Iraqi President al-Maliki has called for a timetable for the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq by 2010, which Senator John McCain quickly dismissed. Then, in a meeting with Barack Obama, Maliki took McCain's best issue away by essentially endorsing Obama's timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, reassuring the American public that Obama is not too naive and inflexible in his desire to withdraw American troops from Iraq quickly.
"The Iraqi government's newly stated position on troop withdrawals has put the
McCain campaign -- and many congressional Republicans who have been on record
opposing timelines -- in a difficult position...." The Washington Post reports. Some hawks feel "hung out to dry," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA)
Now McCain faces tough questions: Is he, like Bush, unwilling to respect the sovereignty of Iraq or to respect Iraqi's leaders? Is his determination to stay in Iraq greater than the Iraqis' desire to have us there?
The stay-in-Iraq-indefinitely position of McCain and Bush is undermined by a new Pentagon study, which "recommend(s) that U.S. forces be reduced to as few as 50,000 by the spring
of 2009, down from about 150,000 now," Newsweek reports. "The strategy is based on a major
hand-off to the increasingly successful Iraqi Army, with platoon-size
U.S. detachments backing the Iraqis from small outposts, with air
support. The large U.S. forward operating bases that house the bulk of
U.S. troops would be mostly abandoned, and the role of Special Forces
In my continuing efforts to chronicle the development of online communities that enhance real communities, I notice that in North Carolina's Research Triangle, locally-based online communities increasingly solicit citizen suggestions and mobilize them for for local action.
Madison Marquette, redevelopers of University Mall in Chapel Hill, has created a Facebook page soliciting consumer suggestions for new stores and restaurants they'd like to see in the redevelopment. So far, 31 people have contributed 36 requests, including a movie theater, a children's clothing store, and a food court, The News and Observerreports.University Mall as of this date has 52 fans on Facebook.
Expect to see more bands, businesses, restaurants, brands and celebrities creating pages
on Facebook to connect with their fans and customers among the site's more than 80 million users.
I became a Facebook fan of Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington -- one of the "hangouts" I most miss since I moved. As of today, it has 78 fans.
Additionally, two local websites have demonstrated political muscle, The Cary News reported.
DavisandHighHouse.org was influential in citizen protest against a large mixed-use
development at the intersection of High House Road and Davis Drive. "Though council approved that development, the Davis and High House
group continued its efforts into last fall’s election in which the
group campaigned for council members who didn’t support the mixed-use
Morrisville Action, "Morrisville Citizens for Responsible Growth," spearheaded residents' protests on the 2009 budget, leading town commissioners to "shave $2 million off the budget before a last-minute adoption, making the now $22 million budget revenue-neutral," Cary News reported. The group also monitors Morrisville’s land use and transportation plans. Morrisville Action has more than 400 citizens on its email list.
A theme of Sam Spagnola's blog is "liberal-journalistic-conspiracy." As someone who has worked in the media, that seems absurd to me. The whole notion of “liberal media” setting or controlling a national
agenda in the age of the Internet, a billion web sites, and 500+ cable
channels seems quite shop-worn. You can get anything you want here. The
era of three NY-based TV networks and the NYT setting the national
agenda with a “liberal” slant is long gone, if it were ever a narrative
that moved election results.
John McCain touts success in Iraq. McCain says the surge of 20,000 U.S. troops in 2007, which Obama opposed, is largely responsible for the relative peace and calm of Iraq today. That's an over-simplification -- the reduced violence in Iraq is the combination of many factors.
NYT columnist David Brooks a few weeks ago pointed out: "The more honest among the surge opponents will concede that Bush, that
supposed dolt, actually got one right. Some brave souls might even
concede that if the U.S. had withdrawn in the depths of the chaos, the
world would be in worse shape today." He concludes:
Life is complicated. The reason we have democracy is that no one side
is right all the time. The only people who are dangerous are those who
can’t admit, even to themselves, that obvious fact.
Commenter "Jaycee" asserted on Sam Spagnola's blog that "Success in Iraq equals defeat for the Dems. Defeat in Iraq equals success for the Dems." Sam charges that liberal journalists are deliberately playing down the good news in Iraq because they want people to focus on failure rather than success in Iraq. A theme on his blog is liberal-journalist-conspiracy. "Who knows, we might even get universal health care and a Supreme Court
that renders one liberal decision after another if we can only keep the
spirit of failure in Iraq alive." In making his case, he ironically links to articles about success in Iraq in USA TODAY, part of the "liberal" mainstream media .
“This isn’t about whether the war was a mistake," Sam writes. "It is about the agenda
of the cheerleaders for bad news who love to point out negative things
for political gain.”
I had nice birthday, but while my wife, son and I were with neighbors for a few minutes, Shiloh the dog leaped up on table and gobbled up the birthday cake (we
only got one slice each), and stepped all over the laptop keyboard, apparently crashing it. I'm hoping he
dies of chocolate overdose.
Watching the funeral of Jesse Helms, one certainly gets a different impression of him. It is initially difficult to reconcile the portraits of him at his death with his national reputation. I watched the ENTIRE Helms funeral on WRAL.com. The good man described is hard to reconcile with the racial warrior, but that was often true in the old South. Good people had a horrible blind spot. And maybe it is still true that most of us have blind spots.
I now concede that Helms' 1972 campaign slogan, “One of Us,” was correct – he was one of us, even though it seemed he didn’t want to acknowledge that people who were DIFFERENT from him were also part of the fabric of what Martin Luther King called “the beloved community.”
I wrote on Ed Cone's blog: "The attitudes Jesse Helms expressed were very popular and commonplace in North Carolina. He was a man of his times, only more outspoken than many who felt the same way. Most of us have relatives who believed as Helms did. On a personal level, Helms and the people who supported him could be salt of the earth people. He was a hard worker, great at constituent service, and had a disarming, gracious, gentlemanly, self-effacing charm about him.
"But we cannot cover up or whitewash the dark side not only of Helms but of our own extended families and community histories. To pretend that there was no racism in Helms or in his political appeal is to perpetuate the blindness into the next generation." Read the whole discussion here.
On another blog, I simply could not let such statements as "Helms was not opposed to integration" pass without correction and documentation, quoting a few of Helms' many statements against integration over a 40-year period. Nor could I fail to respond to Helms-like rants in the same thread against affirmative action, "Martin Luther King was a man of violence," and "entitlements are aimed at those of a particular race."
My mother and uncle grew up in Monroe with Jesse Helms, and shared "small town values" with him. I've often wondered why they took such different stands on civil rights than Jesse did. My mother, Lillian Secrest Buie, was North Carolina English Teacher of the Year 1979 and an outspoken advocate of racial equality in Scotland County, NC. My uncle, Andrew McDowd Secrest, was a crusading newspaper editor in Cheraw, SC, and worked as a civil rights conciliator for the Justice Department, most notably in Selma, Ala in 1965., negotiating between Martin Luther King and the local police.
Not to be snobbish about it, but they had very different parents, and I think the differences were illustrative of the importance of education in shaping one's outlook on life. Jesse's parents never finished high school; he never finished college. That wasn't at all unusual for the time -- indeed, after the Great Depression, his family couldn't afford four years of college for him.
Jim Jenkins of The News and Observerwrote a touching column, "Remembering the Chief's Son," recalling Helms' days at Wake Forest from the perspective of Jenkins' father, a classmate. "The chief's son had four jobs at one point. No one knew when he slept.
He left school without a diploma, not uncommon in those times, on the
eve of World War II."
"The pundits will offer multitudinous views of his legacy, and many of
them will be very critical of him, to be sure. But lots of other people
will separate all that from what they knew of the man, even though some
of their acquaintances won't get it."
Considering what Jesse came from, one has to give him his due. "I certainly wasn't chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and I didn't know the Dalai Lama," my uncle said.
My favorite story about Helms in his later years was related by my friend Bruce Johnson, recalling Helms' meeting with the Dalai Lama at Wingate University near Monroe. Someone there quipped that "maybe Jesse Helms has a Buddha soul after all," referring to concepts in the Buddhist religion of compassion and transcending personal conflict. That would have been a helluva evolution for "Senator No."
My sister observed that Jesse "mellowed towards the end of his life, but he didn't want to lose his image" as the Confederate General fighting for his principles and the romantic lost cause, until the very end, "so he kept up the bluster. Pretty typical of Southern men of that generation."
No one is always wrong, and except for the truly evil, good things can be recalled about most everyone at the time of death. I found this op-ed about Helms, "The Jesse Helms You Should Remember," recalling his later years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to be illuminating, asserting that he had moved to the Republican mainstream on foreign policy.
The singer Bono sent this message to the Jesse Helms Center: "Give (Helms' wife) Dot and the family my love and tell them there are 2 million people alive in Africa because Jesse Helms did the right thing.”
It seems a few days a year, if not a full week, I spend in computer hell. Is this not the human condition, true of most of us?
A lightning storm knocked out my cable modem (provided by Time-Warner), wireless Internet (provided by a D-Link router), and digital telephone service (provided by Vonage), but I was determined to troubleshoot the problems myself.
Here's my reaction to the presidential candidates' tax plan face-off: When presidential candidates make promises about how they'll cut taxes, balance the budget and increase spending for this and that, I'm skeptical. On the campaign trail, they're almost always overly optimistic about revenue, generally underestimate the cost of programs, and grossly exaggerate the likelihood of balancing the budget. They're blowing blue smoke and using trick mirrors.
John McCain, who voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2001, "warning that they were tilted toward the rich and were not offset by enough spending cuts," (source) now says he's for them. But he also claims to be a fiscal conservative, a "deficit hawk" who will balance the budget by 2013. I don't think you can have it both ways. Who really knows what McCain will actually do in
office once he is presented with budget realities? He'll have an impossible task, trying to please two opposing constituencies in the Republican Party, tax cutters and deficit hawks.
The Democratic Party is not as divided between the tax cutters and deficit hawks. Barack Obama says he'll eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and use the savings to launch a national health insurance program, among others. He also says he'll cut taxes on middle class Americans, those making $250,000 and less, and impose "pay-as-you-go" fiscal discipline on Congress, though to his credit he makes no vacuous claims that he will balance the budget by 2013. I don't think he can do it all, and wouldn't be at all surprised to see the deficit increase significantly in his first presidential term, just as I think it would increase significantly in McCain's first term if he refused to rollback the Bush tax cuts.
No matter who is the next president, I think we’ll see some rollback of
the Bush tax cuts, and some relief for middle-class taxpayers given the
hardships they now face from rapidly rising energy prices and related inflation.
Some conservatives charge that Obama will raise capital gains taxes to 28 percent from the current 15 percent, essentially a tax increase on 100 million middle class Americans who own stock. I doubt it. Given the financial hardships that middle class Americans are experiencing now, any pol who significantly raised middle class taxes would face harsh political retribution.
Outside of some basic generalities, I don’t put a lot of stock in
what presidential candidates say on the campaign trail about taxes,
certainly not in the details. For one thing, Congress, not the president, sets tax rates after a lot of
negotiation and trade-offs, depending on the fiscal climate at the time. Congress is then immediately accountable to the electorate for decisions about taxes in
the next mid-term elections.
For another thing, fiscal realities change, and presidents change their positions when faced with new economic realities.
Reagan cut taxes in ‘81, then raised them in ‘86. The Reagan tax cuts were accompanied by slashes in federal money to the states, which caused many states to raise taxes. Tax relief the feds gave taxpayers with one hand, the states took away with the other hand.
George H.W. Bush
declared “read my lips, no new taxes,” then signed a significant tax
increase as president, infuriating his conservative base and jeopardizing his re-election in 1992.
Is George W. Bush, with his budget-busting spending and tax cuts, a
“fiscal conservative”? I don’t think so. By most measures, both Clinton
and Carter were more fiscally conservative than GWB. As a result, I don't think Republicans this year will be able to effectively pin the "tax and spend, fiscally irresponsible" label on Obama. That would surely be the pot calling the kettle black.