Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sources Say Clinton Announcement to be Monday

CNN is reporting that sources in the Democratic Party are saying Hillary Clinton's nomination to be secretary of state will be announced tomorrow.

She could hardly become the secretary of state-designate at a more perilous time. The attacks on Mumbai have prompted The Telegraph of London to proclaim India one of the 20 most dangerous places in the world.

The Washington Post editorializes that India and Pakistan must work together to preserve the peace. "The United States ... must continue nudging these two rivals toward cooperation," writes the Post.

As secretary of state, that will be Clinton's mission. One of many.

Dean Nelson writes, in The Times of London, that authorities in India "claimed to have proof that the Mumbai terrorists were receiving instructions from Pakistan and discussing tactics with their handlers during the three days of attacks in which they killed at least 195 people," an allegation that is all but guaranteed to raise the tension level in that part of the world.

Joshua Kurlantzick warns, in The New Republic, that terrorism won't be beaten in India any time soon.

It is also said that Obama will announce tomorrow that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is staying and retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones will be national security adviser.

"All of the selections are hardly a surprise after weeks of fevered speculation," reports Ed Henry of CNN. "In fact, they're such an open secret that retiring Republican Sen. John Warner, a veteran member of the Armed Services Committee, released a statement Saturday night praising all three nominees before they have been officially named at Monday's rollout."

Gates is already in office, but there's plenty to keep Clinton and Jones occupied until they start their new jobs in the next couple of months.

It seems hardly likely that the importance of Mumbai in foreign affairs will diminish in any way between now and the inauguration. But until this past week, many Westerners didn't seem to understand the vital role Mumbai plays in maintaining economic stability in that part of the world.

Today, only a few days after the terrorist attacks in that city, India and Pakistan appear to be mobilizing — possibly for war.

DEBKAfile reports that "Asia's two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, took their first steps towards a conventional war. India, claiming evidence of Pakistan's involvement in the Islamist terrorist assault on Mumbai, placed its air and missile units on war preparedness, while Pakistan, disclaiming the charge, diverted its armed divisions from the Afghan border to its frontier with India."

The escalating tension between Hindus and Muslims, combined with the presence of nuclear arms on both sides, makes it a hot spot in international politics.

It's not the only one, of course. Just the one that's been in the news lately.

"[T]he attacks will aggravate a growing fault line between Hindus and Muslims within India itself," cautions Robert Kaplan in The Atlantic.

There's no shortage of those who are ready to point fingers at the real culprits and victims in these attacks.

"We already know what we really need to know," writes Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times. "The sites of their attacks may vary ... but the object of their quarrel with history remains the same: modernity."

Mark Steyn warns, in the Orange County Register, that the attacks in Mumbai could happen again — anywhere, anytime. He's right, of course, but there are certain things that make some places less likely to be targets than others.

Major commercial centers are always prime targets, especially at a time when the global economy is struggling. It's one of the factors that has made New York such an appealing target for terrorists in the past.

To say that it could happen anywhere any time may well be true, but it isn't accurate. It misleads the listener into thinking that the local Holiday Inn is as likely to be attacked as the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai.

That's how fear operates.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Homestretch

At long last, it looks like we're nearing the end — the absolute end — of the 2008 political season.

In Georgia, the runoff will be held on Tuesday. And the recount in the bitterly contested Senate race in Minnesota appears, at this writing, to be nearly 90% complete.

The latest from Minnesota is that incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman's lead over Democrat Al Franken seems to have grown to a margin of 282 votes. That's still a drop in the bucket, compared to what is left to be recounted.

But Franken's campaign took it on the chin this week when Minnesota's Canvassing Board refused its request to include in the recount absentee ballots that previously had been rejected.

The Minnesota recount isn't likely to be finished before Tuesday so the focus will be on Georgia in the days ahead.

In Georgia today, much of the state's attention is on the annual football grudge match between Georgia and Georgia Tech. The game has no meaning in the battle for the national championship, and only Georgia Tech has a chance to play for its conference title next week.

But when the game is over, the people in Georgia will need to turn their attention back to politics for a few days, at least.

The runoff is certainly drawing national interest to the state, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss has been the beneficiary of visits from John McCain, who carried the state in the general election, and former presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.

On Monday, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin will be in Georgia to campaign for him.

Former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore have been to the state to campaign for Democratic challenger Jim Martin.

President-elect Barack Obama has been invited but hasn't confirmed that he will come to the state before the runoff.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Obama's First Test

"If it is indeed confirmed that Americans and Britons were targeted and that the attacks were inspired by al-Qaida's radical ideology, then the difficult transition phase in Washington has become even more complicated," Gregor Peter Schmitz says in Der Spiegel about Wednesday's terror attacks in Mumbai.

It is past daybreak now in Mumbai — it's getting close to 8 a.m. Friday in that part of the world. CNN is reporting that fighting has broken out "between government soldiers in a helicopter and gunmen holed up inside a Jewish center."

Back in the United States, it is Thanksgiving evening — and it seems to be a fairly typical one, even in a decidedly down economy.

Football fans are watching games on ESPN and/or the NFL Network.

Early-bird Christmas shoppers are catching a few winks before heading out to the stores at 4 a.m. (Honestly, those shoppers get up and about earlier than I had to when I was a little boy and I was roused from a sound sleep in a warm bed to go fishing with my father and grandfather.)

I don't think the guests in those Mumbai hotels have been getting too much shut-eye in the last 36 hours.

Nevertheless ...

To continue with Schmitz's observation — "The crisis could be Obama's first big foreign policy test," he writes. "The world is going to dissect his response."

Most Americans know about all the jobs that have been "out-sourced" to India in recent years.

But, unless those Americans work in the financial services sector, they may not have been aware — until Wednesday's attacks — of the role Mumbai plays in the financial community.

It is one of the top 10 centers of commerce in the world. It may be more readily recognized by Westerners when referred to by its old name — Bombay.

Although the casualties are not as great as the ones suffered on Sept. 11, 2001, the attacks in Mumbai are being referred to, as The Telegraph of Calcutta reports, as "India’s 9/11 for their massive scale and ruthless efficiency."

And the impact on the financial community, at a time of global financial distress, may be more acute than it was seven years ago.

My advice to Obama would be — Tread lightly.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

DEBKA Reports Holiday Threat Against Penn Station

Here's something to think about while the focus of the rest of the world is on the victims of today's al Qaeda attacks in India.

DEBKAfile, the Jerusalem-based intelligence website, says "Penn Station was crowded with NYPD Counter Terrorism Squad and Amtrak cops ... after the FBI received a 'plausible but unsubstantiated' report that in late September, al Qaeda discussed attacking the subway systems in and around New York City."

"Suicide bombers or explosives" was mentioned in the warning.

Yesterday, I referred to reports from DEBKAfile about a "Directive to All Fighters in Arabia" from al Qaeda's Yemen base earlier this month. This directive spoke about plans for a major operation in the United States. This operation, the notice said, was "very near."

The threat to Penn Station sounds more immediate.

"The warning comes as hundreds of thousands of tourists arrive in New York for the long holiday weekend," writes DEBKAfile. "If the explosion went off in Penn Station, it would affect transportation of Amtrak's northeast corridor between Boston and Washington, LIRR service and New York City subway service."

Peering Into the Future

Maybe I'm overly sensitive to it.

Lately, I've thought a lot about death. I guess that's normal as we get older. (Actually, I am older today. It's my 49th birthday.)

But it does seem to me there have been a lot of deaths that have had an impact on me personally this year — more than usual.

The year began with the death of my stepmother's mother — who was, it should be said, in her 90s. It's fair to say her death had been expected in my family for at least a few years.

As the year has progressed, I've seen the deaths of: a close friend's sister-in-law; two old friends of the family; two of my high school classmates; a schoolmate who was a year ahead of me; another schoolmate who was a year behind me, and a former teacher.

Those are the deaths I'm aware of. There are so many other people I've known in my life and lost touch with over the years — former classmates, co-workers, neighbors — who may have passed away this year and I knew nothing about it.

And, as always, I've been touched by the passing of prominent people who were important in my life — especially the ones who made me laugh, like George Carlin and Harvey Korman.

These days, whenever someone I know dies, my first question is, "What was the cause of death?" Frustratingly, I don't always get an answer.

So it's not necessarily comforting to read David Kenner's statement in Financial Times that "Everyone dies. The question is when and how."

The "how" part, the logical mind tells us, might yield some clues that could be beneficial in the long run — like those warnings on cigarette packages about the hazards of smoking.

But such an assumption is based on faulty reasoning. It depends upon acceptance of a false cause-and-effect relationship. If, for example, you hear of a friend who died in a car accident, what are you supposed to do with that information? Stop operating — or even riding in — cars?

Kenner, to his credit, tries to give everyone a head's-up by identifying "three causes of death that will grow dramatically more likely, and three that might be on the way out" in the next 20 years.

He uses, as his primary source material, the World Health Organization's Global Burden of Disease: 2004 Update, which suggests to him that the following causes of death are likely to go up between now and 2030:
  1. Heart disease

  2. Lung disease

  3. Traffic accidents
Kenner says these causes of death are likely to drop between now and 2030:

  2. Tuberculosis

  3. Diarrheal disease
Kenner outlines his statistical reasoning for each selection, which is interesting but it all serves to underline the point that we will all die someday.

And the fact that one may die of AIDS, not heart disease, will be of scant consolation to that person's survivors. Fewer people may be dying of a specific cause, but there will still be people dying from it.

It's good news when medical science conquers a disease that has been killing people. But the bad news — the constant news — is that disease itself will not be conquered.

The best proof I can offer of that is the flip side of Kenner's conclusion that HIV/AIDS deaths will be on the decline in 20 years. HIV/AIDS was the #6 cause of death in 2004, but, Kenner writes, "Researchers at the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS now think that in some parts of the world, notably in Africa, the epidemic has plateaued and might be starting to decline."

That's good news, right? Thirty years ago, when I was about to graduate from high school, AIDS wasn't even on the medical radar. It was first recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1981; the cause (HIV) wasn't identified until the mid-1980s.

Prejudice and politics restricted research funding for many years and slowed human progress in fighting AIDS — perhaps causing needless suffering and premature death — but the fact remains that cancer still hasn't been eradicated, heart disease still isn't preventable and new diseases emerge all the time.

At best, one can be prepared for death. One cannot avoid it.

We can only encourage ourselves and others to make the most of the time we have.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Early al Qaeda Attack in Obama Presidency 'Probable'

DEBKAfile, an Israeli news web site, has a gloomy warning for President-elect Barack Obama concerning a "probable early al Qaeda attack."

DEBKAfile elaborates, "Obama and his team have been advised that a new al Qaeda strike is highly probable in the United States or against a key U.S. target in Europe, North Africa or the Middle East."

On Nov. 14, "DEBKA-Net-Weekly ... disclosed that al Qaeda’s Yemen base, a reliable barometer for Osama bin Laden’s schemes, issued a Directive to All Fighters in Arabia on Nov. 9 presaging a major operation in the United States that will 'change the political and economic world' and be 'far bigger than 9/11.'"

The DEBKAfile also writes, "The day after the new president’s election, al Qaeda issued a little-noticed statement declaring Barack Obama a murtad, i.e. an apostate whose betrayal of Islam is judged the most heinous. Believers have the duty to execute a murtad unlike other non-believers whose death sentence is optional."

Based in Jerusalem, DEBKAfile has been in operation since 2000. It's worth pointing out that DEBKAfile has been criticized for pandering to conspiracy theorists in the past. Such criticism has been particularly stringent from those in Israeli intelligence, who contend that at least 90% of the site's reports are unreliable.

But, in all fairness, it should also be pointed out that DEBKAfile's operators have responded to that charge by reminding observers that they predicted the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in 2000.

And has designated DEBKAfile as one of the best war intelligence sites on the web.

"DEBKAfile has been ahead of the pack often enough to suggest that the reporting is good," writes

Monday, November 24, 2008

Short Memories?

I know that everyone's busy these days.

Barack Obama's busy assembling his Cabinet — and some people are busy feeling betrayed because Obama appears to be on the verge of naming Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state.

The Rocky Mountain News, however, finds Obama's choices for his Cabinet "reassuring."

Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times writes about Clinton's "potential pitfalls" and compares her anticipated nomination to Franklin Roosevelt's nomination of Cordell Hull to be secretary of state in 1933.

They're busy recounting votes in Minnesota and preparing to count a whole new round of votes in Georgia in the last two unresolved Senate races.

The government is preparing to spend billions to bail out Citigroup. I worked for Citi for several years, and I'm just as baffled by this as a former co-worker, who confessed to me, via e-mail, that he doesn't know what to think about it. "I just cannot believe they are that messed up," he wrote.

Meanwhile, cash-strapped consumers are looking for the best deals for Christmas gifts on a tight budget when they're not making arrangements for visitors for Thanksgiving dinner.

It makes me think about a scene in the last segment of the 1989 miniseries "Lonesome Dove," when Woodrow Call (played by Tommy Lee Jones) hauls Gus' body back to Texas for burial.

In the scene, Call stops off in Nebraska, where Gus' old flame, Clara, and the reformed prostitute, Lorena, are living. He wants to give them the letters Gus wrote for them before he died and to tell Lorena that Gus left her the proceeds from his share of the cattle herd they drove to Montana.

Lorena's grief for Gus is so great that she spends hours outside, standing next to his coffin, speaking softly to the body inside. And she laments the fact that no one else grieves for him.

"They all forgot you, Gus," she says to the casket. "They've all got their own doings."

That's the feeling I'm getting these days on national security. Everybody's got their own doings.

The economy is clearly on people's minds these days — and rightfully so. But that doesn't mean that the terrorists have given up on their intention to do serious harm to this country and its people. If anything, it seems to me that a period of national economic instability is a good time for an adversary to attack.

And some observers haven't gotten so involved in their own doings that they've forgotten about the ever-present threat of terrorism and international conflict.

Less than two weeks ago, the Times of London reported that Obama was "being given ominous advice from leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to brace himself for an early assault from terrorists."

TWsPress worries that America has "fallen asleep ... it seems to us that we are sitting in the midst of a potential perfect storm ... precious few people [seem] concerned about being attacked again."

I don't think it's an absence of awareness. For many of those voters who supported John McCain — including my brother — national security was always at the top of their list of concerns.

But that group was in the minority. On Election Day, exit polls indicated that the overriding concern was the economy.

It was clear that far more attention was devoted to the economy during the general election campaign, which was to be expected, given the economic meltdown the country has experienced.

The loss of a job or a home has much more direct impact on American voters than the detonation of a roadside bomb half a world away.

Even so, I presume the incoming administration is aware of what can happen in foreign affairs.

Near the end of the presidential campaign, when it appeared more likely that Obama would win, his running mate urged supporters to stand by him in the transitional period because he was almost certain to be "tested" by his foreign adversaries in the first six months of his presidency.

That test will include Obama's secretary of state.

And, if that turns out to be Hillary Clinton, maybe she'll be getting that 3 a.m. phone call after all.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

You never know about that light at the end of the tunnel.

Irwin Stelzer writes, in The Weekly Standard, that "several odd things" are happening "beneath the surface of the economic news."

Let’s be clear about one thing right off the bat. Stelzer acknowledges that "all, or almost all, of the economic news is grim."

He also points out that Americans appreciate a macabre sense of humor — which, these days, manifests itself in the "Depression parties" being thrown by young New Yorkers. One is encouraged to wear "’30s vintage" clothing to these soirees and dance to "Big Band numbers and Dust Bowl ballads."

But Stelzer tries to inject a note of optimism into today’s economic discussion. He says "economists who have been worth listening to in the past" tell him that they sense "unreasoned panic" among the masses who are making appropriate adjustments to their lifestyles.

"That is not to say that there is no real suffering out there," he writes. "There is, especially among the unemployed. But this isn't the 1930s, or even the early 1980s."

Here’s what Stelzer says he’s hearing from these economists:

"They note … that highly regarded money manager John Paulson (no relation to Hank) has begun purchasing mortgage-backed debt securities — after making billions last year by betting against subprime mortgages," he writes. "They are predicting that the slide will abate by mid-2009, and a slow recovery begin later that year, or by early in 2010."

Stelzer also says he senses "the beginning of a fight-back against the idea that there is no limit to what governments can and must spend to turn things around."

The automakers will get the help they need, he writes, "but there will be no blank check."

Congress, he says, will approve a stimulus package to help the states, and unemployment insurance eligibility periods will be extended. He also anticipates assistance for homeowners who are lagging on their mortgage payments.

After that, though, it’s "wait and see" — wait and hope, rather, that " the optimists have it right, and a recovery peeps through the clouds sometime next year."

As I say, you never know about that light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes it really is a light that will guide you to the place you where you can emerge from the darkness.

And sometimes it’s an oncoming train.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Does the Kennedy Assassination Still Matter?

Mary Moorman's memorable photo of the Kennedy assassination.

I've been searching the internet, but if anyone has published an article investigating any of the still unresolved issues in the Kennedy assassination lately, I've missed it.

Today, by the way, is the 45th anniversary of that assassination.

Here in Dallas, the only article I've seen about the assassination today, in the Dallas Morning News, laments the rate of attrition among the witnesses to it.

But everything I've read is a remembrance. Unlike anniversaries gone by, I've seen nothing that challenges the conventional conclusions, that asks questions about the things we've been told to accept as fact.

Personally, I remember very little directly — although, over the years, I think I've persuaded myself that I remember more than I actually do. Then, as now, I was only a few days from my birthday. In 1963, I wasn't even in elementary school yet. I was about to celebrate my fourth birthday.

In those days, my family didn't have a television set, but our neighbors did. And I vividly remember spending the next four days in our neighbors' small home, but I spent little of it with my parents in front of the TV. I was too busy playing with the neighbor boy, who always seemed to have the coolest new toys.

As young as I was — and as focused as I was on my friend's toy collection — I doubt that I saw Lyndon Johnson make his brief address to the nation upon returning to Washington. And I probably didn't see Kennedy's casket being removed from the plane and taken back to the White House.

I probably didn't see Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald a couple of days later, and I probably didn't see John-John salute his father's casket the day of the funeral.

I simply don't remember what I saw and what I didn't see in 1963. But I know I've seen footage of all those events many times in the years since.

Mostly, as I've gotten older, the belief that our nation has been lied to about what happened in Dallas has continued to grow. And nothing that I've heard has changed that feeling.

For myself and for those who died before getting the answers they sought, I wonder if those answers will ever be found.

I'm not one of those who believes, as has so often been said, that America "lost its innocence" on that day. The people of my parents' generation, who were in their early 30s when President Kennedy was killed, had been through far too much in their lives — the Depression, Pearl Harbor, Nazi Germany, segregation, the Cold War — to lose their innocence. It was mostly gone by that time.

My sense of that time was that the adults felt an opportunity had been lost — perhaps the kind of opportunity that comes along only once in a generation.

Today, on the 45th anniversary, the only TV station I've discovered that is showing anything related to the assassination is American Movie Classics, which is showing Oliver Stone's "JFK" tonight at 7 and 11 Central. It's a well done film and it raises some important questions — but the film was made 17 years ago and those issues still haven't been resolved.

I have written about the absence of anniversary observations in the media in my Birth of a Notion blog.

But the question I'd like to ask here is simply this: Is the JFK assassination still relevant?

Does November 22 belong — once and for all — in the archives with all the important dates in history, even with questions unanswered?

Or should we continue to search for those answers?

Don't Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out

Gail Collins has an interesting suggestion in her column in today's New York Times.

George W. Bush should arrange to resign and turn over the executive branch to the Obama team about eight weeks early.

On the surface, it seems laughable. A two-term Republican president, resigning to give his successor from the opposing political party a jump on things?

To borrow a phrase spoken by Rob Reiner's recently departed mother in "When Harry Met Sally," I'll have what she's having.

But is it so ridiculous?

Collins presents a reasonable and logical plan. She has the wisdom to insist on certain preconditions — such as requiring that Dick Cheney resign first, so Democrat Nancy Pelosi, as next in line per the Constitution, would succeed Bush. Then Pelosi would "defer to her party’s incoming chief executive, and Barack Obama could begin governing."

Collins sees even more of an up side to an early Bush departure.

"As a bonus, the Pelosi presidency would put a woman in the White House this year after all," she writes. "On the downside, a few right-wing talk-show hosts might succumb to apoplexy. That would, of course, be terrible, but I’m afraid we might have to take the risk in the name of a greater good."

The benefit to Bush's legacy, Collins suggests, would be his recognition of a reversal of public opinion and his willingness to cooperate for the good of the country.

"In happier days, Bush may have nurtured hopes of making it into the list of America’s mediocre presidents, but somewhere between Iraq and Katrina, that goal became a mountain too high," Collins writes. "However, he might still have a chance to avoid the absolute bottom of the barrel."

By making this noble gesture, Collins says, it is "possible that someday history might elevate [Bush] to the ranks of the below average. Better than Franklin Pierce! Smarter than Warren Harding! And healthier than William Henry Harrison!"

And, for that matter, more highly regarded than the man against whose approval ratings he has often been compared in the last year or so — Richard Nixon, the same president Bush's father, as Republican national chairman, urged to resign before it was fashionable to do so.

It all reminds me of something Dr. "Hawkeye" Pierce said on the "M*A*S*H" TV series in an episode in which he was being considered for one of the easiest of medical jobs in the Army — personal physician to a general, far away from combat and the "meatball surgery" in a M*A*S*H.

Hawkeye protested that he could do some real good at the M*A*S*H unit instead of periodically measuring a general's pulse and listening to him burp. "You guys always say the men come first," he said. "Well, do they or don't they?"

This would certainly be a fine way to show that the country comes first. Is George W. Bush capable of such a magnanimous gesture?

I find the suggestion intriguing, but Obama, of course, couldn't become president ahead of schedule under the existing Constitutional framework.

Pelosi would have to act as Obama's surrogate until the actual inauguration in January. She couldn't designate the president-elect as her successor and resign — the Constitution already names the next in line in case the speaker of the House is unable to continue, and you have to go through an enormous line of successors before you reach the spot currently held by the junior senator from Illinois.

The Constitution makes no provision for the inclusion of a president-elect in the line of succession before he takes office on January 20 — unless, of course, the president-elect is already in that line of succession (i.e., Vice President George H.W. Bush, when he was elected to be Ronald Reagan's successor in 1988).

The drawback, from Pelosi's perspective at least, would be that she would have to resign her congressional position to become president for eight weeks. Effectively, she would have to sacrifice her career. Would she be prepared to do that?

I must say that I find Collins' suggestion implausible. After all, we're talking about a man who still cannot identify a single mistake he has made in eight years as president.

Why would he feel obliged to leave two months early?

Collins gets high marks for creativity — but low marks for probability.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Former Texas AG Dies

If you lived in Texas for almost any length of time in the 1970s, 1980s and/or 1990s, you surely remember former Attorney General Jim Mattox.

He died in his sleep on Thursday at the age of 65. I've heard no details on the cause of his death.

He was, unabashedly, a liberal Democrat in a state where sightings of the species are few and far between.

In 1990, he lost a colorful yet bitter battle for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to Ann Richards, less than two years after her phenomenally well-received keynote address to the 1988 national convention.

It was truly a clash of the titans in Texas Democratic politics. And, in hindsight, perhaps it was an omen of things to come — like the battles one often sees in nature when the two most powerful members of a dying breed lock horns in an epic fight for temporary supremacy.

Ten years ago, Mattox lost his last bid for elected office. He sought the office he once held — state attorney general — losing to Republican John Cornyn.

As fate would have it, Cornyn was just re-elected to the U.S. Senate a couple of weeks ago.

With Mattox's passing, it now appears that the last of the old guard among Texas Democrats has faded into history. If the party is to become competitive on a statewide basis, it will have to do so with a new generation of leaders.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Anniversary of Nuremberg

"[T]he people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

Hermann Göring

On Nov. 20, 1945, prosecutors began presenting witnesses and evidence in the war crimes trial of Nazi Germany's most prominent surviving leaders.

The trial went on for nearly a year, but, by the time the death sentences that had been pronounced by the tribunal were carried out in October 1946, the world had a definition for "crimes against humanity" — and faces to go with it.

That first Nuremberg trial has influenced international justice for more than six decades, but surprisingly few film re-creations have been made to dramatize for younger generations the critical role the trial played in establishing the record of atrocities committed by the leaders of the Third Reich. I've written about the absence of such dramatizations in my Birth of a Notion blog.

More than any of the generations that came before, today's young people rely on the visual to tell a story. Unfortunately, an important part of the story of the 20th century is largely untold for them — at least in a way to which they can relate.

It isn't necessary to entertain the audience — but it is essential to engage the audience.

Earlier this week, we observed the 30th anniversary of the tragedy in Jonestown, Guyana.

The admonition in the pavilion where many of the more than 900 bodies were found offers a relevant warning for those who ignore the lessons of history: "Those Who Do Not Remember The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It."

The Value of Experience

Like many others these days — editorial writers, columnists, bloggers — Laura Meckler and Jonathan Weisman, in the Wall Street Journal, bemoan Barack Obama's reliance on experience in his selections to fill positions in the incoming administration.

Obama's most recent choices — former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle to head Health and Human Services and Jacob Lew, a budget director for former President Clinton, to lead the National Economic Council — "highlighted the three personnel pools" from which picks are being made, Meckler and Weisman write:
  1. "Most prominent are Clinton administration veterans." Included in this group is Hillary Clinton herself, who may be the leading candidate for secretary of state. Certainly Lew falls into this group.

  2. "Some high-profile appointments are also long-serving members and staff from Capitol Hill." Daschle, who served three terms in the U.S. Senate after being elected to the House four times, clearly belongs in the second group.

  3. "Then there are the influential Chicagoans — a group that seems smaller than the hometown crowd that usually accompanies a new president to Washington."

    That "hometown crowd," they write, is noticeably smaller than the ones "George W. Bush brought in from Texas, Bill Clinton from Arkansas and Jimmy Carter from Georgia. Those presidents were former governors and had large cadres of state-level aides to draw from. Mr. Obama, by contrast, has just a handful of key political advisers."
Lots of folks — from both sides of the political spectrum — are talking about this — almost as if it's some kind of betrayal by Obama.

Conservative Michelle Malkin calls it "recycling you can believe in."

Jennifer Rubin strikes a similar note in Pajamas Media.

"If several months ago someone had said that the Obama administration would be chocked full of Clinton administration retreads and have a national security team featuring the woman who advocated bombing Iran to smithereens in the event it launched a nuclear attack on Israel," Rubin writes, "few would have believed it. But that’s what seems to be in the offing."

I'm inclined to agree with Robert Stein in The Moderate Voice.

"Obama’s goal all along was to persuade voters wary of his inexperience that the best of the past would not be swept away in rhetorical enthusiasm for the new," writes Stein.

"He is fulfilling that promise and concentrating on the real change from the Bush-Cheney years, bringing competence back to Washington, wherever he finds it — in the over-touted Lincolnesque 'team of rivals' or in the best of the 1990s."

It makes sense, to me, that Obama would seek people with experience in the Clinton administration — in spite of the fact that Mrs. Clinton was his main challenger in the primaries.

"To insist on a government that has no experience would serve neither the incoming president nor a nation beset by problems," writes the Washington Post.

In order to get people with experience in a Democratic administration that was not led by Bill Clinton, Obama would need to dip into the pool of veterans from the Carter administration. They left office almost 28 years ago. Many are no longer living.

President Carter himself is in his 80s now. It's reasonable to think that most of the people from his administration who are still alive are in roughly the same age range.

A few are not quite in their 80s — but, honestly, do the people who voted for Obama want important government posts — like secretary of state or attorney general — to go to someone who is older than John McCain? And whose executive experience may — I might add — predate the Reagan presidency?

The most recent pool of people with experience in the executive branch are veterans of the nearly eight-year George W. Bush administration.

How do you suppose Obama's supporters would react if he picked someone from Bush's team for his administration?

(And, incidentally, it seems increasingly likely that a few — including Robert Gates, Donald Rumsfeld's replacement at Defense — will remain after the rest of the Bush team departs in January.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Missouri's a Bellwether No More; Stevens Concedes

Today was one of those days for which the phrase "when hell freezes over" was created.

And, until this year, Missouri seemed to be the inspiration for the word "bellwether."

The last time Missouri voted for the losing candidate in a presidential election was 1956 — when the state supported Adlai Stevenson against President Dwight Eisenhower. And before that, you had to go back to the turn of the century to find the last time Missouri supported the losing candidate.

It only happens once in an average lifetime so if you have young children, they might live to see the next time that Missouri doesn't vote for the winner. But, unless you plan to live another 50 years or more, don't count on witnessing it yourself.

I don't know why Missouri didn't vote for Ike in 1956. The voters there supported him four years earlier, and he faced the same opponent in 1952. Perhaps the people of Missouri at that time were concerned about his age and the state of his health.

If that was the case, those concerns were not part of the equation half a century later. McCain is older than Eisenhower was, and he's had a couple of well-documented battles with cancer.

Anyway, today, more than two weeks after the election, Missouri was finally declared for McCain. The Republican nominee carried the state by 3,632 votes.

There was another "hell freezes over" moment today.

Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, who has represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate for four decades, issued a statement conceding to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

"My staff and I stand willing to help [Begich] prepare for his new position," said Stevens' statement.

It's been more than 30 years since Alaska sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.

Two other Senate races remain unresolved — in Minnesota and Georgia. If Democrats prevail in both of them, the party will have its "filibuster-proof" majority.

A runoff is scheduled for Dec. 2 in Georgia. Former President Bill Clinton was in Atlanta to campaign for the Democratic candidate today.

And, in Minnesota, a state-mandated recount began today — but observers say it could continue until mid-December.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stevens Looks Like a Goner

CNN hasn't made a projection yet — perhaps it will sometime this evening — but it's nearly 7:30 p.m. Central time (which means it's about 4:30 p.m. in Alaska), and, based on the latest news from Alaska, it looks like Sen. Ted Stevens' 40-year Senate career is coming to an end.

When the day began, Alaska still had approximately 24,000 ballots to count. As I write this, the Anchorage Daily News reports that election officials have counted roughly two-thirds of those ballots, and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich's lead has grown from 1,022 votes when the day started to 2,374 votes.

If it's true that only about 8,000 votes remain to be counted, that means Stevens would have to receive about 5,200 of them to win the election.

In other words, a candidate who hasn't even received 50% of the nearly 300,000 votes that have been counted now must receive nearly two-thirds of the ballots that are left.

It's far from over, though.

"Today's count should pretty much decide the race," reports the Anchorage Daily News, "although there will be overseas absentees to count over the next couple days and a likely recount in early December."

But don't spend too much time pondering that word "recount." The "filibuster-proof" majority should remain a possibility.

"Since the state moved to mostly machine counting, recent Alaska recounts have resulted in little change in the final tally," writes the Daily News.

Incidentally ...

I know it's fashionable these days to blame anyone else for your loss at the ballot box.

But let's be clear about this. Stevens brought this defeat on himself.

There was nothing anyone — George W. Bush, John McCain, Sarah Palin, even Ronald Reagan himself — could do to prevent it.

Lieberman Keeps Chairmanship

The New York Times reports that the Democratic caucus has voted, 42-13, to condemn "statements made by [Joe] Lieberman" during the recently concluded general election campaign but permit him to retain his chairmanship of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee.

The vote was motivated purely by politics — just as Lieberman's ouster would have been if Democrats had not been in a position to at least hope of getting a "filibuster-proof" three-fifths majority.

This decision, I presume, will keep Lieberman in the Democratic caucus. Earlier, the word was that he would bolt to the Republicans if he was stripped of his chairmanship.

So, with Lieberman apparently safely tucked away in the fold, the Democrats still have a chance of getting a "filibuster-proof" majority — if they win the race in Alaska (where the last votes are supposed to be counted today) and if they win the recount in Minnesota (which is supposed to begin this week but could, according to reports, go on into December) and if they win the Dec. 2 runoff in Georgia.

For those three seats to give Democrats the three-fifths majority they desire, they need to keep Lieberman and Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders in their caucus.

Speaking of Sanders, I'm inclined to agree with him when he wonders if "change" was merely a campaign buzzword for congressional Democrats.

"Appointing someone to a major post who led the opposition to everything we are fighting for is not 'change we can believe in,'" Sanders said in a statement.

On the other hand, perhaps it's the best way to demonstrate a true spirit of bipartisanship.

Judgment Day

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens turns 85 today.

And we've been assured that Alaska intends to finish counting the last 24,000 ballots from the general election today.

So Stevens' future truly hangs in the balance on his birthday.

November 18 has long been a judgment day.

In 1302, the pope proclaimed that "there is one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, outside of which there is neither salvation nor remission of sins."

Talk about a judgment day.

In 1307, William Tell successfully shot an apple on his son's head. That may qualify as more of a leap of faith — at least on his son's part.

Nine years ago today, a dozen students were killed and more than two dozen students were injured when the traditional massive Aggie bonfire that was being constructed for the annual Texas-Texas A&M football game collapsed.

And 30 years ago today, Jim Jones led more than 900 members of his People's Temple to commit suicide in Jonestown, Guyana.

I will never forget that weekend. Nov. 18 was on a Saturday that year. I was a freshman in college, living on campus — blissfully unaware of things like the People's Temple.

In those days, I worked as a cashier at a self-service gas station as a way of paying for part of my living expenses. And I guess I must have been at work when Jones' followers were murdering the investigator, Congressman Leo Ryan (pictured at right), and members of his entourage and when, back at the compound, Jones told his congregation what had happened and urged them to drink the poisoned "Flavor-Aid."

I don't know when the news of what had happened in the jungle of South America reached North America. I just know that the first I heard of it was the following morning, when I went to the cafeteria for breakfast and found that someone had taped a message on the fruit punch dispenser: "Kool-Aid Courtesy of Jim Jones."

Most Americans had never heard of Jim Jones or the People's Temple on Nov. 18, 1978. But surveys showed that, by the following February, nearly 98% of Americans were familiar with what had happened at Jonestown.

I'm not sure how many of them ever knew — or remembered — the admonition that was posted in the pavilion where many of the bodies were found:

"Those Who Do Not Remember The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It."

Be Vigilant Next Monday

"After analysing information on viruses and internet worms taken from more than 500,000 machines around the world, security experts at PC Tools have pinpointed November 24 as the potential peak of malicious software activity for 2008."

Bobbie Johnson,
The Guardian

Bobbie Johnson of The Guardian warns that internet researchers believe Monday could be the busiest day of the year (so far) for computer virus attacks.

"Data from 2007 showed that the high point of action from viruses, worms and other internet-based attacks came three days before America's Thanksgiving holiday," writes Johnson, "leading them to suggest that the same day could prove the bleakest 24 hours of this year."

All this may be connected to the Christmas shopping season and the anticipated increase in online shopping this year.

"With the chance for criminals to access financial details," Johnson says, "online shoppers make an attractive target for the writers of malware."

It's nothing new for thieves to try to take advantage of the Christmas shopping season. That always seems to be particularly true when times are hard. The only thing that's changed is the method of deception.

So be on your toes on Monday.

And the rest of the Christmas season, for that matter.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A 'Modest Proposal'

Russ Smith writes, in, that the case for legalizing marijuana makes more sense today than ever.

With the recession getting worse by the day, it's a legitimate point to raise.

As Smith points out, the government, if it legalized marijuana, could "regulate the potency and purity," prohibit sales to anyone under 21, insist that "requisite health warnings would be prominently placed on each unit sold" and realize a significant windfall from the taxes on sales of the substance.

In the process, the black market would be virtually wiped out, and law enforcement could be much more efficient, focusing more of its attention on investigating and pursuing suspects in violent crimes. Last year, observes Smith, nearly 900,000 people were arrested for marijuana violations. Nearly 90% of them were "nabbed for 'personal use.'"

How many murderers or rapists slipped through law enforcement's fingers because the officers were too busy, as Smith puts it, needlessly disrupting lives?

"Violent crime ebbs and flows, often depending on locale, but someone please explain to me why people who favor smoking pot, which is arguably much less dangerous than excessive consumption of alcohol, are the prey of police officers across the country?" Smith writes.

"Maybe it’s a matter of low-hanging fruit, but the waste of time in arresting offenders, court appearances and in many instances, incarceration, is a crime in and of itself."

Even so, Smith acknowledges that legalization is unlikely.

"[T]he political bureaucracy ... would take years to implement such a dramatic change," he writes. "[A]ny economic windfall is in the future. Which is a shame, since given today’s perilous financial climate, a new infusion of cash, every single day, would help shorten a recession.

"Then again, if legislators acted now the benefits could be realized in time for the next, and inevitable, economic downturn."

Of course, there is an historical precedent for this. In the 1930s, less than a year after Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as president, the United States ended Prohibition. Organized crime lost its black market profits on alcohol while society gained jobs and tax revenue.

Smith says the legalization proposal is worth considering.

"[C]orrecting the travesty of arresting harmless and nonviolent citizens, plus the monetary gain, is extraordinarily compelling," he writes. "All that’s needed is a group of politicians with vision and guts to bring the issue to the forefront of debate in the United States."

'I Am Not A Crook ...'

"[I]n all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I can say that in my years of public life that I've welcomed this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their president's a crook. Well, I'm not a crook! I've earned everything I've got."

Richard Nixon
Nov. 17, 1973

Time really does fly.

It seems like only yesterday that I was watching Richard Nixon tell a packed press conference (and the millions of Americans who were watching on TV) that he wasn't a "crook."

Actually, it was 35 years ago today.

If you weren't alive at that time, I can't tell you what an astonishing moment that was. Never before had an American president felt it necessary to proclaim that he wasn't dishonest.

In our history, there have been plenty of presidents who were accused of dishonesty by members of Congress, political activists and ordinary citizens. But no other president, as far as I know, ever felt it was essential to publicly assure everyone the charges weren't true.

But the noose in the Watergate scandal was tightening around Richard Nixon's throat in November 1973, slightly more than a year after his 49-state landslide re-election victory.

The Senate Watergate hearings had exposed the existence of the taping system that had recorded his Oval Office and telephone conversations. Those tapes, the public realized, could resolve whether Nixon or his primary accuser, former White House counsel John Dean, had been telling the truth.

The "Saturday Night Massacre" occurred in October of 1973, when Nixon acted to dismiss the special prosecutor in the case, Archibald Cox.

Cox had asked for copies of some of the White House tapes.

Nixon offered a compromise — he would permit Mississippi Sen. John Stennis to review the tapes and summarize them for Cox.

Cox found the compromise unacceptable and refused it. Nixon then took steps to remove Cox from office.

Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned rather than carry out Nixon's order to fire the special prosecutor, and Solicitor General Robert Bork, as the acting head of the Justice Department, was required to do the president's bidding.

By the time Nixon made his famous "I am not a crook" declaration nearly a month later, there had been several bills of impeachment introduced in Congress.

His declaration did not end the matter.

Nor did the release of the heavily edited White House transcripts (pictured at left) the following spring.

By August of 1974, the so-called "smoking gun," a tape of a conversation only a few days after the Watergate break-in, demonstrated that Nixon had attempted to obstruct justice by ordering the CIA to tell the FBI not to investigate, falsely claiming that national security was involved.

The "smoking gun" cost Nixon his support base in Congress, and he resigned and flew back to his native California.

Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as president and, a month later, pardoned Nixon in an effort to put an end to the Watergate affair.

In October 1974, in response to accusations that a "secret deal" had led to the pardon, Ford (pictured at right) volunteered to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about it.

It remains the only time a president has ever testified before a congressional committee.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Is The End in Sight for Stevens?

The Anchorage Daily News reports that there are 24,000 ballots left to be counted in the U.S. Senate race in Alaska. The state hopes to be finished counting those ballots on Tuesday.

Mark Begich, the Democrat who is hoping to replace Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, widened his lead on Friday — but his advantage is a mere 1,022 votes. There are still far too many ballots uncounted for Begich to claim victory.

Once those ballots are counted, more may be resolved than simply an election.

McClatchy Newspapers observed that this may have been "the worst weekend of [Stevens'] professional life."

The senator, says McClatchy, "faces only bleak prospects: maybe losing the U.S. Senate seat he has held for 40 years, and a secret vote by his colleagues on whether to oust him from the Senate's Republican conference."

Such a meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, but McClatchy suggests the vote may not take place that day because some senators are saying they want to wait for all the votes to be counted.

If Begich wins the election, any such action by the conference would be unnecessary.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The 'Hillary Hypotheticals'

"As voters left the polls on Election Day, many were asked how they would have voted if the election match-up were between Hillary Clinton and John McCain rather than Barack Obama and McCain. 52 percent said they would have backed the former Democratic candidate; 41 percent would have voted for McCain, wider than Obama’s 7-point margin over McCain."

Vaughan Ververs
CBS News blog

Nate Silver of expresses skepticism about the exit poll findings reported by Vaughan Ververs in his CBS News blog entry, which concluded that Hillary Clinton would have beaten John McCain more decisively than Barack Obama did.

Silver concedes that Clinton might have won by a wider margin — she "certainly proved herself to be an exceptionally compelling candidate," he writes, "even if her execution and staffing decisions were sometimes wanting."

Silver also suggests that the possibility exists that Clinton would have lost the general election. "I doubt you'll find too many Democrats who would be willing to take that trade," he concludes.

Let me address each of the questions he raises.
  1. "Would she have handled the financial crisis with as much aplomb as Obama did?"

    Silver says yes. I agree.
  2. "Would she have been so capable and reassuring in the debates?"

    Silver says, "Almost certainly." Again, I agree — although both parties held numerous debates before the primaries — and continued to hold debates once the primaries had begun. By October, both of the nominees had been through the debate process so many times that it was almost as routine as their stump speeches.

    I don't think that was a factor for the presidential nominees — nor would it have been if the Democrats had nominated Clinton.
  3. "Would she have had an easier time resonating with working class voters in places like Missouri and West Virginia?"

    Silver says yes, and, again, I see no reason to contradict that conclusion. Clinton won the West Virginia primary handily — 67% to 26% — and, although Obama won the Missouri primary narrowly (49% to 48%), he appears to have lost the state in the general election.

    Nearly two weeks after the election, Missouri remains too close to call. If McCain is declared the winner of Missouri, Obama will be the first winning candidate to lose the state since Dwight Eisenhower more than 50 years ago.

    It would be the first time in my lifetime that Missouri has been on the losing side.

    At this point, Silver brings out his big guns.
  4. "[W]ould she have managed the media as deftly as Obama did?"

    Silver is uncertain.

    As for myself, I can say that I've been observing Hillary Clinton longer than most Americans.

    I grew up in Arkansas, graduated from high school and college in that state and continued to live there until 1988. Hillary was the state's first lady for most of the last 10 years I lived there, including a period when she headed up the effort to improve the state's schools, holding open, public meetings in each of Arkansas' 75 counties.

    When Hillary became America's first lady, she had already been on my personal radar for nearly two decades — ever since 1974, when her husband was narrowly beaten in a race for Congress.

    When you combine those years in Arkansas with eight years as the nation's first lady and nearly eight years as a U.S. senator, that's roughly three decades of dealing with the media. And I speak from experience when I say that she didn't have a cakewalk when she was in Arkansas.

    There were certainly those in the Arkansas media who didn't exactly fawn over her.

    She hasn't always exhibited a golden touch — few people in the spotlight have — but I think her success in that regard would have depended upon whether her staff resolved to "let Hillary be Hillary."

    If her staff interfered, that probably would only make things worse — so the crucial part of the answer to that question, I think, would be determined by who was on her staff for the general election campaign.
  5. "Would Republican attacks on Bill Clinton and Kazakhstan [have] been as counterproductive to their cause as their effort to link Barack Obama and Bill Ayers?"

    Again, Silver is noncommittal. "Maybe," he writes, "or maybe not."

    Surely, I think Republicans would have connected those dots as they tried to do with Obama and Ayers. But Clinton is no stranger to the "guilt by association" tactic, and I feel she would have been able to avoid being tarred with that brush.
  6. "Would she have matched Obama's field organization and raised as much money?"

    "Doubtful," says Silver — without elaborating.

    Why is it doubtful? All the polls I've seen, even the ones cited in this discussion, suggest the exsitence of an overpowering hunger for change in this country after eight years of George W. Bush.

    I think there were people who were ready to contribute to whichever Democrat won the nomination, so great was that desire for a different direction.

    Now, Obama had a clear edge in fundraising when he was running against Clinton — but once the campaign for the nomination was resolved, I'm sure Hillary's army of dedicated supporters would have pledged money — as well as volunteer efforts — to her campaign.

    I don't know if she would have matched Obama's total — but I think the desire for change was strong enough to generate contributions for any Democratic nominee that exceeded what we've seen in the past. After the economic meltdown, I think Clinton would have benefited from both the desire for change and the nostalgia for the sense of economic well-being that existed during the years of her husband's administration.

    If Obama had won a narrow victory — in spite of his tremendous advantage in contributions — I would be inclined to give more weight to the argument about fundraising. But Obama won the election by margins of more than 8 million popular votes and a Clintonesque 95 electoral votes.
  7. "Would her campaign have had the same steely confidence as Obama's did after the Republican convention bounce?"

    "Unlikely," Silver writes — again, no elaboration.

    I don't know why it would have been unlikely, given the many campaigns in which Clinton has participated in her life — as well as the grueling campaign for the nomination that she would have just survived.

    It might have depended more upon who was on her staff in the general election campaign — but, as the nominee, I would assume that she could have her pick of the best advisers from the staffs of the vanquished.
  8. "Would she have delivered as strong a speech as Mr. Obama did in Denver?"

    "Iffy," writes Silver.

    I'm inclined to acknowledge that Obama is more skilled as an orator than Hillary — but, as the nominee, her speech wouldn't have been compared to Obama's (which wouldn't have occurred, if Hillary had been nominated).

    The only way her speech would have been a factor in the campaign would have been if she committed a serious gaffe while delivering it.
  9. "Would she have catalyzed near-universal turnout in the black community?"

    "No," Silver says.

    I'll concede that point — but was it essential for victory over John McCain?

    Prior to 2008, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans had ever nominated a non-white — but Democrats still enjoyed high levels of support from black voters. I've seen no indication that blacks would have abandoned the Democrats if Obama had not been nominated.

    Certainly, they might have been disappointed. But before Obama emerged as the front-runner, opinion polls suggested that a majority of blacks were supporting Clinton.
  10. "If Hillary Clinton had headed the Democratic ticket, would John McCain have been dumb enough to name Sarah Palin as his running mate?"

    "One would hope not," Silver writes.

    Ah, now we come to a female factor that really is being credited with influencing the outcome.

    My contention all along has been that Palin was selected — in part — as a blatant appeal for the votes of women who were believed to be disgruntled over Hillary's defeat. Women have tended to support Democrats in the past, although minority women have been more inclined to do so than white women (I wrote about this in late August — on the day McCain announced Palin was his choice to be his running mate).

    If that was truly the case, that Palin was chosen to mollify women, it was clearly a miscalculation. As it turned out, women supported Obama by 56% to 43%.

    With Hillary as his opponent, McCain wouldn't have felt that constituency was in play, although, at that point, he might have been more inclined to follow the advice I gave in May and picked a black man as his running mate.

    Granted, that pool isn't as deep in the Republican Party as the pool of women — but there are clearly some options he could have taken.

    And, in hindsight, perhaps he should have taken my advice anyway. My sense is that Palin didn't help McCain any more than the selection of Geraldine Ferraro helped Walter Mondale 24 years ago.

    Perhaps that was because, in both cases, the voters had already made up their minds — and the gender of the running mate for the other ticket made little, if any, difference.
  11. "Might McCain have been smart enough to hire Mike Murphy rather than Steve Schmidt, campaign on themes of bipartisanship, honor, and good government, and appeal as much as possible to independent voters (as the political climate dictated that he ought to have done in the first place)?"

    "Who knows," writes Silver. "He just might have figured it out."

    I don't know if that part would have changed if Hillary had been the nominee. I suppose that depends on one's evaluation of McCain — and what his probable response to running against a woman would have been.
  12. "And what would Clinton's numbers have looked like after the Republicans had gotten done accusing her of being a socialist, a puppet for her husband, and an all-around conniving you-know-what?"

    Silver gives no answer to this one.

    And it can only be given a subjective response, anyway — like most of his other points.

    I do know that I heard Obama accused of being a socialist by many of the right-wing radio hosts — so if Hillary had been the nominee and had been accused of being a socialist, I presume the response by the voters would have been about the same.

    No one accused Obama of being a "puppet" for his wife, although I frequently heard those radio hosts complain about Michelle Obama's statement that she was proud of her country "for the first time." A candidate's spouse is often a political target, deservedly or not. When the candidate's spouse happens to have been president for eight years, of course, that's a unique situation, one for which we have no precedent.

    But the Clintons have been handling that kind of criticism since the "two-for-the-price-of-one" concept was first introduced during the 1992 campaign.

    As for that third accusation, well, I heard complaints during the general election campaign that Obama was too glib, too smooth by half. I suppose, when a candidate appears to be headed for a defeat, his/her campaign staff will latch on to anything it thinks will turn the tide.

    If it fails to do so, and the candidate loses as expected, those staffers are usually prepared to point the finger of blame at anyone or anything else — as we've seen many of them do with Sarah Palin since the votes were counted and the Republicans came up on the short end of the stick.
Silver offered no evidence that supported the idea that Clinton wouldn't have beaten McCain in the election.

In fact, considering the pitiful condition of the economy, I'm inclined to believe that talk suggesting Clinton — or any Democrat — would have lost to McCain is merely that — talk.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Will Hillary Be the Next Secretary of State?

Were you dismayed by reports that John Kerry might be chosen to be the next secretary of state?

Or Bill Richardson? Or Chuck Hagel?

Reports tonight are introducing a new name into the mix of those who might be chosen.

According to the Associated Press, Sen. Hillary Clinton is emerging as a contender for the post.

"Clinton ... was rumored to be a contender for the job last week," writes AP's Liz Sidoti, "but the talk died down as party activists questioned whether she was best-suited to be the nation's top diplomat in an Obama administration."

That changed with some of the president-elect's appointments in recent days, she writes.

"The talk resumed in Washington and elsewhere Thursday, a day after Obama named several former aides to President Bill Clinton to help run his transition effort."

Of the names that I've heard mentioned in connection with the post, my preference would be Richardson — although naming Hagel might be a good gesture for bipartisanship.

What are your thoughts?

Begich Takes Lead in Senate Race

The Anchorage Daily News cautions that Alaska must "count roughly 35,000 more ballots over the next week" — so, presumably, anything could still happen — but Democrat Mark Begich has taken the lead over Republican Ted Stevens by a little more than 800 votes in the Senate race.

The latest tally, which was reported at 7:30 a.m. (Eastern), showed Begich with 132,196 votes and Stevens with 131,382 votes.

That is where things stand after the state Division of Elections added roughly 60,000 "absentee, early and questioned" ballots to the total on Wednesday, the Daily News reports.

It appears that it will be next week — at the earliest — before the final result is known.

The Daily News quoted the state elections chief as saying that "most regional elections headquarters will count their remaining ballots on Friday. But the most populous region, based in Anchorage, won't count its ballots until either Monday or Wednesday."

Even so, a spokesperson for the Alaska Democratic Party told the newspaper that Begich's supporters are "cautiously optimistic" about the lead.

Alaska is one of three states with an as-yet unresolved Senate race. In each state, a Republican incumbent is seeking a new six-year term, and each one was leading after the votes were initially tabulated on Nov. 4.

If Democrats win all three seats, they can put together the three-fifths "filibuster-proof" majority they openly desired during the campaign.

Assuming that Begich is able to hold the lead, then, in order to reach the number Democrats desire, Al Franken must overtake Sen. Norm Coleman in the recount in the Minnesota race, and Jim Martin must win a Dec. 2 runoff with Sen. Saxby Chambliss in Georgia.

If Begich, Franken and Martin all emerge victorious, Democrats will need to keep independent Joe Lieberman and socialist Bernie Sanders in their caucus to achieve the three-fifths majority.

But if they fall short of their goal, Democrats will have to decide what they want to do about Lieberman, a former Democrat who has caucused with Senate Democrats for the last two years (allowing them to maintain a somewhat brittle majority) but supported Republican John McCain in the presidential race. reports that some Democrats in the Senate have been making behind-the-scenes efforts to permit him to keep the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

An ironic angle to the story, write Ryan Grim and Martin Kady in, is that Lieberman is backed by his home-state colleague, Chris Dodd. In the 2006 Senate election in Connecticut, Dodd supported Ned Lamont, who won the Democratic primary over Lieberman, forcing Lieberman to run (and eventually win) as an independent.

One Senate Democratic aide told that Democrats "don’t want to start off a new era with retribution," but other Democrats apparently aren't as conciliatory.

The 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee reportedly has told the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, that he will leave the Democratic caucus if he is stripped of his chairmanship. says "a number of options are being considered that would allow [Lieberman] to keep his chairmanship and remain in the caucus but still suffer some sort of penalty."

On that matter, John Nichols says, in his blog in The Nation, that it would be "smart politics" to keep Lieberman in the Democrats' caucus — for now.

Lieberman remains valuable to the Democrats, Nichols suggests, until such time as the three-fifths majority is no longer possible.

That would be the prudent thing to do. The fate of the "filibuster-proof" majority could be up in the air until nearly Christmas.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the recount in Minnesota could drag on until mid-December.

"Recount junkies will be able to view updates daily on a website the secretary of state's office will construct," the Star Tribune reports, "and all recounts will be conducted in public places."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blueprints Reveal More Than Plans for Auschwitz

November has always been a busy time for Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party.

On Nov. 8, 1923, Hitler led the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch. Although the coup d'etat failed, Hitler's life was changed. He wrote "Mein Kampf" while serving his prison sentence, and he emerged from the experience with a belief that, in order to seize power in the future, he had to follow the letter of the law — which he did, manipulating the law when necessary.

On Nov. 9, 1938, the first coordinated Nazi attack on Jews occurred in the form of Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass." Ninety-two Jews were murdered and perhaps as many as 30,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps.

And recently, the German newspaper Bild revealed that original blueprints for the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz had been found in an apartment in Berlin.

The blueprints documented a lot more than that. Well, actually, they appear to have proven some interesting points.

I have to rely on an English translation that often isn't clear to me — and perhaps someone who can translate German can clarify it for me — but my understanding of it is that the plans date to November 1941.

I don't see anything in the article that suggests that the systematic murder of the Jews, the so-called "Final Solution," had begun in November 1941 — only that preparations for (if not the actual construction of) the death camps had clearly begun by that time.

We've been told, for more than half a century, that the "Final Solution" was given the green light by senior Nazi officials at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942.

But there seems to be something of a misunderstanding about the "Final Solution." The plan did refer to the extermination of the Jews, but the original plan approved at Wannsee had more of a purpose to it than that. It called for all the Jews to be deported to parts of eastern Europe that were populated by Germans, where they would build roads. Those Jews who did not die while the roads were being built would be exterminated after the projects were completed.

That plan, however, was based on the assumption that Germans would continue to occupy the Polish and Soviet lands they controlled at that time. But, because of the gradual loss of much of that territory to advancing Soviet troops, the Nazis sent most of the European Jews they had in custody to the death camps instead.

That's where most of the executions took place.

And it seems to have become clear rather rapidly to the conference attendees in 1942 — based on the few documents that survive — that they had been assembled to confirm a decision that had already been made.

Perhaps that was to give the proceedings the semblance of a legal framework.

We've also been told for many years that the first gassings of prisoners took place at Auschwitz in September 1941. The experiments led to the adoption of Zyklon B as the lethal agent of choice. The article in Bild appears to confirm both that selection and the fact that gassing experiments had been conducted by November 1941.

So what was new in the Bild report? Not much, really.

Except for the revelation of the existence of Auschwitz blueprint plans.

And perhaps evidence that will, as Ralf Georg Reuther says in Bild, "rebut ... the last Holocaust deniers."

Ready or Not, Here Comes 2010 ...

It's been a mere week since Barack Obama was elected president, but it's been busy.

He and his family paid a courtesy call on the White House. There has been much speculation about who will be chosen for Cabinet posts in the new administration. And Obama apparently wasted little time after winning the election before launching a new web site to communicate with the public.

But if you thought we were finished with campaigning for awhile, you can forget it.

The conservative Washington Times reports that the Dec. 2 runoff for the Senate seat from Georgia is being viewed by prominent politicians and their strategists as the "first race of the 2010 election cycle" — and "an early clue to [Obama's] clout and coattails."

It's still possible that Democrats could achieve the "filibuster-proof" majority of 60 seats in the Senate — that they so clearly desired and openly sought during the regular election campaign — if they also can win a recount in Minnesota and overtake the Republican when all ballots are counted in Alaska.

(The Times incorrectly suggests, by the way, that Alaska is holding a "recount." In fact, as the Anchorage Daily News has been reporting, thousands of ballots have not yet been counted there — although the tabulation of those votes should be completed, the newspaper says, by Wednesday.

(This may seem like a technicality to the Times — but you can't "recount" what hasn't been counted.

(Perhaps that's a subtle difference. Perhaps what the Times should have said — in trying to draw its distinction between what is happening in Alaska and Minnesota and what is happening in Georgia — is that Alaska and Minnesota are counting ballots that have already been cast while Georgia is preparing to hold a whole new election.

(The difference between Alaska and Minnesota is that Alaska is still counting the ballots for the first time. Because the initial outcome was so close in Minnesota, a recount is required by state law.)

Politicians like to draw favorable comparisons to history.

Like an eager lawyer who discovers a long-forgotten ruling that can serve as a precedent — and save a court case that was thought to be a lost cause — a politician who is perceived to be trailing inevitably will invoke the memory of Harry Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the banner headline "Dewey Defeats Truman" — as if to say, "See? My cause isn't hopeless."

But there's a reason why such examples live in the public memory. The dream scenario usually remains in the realm of dreams, rarely venturing into reality.

And Georgia history, as the Times points out, does not have a favorable precedent for Obama or the Democrat in the race, Jim Martin.

Sixteen years ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president and the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, a similar drama was unfolding in Georgia.

In the 1992 general election, three third-party candidates combined for 3% of the vote and prevented both the incumbent, Democrat Wyche Fowler, and his Republican challenger, Paul Coverdell, from receiving a majority of the vote. Then, as now, a runoff was required by state law.

During the runoff, both Clinton and Vice President-elect Al Gore (who, unlike the Obama-Biden ticket, managed to win Georgia in the 1992 presidential race) tried to use their electoral popularity to help Fowler by campaigning for him.

The Times suggests that a "high-profile presence" by the president-elect in the 2008 runoff campaign would be a "potent demonstration of his clout."

But before Obama does so, he might want to review what happened in 1992.

Clinton and Gore's efforts did not succeed. Coverdell received 51% of the vote.

In hindsight, it's hard to say whether there was much that either Clinton or Gore could have done to help Fowler in that race.

As Michael Barone, co-author of the "Almanac of American Politics," observed in the 1994 edition of the book, Fowler "was in trouble because he was seen for what he was, a national liberal on most issues, with strong convictions and great political skills, blessed with a folksy rural manner, but also one of Majority Leader George Mitchell's chief lieutenants."

It didn't play well in Georgia.

Did Fowler's loss foreshadow what was coming in 1994, when Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took control of Capitol Hill? I doubt that. Yes, the Democrats lost a Senate seat in that 1992 runoff, but they lost it in the South, where Democrats have had problems across the board for decades.

And one could argue that things like the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military and the 1994 health care reform efforts supported a growing public perception that both the administration and the Democrats in Congress were out of step with average Americans — and laid the foundation for the so-called "Republican Revolution."

Fowler may have sympathized with those policies and others, but they were not factors in the runoff.

A "filibuster-proof" majority was not on the line in 1992 — and it might not be in 2008, either.

It seems likely that, by the time the runoff is held in Georgia on Dec. 2, the final outcomes from Alaska and Minnesota will be known. If either Ted Stevens or Norm Coleman prevail, that 60-seat majority is off the table, no matter what happens in Georgia.

Or, for that matter, what happens with Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman, who has been caucusing with the Democrats for two years but supported John McCain in the presidential campaign — and some Democrats, reportedly, are eager to jettison him and free up the chairmanship of the Homeland Security committee.

There are those in the media, like Ezra Klein in The American Prospect, who openly urge the Democrats to strip Lieberman of his chairmanship.

"[I]t's about to be 2009 and there is no reason to keep an anti-Muslim bigot who believes the United States is being subverted by Muslims from within in charge of a committee that handles national security affairs," writes Klein.

With the domestic and foreign problems confronting the incoming administration, my feeling is that it's best for Obama to avoid becoming personally involved in the Georgia runoff.

Unless that "filibuster-proof" majority appears to be a real possibility, my advice would be to dispatch high-profile surrogates to Georgia — and save the political capital.