Saturday, March 22, 2008

Geopolitics Iraq ~ A Series

I will be starting a series in which I will examine the geopolitics of the Iraq War. It is an attempt offer an alternative perspective than that of the mainstream media, which more often than not looks at Iraq in a vacuum.

The focus of the series is to examine the vast complexity of the region. It will be a true learning experience for myself and hopefully for you as well.

The series will examine each of Iraq's neighboring countries (as well as a few states in the region that do not necessarily share a border with Iraq). While the series will focus on the external complexity of Iraq, I vow to not neglect the internal complexities of each country and Iraq itself.

Here is a list of the countries that will be covered (the list may grow, but will not shrink): Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Isreal, Turkey, Syria, and Kuwait. I will attempt to cover at least one country per week, but bear with me on this.

Sunday Talking Heads Preview

This Week with George Stephanopoulos
-Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Clinton Backer
-Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., McCain Backer
-Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.

Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace
-Gov. Edward Rendell, D-Pa., Clinton Backer
-Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., Obama Backer

Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer
-Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.,
-Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., McCain Backer

Taiwanese Opposition Victoy

Taiwan's opposition KMT, Nationalist Party, claimed victory today in the country's presidential elections making Ma Ying-jeou the country's next president.

While the country's relationship to China has dominated much Taiwan's politics in past elections, a majority of voters in this election said they were most concerned with domestic issues.

The KMT took power in 1959 after losing in the Chinese Civil War and retreating to Taiwan. They ruled Taiwan with an iron fist until the late '80's and were finally democratically elected in 1996. The DPP, known for their pro-independence policies, took over in the 2000 elections and stayed in power ever since.

Ma has pledged closer ties with the Chinese mainland, but has expressed that Taiwan would not be ready to reunify with China until the mainland becomes more democratic. Ma does plan on opening more economic ties to the mainland.

The KMT victory comes as good news for Beijing which faces enough scrutiny with the recent violence in Tibet and the coming 2008 Olympic games.

See how the opposition victory is getting covered in Taiwan:
Taiwan News
Taipei Times
The China Post

'Full Frontal Assault'

The Clinton camp held a conference call today to discuss what they claim to be a 'full frontal assault' on Clinton's character waged by the Obama camp (referring to a conference call with reporters held by the Obama camp yesterday).

Roughly halfway through yesterday's Obama call, I recall turning to my colleague and pointing out, "David Plouffe (Obama's campaign manager) is starting to sound like Wolfson and Singer (Communications Director and Deputy, respectively, for the Clinton camp). "

On the call, David Plouffe (along with foreign policy and campaign advisor Greg Craig) raised questions about how trust worthy Clinton is in the context of her claims regarding 35 years of experience and her position on NAFTA. On Wednesday, the schedules of Clinton's years as First Lady were release from the William J. Clinton presidential library. The schedules indicated that Hillary's role on her trips abroad was largely ceremonial and that she sat in on 5 NAFTA meetings prior to NAFTA being passed.

The Clinton camp rebutted stating that the schedules should be used as a mere reference, but do not indicate the specific tasks that Hillary engaged (although they do tell us that she never sat in on any NSA briefings or State Dept. meetings). The Clinton camp also asserted that in 4 of the 5 meetings regarding NAFTA, that Hillary was "pushing back" on the passage of the trade treaty (makes you wonder what made her change her mind during the one meeting in which she supported NAFTA?).

The Obama camp raised these concerns in the call and circulated a fact check piece (per ABC's Jake Tapper) in which individuals were present during the NAFTA meetings recall, "There was no question that everyone who spoke including the First Lady was for NAFTA, it was a rally on behalf of NAFTA to help it get passed. It's unquestionable."

While this may seem like a reasonable question for the Obama camp to raise, it was unique for them to directly question the "trustworthiness" of Clinton.

When Singer and Wolfson cried foul, reporters jumped at the contradiction. "Are you saying you have run a more positive campaign then the Obama camp?" on asked.

Wolfson described Obama's pledged to run a positive campaign and pointed to the contradiction between Obama's message of 'Hope' and an alternative to the 'same old Washington style of politics' to the questions they were raising about Clinton's character.

Perhaps, Wolfson makes an apt contrast here, but let's be straight: the Clinton campaign has waged these character attacks on a daily basis for the last two months. Should we excuse the daily character attacks coming from the Clinton camp because Hillary has never made a pledged to avoid down and dirty Washington style politics and ridicule the Obama camp for echoing the style of the Clinton camp on one occasion?

The Obama campaigns response to the Saturday Clinton call:

Since the Clinton campaign had a news-less conference call, reiterating tired lines of attack with no basis in reality, instead of responding with a call of our own, we are going to give the press corps a break so that we can all enjoy this holiday weekend with our families and maybe even watch a little basketball.
~ Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton.

You decide.

Listen to today's Clinton conference call here:

Listen to yesterday's Obama conference call here:

Global Perspective ~ Free Tibet!

Over 49 years ago, the Dalai Lama was exiled from Tibet and what progress has been made?

The most recent peaceful protests (albeit some looting) come only weeks after Kosovo official declared independence from Serbia (think President Medvedev to the north has Chechnya on his mind??). With Chinese governments monopoly on media, it is hard to get a clear picture of what exactly is happening in Tibet. However, from the personal accounts that have managed to make it out of the country, we have learned that the Chinese government has responded with brutal force to the protests, killing many Tibetans. Not only is the response of the Chinese government atrocious and severely disproportionate, but it shows a serious ineptitude on the behalf of the government with regards to understanding a separatist movement. Will unwarranted and brutal killings persuade and silence a people that have been oppressed for generation upon generation?

Tibet has long been a touchy subject for American politicians that forces even the most savvy of individuals to walk a political tight rope. A vast majority of the American public has long supported the independence of Tibet. While most politicians feel the same way, many will only go so far in expressing their feelings (especially those running for president) because they are aware of the growing influence (both financial and military strength) that the Chinese government holds (who loaned us all those billions of dollars for the Iraq War again?).

Here's what Obama had to say on Tibet:

I am deeply disturbed by reports of a crackdown and arrests ordered by Chinese authorities in the wake of peaceful protests by Tibetan Buddhist monks. I condemn the use of violence to put down peaceful protests, and call on the Chinese government to respect the basic human rights of the people of Tibet, and to account for the whereabouts of detained Buddhist monks.

These events come on the 49th anniversary of the exile of the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama. They demonstrate the continuing frustration of the Tibetan people at the way in which Beijing has ruled Tibet. […]

Tibet should enjoy genuine and meaningful autonomy. […] Now is the time to respect the human rights and religious freedom of the people of Tibet.

And Clinton:

I am deeply concerned about the violent clashes that have erupted in Lhasa, Tibet. Based on the limited information available, there is an urgent need for all parties, and in particular the Chinese security forces, to exercise restraint, to demonstrate respect for human rights and to protect civilians from danger. I call on the Chinese government to prevent further escalation of this conflict and to urgently pursue resolution through peaceful means.

Maverick McCain:

One of the first things I would talk about if I were President of the United States today is what's going on in Tibet. It's not correct that the people there are being subjected to mistreatment. That is not acceptable conduct from a world power, which China is. There must be respect for human rights, whether it be in Tibet or whether it be anyplace else in the world. I would hope that the Chinese would announce that they are actively seeking a peaceful resolution to this situation that exists which harms not only the human rights of people but also the image of China in the world
OK. So they all agree that the military blowback went over the top. But is there any disparity between the candidates?

McCain and Clinton both condemn the attacks and hope for a peaceful resolution. Obama goes one step further and overtly states, "Tibet should enjoy genuine and meaningful autonomy." This is what the Dalai Lama has been (peacefully) fighting for and this is what the Tibetan people so desperately seek and deserve. While McCain and Clinton point out that it is wrong how the Chinese government rules over Tibet, Obama asserts it is wrong that the Chinese government rules Tibet at all.

Oh, and how about that guy that is our president right now? Bush avoids the issue like the plague (or books, the news, and reality for that matter).

A Day In The Life ~ Saturday, March 22nd

Life is Good!

Slippers, sweat pants, no showers, bad movies... the candidates take a load off for Easter weekend. McCain's exact whereabouts remain a mystery, but he has no public events scheduled until he heads out to California on Monday for a series of campaign events.

Bill and Hill kick back and relax at their residence in Chappaqua, NY.

Obama has a morning event in Oregon before heading down to the Virgin Islands for Easter weekend. Perhaps he intends to thank you to the fine people of the Islands who handed him all 3 of the islands delegates in the February 9th contest. As ABC's Teddy Davis and Talal Al-Khatib point out, with his 84 pt. margin of victory, "Obama netted more delegates in the Virgin Islands than Clinton did from her "wins" in New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, Florida, New Mexico, and American Samoa C-O-M-B-I-N-E-D."

It is also worth noting that by spending Easter weekend in the tropics, Obama avoids giving the relentless media another couple of days to talk about Rev. Wright by not attending Sunday services at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Saturday, March 22nd

Barack Obama
-10:30 am ET: Holds town hall metting with voters, Medford, OR

Sunday, March 23rd
-Obama is in the Virgin Islands
-The Clintons are in Chappaqua, NY
-McCain is... ??

Monday, March 24th

Bill Clinton
-11:30 am ET: Attends event with voters, South Bend, IN
-12:45 pm ET: Attends event with voters, South Bend, IN
-3:15 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Rochester, IN
-5:15 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Logansport, IN
-Attends event with voters, Lafayette, IN

John McCain
-4:15 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Chula Vista, CA

Friday, March 21, 2008

Taxpayers Beware ~ Do Not Feed the Bear

A letter to the editorial board of the WSJ from a special reader (yes, my mother) on the Fed buyout of Bear Stearns:

So, are the taxpayers of the United States of America now shareholders in Bear Stearns? It seems only right. As taxpayers we are once again being asked to feed the Bear market, when we seem to only get feces from the Bull market.

Bear Stearns CEO Mr Cayne will leave with only a mere $13.4 million from the federally guaranteed sale of the company to JP Morgan this past week. However, he earned $156 million in the past five years and a total of $232 million during his 13-year tenure at Bear Stearns. Their current CEO as of January 2008, Alan Swartz earned $141 million and their former Co-President Warren Spector, who had been ousted just after the hedge fund fiasco reaped $168 million.

Nonetheless, the United States Federal Reserve, which in essence is the taxpayer, will fund and guarantee the bailout of Bear Stearns faulty investments.

How about paying for this investment debacle by recalling the obscene bonuses paid the executives of Bear Stearns?

In the last quarter of 2007 Bear Stearns lost $859 million. In the same quarter of 2006 Bean Stearns had profits of $558 million. I don’t recall when Bear Stearns was sitting high, riding the Bull we taxpayers got any free rides, yet now that the Bear is lumbering about we are supposed to dig in and feed him our crumbs.

Taxpayers Beware: Yellowstone National Park’s brochure explains to visitors the danger of feeding the Bear.

“Enjoy them at a distance, because of their protected status they have lost their fear of man. While this may make them appear tame, actually in this state they are more dangerous.”

Hmmmmm, consider yourself warned.
Couldn't have said it better myself. And all the while I thought the big money, low corporate tax, small government, Wall Street conservatives opposed wasteful government spending?

The Weeks (Months) Ahead

Remaining Democratic Contests (+ number of delegates at stake):

April 22nd
-Pennsylvania (158)

May 3rd
-Guam (4)

May 6th
-Indiana (72)
-North Carolina (115)

May 13th
-West Virginia (28)

May 20th
-Kentucky (51)
-Oregon (52)

June 1st
-Puerto Rico (55)

June 3rd
-Montana (16)
-South Dakota (15)

Scoreboard! Scoreboard!

I'm not talking about the chant emanating from the crowd as your Final Four picks blow out No. 15 and No. 16 seeds from small-town USA in the first round of March Madness.

Since before March 4th, the Obama camp has touted their pledged delegate lead, often hinting at (and sometimes directly asserting) that it will be impossible for Clinton to close the gap in pledged delegates. While they were right on the numbers, it is not the best strategy for the Obama camp; no voter likes to be told their vote is worthless. Despite Clinton winning primaries in Texas, Ohio, and Rhode Island (only losing to Obama in Vermont) on March 4th, Clinton severely failed when it came to closing the gap on Obama's delegate lead. With a decisive victory in second half of the 'Texas Two-Step' (1 parts primary, 1 part caucus), Obama actually ended up netting more delegates in Texas than Clinton.

In the week following March 4th, Obama picked strolled to easy wins in both Wyoming and Mississippi. Despite the combined contests receiving little to no play in the media, Obama erased the gains made by Clinton on March 4th, and some.

Also receiving very little attention in the media, Iowa's county conventions last Saturday, March 15th. With out going into the specifics of Iowa's four stage caucus process (the county convention being Stage 2). Obama was able to pick up an additional 9 delegates, while Clinton lost one (a net gain of 10 for Obama).

SO, where do we stand now? According to ABC News' Delegate Scorecard:

Total Delegates (2025 Needed to Win)
Clinton: 1493
Obama: 1618
Difference: 125

Pledged Delegates
Clinton: 1247
Obama: 1410
Difference: 163

Super Delegates:
Clinton: 246
Obama: 208
Difference: 38

Let's put the numbers into perspective:

If Clinton were to sweep all of the remaining contests with 20 pt. margins (impossible), she would still be trailing by nearly 50 pledged delegates. Despite the fact that Florida has ruled out a re-vote while the prospect of a re-vote in Michigan gets dimmer by the day, lets see what would happen if she were to win every contest by 20 pt. margins, including FL and MI. Clinton would still be trailing by seven pledged delegates.

(You can run through ALL the scenarios yourself using Slate's Delegate Calculator.)

Why is the pledged delegate count so important if superdelegates can vote how they please? Well, lets step into the shoes of the undecided superdelegates. It is fair to assume that the vast majority of the remaining superdelegates are political calculators. They did not have a strong preference early on, and now that they are at the center of attention, they are inclined to travel the path of least resistance; they don't want to be courageous, if you will. So, what would be an easier route for a superdelegate to take: reenforce the 'will of the people' and support whoever holds the pledged delegate lead (i.e. Obama)? Or, overturn the 'will of the people' and support Clinton on the grounds that she is more electable or best prepared for Day One?

So why is Clinton still in it? Her ONLY shot (and a long shot at that) depends on securing the popular vote lead. Then, at least, she will be able to make the argument that the superdelegates would not be overturning the 'will of the people' by casting a vote for Clinton at the convention. Obama currently leads in the popular vote by the relatively significant margin of 700,000 votes.

Everybody Must Get Breached Reprise

Less than 24 hours after discovering that Obama's passport file had been breached by outside contractors at the State Department, it was revealed that both McCain and Clinton's files had been breached as well.

Clinton's file was breached last year by a trainee who also snooped through the records on a number of high profile celebrities. From a political stand point, the breach of Clinton's record was innocent.

Obama's record had been breached by three seperate contract employees. ABC News is reporting two of the employees worked for Stanley, Inc., a contractor in Arlington, VA; both were fired. The third breach was committed by a State Dept. employee. It was later discovered, the same employee accessed McCain's record without authorization. State Dept. Spokesperson McCormick stated the employee had been disciplined, but not discharged.

The true significance of the file breachings cannot be determined until a motive is established. Social security numbers is likely the most vital piece of information made available on a passport file. An internal investigation is under way, but talks between Inspector General Bill Todd at the State Dept. and the Justice Dept. could result in a formal investigation from the FBI.

Call me cynical, but if the breaches are not examined by an independent judicial body, an internal investigation will likely result in more damage control than the actual turning over of rocks.

What say you?

Highlights from the Richardson Endorsement

First on Obama and race:

Senator Barack Obama addressed the issue of race with the eloquence and sincerity and decency and optimism we have come to expect of him.

He did not seek to evade tough issues or to soothe us with comforting half-truths.

Rather, he inspired us by reminding us of the awesome potential residing in our own responsibility.

Senator Obama could have given a safer speech. He is, after all, well ahead in the delegate count for our party’s nomination. He could have just waited for the controversy over the deplorable remarks of Reverend Wright to subside, as it surely would have.Instead, Senator Obama showed us once again what kind of leader he is. He spoke to us as adults. (A observation and line first used by Jon Stewart... I couldn't agree more.)

As a Hispanic, I was particularly touched by his words.

You understand the security challenges of the 21st century, and you will be an outstanding Commander in Chief.

Let's not forget, Richardson was also the former US Secretary of Energy to Pres. Clinton:

My great affection and admiration for Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton will never waver. It is time, however, for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and to prepare for the tough fight we will face against John McCain in the Fall.

When asked about the weight the endorsement would carry, chief strategist and pollster for the Clinton campaign, Mark Penn, said Richardson missed his moment: "Perhaps the time when he could have been most effective has long since past."

Richardson is the second former Democratic presidential candidate to endorse. Sen. Dodd had already endorsed Barack Obama roughly a week before the March 4th contests in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Meanwhile, former Sen. Edwards, who appeared on Jay Leno last night, has not yet made a decision to endorse.

Watch Richardson endorse Obama Here:

Everybody Must Get Breached

Reports have just surfaced that Clinton's passport file was breached in 2007 and McCain's passport file has been breached as well.

What's goin' on over at there at the State Dept., Condi??

A Day In The Life ~ Friday, March 21st

Obama will be campaigning in Oregon today. Oregon's primary is scheduled for May 20th and, along with Kentucky, is the sixth in line right now.

Clinton is down in New York for the weekend, but is expected to be holding a variety of fund raising events. She will be joined by Bill on Saturday and Sunday after he finishes the campaign's first visit to North Carolina. North Carolina holds its primary on May 6th and, along with Indiana, is 4th in line.

McCain has no public events scheduled as he returns from England and prepares for a series of fund-raising events across the West in the coming week.

Sen. Barack Obama
-- 12:30 pm ET: Attends rally with voters, Portland, OR
-- 4:00 pm ET: Attends town hall meeting with voters, Salem, OR
-- 12:00 am ET: Attends rally with voters, Eugene, OR

Pres. Bill Clinton
-- 12:30 pm ET: Attends event with veterans, Charlotte, NC
-- 4:15 pm ET: Meets with seniors at event, Cary, NC

Richardson to Endorse Obama Today

Bill Richardson announced the plans to endorse at 3 am in the morning last night. Hear from the man himself:

During the last year, I have shared with you my vision and hopes for this nation as we look to repair the damage of the last seven years. And you have shared your support, your ideas and your encouragement to my campaign. We have been through a lot together and that is why I wanted to tell you that, after careful and thoughtful deliberation, I have made a decision to endorse Barack Obama for President.

We are blessed to have two great American leaders and great Democrats running for President. My affection and admiration for Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton will never waver. It is time, however, for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and to prepare for the tough fight we will face against John McCain in the fall. The 1990's were a decade of peace and prosperity because of the competent and enlightened leadership of the Clinton administration, but it is now time for a new generation of leadership to lead America forward. Barack Obama will be a historic and a great President, who can bring us the change we so desperately need by bringing us together as a nation here at home and with our allies abroad.

Earlier this week, Senator Barack Obama gave an historic speech. that addressed the issue of race with the eloquence, sincerity, and optimism we have come to expect of him. He inspired us by reminding us of the awesome potential residing in our own responsibility. He asked us to rise above our racially divided past, and to seize the opportunity to carry forward the work of many patriots of all races, who struggled and died to bring us together.

As a Hispanic, I was particularly touched by his words. I have been troubled by the demonization of immigrants--specifically Hispanics-- by too many in this country. Hate crimes against Hispanics are rising as a direct result and now, in tough economic times, people look for scapegoats and I fear that people will continue to exploit our racial differences--and place blame on others not like them . We all know the real culprit -- the disastrous economic policies of the Bush Administration!

Senator Obama has started a discussion in this country long overdue and rejects the politics of pitting race against race. He understands clearly that only by bringing people together, only by bridging our differences can we all succeed together as Americans.

His words are those of a courageous, thoughtful and inspiring leader, who understands that a house divided against itself cannot stand. And, after nearly eight years of George W. Bush, we desperately need such a leader.

To reverse the disastrous policies of the last seven years, rebuild our economy, address the housing and mortgage crisis, bring our troops home from Iraq and restore America's international standing, we need a President who can bring us together as a nation so we can confront our urgent challenges at home and abroad.

During the past year, I got to know Senator Obama as we campaigned against each other for the Presidency, and I felt a kinship with him because we both grew up between words, in a sense, living both abroad and here in America. In part because of these experiences, Barack and I share a deep sense of our nation's special responsibilities in the world.

So, once again, thank you for all you have done for me and my campaign. I wanted to make sure you understood my reasons for my endorsement of Senator Obama. I know that you, no matter what your choice, will do so with the best interests of this nation, in your heart.


Bill Richardson

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Questionable Happenings at State Dept?!?!

From the Huffington Post:

News broke Thursday evening that two contract employees of the State Department had been fired and a third disciplined for accessing passport records of Sen. Barack Obama.

The senior officials declined to name who was behind the breach, and said they did not know whether the records were disseminated to other individuals. Legal analysts said that while the breaches themselves may not have been illegal, any distribution of the
information would almost certainly be a violation of privacy laws.

"That is one of the things we are obviously investigating," said Patrick F. Kennedy, head of bureau of consular affairs. "I have no reason to believe they did, but I am certainly not
going to be dismissive of what is a serious and valid question. On the basis of fast work this
afternoon [I don't believe they did]."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was notified of the security breach yesterday, and
responded by saying security measures used to monitor records of high-profile Americans worked properly in detecting the breaches.

Ready to be Blogger-in-Chief on Post One

The Republicans: Sen. McCain is the GOP nominee and finishing off his taxpayer funded tour of the Middle East with a couple stops in Europe. It is a worth while investment to send a man, who for all practical purposes has a 50/50 shot of being our next president, on a tour of the world (despite that fact that publicity may be the driving incentive for McCain to take the trip). However, when the candidate proceeds to holds a $1,000 dollar-a-head fund raising event on a trip funded by over 150,000,000 citizens who do NOT wish to to see him in the White Hours -- then we have a conflict of interest.

On the Dem Side: We are in the heat of things. 33 days until the Pennsylvania primary. As the debate over the issues (which both candidates largely agree on for the most part) has grown exhaustive, the focus of the race has turned to the most trivial of quarrels. The last week of the race has been dominated by, well, race. The media fiery that ensued as a result of the remarks made by Sen. Obama's pastor Rev. Jerimiah Wright led to the Sen. Obama's ground breaking speech on race.

Watch it Here: