Friday, February 25, 2005

Out of Sight, Out of Mind: I'll be out of the office on Monday. I'm taking the day off to get Lasik -- laser corrective eye surgery. I've had bad eyes all my life, and contact lenses just aren't cutting it anymore.

It's going to be expensive as hell, and there's no guarantee that it's going to work. But enough of my friends have raved about it that I'm going to take the plunge.

So far I've had several eye exams to make sure I'm a good candidate. And I've been warned that even if I go blind I still can't sue them. So hopefully I won't have to start posting to this blog in Braille. I guess I'll tell you about it on Tuesday. Wish me luck.

Catching Up: Britain now legally recognizes same-sex unions, giving gay partners the same legal rights and recognition as heterosexual married couples. And Andrew Sullivan reports that The Times of London is now posting gay union announcements along with the wedding announcements in its papers.

It's a shame that the U.S. has to follow another country's lead yet again when it comes to social equality. Hopefully people in this country will learn that the progress of gay rights is not only inevitable, but that recognizing the loving relationships between gay couples is also a good thing.

Bombed: Again, the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire breaks down. Again, it was a Palestinian terrorist group that broke the peace.

The Palestinian government, to its credit, has condemned the suicide bombing. This will be a test to see whether new the Palestinians' new president, Mahmoud Abbas, can respond effectively against the terrorists in their midst. Yasser Arafat was a disgrace. And if the Palestinians can't, then the Israeli government should, to defend the people being targeted. Remember, Israel has been fighting a War on Terrorism for a lot longer than we have, and that country has every right to defend itself just like we do.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Speak to Me: Here's another TNR article by Joseph Braude about how the U.S. can win the hearts and minds of Iraqis. It starts with talking their language, literally.

I'll be out driving around in the snow all day meeting with folks. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Hand the man a dictionary: If "all options are on the table", then the idea of invading Iran can't possibly be "ridiculous".

President Bush has never been a good straddler, and his discomfort is obvious as he tries to allay fears of another war while trying to talk tough at the same time. We can't abandon Iraq at this point, but we can't ignore its neighbor Iran either. So that means we're stuck without a firm course of action.

That may change in an instant if we confirm that Iran's nuclear program is a threat. In the mean time, Bush has pledged diplomacy. I'm sure Iran isn't comfortable with a large U.S. military parked next door. But I'm also sure officials in Tehran read the newspapers and are willing to wager that the unpopularity and troubles of the Iraq war will force the Bush administration to think twice before launching another attack.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

One Nation: It looks like Iraq may get a secular government after all. The leading Shiite group is throwing their weight behind Ibrahim Jafari, who leads the Dawa Party, which opposed Saddam Hussein and was brutalized by that regime, so much that members had to seek refuge in Iran.

His party has long advocated a religious government. But in a recent interview with The Washington Post, he said Dawa had tempered that desire to accommodate secular and non-Muslim Iraqis. Jafari said Dawa did not "aim to establish an Islamic state to apply the Islamic sharia," or law. Instead, it would establish a government "respecting human rights and applying justice and respecting the rights of women."

Jafari also said that his new government would include all ethnic parties, including Sunnis who boycotted the election.

"Every country has its own character," he said. "Not all Iraqis are Muslims. Not all Muslims are Shia. Not all Shia are Islamic. We have to have a system that is open to all components of society."
I like him already.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Half a Glass: Two Associated Press writers covered Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's testimony to Congress about Bush's plan to let workers save some Social Security money in private accounts. Here's the gist of the two articles:

Greenspan is against private accounts.

Greenspan is in favor of private accounts.

Can the Social Security debate get any more confusing?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

One Step at a Time: Joseph Braude, an author who has lived in most Middle Eastern capitals and runs the blog Cordova, has a story in The New Republic asking the world to show some patience with the progress of democracy in the Middle East. This is in response to Bush and other Americans who would like to see actual elections in Egypt come spring when its "president", Hosni Mubarak, is up for re-election.

While democracy can flourish in the Middle East, he argues, we can't rush it. And in Mubarak's case, keeping him in office for a while longer may actually aid democracy in the long run, even if it puts it off in the mean time.

I'm probably too impatient when it comes to these sorts of things. But I can understand the argument that if we force it, we could break it. In Iraq, I believe, we couldn't wait any longer with Saddam Hussein in power. Now that we have used our military to install democracy there, we need to take a step back to see how that affects the rest of the region.

Of course, we should still keep a watchful eye on the situation, perhaps even providing a diplomatic nudge here and there to keep the results positive. But nobody has ever expected immediate changes from our liberation of Iraq. Unfortunately, this War on Terrorism and its allies has a long way to go.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Centrist Voice: The Centrist Coalition will be holding a live Web voice chat over the weekend, called the Centrist Town Hall. Anybody with a computer, Internet connection, and a microphone is welcome to sound off on all things moderate.

The first chat is scheduled for Sunday, February 20, 2005 at 9:00 PM EST. Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice will be the host. Whatever your political persuasion, I think you'll find that the folks at the coalition, which run the blog Centerfield, hold intelligent, reasonable, and informative debates about whatever issue is in the news. This week's main topic will be electoral reform.

You have to sign up ahead of time, and you can do so here. And more details can be found here.

I, however, will not be able to participate. For one, I have volunteer work every Sunday night. And even if I were at home, I still don't have a computer there. I know -- people wonder how I can live without one. But since I'm stuck at work five days a week toiling on my computer, I have no desire to even look at one come weekend.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A More Perfect Union: The latest Iraqi election results show religious Shiites with just under half the Parliamentary winnings, a little less than they were expecting. This is good, as it should help prevent one faction from dominating the new assembly and drafting the new constitution in their own image.

Some analysts have fretted that the religious Shiites may be to close to Iran. But so far the elected candidates aren't calling for an Iranian style theocracy. They have expressly said they want to work with the minority groups just elected, including the Kurds and secular Shiites.

The best news I've heard, though, is that the religious Shiites said they are willing to reach out to Sunni leaders who were not elected. Because so many Sunnis boycotted the election, they are underrepresented in the new Parliament. After they realized the error of their ways, they called for a new election (fat chance). Now they seem to be getting the next best thing, with input into the drafting of the new constitution, which is the most crucial thing that will come from the newly elected body.

So long as the constitution represents each side's interest and protects everyone's rights, that should give Iraq the best chance for peace and success in the years to come.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Be Mine: Valentine's Day is banned in Saudi Arabia, with the state police cracking down on sales of flowers, teddy bears, and anything else that's red. We can now say that the enemy not only hates freedom, but also hates love itself.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Swing and a Miss: I'm not overly concerned with the baseball steroid scandal. But I couldn't help but notice Jason Giambi's apology about nothing that made the news. He says he's sorry, but he won't say what he's sorry about, and he won't admit whether he has used steroids.

Any guy that's ever had a girlfriend knows that won't cut it. You can try saying, "Whatever I did, I'm sorry. Now will you forgive me?" But that never really works.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Shameful: First slavery. Then segregation. Now Virginia is amending its constitution to ban gay marriage.

"Today is one of the moments of which we will one day be ashamed," said Delegate Adam P. Ebbin, who is the legislature's only openly homosexual member. "We are about to actively write discrimination into our state constitution. I could not stand by while this body again uses gays and lesbians as scapegoats for what has happened to the institution of marriage."
Some of you may think I'm exaggerating with my comparisons to slavery and segregation. But discrimination is discrimination, and it's even worse when it's government sponsored. Virginia is doing everything it can to relegate homosexuals to second-class status.

The rationale used to argue against same-sex marriage is the exact same as what was used 50 years ago to argue against interracial marriage. States passed laws back then preventing two people of different races from getting married. Now such anachronisms have become an embarrassment for those states. And future generations of Americans will look at us with the same disbelief as we look upon racists of the past.

The Struggle Within: Some folks on the Left are finally starting to notice that the extremists in their camp are seriously hurting the liberal cause instead of helping. I guess helping a political party lose two national elections in two years will begin to rub certain people the wrong way.

Republicans often make a serious mistake of lumping all political opponents together and dismissing them as un-American. Just because someone disagrees with the U.S. policy in Iraq does not mean that person is anti-American. But you can't overlook that there really is a loud contingent of liberals who do want America to lose in Iraq, Afghanistan, and everywhere else. For all their talk about freedom and liberty at home, they automatically side with tyrants and fascists abroad. And Democrats need to separate the serious from the silly.

Both the Left and the Right have their embarrassing fringe. But the Republians have adequately put a muzzle on Jerry Falwell and his ilk while Democrats invite Michael Moore to sit with Jimmy Carter at their National Convention.

And it's that blurring of the lines that has helped the Republicans gain control of the entire government. I had never voted for a Democrat or Republican for president in my life. But I found myself voting for Bush this go around in part to take a stand against the "anti-war" types.

I would prefer a divided government. But when Ted Kennedy and other prominent Democrats rant against America like we're the bad guys, that party loses credibility with me.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

'Bout Time: After four years of Republicans' spending like "drunken sailors", Bush is using his lame-duck term to finally instill some fiscal responsibility by reducing government expenditures to rein in the deficits. Some people may wonder why he waited so long. But just look at the news coverage and the Democratic complaints to find the answer.

Story after story is about how some poor American will lose his shirt because Bush wants to cut an obscure government program. Attack after attack, Democrats are accusing Bush of neglecting the children, the seniors, and anybody else who's helplessly depends on the government for one reason or another.

Had Bush done this during his first term, his opponents would have used any responsible cut in the federal budget to paint Bush as a heartless grinch who likes to steal candy away from children. By letting the deficits spiral out of control, Bush was immune from such accusations. Sure, he was rightfully attacked for mismanaging the budget, but that's so wonky compared to a campaign commercial featuring a sweet old lady who will probably die because her favorite government program was cut.

Everyone -- Left, Right, and Middle -- has been arguing that the deficits are growing too large and that Republicans need to actually be the party of fiscal discipline, not just claim to be. Well, in order to cut deficits, government has to cut spending. And that means programs have to get axed.

That's not to say I agree with all that Bush is doing. While I supported his initial tax cuts and deficit spending to halt the recession, I believe he went too far. The tax cuts have done their job, so there's no reason to keep cutting more. Getting rid of the estate tax, for example, truly only helps the super rich without pumping any more money into business or the economy.

But it's nearly impossible to have a rational debate about fiscal issues. Republicans will always paint Democrats as government thugs who want to steal your money. Democrats will always accuse Republicans of being heartless monsters who like to eat children and old people. To get the budget in order, we're all going to have to sacrifice. And that means both sides are going to have to compromise a little on their ideological dogmatism and meet somewhere in the middle.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Enhancement: I decided to add a Trackback link. Hopefully now I'll also be able to figure out how it works. Please be patient.

Dream a Little Dream: Iraq's election went pretty well. It wasn't perfect, by far, but considering that country's situation, it was about as good as can be expected. And now it appears that the election has dramatically changed the dynamics on the ground.

Although the Sunnis called for boycotts of the election and as a result will most likely be underrepresented in the new parliament, they have since become conciliatory and now say they are willing to work with the new government to create a constitution. The Shiites, who are expected to win wide control of the government, want to work with the Sunnis even though they tried to disrupt the entire election process.

And U.S. officials say they don't believe the Shiites will install an Iranian-style government after all. The Shiite expected to become the next prime minister, Adel Abdel-Mehdi, says he wants a constitution and a government that represents all of Iraq and balances their concerns.

As for the nonpolitical Iraqis, more of them have taken a sudden and noticeable disliking to the terrorists and insurgents. Villagers are ratting out the terrorists and, in some cases, are even attacking them where they hide. Observers have sensed a definite mood shift since election day.

As always, we still have a long way to go. But the progress we're seeing shows a lot of promise.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Rolling Along: The U.S. economy produced another 146,000 jobs in January. That's not as high as some people would have liked, but it's still more good news about the economy. Oh, and that January number gives President Bush a small net gain of jobs during his first term. That's right, despite opponents' claims to the contrary, Bush is not the first president since Herbert Hoover to have a net loss of jobs created.

And that just makes me wonder why has there has been all this talk of doom and gloom about the economy. Did Democrats really expect us to buy the argument that times now are comparable to the Great Depression?

The fact that jobs increased under Bush, however small, is pretty remarkable. The economy will always have its ups and downs. Rarely, though, will a change in direction coincide exactly with the change of presidents. The economy began to go downhill just as President Clinton was leaving office, letting Bush inherit a recession.

Now I don't blame Clinton for the recession any more than I give him credit for the record economic expansion during the 1990s. As I've said repeatedly, the president has no direct control over the economy. He has some indirect influence, namely with taxing, spending, and controlling some regulations. And any action a president takes will not cause immediate change. It takes at least a year or two for the economy to respond.

The phenomenal economic growth during the 1990s was mostly due to the tech-boom, growth of the Internet in commerce, and the dot-com bubble. That's how we were able to erase budget deficits and produce surpluses without significantly raising taxes or cutting spending. Clinton and the Republican Congress deserve credit for not screwing up the economy, which is something we should not take for granted. But neither of them created it. The American workforce did that.

But the irrational exuberance had to come to an end. And the downturn in the economy happened under Clinton's watch. There's nothing he could have done to have prevented it. Then Bush came to office only to see a massive terrorist attack a nerve center of our economic and financial might. 9/11 hurt our economy. There was little for Bush to do about the inevitable recession except to cut taxes, maintain government spending, and encourage people to buy things. Then all there was to do was wait.

Instead, as we know, Bush decided to spend like a teenager with a stolen credit card. Small deficits are necessary to ward off recessions. But what Bush did was inexcusable.

So while there is plenty to criticize about Bush concerning the deficits, there's not much that can be said about his handling of the economy. Nobody can point to anything that he's done wrong. All critics do is exaggerate how bad things are now and say things were better under Clinton. But the economy of the 1990s was an anomaly. We can't realistically expect that to continue. The slow growth that we're seeing now is more in line with a typical healthy economy.

Right now the unemployment rate is 5.2 percent. When Clinton was re-elected with a fantastic economy, unemployment was 5.4 percent. And, just so you know, Germany currently has a 12.1 percent unemployment rate.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Count Every Vote: According to early results, the bloc of Shiite Muslims are on track to win the Iraqi parliamentary elections. The vote count is from heavy Shiite areas, so the final tally hasn't been determined yet. But it appears interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's secular government will soon be out of power.

Some experts fear that the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the head of the Shiite bloc, may try to create an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq. But the candidates who follow the Ayatollah, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, are made up of secular and religious Iraqis, so it's too soon to tell what will come out of that group.

What's crucial to preventing a new theological nightmare in Iraq is a permanent constitution that limits government and protects people's individual rights (sounds familiar). The provisional constitution requires that the new constitution be approved by "two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates". That's to assure that Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds all have a say in their new government.

Also at issue is how the Shiite dominated government will view the American presence. Truthfully, both the U.S. and the Iraqis would love for the American troops to leave post haste. But with terrorists and insurgents attacking the government and civilians, and since the new Iraqi army isn't ready yet, I doubt the incoming government will be so eager to kick out a strong army that is willing to protect their lives and their sovereignty. Personally, I would like to see a permanent U.S. military base in Iraq, a la Germany and Japan, so we can maintain a base of operations to fight the War on Terrorism. But I won't get my hopes up.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Indecent Proposal: Virginia lawmakers want to create "Traditional Marriage" license plates, lest people will think that homosexuals are welcome in that state. Yes, nothing preserves the sanctity of marriage better than spouting your conservative message the same place others choose to exclaim "GO HOKIES".

Big Hug: I continued my annual boycott of the State of the Union speech (let me guess, the union is still STRONG!). I prefer to let the news media filter out the standing ovations and flowery rhetoric and hand me the substance.

From what I've read, the focus was to "save Social Security first" -- wait, that was when a Democrat was president. Now the goal is to prevent Social Security from going bankrupt, but Democrats now say there is no problem with the program, partly because of the trust fund. But Republicans say there is no trust fund. Are these two parties talking about the same program?

I'm still skeptical that Social Security is in any dire trouble. And I don't see how we can afford to put money into private accounts, which some estimate would cost trillions of dollars over the next few years. But it was encouraging that Bush seemed open to negotiation with the Democrats on this matter. We'll see if any negotiations actually take place, however. Truth is, this subject doesn't really concern me. I'd much rather have heard that Bush droned on and on about getting rid of the deficit than about private savings accounts.

But I am impressed with the foreign policy section of the speech. I like the tough words on Syria and Iran. And the subtle nudge at Saudi Arabia and Egypt is long overdue. Nobody should expect an invasion to be imminent, but those nations can't ignore the fact that they have been called out. Bush has never been a great speaker, choosing instead to let his actions define his presidency. So I believe this international pressure is going to mean something.

Then an Iraqi voter hugged the mother of an American Marine killed in action, prompting a long standing ovation. I don't know if this was staged or not, but it was symbolic nonetheless.

The speech has received positive reviews. It doesn't appear that Bush is going to take it easy during his second term. Whether that's good or bad will depend on your political point of view. I'm not worried much about what he's talking about now. If I've learned anything the past four years it's that a president is gauged largely by how he reacts to events as they unfold. And this new term hasn't yet begun.

P.S. South Park was running a crappy repeat, so I watched some of the punditry on the cable news channels after the speech. It's great that CNN is interviewing bloggers for their reaction, and Andrew Sullivan made some great comments. But why was Wonkette there? She has a funny blog chock full of butt-sex jokes, but nobody takes her political commentary seriously (that I know of). If CNN thinks she is the face of the political blogosphere, that network has sorely missed the point.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Worthless: More than 400,000 dead and millions driven from their homes, but the United Nations still won't call what's happening in Sudan "genocide". What does it take to raise the ire of the United Nations? (besides being the United States or Israel, of course)

This is sadly just a continuation of the United Nations' failure to show any backbone to do what's right. That organization at one time couldn't even muster the courage to levy sanctions against Sudan, choosing instead to only "threaten" sanctions.

Even with the movie Hotel Rwanda weighing on everyone's conscious, the public reaction to what's going on in Sudan is to think how horrible it is and then go back to eating our dinners. We know where this is going. If the world hates it when the United States acts "unilaterally", then this is the perfect opportunity to step up to the plate and do something to stop this horrifying violence.

And the United States can't pass on this either. While we can't be the world's police, we shouldn't ignore what's happening. And it is in our national interest to act. Sudan is a terrorist hotspot. Al Qaeda breeds there. Osama Bin Laden took refuge there for years. It is a center of arms trafficking. It's true, we certainly have our hands full with Iraq and Afghanistan, and we may have future problems with Iran, Syria, and North Korea. But, as the president has continually reminded us, we're at war. If our military can't handle what's going on now, then it needs to be expanded. We need to find other ways to help Americans engage with foreign problems that affect our security.

Bush and Congress has taken the step to call what's going on in Sudan genocide. Now the president needs to take a leadership role in persuading the rest of the world to recognize what's going on and to do something about it.

Update: Thanks to Eugene Oregon for correcting an error on the number killed so far. I've fixed the post.

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