Newt Gingrich Calls War on Terror a Phony War

I’ve never heard Newt Gingrich make so much sense as in these comments on the war on terror being phony:

“We’ve been engaged in a phony war,” said Gingrich. “The only people who have been taking this seriously are the combat military.”

His remarks seemed to reflect, in part, the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate made public last month.

In the estimate, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that six years of U.S. efforts to degrade the al-Qaida terrorist group had left the organization constrained but still potent, having “protected or regenerated” the capability to attack the United States in ways that have left the country “in a heightened threat environment.”

“We have to take this seriously,” said Gingrich.

“We used to be a serious country. When we got attacked at Pearl Harbor, we took on Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany,” he said, referring to World War II.

“We beat all three in less than four years. We’re about to enter the seventh year of this phony war against … [terrorist groups], and we’re losing.”

Gingrich didn’t express a very opinion of those who have been in charge:

“We were in charge for six years,” he said, referring to the period between 2001 and early 2007, when the GOP controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. “I don’t think you can look and say that was a great success.”

While he is right that the war on terror is phony, and that we should be concentrating more on energy independence, I’d be even more impressed if he discussed George Bush’s negligence before 9/11 which allowed the attack to occur and how counterproductive it was to invade Iraq.

SciFi Friday: Harry Potter Ends (Spoilers Included)

The final Harry Potter book was released a couple of weeks ago, but before commenting I’ve given people who care time to either read the book or learn how to avoid spoilers. This post does contain major spoilers. You have been warned.

The Harry Potter series began as a fantasy which was irresistible to every teenager who ever felt alienated. Harry started as an outcast but quickly found out that he was special. Not only was Harry a wizard, but he was one of the most famous wizards of all.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone concentrated on the magic surrounding Hogwarts and established Harry, Hermione, and Ron as the major characters throughout the series. As the book, and the school year, progressed we were given our first exposure to the threat from Voldemort. Subsequent books dealt with a new school year and were increasingly dominated by the dangers of Voldemort returning. Normally I avoid reading series as the books tend to become repetitive, featuring the same characters in similar situations. Harry Potter was different as, while there was somewhat of a formula, it was clear that there was a definite story line being developed which would end in the seventh book.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows concludes the series as predicted with Harry defeating Voldemort. Being a children’s series, I never believed the speculation that Harry would die, which would also be contrary to a prophesy made earlier in the series that one (not both) must die. Deathly Hollows follows a trend established where the novels became progressively darker, and often longer. In the earlier novels the length was often of benefit even when portions were not necessary. For Harry Potter fans part of the fun is just spending the year at Hogwarts and the longer the book, the longer they coud do so.

The limited time spent at Hogwarts, other than for the final battle, was one reason why the length of this book was a problem. Very little of consequence happens in the first four hundred pages. Instead of enjoying them at Hogwarts, I felt, just as Ron Weasley did, that we were wandering aimlessly.

The book becomes much more exciting as it approached the end, but still far too much is revealed either from seeing Snape’s thoughts after his death or in discussion with Dumbledore following his death. This is more acceptable in a book about wizards where such extraordinary ways of transmitting information are possible, but the story would have been stronger if Harry’s own investigations had revealed the truth about Snape and Dumbledore, as well as his own fate. There had been clues from the beginning that Snape was actually on Dumbledore’s side, such as when Snape saved Harry from falling from his Quidditch broom in the first book. I also suspected this when Snape punished Ginny and others in a way which was hardly real punishment.

The epilogue which takes place nineteen year later might be the most controversial part of the book. Many think it did not fit in well with the darker tone of the book. While it differed from the tone of Deathly Hollows, it was a fair epilogue for the series as a whole. Other than for Deathly Hollows, going off to Hogwarts was an important event taking place relatively early in each book. We were denied this in Deathly Hollows, but seeing the children Harry and others go off to school brought closure to the series.

While other parts of the book were too long, I actually wish the epilogue did provide more information. We see that the world has returned to normal without Voldemort, that Hogwarts has continued, and who some of the characters married. We do not learn the immediate aftermath of the battle, such as whether Harry needed to return for his seventh year or graduated with his class due to his real world experiences.

While it would be preferable if the information had been included in the book, J.K. Rowling has filled in some details in interviews and web chats following the publication of the final book. She says that Harry and Ron did become Aurors who fight the dark arts, with Harry the department head. Hermione, not surprisingly, is high up in the  Department of Magical Law Enforcement. This might also not be the end for Rowling’s involvement in Harry Potter as she is considering writing a Harry Potter encyclopedia among other projects. He  other projects include novels for both children and adults.  It will be interesting to see if J.K. Rowlings can recreate the same type of magic for readers in new novels, regardless of whether the deal with magic of fantasy literature.

Edwards’ Hypocrisy Exposed on Latest Attack Against Fellow Democrats

Yesterday John Edwards attacked other Democratic candidates, demanding that they return contributions received from News Crop. Edwards’ hypocrisy has been further exposed by the news that he has earned $800,000 from a book published by one of News Corps. companies. Edwards campaign claims the money has been contributed from charity. Even if true, this would greatly undermine Edwards’ attack, and his campaign has not yet been able to provide evidence of such contributions. I wonder if the money went to his Poverty Center, which was used to spend money to campaign while avoiding FEC oversight rules.

Even if Edwards did contribute the money to charity, this would provide him with a tremendous tax deduction and he would still have benefited tremendously from News Corp. This also raises the question of why he sold his book to News Corp. in the first place when other publishers are available. Is this more a case of Edwards once again playing “do what I say, not what I do” or a flip flop on his views on News Corp.? Once John Edwards changes his mind, which he seems to do so often, apparently all must join him in his new beliefs.

Whether Being a Mormon Matters in Running for President

Michael Gerson argues that religious Republican voters share many beliefs with Mitt Romney and that “evangelicals and other religious conservatives should not disqualify Romney from the outset.”

I agree that being a Mormon in itself should not disqualify Romney. The real question is not what religion he is but whether he, in contrast to many other conservatives, has the ability to separate his political views from public policy.

Religious views may contribute to a more universal morality in areas such as avoiding unnecessary killing, helping the poor, or protecting the environment. The problem comes when politicians hide behind their religion to justify what otherwise would not be justifiable. Verses from the Bible have been used to justify slavery and racism in the past, and are currently used to discriminate against gays. This is not limited to conservatives. Even John Edwards has cited his religious views to deny gays the basic right to choose who they marry.

Religious beliefs also are used to deny a woman control of her body with regards to abortion and to prevent federal spending for embryonic stem cell research. Republicans have attempted to set by legislation the moment when a fetus can feel pain regardless of the medical facts. Some pharmacists are refusing to provide Plan B based upon their religious beliefs. Religious views led to government intervention in personal end of life decisions in the Terri Schiavo case.

Although abstinence based education has been found to be ineffective, religious views often interfere with teaching of real sex education. Religious views lead some to attempt to limit teaching of evolution. Religious fundamentalists also attack established science on cosmology when they disagree about the origins of the universe, and object to geology when they disagree over the age of the earth. Many believe that dinosaurs and humans coexisted. The Bush administration has even backed religious fundamentalists who object to the geological age of the Grand Canyon, preferring the view that it was created in the biblical flood.

Religion has intruded far too often upon political decisions in recent years. I do not care about disagreements between Mitt Romney, as a Mormon, and other religious beliefs. What matters is whether his religious beliefs will be used to influence public policy in violation of traditional American principles of separation of church and state.

Edwards Flip Flops Again on Attacking Other Democrats

Recently I noted with considerable skepticism that John Edwards was attacking other Democratic candidates for attacking each other. I had no doubt that it wouldn’t be long before Edwards ignored his own advice and began to attack the other candidates over other issues.

Edwards is now attacking Clinton, Obama, and Dodd for receiving contributions from News Corp. Attacking the owners of Fox News will inevitably gain him some backing while at Yearly Kos, but asking opponents to return contributions is not very realistic as long as the current system is in place.

I also wonder if Edwards, who usually appears to be operating more based upon opportunism than principle, would be saying the same if he had received a significant amount of money from them. Edwards’ contributions are heavily concentrated from the trial lawyers, allowing Edwards to make such demands of his opponents.

Update: Edwards’ Hypocrisy Exposed on Latest Attack Against Fellow Democrats

Giuliani’s Goal is to Stop, Not Achieve, Universal Health Care

As I and others have previously noted, there is no substance to Rudy Giuliani’s health care plan. Jonathan Cohn attempts to write about the plan for The New Republic but finds little there:

… it’s just a two-page summary of Giuliani’s general approach to reform–which, from the looks of it, is closely modeled on an idea President Bush proposed in January of this year. While there may be some differences between the two–it’s impossible to know, since the campaign isn’t getting into such details–it’s fair to judge Giuliani’s proposal based on the verdict experts rendered when Bush trotted out his idea. And that verdict wasn’t too good. At best, the Bush plan would have made only a small dent in the number of people without insurance–at a time when even other Republicans were endorsing far more sweeping schemes. And at worst? It could have resulted in more people struggling with their health bills.

Since that time, of course, two of the leading Democratic candidates (John Edwards and Barack Obama) have published detailed proposals of considerably greater ambition, with a third (Hillary Clinton) likely to follow soon. By that standard, Giuliani’s proposal seems even more diminutive. But does that bother the former mayor? Probably not. In the last few days, he’s spent as much time trashing those Democratic ideas as promoting his own. For Giuliani, you get the feeling, it’s all about what his plan isn’t (Michael Moore, Cuba, “socialized medicine”) rather than what it is. Or, to put it more bluntly, it’s about stopping universal health care–not achieving it…

he central feature of Giuliani’s proposal would be a tax deduction of up to $15,000, available to all Americans who buy an insurance policy–regardless of whether they buy it on their own or through an employer. That’s a change from the present setup, in which only people who buy coverage through employers get the break.

Making the tax treatment of individual insurance more like that for employer insurance could have far-reaching effects. Most experts agree that the tax break for employer-sponsored insurance has been instrumental in propping up our existing health insurance system, in which it’s assumed most working people will get coverage through their jobs. That’s been particularly true in the last few years, as employers have grown weary of bearing such a huge financial burden on behalf of their workers. Reducing or eliminating that preference will likely weaken the system further, because–as fewer workers demanded such coverage–even fewer employers would provide it.

In principle, that would be just fine–employer-based health insurance is nobody’s idea of a perfect system–just as long as Giuliani proposed to create something in its place. But there’s no such effort from Giuliani. Instead, he’d just let people shop around in the individual insurance market, buying whatever policies they could find.

And here’s where the problems start. People with pre-existing conditions–and if you have even a minor condition, like allergies, that means people like you–frequently can’t find affordable coverage because insurers won’t offer it. (Or, if they do offer coverage, it will be prohibitively priced.) Giuliani hails his approach as giving consumers more choices. But for these people, it’d actually mean less choice–or no choice at all.

That’s one reason that, at the end of the day, Giuliani’s plan is unlikely to make a significant dent in the uninsured. Another is that tax deductions, by definition, are worth less to people who are in lower tax brackets–who, as you might imagine, tend to make up the bulk of the people without health insurance. In a recent analysis of the latest Bush proposal–on which, again, the Giuliani proposal is patterned–the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities noted that married couples with taxable incomes between roughly $15,000 and $60,000 (the second lowest tax bracket) would get a tax break of $2,250. That’s not chump change, for sure, but when group coverage for the average family costs $12,000–and when individual coverage costs much more than that, as it does because of higher overhead and marketing expenses for insurers who sell to that market–it’s easy to see why few analysts think it will enable many more people to buy coverage.

Independents Voting in Early Contests May Shift Race to Bill Richardson

David Weigel of Reason, also guest posting at The Economist, noticed the same trend I discussed a couple of days ago. Bill Richardson is slowly moving up in the polls, and this is largely due to the support of independents. As I previously noted, when the latest Iowa poll results are broken down, Richardson leads among independents who plan to vote in the Democratic caucuses. Weigel both notes this trend, and discusses the influence of independents in the early states:

THE Politico‘s Ben Smith points to a clutch of new Democratic primary polls by American Research Group that show Barack Obama gaining in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and John Edwards falling a little bit everywhere. The only candidate gaining in both of those states and Iowa: Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico.

That’s been going on for a while., which tracks the primaries and averages all the surveys, has noticed Mr Richardson gaining everywhere. In Iowa he’s gone from negligible numbers to the low teens, near Mr Obama. In New Hampshire he’s moving past Mr Edwards into third place.

But the internal numbers in that Smith-featured poll are fascinating: Mr Richardson’s making the biggest gains with independents. In South Carolina only 1% of Democrats support Mr Richardson, but 9% of independents do. In New Hampshire it’s 6% of Democrats and, again, 9% of independents. The Iowa poll’s the real blockbuster: Mr Richardson has an outright lead with 25% of the independent vote. That’s what’s pushing him into the first tier.

The Iowa and New Hampshire numbers matter; those are both states where independents can show up to the caucus or primary and signal their intention to vote Democratic. When I reported from New Hampshire in June, Ray Buckley, the state’s Democratic chairman, crowed that two-thirds of independents are planning to vote in his party’s primary. Nearly half (44%) of New Hampshire voters are registered independent. If Mr Buckley is right, there’ll be as many independents voting in Mr Richardson’s race as there will be Democrats.

As is typical of many libertarians, Weigel is skeptical that Richardson’s pro-market stance is what is making him attractive to Democrats. He discusses his post at The Economist back at Reason and writes, “He’s less ambitious about tax hikes than the rest of the Democrats and he calls himself a ‘market-oriented Democrat,’ but that shouldn’t necessarily excite Democrats.” Instead Weigel speculates in The Economist that Richardson’s success is due to him having “the most extreme Iraq pullout plan in the race—all troops out of the country, no permanent bases.”

I believe Richardson’s increasing success is due to his positions on both economic issues as well as Iraq. If Iraq was the only consideration, Obama, who generally comes in second with Democratic voting independents, would be the winner for his initial opposition to the war. The key here is that us independents may have voted Democratic in recent years but do not agree with the party on all issues. While our views do vary, for the most part we are opposed to the war, opposed to the abuses of power by the Bush administration, socially liberal, but are more skeptical of big government economic policies. Therefore Richardson is leading and John Edwards only receiving negligible support among us.

Looking at these trends in the polls, and considering that Richardson has considerable room to increase his support as he becomes better known, Richardson is well positioned to pull an upset. The influence of independents in Iowa and New Hampshire could greatly help Richardson and Obama while hurting Clinton and Edwards. Richardson remains a long shot, as John Kerry appeared to be in the summer and fall of 2004, but cannot be counted out. If we look at the realities of the race as opposed to polls at this moment, Richardson has moved ahead of Edwards and is solidly in third place in terms of chances to win the nomination. An win in Iowa, as some predict, or New Hampshire due to the predicted turn out among independents, could totally change the nature of the race.