Thursday, October 21, 2004

I have been trying to wrap my head around the charter reform movement here in St. Louis. It is an issue that will change the make-up of the city. There are four Proposals on the Ballot A, B, C, and D. The proposals will consolidate several county positions, turning some of them into appointed positions under the control of the Mayor and eliminating one. The proposals will also reduce the number of aldermanic wards and increase the power of the Aldermanic President.

While consolidating power under the mayor may raise a lot of eyebrows in most cities, in St. Louis is may actually be a benefit because of the odd nature of St. Louis governance. St. Louis has, in addition to its regular offices, several elected county offices. St. Louis is one of only a few cities who still have a city divorced from its surrounding metropolitan area. As a result, the city has a glut of elected positions as well as a ward system that has largely been eliminated in the rest of the county.

The St. Louis American has some good coverage on this topic:
Here, on the office of the Mayor.
Here, on the county offices.
Here, on the Board of Aldermen.

One person who can be expected to support the move is Tom Schlafly, lead partner of the St. Louis Brewery, brewers of Schlafly beer. In a Post-Dispatch endorsement of the charter reform, Schlafly told a story about dealing with the difficult nature of doing business in the city. The St. Louis Brewery and Taproom opened in 1992, in 2000 they decided they needed to expand and wanted to build a bottling line and restaraunt in the city. Several different factors killed the idea but the number one problem was dealing with the city and trying to please every different interest group. Eventually Maplewood, an inner-ring suburb just the other side of the city/county line, offered to do what was necessary to bring Schlafly to their town. Four years later there is a successful resturaunt and bottling plant in Maplewood, and the Bottleworks (as it's known) has acted as an anchor in the redevelopment in downtown Maplewood, much as the Taproom did downtown 14 years ago.

Trying to get through all of the political rhetoric is difficult, but the basic idea is sound; clearer lines of accountability as well as a streamlined decision process. The proposition to reduce the number of aldermen does not strike me as helpful despite the arguments that the number we have is excessive for a city of our size. A number of the public criticisms I have heard have come from entrenched political interests who have done well under the current system and may be concerned about a change in the system.

The vote is only 12 days away. With all the focus on the Presidential, Gubernatorial and Senate elections, charter reform has gotten lost in the mix. It would be good to see a good discussion about this issue.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

I have heard the questions posed, and I have asked myself the same question before, could a few more years of Bush be helpfull to the Democrats? Will a Kerry term simply give the Republicans time to regroup? For strategic reasons, is a Kerry loss necessarily an absolute blow? Should we just leave Iraq in Republican hands and let them reap the whirlwind? Would a further collapse in Iraq on Kerry's watch, be left in his lap if people forget who started the war?

In an overall strategic sense, it may be better to let the Republicans win this one and use the building anger and dissent to create a new Democratic movement. In a sense, steal a bit of the Conservative playbook. After Goldwater lost in '64, the Conservatives found themselves on the outs, they spent the next 16 years getting ready for Reagan. In the process they constructed the massive message machine we see in use today. While Nixon was certainly a republican, a movement conservative he was not.

However, given the importance of the current restructuring of government, especially in intelligence, military matters and oversight ability, the possibility of letting the Bush administration (Cheney, Wolfowitz, etc.) have the greatest influence is a worrisome idea. Already, the administration's replacement at the CIA, Rep. Porter Goss, who promised he could run the office free from partisanship, has been apointing top Republican aides to top positions in the CIA. Goss also is the one who floated the idea of trying Richard Clarke for treason. It's hard to see how they believed him when he said he would be non-partisan.

For one reason alone this election is too valuable to lose, the Supreme Court. The possibility exists for the next President to appoint one or more Justices. Considering the standards by which this administration has used in appointed judges to the federal bench, can the nation really handle it? Of course, before the 2000 election O'Conner said she wouldn't retire unless a Republican was in office and she has yet to do so, so we can never speculate too much about these.

All-in-all, the overall needs of effective restructuring in the government take precedence over politics. Leaving the gov in control of the Republicans will only take us down. Their policies have bankrupted the government, bankrupted our standing in the world and damaged our ability to use the government to fix itself.

Monday, October 18, 2004

It really is impossible to know how supporters of the President's Iraq policy can find any room to stand anymore. Early criticism of the invasion plans both inside and outside the administration and military centered around dismissals of countering evidence regarding WMD's, troop strength levels, post-war planning, international assistance and involvement and most tellingly that the administration refused to listen to the experts. Often these critics did not even address the question of going or not going, but focused on planning and policy. These critics were not merely anti-war activists, but the Army chief of staff Gen. Shinseki , National Security Council Members, members of the Army War College and our own weapons inspectors who were searching for evidence.

The lead-up to the war in Iraq was not a series of intelligence failures, but a regimented march towards war led by the highest levels of the administration. When international inspectors failed to turn up anything more ominous than administrative deceptions they were pushed out of the country. When the CIA, and the Pentagon's and State Department's intelligence groups brought forth assessments that Saddam was of little threat to the U.S. or his neighbors, any links to terrorists were tenuous at best, and that his weapons programs were virtually non-existant; the administration set up its own intelligence group with a singular directive, to find the evidence the administration wanted. Run by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, the Office of Special Plans spent the lead up time before the war re-evaluating all intelligence concerning Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the group received a great deal of support from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and provided intelligence that supported the administration's assertions, despite criticisms from the rest of the intelligence community.

Now, over a year and a half after the beginning of the war, more and more evidence is emerging to support the pre-war critics. Much of the evidence has been leaking out all along, but the effects of politically motivated planning has driven a number of officials to openly criticize the administrations planning.

The administration's own investigations are turning up evidence that contradicts their own pre-war positions yet goes along with what much of the intelligence community had been saying since before the war.

At this point the administration has taken to accusing critics of undercutting support for the troops. Yet day after day, more and more evidence mounts up that the administration itself undercut support for the troops. Much of which may have been for political reasons. It certainly would have been harder to gain public support for the war if the administration used the recommended numbers of troops (hundreds of thousands according to Gen. Shinseki), or if it had been more honest in admitting what its own planners were saying before the war, that the post-war period was going to be the most difficult and to expect a guerilla type war following the fall of the major military divisions. (Matthew Yglesias has a good rundown of several articles dealing with just these issues here.)

It is far to late to expect a major shift on the administrations part. They have committed themselves to this ill-advised path and Bush has asserted repeatedly that to change paths would be the same as giving the terrorists a victory. Even with a Kerry win in November, there will still be no easy way to deal with the situation. It will take a Kerry administration being forthright with the American people, allowing the intelligence services to once again do their work unfettered by political manipulations and giving the military whatever it needs to do the job (manpower, money, armor, whatever it takes).

There are no guarantees that anything will improve in Iraq very quickly. Yet the evidence shows that the Bush administration is incapable of achieving any kind of actual progress.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The eyes of the world are upon St. Louis, Missouri this evening as Washington University again hosts a Presidential Debate. While reporters and pundits have claimed over the years that debates do not have a make-or-break effect on the Presidential election, the recent swing in Senator Kerry's momentum in the 10 days since he and President Bush first went toe-to-toe may put an end to that assumption.

Certainly the change in voter's evaluation of the candidates is not simply due to Bush's awful showing at the first debate. The news over the past week, increased fighting in Iraq, the Duelfer report and Cheney's outright lies in the Vice Presidential debate have certainly put a dampener on the Bush campaign. Even the New York Times is at the point where they are running out of ways of saying the President lied and is continuing to lie.

Others have written more extensively on the extent to which the Bush campaign is out of touch with reality. The Duelfer report alone has pretty much put the administration's spinning rationale for the Iraq war to bed. As Digby points out, via Atrios, the disconnect is so complete that Cheney's assertion that Hussein's intent to reassemble his weapons programs if sanctions were lifted was a reason to go to war. Yet Cheney fails to disclose that while he was CEO, Haliburton worked to ease sanctions and subsidiaries of Haliburton were doing business with Iraq despite the sanctions. This is not to imply that Cheney himself was attempting to subvert the law, but if he wasn't aware of the companies actions then it goes to how effective a CEO he was.

Others have covered the declining rationality of the Bush campaign far more extensively (Talking Points Memo, Political Animal, and Atrios) than I ever will.

The beginning of the troubles for the Bush campaign did not come with Bush's flubbing the first debate. The beginning came when the media could no longer ignore reality.

After the first debate, people have high expectations for Kerry, if he stumbles, they could multiply the effect. It's just the reverse with Bush. If he does a decent job and comes off as "average guy", he could win back some ground. It will all depend on the media's handling of this. If they decide to again ignore what their eyes and ears are telling them, then it will be a toss-up.

Remember, it took days before the media consensus would admit that Bush did a lousy job, not decent or okay, but lousy.
Following up on the success of their last satire This Land is Your Land, JibJab has released a new satire It's Good to Be in D.C.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

A quick rundown of the snap polls:

CBS: "A CBS News poll of 178 uncommitted voters found that 41 percent said Edwards won the debate, versus 28 percent who said Cheney won. Thirty-one percent said it was a tie." (Source)

ABC: Cheney 43%, Edwards 35%, Tie 19%. Also, more Kerry supporters called the debate a tie than Bush supporters. In the overall vote preference, however, The Kerry ticket picked up a point. (Before debate Bush 51, Kerry 48; after debate Kerry 49, Bush 51) (Source)
There is an interesting poll on ABC's website this morning. The article along with the poll states that Cheney won last night's debate, which the numbers at first seem to back up. Yet in the overall question of who the voters prefer, the Bush/Cheney ticket lost a point while Kerry/Edwards gained a point.

While I understand that the focus of the story was the debate, shouldn't the fact that the Vice President's victory in the debate actually drove the ticket's numbers down be the more important point? How can a candidate win a debate and have his ticket lose ground?

The poll broke down responses according to who they were supporting. It seems that more Kerry supporters called it a tie than Bush supporters did. Considering the relative importance of this debate (VP debates until this year had little effect on the race in general), and the relative levels of experience and position between Cheney and Edwards, a tie in this debate is effectively a win for Edwards. If the sitting Vice President who has been touted for his great experience and wisdom can't beat a wet-behind-the-ears first-term Senator like a gong, then there are some serious issues the ticket needs to work on.

To see the whole poll click here.

Friday, October 01, 2004

I am not sure what I can add to what has already been said about last-night's debate. It was pretty obvious to both Republicans and Democrats alike that Kerry handily won the debate. His answers were clear, concise and to the point while Bush's were rambling and littered with campaign slogans that did nothing to actually explain his position; other than reinforce his assertion that he is "working hard".

In fact, at times I actually felt bad for Bush. His performance was so weak that I almost wished Lehrer would lob him a softball. It's not that the candidates were actually asked very difficult questions. There were basic, "what will you do in situation x," type questions. Kerry responded to the questions with, for the most part, detailed answers. Bush responded by reiterating campaign spot tag-lines or playing the "I am resolute" card. What was most disconcerting was when President Bush would stand there silent for 10+ seconds after a question was asked. He seemed out of his depth and out on a limb.

In 2000, Al Gore was crucified for his reactions to Bush's statements in the debates. In 2004, Bush has become Gore. His reactions (when I saw them, I watched on PBS which showed little of the reaction shot) were impatient and dismissive. It was as if he was annoyed at being called to the carpet.

Debates are intended to show a candidate's grasp of a set of issues as well as demonstrate his ability to handle the public pressure. Modern debates have become, for the most part, a lot of pagentry with a smattering of substance. Yet at this point in time, with the grave decisions that rest upon the President, the pagentry seems to have fallen aside and the voters are actually concerned with a candidates response to a question, rather than if they seem tough or juvenile.

The response today has been overwhelmingly in Kerry's favor in how he handled the debate. Certainly the Republican operatives have been working to soften the blow the Bush dealt himself, but even Tony Blankly of The Washington Times (a staunchly conservative paper) had to concede on this morning's Diane Rhem show that Kerry clearly won this debate.

There are a number of pundits across the country who are trying to play out the old campaign lines about John Kerry. Yet after last nights debate they seem hollow and unsubstantiated. Bush's pledge to lead on even in the face of failure should not reassure the people of this country, it should make us worry for the safety of our armed forces and civilians abroad and at home. Officials and military personnel who have long experience in foreign policy and military matters have all come out against the current handling of the war against terrorism. Some of them have even openly endorsed Kerry. While the endorsements may be nice for the Kerry campaign the fact that so many individuals with experience and expertise in these areas have come out publicly against the Bush administrations handling of foreign and domestic affairs should weigh heaily on those who believe that Bush has been an effective President.

There is a serious question facing American voters in November; more of the same, or a chance for change.