Sunday, September 28, 2008

Thursday talk radio update

Dave Rye noted that Joe Biden had said that Franklin Roosevelt went on television after the stock market crash of 1929 to explain what was going on to the American people. Two problems: Roosevelt wasn't president, and TV didn't exist.

If Sarah Palin had made a similar error, Rye said, the MSM would have been all over it -- thus showing their liberal bias.

He's right about the reaction but wrong about the reason. Everybody knows that Biden talks faster than his brain works. But everybody also knows that his brain works pretty fast. Although he says dumb things on a pretty regular basis, he's not a dumb guy. Everybody understands this, and it's not that big a deal.

But Palin remains largely unknown. When she says something dumb, that's news (although less so with each occurrence). So when she indicates that she thinks the founding fathers wrote the Pledge of Allegiance, especially when she does it in a candidate questionnaire into which she has presumably put some time and thought, it's a little scary.

And it ought to scare conservatives as much as it does liberals.

Out, damned spot

Curse George Will. He's making me agree with him again.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cool Hand Paul

I was just a kid when Paul Newman started making the "H" movies that made him famous: "The Hustler," "Hud," "Hombre." And I didn't see "Cool Hand Luke" until years later, when it quickly became my favorite all-time movie.

At the time, I had just about figured out why it was that boys found girls to be attractive. But I couldn't figure out how girls could feel the same way about boys. Then Paul Newman came along, and it all started to make sense.

Obama vs. McCain

If you are only going to read 2 million opinions about last night's presidential debate, you might as well make this one of them.

My call: Obama by a length. McCain did better than I would have expected on economic questions, although, as Kevin Drum points out, cutting spending to fight recession is far from conventional wisdom. At the midpoint I would have called it about even. But I thought McCain got worse as the evening wore on, and Obama got better.

McCain was at his worst at the very end, when responding to Obama's remarks about how he would seek to restore America's reputation in the world. All McCain could do was talk about Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.

It pointed out a certain emptiness in all of McCain's foreign policy views. Repeatedly, he emphasized the experiences he has had and the people he knew. Rarely did he indicate what he would actually do, other than threaten Russia and Iran and to stay in Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.

The debate ought to give serious pause to those who have argued that Sarah Palin is as qualified to be president as Barack Obama. It's inconceivable that she will handle questions about the world next week with the assurance and deep understanding Obama evinced.

Obama's performance belied McCain's repeated claim that Obama didn't understand the world (among other things, Obama clearly understands the difference between strategy and tactics better than McCain does). Every time McCain leveled the charge, and every time Obama responded with a precise, nuanced answer, McCain looked a little smaller.

By the end of the evening, only one candidate looked like a president. It wasn't McCain.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Wish list

Everybody seems to have an idea or two about what should go into the $700 billion bailout bill. Here's my list:

1. The CEO of every company that receives bailout money shall be required to take a portion of the obligation as a personal loan that must be repaid to the federal government in monthly installments.

2. The terms of the loan -- including due dates, interest rates and payment terms -- may be changed at any time, at the sole discretion of the American people and their elected representatives, with or without notice to the CEO.

4. Payments that are made after 6 a.m. on the due date shall be subject to a $39 late fee.

5. Assessment of any late fee shall automatically result in the loan defaulting to an annual percentage rate of 29.9 percent.

6. Should portions of the loan be assessed at different interest rates, all payments shall be applied first to the outstanding balance with the lowest current rate.

7. Should the CEO pay the full remaining monthly balance at any time, the loan shall continue to accrue interest for each nanosecond elapsed between the time of payment and the time it is posted to the books.

8. Questions about the status of the account shall be answered only by persons currently residing in Bombay, India.

The Outpost on the web

A couple of people have asked what's up with the Outpost website. We're working on it. We have a site in progress up (not yet ready for public viewing) and hope to be able to unroll it in a few days.

It disappeared suddenly because of a dispute we had with our web host. I probably shouldn't talk about that because it may still end in litigation. Suffice it to say, I'm not likely to be doing any testimonials for those guys anytime soon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuneys on Sunday

Just a reminder that the eighth annual Outpost Tuney Awards get under way at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. The awards recognize the best in Billings music over the last year. Admission is $3.

It's usually a fun show, but moving it to the Garage Pub last year really kicked it up a notch. I'm hoping that everybody who was there last year will come back and bring a friend. Chan Romero, who wrote what I suppose is the most famous song ever by a Billings songwriter (covered by the Beatles!) makes a guest appearance. Many of last year's winners also will show up to play.

I was counting ballots a big part of the day on Sunday, and since I compiled the totals, I am probably the only guy in town who knows who all the winners are. Sorry, I won't breathe a word. You'll just have to be there.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Molnar vs. Tussing

Left in the West gives Brad Molnar a hard time over his brownout project. As scandals go, I would put this somewhere in the same range as the scandal over Brian Schweitzer making PSAs on government time. In other words, pretty low range. Even if you think the worst of Molnar, you'd have to agree that the Brownout was a pretty ineffective way to illegally boost his campaign -- too long before the election, too visible, too likely to fall flat.

More interesting is the interview with Molnar at Montana Headlines. His is an unusual mind, and I always enjoy watching it at work, even when I disagree with him, which is often (naturally, I do endorse his kind words about the Outpost).

My favorite Molnar insight remains one in an Outpost column on the futility of the state Drought Advisory Commission: When it rains, he said, commissioners have nothing to do. When it doesn't rain, there is nothing they can do.

Stroker's view of Palin

In search of what small-town America thinks of Sarah Palin, a writer for Salon finds his way to Stroker's Tavern in Huntley.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


For all of your Schweitzer scandal-related needs.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thursday talk radio update

Whatever hope Sarah Palin had of winning me over disappeared when she granted an exclusive interview to Sean Hannity, toady to Republican stars. I heard only a few minutes on the radio, but that was more than enough. Hannity was trying his hardest not to trip her up; she was trying her hardest not to trip up. Chances that news might break out were pounded to a minimum. Slumber ensued.

Elsewhere, Glenn Beck was outraged that the bums who hacked into Sarah Palin's e-mail weren't already in jail. Dennis Miller, who interviewed the host of Fox News' "Red Eye" Friday morning, heard much the same screed. Both were contemptuous of liberals who got their dander up on over Bush administration invasions of privacy but who sit quietly while Palin's e-mail becomes a public record.

I agreed with Beck in principle, but I couldn't figure out why he thought the hackers should already have been caught. I can barely get into my own e-mail, much less anybody else's, but I would assume that anyone bright enough to hack e-mail, and brazen enough to let the world know about it, would have taken at least a few steps to remain anonymous. Give the cops a break, Glenn.

The argument by both Beck and the "Red Eye" host about selective outrage by liberals made no sense to me. The hackers are crooks, and ought to be locked up. But you would think a couple of conservatives would understand why there might be a bit less outrage when crooks behave like crooks than when the U.S. government behaves like a crook.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This? This is nothing

Here's a fairly upbeat appraisal of Montana's newspaper situation.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Who's the smartest of them all?

Montana Headlines posts a list of presidential candidates over the last 50 years and asks: "After all, if you took a poll of university professors, who would be consdidered to be smarter and more intellectually sophisticated, and which was was the hapless bumbler?"

He seems to think that professors would choose the Democrat in each case. I dunno. But I am a college professor of sorts (OK, really an adjunct, but most students don't know the difference), so I thought I would take the test. For openers, I don't think there is a hapless bumbler on the list. These weren't all great presidents, or great candidates, but they were all pretty accomplished people.

Ike or Adlai Stevenson?
Smarter: Ike (dummies don't win world wars).
I.S.: Stevenson (because when he was told that every thinking person would vote for him, he said, "That's not enough. I need a majority").

Kennedy or Nixon?
Smarter: Kennedy (he could speed read).
I.S.: Kennedy (the man defined cool in 1962, and so did his wife).

Johnson or Goldwater?
Smarter: Johnson (but probably very close)
I.S.: Goldwater (also close, but Johnson was famously crude, sometimes, I am told, even granting interviews while sitting on the toilet).

Nixon or Humphrey?
Smarter: Nixon (but not so's you'd notice).
I.S.: Humphrey (but not so's you'd notice).

Nixon or McGovern?
Smarter: Nixon (give the devil his due).
I.S.: McGovern (the South Dakotan was cooler than the Californian only because Nixon didn't have any friends who weren't named Bebe).

Carter or Ford?
Smarter: Carter (Ford didn't wear a helmet).
I.S.: Are you kidding me? The peanut farmer and the Michigan center? But at least Carter knew something about new-clear submarines.

Carter or Reagan?
Smarter: Carter.
I.S.: Reagan (Mr. Hollywood, with an anecdote for every occasion).

Reagan or Mondale?
Smarter: Mondale.
I.S.: Reagan (but fading fast).

Bush I or Dukakis?
Smarter: Dukakis (but probably close).
I.S.: Bush (no American blood runs bluer).

Clinton or Bush I?
Smarter: Clinton.
I.S.: Bush.

Clinton or Dole?
Smarter: Clinton.
I.S.: Clinton (especially after four years in the White House).

Bush II or Gore?
Smarter: Gore.
I.S.: Bush (see Bush I, and Gore grew up in a hotel room).

Bush II or Kerry?
Smarter: Kerry.
I.S.: Obviously close, but I stick with Bush (you can take the boy to Crawford, but you can't put Crawford into the boy).

Obama or McCain?
Smarter: Obama.
I.S.: McCain (old military tradition, fashionably divorced, married a rich heiress, five or six or seven or eight houses).

Is there a pattern? Looks like Republicans used to pick smart people, and now pick show horses. Democrats are happiest when they can find someone both smart and cool, and that ain't easy.

Not so nice

Montanans: We may not be agreeable, but at least we're quiet about it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Moronic news release of the week

The Montana Shooting Sports Association came out with a news release opposing the 6-mill levy for the university system. The reason? To protest the Board of Regents' refusal to rescind bans on guns on college campuses.

"MSSA asks voters to send a message to the U. system that Montana people will not tolerate this artificially-imposed risk to our children," says President Gary Marbut.

So if MSSA succeeds, incoming freshmen can bring guns to campus. Let's just hope they can still find a campus.

Palin revisited

I listened to excerpts from Sarah Palin's interview with ABC while driving around on Thursday, and interrupted bridge to watch her on Friday. I didn't see much that would make me feel better about having her as president. Did you?

Some bloggers have called the Bush Doctrine question unfair, and I agree with that. But did you notice what she said once the question was clarified? She said we have a right to defend our country if an attack is imminent. Now, I don't know anyone other than a truly dedicated pacifist who would disagree with that, but that's not the issue. Bush took the idea of preemptive war far beyond any historical precedent into the realm of "preventive" war, in which we reserve the right to attack countries who might someday pose at least a hypothetical threat. This is dangerous territory, an argument that could be used to justify almost any war a country might wish to start. We deserve to know what people that close to the presidency think about the idea.

I also was struck by her answer on abortion, which sounded amazingly close to what Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech. She did say that decisions about abortion should be returned to the states -- which is not a total repudiation of the pro-choice argument -- and she said that her opposition to abortion in case of rape and incest is a "personal opinion." It wasn't clear whether she meant that it was a personal opinion that should not be imposed on John McCain or a personal opinion that should not be imposed on other Americans.

Mostly, the interviews did not address my major concerns about her. I still have concerns about her management style, and I still have concerns about her honesty. Her reply to the Bridge to Nowhere question was perfectly unresponsive.

I don't know about you, but if I'm looking to hire somebody, and the very first item on the resume turns out to be wildly exaggerated, I don't really have any further questions. I'm done. In comments to an earlier post, someone defended her by linking to a Washington Post story that called her Bridge to Nowhere story a "half-truth." That seems a pretty generous estimate, even judging from the Post's own reporting, but never mind. I just wish my mother was still around to here the "half-truth" argument dredged up. When I was growing up, we had a word for "half-truth." The word was "lie."

UPDATE: I also keep reading articles praising Palin for refusing to abort her Down syndrome child. Once again, I don't get this. If I understand her world view correctly, she regards abortion as a sin equal to murder, or close to it.

Heck, sometimes I go for months without murdering people, even though I am far more provoked to do so than Palin's baby has ever provoked her. Nobody ever gives me credit as a paragon of virtue for refusing to kill people who trouble me. Why does she get so much credit?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Crisp on Biden

Because of a bizarre dispute with our internet service provider, the Outpost web page is down. So here is my piece on Joe Biden:

Even in a short interview, Joe Biden manages to get a lot of words in.
Sen. Biden, D-Delaware, stopped in Montana last weekend as he campaigned to win the office of vice president under presidential candidate Barack Obama. In a brief telephone interview, he managed to cover a wide range of issues, from his newly selected opponent for vice president to the rights of suspected terrorists, from the chances of catching Osama Bin Laden to how the war in Iraq affects U.S. relations with Iran.
Republican candidate John McCain’s surprise pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate caused some Montana Republicans to predict last week that any chance Sen. Barack Obama had of winning the state has vanished.
A Rasmussen poll released after Sen. Biden’s visit seemed to back that claim: It showed Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., pulling away with a double-digit lead in what had been a close race.
But Sen. Biden was conceding nothing.
“This is the biggest issue election I have seen in my lifetime,” he said, noting, however, that the just-concluded Republican convention included little discussion of what Sen. Biden considers major issues: energy, healthcare, “green” jobs and the loss of jobs overseas.
He also said that he and Gov. Palin have some things in common.
“I own a gun, I have a son, and he’s going to Iraq,” the senator said.
Vice presidential debates tend to carry a low-profile, but Gov. Palin’s freshness on the national scene and Sen. Biden’s decades of Washington experience could make their upcoming debate in October the most gripping of the campaign season.
The difficulty, Sen. Biden said, is that so little is known about Gov. Palin’s positions on national issues.
“It could be that there’s something there,” he said, “but I assume her policies are the same as John’s.”
And although he considers Sen. McCain a friend, Sen. Biden was quick to criticize the Republican’s understanding of key foreign policy issues. Although Sen. McCain has promised to pursue Osama Bin Laden to the “gates of hell,” the senator and governor don’t know where to look, Sen. Biden said.
“I can show them where Osama Bin Laden lives,” he said. “I can show them where Al Qaida lives.”
The Bush administration’s failure to capture Bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding out in a remote area of Pakistan, is only one of Sen. Biden’s complaints about the last eight years. He also expressed concerns that many of the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission haven’t been implemented, and he said that the Bush administration’s willingness to use torture and other coercive methods have hurt America’s reputation.
“We’re making a laughingstock of ourselves around the world,” he said, adding that Al Qaida uses American mistreatment of prisoners as a recruiting tool.
In her speech at the Republican National Convention, Gov. Palin said of Obama, “Al Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America. He’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.”
It wasn’t clear exactly what she meant. Sen. Biden presumed she was referring to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that extended habeas corpus rights to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Sen. McCain has called that ruling one of the worst in Supreme Court history.
Sen. Biden disagreed. “Habeas corpus doesn’t free anybody,” he said. “The most a court can do is say, ‘Try them.’”
The Bush administration has undermined U.S. credibility around the world, Sen. Biden said, leaving it more isolated than it ever has been in his lifetime. And Sen. McCain has no plan to change any of that, he said.
One result is that Iran has gained in influence and prestige, he said. U.S. military action removed or reduced two of Iran’s foes – Saddam Hussein and the Taliban – and installed a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.
“Iran is a hell of a lot closer to having a bomb than when these guys started,” Sen. Biden said.
The war in Iraq, despite the apparent success of the surge, remains uncertain, in his view.
“Our military guys have done every single thing they have ever been asked to do,” he said. While it was clear that increasing troop levels would result in at least temporary reductions in violence, achieving a stable peace has proved more difficult.
Now, after “six painful years,” the president finally has agreed to a timetable for withdrawing troops, a move that Sen. Obama has favored. The agreement of President Bush, Sen. Obama and the Iraqi government on a need for a timetable leaves Sen. McCain the “odd man out,” Sen. Biden said.
Both presidential candidates called in their acceptance speeches for efforts to get beyond the bitter partisanship that has divided Congress in recent years, but Sen. Biden expressed some skepticism that the efforts would be successful.
The Senate as a whole is ready to work together, he said, and he said that he has a good working relationship with senators on the other side of the aisle. But he said that the Republican Party remains dominated by neoconservatives and campaign strategists such as Karl Rove.
“This is not your father’s Republican Party,” Sen. Biden said.

CORRECTION: I don't mean internet service provider. I mean web host.

Montana and the law

Does Montana have the bests courts in the country? Volokh Conspiracy weighs the evidence.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Larson vs. Brown

Lane Larson, the Democratic incumbent caught up in one of the state's most interesting Senate races, put out a news release this afternoon accusing opponent Taylor Brown of "dirty tricks" and "push-polling."

Larson says that Brown's poll asks two questions that are "lies and classic examples of push polling": "Would you be more or less likely to vote for Lane Larson if you knew he supported taking private property rights away?" and "Would you be more or less likely to vote for Lane Larson if you knew he doubled taxes on cell phones?"

Larson's response: "Lane Larson championed legislation that would give Montanans access to publicly-owned lands, rivers and streams from publicly-owned roads and bridges." And, "Lane Larson voted to uphold Governor Schweitzer's veto of HB 469 and against shifting the tax-burden onto property-owners in SD22 and he voted to hold out-of-state, international companies responsible for the taxes they owe Montana. Not a single Montanan saw an increase in their cell phone rates because of the stance that Governor Schweitzer and Senator Larson took."

Friday talk radio update

A caller to Dave Rye this morning said he was sickened by constantly hearing liberals making political hay out of 9-11 on its anniversary -- saying the U.S. was to blame, or that it was a conspiracy, and so on. He said he heard it on station after station as he went about his business from place to place. He cited no examples, and Rye, agreeing with him, also cited none.

Since he said he had been going from place to place, I assume he was listening to radio. If he did, then I can say in all sincerity that I have absolutely no idea what he was talking about. I listened to radio from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., with a break for German class, and never heard a single soul say anything remotely like what he was talking about. Is there an alternative radio dimension out there somewhere where liberals are allowed to trash America? They don't exist on my planet.

Thursday talk radio update, Part 3

Leave it to NPR to muddle things up with facts. On "To the Point," some expert (sorry, my bouncing in and out the car on delivery day doesn't lend itself to getting names and titles accurately) was assessing the state of Al Qaida.

It sounded pretty grim for the bad guys. By his account, which he said was based on hundreds of interviews, Al Qaida membership is down from the low thousands at its peak in the mid-'90s to the low hundreds today. Its leadership ranks have been depleted. It has lost popularity in Muslim countries. Recruiting is declining. Perhaps most importantly, it faces an "existential" crisis over whether it has any legitimate role at all to play in the Muslim world anymore.

I thought, is this guy in the tank for George Bush? Then he was asked about Iraq, and I realized he was in the tank for nobody. As he pictured it, the war in Iraq was the one bright spot for Al Qaida. The war diverted resources and focus away from Al Qaida strongholds, allowing remaining forces to reconstitute themselves. The war also enlisted the support of thousands of Arabs who weren't necessarily sympathetic to Al Qaida ideology but who were outraged that America would invade and occupy a Muslim country.

The way he tells it, Al Qaida was the ropes, and we threw out a lifeline.

Then, a few hours later, Obama was saying on NPR that where he differed from Bush is that he would have kept up the pressure in Afghanistan instead of taking up the war in Iraq. If you listen to those elitist experts, that sounds like it would have been an awfully good plan.

Sen. McCain?

Thursday talk radio update, Part 2

I was surprised to hear Dave Rye take it easy both on Thursday and Friday on Brian Schweitzer with respect to allegations that he bragged about tampering with the Tester-Burns election. He pretty much dismissed the matter as a failed joke.

That may be accurate, but I thought the story provides pretty good ammunition for Republicans. Even if Schweitzer didn't do anything wrong, it's a heck of an inappropriate thing to be joking about, especially to a bunch of trial lawyers in another state. And the fact that McGrath won't investigate makes it look even fishier.

Republicans have been trying to stick it to Schweitzer for years for his recklessness, his arrogance and his bullying. This is the best chance yet to make it stick.

Thursday talk radio update

Delivery day fell on Sept. 11, and both candidates suspended political attacks for the day. Sean Hannity said, "No matter how much we disagree on issues, I think Barack Obama is a fine American, and I will be pleased to support him should he win the presidency."

No, I'm lying about Hannity. When I flipped over to Hannity, he was alleging, with zero evidence, that the Clintons were rooting for Obama to lose the election. Then he brought up the "lipstick on a pig" foolishness. Then he played a clip of allegedly liberal celebrities committing faux pas. This was all in about three minutes

Meanwhile, Joe Sample was playing Billie Holiday on YPR. I weighed my options: Billie Holiday vs. Clinton bashing; Billie Holiday vs. lipstick on a pig; Billie Holiday vs. celebrity bloopers. I chose Billie Holiday.

Mighty strange fruit coming out of the campaigns these days.

I've seen trouble

We've had internet problems for a couple of days, and it's still sort of shaky, so I haven't been posting or able to publish comments for a bit. Sorry about that. I will try to get in a couple of quick ones.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Montana Headlines corrects his errors in what is, even by blogosphere standards, a remarkably ungracious post. He characterizes his previous post as "a bit of hyperbole."

I suppose. But this bit of hyperbole is wearing mighty thin, especially after hearing it for hours each week on Hannity. Let me state this as baldly as possible. Barack Obama is not descended from Olympus. He is not a god. He is not Jesus Christ. He is not the Messiah. He is not the Chosen One. He has never claimed to be any of these things. His supporters do not claim he is any of these things. Anyone who does claim he is any of these things is either deranged or engaging in a tiresome "bit of hyperbole." Besides, if Obama were a god, he would not be a U.S. citizen and would be ineligible to run for president.

Montana Headlines cites two quotes about Obama from me to justify his hyperbole:
He has accomplished what no politician in American history has ever managed to pull off.

...he has done all that a human being can do in so short a time to prepare himself for the world's most demanding job.

The first statement is simply factually accurate and will remain so, no matter what happens in November. The second can't be a statement of fact because it is always possible that a human being could do more than Obama has done. But it is an eminently defensible position, and I welcome anyone to take it on.

The rest of the post speaks for itself. When I refer to the "whole Republican argument," I clearly am referring to the Republican argument in response to Obama's claim that he has enough experience. I do not touch on any of the broad range of other issues one might consider in choosing a president. Indeed, I heard nothing in John McCain's acceptance speech that I found objectionable.

In fact, I rarely touch on policy, other than on bedrock constitutional issues. Some commenters at Montana Headlines suggest that I am taking a liberal stance, but that is nonsense. Look at the case I have made: I have explored the candidates' qualifications. I have looked at public statements that might indicate a poor understanding of the issues. I have looked at Palin's record in Alaska, which actually could be a record most liberals would find OK: a windfall profits tax, lots of government projects and earmarks, redistribution of wealth, targeting Republican corruption, big talk but not much action on social issues. The elements that trouble me are not her political positions but her management record, which suggests (but does not yet quite prove) a certain arrogance unwelcome in public service.

I also have been troubled by some of the things she has said since her nomination. I think it is safe to say that if Obama had done the same things in the first week of his campaign as she has (lying about the Bridge to Nowhere, putting a pregnant daughter on public display, fundamentally misunderstanding Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac, refusing to meet with reporters) that he would have long since been back on the bench as the junior senator from Illinois.

My concerns are what they always have been: I want good government. I want honest politicians. I want fealty to the law and the Constitution. I want a serious and respectful discussion of the issues. I don't want cheap shots and lies, and I'm pretty sick and tired of hyperbole.

If you can find a liberal sentiment on that list, have at it.

UPDATE: Montana Headlines responds, in much kinder terms than I did. I didn't mean to sound quite as grumpy as I did, but Monday was another very long and not very good day. And today will be another one, damn it. I will try to be better. It would be a shame to have this corner of the Montana blogosphere as poisoned as the political campaigns are becoming.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

No Obama or McCain in Texas?

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr says in a news release that both Barack Obama and John McCain should be barred from the Texas election ballot. Both candidates failed to meet Texas' requirement that slates of presidential and vice presidential candidates must be filed by 5 p.m. on the 70th day before the general election. Neither major party met the deadline, he says.

Nobody expects the big parties to be barred, but Barr's larger point is that the system treats the big parties with kid gloves. No minor party would be granted the same leniency, he said.

And no doubt he is right about that.

Biden on the war

Just got off the phone with Joe Biden, who was in Montana making a campaign appearance and granting a series of telephone interviews with reporters around the state.

It was just a taste -- perhaps 10 minutes -- but the man can do a phenomenal amount of talking in 10 minutes. If you care about issues, then you would have heard more by listening in on my phone than you heard in eight days at the party conventions.

I was interested in pursuing my usual hobby horse -- the Bush administration's unprecedented assault on the Constitution and traditional American values on how prisoners and criminal suspects are treated. Biden was game enough. He said the Bush administration policies have made us a "laughing stock" around the world and have been used by terrorists as a recruiting tale. He said Bush theories about the unitary executive are "absolutely off the wall."

But he also used the question to launch into a detailed discussion of U.S. policy in Iraq, without sounding like he was falling back on canned talking points, or was worried about what might get printed, and scarcely without pausing. The upshot: We have made Iran much stronger by eliminating two enemies -- Saddam Hussein and the Taliban -- and installing a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.

"Iran is a hell of a lot closer to having a bomb than when these guys started," he said.

Rather than give the good stuff away to free-loading blog readers here, I will save it for the free-loading Outpost readers next week. But I was left with the distinct impression that if Biden could have 10 minutes one-on-one with every voting American, this race would be over.

Voting not so smart

Brian Schweitzer's and Max Baucus' explanation for why they didn't fill out the Project Vote Smart survey this year might actually make sense if two things were true:

1. No new issues ever arise in politics.

2. No new voters can be expected at the polls this year.

Oops. Guess it doesn't make much sense.

Republicans and Obama

I get regular e-mails from the Republican National Committee criticizing Barack Obama and other Democrats. None has ever said a kind word about anyone, even about a Republican. They are designed strictly for Democrat bashing. In fact, I once replied to one, asking: "Just curious: Do you guys ever say anything positive about anything? And if not, how do you live with yourselves?" They didn't reply, but the e-mails keep coming.

Lately, the e-mails have been on an Obama vs. Obama theme, dredging up alleged inconsistencies in public statements he has made. The topic doesn't interest me much because it's always possible to find inconsistencies if you sift long enough through all of the words of someone who has been running for president as long as Obama has, and especially if you aren't too picky about context.

But it seems that the RNC cares less and less about context. Most of the statements I have been getting aren't even contradictory in their own terms. Here is this morning's, for example:

Today, Obama Claimed He Would Buck His Party By Increasing The Size Of The Military:

Obama: "I've said that we need to increase the size of our military, which politically, if it got to the floor, probably would pass. But there, as you know, [are] a whole bunch of folks on the left who think that that is a waste of money. I think it's important for us to do." (ABC's "This Week," 9/7/08)

But In October 2007, Obama Told The Caucus For Priorities That He Would Cut Military Spending:

Obama: "I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending. I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems, and I will institute an independent defense priorities board to ensure that the quadrennial defense review is not used to justify unnecessary spending." (Sen. Barack Obama, Caucus For Priorities Response, 10/22/07)

Setting aside the dubious claim that Obama would "buck his party," where's the contradiction here? He wants to make the military larger while cutting waste and certain programs. Contradiction?

Here's another:

In His Interview With Bill O'Reilly, Obama Called Iran A "Major Threat":

Obama Called Iran A "Major Threat." Fox News' Bill O'Reilly: "Is Iran part of that component?" Obama: "Iran is a major threat." (Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," 9/4/08)

But Obama Has Said That Iran Does Not Post A Serious Threat To The United States:

Obama Said Iran Is "Tiny." Obama: "I mean think about it. Iran, Cuba, Venezuela - these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us." (Sen. Barack Obama, Remarks At Campaign Event, Pendleton, OR, 5/18/08)

The RNC, apparently, can't understand the difference between saying "Arnold Schwarzenegger is tiny" and saying "Arnold Schwarzenegger is tiny compared to Mount Everest."

UPDATE: The context makes the first item even worse for Republicans. The reference to future combat systems should have been to Future Combat Systems, a program that McCain also has opposed.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Crisp vs. Biden

I have a telephone interview set up with Joe Biden when he is in Montana this weekend. Got any good questions?

I won't ask him this, but I did have a thought as I was finishing my Outpost delivery route Friday morning. Bill O'Reilly was saying that the presidential campaign had shifted entirely from issues to a race about personalities with three strong biographies playing a role: those of Obama, McCain and Palin. He said he wasn't sure about Biden's story.

For once, I don't think O'Reilly was being snarky. I think he actually had a momentary mind blip. But Biden's story struck me during the conventions as really the most compelling of the four. To lose a wife and child in a car accident is about as terrible an event as most of us can imagine. And to raise two small boys as a single dad is an enormous responsibility.

I mean to take nothing away from McCain when I say that if I were offered a choice between losing my family and spending 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war, it would take me about two seconds to stick my hands out for the shackles and say, "Let the coercive interrogation begin."

Palin's fitness test, Part 1

More depressing evidence that Sarah Palin is far from ready to handle the big job. In a speech in Wisconsin, she said that Barack Obama was "profoundly wrong" about the surge in Iraq.

A wiser head would know that this was an issue about which it was not possible to be profoundly wrong. Opposing the war was, in my book, a clear and straightforward choice. Arguments against the war were, and remain, compelling.

But once we were in the war, and once the early bungles of the occupation became abundantly clear, knowing how to proceed was far from straightforward. I'm no military expert, but from what I read at the time, the consensus of military experts was that not enough troops were available for long enough to be assured a surge would be effective.

Were they wrong? No, of course not, or at least not in any obvious way. Their job is to assess risk. Taking on a military mission with fewer than the optimal number of soldiers doesn't guarantee that the mission will fail; it means simply that risks are higher. Uncertainty is inevitable in every military calculation, and sometimes you can draw to an inside straight.

In addition, far more than simply military factors were in play. We successfully bribed some combatants; certain factions split our way; ethnic cleansing played itself out; we were able in some areas to erect physical barriers that helped defuse tensions. Gen. David Petraeus adopted improved counterinsurgency tactics. Perhaps most importantly, Iraqis got a taste of what it's like to live with Al Qaida in Iraq, and they didn't like it.

Indeed, as Gen. Petraeus himself has said, those changes alone might have been enough to reverse the situation without additional troops. Even within the military, the wisdom of adding more troops was hotly debated. In fact, that debate has not ended, since it has obvious implications for how the military should respond to similar situations in the future.

Congress, meanwhile, was being asked in the face of growing public opposition to in effect write an open-ended blank check for a war that had no end in sight. The war was consuming resources that were needed elsewhere in the war on terror. And, without question, a point was looming when continued U.S. presence in Iraq could cause more resistance than it could possibly contain.

Even considering all of that, I favored the surge at the time. For one thing, I strongly endorsed the "if you break it, you own it" argument. I thought we had an obligation to straighten out Iraq even if it was no longer in our own best interests. I also thought that the surge was risky, and unlikely to succeed, but still worth a roll of the dice. But I would never question the judgment or patriotism of anyone who disagreed with me.

Even today, it remains unclear that the gains are permanent. Some dissenting voices within the military fear, for complex reasons, that the temporary successes may actually make the long-term situation worse. Gen. Petraeus himself is optimistic but cautious. For a nuanced view, read this long but very worthy portrait.

In short, where the commander on the ground sees complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty (as does Obama), the politician in Alaska, drawing on her vast experience as commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard, sees sunshine and clear sailing, with contempt for those who see anything else. Military history is filled with the stories of such commanders, and it is a dismal history.

Thursday talk radio update

Glenn Beck confessed that he was so taken by Sarah Palin's speech that he wet his pants. Sean Hannity was equally rapt but less confessional; still, I would not want to be responsible for his laundry.

As you might suspect, I was quite able to control my biological functions during her speech. Everything I had read, even from her worst enemies, assured me that she was impressive in person, and she certainly was. But since my concern is whether she is fit to be president, I was listening instead for indications that she might not be up to the job for which she was auditioning. It was a tough assignment, considering that she was speaking to a crowd eager to adore her, reading a speech on matters of little substance that someone else had written.

I heard five things that troubled me.

1. This actually passed me by, but others have pointed it out. Her reference to Harry Truman emphasized his small-town values but omitted his considerable national experience and reputation - a comparison that does not redound to her credit. It also may have reminded some listeners that Truman became president only because the president he served under died in office. Reminding us of McCain's fragility may have been a poor tactic.

2. She referred to Obama as "turning back the waters and healing the planet." This whole Republican obsession with Obama as Messiah is, as I have suggested in other posts, idiotic. Smart people sometimes say stupid things, but people who make a habit of saying idiotic things are, regrettably, often idiots.

3. She repeated the story that she had told Congress "thanks, but no thanks" for the Bridge to Nowhere. This story, as has been well established, is true neither as literal fact nor as metaphor. Yet she repeated it. This suggest a certain imperiousness that can be fatal in politicians.

4. She continued a Republican theme of belittling "community organizers." Why don't self-anointed conservatives embrace the idea that people acting outside of government can work together to make their communities better? Republicans should not only love community organizers but should consider that experience superior to experience gained through inherently corrupt, inefficient, overreaching government.

5. I have seen no one else pick up on this, but I thought it was the oddest and most troubling thing in the whole speech. She said, "Al-Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America. [Obama]'s worried that someone won't read them their rights."

What could that possibly mean? At best, it might mean that she opposes the 1966 Supreme Court ruling in Miranda vs. Arizona. Why this should be an issue in 2008 is a mystery. I thought we had all by now pretty much agreed that having people aware of their legal rights is not a bad thing and should not conflict with competent law enforcement. Maybe it means that she thinks Obama wants American soldiers to read enemy soldiers their rights before firing in combat. If Obama -- or any other rational person -- has ever said such a thing, it's news to me.

At worst, it might mean that she endorses the whole Bush administration argument that the president has power under the Constitution to imprison anybody suspected of certain crimes anytime he wants for as long as he wants, with no obligation to ever file charges or present evidence of any sort. If this is what she thinks, she is utterly unfit for high office. She owes us an explanation.

MH gets it wrong

Montana Headlines appears to suffer from the bizarre misapprehension that I think McCain is "unworthy," that Obama is "Olympian" and that the only possible reason someone might vote for McCain is because of his experience.

None of this is based on anything I have ever actually said or thought. I clearly said during the primary that McCain was the best possible Republican choice. I have openly expressed my admiration for his willingness to seek consensus across party lines, and I was rooting for him in 2000 until my concerns about his temperament outweighed my admiration for his legislative skills and his willingness to take stands opposed by his own party. I still think that, had he won in 2000, the country would be in far better shape now than it is.

Nor have I, of course, ever said that Obama is Olympian. I have instead said that I think that whole line of argument is moronic.

Finally, I have not said that that the only possible reason one might vote for McCain is because of his experience. I have instead said that I think experience is overrated in presidential candidates but that it nevertheless counts. And I have said that one might well reject Obama because he is far more liberal on certain issues than McCain.

With respect to the main thrust of Montana Headlines' post, I think it misses the point. The issue has never been whether Palin or Obama is more qualified to be president. The issue is that McCain doesn't care. He tells us that Obama is grossly unfit for the job, emphasizes the importance of having a vice president ready for the big job on day one, then selects a vice presidential candidate whose qualifications equal Obama's only under the most generous of standards. If experience doesn't matter to McCain, why should it matter to voters?

I have always presumed that Montana Headlines is an honorable blogger, and I am confident that he will promptly correct his errors.

UPDATE: Rove vs. Rove on the importance of experience. Spoiler alert: Rove loses.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Palin and the blogosphere

Defenses of Sarah Palin keep rolling in, including in the Montana blogosphere. Most of the defenses make no sense. There is the claim that Palin has more experience than Barack Obama, for instance, and the claim that she has more experience than John Edwards did when he ran for vice president.

Neither claim makes much sense to me, but even if they did, so what? John Edwards lost, and not even his most fervent supporters would argue that he had a huge reservoir of experience to draw on. Obama's campaign is based on the argument that he can be a good president without vast experience. And Republican opposition to his claim is based on the argument that he can't -- that he is vastly underprepared and naive and would endanger the country during a time of grave international threats. So putting up someone against him who is at best only marginally more experienced than he is betrays the whole Republican argument. That's especially true when it is rapidly becoming apparent that Palin made serious blunders in her tenure as mayor -- the very experience that we are told now qualifies her to be president -- and that she has told some pretty substantial lies about those blunders, including a stunning whopper right in her very first speech as a vice presidential candidate.

Palin's supporters can argue until they turn blue -- and they probably will -- that her experience trumps Obama's. But what it really does is undermine the case that experience should be an issue at all. I don't see how that can be good for Republicans.

As a side note, claims are surfacing that it is "sexist" to suggest that a new mom with a special needs child and an unwed, pregnant teenager ought to be sticking closer to home. No doubt there is merit in the charge. But take the mom out of the picture. Speaking not as a mom, but as a husband and father, if I were in that situation I would think long and hard before taking a brand-new, time-consuming job that required me to move literally all the way across the country. I'm not saying I wouldn't do it -- vice president is a pretty heady job -- but a part of me would always wonder whether I had done the right thing, particularly knowing with near certainty that taking the job would mean my daughter's problems would become national fodder for late-night comics.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

More on Palin

I'm on deadline and don't have time to track down the link, but this morning I ran across another item that doesn't reflect too favorably on Sarah Palin's experience as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, which we are told now qualifies her to be president. It looks like Wasilla has a city administrator form of government, which means a paid hired hand, as in Billings and many other cities, actually does most of the hiring, firing, budgeting and managing. In such systems, mayors typically preside over city council meetings and ceremonial functions and then vote like any other council members on ordinances -- sort of like senators, only on local rather than national and international issues.

If that's all true, then her resume just got a few years thinner.

UPDATE: A couple of commenters have noted that the city of Wasila's website shows no city administrator. That's true. The Outpost is out now, so I went back and found my source. If this link is right, then Wasila did have a city administrator, at least for a time, apparently in direct response to Palin's mismanagement. No way to be sure yet how true this is, but I will keep looking.

Monday, September 01, 2008

A fair question

Nobody has asked, but here's a fair question: Would I be as critical of Brian Schweitzer as a vice presidential pick as I have been of Sarah Palin? After all, he has even less relevant experience than she does, and he governs a state of comparable size. If were on the Democratic ticket, Republicans would be trying to do to him exactly what Democrats are trying to do now to Palin.

I might as well be honest: I would not be as critical of Schweitzer. The fact that he has worked in Saudi Arabia would help some, but not much. It also would help that I don't think the vice presidential pick is as critical for Obama, who is young and healthy, as it is for McCain, who isn't.

But the main difference is that I know Schweitzer, both personally (to some extent) and as a governor (to some extent). I don't think he would be a great choice for vice president at this point in his career, but he is a quick study with a lot of energy and mostly mainstream political positions. He's also a big-picture kind of guy with good political instincts, and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't screw things up too drastically if he had to step up to the big job in a pinch. I think most Montana journalists probably see Schweitzer that way, but Alaska journalists don't seem to feel the same way about Palin (see here, especially here, here and here). Also, it's hard to imagine Schweitzer saying anything quite this mind-numbingly dense.

Perhaps I would feel the same way about Palin if I knew her better. Perhaps I will feel that way by the time November rolls around. But I don't see it yet. As Ring Lardner (or possibly Damon Runyon) said, "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet."

Palin at City Hall

In my minor contribution to the national debate on Sarah Palin, I have argued that her tenure as governor has been too short to serve as useful experience. Acquiring experience means making and learning from mistakes, and that takes time.

Her experience, then, depends on her tenure as a mayor and city council member in Wasila, Alaska -- in other words, probably less relevant experience for president than, say, Chuck Tooley has (not that I think Tooley would be a bad president). I also suggested that those approving her selection hadn't done enough research into her work in city government to know how effective it was.

Now, of course, people are doing that research, and it isn't looking so good. Most troubling to me is the story that she fired the city librarian and police chief shortly after taking office, purportedly because they supported her opponent. That's pretty lousy in itself, in my book. Good mayors in small towns don't dump good people because they don't like their politics. Good people aren't that easy to find.

What makes it worse is that she initially denied the firings to the Anchorage Daily News, whose reporter went back to the police chief in search of evidence. He produced the letter she had sent him, which contained the phrase, "I intend to terminate your employment."

"If that's not a letter of termination, I don't know what is," he told the reporter.

Obviously, Mayor Palin had not yet acquired the lying skills that are required of a top executive. And the evidence that she supported the Bridge to Nowhere before she opposed it indicates that she still is a pretty poor liar.

What happened to the great Republican liars of the past? Where is Richard Nixon when we need him?