Friday, December 21, 2007

Handicapping the Democrats

First, an update from yesterday. Several polls have McCain moving up sharply and Guiliani dropping off the electoral map. As currently positioned, it’s quite possible that Guiliani will be done by the end of January. People just don’t like him (no surprise, he’s a total dick) and his scandals have caught up with him. McCain’s rise, to me, is startling as I have long considered him DOA but some people are now predicting he will win the whole thing. I won’t go that far as some of the polls they cite which show McCain’s rise have been vastly divergent results from the bulk of other polls out there (polling is a variable “science” that I may tackle in another post) and since these predictions are based on the moment not on potential trends. But I will say this: McCain is the least ape-sh*t of the GOP candidates and that’s got to be appealing to the core who are turned off by the evangelical option and the flip-flopper. At any rate, this could all change on a dime. As we all saw with George “Macaca” Allen, one mistake can destroy a campaign and trends don’t necessarily mean anything.

Now, onto the Democrats.

The Democrat side is much more challenging to predict because they use a proportional system to divide up the delegates. As I understand it, any candidate that receives less than 15% of the vote will be disregarded and the remaining candidates will receive a proportional share of delegates based on the percentage of votes they receive. What isn’t clear is this: Are the actual votes for the sub-15% candidates subtracted meaning that delegates for above-15% candidates are calculated only based the new percentage of support?

In other words, Candidate X, Y, and Z get 32%, 30%, and 23% in the primary while Candidates A,B, and C get 7%, 3%, and 5% for a total of 15%. Assuming there are 1000 total votes, then as I understand it, the 150 votes for A, B, and C would be discarded and new percentages would be calculated for the others. In this case, X goes to 37%, Y to 35%, and Z to 27%.

Based on the guidance manual I read yesterday (page 15), I believe this is how things work. But I could very well be wrong as the manual was a bit unclear on this and I had not the time to give it a full examination.

That being said, this system obviously is harder to predict in that there’s no telling how many total votes are likely to be cast so the following predictions are more rough than the GOP side.
To win the Democratic nomination for president a candidate has to accumulate 2,184 total delegates. Some delegates have already “voted”. These are congress members and other special delegates that exist outside the primary process. The current count follows:

Clinton – 75
Obama – 31
Edwards – 16
Dodd – 10
Richardson – 7
Biden – 1

(This will be the last time Dodd, Richardson, and Biden are mentioned.)

Due to similar problems with state primary moves (as described yesterday) the following primaries and their values count for January:

Iowa – 56
NH – 30
Nevada – 33
South Carolina – 54

Michigan and Florida won’t count unless they move the primaries back, which doesn’t look likely to happen, so I will ignore them. That leaves 4 races to start momentum going.

According to the latest poll data, Iowa is statistically tied between Obama and Clinton. However, trend lines show Obama moving ahead and Clinton dropping. Assuming those trends continue up to the election, an Obama victory is looking likely. Edwards is also trending upward of late. However, Iowa is a caucus state, not a straight primary and that makes any prediction unreliable at best (due to the power of groupthink). The “winner” will get a huge momentum boost and that’s spells good things for Obama but it says here that those 56 votes are split 21 Obama, 19 Clinton, and 16 Edwards.

New Hampshire is a bit more clear cut. Trend lines show sharp increases for Obama and Edwards and a very steep decline for Clinton. I’m going out on a limb here and saying that those trends continue and that NH follows Iowa’s lead (as it historically has). Obama 12, Clinton 11, Edwards, 7.

Nevada is a Clinton stronghold and she’s been far ahead for the entire race. That being said, trends lines show both Clinton and Obama gaining with Edwards dropping. At current levels this is a 2-candidate race and I will estimate the vote count at Clinton 21 and Obama 12.

South Carolina is a bit closer. Trend lines show Obama nudging into Clinton territory but Edwards is also trending up. Right now, Edwards is hovering at that 15% line. I say he makes it over, but just barely, while Clinton nudges out Obama. That would result in the following count: Clinton 23, Obama 22, Edwards 9.

Based on these estimates (which are incredibly loose and subject to great error) this would leave the following total before Super Tuesday (with percent accumulated for the nomination):

Clinton: 149 (6%)
Obama: 98 (4%)
Edwards: 48 (2%)

I fully expect, therefore, that Clinton will be leading the pack at the end of January. But, as you can see, it’s unlikely that her position will be dominant or even strong. The majority of her advantage still remains with the pre-pledged delegate endorsements she has received. In terms of actual popular vote her margin is extremely thin (74-67).

I also expect that Edwards is probably going to be on the outside looking in. His inability to win South Carolina will be his undoing. He’s from the South. He has to win there to have a chance and right now, it’s not looking good. This is too bad for I quite like Edwards but I’d say it’s looking more like he’s headed for the Vice-Presidentship or a cabinet post.

At any rate, no matter how poorly I have predicted the ballot count, February 5th still remains decision day. There are 2064 delegates up for grabs in one day and the day’s winner will likely win the nomination.

I have no information about the strategies of the various campaigns, but it’s looking increasingly likely that Obama needs to win early if he wants a chance. I suggest that he needs to win both Iowa and New Hampshire to build the necessary momentum. People have to start to believe that he’s a winnable candidate and he will only solidify that image (and destroy Hillary’s aura of invincibility) with wins. There is also a chance that he could win South Carolina. It says here that if he wins Iowa, NH, and South Carolina, he’s the next Democratic candidate for President.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Handicapping the GOP

I find election polling to be an utterly interesting endeavor. In that vein, here's a good site for catching up on the latest polls as well as seeing trend lines (which are generally more indicative than individual polls):

And based on the current trend lines, here's a fearless prediction for the GOP:

Huckabee wins Iowa and South Carolina, Romney wins NH, Maine, and Michigan, Guiliani wins Nevada, Florida, and New York, Paul, Thompson, and McCain win nothing. Race most likely to change between now and then: California. Guiliani is trending downward with both Romney and Huckabee up.

What does this mean. A candidate needs 1,259 delegates to get the Republican nomination. Here's the breakdown of the current primaries and their delegates:

Iowa: 40
Wyoming: 14
NH: 12
Michigan: 30
Nevada: 34
South Carolina: 24
Florida: 57
Maine: 21

Unlike normal years, the primaries in WY, NH, MI, SC, and FL were all penalized for moving their primaries up without permission. That means the value listed above is actually 50% of the normal value, and, as such, significantly alters the early vote dynamic. These primaries are now of less import than in previous years.

That said, the total based on my predictions for the pre-Super Tuesday (Feb 5) primaries would be the following (with the percent accrued for the nomination and Wyoming excluded as there is no readily avialable poll data):

Huckabee: 64 (5%)
Romney: 63 (5%)
Guiliani: 91 (7%)
Everyone Else: 0*

(*On the Democrat side, some states award delegates on a proportional or district level. Don't think the GOP does the same but could very well be wrong meaning that the less important candidates could get a few delegates here or there.)

As you can see, January, while important, holds much greater symbolic value than actual value. And, based on current trends, it's likely that Guiliani will hold a slight edge at the end of the month. But, the nomination will largely be decided on Feb 5 and there just isn't poll data available to make further predictions. However, California (173) and NY (101) are big deals. If Guiliani continues to collapse in California, it is unlikely he can win the nomination.

One thing seems clear: This is looking to be a very tight race on the GOP side. I expect that by Super Tuesday, the "everyone else" category will be empty and that will help clear some things up as those votes will be converted into votes for legitimate prospects.

(Note: This site marginally contributed to this post:

Tomorrow: Democratic candidates


Official News, New TVs, and Bad Movies

Job Stuff

I got the official notice yesterday afternoon. My job here will end with my contract on February 11, 2008. They are eliminating my position. It’s worse than expected however, as the number of people they are eliminating has grown. The boss was actually crying last night after a conference call which made a final decision to eliminate her (virtual) assistant. And people in the regional offices are already being let go.

I have to say that I’m happy about this. I’ve always liked change and this change is going to be much better for me than staying on for what I would see as another wasted year. (Ok, this wasn’t a wasted year. I learned a lot, improved my Spanish, and gained some valuable experience. But to continue for another year in this same position? That would be a waste.)

My next move is still up in the air. I have 3 possibilities on the horizon but nothing has become clear as of yet. I still have a hovering visa issue (marriage visa grants right to stay, not right to work, and getting the right to work is an arduous process) and that is complicating things. Let’s hope for the most favorable outcome, no matter what that means.

At any rate, I’ve had nothing to do in the office for about 2 or 3 weeks now and that looks to continue. Yesterday I made photocopies for about 10 minutes. I’m trying not to overly tax myself. Of course, the good part about that is that I’ve made great strides with my book and while I don’t think I’m going to hit my end of the year target, I’ll come extremely close. (I had hoped to have a complete first draft by Jan 1, 2008, but I’ve developed several plot lines over the past couple weeks and reorganized a few things which will necessitate a bit more time.)

New TV

We finally got the new TV the other day. The wife’s company gave a new TV to every employee as a reward for exceeding a sales target for the year. Apparently that kind of stuff really works because they didn’t just exceed the target, they destroyed it. For 2008, they’re talking about a free trip as the reward although that’s subject to change.

At any rate, we were rolling with a very nice Samsung 32 inch LCD HD TV. I was quite pleased with that one when we bought it and have never had a complaint about it.

It’s been moved aside, in favor of…

…a 40 inch, Sony Bravia, LCD HD TV, that is, without a doubt, the bombsh*t. I think we have the S-series although I don’t remember at this moment. It was like information overload when I set it up last night. And I think I may have had a high-tech orgasm just taking it out of the box.

The only downside is that the cable signal here is so poor that the picture quality on a great number of channels appears worse with this TV than the old one (primarily because it’s bigger). That being said, I really can’t wait until the day that I have HD set up at home on this TV. I’m already drooling about the prospect of HD basketball and picture in picture and everything else.

Crappiest movie seen since the last crappy movie

I watched the majority of Eragon on HBO last night (apparently it was a fantasy novel first). Let me just suggest the following to any would be watcher of this film: It would be a better use of your time to repeatedly bash your head into a wall for 2 hours than watch even 1 minute of this utterly craptacular disaster of a movie. Even the sudden and odd appearance of an all time great (John Malkovich who apparently wanted an all expense paid vacation in Slovakia around shooting time) can’t save the film.

Essentially, best I can tell, this movie is a mix of King Arthur and the Highlander with some Lord of the Rings and Star Wars thrown in, if it can be said to have any plot at all. But I’m fairly sure that the producers said, “screw the plot, let’s just get some super scenery, bone up on special effects, and roll! That’s what they did with the Lord of the Rings, right?!” (When the screenplay is written by the guy who wrote Jurassic Park III, you’re probably not starting off right.)

Now, I’ve never been one for dragons. Always thought people overly interested in dragons were a bit odd really. Fantasy stories are interesting because of the human experience and dragons based stories always seem to remove or deemphasize the human element. But the problems go far beyond that. When writing a fantasy novel or movie, names are a big deal. I really like the way Tolkien and Jordan, among others, introduced different names. They had characters from relatively out of the way places go out into the bigger world and learn about all these different places first hand. In that way, the audience wasn’t overwhelmed by a barrage of strange sounding names that made no sense and were impossible to follow. They learned with the character.

Now, I can’t speak to the novel version of this movie (although the reviews were not particularly positive). I haven’t read it and likely never will (dragons not being my thing and all, cheap rip offs of Tolkien and Star Wars notwithstanding). But I can say that this movie made no attempt to involve the audience and instead just overwhelmed them with a barrage of obscure and strange sounding names and concepts. It was all very much a turnoff.

Really though, aside from the horrid acting, a poorly crafted script, and a chop-shop editing job, the dumbest thing about it was that the entire movie took place over two days leading to one of the final lines of the film, “Yesterday you were a farmer, today a hero, tomorrow…”. Yeah, I’m supposed to believe that the entire magical world in which they live is the size of Virginia Beach, that a stupid ass farm boy can learn how to fight (et. al.) in one day, etc. (Ok, I missed the start, so maybe it wasn’t over 2 days and I’m being too literal. I don’t know. But the bottom line is, I don’t give a f***.)

But don’t take my word for it. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 16% favorable rating (too high) and the 10th worst film of 2006 (still too high).

Waterworld, say hello to your new brethren!

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More on the Hostage Release

Differing translations means slightly different versions but it appears that the FARC has pledged to release 3 hostages: Clara Rojas, her infant son (born in captivity and fathered by a guerrilla) and Consuelo Gonzalez. This is the short version. The reuters version is probably the most complete. Although the BBC has more information about Rojas' son.

None of these have the comments from the FARC, however, calling the Colombian peace negotiator a "liar". You have to read spanish to get that at this point. I'll translate the relevant portion roughly:

In the seven point communique, the FARC insisted on a 45-day demilitarized zone in Florida and Pradera to concretize a humanitarian agreement. About the meeting zone (proposed by the government), they say it is a proposal for dialogue with "the liar Commissionar Restrepo, in an inhospitable, remote and clandestine place with a term of 30 days."

Likewise, they say that "the annulment of the management facilitator (Hugo Chavez) was an act of diplomatic barbary against the legitimate head of a brother state and against the Venezuelan people (who were) supportive of the request from Bogotá."

(Italics mine for clarity.)

It remains to be seen if this is just a Christmas gift or a commitment to restart the process with sincerity but I would suggest that the tone of the FARC communique was not particularly favorable for negotiations or for further hostages releases. Let's hope that the Uribe government responds to this in a positive fashion and has the testicular fortitude to ignore the fact that the FARC insisted on insulting them at the same time that they did something genuinely good.

Finally, further proving that Latin American Politics (or all politics) is never above the level of the average 4th grade playground, Venezuela's Chavez (from the above Reuters link):

"Let's hope Uribe doesn't know anything, because Uribe is capable of trying to block this release," he said."

Not to be outdone, Uribe:

"If I were the FARC, I would think, President Chávez is the successor of President Castro. President Chávez is one of the people who control oil worldwide. President Chávez elected this or that president in this or that country, and he can name any political party and any president in Colombia," said Uribe."

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words never hurt me! Nanananana booboo. Liar, liar pants on fire.


Big News for the Hostages

FARC has decided to release 3 hostages. The news has yet to break in the english speaking press as far as I can tell. IF they follow through with this and they are actually freed, this could represent a VERY important step toward further peace negotiations. At the very least, this represents a first step and shows that the organization is not totally oblivious of how negotiations work. More when I get it.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Greatest Website Ever

Sorry, have to promo this one. Go to:

Do not delay.

Unfortunately, there aren't firm links for each entry, but check Nov 4, 2007. "Japan Looks like its Phillips Curve"

This is a truly bizarre and entertaining site


The Rich Get Richer

Since 1979 the average pre-tax income of the top 1% of America has gone from $517,000 to $1,558,500 (both figures in 2005 dollars). Over the same period, the average income of the lowest fifth of America has increased by $200. The rich, are indeed, getting richer.

But don’t take my word for it. The Congressional Budget Office is the source of this data. (See Table 1C)

As a whole, almost every income bracket is paying less in taxes now than they did in 1979. But, one thing is clear. Through both Repubs and Dems, the poor have stayed poor and the rich have gotten even richer. Maybe we should try to do something about that?


Thursday, December 13, 2007


I have spoken to my wife about this although not in as much detail as I will discuss here. But, I want to make clear that she knows and understands the depth of my feelings on this issue, if not all of the specific reasons for these feelings.

Throughout my life, I have always enjoyed, relished even the opportunity to experience new cultures and experiences. I am very adaptable and could live in most environments (although the Sahara doesn't sound particularly pleasant). That being said, I am, without doubt, completely human and fallable as are we all. And, after living in Colombia for almost 2 years, I am growing tired of it. This is not to say that I dislike Colombia. Nor is it to suggest that anything is wrong with Colombia as a country or Bogota as a city. It is only to suggest that personally, I am not enjoying life here as much as I did initially and I am increasingly beginning to experience "ancy feet". While I wonder how much my job situation (and prospects) plays into this emotional reaction, there are several factors which have played a direct role into my restlessness.

It's not always easy for a North American to live in Colombia. Never have I felt so isolated in a public place. We are targeted, analyzed, scoped out, and made to feel different. Even as a foreigner in Rome, without more than a handful of Italian words under my belt, I never felt truly isolated. I felt like integration in the culture and the society was possible. I don't feel that here. Instead I feel like a target, a mark. For a time, I have just dealt with this sensation and chalked it up to being a foreigner in a developing country not entirely accustomed to foreigners. But I have to confess, I grow tired of feeling like I'm being watched. I miss the anonymity of London.

Colombia is not a safe place to be for the incautious. I have, to date, never been robbed, mugged, accosted, or even felt to be in a threatening situation in Bogota. That's a higher personal safety mark than London. But, I am extremely cautious to the point of paranoia and I prefer to stay locked up at home rather than go out at night and put myself at risk. This strategy has prevented any type of incident but has also brought boredom and, to a greater extent, a feeling of being under siege. Not that I want to walk the streets drunk, but I miss feeling like I can walk the streets drunk or that I can take a taxi or bus on the street at night without having to worry about being mugged or abducted. Instead, I feel like the danger involved in going out at night far outweighs the reward and I generally stay shut-in.

Public services like basic utilities are a privilege. There is a permissable monthly service disruption for each major utility. I don't know what happens if they exceed those disruptions. Maybe there is a penalty. I do know, however, that I tire of not having power, or gas, or water on a frequent and regular basis. I tire of having to take cold showers every now and then, of not being able to watch TV or surf the internet, i.e., not being able to take advantage of the very services that I pay for. I'm reluctant to complain about these things as they are luxuries that vast portions of this country can not afford and will never be able to afford. But, I can't deny that I'm from a developed country and I am accustomed to a certain style of living that is, at times, at complete odds with the experience in Bogota.

Cultural isolation is not only for foreigners. There is no doubt that the language barrier contributes to my general isolation. I prefer not to watch Colombian news, for example, because after a full day of Spanish, I want to hear and converse in English. It's emotional and even though I know that I should be trying to complete my immersion, I find myself reluctant. The "why" is not entirely related to my desire for English. It's also related to the mix of violence and bubble gum news that dominates the airwaves. One moment, a story is presented on FARC attacks in a distant province while the next there's a live interview a one of the 1000 beauty pageants that never seem to end. (I'm convinced that Colombia leads the world in insurgency and beauty pageants.) This is to say, I find Colombian news to be either entirely depressing or entirely worthless at the same time. But, and here's the point, I'm not the only one. A great number of Colombians I know here, my wife included, prefer not to watch the news or stay abreast of things happening in their country. It's almost safer emotionally to just ignore the corruption, violence, and ongoing scandals that threaten the very existence of the country. To me, it speaks volumes about where a country is when vast tracts of the upper classes prefer not to know the details of their government.

Colombian culture is both warm and deadly. People hail Colombian culture as extremely warm and welcoming and there can be no doubt about that. However, sometimes I feel that there's an equal chance that a newly met acquaintance could as easily as drive a blade through your ribs as welcome you into his circle. This feeling is partially derived from what I've seen on TV and partially from the stories I've heard told, so its validity is an open question. But one thing is clear about Colombia - violence is more often than not the solution to a "problem". And that's not a culture I take to. I think Ingrid Betancur, kidnapped former presidential candidate, put it best when she said (paraphrasing) that Colombia has yet to decide what type of country it wants to be and until it does so, tragedy, violence, and the worst acts of depravity will continue to be the norm, not the exception.

Clean air is a luxury that cannot be afforded. The greatest daily aggravation and affectation that I experience is from the outrageous levels of air pollution that choke the beauty out of Bogota. I happen to work in what I believe is one of the most polluted corridors in Bogota and I freely acknowledge that I am unaccustomed to this level of contamination. But for more than any other reason, the pollution is what will drive me from this country. The constantly dirty hands and face, the black tar that I wipe from my nose, the constant half-colds that never seem to go away, and the noxious fumes that I often have no choice but to breath in, not to mention the long-term health effects of this type of environment, are just not something I can sustain or which to subject upon my children. Colombians, and Bogotanans in particular, seem surprised when I mention this factor but I believe that is because they are so used to the filth of industrialism that they can't imagine a city of Bogota's size that is relatively clean.

There are other factors, but these are the ones worth mentioning. Add it all up and I'm not sure where that leaves us. Our plan is to leave in Dec of '08 but part of me wonders if I'll last that long. Of course, another part thinks that once I finally am out of this job that I so despise, maybe I'll be a bit more relaxed about these things. Either way, I have doubts that we will remain in Colombia into 2009.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

From the "No Shit Sherlock" Files

US calls a lull in violence in Iraq success while Sadr uses the time to reconstitute his army. I smell bad things in the future. (This is a must read.)


Friday, December 07, 2007

Two Truths that are Self-Evident: The GOP Craptacular

Truth #1: Huckabee is a lying, out of it, religious wacko. By his own creed, he is going to burn.

A. Liar: After forcing the Arkansas parole board to free a convicted rapist (who the would be President suggested was 'innocent') to only have that man go on and rape and kill, even though Huck was extensively warned that he would, Huck has the audacity to deny a role in the whole thing. Fortunately, there are not only witnesses coming forward, but documentary evidence as well. Read for yourself.

Hey Huck, you're the former minister who claims that faith is your life. See: Bible, #21. "Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbor."

Lying is distinctly un-dudish in the House of God.

B. Out of it: The Iran NEI was released on Monday morning. On Tuesday night Huckabee was asked about it and knew nothing about it. Sorry chumpskin, you can't be President if you aren't even aware of the most important national security document of the month, if not the year, two days after it came out. In this, you resemble Grampa Fred who consistently states, "I have no opinion on that" for about half of the issues relevant in this election.

C. Insane:

He believes that Gay Marraige would destroy western civilization (which is clearly explains the Muslim conspiracy to legalize Gay marraige in the US as that would be a more effective method to destroy the evil, evil west!)

The money quote: "There's never been a civilization that has rewritten what marriage and family means and survived."

He claims God is the reason why he has risen in the polls:

"There is only one explanation for it, and it is not a human one."

He doesn't believe in evolution or other forms of modern science. And wants public high schools to teach "alternative views" for the origin of man (i.e. Baptist 4,000 year old earth version, aka, total horseshit). Sorry Mr. Stain on American Culture, we've been down that road before and it essentially led to a complete ridicule and end to your way of thinking.

He's opposed to abortion but has no problem with torture. (You know, because the lives of the unborn are more valuable than, say, the average turban wearing terrorist, right?)

His religion only goes one way (the Baptist, bible-thumpin' way! Hell fires and harlots! Y'all gonna burn unless ya' git you down to that thar church and start 'a prayin' for forgivness! Amen! Father God! Specially them Satan lovin' Mormins! Save us Father God from them cultists in Salt Lake City!)

Truth #2: Romney is in favor of a Muslim President

From his speech yesterday:

"A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith. "

"Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree. "

"No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."

"And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass...and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims."


So, why hasn't some enterprising young reporter asked, "Mr. Romney, given your speech on religion, would you support a Muslim candidate for President?"

(His answer would obviously be no.)

He also thinks that Religion is a pre-requisite to Freedom (which is freaking scary if you think about it):

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

Either way, I'd say his speech is controversial for what I have highlighted and NOT because of the Mormon thing. I mean, the fact of the matter is, only the GOP's bigoted core has a problem with his religion. I think they'd have an even bigger problem with him advocating the right for a Muslim to be President.


Add it all up and the top-3 GOP candidates have the following scandals:

1. Sex-On-the-City Guiliani - Using city funds to shuttle his mistress around for sex romps (among numerous other scandals and divorces).
2. Flip-Flop, Pro-Muslim President Mitt - Fatally flawed Mormon, illegal immigrant employing, pro-Muslim
3. God's Choice Huck - Delusions of granduer, a fundamental disbelief in basic science, releaser of serial rapist/murderer, completely out of it on all relevant issues

Enjoy those polls GOPers!

(The above is obviously to some extent, tongue in cheek. For example, I have absolutely no problem voting for a Muslim. But I know that the "Fear of a Muslim Planet" has replaced GOP public enemy number one of late ["Fear of a Black Planet"] and it is nice to drive a stake through the GOP's radicalism. That being said, let's hope this election cycle is much like 1932 - the year which was the death knell for GOP politics and caused a major realignment in the US. We could use an end to Theocratic Democracy and maybe, just maybe, this will be the election that signals the beginning of the end.)


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I blame the media

The New York Times needs to get a fucking clue:

"Mr. Obama’s health plan could actually have a better compliance rate. The 15 million who would supposedly be left out equal about 5 percent of the population — a smaller portion than are going without auto insurance, said Joseph Antos, a health policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a nonpartisan group."

AEI is definitely NOT a "nonpartisan group". In fact, you'd have to be seriously deficient in the head, a terrible reporter, or a citizen of Rightwingnutterystan to even write such a thing.

To set the record straight: AEI is the mouthpeice for crazy, neo-con, conservative, fuck-o's. It IS 100% partisan.

Hillary’s Iran Problem

For quite some time the Obama and Edwards campaigns have been looking for a way to attack Hillary on her Iran vote this fall. For the most part, their attacks have been weak and ineffective. Yesterday’s huge news that Iran gave up its nuclear program, however, represents a huge, huge problem for the “experienced” candidate.

Hillary’s defense of her Iran vote has essentially been two fold. First, she has claimed that it was intended to stop the Iranian military from sponsoring terrorism, particularly in Iraq. She claims that the resolution has “worked”. Either she has an overinflated sense of importance for the US Congress or she thinks that she can lie as easily and effectively as George Bush. Because there is no way to prove that the resolution has had any effect and it’s more likely than not that it has merely bolstered the Revolutionary Guard’s standing at home as well as made them more recalcitrant. Propaganda goes a long way in politics.

But even more egregiously, Hillary has compared her vote to the “carrots and sticks” policies advocated by her husband (who, btw, she claims she “advised” on foreign policy matters all the time). The response, of course, is that, no Mrs. Clinton, this is not a policy of “carrots and sticks” it’s a policy of “sticks and sticks”. “Carrots” would be when you give them something they want, not when you call their military a terrorist organization and threaten them with military action. Her appeal to this vote as a “carrots and sticks” policy is, frankly, a bold face lie and more than reveals enough about her character for me.

That being said, the new National Intelligence Estimate represents an even graver threat to her foreign policy inclinations as it clearly shows that Iran is NOT the threat that the Neo-Cons have been pushing. The fact that Hillary bought into the Neo-Con agenda either shows incredibly poor judgment, it reveals her true foreign policy inclinations, or it’s evidence that she’s not willing to challenge the GOP on controversial issues even when those challenges are justified and necessary.

For someone who claims to be experienced and sage, particularly on foreign policy issues, this looks like the type of blunder a first year senator would make. Sadly, Obama didn’t have the courage to vote against the bill (he opted to not vote). But I think this incident makes clear that Hillary is not one to stick to her ideals, even when those ideals make the most sense. Instead, she is one to “move to the center” and follow in Bill’s footsteps. Forgive me if I suggest that “moving to the center” is the very reason why we are in Iraq in the first place and is the heart of a great number of troubles our nation has. Sometimes, it’s good to do the right thing, even if you get tarred and feathered for it.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Chavez's Venezuela

As some of you may be aware of, President Chavez of Venezuela proposed in August a series of constitutional amendments designed to essentially keep him in power for life. He filled the referendum with all sorts of friendly fringe benefits in order to get people to vote for dictatorship. Well, yesterday, he lost the vote by mere percentage points (50.7 to 49.3). You can read a thorough analysis here. (Summary: It doesn't mean his popularity is declining or threaten his leadership. It was more indicative of the population making a nuanced vote, led by student/university activism.)

My favorite part of that article:

"Chavez had predicted that he would win the Dec. 2 vote by up to 20 percentage points and promised to step down if he lost. He also threatened to cut off oil to the U.S. if Washington interfered in the vote. He didn't comment on either pledge during the press conference on Dec. 3."

His pledge to cut off oil to the US was the height of idle threats for two reasons. First, the US buys something like 80% of Venezuelan oil meaning that, at least in the short term, such a move would have devestated the Venezuelan economy and likely ended Chavez's tenure as president.

But second, and something that requires further verification, is that Venezuelan oil is said to have a high sulfer content and the country (and region) does not have the refinery capabilities required to process it. That means that they have no choice but to send it to the US if they wish to capitalize on the resource. Like I said, that's something I read and could very easily be crackpot analysis, but it is an interesting point, if proven true.

The bigger point is that Chavez is essentially wedded to the US appetite for petroleum and that represents his greatest point of vulnerability. Were he to say, start a war against Colombia (fat chance, but people here worry about the strangest things), the US could quickly cripple the effort with an effective sanction regime. This is, undoubtedly, why the Bush administration has purposefully turned a deaf ear to Chavez's rhetoric over the last 5 years. Why worry when you've got your would-be rival by the...ahem...juevos?

At any rate, it remains to be seen how this will affect Chavez. He has vowed that he will continue to fight for the powers he wants (and this is the man that failed to overthrow the government in 92, vowed to persevere, and then won election). But at least internationally, one thing is clear. Chavez has endured a string of failures stretching back to last year that only George Bush could be proud of. At every turn he has been unable to impose his will, he has alienated those who he sought to influence, and by all accounts, has eroded Venezuelan relations with virtually every state he has personally been involved with.

Or, in other words, he has the anti-Midas touch. Everything he touches turns to crap. He and Bush are going to buddies in a very warm place in the afterlife, methinks.

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Once again, Coach Gibbs has shown that the game has passed him by. Yesterday’s debacle marks at least the 4th time this season that the head coach has blown it, costing the Skins a win. This post by the Washington Post Blog is incredibly telling. As sad as it is, it’s time for Joe to step aside and let someone else take over. This looks like a 10 win team on paper but in all likelihood, we’ll be extremely lucky to win another game this year.


Saw “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” last night. If you like Will Ferrel Movies, run, do not walk, and buy the DVD. Utterly brilliant. I laughed my ass off. I need to watch it another time as there is a secondary level to the comedy that I may have missed. Funniest movie I’ve seen all year. Hands down.


“Click” on the other hand was just good enough to make me long for the days in which Adam Sandler movies didn’t actually have a point. In other words, it was ok. Interesting but sorta stupid. And not funny enough to watch a second time.

I watched a bit of A Night in the Museum with Ben Stiller. Let’s just say that this is Stiller’s Jumanji (and even had Robin Williams too!). That means, good effects, fundamentally stupid movie. Stiller worked hard to make it funny but it wasn’t enough. Initially I had to choose between Talladega Nights and continuing to watch this one. The fact that I was actively looking for other options made my decision for me.

(And yeah, the wife’s out of the country…)


Surge This.

The media are falling all over themselves with the drop in US fatalities, suggesting that this proves the “surge” is working in Iraq. I alluded to the risk of looking at casualties as a measure of success previously and now that we have brain trusts like CNN’s John Roberts “grilling” Dems on the morning show (with the Dems, predictably, barely fighting back), it seems my fear has come true. But let’s try to set the record straight.

The surge was never about US casualties. In fact, the opposite could be true. The surge likely caused the increase in US casualties (more troops = more targets). No, the ENTIRE point of the surge was to create peaceful conditions (or space) so that political reconciliation could flourish, legislation could be passed, etc. NONE of the political or cultural benchmarks have been reached. Not one. And, on top of that, the US, as part of the surge, has armed militias who, shall we say, have questionable allegiances.

Now, the surge may very well work. I’ll concede that as a possibility (albeit one I find unlikely). But, at the risk of talking out my ass, here’s another theory.

The insurgents are not stupid. In fact, you could say, they’re a hell of a lot smarter than the people on our side leading the war. They have used violence not just for military gains, but also (or moreso) to score political (PR) points. There’s nothing new about that. The Palestinian movement has been conducting that particular orchestra for decades now (with the famous quote, paraphrased, “If I had your planes, I’d drop bombs. But I don’t, so I throw rocks.”)

Given that backstory and the ever increasing likelihood that the next president will be a Democrat and that that Democrat will see a US withdrawal in the first 12 months of the term, then why would insurgents risk fighting US badasses when they could wait about 16 months (rearming along the way) for a time in which they would have free reign against a weak and corrupt Iraqi military? Wouldn’t that be an effective strategy? Doesn’t history bear that out? Didn’t the English vastly underestimate the colonists, merely believing that the uprising could be put down with troops, all the while ignoring the unique political and cultural factors ongoing in the country? Don’t the insurgents see the US as a colonial power?

Maybe they’re not thinking that far ahead. But then again, given recent history in the Middle East, does my theory really seem that far off base?

I’m just sayin…


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