Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Keep On Talking Mr. President!

We gotta believe there are a bunch of K St. Republican operatives here in Washington who wish "W" would go into hibernation for the next week.

Here at the Curmudgeon, we hope the President keeps on talking everyday about his views of the war in Iraq, terrorism and Democrats.

The more he talks, the better Dems will fare next Tuesday.

Yesterday, Bush said "the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: the terrorists win and America loses." Umm-hmm. Is that right? Well, now, we've had four years of war in Iraq led by the Republicans and we're getting our ass kicked. All we've accomplished is to destroy the country. We have no plan for "victory." Hell, we haven't even defined what "victory" is.

Cheney's useful too. He still talks about how the 9/11 terrorists had ties with Iraq. And then there's this jewel: Cheney thinks the insurgents in Iraq are trying to influence the election: "It's my belief that they're very sensitive fo the fact that we've got an election scheduled" and they're trying to "break the will of the American people."

That could be true, but here's some news for you Dick: if we were "winning" the war--or even just "making progress" as you say, then insurgents wouldn't be able to "influence" our elections. And when the President ordered troops into Baghdad (and out of other troubled regions) to quell sectarian violence a few weeks before the election, just what was he trying to influence?

Keep talking boys. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 30, 2006

Rasmussen Poll Surprise: Webb Up By Five

Rasmussen's latest poll, taken over the weekend, has Webb leading Allen by 51-46. Here's the commentary from RealClearPolitics:

Rasmussen has just released what is a little bit of a shocker poll showing George Allen dropping seven points in 5 days. If the direction of this poll, not necessarily the magnitude of the move, but the direction is confirmed by other major polling -- George Allen is in big, big trouble. This race had already crept up to #7 on RCP's most vulnerable Senate seats and Allen had real risks heading into election day just by his inability to shake off Webb when he was leading in the RCP Average. Now with Webb moving out to a lead in the latest RCP Average, the Allen campaign better hope this poll is a weekend produced outlier.

We're encouraged!

Why You Should Vote AGAINST George Allen

A couple days ago we posted on why voters in Virginia should vote FOR Jim Webb for Senate.

Today we explore the flip side: why you should vote AGAINST incumbent Senator George Allen.

Let's start with Allen's record and the issues, then go to character.

Allen's Disappointing First Term As Senator

Allen was elected to the Senate in 2000, defeating then incumbent Senator Chuck Robb, a moderate Democrat. Allen had previously served as a relatively popular governor.

Since taking office, Allen has been a disappointment, even to many of his supporters. He has done little to distinguish himself in the Senate and he has shown no independence at all, unlike his highly regarded senior colleague, Sen. John Warner.

Allen has contented himself with sponsoring non-controversial legislation far-removed from the big issues of the day, such as a bill to strengthen penalties against internet predators (who doesn't support that?) and proposals to make the U.S. more competitive in science and engineering.

He's done "ok" on constituent services, but he hasn't particularly "brought home the bacon" to Virginia. For example, Allen says he favors more federal funding for the transportation mess in Northern Virginia, but the reality is that, six years into Allen's term as a Senator, Virginia receives on 91 cents on the dollar of the gasoline taxes it pays--one of the lowest returns of any state. Meanwhile, he didn't buck the "bridge to nowhere" sponsored by his Republican colleague from Alaska.

He seems most interested in getting along with his colleagues--not making any waves--to further his Presidential ambitions.

In a speech earlier this year--at a time when his re-election seemed safe--Allen pronounced himself "bored" with the Senate. He's bored because he isn't doing anything.

Wrong on the Issues

George Allen is wrong on a number of key issues.

War in Iraq. For the past four years, Allen has been one of President Bush's most steadfast supporters on the war. Despite a steadily worsening situation in Iraq and a drumbeat of disclosures of mismanagement of the war at every level, it was not until two weeks ago, in the heat of a campaign he finally realized he could lose, that he raised the first inkling of a question about how Iraq has been handled.

Even then, he did not criticize Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld. And while Allen stated that he has "his own views" on how the war should be handled (i.e., different from Bush's) he hasn't shared what those views are with anyone.

If Allen squeaks back into office, you can bet that he'll go right back to cheerleading for the President. It simply isn't Allen's style to rock the boat, and he doesn't want to alienate the conservative Republican base in case his Presidential hopes are still alive (doubtful after his campaign performance, but you never know)>

Like the President and his cronies, Allen has also been quick to question the patriotism of those who have criticized the war handling, and to suggest that the critics are not supporting our troops. In truth, of course, our troops are ill-served by mismanagement and incompetence. And they could use the body armor Allen voted against.

Economic Fairness

Allen voted against a bill to raise the minimum wage for the first time in nearly a decade. Meanwhile, he has championed all of Bush's tax cuts, without once raising a question or offering a suggestion for making them fairer or more tilted to middle income taxpayers.

Stem Cell Research

Allen voted against federal funding of stem cell research. Sen. John Warner parted company with him on this one. Why did Allen vote against stem cell research when the vast majority of Virginians, like the rest of the country, favor this type of research? Because he is beholden to a small group of right wing religious zealots who are holding the rest of the country hostage on this issue due to their religious beliefs. This vote had more to do with Allen's strategy for positioning himself in the GOP presidential primaries in '08 than with representing Virginians.

Energy and the Environment

When it comes to energy and the environment, Allen has an awful record. He sides with the oil industry nearly 100% of the time. There is no suggestion in his voting record or his rhetoric that he even acknowledges global warming, much less thinks we should seriously address the issue. He pays lip service to the idea of sustainable alternative energy, but has done little to make it a reality in the U.S.

Other Issues

There are, of course, many other issues. Allen has sided with President Bush 96% of the time. He thinks the country is headed in the right direction.

What About George Allen's Character

We think all but the most died-in-the-wool Republicans should vote against Allen based solely on his record as a mediocre Senator who is wrong on key issues.

We would prefer that character not be an issue. In our view, many character issues that arise in campaigns are bogus or insignificant. However, there is an issue about Allen's character that is very troubling, which is his attitude toward minorities.

The issue goes well beyond Allen's infamous "macaca" comment earlier in the campaign this year. Unfortunately, there is a long history here, all of which is consistent with a bigot who would like to pretend in public that he is not.

It starts, as far as we know, in high school. Allen is not a native Virginian who grew up in the openly racist days of the old south. Rather, he grew up in California, a son of privilege as his father served as a football coach at various colleges before becoming the famous coach of the Washington Redskins.

While in high school in California, Allen had a fondness for the Confederate battle flag and was once suspended for a prank in which he and some buddies spray painted anti-white graffiti on a school wall prior to a football game against the only majority-black local team. Allen evidently hoped to whip up a frenzy against the black players by making it look like they had painted the graffiti.

A few years later, Allen became the starting quarterback at the University of Virginia. A number of his teammates from those years have said that Allen repeatedly used the N-word racial epithet during those years. A teammate also has recounted a story in which Allen stuffed a severed deer-head in the mailbox of a black family during those years.

Allen denies the UVA stories. He has cited a couple of black teammates who say they never heard him use the N-word. Give us a break--we grew up in the South during those years, and unlike the 50's and 60's, when whites openly called blacks the N-word, by the 70's it was more invidious--bigots like Allen would be careful not to use the epithet around blacks, but in private with their buddies would use it all the time.

Allen continued his infatuation with the Confederate battle flag in college and in his early years of law practice in Southwest Virginia. If he runs for President, we bet we'll hear from some folks down that way who also heard him use the N-word in private.

Allen also kept a noose in his law office, which he says was merely part of a collection of rope knots. Perhaps, but given his history, we find Allen's explanation short on credibility.

Then, most recently, Allen was at a nearly all-white gathering of supporters in southwest Virginia when he took the occasion to point to a dark-skinned young man holding a video camera, who had been following Allen around at various campaign appearances for a couple of weeks. Calling the young man "Macaca", Allen said "welcome to America and the real Virginia."

It was a true window into George Allen's soul. If you watch the videotape, there's little doubt of what George was up to. It was the same as when he used the N-word with his buddies in college while smiling nicely at the black players on the team in public.

The macaca incident simply shows that, deep down, Allen hasn't really changed. Indeed, after the incident, in an effort to show he really isn't a bigot, Allen's campaign arranged a special rally of minorities--a gathering of tokens. The fact of the matter is, if you go to Allen's general rallys, there aren't many people of color.

At bottom, we believe Allen's character is deeply flawed. Born in a family of privilege, Allen, a large man, has been a bully and a bigot much of his life. He hangs around with wealthy white people--the kind whose children don't have to fight in Iraq--and he lives in that world. That's why he's sympathetic to the cry for tax relief from millionaires, but not the appeal for wage relief from the folks who work for those millionaires.

He reminds us a lot of George W. Bush in this regard--spoiled child of privilege, frat boy, undistinguished, prone to smirking and good at hiring others to do his dirty work.

George Allen is not a credit to Virginia. Vote him out of office on November 7. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Spiralling Downward: George Allen's Latest Desperation

Good lord! George Allen's internal polling must be worse than we thought.

Just when we thought this race couldn't get any dirtier, the Allen campaign makes an issue of fictional characters in serious novels about war.

Here's an excerpt from a novel we'd like to see about a Presidential contender, fighting for his political life in an unexpectedly tight Senate race, which would expose the ugly horrors of a political operative living a double life:

Sitting at the podium, taking hostile questions from the audience, Senator
Greg Alpen longed for the good ol' days when he was, literally, the big man on
campus, brash, confident, king of the hill.

In his mind, he flashed back to those days. The former quarterback was in
the locker room, standing, his 6' 4" frame dominating the small group of fellow
player-friends after the game.

"You see how I stiff-armed that nigger," he said, looking both ways to make
sure no black teammates were within earshot. "Put him right on his black ass!"

They all laughed. Turning to the locker room attendant, a dark-skinned
student from India working his way through college, Alpen shouted, "Hey,
Macaca--get me a towel." He and his friends guffawed again.

When the attendant showed up with a white towel, Alpen threw it at him.
"Not this, Macaca. Get me my Confederate battle flag towel!" His friends hooted.

"Bet you five bucks I can bed that cheerleader Debbie tonight," said Alpen
as he made an obscene pulsing gesture with his groin.

The Senator's reverie was interrupted by another question, this one from a
Hispanic woman. These people have some nerve, he thought as he smiled and gave
his pat answer as if he really cared what she thought.

With his internal polls showing a race rapidly slipping away, Alpen made a
mental note to get together with his advisors that night. Maybe they could dig
up some new dirt on his opponent.

Hell, if they had to, they could just pull stuff from the guy's novels and
use it to smear him--Alpen didn't read much, but if the novels were any good
they must have some kind of steamy sex and ugly violence they could use.

Yes, fiction can be ugly, but not uglier than real life.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Why You Should Vote FOR Jim Webb

Please vote in the November 7 election. If you live in Virginia, here's why you should vote FOR Jim Webb in the Senate race:

Who is Jim Webb?

Jim served his country as a Marine platoon and company commander in Vietnam, for which he was awarded the Navy Cross, Silver Star, two bronze stars and two purple hearts. Later, he became Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration. He earned a law degree at Georgetown University, but became a writer, authoring works of fiction and nonfiction, including an acclaimed best-selling novel--Fields of Fire--based on his Vietnam experience, and a history of the Scots-Irish people in America--Born Fighting.

Jim has written many op-ed pieces over the years, including a prescient column in the Washington Post several months before the Iraq war in which he warned of just the quagmire we find our country in today.

What are his politics?

Jim was a Democrat for much of his life, but like many disaffected Democrats in the late 1970's found himself attracted to Ronald Reagan and his political philosophy. Jim has returned to the Democratic party after seeing the disastrous results of George W. Bush's fiscal and foreign policies.

What this means is that Jim is a true independent minded moderate. He will be a voice of reason and principle in the Senate, who will not be afraid to stand up to leaders of either party if they are pursuing bad policies.

Is Jim really a Democrat?

Yes, he is. But, like many Democrats, his views are moderate, and on some issues he does not necessarily embrace the party's position. We expect him to be not that different, frankly, from Chuck Robb (and we doubt Virginia will be electing anyone much more liberal than that anytime soon).

Where Is Jim On The Issues?

Iraq/National Defense/War on Terror. Jim favors a strong national defense but opposes adventurism abroad. He favors using diplomacy to further America's interests with the rest of the world. He has the mature knowledge of a warrior as to the limits of military power.

In keeping with that philosophy, Jim will work hard to get us out of Iraq as quickly as possible without sacrificing our security interests. He believes we need to engage the governments of Iran and Syria, as well as other middle eastern states, in dialogue about the problems in Iraq. It won't be easy, but absent involvement of those states we're not going to solve the problems that we have, in part, created there.

Jim knows that Islamic terrorists, particularly those affiliated with Al Queda, pose a continuing threat to the U.S. He supports a more concerted effort to find and eliminate Osama Bin Laden and supports policies that will give law enforcement and intelligence agencies the tools they need to prevent terrorist attacks without sacrificing the very freedoms that make our country special.

Economy/Taxes. Jim is a progressive on economic issues, who favors raising the minimum wage and would let the Bush tax cuts expire while pushing for meaningful tax relief for middle income taxpayers. He favors a prudent federal budget that is balanced and free of special interest earmarks and tax breaks.

Energy/Environment. He favors policies to protect the environment and move us toward sustainable energy development. Global warming is a fact that we need to begin to address. We can improve our national security by reducing dependence on imported oil and gas.

Civil Rights. Jim will work to preserve civil rights laws and ensure their effective enforcement by courts, opposing appointment of right wing judges with a professed antipathy toward such laws.

What About Jim And Women's Rights?

The Allen campaign has made much of an article Jim wrote in 1979 opposing admitting women to the Naval Academy. Jim has apologized for comments he made in that article that women rightly viewed as offensive. As Secretary of the Navy Jim actively promoted women in the military and the Pentagon. Many of those women are working hard with his campaign today.

Jim is committed to women's rights. His campaign is filled with women in key positions, including his campaign manager and his campaign spokesperson. Jim will favor laws that help women attain and maintain equality in the workplace.

Other Issues

There are, of course, dozens of other issues that may be important to individual voters. Jim's positions are generally progressive. For example, while he does not favor gay marriage, he opposes Virginia Constitutional Amendment No. 1, which goes well beyond the issue of gay marriage.

Electing A Democratic Majority

Finally, electing Jim is important to attaining a Democratic majority in the Senate. Having a Democratic majority is key to reigning in the Bush administration and forcing change in the way the war in Iraq is being waged. With control of congressional committees, Democrats can set new priorities, prevent silly show votes on non-issues like flag-burning, hold hearings and investigate abuses.


[Next week: Why You Should Vote AGAINST George Allen.] Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Allen Campaign Ad Reaches New Low

Quite awhile back we predicted the Virginia Senate race would, ultimately, get quite ugly.

We're there.

Both sides are duking it out over the airwaves, with the RSCC and DSCC funding and airing negative attack ads.

The Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee's first attack ad against Webb reaches a new low. It totally twists and confounds a fairly simple and straightforward statement Webb made about the Navy "tailhook" scandal in a 1992 New York Times op-ed piece.

The GOP ad says Webb "called this scandal [Tailhook] a witch hunt and a feminist plot." That's not just misleading--a sad staple of political ads on both sides--its downright false.

Here's what Webb said:

"A botched internal investigation and the ongoing revelations of inexcusable harassment of women at a Las Vegas convention of naval aviators a year ago have also left in their wake a witch hunt that threatens to swamp the entire naval service."

On another note, we're glad to see Webb's new ad with Mark Warner. We'd rather see one with Webb in person, but at least the Warner ad is positive and tells voters about who Jim Webb is.

For the rest of the campaign, we'd like to see Webb anywhere but Northern Virginia. He can still pick up plenty of votes in the rest of the state. In NoVa, the key is turnout, but running around with Jim Moran isn't going to help that.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tired of GOP Incompetence

Occasionally the Curmudgeon will see a series of signs in road medians in Northern Virginia saying "Tired of Corruption? Vote Democratic."

Democratic candidates aren't going to win because of voters upset over Republican corruption, other than in those particular races affected directly by corruption.

A better message would be "Tired of Incompetence? Vote Democratic."

Because truly, it is Bush's incompetence in handling the Iraq war, Katrina, Medicare and other issues, and Congress's refusal to call him to the carpet, that is going to sweep the GOP from power.

(Independent voters, in particular, will recall that while Iraq devolved into civil war this summer, GOP leaders in Congress decided to "rally the base" by holding show votes on gay marriage and flag burning, as well as a serious vote on stem cells. Time to pay the piper, folks.)

Monday, October 23, 2006

What We'd Like To See From Jim Webb

With just two weeks to go until the election, we're a bit disappointed with Jim Webb's television ads.

Yes, he has some good, hard-hitting spots either highlighting Allen's many weaknesses or responding to Allen's attacks on Webb. But where's the key ad that tells Virginians who Jim Webb really is?

Many Virginians don't know Jim. He's never run for public office before, and only a fraction of voters will ever see/meet him in person.

Polls show that many Virginians in the middle are uneasy with George Allen, but they're unsure of Jim Webb. We think that if they got to know Jim better, they'd find voting FOR him (as opposed to against Allen) a satisfying option.

So here's what we'd like to see: an ad with just Jim (ok, maybe with a couple of his combat veteran supporters thrown in) speaking candidly to Virginians about (1) himself, and (2) why he got into the race (mainly Iraq). Don't even mention Allen.

We know that Jim doesn't like to talk about himself that much, but he needs to. He should stress his southwest Virginia roots, his military background, why he's wearing combat boots throughout the campaign, the fact that his son Jimmy is fighting in Iraq now, the fact that before the war he wrote about why invading Iraq was a bad idea, about his revulsion at how our leaders have bungled the war, and then about a couple economic issues: minimum wage and tax fairness.

You can throw in a montage of Jim at various campaign stops, but keep it mostly on Jim, speaking to the camera.

The race is close. Enough voters are ready to abandon George Allen, but they need assurance that Jim is a solid alternative. Give it to them, Jim--sell you! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 21, 2006

George Allen: Cut and Running Scared

President Bush visited Virginia this week to attend a fundraiser for Senator George Allen. At the fundraiser, Bush told the stalwart Republican audience that he would not quit in Iraq until "the job is done." "We will fight. We will stay. We will win in Iraq."

Bold words.

Immediately after the fundraiser, Allen met with reporters and said "America needs to adjust" in Iraq and then did his best to bear hug the more moderate, centrist positions of Virginia's senior senator, John Warner.

If not cut and running from Iraq, Allen sure is running and cutting from Bush.

Call it running scared.

But that's just the problem. In four years of war with Iraq, the junior senator stood steadfastly by the President as bad decision after bad decision after bad decision was made. He rah rah'd from the sidelines the whole way, like a good cheerleader.

But Allen was not elected cheerleader. He's a Senator. And his problem is still evident: at the fundraiser he didn't say: "You know Mr. President, it turns out you've been wrong." Instead, he waited until later, when he was with the press, to say it's time to "adjust."

Ok, Senator Allen, you've criticized Jim Webb for saying we need to adjust. Let's hear your plan.

What's that? You'll let us know AFTER the election. Riiiggghhht. Trust you.

No thanks. You had your chance. It's time to adjust our Senator.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bush's Tax Cuts Reduced The Deficit (And Money Grows On Trees)

The Bush Administration and its allies, including the Wall Street Journal, have been going around proclaiming that Bush's tax cuts are responsible for the better than predicted federal budget deficit numbers of late.

So let's get some facts straight.

First, the Bush tax cuts, the Bush war in Iraq and GOP spending on Bridges to Nowhere and other earmarks sought out by the K Street crowd of Abramoff et al. let to record budget deficits after Bush inherited a budget surplus when he took office.

Second, Democrats, too, were pushing for a tax cut in 2001, albeit a more modest one that would be distributed more evenly to middle and lower class taxpayers as a means to stimulate spending and the economoy.

What we got was too big a tax cut, skewed too much to the wealthiest taxpayers, which resulted in a ballooning deficit in a time of war.

Since 2002 the economy has grown, at first anemically, and now more robustly. Is that because of Bush's tax cuts? No. After the 1991-92 recession, Clinton persuaded Congress to restore taxes on wealthier taxpayers to address the ballooning deficits under Bush I. Over the next eight years we had an unprecedented economic expansion. Was that "because" of Clinton's tax increase? No, not really, although bringing a measure of fiscal sanity to the federal budget did help stabilize bond markets and reduce long term interest rates, which in turn helped the economy expand.

But what was really at work after 1992 was the economic cycle. Just as after previous recessions, we had an economic expansion.

When the economy expands, tax revenues expand as well. When economic expansion is rapid, as it often is in the third and fourth years of an expansion cycle, tax revenues grow faster than spending and the deficit is reduced. That's what happened in the 1990's and that's what's happening now.

Bush's tax cuts have little to do with it (Bush's tax cuts probably helped the economy a bit, but there's no evidence that they somehow produced more revenue than they cost.) As one refreshingly truthful former Bush White House economist, now at the American Enterprise Institute, put it: "Federal revenue is lower today than it would have been without the tax cuts. There's really no dispute among economists about that."

If Democrats take over Congress and allow some of the Bush tax cuts to lapse (particularly those benefitting the wealthiest 5% of Americans), will the economy collapse? Hardly. Indeed, if Congress can get its fiscal house back in order, producing a modest surplus, bond markets are likely to again respond with lower rates. As it is, we're still spending about 8% of the federal budget on debt service on the multi-trillion dollar federal debt.

Furthermore, absent saner fiscal actions by Congress, the recently shrinking national debt will soon balloon again.

Yes, there is a time for tax cuts (properly targeted to the middle)--when the economy is in recession. But money doesn't grow on trees; we're not in recession now and extending the Bush tax cuts makes no sense. Of course, we still need Congress to exercise fiscal restraint--something the Republican Congress has shown its no better at than Democrats. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 16, 2006

ESPN Mobile Phone: Good Riddance!

In June, the Curmudgeon awarded one of its periodic "looser" awards to ESPN for a lame television ad promoting its ESPN mobile service. [The looser award--"loser" misspelled, as only a loser would--is given to advertisers who portray men as stupid losers.]

At the time, we not only panned the ad, but questioned the service itself. Really, who needs to spend a huge premium for a branded phone that doesn't really do anything you couldn't already do, and that would be an embarassment when you pulled it out of your pocket?

Not surprisingly, ESPN recently announced it was ditching the service after taking a bath on it--less than one-quarter the projected number of users signed up. (Who makes those projections, anyway? Some overpaid butt-kissing consultant.)

It's interesting: a quick review of stories covering the announcement that ESPN was pulling the plug shows that ESPN and analysts blamed "poor marketing" and bad distribution for the failure.

HA! Despite mythology to the contrary, marketing can't turn a turkey into an eagle. ESPN Mobile was doomed from the start because it's not a product anyone needs or wants. Some supposed genius at ESPN, or parent Disney, thought this one up and a bunch of lemmings followed along.

You can bet that somewhere in the bowels of the Disney machine, there is a memo from at least one employee questioning the wisdom of the venture. No doubt, the memo was met with disdain from the corporate rah-rah crowd--kind of like the advisor who told Donald Rumsfeld he needed to focus on what would happen AFTER we invaded Iraq.

This all leads us to make a prediction now about the much anticipated and ballyhooed launch of Sony's Playstation 3 in a few weeks: it, too, will be a big disappointment.

Why? We don't doubt that gamers are anxious to get the latest in cutting edge graphics, etc. The problem is that the geniuses at Sony decided everyone also needs a new DVD player--based on Sony's proprietary Blu-Ray technology--with their Playstation. The result is a fat, ugly looking player with a bloated cost.

Me, I DO NOT need, and DO NOT want, Blu-Ray. (Remember the Beta VCR?) If I want a new DVD player, I'll get one. I'm not going to go out and retrofit my DVD collection with Blu-Ray discs.

The only thing Sony has going for it is the cost, for someone with existing Playstation technology, of switching to a different platform (i.e., the cost of retrofitting your game collection). Still, we are thinking of switching to X-box or something else.

Time will tell, but we think you'll see Sony officials scrambling early next year to explain their disappointing sales. Blame it on marketing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Iraq: Time to Leave

Despite our misgivings on the completely bungled war in Iraq, we have, until now, resisted the call to withdraw Coalition troops, believing, as do many, that it would only make matters worse.

Now, however, it's time to begin an orderly withdrawal. Here's why.

First, things are only getting worse in Iraq, not better. The Iraqi death toll from the war is far higher than we expected, even if you take conservative estimates. The number of U.S. troop casualties continues to grow without any sign that we are making progress or making the country more secure. Every Senator, every congressman--regardless of party--who has recently been to Iraq has come back saying its worse than we know.

Second, the Iraqis no longer want us there. A recent poll of Iraqis found that 65% of Baghdad residents--and even greater percentages throughout the rest of the country (except the Kurdish region to the north)--want Coalition forces to leave, believing foreign troops are only making matters worse.

Third, British army commander General Richard Dannatt has now candidly stated that "our presence exacerbates the security problems." He added that "whatever consent we may have had in the first place [from the Iraqi people] has largely turned to intolerance." We suspect many U.S. officers feel the same way, but don't feel free to speak up.

Fourth, our own most recent National Intelligence Estimate says that the U.S. presence in Iraq is a magnet for terrorists. We aren't defeating terrorists in Iraq; we're creating them, and we're helping them hone their methods.

Finally, our massive military presence in Iraq is hindering U.S. efforts to carry out other important missions, not the least of which is killing Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Our inability to stabilize Iraq is also emboldening Iran and North Korea.

Does that mean we have to leave Iraq in "defeat"? No. Our troops can come home having accomplished their mission. They removed Saddam Hussein--a dictator who everyone agreed was dangerous to the world--from power. They assured the world that there are no weapons of mass destruction. But now, they have no mission, other than to pretend there is no civil war as sectarian violence kills hundreds per day.

Does that mean we simply bring all the troops home tomorrow? No, of course not. We must have an orderly, phased withdrawal. We need to ensure that the stability existing in the Kurdish region is maintained. We need to keep a strong military presence in the region (e.g., in Kuwait). We need to give the Iraqi government a timetable it can count on.

Will a withdrawal prevent bad things from happening? No. Bad things will happen. The current government may well fall if it cannot get its act together pronto. But, the Iraqi people will, one way or another, work things out and eventually return to stability. The sooner we leave, the sooner they will get to that point. Posted by Picasa

Not Measuring Up

"There are some encouraging signs. Their rhetoric has been pretty good, but the follow-through with action has not measured up to our hopes."

Who said this?

Former Congressman Lee Hamilton, now co-chairman of a "blue-ribbon" panel reviewing U.S. policy in Iraq. Was he describing Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld on Iraq and the war on terror? Nope.

His comment was aimed at the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

We can well imagine al-Maliki saying, "Funny, that's what I was going to say about you guys."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Iraqi Death Toll: 655,000 (And Counting)

A new study estimates that an astounding 655,000 Iraqis--more than 2 percent of the population--has died as a result of the war there.

The Bush Administration was quick to dismiss the study.

Not so fast.

A few months ago, the Bushies estimated the Iraqi war casualty toll at 30,000. We know that's a significant undercount because Bush lies about everything. We haven't seen anything that indicates how they arrived at that figure. We suspect they hired a Republican contractor who pulled the number out of thin air after billing the government a couple million to prepare the report. (Ok, call us cynical.)

In any event, the new study, overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins and funded by MIT's Center for International Studies, is based on a tried and true methodology. A team of Iraqi doctors visited 1849 randomly selected households and asked a household member about deaths within the family before and after the U.S. invasion began.

This methodology has been used throughout the world in other periods of crisis--war, famine, disease and disaster--to estimate lost lives, and it has long been validated scientifically as a reliable means of generating data.

What is particularly noteworthy about the Iraqi study is that in 87 percent of the households that reported one or more deaths, the researchers asked for a death certificate, and in 90 percent of those households the residents were able to produce a death certificate. That means the vast majority of reported deaths were verified, which is unusual for this type of study.

Let's just assume, however, for the sake of argument, that those households that didn't produce death certificates were making things up. That still amounts to roughly 513,000 deaths. (Do the math: 90 percent of 87 percent of 655,000).

Unless the households in which the interviews were conducted were not really random, or not representative of Iraq as a whole (unlikely if the study adhered to the most basic of epidemiological principles), then the survey clearly points to a far grimmer death toll among Iraqi civilians than previously painted.

Indeed, 655,000 deaths in a country the size of Iraq would equate to more than 7 million deaths in the U.S. (with a population roughly 11 times that of Iraq). It exceeds the military death toll in our own bloody civil war, at a time when our nation's population was just a tad larger than Iraq's today.

Put aside the politics for a second. The Hopkins study, based on a widely accepted methodology, raises some serious questions. The President, the Dept. of Defense, Congress, Democrats and the Iraqi government all need to know if things are really that out of control in Iraq. If they are, then the country is fully in civil war and our troops are accomplishing nothing at all other than, possibly making things worse. (Which is exactly what the general in charge of British troops in Iraq said today.)

It would be nice if we could, with a sense of urgency, get agreement on a nonpartisan group to try and replicate the Hopkins study with the backing of our government and that of Iraq. Sadly, it won't happen.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Its The Guns Stupid! Bush's Charade on School Violence

President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez all spent some time yesterday pretending to address the issue of school violence.

Somehow they all managed to get through the charade without bothering to mention guns, although W did state that school violence is "inexplissible."

[Thank goodness Cheney didn't host one of these sessions--someone might've gotten shot!]

So, let's see. What do the most recent horrific episodes of school violence all have in common? Hmm. Could it be that the perpetrators were all armed with semi-automatic or automatic assault rifles?

What are police supposed to do when faced with a maniac in a school armed with automatic weapons? There's not much they can do.

But the good ol' Republican party, beholden to the nut cases at the NRA, wants you to know that they are worried about violence in schools, and that they are going to do something about it. Why, indeed, they are going to have a number of forums about the issue, and they are going to urge school administrators to work harder to "prevent" such episodes.

In fact, President Bush, who is "troubled" by the recent school shootin . . ., er violence, said that what communities need is a list of "best practices" to prevent the kinds of attacks we've had recently.

Well, thank goodness someone is doing something!

Our guess is that those best practices don't include banning assault weapons, closing loopholes in gun enforcement (such as allowing unrestricted sales at gun shows), boosting enforcement of existing laws and allowing negligent gun sellers to be held liable. Just a hunch. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Marriott Seaview: A Golf Resort Well Past Its Prime

As a continuing service to readers (and googlers) we review various resorts and vacation destinations we happen to stumble into.

This weekend we trekked over to southern New Jersey for a three-night stay at the Marriott Seaview Resort, just across Absecon Bay from Atlantic City. The Seaview, a classic old-style hotel built at the turn of the century, has two golf courses, tennis, hiking, a spa and a number of other activities.

The Fairway Villas--Nice Place to Stay

We stayed in one of the villas located on the Seaview grounds. The villa was fine--two bedrooms, capable of sleeping eight. Nothing special, but no major problems either. The villas are a pretty recent addition, built in the last few years, so they have all the modern amenities. They are called Fairway Villas, but unlike at many golf resorts, these villas really aren't on any fairway.

Across the street from the villas is the Faldo Golf Institute, with a driving range and various putting and chipping greens. We didn't try out any of these. However, a good two thirds of the range was dirt/sand. Not really a pretty sight to tell you the truth.

Next to the Faldo Institute is the Elizabeth Arden spa, along with a large outdoor pool, an indoor pool, an exercise room and other amenities. The women in our group reported favorably and enthusiastically on the spa, including the mineral pool reserved for adults only. The spa and related facilities--all new--were quite attractive. It was a bit chilly for the outdoor pool, but it looked like a great place for a hot day. The indoor pool was quite nice--the kids spent a good deal of time there.

Disappointing Golf Courses

We're sad to report that the golf courses--the centerpiece of the resort--were disappointing. The Pines Course--the more recent of the two--is not much better than your average muni, but a good deal more expensive. The 6700 yard layout is pretty pedestrian, although wayward shots will have to contend with (what else?) pine trees along most fairways.

What shocked us about the Pines course was the miserable conditions of fairways, tees, bunkers and areas around the greens. The greens themselves were ok, but slow and occasionally scruffy. Our recommendation: if you go to the Seaview, don't waste your time on the Pines course.

The premier layout is the Bay Course, home of the LPGA's annual Shop-Rite Classic. A Donald Ross design dating to the 1920's, this course has seen better times, but still has its charms. A short par 71, at only 6250 yards, the course combines longer par 4's and 3's with some short par 5's and a couple very short par 4's to make an interesting layout.

The best part of the Bay Course is the greens, which are in great shape and reasonably fast. The fairways are decent; areas around the greens and fairways suffer from inadequate maintenance. We had trouble finding rakes around many of the numerous bunkers, which of course meant a lot of them hadn't been rakes by the last unlucky chap to plop into them.

The front nine plays out at a par of 37, with two par 5's and only one par 3. The much shorter back nine plays out at a par of 34, with three par 3's and one par 5. (Which makes our back nine round on day one of 7 strokes worse than the front nine very aggravating.)

The staff at the small golf shop were reasonably friendly and efficient, the marshals were helpful and the gals in the snack cart and snack shop were great. (And we do know that friendly, helpful staff can make up for a lot of other problems, and vice verse.)

Good Grill; Not So Good Atlantic City; Really Ugly Delaware Gridlock

We did enjoy the small Grill Room in the Marriott. Located adjacent to a "family play room"--a game room kids will certainly enjoy--the grill is a perfect place for the adults to enjoy their dessert, coffee, aperitifs, etc. while the kids cavort next door.

We ventured into "AC"--Atlantic City--one night for dinner and a bit of gaming. We went to what allegedly is the "best" buffet in town, at the Showboat Casino. Hmm. We're not a fan of dinner buffets in general, and this one proved why. Lots of mediocre food. Of course, the buffet mentality is to try to get more than your money's worth by eating LOTS of food. Judging by the bellies at the bar, quite a few patrons were doing just that.

As for the casino itself, best we could tell it was quite a rip-off. The odds were much worse than in Vegas. Here's an example: on roulette, if you placed a bet on one of the 36 numbers, you'd get a payout of 34. In Vegas, the payout is 36 (the house comes out well ahead since there are 38 slots on the roulette wheel). It appeared that every other game had been engineered to reduce the odds of winning. Maybe that's just the Showboat--we didn't go anywhere else.

A final word: one of the advantages we saw of going to southern Jersey was its proximity to DC--a short drive for a weekend. But leave it to Delaware to ruin that! With two lanes of I-95 closed for construction--in BOTH directions--the Delaware bottleneck is worse than ever. It took us 5 hours to get to our destination on Friday, much of it crawling along through northern Maryland and Delaware in a massive backup.

Bottom line: if you live in Jersey, the Seaview might be worth it. But we don't recommend making a major trip there. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

London Bridge Redux

We've gotten quite a few hits on our piece on popular music, particularly our post about Fergie and London Bridge. Mostly these come from Google queries on "what does 'you make my London Bridge wanna go down' mean"?

Our research suggests that even Fergie doesn't know--or won't tell--leaving it to her large listenership to imagine for themselves what it means. That's reasonable--we have a pretty good idea that it means "you" in the song are "hot". We like our picture here of Fergie letting her London Bridge go up.

Posted by Picasa

Random Thoughts

1. When Bill Clinton had consensual sex with a White House intern, Republicans and the whole right wing machine tried to impeach him.

Now, faced with their own sex scandal, in which Rep. Foley solicited congressional pages--possibly criminally--Republicans are ducking for cover and blaming each other. To us here at the Curmudgeon it's pretty obvious that Hastert should resign.

Of course Hastert "didn't know". That's why you conduct an investigation. If reporters could uncover the facts, surely a decent investigator for one of the Hill's committees could've done likewise.

2. As long as George Allen flatly denies using the N-word he is fair game for journalists to come up with more friends and acquaintances who confirm that he did, indeed, use it, and frequently.

3. We agree the Virginia Senate campaign should focus on issues. Iraq is one, but there are plenty more. Stem cells--Allen opposes research because it will help him in the '08 GOP Presidential primaries. Crass. What about energy? Allen would favor large oil producers and putting a pittance into alternative energy. Get real. What about the environment? Global warming is a fact. It may be too late, but we need to try. Allen's plan? Nothing.

On the BIG issues, Allen is wrong. He tries to paper that over with support for little initiatives over which there's little dispute. Like making it easier to prosecute internet predators. That's nice. What prosecutors really need is more resources, however, and in any event there's no real dispute about the need to curtail internet predation (including by Congressmen).

4. Iraq. A large majority of Iraqis believe Iraq would be safer if the U.S. withdrew. What up with that?

5. Webb and women. One of the Naval Academy grads who criticized Webb in a news conference with Allen has since talked to Webb and decided to endorse him. Webb has apologized. He was wrong. He did promote women, actively, when Secretary of the Navy. Is this Allen's idea of a discussion of issues? [Note: Webb is not running any ads on macaca, N-word use or anything else; Allen is running ads on "how dare you use an unaltered clip of Ronald Reagan" and "horny women". Wow, that's real positive and issue oriented.]

6. Traffic congestion in Northern Virginia. Need to send Republicans in the state legislature a message: you're next.

Monday, October 02, 2006

George Allen Speaks (With Forked Tongue)

Tonight, George Allen addressed Virginians on a two-minute paid television ad at the beginning of prime time.

So, what did he have to say?

He decried the negativity in the campaign, particularly the "baseless allegations." Let's be clear about this one: the allegations have plenty of base. What's baseless are his lame denials.

Perhaps George should've attended Yom Kippur services today, where he could have reflected on his past sins (usually one reflects on the past year, but since George just found out he was Jewish, he'd have to have a catch-up Yom Kippur, including those troublesome college years).

Yom Kippur would have been good for George: he would've atoned for the deer-head in the mailbox, the N-word epithets, macaca, the noose, the confederate flags--all that. He would've recited a prayer in which he forgives everyone who sinned against him over the past year, while also seeking forgiveness from those he sinned against. (On Yom Kippur, Jews are forgiven for sins against God; they don't automatically get atonement for sins against other people.)

What else did George have to say? He spoke about Iraq. "I'm concerned by the war in Iraq. . . . I want them [the troops] to come home in victory."

Oh, that's nice. What a platitudinous remark. We can all say that. Problem is, Allen is a Senator. So what has he actually DONE about it? NOTHING.

If he's so concerned, why not spend two minutes calling George Bush on the phone and saying "hey George, your people have messed this up. Get rid of Rumsfeld and get someone in here who can do the job!!"

I can tell you this much--cheerleading for the troops isn't going to get them to victory.

Think of it this way, George. If the coach sucks, if the offensive play book is flawed and the defense can't stop the run, you don't lead the team to victory by hiring prettier cheerleaders. Instead, you fire the coach, get a new playbook and recruit a couple good defenders. You've had four years to make those recommendations, but you haven't. So you need to go too.