Livin' it up, American style

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Eenie, meenie, minie, mo. Who can raise the most dough?

Hilary Rodham Clinton announced she was entering the presidential race on Saturday, declaring she was "in to win". At the same time, she also said that she was forgoing money from the public election funds for both the primary and general elections, becoming the first candidate to ever do so. Unfortunately, her move may signal the end of public financing of elections.

You may have noticed a little checkbox on your tax returns that said check here if you wish to donate $3 to the public election fund. This fund is used to help finance the primary and/or general election cycle of someone running for president. A candidate who accepts the public funding can no longer accept private contributions and has to follow certain spending limits, both state-by-state and nationwide. The idea was that after a candidate had been nominated by his party, he would rely on the public funding for his money instead of continuing to focus on fundraising, which would free up more time for campaigning and public appearances.

Candidates have given up the public funding money in primary races before, like Kerry and Bush in 2004, but not in the general election too. Doing so gives Clinton a big financial advantage, and will put pressure on her rivals to also refuse public financing in order to have a chance to compete. She is no longer limited to spending only what the fund gives her, which in 2004 provided over $80 million to Kerry and Bush. But now she has 2 years to go all out and raise as much money as she can, and can simultaneously raise money for both a primary race, and a general election race.

Many of her other rivals for the Democratic nomination have made no comment on whether they too will opt completely out of public funding, but some Republicans contenders have already stated their intentions. Mitt Romney, former Gov of Massachusetts, has opted out of funding for the primaries, and John McCain (yes, the same John McCain who was the sponsor of the most recent campaign spending reform act, the McCain-Feingold Bill) has said he may also opt out of public funding.

How did public funding fall so far out of favor that even the man who built a reputation on fighting for changes in election spending is considering abandoning it? (other than the fact that he has consistently shown how he is willing to sell out his beliefs if it puts him closer to the presidency?)
Public funding first began to break down when Bush opted out of it during the 2000 primary. He had no limits on his money raising and spending, but his opponents did, giving him a large and obvious financial edge. In 2004, Bush, John Kerry and Howard Dean all opted out of public financing during the primaries, and it is quite certain that Clinton will only be the first of many candidates to opt out of the public financing in 2008. In recent years, the election season has been extended, with people declaring their candidacy almost 2 years before the next election. 2 years is a lot of TV, radio and print ads to pay for, and a lot of fancy fundraising dinners you can hold. It's time to let the money raising and money spending race begin.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hey Obama, slow down a little!

A few days ago, Illinois's junior senator, Barack Obama, announced that he is forming an exploratory committee to determine whether he should run for president in 2008. I like Obama, and think he should consider running for prez, but I feel he made a misstep in so quickly forming his exploratory committee, which is widely acknowledged as the one of the first formal steps potential candidates take in deciding if they are going to run. Obama should have waited several more months at least, and I fear that this early declaration may hurt him a little bit.

For a while, most of the hype about Obama for president has not been propagated by him or his campaign. Oh sure, he has maintained a very polished and presidential demeanor, released two books, and had some important appearances that have positioned him as a rising Democratic star. But for the most part, he has been very low key, and tried to play himself off as humble and modest whenever someone asked if he was going to run for president. Most of the hype came from the general press and public, not his office.

Forming this exploratory committee means he has given up being coy and is admitting outright that he is definitely thinking of running for president. But I think it's too early. Not even Hilary Rodham Clinton have taken this step yet*, despite being widely recognized as the party's front runners. Instead, she busy in the Senate getting her name on high profile resolutions. Clinton just got back from a trip to Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan, where she visited with US troops. Instead of announcing her candidacy (which forming an exploratory committee is almost tantamount to) she is busy in the senate building up her foreign policy credentials (an area that she used to be seen as weak).

Obama has only had 2 years in the senate, and he should be spending this time to take strong positions on issues and work on passing some legislation that will boost his credibility. I fear he will get caught up in running for president, and neglect building a background that shows he has sufficient government and policy experience to become president.

*I wrote this blog on Friday, and on Saturday she announced she was forming her exploratory committee.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Really, what good lawyer these days isn't a card carrying member of the al-Qaeda Bar Association?

Charles Stimson was in the news again today; you may remember him from the headlines a few days ago. He is the deputy assistant of defense who is in charge of the US's military detainee program. About a week ago, Stimson expressed his dismay that lawyers at several of the nation's top law firms were representing prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. He called upon corporations to not use these law firms, and even named the names of the firms, which were also listed in a Wall Street Journal editorial. According to Stimson, corporations need to choose between using reputable law firms, and law firms that support terrorists. Because, clearly, everyone in Guantanamo is a terrorist, despite there never being any trials or hearings, cause that whole 'innocent until proven guilty' thing doesn't apply to military prisoners. I mean duh, why would it?

Stimson also commented that some of the lawyers representing the detainees were getting paid, and that he was curious to know where the money was coming from and called on the lawyers to disclose this info. Well, it turns out all of the lawyers are working pro-bono, so clearly no one is being paid off by al-Qaeda or Tehran, or whichever evil entity Stimson thought was funding these lawyers.

Fortunately, Stimson saw the error of his ways and apologized today for his statements, saying they don't really reflect his personal views and core beliefs. That's good, considering that he himself is a lawyer, and one of the fundamental tenets of the judicial system is equal treatment under the law. It's also good because currently, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff, is being represented by one of these 'terrorist' law firms in his trial for his role in the Valerie Plame affair. Perhaps this is why Stimson's statements were not very well received in the White House, which tried to distance itself from his comments.

But really, the White House didn't have to embrace this viewpoint at all, because the damage was already done. The list of law firms was printed in a national newspaper, and aired on a Washington area radio station aimed at government workers. Many of these lawyers will probably experience some lost revenue and bad publicity, even though they were trying to remedy what many people see as a miscarriage of justice by the White House in not allowing the military detainees to have lawyers. If you say something controversial, and then wait 5 days to retract your statement, it's hard to believe you are really that sorry about it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Phased troop withdrawal? That's soooo last week. Now Bush says bring 'em on!

After the midterm elections in November, there was hope that this new Congress would be successful in implementing a phased withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened, courtesy of President Bush. He has decided to increase the number of troops in Iraq by 21,500. The idea is that this 'surge', as it's being called, will de-escalate the violence in Iraq. I would appreciate it if someone would explain to me how putting 20,000 fighting soldiers with guns and tanks into an already war-torn country is somehow going to de-escalate violence. Seems as though the opposite is likely to happen.

On Wednesday night, Bush gave a public speech to the nation about this new strategy, but was a little vague on some key details. For one thing, he forgot to mention how long the 'surge' of troops would be in Iraq. Maybe he doesn't realize that one of the defining characteristics of a 'surge' is that it is a strong feeling or event that only lasts for a short time. If these troops are staying in Iraq for longer than a couple months, then really he is just plain old 'increasing the number of troops', which polls have shown to be a very unpopular move among the American people. Calling this a surge gives people the image of a temporary increase in troops, and makes it a more politically palpable idea to people who are against permanently sending more troops, even though that is probably what this move will really end up being.

At least Bush has become more open in admitting that maybe things aren't all daisies and lollipops in Iraq, and maybe it's partly his fault. In his speech last night, he said “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me”. Of course, he was also quick to blame Iraq and the Iraqi government for the situation there too. The Iraqi government has in the past promised to make reforms in laws and security measures, but as Bush said ""If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises," Bush said, "it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act."

So first we invade the country, destroy the infrastructure, completely redesign their government, occupy the country with 100,000 troops, and when they don't deliver on some security reforms because the country is descending into a chaotic civil war, we blame their weak, puppet government for being ineffective at controlling the country. Then we threaten that if they don't follow through on their promises (which they probably made in the first place under pressure from the US), we threaten they will lose the support of the American people. And then at the same time we say this we send more troops over, despite the fact that every poll says the American people don't support sending more troops. I hate to see what would happen to a place the American people really supported.

And unfortunately, Bush has pretty much made this decision unilaterally. The Congress can't stop him, short of cutting all funding for the war, an unlikely move. Even many of the military generals who have been Bush's advisors throughout the war are against this troop increase. But that's ok. According to the New York Times, when Bush was asked why this new strategy would suceed where all others have failed, Mr. Bush shot back: “Because it has to.” I know I'm reassured.