Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all our readers. It is almost 2010, the year we make contact. (It is a shame that Arthur C. Clarke didn’t make it to see this year).

Something is terribly wrong with the universe when Northwestern is playing in a New Year’s Day bowl and Michigan is staying at home.

Republican Attacks Failing To Create Political Backlash

The Republican attempts to play politics with the attempted terror attack in Detorit on Christmas do not appear to be working. Eric Kleefeld has reviewed recent polls on Obama’s approval:

In the Gallup daily tracking poll released on December 24, before the attack, Obama’s approval rating was 51%, with 42% disapproval. In the daily Rasmussen daily tracking poll, conducted during that same baseline period of December 21-23, Obama was at 44%-56% (Rasmussen consistently has Obama’s approval lower, and disapproval higher, than other outlets).

In the polls released yesterday, which were both conducted entirely after the attempted bombing, Gallup has Obama at 53%-41%, and Rasmussen has him at 47%-52%. Today’s Rasmussen poll is 46%-53%. Although the two polls are in different positions, the movement is roughly the same, with a very slight increase in Obama’s approval compared to the week before.

The numbers are small but at least show no backlash, at least yet. The question remains as to whether these attacks will obtain more traction after the holidays. Another question is whether playing politics with national security will backfire and create a backlash against the Republicans instead. It is possible that further attacks on Obama will help the Republicans, but hopefully more people will consider the facts as Eugene Robinson has in this op-ed and realize that the attacks are based upon lies.

Democratic Change Commission Recommends Eliminating Superdelegates

Hillary Clinton created controversy among Democrats when she tried to win the nomination based upon seeking the support of superdelegates once Barack Obama had a clear lead among pledged delegates. The Democratic Change Commission, which includes many Obama supporters, has now recommended that the Democrats eliminate the ability of superdelegates to vote as they wish. Instead they will have to vote based upon the state’s results. Assuming that the 2012 nomination will not be contested, this would be a good time to experiment with new rules.

Exit Strategy in Iran

News from Iran:

Iranian Supreme National Security Council has ordered a complete check-up of the jet which is on standby to fly Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his family to Russia should the situation in Iran spiral out of control.

The order, to the Pasdaran Revolutionary Guard Corps, was dated on Sunday, 27 December, the second day of recent unrests in Iran.

Republican Double Standard In Politicizing Terror Attack

Republicans such as Pete Hoekstra have been trying to politicize Barack Obama’s reaction to the attempted bombing over Detroit on Christmas, even resorting to using this in a fund raising letter. One line of attack is that Obama did not respond quickly enough, showing a double standard as Republicans did not complain when George Bush took six days to respond in a comparable situation. Politico reviews the two attempted attacks:

This year’s attack came on Christmas. The attempt eight years ago took place on Dec. 22. Obama was on vacation in Hawaii when the suspect, Omar Abdulmutallab, allegedly used plastic explosives in his try to blow up the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight. Bush was at Camp David when Reid used similar plastic explosives to try to blow up his Paris-to-Miami flight, which diverted to Boston after the incident.

Like the Obama White House, the Bush White House told reporters the president had been briefed on the incident and was following it closely. While the Obama White House issued a background statement through a senior administration official calling the incident an “attempted terrorist attack” on the same day it took place, the early official statements from Bush aides did not make the same explicit statement.

Bush did not address reporters about the Reid episode until December 28, after he had traveled from Camp David to his ranch in Texas.

Democrats do not appear to have criticized Bush over the delay. Many were wary of publicly clashing with the commander in chief, who was getting lofty approval ratings after what appeared to be a successful military campaign in Afghanistan. The media also seemed to have little interest in pressing Bush about the bombing, or the fact that the incident had revealed a previously unknown vulnerability in airplane security — that shoes could be used to hide chemicals or explosive devices.

The article reviewed some of the Republican attacks but also notes that some members of the Bush administration have avoided such criticism:

On CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Monday night, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who was a White House adviser at the time of Reid’s attempted bombing, brushed aside a question about whether Obama should have waited three days to speak out. “I’m going to leave that to the White House. I think he had Secretary Napolitano out there speaking,” Ridge said.

And over the weekend, former Bush pollster Matthew Dowd was asked if Obama was correct when, like Bush, he held off speaking at the outset. “Yes,” Dowd told Jake Tapper Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “Part of the problem here is that all the facts that you think are true at the beginning turn out not to be true as the days go on.”

Marc Ambinder has explained the wisdom of Obama’s approach:

Here’s the theory: a two-bit mook is sent by Al Qaeda to do a dastardly deed. He winds up neutering himself. Literally.
Authorities respond appropriately; the president (as this president is wont to to) presides over the federal response. His senior aides speak for him, letting reporters know that he’s videoconferencing regularly, that he’s ordering a review of terrorist watch lists, that he’s discoursing with his secretary of Homeland Security.
But an in-person Obama statement isn’t needed; Indeed, a message expressing command, control, outrage and anger might elevate the importance of the deed, would generate panic (because Obama usually DOESN’T talk about the specifics of cases like this, and so him deciding to do so would cue the American people to respond in a way that exacerbates the situation).
Obama of course will say something at some point. Had the terrorist blown up the plane, it’s safe to assume that Obama would no longer be in Hawaii. In either case, the public will need presidential fortification at some point. But Obama is willing to risk the accusation that he is “soft” on terrorism or is hovering above it all, or is just not to be bothered (his “head’s in the sand,” or “golfing comes first”) in order to advance what he believes is the proper collective response to a failed act of terrorism.
Let the authorities do their work. Don’t presume; don’t panic the country; don’t chest-thump, prejudge, interfere, politicize (in an international sense), don’t give Al Qaeda (or whomever) a symbolic victory; resist the urge to open the old playbook and run a familiar play.
In a sense, he is projecting his calm on the American people, just as his advisers are convinced that the Bush administration projected their panic and anger on the self-same public eight years ago.
It’s a tough and novel approach — and not at all (as they say in Britain) party political — because the standard political script would have the president and his attorney general appearing everywhere as soon as possible.
Steve Benen notes that the Republicans prefer not to respond like grown ups:

Republicans didn’t care for that approach, and preferred a collective display of pants-wetting. GOP voices and the media decided the strategy to deny terrorists a p.r. victory wasn’t good enough. This was a time for partisan grandstanding, not mature leadership.

Again, maybe Americans will find the president’s approach compelling. They should. But at this point, it seems pretty obvious that the president acting like a grown-up is going over the political world’s head.

There’s apparently an expectation that the president can — and probably should — exploit incidents for as much political gain as possible. So, for example, when U.S. forces, acting on the president’s orders, successfully took out Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the ringleader of a Qaeda cell in Kenya and one of the most wanted Islamic militants in Africa, the president should appear before the cameras and explain, “Hey, look at me! I took out one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists!” When U.S. forces, acting on the president’s orders, killed Baitullah Mehsud, the terrorist leader of the Taliban movement Pakistan, Obama should assemble reporters to declare, “Booyah! Who’s da man?”

When the Obama administration took suspected terrorists Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi into custody before they could launch their planned attacks, each and every instance requires its own press conference, in which the president can proclaim, “Republicans’ talk is cheap; I’m the one keeping Americans safe.”

The president, by all appearances, finds such shameless politicization of counter-terrorism offensive. And it is. But Republicans are running an aggressive misinformation scheme, and if it’s effective, the White House may need to reconsider whether the public rewards or punishes leaders who act like grown-ups.

Pete Hoekstra Plays Politics With Detroit Terrorist Attack Despite Having Voted Against TSA Funding For Detection of Explosives

My Congressman is at it again. Pete Hoekstra, also a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, sent out a fund raising letter in which he uses partisan attacks in response to the attempted bombing in Detroit last week to raise money. (A full copy of the letter is also available here).

I’ve already noted the absurdity of Hoekstra’s attacks considering that the Democrats have a better record in fighting terrorism than the Republicans. In this case, it was the Bush administration which gave the visa to the person who attempted the bombing, and it was the Bush administration which released those who planned the attack from Guantanamo to instead be placed in an art therapy rehab program.

Hoekstra’s argument in the fund raising letter makes even less sense considering that the governor has little to do with fighting terrorism. He also better be careful in distorting the records of Democrats as he does in his letter. Someone might ask him about his vote on June 24 against funding for the TSA, including funding for explosives detection systems and other aviation security measures. In addition to blocking funding for the TSA, a Republican is also responsible for blocking the appointment of a TSA chief.

These acts by Republicans may or may not have contributed to the latest attack, but Republicans such as Pete Hoekstra are in a very weak position to play politics with this as they have been doing. Even one of his Republican opponents, Rick Snyder, has spoken out against Hoekstra for playing politics here:

“It is extremely disappointing that the congressman would us a potentially tragic incident to raise money for his political campaign,” said Snyder spokesman Jake Suski. “In these troubling times, words can’t describe how sad it is to see an attempt to politically capitalize on a failed terrorist attack just three days after it happened.

Perhaps the fact that Hoekstra is trying this, despite such a weak hand, shows how he really lacks any meaningful arguments as to why anyone should vote for him for governor.

Karl Rove Shows Support of Traditional Marriage By Freeing Himself To Do It Once Again

In 2004 Karl Rove helped George Bush get reelected by using state amendments opposing gay marriage to get out the vote. The Republicans campaigned as defenders of traditional marriage. Now Karl Rove is doing even more to defend traditional marriage–divorcing his wife after twenty-four years of traditional marriage, freeing himself to enter himself into another traditional marriage.

There is no word as to whether his marriage was destroyed because of the existence of gay marriage.

Karl Rove’s dedication to traditional marriage is even stronger. He was divorced once before (again no word if this was caused by the existence of gay marriage). This means that Karl Rove can now demonstrate his support for traditional marriage by getting married for a third time.

Conservatives Finally Understand Liberal Messages Thanks to Star Trek

One of the problems with political discourse in recent years is that the right wing prefers to attack straw men they create as opposed to responding to actual liberal views. Generally when a right wing pundit attacks liberals, the views they are attacking have little resemblance to the views I hold. Here is one exception where National Review accurately lists some liberal beliefs (emphasis mine):

Congratulations to Captain Picard!   [Mike Potemra]

Palace sources say Patrick Stewart is about to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. It turns out he is an avid supporter of Britain’s Labour party; his support must be especially welcome in this, one of Labour’s darker hours. Coincidentally, I have over the past couple of months been watching DVDs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show I missed completely in its run of 1987 to 1994; and I confess myself amazed that so many conservatives are fond of it. Its messages are unabashedly liberal ones of the early post-Cold War era – peace, tolerance, due process, progress (as opposed to skepticism about human perfectibility). I asked an NR colleague about it, and he speculated that the show’s appeal for conservatives lay largely in the toughness of the main character: Jean-Luc Picard was a moral hardass where the Captain Kirk of the earlier show was more of an easygoing, cheerful swashbuckler. I think there’s something to that: Patrick Stewart did indeed create, in that character, a believable and compelling portrait of ethical uprightness.

Potemra realizes that peace, tolerance, due process, and progress are liberal messages. Presumably this means that the opposites of these represent conservative messages. This also demonstrates that, contrary to conservative attempts to portray liberals as weak on national security, a leader can both be a liberal and be tough.

Was John Kennedy A Time Traveler?

The above photo created a lot of buzz on the internet today. Initially TMZ billed this as a photograph which could have changed history if released, claiming it showed John F. Kennedy on a yacht with naked women. The initially claimed that the photograph was taken in the mid-1950’s.

It turned out that the photograph was really from a Playboy photo spread from 1967–four years after JFK was assassinated. Here is a portion of the page (click on image for a larger version) via The Smoking Gun:

Either that is not John Kennedy sitting in the chair, Kennedy was not really killed in Dallas, or he was a time traveler. We report, you decide.

Bush Administration Released Al Qaeda Leaders Who Plotted Detroit Attack To Art Therapy Rehabilitation Program

The knee jerk Republican response to the attempted terrorist attack in Detroit has been to try to play politics as they did after 9/11. ABC News reports that two al Qaeda leaders behind the attack were in US custody and released–by the Bush administration:

Two of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit were released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November, 2007, according to American officials and Department of Defense documents. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the Northwest bombing in a Monday statement that vowed more attacks on Americans.

American officials agreed to send the two terrorists from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia where they entered into an “art therapy rehabilitation program” and were set free, according to U.S. and Saudi officials.

Just imagine the Republican response if Barack Obama or Bill Clinton had released prisoners to enter an “art therapy rehabilitation program.” This sounds almost as silly as an American president sitting and reading a children’s book while the country is under attack.

Ben Smith quotes other arguments from Democrats responding to Republican attempts to place the blame on them:

As Republicans seek to put the blame for the widespread perception of ineptness at the Transportation Security Administration on the Obama administration, Democrats are arguing that Republican legislators bear part of the blame and that they’re politically vulnerable on the subject.

Perhaps the largest impediment to change at the agency: South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint has a hold on the appointment of a TSA chief, over his concern that the new administration could allow security screeners to unionize.

Republicans have cast votes against the key TSA funding measure that the 2010 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security contained, which included funding for the TSA, including for explosives detection systems and other aviation security measures. In the June 24 vote in the House, leading Republicans including John Boehner, Pete Hoekstra, Mike Pence and Paul Ryan voted against the bill, amid a procedural dispute over the appropriations process, a Democrat points out. A full 108 Republicans voted against the conference version, including Boehner, Hoekstra, Pence, Michelle Bachmann, Marsha Blackburn, Darrell Issa and Joe Wilson.

I note that among the leading Republicans who vote against the TSA funding measure was Pete Hoekstra, who was one of the first Republicans to try to play politics with this.