Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Palestinian Statehood

This month, the Palestinian Authority will petition the United Nations to recognize a universal declaration of independence (UDI) that will form an independent nation of Palestine. The United States has vowed to veto this act in the Security Council, preferring instead for issues to be resolved via negotiation rather than unilateral acts. Presuming that the veto is cast, the Palestinian Authority will then petition the General Assembly for something just short of statehood (which only the Security Council can, apparently, recognize). Given the makeup of the General Assembly, this petition will almost certainly pass (just think about it: How many Arab and Muslim countries are represented in the United Nations?) with, most likely, overwhelming support. As Abba Eban once said: “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”

This whole endeavor raises several interesting points that are, I think, worth at least discussing.

First, why now? In 1947, the United Nations voted to accept a partition plan creating an Arab state and a Jewish state. The Jews accepted the partition plan and announced the creation of Israel. By contrast, the Arabs rejected the partition and launched a war against Israel, which eventually resulted in a cease fire, a victorious Israel, and a host of defeated Arab armies. So why didn’t the Arabs (note that they weren’t really called Palestinians in 1947…) accept the partition?

More critically, let’s look at what happened at the conclusion of the 1948 war. The new nation of Israel was now a fact (though with almost completely indefensible cease fire lines serving as a de facto, though not de jure, border). And Jordan occupied the area now most commonly known as the West Bank while Egypt occupied Gaza. That was largely the status quo until 1967. So query why the Palestinians didn’t seek independence or statehood from Jordan or Egypt during that 20-year period?

It is also worth remembering that during that 20-year period, Jews were not allowed to visit East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City of Jerusalem and the holiest place in Judaism. Subsequent to the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel not only continued to allow Muslims to access their holy sites in the Old City, they even allowed the Arab Waqf to maintain control over the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque.

Another thing to note about this timeline: The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded, not in 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, but rather in 1964. So, at the time of its formation, what exactly did the PLO want to liberate? That’s right, the goal of the PLO was not to create an independent Palestine next to Israel, but rather, in place of Israel.

It is also worth noting that over the last 15 years or so, the Palestinian Authority has been offered an independent state by Israel over virtually all of the West Bank and all of Gaza. The borders of these offers were largely based on the 1967 armistice lines with swaps of land so that large Jewish communities would remain part of Israel. But, in each case, the Palestinians rejected the offer. Think about that for a minute. The offers extended to the Palestinians gave them almost everything that they wanted, but still they said no.

And now they’re looking to the United Nations to give them what they didn’t take when offered in 1947, didn’t take when they were occupied by their own “allies” from 1948 through 1967, and didn’t take when offered, repeatedly, by Israel in the course of negotiations.

One possible answer to the “why now” query is a bit counterintuitive. I have to wonder whether the Palestinians so expected President Obama to “be on their side” that they’ve come to the recognition that the current American position is as good as it’s going to get for them. I personally don’t think that President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus or made substantial changes in American policy toward Israel (though I will agree that he has made some mistakes, in particular his efforts to get Israel to agree to a settlement freeze, though I understand the reasoning). But if an African American President that many Americans believed to be a “sekrit Muslim” isn’t going to push Israel to bend over and … er, to surrender to Palestinian demands, and if there is the possibility of a far right Christian Zionist to be elected, then the Palestinians may think that they need to act now.

And the Palestinians refuse to engage in additional negotiations with Israel. Why? Because the Palestinians demand that Israel halt settlement activity in the West Bank before they will resume negotiations. Forget that a settlement freeze had never been a demand of the Palestinians in the past prior to engaging in negotiations and forget that one of the things to be negotiated is the actual border between Israel and a newly independent Palestine. Forget too that Israel has agreed that land swaps would be a part of that negotiation. But do ask yourself this: Why is a cessation of settlement activity so important to the Palestinians?

The answer you’ll most often hear from Palestinians is that settlement activity is an attempt by Israel to pre-establish the borders or a “land grab”. But when we recall that final borders are a part of the negotiations and that final borders will include land swaps, then this argument doesn’t really make much sense, does it? If the negotiations are supposed to include land swaps, then why does it matter if Israel gets one particular parcel on which Jews have built houses if the Palestinians are given a reasonably equal parcel in its place?

No, the real answer is much more insidious, though you rarely hear this from the Palestinians. They don’t want any more settlements because they don’t want to swap land. Rather, they want all of what they think is theirs. But here’s the problem. The Palestinians don’t want Jewish communities in the newly independent state of Palestine. In fact, just last week, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the United States admitted that:

The Palestine Liberation Organization's ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that any future Palestinian state it seeks with help from the United Nations and the United States should be free of Jews.

"After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated," Maen Areikat, the PLO ambassador, said during a meeting with reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. He was responding to a question about the rights of minorities in a Palestine of the future.

Ah, you say. But the headline of the USA Today article says he didn’t really mean Jews, just Israelis. Um, not so fast. Note that USA Today doesn’t tell us the exact question that prompted the response, but The Jerusalem Post does provide that information:

When asked by Jamie Weinstein, senior editor and columnist for The Daily Caller, whether a Jew could be elected mayor of Ramallah in an independent Palestinian state, Areikat said, “after the experience of 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it will be in the best interests of the two peoples to be separated first.”

Hmm. So somehow, querying whether a Jew (not an Israeli) could be elected mayor of Ramallah, the Palestinian ambassador to the United States says that the “two peoples” should be separated. Now one would presume, wouldn’t one, that you’d have to be a citizen of Palestine to be elected mayor of a Palestinian city. So the ambassador is, in effect, saying that Jews and Palestinians (not Israelis and Palestinians) should be separated and that a Palestinian Jew (remember that they are an enormous number of Muslim Israelis…) could not be elected mayor of a Palestinian city.

Ah, you say, but he must have simply been misunderstood or he didn’t understand the question or that’s not what he really meant or …. Nope. Sorry. Here’s what Ambassador Areikat said a year ago (formatting revised for readability purposes):

Interviewer: When you imagine a future Palestinian state, do you imagine it being a place where Jews, if they wish to become Palestinian citizens, could own property, vote in elections, and practice their religion freely?

Areikat: I remember in the mid-’90s, the late [PLO official] Faisal Husseini said repeatedly “OK, if Israelis choose to stay in a future Palestinian state, they are more than welcome to do that. But under one condition: They have to respect and obey Palestinian laws, they cannot be living as Israelis. They have to respect Palestinian laws and abide by them.” When Faisal Husseini died, basically no Palestinian leader has publicly supported the notion that they can stay.

What we are saying is the following: We need to separate. We have to separate. We are in a forced marriage. We need to divorce. After we divorce, and everybody takes a period of time to recoup, rebound, whatever you want to call it, we may consider dating again.

Interviewer: So, you think it would be necessary to first transfer and remove every Jew—

Areikat: Absolutely. No, I’m not saying to transfer every Jew, I’m saying transfer Jews who, after an agreement with Israel, fall under the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state.

Interviewer: Any Jew who is inside the borders of Palestine will have to leave?

Areikat: Absolutely. I think this is a very necessary step, before we can allow the two states to somehow develop their separate national identities, and then maybe open up the doors for all kinds of cultural, social, political, economic exchanges, that freedom of movement of both citizens of Israelis and Palestinians from one area to another. You know you have to think of the day after.

(And note that in that same interview, the Ambassador claims that ancient Israel was never in Jerusalem. Seriously.)

People accuse Israel of Apartheid and “ethnic cleansing” all the time (though usually without any sort of context or understanding of those terms). Yet here are the Palestinians petitioning the United Nations to recognize their new state that they acknowledge will, in fact, exclude Jews. You tell me which is the “Apartheid regime”? Israel, which grants the 20% of its population that is Muslim full voting rights and participation in civil society (including, among other things proportional representation in the Knesset, a judge on the Supreme Court, ambassadorships and consul postings to other nations, and participation on Israeli sports teams and beauty pageants [Miss Israel 1999 was an Arab]), or Palestine which will be essentially judenfrei (free of Jews)?

Can you imagine the international outrage if Israel’s ambassador to anywhere were to say that a Muslim could not be elected Mayor of an Israeli town, to the Knesset, to the Supreme Court, or participate in another part of Israeli civil society? But if a Palestinian admits this, well, that’s OK. Certainly Israeli politicians who have said anything similar have been (rightly) lambasted.

Even some Palestinians are troubled by Ambassador Areikat’s statements, but not for the reason you’d expect:

[T]he real victims of the [Ambassador]’s espousal of apartheid will not be Jews — whom the PA already conceded would remain in settlements to be annexed to Israel — but Palestinian citizens of Israel.

That’s right. The real victims would be Palestinians because Israel, being an Apartheid state and all, would use those statements as justification to ethnically cleanse Arab and Muslim citizens of Israel.

To be fair, at least one representative of the Palestinian Authority has tried to walk back Ambassador Areikat’s statements, as has the Ambassador himself:

Trying to tamp down a controversy over whether a Palestinian state would be Jew-free, Mahmoud Habbash, the Palestinian minister of religious affairs, said a future state would be open to people of all religions, including Jews.

“The future Palestinian state will be open to all its citizens, regardless of their religion,” Habbash said, according to USA Today. “We want a civil state, which in it live all the faiths, Muslim, Christian and Jews also if they agree, (and) accept to be Palestinian citizens.”

Maen Areikat, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s ambassador to the United States, told POLITICO that his comments earlier this week which some interpreted as meaning Jews would not be welcome were misconstrued.

“In no way was there a suggestion that Jews cannot enter Palestine or be in Palestinian state in the future,” Areikat said.

So which statement do you find more credible?

Of course it’s not just Jews who will be unwelcome in Palestine. Gays aren’t welcome, either:

In response to a query from John McCormack from The Weekly Standard about whether homosexuals would be tolerated in a newly-formed Palestinian state, “Ah, this is an issue that’s beyond my [authority].” said Areikat.

Nor, for that matter, are Palestinians.

Um, what was that? Yep, you read that right. Even though the goal is an independent state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, citizenship in that new nation won’t be extended to Palestinian “refugees”, including those (and their descendants) who have been living in refugee camps for 60 years or more! Nor will Palestinians who don’t presently live in the new state of Palestine have a right to claim citizenship. Thus, the Palestinian “refugees” (and their descendants) living in Jordan, Syria, or elsewhere in the Middle East (or the world), won’t be entitled to claim Palestinian citizenship. That’s what the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Lebanon told Lebanon’s The Daily Star:

Palestinian refugees will not become citizens of a new Palestinian state, according to Palestine’s ambassador to Lebanon.

From behind a desk topped by a miniature model of Palestine’s hoped-for blue United Nations chair, Ambassador Abdullah Abdullah spoke to The Daily Star Wednesday about Palestine’s upcoming bid for U.N. statehood.

The ambassador unequivocally says that Palestinian refugees would not become citizens of the sought for U.N.-recognized Palestinian state, an issue that has been much discussed. “They are Palestinians, that’s their identity,” he says. “But … they are not automatically citizens.”

This would not only apply to refugees in countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Jordan or the other 132 countries where Abdullah says Palestinians reside. Abdullah said that “even Palestinian refugees who are living in [refugee camps] inside the [Palestinian] state, they are still refugees. They will not be considered citizens.”

Abdullah said that the new Palestinian state would “absolutely not” be issuing Palestinian passports to refugees.

How can that be and, more importantly, why?

The unfortunate answer to the “how” is that the world simply doesn’t pay attention. The Palestinians can largely do or say anything and bear no responsibility. They can continue to air television programs that encourage martyrdom, they can honor suicide bombers, they can use textbooks that omit Israel entirely or claim that the Holocaust didn’t happen (raise your hand if you knew that “moderate” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ doctoral thesis claimed that “only” several hundred thousand Jews were killed in the Holocaust and calls the “claim” that 6 million were killed a “Zionist fantasy”). And they can try to establish a Jew-free, gay-free nation that won’t even open citizenship to other Palestinians. And the world will turn a blind eye.

Ah, but why? Now that is the more interesting question. Let’s think that one through. First, if the Palestinians living abroad were to suddenly return to their new homeland, how easily could the new nation absorb and integrate that population? Don’t forget that Israel absorbed refugees from the Holocaust as well as about 800,000 Jews who left or were forced to leave Arab countries, plus another 100,000 or so Ethiopian Jews (oh, and for those who claim that Israel is a “racist” country, I’d really like to hear them explain that view to the black Ethiopian Jews that Israel had to rescue via airlift…). I mean, come on, we’d hate for the new government of Palestine to have to, you known, strain itself to take care of the Palestinian people. And note that the Palestinian Authority has even claimed that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the agency responsible for Palestinian [and only Palestinian] “refugees”, must continue to be responsible for Palestinian “refugees” in Palestine; the new government won’t assume that responsibility.

But there is an even more important reason that citizenship won’t be extended to Palestinian “refugees” already living in the West Bank or Gaza. You see, if those people were citizens of Palestine, it would be hard for them (or the PLO) to argue that they should also have a “right of return” to Israel. But by preventing the “refugees” from becoming citizens of Palestine, the “promise” of a right of return to Israel remains intact. If those “refugees” become citizens of Palestine, then they have no reason to need to “return” and, in essence, the original partition plan will be largely operative. But if those “refugees” remain just that — “refugees” — then they can continue to agitate for their “right to return” to Israel, a major issue of contention between Israel and the Palestinians will remain unresolved, and those “refugees” will remain either a weapon or bargaining chip in the ongoing conflict.

And just in case you think I’m making this up, let’s go back to that interview with the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Lebanon:

Neither this definitional status nor U.N. statehood, Abdullah says, would affect the eventual return of refugees to Palestine. “How the issue of the right of return will be solved I don’t know, it’s too early [to say], but it is a sacred right that has to be dealt with and solved [with] the acceptance of all.” He says statehood “will never affect the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”

The right of return that Abdullah says is to be negotiated would not only apply to those Palestinians whose origins are within the 1967 borders of the state, he adds. “The state is the 1967 borders, but the refugees are not only from the 1967 borders. The refugees are from all over Palestine. When we have a state accepted as a member of the United Nations, this is not the end of the conflict. This is not a solution to the conflict. This is only a new framework that will change the rules of the game.”

Furthermore, when considering this point, remember that the Palestinians claim to support a two state solution. Yet by holding out the promise of a “right of return” they are, in essence, still laboring toward a one state solution. Should Israel be compelled to permit millions of Palestinian “refugees” to “return” to Israel, then the demographic character of Israel as a majority Jewish nation would be destroyed and, even were Israel to remain (briefly) democratic, it would quickly become just another Arab state and probably become linked with Palestine. Oh, and remember what I said before about Palestine being judenfrei?

Two final points: The goal of the negotiations toward a two state solution is to eventually have a Palestinian state and a Jewish state. That could prove difficult:


That’s right. The President of the Palestinian Authority said, just a few weeks ago, that the Palestinians could never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And he notes that the “refugee” problem will never be solved by the Palestinian state. Well, then.

And I also thought that a point of symbolism chosen by the Palestinians was also important, but not for the same understanding:

The Palestinian Authority chose the mother of 4 terrorist murderers, one of whom killed seven Israeli civilians and attempted to killed [sic] twelve others, as the person to launch their statehood campaign with the UN. In a widely publicized event, the PA had Latifa Abu Hmeid lead the procession to the UN offices in Ramallah and to hand over a letter for the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

The official PA daily reported that she launched the UN campaign last week, and noted that she is the “mother of seven prisoners and of the Shahid (Martyr) Abd Al-Mun'im Abu Hmeid.” However, the paper did not mention that 4 of her imprisoned sons are murderers.

What does it say of the Palestinians that they chose this woman, of all possible representatives of the Palestinian people, to launch their bid for statehood from the United Nations? Of course, given that former PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat once addressed the United Nations while wearing a holster (his aides say it was empty) and that the Palestinian Authority continues to name streets and squares after and hold soccer tournaments in the name of terrorists, then I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised.

So anyway, when you hear about the Palestinian petition for statehood, remember to think about some of the issues that you may not otherwise hear about.


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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Joe Walsh Isn’t Just a Jerk; He’s Really Stupid Too

A few weeks ago I posted a really funny video (Joe Walsh: Quit Lying) about deadbeat dad Congressman Joe Walsh (R-Illinois). If you haven’t watched the video, it’s well worth the three minutes it will take (and you can read what I wrote, too…). Anyway, yesterday I came across two new stories about Rep. Walsh that I wanted to share. One demonstrates that he’s simply a self-important jerk, but the other shows that he’s dangerously stupid, too.

Let’s start with the less egregious story. Apparently, the complaint by Rep. Walsh’s ex-wife about his failure to make child support payments finally went before a judge. But Rep. Walsh didn’t show up for the hearing (though his attorney did):

A Chicago judge issued a preliminary ruling Wednesday against U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) in his child-support dispute with his ex-wife, ordering the Tea Party favorite to explain why he appears to be $100,000 behind in child-support payments.

Cook County Circuit Judge Raul Vega also wanted to know why Walsh wasn’t in court Wednesday — the McHenry Republican’s ex-wife, Laura Walsh, was there — and initially said he expected him to show up for the next hearing.

In court, Walsh’s attorney, Janet Boyle, asked Vega “for what purpose” he wanted the congressman in court.

Vega gave her a puzzled look — to which Boyle responded: “Mr. Walsh is a U.S. congressman.”

“Well, he’s no different than anyone else,” the judge replied.

So Rep. Walsh, who likes to lecture President Obama about debt, not only doesn’t pay his child support obligations, he doesn’t show up to court for a hearing to determine if he wrongfully failed to make those payments, and, when questioned about his absence, his lawyer suggested that Rep. Walsh’s presence was either unnecessary or too inconvenient because Rep. Walsh is a member of Congress. A true man of the people. Like I said: Jerk.

But the more frightening story about Rep. Walsh has to do with an issue on which he and I actually agree: Support for Israel. I am very much opposed to the pending Palestinian Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). And I am also a strong supporter of a two-state negotiated resolution to the conflict. Some members of Congress have introduced legislation that will punish the Palestinian Authority if it elects to go forward with the UDI. There may be some merit to those proposals, though I’d want to be sure that any sort of punitive act did not have the unintended consequence of making peace or a negotiated settlement more difficult.

But Rep. Walsh, who apparently knows far more about the conflict than, say, Israel’s Prime Minister or the vast majority of the Israeli public, has a different idea:

With the U.N. showdown looming, some pro-Israel lawmakers have submitted bills that reflect their frustration with the P.A. — though few are expected to pass.

One such measure supports “Israel’s right to annex Judea and Samaria,” the biblical name attached to the area otherwise known as the West Bank. The resolution, which was submitted last week by tea party firebrand Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), accuses the Palestinians of breaking past agreements with the U.S. and Israel.

Modeled after a similar bill in the Israeli Knesset, the Walsh initiative maintains that if the Palestinians proceed at the U.N., the House will support a full takeover of the West Bank.

“My hope is that this will help buck up Israel,” Walsh said in an interview last week. “We're not going to get peace until the other side realizes that they're dealing with strength, that Israel and the U.S. are not going to back down.”

Left-leaning pro-Israel observers, though, slammed Walsh’s bill as destructive to the peace process.

“He's advocating a policy that would put Congress against a two-state solution,” griped Dylan Williams, director of government affairs for J Street, which is actively lobbying against Walsh's measure. “It’s a catastrophic tit-for-tat, a nuclear option.”

Walsh, however, denied that his bill would further damage the peace process or erode America's credibility in the region.

“What hurts the peace process is this continued practice of putting peace before Israel," said Walsh, who authored the legislation after meeting last month with arch-conservative Danny Dannon, a deputy speaker of the Knesset. “We've always worked under this paradigm where peace comes first and if we keep doing that, we're never going to get peace.”

Walsh asserted that “there is no such thing as a two-state solution, and no such thing as land for peace. The ultimate peace is going to come through annexation, through Israel having sovereignity [sic] over the whole land, from the Mediterranean to Jordan.”

Why is this idea so incredibly stupid? First, consider this: Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 (though today that occupation is far less than it was previously given that Israel has transferred control of much of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority), but has not annexed it. Israel did annex the Golan Heights, captured in that same war in 1967. So why has Israel annexed one area, but not the other?

For one thing, how do you think that the approximately 2.5 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank will react? Will they march through the streets waiving Israeli flags or will those flags be burning as new violence ensues?

Or, think of the demographic and electoral changes that Israel would face if its population was suddenly increased by 2.5 million Muslims. Right now, Israel has approximately 5.8 million Jews (just slightly less than the number that Hitler killed…), 1.5 million Arabs, and about 320,000 from other groups. In other words, Israel’s Arab population is approximately 20% of the country. But if Israel were to annex the West Bank and absorb an additional 2.5 million Arabs, that percentage of the population would swell to about 40%. Moreover, the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza is presently growing at a rate of about 2.1%, the population of Israeli Arabs is growing at about 2.6%, while the Israeli Jewish population is only growing at about 1.7%. See any problems? How long before Israel would no longer be a Jewish state?

Now I suppose that Rep. Walsh or others who support the one state solution would argue that Israel simply shouldn’t allow the Palestinians the right to vote or be full participants in Israeli politics or society. But in that case, is Israel really a democratic state anymore? Those who oppose Israel have wrongly claimed that Israel is an Apartheid state. It isn’t. But if it were to restrict rights to political participation to a segment of the population based on race or religion … well, then, that charge of Apartheid might be a bit closer to the mark.

Or I guess Israel could ethnically cleanse the West Bank and forcibly remove all of the Palestinians (sending them where, I’m not quite sure). And while that has been the solution advocated from time to time by extreme and fringe groups within and without Israel, that is not a serious solution supported by many, let alone most, Israelis.

One other thing worth noting: The notion that Israel should annex the West Bank is a critical component of Christian Zionist ideology because, as I understand it, the second coming of Jesus is dependent upon Israel having all of that land. If Israel and the Palestinians reach a peaceful resolution that creates a Palestinian state on the West Bank, then the preconditions for the second coming would not be met. That is why you will often hear Christian Zionists (even if not self-identified as such) articulating the need for Israel to keep the West Bank.

Oh, the fact that a similar bill has been introduced in the Israeli Knesset is also completely meaningless. Recall that Israel is a vibrant democracy with representation for all sorts of groups (from anti-Israel Arab parties to Ultra Orthodox Jewish parties to far, far right settler parties). That a member of the Knesset might introduce a bill of that sort is no different than say … um … a far right member of the Tea Party who likes to ignore child support obligations introducing such a bill in Congress.

Rep. Joe Walsh is a jerk when it comes to his family; but when it comes to Israel, he is dangerously stupid.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Look at Some Recent Actions from Rep. Todd Rokita and Other Members of Indiana’s GOP Delegation to Congress

Former Indiana Secretary of State and current member of Congress Todd Rokita (R-Indiana) doesn't seem too concerned with letting the truth — in the form of his own prior testimony — get in the way of a good scare tactic. First, watch this video (from a Congressional hearing just last week):


Next, read this portion of the opinion of United States District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker in the case of Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita, 458 F.Supp.2d 775 (S.D. Ind. 2006) (and yes, the defendant in that case is the same Rokita in the video above):

The parties have submitted evidence that paints contrasting pictures concerning whether in-person voter fraud is or should be a concern in Indiana. The arguments concerning voter fraud tend to unfold as follows: (A) Plaintiffs note that there is no evidence of any instance of in-person voter fraud in Indiana; (B) Defendants counter that, even though there is no evidence of voter fraud as such, there is significant inflation in the Indiana voter registration lists; and in any event, based on reports documenting cases of in-person voter from other states, (C) Defendants maintain that voter fraud is or should be a concern in Indiana.

Defendants concede that "the State of Indiana is not aware of any incidents or person attempting [sic] vote, or voting, at a voting place with fraudulent or otherwise false identification." … Plaintiffs further note that no voter in Indiana history has ever been formally charged with any sort of crime related to impersonating someone else for purposes of voting. … Plaintiffs further contend that no evidence of in-person voting fraud was presented to the Indiana General Assembly during the legislative process leading up to the enactment of SEA 483. … Plaintiffs do note, however, there is evidence of absentee voter fraud in Indiana and that pervasive fraud regarding absentee balloting led the Indiana Supreme Court recently to vacate the results of the mayoral election in East Chicago.

(Emphasis added.) Now isn’t that interesting? Todd Rokita, the named defendant in the Indiana voter ID suit and the State of Indiana conceded that “the State of Indiana is not aware of any incidents or person attempting [to] vote, or voting, at a voting place with fraudulent or otherwise false identification.” Note that the concession is not that there have been instances, just not ones worth prosecuting as Rep. Rokita claims in the video. Nope. The concession was that Indiana “is not aware of … attempt[s]” at in person voter fraud. Period. None.

So, was Todd Rokita lying to the Federal Court or was he lying in his testimony to Congress?

If you look at the video again, you’ll see “Hon.” in front his Rep. Rokita’s name on the nameplate. Query whether his actions merit that title (and did I forget to mention that Rokita, while still Secretary of State, refused to directly prosecute his fraternity brother and fellow Republican Charlie White for voter fraud, but of the sort not impacted by Indiana’s voter ID statute?). Oops.

Or then we have this from Roll Call:

This spring, four House Republicans used money from their Congressional office accounts to send five staff members to a training seminar run by a conservative Christian group in Indiana that is leading the charge in the state for an amendment to ban gay marriage.

The expense, totaling $2,500 for the group, is a perfectly legal use of taxpayer money, but it highlights the broad array of things Members of Congress can pay for out of their office accounts. The payments also underscore the tight web of relationships Members can build with favored causes without violating rules against using taxpayer money to fund political activity.

In April, four House Members from Indiana paid the Indiana Family Institute to enroll staffers in the group’s annual training course called the Hoosier Congressional Policy Leadership Series.

The Indiana Family Institute is the state affiliate of the Family Research Council, focusing its efforts on supporting traditional heterosexual marriage while opposing gay marriage and abortion. Last year, the group’s political action committee, Indiana Family Action, helped fund an ad attacking Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) for voting for the health care overhaul, which the ad called “the biggest expansion of abortion in decades.”

Roll Call has previously documented that Members spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on training for their staff, with broad leeway on the training they pay for. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a bicycle and transit advocate, spent $1,400 in October to send several staff to a pro-transit conference in Portland called Rail-Volution, where he was a keynote speaker. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) paid $400 to a social worker named John Powers for crisis-management training during his biennial office retreat.

But the April payments of $500 from Indiana GOP Reps. Larry Bucshon, Dan Burton and Todd Young and $1,000 from Rep. Todd Rokita to the Indiana Family Institute stand out because it is rare for Congressional offices to make direct payments to political organizations.

House rules prohibit the use of official funds for political purposes, but the House Administration Committee’s “member Handbook” allows expenditures for “ordinary and necessary expenses for Members or employees to attend conferences, seminars, briefings, professional training, and informational programs related to the official and representational duties to the district from which elected.”

Josh Gillespie, Burton’s communications director and an alumni of the Indiana Family Institute training program, points out that the training is run through IFI’s nonprofit arm — not the PAC — so “any money coming from our office is not going to any political activity.”

The IFI website describes the Hoosier Congressional Policy Leadership Series as a monthly class intended to “advance conservative policy and faith-based servant leadership principles” among Indiana “community leaders.” The group generally meets once a month from April through November, hears presentations from local policy and business leaders, tours a local hospital and makes a trip to Washington, D.C.

Several current and former Indiana Republican Members of Congress are listed as “Founding Congressional Sponsors,” including Burton and Rep. Mike Pence and ex-Reps. John Hostettler, Mike Sodrel and Steve Buyer. The group’s website once listed former Rep. Mark Souder as a founding sponsor, but he has been dropped from the site since leaving Congress last year after the married Souder acknowledged having an affair with a married aide.

IFI President Curt Smith told Roll Call that Souder was the driving force behind the training sessions a half-dozen years ago. Smith and Souder had previously worked together for Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) years before Smith joined the IFI, and Souder believed that while there were other leadership programs in the Hoosier state, “there is kind of a conservative leadership thing missing.” The institute’s training series is designed to “create a network across the state of like-minded conservative grass-roots folks” who will focus on “community-based instead of government-based” solutions to problems.

The group now has about 100 alumni, including a dozen or so former and current Congressional staff, and part of the idea is to “try to keep the class connected over the years so there would be a directory and some cross-pollination,” Smith said. He noted that if Pence wins the Indiana gubernatorial race next year, the IFI will have a list of leadership trainees who could be good candidates to fill jobs in a Pence administration.

Things that make you go “Hmmm”?

Perhaps this is the kind of thing done all the time. I don’t really know. But it does seem like an issue that should be addressed if a member of Congress can use “official funds” to send staffers to receive “training” on very specific, highly contentious, political issues (especially, if that money may later be used to run attack ads against other candidates). It’s bad enough when lobbyists give money to politicians, but just thinking about politicians giving tax dollars to lobbying groups makes my head spin. And note that we’re not talking about funds that the politician has raised through political contributions; we’re talking about tax dollars budgeting by Congress to pay the office expenses of elected officials. Think about it. Your tax dollars (which fund Congressional office budgets) are being used to “train” staffers on certain issue and those tax dollars can then be used to pay for attack ads. Something about that concept just doesn’t sound right to me.

And one more quick note. My Representative, Dan Burton (R-Indiana) offered a sort of diatribe against the Department of Education. Among other things, Rep. Burton argued that the Department of Education is “not doing anything to really help our economy or our country”. Because, you known, things like Pell Grants to help millions of kids go to college certainly don’t help the economy or country.

And that ends this week’s episode of what our Hoosier members of Congress have been up to.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Err on the Side of Life? Nope. That and Other Lessons from Another GOP Debate

Last night’s Republican (or should that be Tea Party?) debate featured lots of fireworks and lots of statements and ideas that are worth discussing when time permits. But one statement in particular really caught my attention and, in turn, led to some other, hopefully related thoughts. In response to criticism over his executive order to mandate vaccination of middle school girls with a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, Gov. Rick Perry said: “I am always going to err on the side of life”. I think that it is a sentiment that most of us would readily agree with. But…

Unfortunately, while it made for a good sound bite for Perry, it completely flew in the face of facts. Recall my post from last Thursday Yeah, Rah, Death Penalty! in which I described how Perry had allowed a man to be executed by the State of Texas in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that the man did not commit the crime for which he had been convicted. If Perry is “always going to err on the side of life”, then shouldn’t he have stayed the execution in order for courts to reconsider the evidence and determine if the man had, in fact, been wrongly convicted on the basis of theories “disproven by modern science”?

And of course we also have to wonder why debate moderators won’t ask Perry about this incident or why he fired the commission looking into whether an innocent man was executed. Like so many other issues, it seems as if the debate moderators simply refuse to do much more than ask the superficial questions for which the candidates are prepared to offer pandering and self-serving responses. Why not ask the hard-hitting follow-up questions, especially on issues with which many voters may not have familiarity.

How would voters really respond if they understood how cavalier Rick Perry appears to be about the fact that he may have allowed an innocent man to be executed?

How would voters really respond if Mitt Romney were forced to answer precisely how many jobs he’d eliminated or how much money he’d made at the expense of those jobs?

How would voters really respond if Newt Gingrich were forced to explain how he could have an affair, while his wife was ill and he was presiding over impeachment proceedings against President Clinton for lying about a blowjob?

How would voters really respond if Michele Bachmann were forced to answer as to all the completely false statements that she’s made (and continues to make) or was forced to finally tell us exactly which members of Congress she believes have anti-American views or had to address the federal funds her husband’s business collected for “reparative” therapy?

How would voters really respond if Rick Santorum had to explain why it was acceptable for his wife to have a life-saving abortion but that same treatment should not be available to other women?

How would voters really respond if John Huntsman were asked to read aloud his fawning letter in praise of President Obama?

And beyond these sorts of harder questions, why is that debate moderators either aren’t prepared to —or simply won’t — call out a lie on the spot? For example, in last night’s debate, Perry claimed that the 2009 stimulus bill “created zero jobs”. This was not the first time that Perry or other Republicans have made this claim. So why wasn’t debate moderator Wolf Blitzer ready with analysis of this claim similar to that done by the non-partisan Politifact.org:

[I]n a report released March 18, 2011, the president’s Council of Economic Advisers estimated that between 2.5 million and 3.6 million jobs were created or saved by the stimulus through the fourth quarter of 2010.
Separately, the council’s report cited four independent analyses by the Congressional Budget Office and three private economic analysis companies. Here’s what the groups found:
• CBO: Between 1.3 million and 3.6 million jobs saved or created.
• IHS/Global Insight: 2.45 million jobs saved or created.
• Macroeconomic Advisers: 2.3 million jobs saved or created.
• Moody’s Economy.com: 2.5 million jobs saved or created.
Note the language "created or saved," which means not every one of those more than a million jobs count as "created," as Perry said.
But certainly more than zero. Ask Billy Weston. 
Perry said "the first round of stimulus ... created zero jobs." We say Pants on Fire.

Or, when Bachmann claimed that “President Obama stole over $500 billion out of Medicare to switch it over to Obamacare” (emphasis added), why wasn’t Blitzer ready, again with analysis similar to that done by Politifact.org:

There is a small amount of truth in her statement in that future savings from Medicare are planned to offset new costs created by the law. But the law attempts to curtail the rapid growth of future Medicare spending, not cut current funding. Additionally, the money was not "stolen." Congress reduced spending on a program through its normal legislative process. That kind of rhetoric is deceptive, and it undermines Bachmann's basic point. We rate her statement Mostly False.

You would think that CNN just might have the resources and expertise to be ready, in advance, to respond to these sorts of statements.

Or consider Bachmann’s claim in a previous debate that a business owner told her that he had to fire employees because “Obamacare” would require him to provide insurance. Why didn’t the NBC moderators note that claim was impossible because the mandate in question doesn’t begin until 2014? Instead, they do the electorate a disservice by allowing this statement to stand and leaving voters with the impression that “Obamacare” is, indeed, causing businesses to fire people today.

Or there was Bachmann’s claim (and I’m not going to apologize for picking on Bachmann) that the HPV vaccine caused retardation. Again, why wasn’t Blitzer able to respond, with something like this:

“Mental retardation” typically takes place in a pre- or neo-natal event. Autism becomes apparent in the first couple of years of life — and primarily affects boys. Gardasil vaccinations take place among girls between 9-12 years of age. Even assuming that this anecdote is arguably true, it wouldn’t be either “mental retardation” or autism, but brain damage.

The FDA has received no reports of brain damage as a result of HPV vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix. Among the reports that correlate seriously adverse reactions to either, the FDA lists blood clots, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and 68 deaths during the entire run of the drugs. The FDA found no causal connection to any of these serious adverse events and found plenty of contributing factors to all — and all of the events are exceedingly rare.

The “mental retardation” argument is a rehash of the thoroughly discredited notion that vaccines containing thimerasol caused a rapid increase in diagnosed autism cases. That started with a badly-botched report in Lancet that allowed one researcher to manipulate a ridiculously small sample of twelve cases in order to reach far-sweeping conclusions about thimerasol. That preservative hasn’t been included in vaccines for years, at least not in the US, and the rate of autism diagnoses remain unchanged.

The most charitable analysis that can be offered in this case for Bachmann is that she got duped into repeating a vaccine-scare urban legend on national television. It looks more like Bachmann sensed that she had won a point and wanted to go in for the kill, didn’t bother to check the facts, and didn’t care that she was stoking an anti-vaccination paranoid conspiracy theory, either.  Neither shines a particularly favorable light on Bachmann.

These are just a few examples. And they are examples of the kind of charges that Republicans have been making for years. A competent debate moderator or a debate moderator truly interested in being sure that voters really learned about the issues rather than simply offering a launching pad for debunked talking points, would be prepared — and willing — to call out a candidate for lying (or misstating facts or statistics or whatever).

And when an audience member suggested that a hypothetical uninsured patient should be allowed to die, Blitzer should have followed that up by asking each of the candidates if they agreed that the government should have no responsibility and that if the patient had no insurance, then the state should, indeed, allow that patient to die.

A principal purpose of debates is to allow voters to learn about the candidates and their stances on the relevant issues. But we need to be sure that the debates are not platforms from which lies can be spread without comment. When a debate moderator — and recall that most of the debate moderators consider themselves to be journalists — hears a lie or falsehood, the moderator should not just sit back or hope that another candidate will point out the lie; no, in the interests of professional journalism and the public at large, the moderator should challenge the lie and demand that the candidate offer support for the statement or retract it. Now that might make debates a bit more useful.

Sorry for being a bit unfocused on this post, but I just sort of hit the issues as I thought of them.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Yeah, Rah, Death Penalty!

In my continuing examination of Gov. Rick Perry and his “out there” political views, I want to focus on one particular issue that was raised in last night’s debate: Capital punishment. I think that Gov. Perry’s response to the question during the debate, when presented in light of the actual record in Texas, is potentially illustrative of just how dangerous Gov. Perry really is. Moreover, the response from the audience (more on that in a bit) is also, I think, illustrative in some respects of just where the Republican party and its core constituents are policy-wise right now.

But before getting into Gov. Perry’s views on the subject , I want to take a moment to talk about my own views on the death penalty. While this may come as a surprise to some (given that I’m apparently regarded as a left-wing wacko by some), I’m not against the death penalty. But I’m not necessarily for it, either. I have no problem with having the state execute those convicted of the most heinous crimes. But I would prefer not to execute people who might be innocent and I’d prefer to err on the side of not executing people. Moreover, I’m concerned that there may be a racial element at work both in deciding against which defendants the state will seek to impose the death penalty and the way that juries and judges handle capital cases. I also worry about the difficulty that a public defender has in providing an adequate defense to a defendant accused of a capital offense. And I’m very concerned when I hear about the possibility of evidence that might exonerate a person convicted of a capital offense not being allowed for various procedural reasons. But in cases where the crime was heinous, the evidence is clear, the accused received a fair trial and was not treated differently than other defendants, the jury was not tainted, and there is no remotely plausible claim for exonerating evidence, then, in those cases, I think that the death penalty may be an acceptable punishment.

Now, back to last night’s debate. Here is a brief video clip of a question posed and Gov. Perry’s response:


Before delving into Gov. Perry’s response, I want to note my disgust at the fact that the crowd actually cheered the fact that Texas, under Gov. Perry, had executed 234 people. That people may support the death penalty is fine. But to actually cheer that people have been executed. Oh, I suppose cheering when Osama Bin Laden was killed may be acceptable, but I’m very concerned that a large group of Americans would cheer that 234 of their fellow citizens have been executed. We should feel sad that so many people resort to or commit crimes, especially capital crimes. We should, I guess, feel a sense of satisfaction that the justice system worked and that the families of the victims received a measure of justice and some kind of closure. But executing a criminal, let alone 234 criminals, doesn’t seem like something we should be cheering; death is a bit more final than say a touchdown at a Texas Longhorns football game.

Now add to this the outpouring of Islamophobia (“Ground Zero Mosque!” and cries of sharia [rhymes with Maria…]), homophobia, nativism (anti-immigrant), and even some racism and anti-Semitism coming from some elements of the Republican Party and Tea Party electorate and this cheer begins to take on a sort of bloodlust quality. No, I’m not suggesting that rank and file Republicans are out to execute gays or Muslims. But what I am suggesting is that combining a political worldview that cheers executions with a perspective that views so many people as “others” or “not really American” or “out to get us” is trending down a potentially dangerous path.

Whew. OK. Breathe.

And now back (again) to Gov. Perry. The principal point of his response that I want to comment upon is his statement that he has “never struggled” with the possibility that one of the criminals executed on his watch might have been innocent. Maybe I’m just too soft, but I want to know that my elected officials do struggle with thoughts like this; I want them to understand and recognize the finality and severity of the decision to execute someone and to struggle with the decision in order that we can all be comfortable that the correct decision was made. If, as Gov. Perry claims, he does not struggle with the issue at all, then that tells me that he either doesn’t really understand the severity and finality of his decision or he just doesn’t care. Unfortunately, I suspect that the he understands quite well. President Bush used to talk about “compassionate conservatism”; there is no compassion in Gov. Perry. He’s more akin to the fictionalized old West hangin’ judge for whom hard evidence isn’t really needed.

But I also want to look a bit more closely at Gov. Perry’s explanation. He claims that he doesn’t struggle because he trusts the judicial system. If that’s true, then explain this:

Yesterday, the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, abruptly dismissed the chairman and two members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission investigating the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, which I wrote about last month in The New Yorker. The move came two days before the commission was scheduled to hear crucial evidence that Willingham was put to death, in 2004, based on arson theories that have since been disproven by modern science. The new chairman appointed by Perry promptly postponed Friday’s hearing, when the noted fire scientist Craig Beyler was supposed to testify regarding his findings.

Beyler, who had been hired by the commission to review the original arson investigation, had determined that there was no scientific evidence that Willingham had set the fire that killed his three children, in 1991, and that the original investigators had relied on folklore and methods that defied rational reasoning. Several of the country’s other top fire scientists have reached a similar conclusion.

Perry, who is in a contested campaign for reelection, had been governor at the time of Willingham’s execution. Before the execution, Willingham’s lawyer had asked Perry to grant a stay based on a report from Dr. Gerald Hurst, a leading fire expert, who had concluded that “there is not a single item of physical evidence in this case which supports a finding of arson.” Willingham’s request, however, was denied.

Perry insisted that the three commissioners’ terms had expired and the change was routine. But the ousted chairman, Sam Bassett, told the Houston Chronicle that he had heard from Perry’s staffers that they were “concerned about the investigations we were conducting”; another of the removed commissioners told the Associated Press that Perry’s office informed him that the governor was “going in a different direction.”

Bassett added in a statement, “In my view, we should not fail to investigate important forensic issues in cases simply because there might be political ramifications.” Unfortunately, the process has now been tainted.

It’s one thing if Gov. Perry doesn’t struggle with the execution of someone when there is no question as to the person’s guilt. But when legitimate questions arise, don’t we want our elected officials to struggle — even just a little bit — to know that they’re doing the right thing? And don’t we expect those officials to want to be sure that truth and justice prevail in the end? Gov. Perry could have stayed the execution long enough for a court to examine the overwhelming exonerating evidence. If the court dismissed the evidence, then the execution could have gone forward. But Gov. Perry didn’t struggle with the decision; he just allowed a man who appears to have been wrongly convicted to be executed by the State of Texas and then stopped an investigation that might have posthumously exonerated that man. Gov. Perry was apparently able or willing to just ignore the modern scientific evidence. His recent comments of global warming and evolution suggest that ignoring science is not something he struggles with under any circumstances.

Something else to consider: Gov. Perry talks about this faith in the Texas criminal justice system. We should all have faith in our judicial system. But that can’t be a blind faith and it must be a faith that can acknowledge and learn from errors. So how does Gov. Perry’s faith in the system reconcile the fact that since he became Governor in 2001, Texas has exonerated at least 41 people on the basis of more modern scientific evidence. Given a statistic like that, shouldn’t we expect a Governor to want to be absolutely, positively, without any possibility of doubt, sure that available scientific evidence wouldn’t exonerate a convicted criminal before that criminal is executed?

Perhaps Gov. Perry’s cavalier/cowboy approach will play well with the Republican base. But how will that attitude go over with the broader electorate? And what does his attitude toward executing people tell us about how Gov. Perry might approach other issues for which we’d expect a President to engage in some sort of internal struggle? Would he have any sort of internal struggle before launching missiles at terrorists? What if those terrorists were in the middle of a densely populated civilian area? Would he struggle before deciding to start a war or sending American soldiers off on dangerous missions? Would he struggle before making any decision that might cause harm to some, even if the decision was for the greater good? I’d like to think that my President would struggle with those kinds of issues so that, when a decision was reached, that President could be confident in the rightness of the decision and the thoroughness of the investigation and discussions upon which that decision is based. And I would be very worried about a President who could make life and death decisions with a cavalier attitude and without even stopping to contemplate the evidence. You know, there’s a great big button that a President can push that would cause a whole lot of damage. I’d like to know that a President Perry wouldn’t just push that button to show Russia or China or Iran just how macho he is; unfortunately, I don’t have the sense that he’d think twice about pushing that button, either.

Yet one more reason why I think it is imperative that our next President not be Rick Perry.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Early Look at the Republican Presidential Contenders (update 1)

Back on June 27 I posted An Early Look at the Republican Presidential Contenders wherein I offered my initial thoughts on the Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for President. With another debate scheduled for tonight, the time seemed right to take my first look back and see what, if anything, I would change about my analysis and prognostications. I may make this something of a series to return to from time to time. With that in mind, I’ve decided to reprint all of my discussions about the candidates from the original post (with a few typo corrections). At the end of the section for each candidate, I’ll offer some follow-up thoughts in red.

Presidential Candidate Mitt RomneyMitt Romney

Romney seems to have several major flaws that I think will wind up hurting him. First, he’s a Mormon. While we don’t have religious tests for public office, I have to wonder the extent to which evangelical Republicans will be put off by Romney’s religion. From my perspective, his religion shouldn’t matter (though what he himself believes and how he lives, are obviously relevant); but I tend to think that there is a large part of the electorate — perhaps the same part that continues to believe that President Obama is a Muslim — who won’t vote for a Mormon (and might not vote for a Catholic or Jew). And I’m not sure that I’d trust polls on this issue. I think that a lot of voters who, in reality, would not vote for a Mormon (or Jew or whatever) will be embarrassed to admit that to a pollster. Nobody wants to be labeled a bigot, even anonymously.

Second, Romney has earned a reputation for flip-flopping on his positions on certain issues (in particular, abortion). For whatever reason, it seems to be a political liability for a candidate to change his or her mind. For myself, I don’t have a problem with a candidate who changes a position on the basis of new information or of the evolving nature of societal acceptance of certain things or any of a host of other reasonable explanations (provided that the candidate offers a good explanation). But I will agree with a lot of people who don’t like politicians who appear to change positions, not because of any deep reason, but simply for political expediency. As we get closer to actual voting, I suspect that Romney’s opponents (or PACs who don’t like him) will flood particular markets with video of Romney’s very strong support of abortion rights in a Massachusetts gubernatorial debate some years ago. I think Romney will have a hard time explaining his change of position that doesn’t come off as pandering for political expediency, especially when his “flip-flop” is shown as just one of a pattern.

Next, given how unpopular healthcare reform has been on the right (at least by those who are completely uninformed about what the healthcare reform legislation really did, as opposed to the lies and fear-mongering that they’ve been spoon fed), I think that Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare reform (I won’t call it Romneycare, mostly for the same reasons that I don’t call the federal healthcare reform Obamacare) will be the proverbial albatross around Romney’s neck.

Finally, have you noticed how, even though Romney is supposedly the frontrunner, nobody seems to really like him much? I’m not sure what that’s all about (I haven’t watched or listened to him enough), but somehow he just doesn’t generate any real enthusiasm. If people aren’t excited about the candidate, how much of an effort (not just giving money) will they make to get that candidate elected?

Wow! Go back and read that last paragraph again. Then think about the fact that within a week or two after Rick Perry announced that he was entering the race (and before Gov. Perry has appeared in any debates…), Romney’s support plummeted while Gov. Perry’s soared? Does that suggest to you that support for Romney was very soft? That’s how I read it. The challenge for Romney in the coming weeks is to convince voters that Perry is too far right to actually beat President Obama in 2012 while positioning himself both as someone who can beat President Obama and who still aligns with the views of those who are as far right as Perry. Not an easy tightrope to walk. And given that Romney is already perceived as being an empty suit that tries to be everything to everybody, trying to walk that particular tightrope may just exacerbate one of his major weaknesses.

Presidential Candidate Tim PawlentyTim Pawlenty

Pawlenty is a bit of a wild card to me. I really don’t know much about him or his policies as Governor of Minnesota. The way I see it, Pawlenty may have a big upside if he can get people to notice him and pay attention. But so far, he hasn’t been able to do that and he’s been in the race for a long time. And Iowa, the site of the first primary (well, caucus, actually) is just next door. So you’d think that he’d be able to make an impact. But, for whatever reason, he seems to be stuck in neutral (or even moving downwards). Add to that the fact that he appears to be challenging for many of the same voters as fellow Minnesotan (is that right?) Michelle Bachmann. Two candidates from the same region competing for the same space. If voters were making choices on the basis of intelligence and reason, then Pawlenty should win that mini-race by default; but as we know, many voters make their decisions on many facts other than such silly things as intelligence, qualifications, and competence.

Unless Pawlenty can gain some major traction soon, I think that he’s going to be dead in the water.

Well now. Is an “I told you so” in order? Pawlenty couldn’t win voters away from Bachmann (and query not just what that says about Bachmann, but also what it says about voters…) and so he’s already become the first casualty of the race.

Presidential Candidate Michele BachmannMichele Bachmann

That I’m even including Bachmann in this list is literally painful. Seriously. The degree of stupidity exhibited by this woman is so frightening that I’m actually terrified of what it says about members of the voting public that anyone would support this ignoramus. But at least she’s smarter than Sarah Palin. Then again, my 11-year-olds are smarter than Sarah Palin (as are both of my dogs, my old pet rock, and that sock I wore the other day), so that’s not saying much.

I’m torn on what I think Bachmann’s chances are. On one hand, if voters really listen to her and to some of the things that she’s said in the past, to how easily she just makes shit up or lies, to her complete disdain for science and evidence, and to her constant appeals to our xenophobic and bigoted instincts, then I think that she’ll end up on the trash heap of failed candidates. On the other hand, look at how many people believed in “death panels” or worry that sharia law is taking over America or honestly believe that President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim who hates America or that being liberal (or even just a Democrat) is akin to being a Marxist, socialist, fascist, or some other form of evil intent on destroying America. Those people will love Bachmann. So the question is whether people, as the primaries draw nearer, will think before they vote, or whether they will continue to allow themselves to be guided to decisions premised on lies.

Bachmann did well in the New Hampshire debate a few weeks ago. It will be interesting to see how she does with more and more aggressive questioning — not to mention attacks by other candidates — as the campaign progresses. If she responds well, her stock will obviously rise. However, if her mouth starts running off on autopilot without giving the brain (presuming there’s one there) a chance to catch up, then she could quickly reveal herself as someone wholly unfit for office. Thus, I expect Bachmann to follow a Palin-like strategy of trying to limit her media exposure to “friendly” interviews. Of course that won’t matter much if members of the public get to ask her questions or in future debates where other candidates will have their chance to challenge her.

The good news, I guess, is that should Bachmann be on the ticket (even as a VP candidate), I don’t think that the Republican could possibly win. She has so much baggage that will compel most moderates away from the Republican party and make it much easier for Democrats to focus “turn out the vote” efforts just to vote against Bachmann.

One more thing: I really wish someone in the media would challenge Bachmann when she says that she raised 28 kids. She had 25 foster care children (and I don’t mean to denigrate that; I think that is something for which she is justifiably proud and for which she should be applauded); however, it is my understanding, that some of those children were with her for a very brief period, such that she may have briefly fostered them but didn’t really “raise” them. But, like her false claim that she didn’t benefit from farm subsidies, this is just another case where Bachmann plays “fast and loose” with facts without apparent challenge.

For some of my previous thoughts on Bachmann, please see my posts “Republican Congresswoman Follows Palin's Lead and Calls for Investigation Into Anti-Americans in Congress”, “Bachmann Misreads Herself! Huh?”, “Bachmann Now Supports Obama? Do These People Ever Listen to Themselves?”, “Bachmann Calls Her Own Comments an ‘Urban Myth’”, “Seditious Words From Republican Who Believes Democrats Are Anti-American”, and “Michelle Bachmann: The Idiot Who Won't Shut Up”. Since my last post focusing on Bachmann, she’s made plenty more truly idiotic statements; I just haven’t had the energy to keep up with them. But if she gets anywhere close to the White House, you can be sure that I (and many, many others) will be very quick to highlight just how dump — and dangerous — this woman really is.

Am I surprised that Bachmann won the Ames straw poll last month? No, not really. She has the charisma that Pawlenty lacked; she is willing to say just about anything, to hell with accuracy; she had a tent with air conditioning; and she raised enough money that she was simply able to buy more votes than the other candidates. What’s that, I hear you ask? Yes, in the Ames straw poll, candidates pay the fee for voters to cast ballots. Interestingly enough, of the voters who had their entry fee paid by Bachmann, only about 80% actually voted for her. But I think that Iowa will probably have been her peak. As the Republicans have more and more debates, her novelty will wear off and the other candidates will become more willing to go after her, especially to point out some of the crazy things that she’s said in the past and to demonstrate how little she really knows or understands. So far, she’s done a pretty good job of avoiding new gaffes and loony statements (though she’s still had some fun ones…), but for how long can she keep her crazy self in check? Also, as the campaign moves away from the door-to-door, retail politics of the conservative half of Iowa, Bachmann will be forced to talk to those who haven’t already signed on to her brand of crazy. And that will undoubtedly be a tougher sell. Oh, and don’t forget that she’s also competing for the same portion of the electorate to which Rick Perry is a compelling alternative. Finally, one thing that all of the candidates are going to have to do at some point is to talk to reporters who aren’t necessarily paid to make that candidate look good (i.e., a reporter for a network other than Fox News) or an actual voter who isn’t a die-hard Republican. How will Bachmann fare in those sorts of situations? If her famous Chris Matthews interview is any indication, I suspect not well.

Presidential Candidate Ron PaulRon Paul

Paul has a very energized and vocal base of support, but is otherwise not terribly well known. I think that some of his libertarian views will find a lot of favor in the Republican electorate. But other libertarian views will, I think, really turn off many more Republican voters (i.e., legalization of drugs). Moreover, I think that once people start to really focus on the implications of some of Paul’s efforts to eliminate huge portions of the government, then the perceived popularity of his ideas will begin to lose favor — quickly. Similarly, Paul’s isolationist views are at odds with the more hawkish elements of the Republican electorate.

Finally, and this may be more relevant to the general election than to the Republican primary, some of Paul’s associations and the nature of some of his biggest supporters (anti-Semites and white supremacists) will (I hope) make people, both Republicans and Democrats, uncomfortable.

I don’t have much more to say about Paul. He finished second in the Ames straw poll behind Bachmann. He is well-known for being able to turn out lots of enthusiastic supporters for events like that. But the fact that he hasn’t been able to turn that second place finish into any form of broader popularity is telling. He has a strong group of supporters and they will follow him and work hard for him, but his brand of libertarian conservatism just doesn’t appear to be broadening itself beyond that already devoted core group of supporters. And when it looks like he might gain a bit of traction, he’ll say something mind-numbingly stupid or practically designed to alienate voters. It is interesting, however, to watch Paul be the first candidate to really go after Rick Perry, reminding voters that Perry used to be a Democrat who supported Al Gore.

Presidential Candidate Herman CainHerman Cain

The following statement is going to sound a bit racist, so let me complete the thought before you draw any conclusions. I think that Cain’s support is largely based upon the fact that he’s black (and note that, if I’m not mistaken, he is careful to note that he’s black and not an African-American, not liking that particular designation). What do I mean by that? I think that a lot of Republicans are, knowingly or otherwise, trying hard to show that both they and other Republicans are not racists and that opposition to President Obama is not based on racism. How best to show that you’re not a racist? Simple: Support a black candidate! Maybe, I’m wrong. Maybe Republicans really like Herman Cain, even though most had never heard of him before very recently and many more are highly unlikely to have heard much of what he has to say. Yet even with his relative obscurity, he continues to poll quite well. Hmm.

But I think that Cain is highly unlikely to do well as people hear more from him and the other candidates. He has demonstrated that he is a bit of a gaffe machine. Moreover, his overt Islamophobia combined with his efforts to walk back the overt Islamophobia all while insisting that he didn’t actually say the things that he clearly did say (maybe he hasn’t heard of YouTube?) to be charged with being an Islamophobe may make some voters a bit nervous. Sure, there is a segment that probably agrees with Cain’s idea of a “loyalty test” for Muslims (that same segment would probably be happy kicking Muslims out of the US or requiring them to convert to Christianity, too), but I don’t think that more moderate voters will favor that viewpoint.

Finally, I think that there is a large portion of the Republican electorate that will reject Cain because he’s black.

Haven’t heard much more about Cain lately, have you? I’m not surprised. I think he’ll hang around for a while longer, but I just don’t see any way for him to squeeze into the race between Romney and Perry (absent a spectacular flameout by one of the frontrunners). I do wonder if Cain might actually be running for Vice President, especially as a way to try to lure African American (oops, sorry .. black) voters away from the Democrats and President Obama.

Presidential Candidate Newt GingrichNewt Gingrich

By the time I finish this post (I started it last week…), Gingrich may be done. His campaign staff quit en masse a few weeks ago, last week his fundraising folks quit, and we’ve learned that his $500,000 line of credit to Tiffany was actually the second line of credit he had (apparently, Gingrich also has a $1,000,000 line!). That’s a lot of jewelry. How many engagement rings can you buy for $1,500,000?

Gingrich has so much baggage, I suspect that airlines charge him extra just to fly. Recall (and you can expect that other Republican candidates will certainly remind voters) that Gingrich was removed from his position as Speaker of the House because of ethical lapses. Gee, that’s who we want for President. And Gingrich has left not one, but two wives, for women with whom he was having extra-marital affairs. And according to some reports, in both cases, the soon-to-be ex-Mrs. Gingrich was either in the hospital or ill when he decided to get divorced. Moreover, don’t forget that Gingrich, while he was leading the impeachment efforts against President Clinton for lying about a blowjob, was himself having an extra-marital affair with a House staffer. His explanation for that infidelity: “There's no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.” Ah, yes. The old, I’m such a patriot, I just had to have sex with someone who wasn’t my wife defense. Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned last week for tweeting naked pictures of himself, but serial-philanderer Gingrich is running for President?

I could go on and on with Gingrich’s flaws, but it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. His presidential aspirations are toast, but the name recognition that he revives will help him sell more books and give more speeches … which of course will help him pay that bill to Tiffany.

Is Newt really still in this race? Maybe he has a new book that will be coming out soon for which he needs to maintain name recognition. I’d say that he’s the laughing stock of the field … but then I remember who some of the other candidates are.

Presidential Candidate Rick SantorumRick Santorum

Santorum scares me, though thankfully, I don’t think that he has a chance of getting the nomination. He is a man that his so tone deaf to the world around him that I would be truly frightened of what an America under the leadership of Santorum might look like. He’s also one of those holier-than-thou sort of people. I just read an article last week about how the extremely anti-abortion candidate, a candidate who doesn’t believe in any exceptions, permitted doctors to induce an abortion in his wife to save her life. In other words, abortion is evil and nobody should ever have the right to an abortion … except for Santorum’s family. The saving grace, so to speak, is that I think Santorum’s social values stances are so far to the right, that he will be very unappealing to all but the furthest right portion of the Republican party. While the primaries tend to drive candidates toward the extremes, I think that candidates like Bachmann and Pawlenty (or maybe Rick Perry) can position themselves to the far right without going as far right as Santorum.

I forgot to mention one other weakness that Santorum has. In response to repeated highly offensive homophobic statements, several gay rights activists decided to go on the offensive against Santorum. They decided to coin a word invoking his last name. Go ahead: Google the name Santorum (though please don’t do so if your kids are reading this). Should more and more Americans decide to try learn a bit more about Santorum (the candidate, not the frothy mix), they will probably be learning things that they didn’t want to know. And once you have that name association in your head, good luck getting rid of it. Can you imagine if Santorum was the actual candidate? Would schools and libraries put a filter on searches of his name?

Presidential Candidate Jon HuntsmanJohn Huntsman

Like most Americans, I don’t really know much about Huntsman. From what I’ve heard, he plans to run as the most centrist of the Republican candidates. And while that appeals to me, I don’t think that’s going to play terribly well with the primary-voting Republican base. The fact that Huntsman is a Mormon will likely cause him the same problems that Romney will encounter. And Huntsman’s positions on things like civil unions (he supports them) and global warming (he believes in it) may be anathema to the Republicans he’ll need to secure the nomination. (I’d love to know what he thinks of evolution; if he believes in it, then he’s probably toast.) He might be a formidable opponent for President Obama in the general election (especially if he could run from the center and characterize President Obama as running from the left), but first Huntsman will need to get the nomination and those sort of centrist (and rational…) positions aren’t likely to endear him to the Republican base. Finally, you can be sure that time and again, other candidates will remind voters that Huntsman not only served in the Obama administration (as ambassador to China) but that Huntsman has offered (in writing, no less) glowing praise of President Obama. The visceral hate of President Obama from so many on the right (Obama Derangement Syndrome) may make a candidate that not only worked for/with President Obama, but even had the audacity to say something positive about him, just too “extreme”.

A few odd things to note about Huntsman’s candidacy. First, though he continues to poll at only about 1%, he continues to be treated by the media as a “serious candidate” (while others who also poll at that same 1% are completely ignored). Things that make you say, “Hmmm”? And it is really quite telling that Huntsman took to Twitter a few weeks ago to say:

To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.

Scary, isn’t it, that a candidate has to actually say that he believes in evolution and trusts scientists. Scarier still that the statement needs to be followed by “Call me crazy.” And scariest of all: That statement didn’t make any impact on Huntsman’s support (or lack thereof) or on the support being given to candidates who clearly don’t believe in evolution or trust scientists (I’m looking at you, Rick and Michele).

Presidential Candidate Gary JohnsonGary Johnson

Johnson, the former Governor of New Mexico is a true libertarian. But that means that some of his views on social issues won’t meet with a lot of favor from a portion of the Republican electorate. More problematic for Johnson is the complete lack of name recognition that he has (or, to be more precise, does not have). In this month’s Republican debate in New Hampshire, Johnson, a declared candidate, was not included, while Bachmann, who only declared during the debate, was included. If Johnson can’t find a way to get in front of voters and to be on the same stage as the candidates who do have name recognition, then he is going nowhere fast.

Johnson can’t even get on the stage for the Republican debates. Nobody knows who he is and without that kind of exposure, nobody is going to learn who he is. Buh-bye.

Presidential Candidate Fred KargerFred Karger

Karger is openly gay. ’Nuff said? I don’t know. Maybe the 3 or 4 Republicans who favored repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the 1 or 2 Republicans who support civil unions or … gasp … gay marriage will vote for Karger. But in reality, his campaign is simply a stunt and he’s not a viable candidate. One question, I suppose, is whether Karger will draw any votes at all; if he does, those votes are likely to come from the more moderate portion of the Republican electorate, at the expense of candidates like Huntsman or maybe Romney.

The only interesting thing to note about Karger’s candidacy is that he’s filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against Fox News because Fox News refused to allow him to participate in the last debate even though he’d met all of their standards (including polling high enough in several polls). Karger doesn’t stand a chance, but it will be interesting to see how the FEC complaint is resolved (and note that NBC has also excluded candidates like Karger and Johnson from tonight’s debate). So long as the networks get to decide who are the “legitimate” candidates (i.e., why are Gingrich or Santorum more worthy of being on stage than Karger or Johnson), then how well is our democracy and primary system really working?

Presidential Candidate Rick PerryRick Perry

So far, Perry isn’t in the race, though in recent weeks there have been some inklings that he is considering throwing his proverbial hat into the ring. Perry has a lot of ups (at least as far as Republican voters and the primaries are concerned), not the least of which is that he (other than Gingrich) would be the lone Southerner in the race. And after Iowa and New Hampshire, the Republican primary contest moves to South Carolina. From there, southern states become very important on the path to the Republican nomination.

Perry does, however, have some serious baggage of his own. First, and this is just my own two cents, will voters be uncomfortable with yet another Texas cowboy in the White House? I think that even a lot of Republican voters don’t look back on the Bush presidency with great fondness. Thus, one has to wonder whether Perry’s ties to Bush (if I’m not mistaken, he was Bush’s Lieutenant Governor) and other eerie similarities (he even seems to like to talk like Bush, droppin’ his Gs and bein’ all folksy) will be too much. And the macho cowboy image he likes to portray (he jogs with a gun and kills wild animals while jogging?) maybe a bit much for a lot of Americans.

There are also persistent rumors that Perry is … drum roll please … gay. Enough so, that his “even though I’m not running” team is apparently working to counter those rumors. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire? And even if there isn’t a fire, how will Republican voters react? Recall the drubbing that McCain took in South Carolina in 2000 when Bush supporters painted McCain as the father of a “black” child (his adopted Asian daughter). If Perry has to spend face time telling people that he’s not gay, it will just be less time that he has to talk to them about why they should support him.

Finally, there is the giant elephant in the room that I suspect every other Republican candidate will remind voters of time and time again and that is Perry’s flirtation with the early Tea Party movement and suggestions that Texas should secede if it doesn’t get what it wants from Washington. It will be hard to argue that he should be elected President of a country that he suggested, however obliquely, that Texas secede from. After all, it’s hard to play the role of the patriot when your opponents have red meat that they can display to suggest that you are anything but patriotic. My question is why the national media, in story after story on Perry and whether he may run, never remembers to mention that particular episode.

OK. So Perry didn’t really suggest secession. But he did seem to flirt with the idea. And even though he didn’t really suggest secession, I think that is an issue that he will continue to be challenged on in the primaries and in the general election. Since writing my original analysis on Perry, he’s hosted his prayer rally (see my post Rick Perry’s Relationship With the Most Extreme Elements of Evangelical Christianity), has called Ben Bernanke (head of the Federal Reserve) “treasonous”, made clear that he doesn’t believe in evolution, and suggested that climate scientists are engaging in fraud to line their own pockets. And yet Perry is also currently polling as the top candidate. So either Republicans still don’t really know Perry and are just desperate for someone other than Romney (or Bachmann or any of the other candidates) or they actually like a candidate with views as extreme as Perry.

Oh, and about those views. I had no idea that Perry wrote a book, just 10 months ago (!), in which he claims that virtually every federal program and many federal laws (including, but not limited to, Social Security, Medicare, child labor laws, environmental protection…) are unconstitutional. How will his claim that Social Security is an unconstitutional Ponzi scheme play in Florida? And yet Perry is currently polling as the top candidate… (did I say that already?).

Right now, Perry is the guy to watch. It will be interesting to see how he does in the debates (apparently he’s only ever debated a tiny handful of times, even after serving more than 10 years as Governor of Texas and for the last 26 years in various elected offices). And it will be interesting to see how the other candidates treat Perry; will they challenge his more crazy positions or will they give him a free pass?

Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

What is there left to say about the blathering idiot from Alaska (or is that Arizona)? The half-term governor (and half-bus tour non-candidate?) is like a lightning rod of love and hate. She appears to have an adoring public who would probably be willing to kill the other candidates (and voters, too) to get Palin elected. But I don’t think that there has ever been a candidate with more negative polling numbers than Palin. For every voter who lovers her, several absolutely detest her.

Could Palin win the Republican nomination? I don’t think so. I think that once she had to stand on stage with the other candidates and debate them day after day, the grin and wink routine would wear thin. She only debated then-Senator Biden once and he didn’t pound on her the way the other Republican candidates might. If she runs for the Republican nomination, she’ll have to debate the rest of the candidates, some of whom at least appear to have a firm grasp of some of the issues (however delusional their policies may be) where Palin can offer little more than “gee, shucks” folksy bon mots that don’t really say much. And heaven help Palin if she is ever actually forced to really discuss an issue in depth. If she really runs, she won’t be able to limit press access to Fox News and friendly reporters. Who knows, some reporter might even ask her really hard questions, just like Katie Couric. Or they might ask her another gotcha question like “What have you done today?” And you can bet that if she gets in the race and starts making headway, some candidate’s opposition research team will begin to put forth Trig-trutherism information (that is, advancing the conspiracy that her baby was not really hers but rather her daughter’s…). Just like Obama Birtherism, Trig-truthism remains an active conspiracy among some.

If Palin is unable to handle any of that, just as she was apparently unable to handle the extreme stress and attention of governing Alaska, then how will voters really respond to her desire to be the Republican nominee for President?

She still hasn’t entered the race. Why would she? She’s making a killing as a Fox “analyst”. She’s become the ultimate “reality TV” personality. She’s a personality. On TV. Talking about reality (politics). Sarah Palin is not running for President.

Other Candidates

Jimmy McMillan, Tom Miller, Roy Moore, Buddy Roemer, Vern Wuensche, and maybe others. You may have heard of Judge Roy Moore (the Alabama Ten Commandments judge) or Buddy Roemer (former Democratic Governor of Louisiana). All of these guys make Fred Karger look like a highly viable candidate with a good chance to win.

Nothing new. Move along.

The Kingmakers

One additional point that needs to be raised with regard to all of the candidates. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I guess, depending on your viewpoint), none of this may matter in the least! Why? Because the decision of who is chosen as the Republican nominee may, in all practicality, be out of the hands of voters. Instead, the decision may be entirely up to corporate donors who can now spend unlimited amounts to say and do whatever they want to help or hurt their chosen champion. If a particular candidate generates corporate or SuperPAC support sufficient to drown out competing candidates and viewpoints, then voters may never get the real chance to make any kind of meaningful decision. A candidate with a good message but not enough funding to spread that message will whither in the face of a well-funded onslaught. And if that weren’t enough, we have to remember that the real GOP kingmaker is probably Fox News. If they support a candidate and give wall to wall favorable fair and balanced coverage while turning the fair and balanced “dynasty of lying” (to use John Stewart’s phrase from last week…) on the non-favored candidates, then those actions, too, may take meaningful decision-making out of the hands of Republican voters who may simply believe and do as they are instructed (or have no choices left by the time that poorly-funded, non-Fox supported candidates have been forced from the race).

Ah, democracy.

Think about this last point for a moment. Who is leading the race right now? It looks like Perry, with Romney in second, and maybe Bachmann in third. And how do we know this? Do we know this because of the votes that have been cast? Of course not. No votes have been cast (other than those purchased at the Ames straw poll that Bachmann won). Tim Pawlenty has already dropped out of the race before a single vote has been cast. And why aren’t we going to see Gary Johnson, Fred Karger, or Buddy Roemer on stage tonight? The simple fact remains: The nomination process is being decided largely in the media, on the basis of who the media spends time covering, which issues are addressed, which gaffes are publicized, and which questions are asked of whom. Voters in states other than Iowa and New Hampshire have barely had a chance to hear from candidates and yet the the race may already be down to two or three people.

Ah, democracy.

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