The Irresistible Allure of Iowa

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

What is it about the Hawkeye State that keeps drawing the McCain-Palin campaign back again and again? Is it the state’s renowned culinary delicacies? The tantalizing aroma of industrial pig farms? The seemingly limitless expanses of nothing? Maybe it’s all of the above, because it can’t be because John McCain has the faintest chance of beating Barack Obama when Iowans go to the polls on November 4.

that pretty much sums it up

Iowa, pigs, and corn: that pretty much sums it up

McCain was in Iowa on Sunday. When Tom Brokaw of Meet the Press mentioned that he was trailing Obama by 11 points in the latest Iowa poll, McCain, speaking by satellite from Waterloo, remarked: “Those polls have consistently shown me much further behind than we actually are.” That, in fact, has been something of the conventional wisdom regarding McCain’s baffling attraction to Iowa. His internal polls must show a tighter race, the pundits all pundicize, otherwise his appearances in the state, especially at this late stage of the contest, make absolutely no sense.

And indeed, on the surface, there isn’t much logic in the McCain campaign’s Iowa visits. A brief rundown of the GOP candidates’ appearances since the Republican convention reinforces that view:

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“Politics Ain’t Beanbag:” Illinois Edition

Congressional Elections, Politics, US Elections, US Politics
Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Elvis)

Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Elvis)

It is common for political candidates to link their opponents with an unpopular or discredited figure from the opponents’ political party. Barack Obama, for instance, has joined John McCain so thoroughly with George W. Bush that McCain had to remind Obama in the last debate that “I am not President Bush.” In 2006, many Republican congressional candidates seemed to be running against Nancy Pelosi rather than their Democratic rivals. And so there is nothing particularly unusual about a television ad, run by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), attacking Marty Ozinga, Republican candidate in IL-11, in which the voice-over intones: “Republican Marty Ozinga and his companies gave 23 grand to Rod Blagojevich.” If true, it’s a contemptible instance of bribery and corruption. The ad, however, omits one small detail: Rod Blagojevich, governor of Illinois, is a Democrat. Yes, that’s right: the DCCC, in an ad supporting Democratic congressional candidate Debbie Halvorson, is accusing Democratic governor Blagojevich of taking a payoff.

The governor wasn’t altogether pleased to be the victim of friendly fire. “Mr. Blagojevich, himself a former congressman, is said to have ‘gone ballistic’ when he first heard of the spot.”

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English-Only the Wedge Issue du Jour?

Politics, US Elections, US Politics

The skilled practitioner of “up-close” magic knows that the secret of success is misdirection.  “Observe that there is nothing in the top hat,” the illusionist will announce while he grabs the rabbit hidden under the table.  When done well, the audience member not only doesn’t notice the misdirection, he doesn’t even know he was the victim of the sleight of hand.

St. Louis Cardinals fan defending the English language

St. Louis Cardinals fan doing his bit to defend the English language

The Republican Party has learned this lesson well, and, in recent years, it has perfected the art of electoral misdirection.  This involves utilizing state initiative and referendum laws to place controversial social issues on the ballot.  The advantage is twofold: it drives social-values voters to the polls who might otherwise not be motivated enough to vote, and it forces the particular issue into the forefront of the other campaigns, which often places liberal or progressive candidates into the uncomfortable position of having to take a stand on a contentious and potentially divisive issue.

Paradoxically, the perfect issue for this kind of ballot initiative is one that, because it involves a constitutional right, can’t be changed by a ballot initiative.  That way, win or lose, the issue is thrust into the center of the political discourse while the party backing the initiative isn’t responsible for actually doing anything about it.  Abortion is, in this respect, the perfect social values ballot measure, and three states have abortion initiatives on the ballot for the 2008 election, including South Dakota, where conservatives were left crying “do over!” after suffering a surprising defeat in 2006.

When it comes to the mother of all misdirections, the GOP hit the jackpot in 2004 when it backed eleven statewide referenda to ban gay marriage.  All eleven passed.

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Tales of Electoral Hijinks, Part 3: Congressman Continues Proud Tradition in Florida District

Congressional Elections, US Elections

There must be something in the water in FLA-16, a water-bounded district that spans south central Florida from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico and that embraces the northeastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. Or perhaps it is the influence of the moon, or a peculiar alignment of the stars. Whatever it is, surely there is some mysterious power at work in these environs. How else is one to explain the bipartisan madness that affects its elected representatives to congress?

How YOU doin?

Rep. Tim Mahoney: "How YOU doin'?"

This is the district, after all, that elected Mark Foley to the House of Representatives. Foley, for those two or three benighted souls out there who have just returned from a lengthy Peace Corps mission to Burkina Fasso or who have been in a coma for the past two years, was the Republican congressman who resigned in disgrace on the eve of the 2006 mid-term election when it was revealed that he was exchanging sexually explicit instant messages with male congressional pages. Once the press published the messages, Foley suddenly remembered something very important that he had failed to mention to his constituents: that he was, in fact, gay and that he liked to send sexually explicit instant messages to congressional pages — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Well, actually there is, but Foley explained that the lurid IMs were the result of a drinking problem and the lingering after-effects of molestation at the hands of priest when Foley was an altar boy. That and presumably the whole homosexuality thing, I’m sure.

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Chicago Tribune Backs Obama: Temperature in Hell Dips Below 32 Degrees

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics
Oops!

Oops!

On Friday, the Chicago Tribune announced that it was endorsing Barack Obama for president. Now, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about a newspaper endorsing a particular candidate for high office. Indeed, I’m confident that there are very few people out there who are saying to themselves: “I’m so conflicted, I just wish my local newspaper would tell me who I should vote for.” The Tribune‘s announcement, however, had more of a “man-bites-dog” quality to it than most newspaper endorsements, as it marked the first time in the paper’s 161-year history that the Trib had given its nod to a Democratic presidential candidate. Joseph Medill, the influential editor during the newspaper’s formative years, was one of the co-founders of the Republican Party, and the Tribune was an early supporter of Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 campaign for the White House (after briefly considering giving its nod to John McCain), so the paper’s endorsement of Obama marked something of a seismic shift in the tectonic plate of midwestern politics. That whirring noise you heard on Friday was the sound of Col. Robert McCormick furiously spinning in his grave.

Apart from its purely historic character, there are two reasons why this endorsement carries some special significance.

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Canada settles for more of the same

International Politics, Politics
George Bush and what appears to be the prime minister of Canada

George Bush and what appears to be the prime minister of Canada

Reliable media reports now confirm that Canada held an election this week. Most Americans, upon hearing this news, would probably respond by asking: “the who did what now?” But it’s all true. Last Tuesday, Canadians from Gander to Whitehorse and several species in between emerged from their mud huts, their igloos, or their local Tim Horton’s so that they could trudge through a desolate wasteland of snow and ice and cast their ballots for the federal parliament. It was a thrilling spectacle of democracy and it meant, in the end, very little indeed.

After the 2006 federal election, the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Stephen Harper held 124 seats in the lower house of parliament. That made it the largest party in the parliament, but it fell 31 votes short of a majority. The Liberals, who had been in the majority for the previous twelve years, dropped to 103 seats. Two other parties, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Québécois (BQ) made up the difference.

Now, in any other parliamentary democracy, after such an indecisive election the parties would start negotiating with each other in an attempt to form a coalition that could command a majority. Not so in Canada.

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Raising the Bar on Vice Presidents

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics
notorious Tina Fey lookalike

Sarah Palin: mavericky!

A lot of people have made the observation that Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska and running-mate of John McCain, is obviously not qualified to be president. Like, for instance, columnist George Will, who said that Palin is “obviously not qualified to be president.” Others who have pointed out the obvious are Chuck Hagel, Madeleine Albright, David Brooks, and politically astute members of a newly discovered species of carnivorous sponges found living in the waters off the coast of Antarctica. For good measure, McCain economic advisor Carly Fiorina added that Palin isn’t qualified to run a major corporation either. Fiorina, it should be noted, mysteriously disappeared after making that remark.

OK, so we’ve established that she isn’t qualified to be president of the United States or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. If we were so inclined I’m sure we could add a wide range of jobs for which Palin is also not qualified, such as astronaut, cowboy, school crossing guard, ship ballast, etc. But is Palin qualified to be vice president? Senator Barbara Boxer of California, speaking of Palin, seems pretty certain: “She isn’t qualified to be vice president.” Ouch, that’s gotta’ sting.

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End of the Road for Haider

European Politics, Politics

The results after Haider uncharacteristically passed on the left

Shortly after one o’clock on a foggy Saturday morning Jörg Haider, governor (Landeshauptmann) of the Austrian province of Carinthia, lost control of his VW Phaeton on a street in the town of Lambichl, near the provincial capital of Klagenfurt. The car hit the embankment and a concrete fencepost before flipping over. The 58-year old Haider died in the crash. And thus ended the career of one of the most controversial political leaders produced by Austria since the end of the Second World War.

Haider’s death follows by less than two weeks the parliamentary elections in which the party he led, the Alliance for Austria’s Future (BZÖ), captured close to eleven percent of the votes and 21 seats in the 183-seat lower house of parliament. A BZÖ spokesman said that Haider’s death was “like the end of the world for us.”

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The Eighteenth Brumaire of Michael Bloomberg

Politics, US Politics

On October 2, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, announced that he was seeking reelection to a third term. Under normal circumstances, the announcement by an incumbent officeholder that he intended to run again would hardly qualify as major news, except that Bloomberg is currently prohibited by law from serving more than two consecutive terms in office. The announcement came as something of a surprise, as Bloomberg had earlier opposed the extension of term limits, but for the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent billionaire, consistency to principle has never been a significant hurdle when it was placed in the path of personal ambition.

proponent of term limits, just not his own

Michael Bloomberg: proponent of term limits, just not his own

The New York City term limits law was itself the product of thwarted ambition. Ronald Lauder, heir to the cosmetics fortune, spent $14 million of his own money for the privilege of losing the 1989 GOP mayoral primary to Rudy Giuliani, who then proceeded to lose (at far less cost to himself) to David Dinkins in the general election. After that experience, Lauder began to see the wisdom of term limits.  This time Lauder spent a paltry $1 million to get a referendum on term limits approved by the voters in the 1993 election. Unfortunately for Lauder, it proved unnecessary to pass a referendum to put a term limit on Dinkins, as Giuliani and the voters of New York took care of that themselves. Just as the Republican framers of the 22nd Amendment sought to prevent another Democrat from being elected again to more than two terms only to see their own Dwight Eisenhower become its first victim, so too did the New York GOP push for term limits only to have it take effect right when Rudy Giuliani entered office.

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Tales of Electoral Hijinks, Part 2: Ore-gone in Sixty Seconds

Congressional Elections, US Elections

This is a cautionary tale that demonstrates the truth of the old adage: love is fleeting, but paying for your girlfriend’s abortion is something you’ll be able to cherish for the rest of your life.

pro-life, but not fanatical about it

Mike Erickson: pro-life, but not fanatical about it

OR-5, in northwestern Oregon, stretches from the suburbs of Portland to Corvallis and includes the state capital of Salem.  It’s a true swing district, where Bush the Younger barely defeated both Gore and Kerry in the last two presidential elections but with a Democratic representative in congress.  Congresswoman Darlene Hooley was first elected to this district in 1996, and would have been a heavy favorite for re-election this year.  In February, however, she unexpectedly announced that she would retire at the end of her current term, creating a rare open seat that Republicans were eager to pick up.  If the GOP was going to grab a Democratic district north of the Mason-Dixon line, it would have been OR-5.

For the GOP, this unique opportunity demanded that it unite quickly behind a candidate with impeccable moderate-conservative credentials who could appeal to the centrist tilt of this district.  And that’s exactly what didn’t happen.

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Tales of Electoral Hijinks, Part 1: Staten Island Follies

Congressional Elections, US Elections

Don’t you just hate it when a routine traffic stop results in the revelation of your second family, the destruction of your career, and the end of a local political dynasty?  Yeah, I hate that too.

Am I, like, in trouble or something?

Vito Fossella (R-Staten Island): Family man

GOP congressman Vito Fossella had the distinction of representing the only district in New York City that apparently contained any Republicans.  NY-13, which consists of Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, had previously been represented by Susan Molinari, the perkiest damned Reagan Republican ever to appear on the American political stage.  In a 1997 special election, Fossella replaced Molinari, who left the House for a brief-but-perky stint with CBS news, and he was re-elected by comfortable margins to the congressional seat thereafter.  Safely ensconced in Washington, Fossella had a rather undistinguished legislative career, which, apparently, contrasted sharply with the torrid private life that he conducted during his free time.

In the early hours of May 1, Fossella was pulled over by an Alexandria, VA patrolman and arrested for driving while intoxicated.  According to the police report, Fossella, when asked to recite the alphabet from D to T as part of a field sobriety test, responded: “D, E, F, H, G, H, I, J, L.”  Oooh, so close!  The congressman later recorded a 0.17 blood alcohol level, twice the legal limit and good for an automatic five-day stay in the pokey if convicted of driving while intoxicated.

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Arresting Foreigners? It’s Easier than You Think!

Uncategorized

Ricardo de los Santos Mora, a native of the Dominican Republic, entered the United States in 1991.  The following year, he was arrested by New York City police and charged with attempted robbery.  As set forth in the appellate court opinion, de los Santos Mora:

did not speak English at the time of his arrest, and the arresting officers did not speak Spanish. He was interrogated without an interpreter present, although he told police in Spanish that he did not understand and wanted to speak with somebody in Spanish. After appearing before a judge, plaintiff was appointed counsel who did not speak Spanish. Plaintiff was then, according to his allegations, “coerced into taking a plea without the benefit of an interpreter.” He was sentenced to six months’ incarceration and five years’ probation.

More photogenic than the Vienna Convention

Vienna: More photogenic than the Vienna Convention

And thus began de los Santos Mora’s strange odyssey through the American legal system, a journey that will end some time during the recently opened Supreme Court term.  For de los Santos Mora, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, may have had the right under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to be advised by the police at the time of his arrest that he could have requested assistance from the Dominican consulate.  Or maybe not.  Or maybe he had that right, but the courts can’t do anything about it if local authorities ignore those rights.

First, some background: the US, along with a bunch of other countries, entered into the Vienna Convention, which, in Article 36, requires signatory states to inform arrested or imprisoned foreign nationals that they have the right to contact their own consular officials.  Under the constitution, treaties have the same force as federal statutes, which, pursuant to the supremacy clause, overrule any inconsistent state laws.  Thus, the states are required, in theory, to abide by the Vienna Convention.

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