The Three to Watch

Since 1960, no one has won the Presidency without winning two of these three states: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Combined these three states account for 67 Electoral College Votes, one less than they did in the 2008 election (Florida gained two ECVs while Ohio lost two and Pennsylvannia one). Nonetheless these three states, traditionally swing states, account for nearly a quarter of the total needed to win the Presidency.

Polls so far have put Obama far ahead in Pennsylvania so much that the Romney campaign seems to have conceded the Keystone state spending effectively little money. A landslide margin is considered to be ten points. In Pennsylvania, Obama has maintained this margin consistently throughout the summer. The current polls show give the President a twelve point lead.

Ohio and Florida have from the start of this electoral cycle been seen as tough battleground states where the contest would be won or lost. The latest Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News now point to widening leads for the President approaching landslide margins in both states. In Ohio, Obama leads Romney by ten points and in the even more critical Florida contest Obama leads by nine.

I think there are number of reasons why the President is doing well but in Ohio and Florida, two of those reasons are John Kasich and Rick Scott, the respective Tea Party governors of these two rich electoral prizes. 

The election remains as it has been for quite some time. A close election nationally in terms of the overall popular vote but continuing to move in Obama's direction in the Electoral College as voters in the battleground swing states continue to favor the President. In some of these states, the margin is within the margin of error but in Florida and Ohio, it is clearly not. And if Romney can't reverse this trend in these two states, he might as well start writing his concession speech.

It is clearly too early for Obama to write his victory speech but when that time comes a shout out to Kasich and Scott is clearly in order. 

The Gasps of the GOP

Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drums writes that voter id laws are the last gasp of a fading GOP strategy. While I think Kevin's analysis is largely right, I would caution that there is nothing in theory to prevent further restrictions in suffrage nor to employ other tactics that aim at maintaining power. The GOP is at a crucible but it is one of their own making. There has always been a paranoid fringe prone to believe in bizarre conspiracy theories richly spiced with anti-government rhetoric, a fear of some impending catastrophe that actually never materializes, a distrust of the alien and foreign coupled with calls for a nativist redoubt , a sense of betrayal by the powers be thus reinforcing the notion that they and they alone are the keepers of the flames of freedom in American politics beginning with some of the anti-Federalists in 1780s. Patrick Henry was certainly a firebrand and outspoken but one can think of him as the Founding Father of the paranoid set. He declined to attend the Constitutional Convention suggesting that there was a dark movement afoot to establish a monarchy going as far as to demand an investigation.

But this paranoid conspiracy-minded anti-government portion of the American political spectrum has largely been a fringe though in the Vermont of 1830s and 1840s, the anti-Masonic party did capture the state government. And the nativist consumed with alleged Papist plots American Republic Party, better known as the Know Nothing Party, for a brief period in the 1850s won important mayoral contests across the country from Boston to San Francisco while also twice claiming the California governorship. From then in the mid-1850s until the Tea Party of today, the paranoid, conspiracy driven elements remained largely a fringe with minimal electoral success.

The problem for the GOP elite is that in their zeal to win elections in the post New Deal America, they have courted some of the most vitriolic, xenophobic and conspiracy minded elements of the American political landscape. But today's date becomes tomorrow's long-term spouse. In building their electoral coalition, the GOP brought in groups that largely came from the most conservative elements in the South and West. And as they came to rely more and more on this portion of the electorate, the effect was to mainstream the fringe giving clout and providing a electoral vehicle to the delusional.

Over the past half century that has remade the GOP from a national party with a pro-business agenda that accepted the social contract of the New Deal into a party that is increasingly dominant in the more rural regions of the country but moribund in the more urban area. That pro-business agenda is now one steroids and the party now aims to reverse not only the New Deal social contract but the Progressive Era regulatory structure that most Americans take for granted.  Since 1960 with only one exception, the GOP after a defeat in a presidential election has nominated an even more conservative candidate in the subsequent election. Only Nixon in 1968 after the Goldwater defeat in 1964 was more to the center. For the GOP, electoral defeat implies a circling of the wagons but as you close that circle you are pushing people out. Hence figures like Bruce Barlett, Jim Jeffords, William Weld, Lincoln Chafee, Loretta Sánchez and Charlie Crist are no longer Republicans. Even among some still nominal Republicans like David Frum and Christine Todd Whitman, there are repeated cries of angst as they see their party self-immolate in the fires of conservative doctrinal purity. But I will quibble with this point that Kevin makes: "They'll also have more and more money on their side, but that's not enough either. After all, there are only so many ad spots available to buy."

Wisconsin, I think, suggests that it is enough. The Tea Party backed Walker outspent his opponent Democratic opponent Tom Barnett by over 8 to 1. According to the Center for Public Integrity, more than $63.5 million had been spent by candidates and independent groups, the overwhelming majority underwritten by out-of-state sources. Another point is that while there are only so many ad spots to buy that implies that those with more money to spend will outbid those with less for available spots. And as they win elections, the GOP will attempt to solidify their control of government by codifying an electoral result into permanent law and hard to undo anti-democratic practices. For the record, we have had in recent memory, Tom Delay's Texas redistricting, the attack on public sector and these voter suppression efforts. It is a coup in steps. Think that can't happen? Look at Hungary now or the fall of the Second French Republic and then get back to me. The belief that the United States is immune to how oligarchic systems operate is to indulge in willful ignorance.

 

 

Why Japanese Healthcare is More Efficient than US and Canadian Healthcare

Major reasons why the Japanese pay less and get more from their healthcare system than Americans and Canadians. Read On...

 

 

A Preview of Things to Come

Our Country Deserves Better Committee, a conservative political action committee that's also the parent organization of the Tea Party Express, has released a one minute spot this weekend running the ad in Nevada. The spot is entitled titled "Barack Obama's Legacy of Failure."

Joe Wierzbecki, the executive director of the organization, told CNN that air time was being purchased in ad time being purchased in Michigan and Wisconsin, two states where the group has been running ads in support of their union-busting governors. Wierzbecki says his plan is to eventually also run the commercial in Colorado, Missouri and Ohio. The group is currently fundraising to pay for the ad buy.

According to Sourcewatch, officers of the Our Country Deserves Better PAC overlap extensively with current and former leaders of the pro-war organization Move America Forward (MAF) based in California. These include MAF co-founder and former chair Howard Kaloogian, who chairs the PAC; PR executive Sal Russo, who serves as chief strategist for both MAF and the PAC; Russo Marsh & Rogers principal Joe Wierzbicki, who serves as grassroots coordinator for MAF and coordinates the PAC; and Marine mom Deborah Johns, who is MAF's director of military relations and the PAC's spokesperson.

The group was formed in 2008 as Obama's candidacy gained steam. Our Country Deserves Better PAC launched the Tea Party Express national bus tour on August 28th, 2009 to rally "Americans to oppose the out-of-control spending, higher taxes, bailouts, and growth in the size and power of government."

In 2009, the group ran an ad comparing President Obama to Hitler and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while indulging in just about every right wing conspiracy that there is. Right Wing Watch has more on the group and its activities.

The Possibility of US Troops Remaining In Iraq Past 2011 Grows

In February 2009, President Obama flew to Camp Lejeune , a US Marine base in North Carolina, to fulfill a campaign promise, indeed the one campaign promise that had galvanized critical support for his candidacy early in 2007 when he remained largely an unknown first term US Senator. There amidst a crowd of some 6,000 Marines, the President delivered a passionate speech outlining the end of combat operations in Iraq, a war that at point had lasted over six years claiming 4,425 Americans dead, costing well over a trillion dollars while laying waste to Iraq plunging that country into a bitter sectarian civil war from which it has yet to fully emerge. Then he intoned, "Let me say this as plainly as I can - by August 31 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."

Of the 142,000 US troops then in Iraq, some 92,000 were withdrawn by August 2010. The mission at that point changed, from combat to one that dealt primarily with training Iraqi forces, supporting the Iraqi government and engaging in counter-terrorism. Even if some 50,000 US troops did remain past the end of combat operations in August 2010, they would be withdrawn in toto by the end of 2011. The President's words were as clear and crisp as the weather on that February day: "Under the status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honour that they have earned."

That was then, this is now. There are currently some 47,000 US troops still stationed in Iraq, there ostensibly to train Iraqi forces and to engage in counter-terrorism. This week, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, making his 13th and likely his last trip to Iraq, mentioned the possibility of an US presence in Iraq beyond the end of the year. From the Army Times:

U.S. officials, including at least some top military officers, believe that Iraq has significant gaps in its defense capabilities, including a lack of air power to defend its own skies. They see this as posing a risk, in the absence of U.S. forces, that the political and security gains that have been achieved over the past eight years could unravel.

In remarks to U.S. troops at Camp Marez, Gates said that in his talks with a full range of top Iraqi officials they had indicated an interest in an extended U.S. troop presence.

“We’re open to that,” Gates said. “It obviously would be a presence that’s a fraction of the size that we have here now.”

He mentioned no numbers, but there currently are about 47,000 U.S. troops in the country.

One soldier asked Gates how much longer the U.S. would stay if asked.

“That would be part of any negotiation,” Gates replied.

He said it could be for “a finite period of time” at an agreed number of troops, or it could be a phased drawdown for two or three years beyond 2011.

Or, he said, it could be a long-term U.S. role to advise and assist Iraqi security forces “that just becomes part of the regular military-to-military relationship.” That appeared to be a reference to arrangements such as those that have existed in Japan and Korea for more than 50 years, in which U.S. troops are based there to train with local forces and act as a regional deterrent.

Speaking on behalf of the Obama administration, Secretary Gates said the United States would keep troops in Iraq beyond December 31 if the Iraqi government wanted them, but the Iraqis need to decide "pretty quickly" in order for the Pentagon to accommodate an extension of the final withdrawal date. The takeaway from Secretary Gates' comments is that the Administration is laying the groundwork for a long-term, permanent presence in Iraq akin to our presence in Japan, Korea and Germany.

Certainly, there are segments of the Iraqi population, such as the Kurds in the north, that would welcome a continued American presence in Iraq. On the other hand, there are segments that remain diametrically opposed to any continued US military presence in Iraq. According to Al-Jazeera, Moqtada al Sadr, the prominent Iraqi Shia cleric who recently returned to the country from exile in Iran, has threatened to revive his Mehdi Army and relaunch armed resistance against continued US presence in the country. Al Jazeera correspondent Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said that this time Sadr had not only warned against a continuing US troop presence but also against the contractors who prevent ordinary Iraqis from gainful employment.

Here at home, it is hard to figure how the news of an extended stay in Iraq a la Japan or a la Germany is going to play. Certainly the war hawks like Senator McCain, Senator Graham and Senator Lieberman are bound to be pleased but the move is unlikely to win President Obama any votes in his re-election campaign. In fact, it is likely to further alienate his already rather disenchanted base even if news like this is largely confined to back pages of American journalism.

One more point really needs to be made. Iraq in 2011 is not Japan or Germany 1946 nor is it Korea 1953. Iraq is Iraq, a country that remains a match stick away from going up in flames. While we certainly owe the Iraqis much, having torn their country asunder, the idea that we can garrison the globe ad infinitum is a non-starter.  In this recent budget showdown, Democrats fought for and won a $2 billion cut from the Department of Defense, knocking the military appropriation for the rest of the year down to $513 billion. Meanwhile, the Republicans won over $36 billion cuts to social programs and infrastructure plans. At some point, we on the left must engage in a full throttle defense of domestic priorities and cast aside some of our global ambitions of an empire without end.


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