Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘Joe Biden’

The 2009 Clown Awards

Posted by sanityinjection on December 30, 2009

As the year winds to a close, I thought I would present the 1st Annual Sanity Injection Clown Awards to the public figures who have behaved like the biggest clowns in 2009:

Scary Clown: The Scary Clown Award goes to Venezuela’s Thug-In-Chief, Hugo Chavez. While Chavez’ antics may seem ridiculous from afar, they are a very serious thing indeed if you live in Venezuela or one of its neighbors. Between periodic claims that the US and Colombia are planning to attack, and gradually stripping Venezuelans of their judicial, speech, assembly and property rights, there’s never a dull moment with Chavez the Clown. Unfortunately, it’s only a matter of time before the audience at this circus is not allowed to leave.

Embarrassed Clown: The Embarrassed Clown award goes to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. Sanford the Clown couldn’t just have a simple extramarital affair like a normal politican. He had to have one on another *continent*, and compounded his mistake by not trusting any of his staff with the truth so they could cover for him. This is one of those circus acts where you just cover your face with your hands rather than watch.

 Too Many Balls In The Air at Once: This award goes to Tiger Woods – and I’m not talking about golf balls. Woods’ stupidity lies in not in his decision to screw every bimbo in the Western Hemisphere, but in his decision to get married in the first place. Had he remained single, Woods’ busy sex life would never have been an issue. Now he’s managed to alienate his fellow golfers and some of his sponsors. As a result, the Tiger Woods Show will be taking an extended hiatus – sorry circus-goers, no refunds.

Chatterbox Clown: Was there any doubt this award would go to Vice President Joe Biden? Almost every month the White House has had to do damage control because of Biden the Clown’s inability to keep his mouth shut. Biden’s eruptions wouldn’t be such a concern if he wasn’t so frequently on a different page than the official White House positions. Nevrtheless, the Biden circus never fails to entertain the audience.

Sad Clown: It wasn’t long before Richard Heene’s tears proved to be the tears of a clown, when it was discovered that he and his wife’s anguish over the supposed dangerous balloon ride of their son Falcon turned out to be a faked stunt designed to secure the Heenes a place on reality TV. The real tears should be shed for Falcon, both for having to be raised by parents with such warped values, and for having been named “Falcon”. The best thing about the Heene Circus is that it is over.

Angry Clown: I have to go with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on this one. Although Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is arguably as much or more of a clown, and the one who got Khamenei in trouble to begin with, Khamenei’s angry rants are truly clownish in their obvious attempts to blame everything from torture and killings of protesters to the regime’s dogged pursuit of nuclear weapons on the US and Israel. Has anyone ever seen this guy smile or say anything nice about anybody? Furthermore, Angry Clown’s behavior has alienated more and more of Iran’s Muslim clerics, on whom he ultimately depends for the legitimacy of his rule. What once looked like a routine political protest could now well be heading for full-fledged civil war.

Finally, I apologize for the startling omission of Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA). Since this blog adheres to general standards of acceptable language, I am not at liberty to write exactly what type of clown I believe Congressman Frank to be, though if you are familiar with the Congressman, you can probably guess – it begins with the letter “a”.

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Posted in Current Events, Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Iraq elections: Good news for Iraq and US

Posted by sanityinjection on February 5, 2009

I’ve been waiting to post about this until the first official results were released today. Iraq has completed its first local elections since 2005. The elections were free of violence and certified free and fair by international observers. Security for the elections was handled entirely by the Iraqis themselves, a major accomplishment.

The big news is that of the 14 provinces at stake, more than half resulted in victory for the Dawa party of Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki. This represents a major political shift. al-Maliki had been a compromise choice for Prime Minister from a small Shiite party. The results will be a major boost to his power and credibility. The big losers were the two other Shiite parties which are widely seen as being under Iranian influence. Sunni parties did well in other provinces, adding legitimacy to the government among Sunnis that it lacked when Sunnis boycotted the elections in 2005. Overall, secular and nationalist parties did well; religious parties and those seen as dominated by foreign powers did poorly. 

All of this is very good for the US.  For the last five years, Iraq has been the centerpiece of our foreign policy, and arguably of our politics here at home too. President Bush told Americans that the goal of our occupation was to develop Iraq into a stable democracy that would become an example for the rest of the Middle East. For this he was roundly scorned and mocked by those who said such a goal was impossible. Iraq could never fucntion as a Western-style democracy, they said. Shiites and Sunnis could never cooperate, they said. The only way to keep them from killing each other is to partition the country, said then-Senator, now-Vice President Joe Biden. All agreed that Bush was an idiot.

So who turned out to be right? Well, it is still too early to say whether Iraq will become stable. But there is no question that Iraq has become a real democracy of the kind that was considered impossible in the Arab world. And that fact has not been lost on the authoritarian Arab regimes and their people, nor on the leaders of Iran, whose bid to dominate Iraq has, for the moment, failed, and who now have an example on their borders that must seem attractive to the massive youth population of Iran.

If you ask me, perhaps the biggest winner of all in this Iraqi election is George W. Bush. Oh, wait, except for, you know, the people of Iraq.

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Comedians pick on Republicans – Should we care?

Posted by sanityinjection on October 16, 2008

Over a five-week period since the end of the conventions, a study shows that late-night comedians told 7 times as many jokes about John McCain and Sarah Palin as they did about Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Should we care?

Well, yes. The point is not that comedians like Jay Leno or David Letterman are deliberately trying to smear the Republican ticket. I have no doubt that they would be surprised by the disparity and insist it is unintentional. And I’m sure that’s true, at least to the extent that they are unlikely to be censoring jokes about the Democrats thought up by their writers.

Rather, the writers themselves simply aren’t suggesting jokes about the Democrats. Again, probably not intentionally. Comedy writers tend toward the liberal side of the spectrum and it’s natural to make fun of those you disagree with.

I don’t think anyone would argue that it is a problem if, on a given episode of the Tonight Show, Leno does a Sarah Palin joke and doesn’t do a Joe Biden joke. No one wants to take equal time to that extent. However, it is a different story if night after night after night, the barbs are only going one way, especially if they are repeating a theme over and over again. If you hear something over and over many times, and never hear anything contradictory, it’s only natural you will start to believe it. So for example, if Leno and Letterman are doing jokes about McCain’s age night after night, eventually a regular viewer cannot help but become partially convinced that, in fact, maybe McCain *is* too old to be a good President.

Want proof? I give you Gerald Ford. Comedians frequently made jokes about President Ford being a klutz and a lousy golfer, based on a couple of things Ford did on particular occasions in front of the camera. Millions of Americans old enough to remember still associate these characteristics with Ford. In fact, Ford was actually gifted with above-average dexterity, having been a college athlete, and was quite a good golfer. But people believed these myths about Ford because they were fed them over and over and over again.

Nor do I buy the line that Obama and/or Biden aren’t as funny or as ripe for the picking. Come on – Biden is famous for sticking his foot in his mouth, and makes an easy target. And one can endlessly make fun of the “Obama as Messiah” theme without any reference to his race. Comedians certainly have not shied away from spoofing Jesse Jackson for fear of being called racist.

It’s healthy to be able to laugh at our politicians and elected officials. But when all the laughter is one-sided, it starts to blur the line between humor and character assassination, however unintentional it may be.

http://elections.foxnews.com/2008/10/16/late-night-comics-skewer-republicans-seven-study-finds/

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The Biden-Palin VP Debate: Analysis

Posted by sanityinjection on October 3, 2008

There’s an old saying in sports that there is a difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. In sports, playing not to lose is usually a bad strategy, but in politics, that’s not always the case. Last night, both VP nominees, Sentaor Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin, were playing not to lose. And in my opinion, both were successful.

The debate held pitfalls for both candidates. For Biden, the danger was that he would get carried away and say something offensive or inane that would embarrass his campaign. He did not do that last night. For Palin, the danger was that she would flub questions and be exposed as inexperienced and not knowledgeable enough on the issues facing the country. She did not do that last night.

I thought both candidates’ performances could be described as good but not stellar. There was nothing “game-changing” in this debate; nobody scored a knockout punch. Biden displayed a good command of the issues and spent most of the debate hammering John McCain’s record and campaign proposals. On the intangibles, he came across as reasonable and avoided the danger of appearing condescending or dismissive of his opponent – notably refraining from correcting her when she flubbed the name of a general. He even choked up slightly at one point when discussing the loss of his first wife and his concern over his son who is serving in the National Guard.

Palin managed to hold her own against Biden. She was never going to outpoint him on policy details, but she was conversant on the issues and succeeded in challenging several aspects of Obama’s and Biden’s records that Biden then had to defend. On the intangibles, her charisma absolutely radiated – she actually winked at the camera on a couple of occasions. She was authentic as she reminded the audience of her solidly middle-class, middle-America status.

To the extent that anyone “won” this debate, I would give the nod to Palin, not because she outpointed Biden, but because she had the most to lose if she had performed poorly. She confounded the many critics who expected her to fall flat on her face. Biden, by contrast was a known quantity; his performance, while one of his better ones, was less of a story.

The problem for the Republicans is that this debate is unlikely to have a major impact on the race, as VP debates almost never do. (In 1988 Lloyd Bentsen absolutely destroyed Dan Quayle in their debate, but the Bush-Quayle ticket still won the election decisively.) Obama is surging in the polls, no doubt in part because of the current economic crisis which focuses voter attention on the Democrats’ issues. McCain and Palin need something in the next 30 days that will reverse that trend, or they will almost certainly lose. As it stands right now, the Obama campaign just needs to play defense. But their lead is not so great as to be insurmountable or irreversible. What we learned last night is this: If McCain loses the election, it won’t be because of Sarah Palin.

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What are “earmarks”, and what is all the fuss about them?

Posted by sanityinjection on September 10, 2008

“Earmarks” in the federal budget have become one of the topics of discussion in the Presidential race. Senator John McCain frequently rails against them, and Senator Obama has shot back that McCain’s running mate has her own track record of requesting earmarks. All this despite the fact that earmarks represent only about 4% of the federal budget (excellent op-ed on this here: http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2008/09/squabbling-abou.html).

But what eactly are earmarks and how do they work? Earmarks can be found in federal and state budgets, which are passed as legislation by Congress or the state legislatures. An earmark designates a specific amount of money, out of a more general expenditure, for a particular project or program.

For example, let us imagine that in the federal budget for the Department of Defense, there is a budget line item for the (fictional) “Division of Nanotechnology Research”, with an appropriation of $30 million. The budget item might look something like this:

DIVISION OF NANOTECHNOLOGY RESEARCH

1234-5678………………………….For the operation of the division, including salaries, administration, research programs and grants for the purpose of developing methods of applying biologically-based technologies to further national defense………………………$30,000,000

If passed in this form, the Director of the Division gets $30 million to allocate as he or she deems appropriate to the various needs of the Division. Which makes a certain amount of sense, but also gives that person a  great deal of power. Legislators prefer to keep that power in their own hands. So, for example, a Congressman from North Dakota might prefer this language:

DIVISION OF NANOTECHNOLOGY RESEARCH

1234-5678………………………….For the operation of the division, including salaries, administration, research programs and grants for the purpose of developing methods of applying biologically-based technologies to further national defense; provided that $650,000 shall be expended for the Nanotechnology Research Program at the University of North Dakota………………………$30,000,000

The added phrase is an earmark which specifically sets aside $650,000 out of the $30 million total appropriation for the indicated program. The Director of the Division must spend that sum on that program, or not spend it at all.

It is easy to see how this type of thing can get out of hand. Every legislator wants to bring federal dollars to their own state or region. Federal programs can mean jobs and economic improvement for an area. However, there is no objective determination being made of the worthiness of the earmarked program compared to other contenders. Federal budget committee chairmen use these earmarks to reward their friends and lobbyists who support them, which can lead to wasteful spending on projects like the infamous Alaskan “Bridge to Nowhere”.

The problem is that if a legislator doesn’t secure these items for their district, they may be vulnerable to an opponent who promises to “bring home the bacon”. As a result, the overwhelming majority of legislators request earmarks to one degree or another. Senator McCain and a few others are very unusual in refusing to do so, and surviving in office nevertheless. Thus, it is too simplistic to condemn Obama, Biden, Palin, or any politician simply based on the dollar amount of earmarks they have requested. Instead, one really has to look at the actual projects and programs that funding was requested for. Were they wasteful giveaways or successful programs? Was the amount being requested for each reasonable or excessive? These questions are hard to answer for those of us who do not spend our time reading government budgets. We cannot be familiar with all these areas of government activity.

However, there are organizations which specialize in doing just that. Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) is a non-profit group dedicated to opposing “pork-barrel”, or wasteful earmarks and spending. They rate Senators and Congressmen based on certain key votes on spending bills and earmarks. Here are their 2007 ratings and lifetime ratings for McCain, Biden, and Obama, where 100% means the least wasteful and 0% the most wasteful:

McCain: 2007 100%, lifetime 88%

Biden: 2007 0%, lifetime 22%

Obama: 2007 10%, lifetime 18%

It’s important to note that these ratings are not measuring the earmarks a legislator requests or that actually make it into the budget. However, CAGW has created an “Earmark Reform Pledge” which they are asking legislators to sign, promising that they will fully disclose all the earmarks they request on their websites, and that they will not request funding for any project that does not serve a federal interest or that benefits a private entity and was not requested by a federal agency. As of March of this year, only 2 Senators and 8 Congressmen, all Republicans, have signed this pledge. McCain is not among them, though he might argue that since he requests no earmarks, it really doesn’t apply to him.

You can find out more about CAGW, their ratings and other activities at www.cagw.org.

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Putting your kids where your mouth is

Posted by sanityinjection on September 10, 2008

Over at the New York Times, Sandra Tsing Loh examines the choices of the candidates for President and Vice-President in schooling their children:

http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/09/the-rantings-of-a-pta-mom/index.html

Loh, a vocal supporter of public education, notes that Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and John McCain all sent or currently send their children to private schools. That may be OK for McCain, who is on record as a supporter of “school choice” policies which would allow parents to use public dollars to send their kids to the public or private school of their choosing. But it’s a bit embarrassing for the Democrats and their teachers’ union supporters.

The one candidate whose children attended public school? Sarah Palin. Fits in with her blue-collar, PTA mom image.

Disclaimer: While I am very much a supporter of school choice and charter schools, I am a product of the public elementary and secondary schools, and rather proud of it.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Biden pick: Analysis

Posted by sanityinjection on August 25, 2008

My apologies to those of you who came here over the weekend looking for my reax to Senator Obama’s choice of Senator Joe Biden as his running mate. I wanted to take a little time to think about it and hear what the chattering classes were saying on the Sunday talk shows.

Let me summarize the pros and cons of this pick for Obama and the Democrats.

Pros:

  • Experience – Biden’s long career of public service brings a lifetime of experience to the ticket.
  • Foreign policy – Biden brings the street cred in foreign affairs that Obama lacks.
  • Stature – Biden is a fairly well-known figure, widely seen as highly intelligent and arguably capable of assuming the Presidency if necessary. However, he’s not going to outshine the nominee the way a Hillary Clinton might have.
  • Demographics – Biden is a blue-collar Catholic and one of the least affluent members of the Senate, could help with Hillary Clinton/lunchpail type voters and offset perception of Obama as elitist
  • Role player – Biden is very well equipped for the traditional “attack dog” role, as someone who has clearly relished partisan quips throughout his career.

Cons:

  • Off message – Biden is a consummate Washington insider and an old white guy joining a campaign that claims to be about revolutionary change. Also, Biden voted for the war in Iraq which Obama has consistently said should have been opposed from the start.
  • Experience – Biden’s loud and long insistence on the need to partition Iraq has called his foreign policy experience into question.  And neither Biden nor Obama has any executive experience.
  • Foot-in-mouth disease: Biden has a history of unfortunate statements, like his ethnic sterotype of convenience store owners and his faint praise of Obama as a black man who is “articulate and clean”. Arguably Biden fails the “do no harm” test.
  • No pizazz – It is hard to imagine anyone who was lukewarm about Obama before suddenly being excited about the ticket because of the addition of Biden, or any increase in voter registration or turnout. Pissed-off Hillary-loving feminists will not be charmed by Biden.
  • No coattails – Biden is from Delaware, a tiny state Obama already had locked up. The campaign is trying to present Biden as being from Pennsylvania, where he grew up, but he’s unlikely to sway many votes there.

Putting all this together, it comes out rather even. I don’t think Obama has helped himself significantly with this pick, but neither is it a disaster. The pick does fulfill the criteria Obama himself laid out for his running mate. He wanted someone who is ready and capable of being President, someone who will help him pursue a liberal reform agenda, and someone who won’t be afraid to disagree with him.

Perhaps the best aspect of this pick for Obama is the difficulties it creates for his opponent, John McCain, who now has about four days to choose his own running mate. Biden’s blue-collar background argues against picking Romney and thereby losing credibility on casting the Democrats as overprivileged elitists. However, Biden’s intelligence, experience, and aggressive politicking might also argue against picking Pawlenty, who might measure up poorly against Biden in a debate. Shockingly, conservative icon Bill Kristol is now pushing for Lieberman as the pick as a counterweight to Biden:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/25/opinion/25kristol.html?_r=1&ref=opinion&oref=slogin

Kristol makes some good points, but I don’t know that I’m convinced that McCain’s personal friendship with Lieberman is enough to outweigh all the policy areas on which Lieberman agrees more with Obama than with McCain. In other words, how does Lieberman stand up in a debate and argue against the very policies he was arguing for just 8 years ago? No, I can’t see it.

I still think former Congressman John Kasich is the ideal pick for McCain, but he doesn’t seem to be on the radar screen. McCain needs to avoid the trap of trying to pick someone with the same stature as Biden – he, McCain, has the stature all by himself. He also needs to remember that losing a vice-presidential debate is not the end of the world, as Dan Quayle proved in 1988. McCain still needs to placate the conservatives, and he should choose someone with a calm, easy demeanor to balance his own fiery temperament. Finally, by choosing a governor with executive experience, he can really score points against a ticket with two career legislators on it. So I think Pawlenty is still the pick for McCain.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The “Veepstakes”

Posted by sanityinjection on August 21, 2008

By now even non-political junkies should recognize this term. Speculation is running fast and furious over who the major party candidates for President will pick as their running mates. (To the point that Senator Obama’s press secretary sent out an e-mail to the press titled, “Vice President…” and with a message body that simply read, “Just kidding.” Note to the Obama campaign: The press tends to lack a sense of humor when the joke’s on them.)

At this point I think it’s easier to get a read on McCain’s likely choice. The first rule of picking a running mate is, “Do no harm.” In other words, don’t pick someone who might lose votes for you by embracing controversial positions, turning up a scandal in their background or saying something idiotic. What is interesting on the GOP side is that for some of the individuals that have been mentioned as being under consideration, segments of the party are so concerned that the person fails the “do no harm” test that they have actually mounted campaigns to prevent their nomination. For example, there is an evangelical “Stop Romney” group (he’s too Mormon), a supply-side “Stop Huck” group (he’s a tax-raiser), a pro-life “Stop Ridge” group (he’s pro-choice), a conservative “Stop Lieberman” group (he’s a Democrat.) But interestingly, there’s no “Stop Pawlenty”, “Stop Cantor”, or “Stop Portman” group. Cantor may be too little known, but this suggests that Pawlenty and Portman meet the “do no harm” criterion for McCain. Both are from key states – Minnesota and Ohio, respectively – though recent history suggests running mates don’t necessarily deliver their states (Edwards in 2000). Portman brings the economic pedigree that McCain lacks, but he’s also tied to the Bush Administration, and if I were McCain I wouldn’t want that albatross around my neck. I still think Pawlenty is the likely pick – as a Governor he has the executive experience McCain lacks.

I’m having a harder time reading the tea leaves on the Democratic side. The buzz this week has been around Senator Joe Biden, which probably means he’s not the guy. He fails the “do no harm” test, with a plagiarism scandal in his past and a verifiable habit of putting his foot in his mouth (during the primary he said Obama wasn’t ready to be President.) Hillary Clinton also fails the “do no harm” test becuase she is a polarizing figure for many independent voters. Plus she could outshine the nominee, which is always a no-no. So would Al Gore, another longshot. The remaining shortlist for Obama supposedly includes Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Tim Kaine, and Senator Evan Bayh, and possibly former Senator Sam Nunn. At this moment, my guess would be Sebelius. The only knock on her seems to be that picking a woman other than Hillary will tick off Hillary’s 18 million voters. However, picking a *man* over Hillary will tick them off just as much, it seems to me. Sebelius has demonstrated appeal beyond the Democratic base, has executive experience, and as far as I know is clean as a whistle. She fits in with the “outsider/reformer” role Obama is trying to embody. Her state, Kansas, is not in play, but Obama claims that’s not a consideration for him. I can’t see the Netroots getting excited (at least not in a positive way) over Nunn or Bayh, so I’d say it’s between Sebelius and Kaine at this point.

The best reason for choosing Sebelius over Kaine? If you say “Obama/Kaine” too quickly, it sounds like “Oba-McCain”. I can see the GOP ads now, “Why Settle for ObaMaKaine When You Can Have The REAL McCain?”

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