but three Democrats voted against the bill. Joe Lieberman joined red-state Senators Mark Pryor and Ben Nelson."
Round 8 is scored as a victory for the Executive branch.

Round Nine
This all transpired while I was on a sailing adventure in Mexico, precipitating many searches and blogospheric back-tracking of the news upon my return. I was struck by how little coverage this March 15 vote received, in the main-stream media and blogosphere alike. The reason for the dearth of coverage, was the attention being lavished on Attorney General Gonzales and the eight fired prosecutors. Even within that context, we find another Senate vote that did not receive the attention that it deserves, and is particulary appropos to the Executive/Legislative fisticuffs we are tracking in this post. The coverage in the Washington Post and the Boston Globe was typical, treating this extraordinary Senate vote as if it was a mere footnote to a George Bush press conference that was little more than partisan posturing on the Gonzales hearings.
"The president's press conference was held hours after the Senate delivered a bipartisan slap at Bush, voting 94 to 2 to strip Gonzales's authority to appoint interim US attorneys without Senate confirmation -- authority granted to him in a revision of the USA Patriot Act. The law, passed after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, delivered sweeping new powers to the Department of Justice, based on the need to investigate and thwart terrorism."
"... legislation that would strip the attorney general of a power, granted to him in the 2006 reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, to appoint interim U.S. attorneys for indefinite periods without Senate confirmation. After earlier resistance from Gonzales and Senate Republicans, the bill is expected to pass easily amid continued fallout from the scandal. Democrats say that the Bush administration used the new power as a means to fire U.S. attorneys who were not "loyal Bushies" -- a phrase used by Gonzales's top aide, D. Kyle Sampson, who has since resigned, in crafting the dismissal proposal -- and then to circumvent the Senate in the confirmation process. "We need to close the loophole exploited by the Department of Justice and the White House that facilitated this abuse," Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said yesterday. Previously, if U.S. attorneys left mid-term, the White House and the Senate had 120 days to nominate and confirm a successor. Otherwise, a federal judge from that prosecutorial district would appoint an interim U.S. attorney while the Senate considered the nomination. But, in an almost completely overlooked provision, the Patriot Act included a measure taking that power from judges and handing it to the attorney general, with the appointment running for an indefinite period..."
94-2! By any measure, an overwhelming bipartisan vote to strip the executive branch of a power that the Senate had ceded to the Presidency less than a year before. Maybe George W Bush will indeed turn out to be a "uniter not a divider." He certainly united the Senate on this issue. This story is like a thread hanging out of sweater. The thread does not merit much notice, but when you pull on the thread the sleeve falls off. The real story is not about whether Karl Rove will be under oath when testifying to congress. The real story is about an executive branch that for six years has been on a mission to expand the power of the presidency at the expense of the the other branches of government. The real story is that power is now being taken back fromthe executive by a reenergized legislature and judiciary. How far the pendulum was pushed out, and how far it will swing back, will be the subject of a future post. But for now, in the context of the this Q1, 2007 match - Round 9 goes to the Congress with a bipartisan knockdown vote.

Round Ten
On March 27, the bell rung on the 1oth and final round of the Q1 heavyweight match. This time around, the Senate voted 50-48 to pass a goal of withdrawal from Iraq, attached to the emergency funding resolution. The vote was not expected, as outlined in this recent post:
"It looked like this time Dick Cheney would be "The Decider", and cast that vote to defeat the measure. He had prepared a brief, direct and strong statement ready for an impromptu press briefing to be conducted immediately after the vote. Dick Cheney was looking forward to delivering that statement. That is when I would have liked to be that fly on the wall. When Dick Cheney was informed that Chuck Hagel decided to put principle over party and vote for the resolution. On this day, Dick Cheney was not "the decider". On this day it was Chuck Hagel who cast the deciding vote."
With that vote the wheels were put in motion by our representatives in Congress to deliver to the desk of the President a war funding bill that defines a new Iraq mission. A new Iraq mission that is in concert with the expressed wishes of a majority of Americans. The President has promised to veto the bill. Regardless of the President's action, or the dispostion of any replacement bill to the one that is vetoed, the very fact that this bill will hit his desk is a loss for the Presidency. A judgement reinforced by Captain Ed's coverage of the vote:
"Harry Reid won his most important victory as Senate Majority Leader today by unexpectedly passing the supplemental spending bill for Iraq with the mandatory timetables for withdrawal within 12 months. Two Senators, Ben Nelson and Chuck Hagel, reversed their stand on the automatic withdrawal from less than two weeks ago, when the Senate last considered it..."
Round 10, and the final round of the first match, scored for Congress.

The final score is complete for the first quarter match. The winner, by unanimous decision, in the first quarter President vs. Congress Divided Government Heavyweight Match is - Congress! Scored 5 rounds to 3 with 2 rounds scored as draw.

The President has demanded a rematch in Q2.

UPDATE: April 19, 2007
A Washington Post round-up completes the narrative:
The President blusters. Congress confers to finalize the war funding bill. The President invites discussion. Partisan postures are on public display. In the background a compromise war funding bill takes shape.

DWSUWF extapolates where this narrative arc is going:
Both parties are now politically invested in a veto. The veto is necessary to clear the partisan detrius from the political decks. After the veto, a compromise bill with less pork and softer language on the withdrawal timetable will be passed by the legislature and signed by the executive. Both parties will declare victory. The country will get a better, more rational, and less wasteful funding legislation.

Chalk up another win for Divided Government.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday Flotsam

It has been a couple of weeks since my last post, as technology, templates and taxes have conspired to keep my focus elsewhere. My wireless router is acting up (I've had it with Netgear - going back to Linksys next week), and I still can't figure out what to do about the new blogger template, but at least I did finally get my taxes finished today.

A lot of flotsam and jetsam has washed ashore on the DWSUWF beach while I wasn't paying attention. Time to clean up the beach before the upcoming birthday celebration. DWSUWF will be one year old in just a few days. We'll be celebrating in fine style, with a Carnival of Divided Government - Special Anniversary Edition to be posted on the anniversary of our first post - April 23, 2007. Get your submissions in to be included in the carnival, but remember - if your post does not mention divided government, your post will not be mentioned in the carnival.

Between now and then, there is plenty to blog about. I need to wrap up coverage of the final rounds of the first President vs. Congress divided government slugfest. Chuck Hagel is back in Iraq and I'll be interested in hearing what he has to say. The horror in Iraq continues unabated while the administration flogs the notion of a military "victory", without specificying exactly what that "victory" is going to look like. I can help there. I think I know exactly what "victory in Iraq" looks like. Stay tuned.

Much of the blogging debris that has washed up does not seem interesting enough for a blog post. Sure, I did definitively learn last week that I am not DannyLynn's biological father. Admittedly, that was a disappointment, but not really worth a post. I also understand that Imus lost his job. I am trying to care, but I just don't. The Imus flap did spawn a curious sideshow of bloggers and pundits decrying the state of Hip Hop rap lyrics and maintaining there is some sort of moral equvalence between the two. This notion struck me as - what's the word? - stupid. But rather than leap to a hasty conclusion, I thought I should at least do a little research and take a closer look at this music eroding the culture. Hip Hop/rap is not my musical genre of choice, but with the help of the internets, I was able to find some of the offending lyrics. Frankly, they are pretty shocking. I am a free speech advocate, but the misogyny, the objectification of women, the graphic violence, and casual acceptance of intoxicants in these lyrics have to be heard to be believed. Some examples from just one "artist":
"My mind at times
May dwell on sex
If someone's rating dreams
Then most of mine I guess are double X

Like bait that wriggles
And it makes catfish bite
A lady jiggles
And my eyes gotta light
Upon so sweet a sight

And if I shake
Break out in spots
Don't fret, it's not swine fever dear
Your swine has merely got the hots"

"Oh, yeah, I'm drinkin' again, it's always the same
That same old story
After the kicks there's little old mixed-up me
Tryin' to lose a dream that used to be
Look at me, I'm drinkin' again, drinkin' all over town
Yeah, I'm drinkin' again"

"On the sidewalk, one sunday morning
Lies a body, oozin life
Someones sneaking round the corner
Could that someone be mack the knife"

"She loves the free, fresh wind in her hair
Life without care
Shes broke, but its ok
She hates california, its cold and its damp
Thats why the lady is a tramp

Doesnt like dice games, with sharpies and frauds
Wont go to harlem, in lincolns or fords
Wont dish the dirt, with the rest of those broads
Thats why the lady is a tramp"
This particular rapper goes by the handle "Chairman of the Board". He associated with "gangstas", abused and objectified women, was known to take drugs and alcohol, had several brushes with the law and often was involved in fights, usually associated with his gang "The Rat Pack". The title of the "songs" these sample lyrics are lifted from are "Mack the Knife", "Drinking Again", Lady is a Tramp", and "I love my wife". I cannot imagine the corrosive effect these lyrics will have on the generation growing up listening to them. It is enough to cause me to question my libertarian free speech convictions.

Finally, I found a few sparkly bits of carnival flotsam that washed out of the ocean of blog posts on to our beach.
The beach is clear. One more reminder. Blog articles may be submitted for the next edition of the carnival of divided government using the carnival submission form. Submitted posts must use include the words and/or concept of "divided government" to be considered. Past posts can be found on the blog carnival index page.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Carnival of Divided Government

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Polarized Partisan Debate - An Optical Metaphor

Find two friends, one Republican and one Democrat. Have them close their eyes, and seat one directly in front of the screen, and place the other looking at the screen from at least fifteen feet (five meters) away. At a safe distance, find a comfortable seat, open a bottle of scotch and pour yourself a stiff drink. Tell your friends to open their eyes and ask them these three questions:
  1. Is the person in this image smart or sexy?
  2. Is the person in this image young or old?
  3. Is the person in this image a man or a woman?
Without changing positions or perspective, or permitting either to move closer to or further from the screen, have them discuss and debate their views until they agree -or- the bottle is empty -or- you fall off the chair.

Welcome to the world of polarized, partisan, political debate in the United States today.

Hat tip to Dr. X and Neurophilosophy for the image.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.