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Thursday, January 1, 2009

After 50 Years of Castro's Cuba, Will the Cold War End?

By Tim Padgett

Cuba's revolutionary leader Fidel Castro speaks to supporters at the Batista military base
Cuba's revolutionary leader Fidel Castro speaks to supporters at the Batista military base "Columbia" now known as Ciudad Libertad, January, 1959.

It's good that the Cuban Revolution's 50th anniversary falls on Jan. 1. That's the day for New Year's resolutions, and it's time for Washington and Havana to make some big ones.

They can start by acknowledging that after 50 years of communist revolution in Cuba and counter-revolution from the U.S., both sides can claim only partial victories. Washington and Miami's Cuban exiles can say they kept the U.S. trade embargo against Havana intact. Yet they failed to dislodge Fidel Castro and his government and instead succeeded in alienating the rest of the hemisphere. Congratulations! The Castro regime can say it stood up to a half-century of yanqui aggression while proving that quality universal education and health care are doable. But the price — a basket-case economy and a bleak human-rights record — overshadowed those achievements. �Felicidades!

So, fittingly, don't expect much of a charged observance on either side of the Straits of Florida this week. It looks unlikely that the ailing, 82-year-old Fidel Castro, who ceded Cuba's presidency to his younger brother Raúl this year, will be fit enough to attend the celebration in Santiago de Cuba. In Miami, exile hard-liners are wrestling with a new Florida International University poll showing that a majority of Cuban-Americans there think the embargo should end. The question now is whether Washington and Havana can smell the cafe cubano, leave their cold-war time warp, enter the 21st century — and cease being an impediment to a hemisphere that's trying to do the same. (See the Top 10 News Stories of 2008.)

Fortunately, the signs are looking better as U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 Inauguration nears. Obama, who has said he's willing to talk with Raúl Castro, is poised to end the Bush Administration's restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances to Cuba. That could (and should) be the first step toward dismantling the ill-conceived, 46-year-old embargo (which Obama surely knows is also the aim of many pro-business Republicans in Washington). Either way, such gestures make it harder for the Castros to rail against gringo imperialism. For his part, Raúl Castro recently told actor Sean Penn in an interview for the Nation magazine that he and Obama "must meet" in a neutral place "and begin to solve our problems."

A big problem, of course, is the scores of jailed dissidents in Cuba and the island's lack of free speech. Raúl Castro said this month he would consider releasing some of those prisoners as a prelude to talks with Obama. He wants U.S. reciprocation, however — like freedom for the Cuban Five. They are Cuban agents who were convicted in Miami in 2001 of espionage but, Havana insists, were in the U.S. only to monitor exile groups that had allegedly aided in bombings of Cuban tourist hotels. A swap release of the five isn't likely. (A U.S. appellate panel did rule that their trial had not been fair, but another panel affirmed their convictions this year.) But Obama could respond by prosecuting Luis Posada Carriles, an exile militant who allegedly took part in the hotel attacks as well as the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner in which 73 people were killed. FBI evidence links Posada to the crimes, but the Bush Administration has let him remain free in Miami, — inviting charges of a double standard on terrorism.

The point is that both sides have got to learn to give a little. Last year, when TIME put Raúl Castro on its list of the world's 100 most influential people — because he had taken over for Fidel Castro as interim President and looked to be moving Cuba in a more pragmatic direction — the magazine got scorn from U.S. officials. This year, when TIME put Cuban dissident Yoani Sanchez on the list — for the impact she's had on political blogging around the world — Cuban officials complained in turn. They're entitled to their opinion, but both camps' responses point out how tiresome U.S.-Cuban intolerance has gotten. If Washington and Miami are as serious as they claim about democratizing Cuba, they'll find more creative ways than a globally condemned embargo to engage the island. If Raúl Castro and the aging generals around him are as serious as they say about working to end the embargo and revive Cuba's moribund economy, they'll loosen the island's political leash. (See pictures of music in Cuba.)

If all parties don't act soon, they risk making the same hemispheric muddle of the first half of the 21st century that they made of the last half of the 20th. And they could also spend this century on the hemisphere's sidelines. The destroyer Admiral Chabanenko just visited Havana for five days — the first Russian warship to dock there since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 — and it symbolized to many how low U.S. influence has sunk in the Caribbean. Cuba, meanwhile, was invited this month to a regional summit in Brazil from which the U.S. was excluded — a reminder that Latin Americans still see U.S. treatment of Cuba as a reflection of how the U.S. treats them.

But at the same time, Raúl Castro had to notice that his Brazilian host, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — who is the head of Brazil's Workers Party and supposedly the Castros' leftist soulmate — is perhaps Latin America's most acclaimed capitalist leader. Capitalism's excesses get deservedly excoriated for causing today's global catastrophe. But even Venezuela, which helps prop up Cuba's economy with cut-rate oil, has made it clear in recent elections that it's not the socialist hotbed that its left-wing President Hugo Chávez dreams of. Yes, the hypocritical drill among Latin leaders is that they censure Washington publicly but Havana privately. Still, most of them believe Cuba is as out of step with the rest of the Americas as the U.S. is.

Which isn't to say that the Cuban revolution doesn't deserve its due. It overthrew one of Latin America's most putrid dictators, championed the poor (still a rare thing to do in Latin America) and showed the U.S. that its worst Monroe Doctrine impulses (not to mention the Mafia that was overrunning Cuba then) could be thwarted. People buy Che Guevara T shirts for more than just the lefty chic. The Miami exiles (many of whom backed Fidel Castro before he went communist) deserve their props too, despite the Elian Gonzalez mess. Most were not corrupt oligarchs and gusanos (worms, as Fidel Castro called them) but industrious working- or middle-class men and women who helped build modern Miami. In December, the Miami Herald unveiled an online database that gives the exiles an Ellis Island–style history of their arrivals in the U.S.

No one should begrudge respect for Cubans on either side of the straits — not those who died in prisons fighting Fulgencio Batista nor those who died on rafts escaping Fidel Castro. But after 50 years, it's time to stop reliving the Bay of Pigs.

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Where Have All the Neocons Gone?

Having wrecked the Right, will neoconservatives revert to their left-wing origins or double down on the GOP?

By Jacob Heilbrunn

As Barack Obama prepares to take the inaugural oath, it almost seems otiose to note that his victory represents a sweeping repudiation of the neoconservative movement. Though neocons such as Randy Scheunemann formed a kind of Praetorian Guard around John McCain during his presidential campaign, their truculent approach to foreign affairs sabotaged rather than strengthened McCain’s electoral appeal. The best that Sarah Palin, a foreign-policy neocon on training wheels, could do was to offer platitudes about standing by Israel. It seems safe to say, then, that the neocon credo is ready to be put out to pasture.

Or is it? One problem with this line of argument is that it’s been heard before—sometimes from the neoconservatives themselves. In 1988, after George H.W. Bush replaced Ronald Reagan, neocon lioness Midge Decter fretted, “are we a long, sour marriage held together for the kids and now facing an empty nest?” Then in the late 1990s, Norman Podhoretz delivered a valedictory for neoconservatism at the American Enterprise Institute. Neoconservatism, he announced, was a victim of its success. It no longer represented anything unique because the GOP had so thoroughly assimilated its doctrines. In 2004, a variety of commentators scrambled to pronounce a fresh obituary for neoconservatism. The disastrous course of the Iraq War, Foreign Policy editor Moisés Naím said, showed that the neoconservative dream had expired in the sands of Araby.

Yet the neocons show few signs of going away. The Iraq surge was devised by Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and spearheaded by William Luti, a protégé of Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney who is currently at the National Security Council. Its success has prompted some neocons to claim vindication for the Iraq War overall. Nor has the network of institutions that the neocons rely upon melted away, from the Hudson Institute, where Scooter Libby and Douglas J. Feith are now ensconced, to the Weekly Standard and Fox News.

It’s also the case that the realists inside the GOP feel more embattled than ever. Sen. Chuck Hagel has pretty much resigned from the GOP itself as well as from his Senate seat, denouncing Rush Limbaugh and others as retrograde conservatives. What’s more, former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, who has co-authored a new book with Zbigniew Brzezinski about the challenges facing the next president, has been informally advising Obama. Scowcroft told CNN, “I think we developed in the Republican Party a—well, you know, the buzzword for it is ‘neoconism.’ But I think what it is, it’s an ideology—it’s really an idealistic approach to things. But it’s a combination of idealism and, if you will, brute force.” As Scowcroft sees it, the neocons remain in control of the GOP. “Where do I go?” he recently asked me.

Still, if the neocons aren’t necessarily on the ropes, it would probably be equally mistaken to deny that something has changed. They have undeniably suffered a number of setbacks. The sun has set on the flagship neocon newspaper, the New York Sun, a victim of the financial crash. The citadel of neoconservatism, AEI, has ousted Michael Ledeen, Joshua Muravchik, and Reuel Marc Gerecht. Meanwhile, Robert Kagan has incorporated realist tenets into his writings, while David Frum, who co-wrote with Richard Perle the standard neocon foreign-policy text, An End to Evil, and who previously demanded the expulsion of allegedly unpatriotic conservatives from the conservative pantheon (a move Russell Baker called reminiscent of the Moscow purges), now seems to be hinting at, among other things, a reassessment of neocon foreign policy. “I cannot be blind,” he conceded in a farewell address to National Review Online last month, “to the evidence … that the foreign policy I supported has not yielded the success I would have wished to see.”

Looking ahead, the neocons do not have an obvious horse. In the past they have glommed on to everyone from Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson to Colin Powell, whom William Kristol briefly touted for president. Another problem is that George W. Bush himself has increasingly deviated from neoconservatism. With the fall of Donald Rumsfeld, on whom the neocons tried to blame the mismanaged Iraq War, Vice President Dick Cheney has lost out to the combination of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Even Kristol seems to have shed some of his habitual fervor, musing about the shortcomings of capitalism in his New York Times column and expressing the hope that Obama will put aright what has gone wrong.

The result has been something of an identity crisis in the ranks of the neocons. Like not a few revolutionary movements that have fallen on hard times, neoconservatism is experiencing a schism. Two camps are starting to face off over the question of the true faith, with the first embracing orthodoxy and the second heresy. The question they face is simple: Should the neocons continue to move right, serving as the advance guard of an embattled GOP? Or should neoconservatism become true to itself by returning to the center? Will the movement, in fact, morph back into what it was at its inception in the late 1960s when it belonged firmly to the Democratic Party—moderate on domestic issues and mildly hawkish on foreign policy?

The orthodox camp is based mostly in New York. It wants to combat the decadent liberal elites—the new class—that are supposedly corrupting the Republic. It views Barack Obama as a dangerous, unreconstructed 1960s-type radical and pins its hopes on Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Writing in the November issue of the British neocon journal Standpoint, Midge Decter, for example, upbraids Palin critics for their unwillingness to recognize her brilliance. Decter, a longtime foe of the feminist movement, depicts Palin as someone of unalloyed virtue who incarnates the Victorian virtues celebrated by Gertrude Himmelfarb. According to Decter, Palin is “young, handsome, clever, firmly married, a mother, a serious Christian, a right-to-lifer who has been successful at virtually everything … to which she has turned a hand or mind or body.” Obama, by contrast, offers “for those with ears old enough and practiced enough to hear … the same old prescriptions and cadences of the 1960s radical left.”

When it comes to the Iraq War, the followers of orthodoxy maintain, liberals deserve a pasting. Peter Wehner, a former Bush adviser and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, condemns opponents of the surge as congenitally hostile to the American creed: “Is it not fair to say that what was at work in them was an ideological antipathy not just to an American President, but to America’s cause?”

Decter’s son, John Podhoretz, who has been tapped to become editor of Commentary, in that magazine’s December issue raised the prospect of a radical Obama presidency. Podhoretz noted that Obama is “a man who has lived in and around elite universities since he was eighteen years old …” And Podhoretz’s surprising conclusion? The election did not repudiate the notion that America is a center-right country.

The second and more novel camp consists of what might be called heretical reverters. Reverters dismiss the notion that America has not changed. One of the shrewdest and most perceptive neocons, Tod Lindberg of the Hoover Institution, noted in the Washington Post, “Here’s the stark reality: It is now harder for the Republican presidential candidate to get to 50.1 percent than for the Democrat.” The reverters—who include, among others, David Frum and David Brooks, and are largely based in Washington, D.C.—suggest that the GOP needs to get up to speed, to dump overboard the detritus that it has accumulated over the past several decades. They want no part of Sarah Palin, seeing her as a recipe for electoral disaster. They also see the fate of the British Tories, who have wandered in the wilderness for years, as a cautionary tale. The argument of the reverters, at bottom, seems to be that neoconservatism needs to reboot. Indeed, the reverters even seem to have discovered a new female savior—Hillary Clinton. And so, if neoconservatism has a future, it’s in the Democratic more than the Republican Party.

To understand this new development, it’s helpful to consider the arc of neoconservatism. In its original incarnation, neoconservatism’s salvation doctrine was to reconvert the Democratic Party to its anticommunist roots and a more sober view of social policy. Irving Kristol called for a “combination of the reforming spirit with the conservative ideal”—the notion that liberalism could conserve the best in conservatism. Former Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley, who did much to smooth the path of the neocons into the GOP, astutely observed in 1972 that the neocons “are something of a swing group between the two major parties. Their political outlook is that of establishmentarians looking for an establishment worthy of the name, and many of them are longtime Democrats with new Republican leanings.”

There can be no doubt that as staunch cold warriors, or, if you prefer, liberal internationalists, the neocons viewed the Republican Party, which was led by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, both realists and promoters of détente, with unease. The neocons, who had started out as Trotskyists, espoused a social-democratic program in domestic policy. Essentially, they were Hubert Humphrey Democrats. The neocons clustered around Sen. Scoop Jackson, whose adviser was Richard Perle. They didn’t want détente with the GOP itself; they beseeched Democrats to decry their opponents as selling out human rights and American ideals.

Then came Jimmy Carter. Despite Carter’s support for human rights abroad, the neocons bridled at his derogation of the communist threat and failure to support the shah of Iran from being overthrown by radical Islamists. The neocons became counterrevolutionaries. Their failure to create regime change in the Democratic Party meant that they began enlisting in the GOP. More precisely, they flocked to the banner of Ronald Reagan, a former New Deal Democrat turned conservative, or, in their eyes, the first neocon. Neocons such as Elliott Abrams and Jeane Kirkpatrick landed posts in the Reagan administration, but the true believers on the outside weren’t satisfied. Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and Midge Decter all chided Reagan for his pragmatism. Podhoretz even condemned him for “appeasement by any other name” for his policies in the Middle East and toward the Soviet Union. Later, Podhoretz claimed that Reagan was suffering from delusions about the Cold War, indulging in the “fantasy of communist collapse.” Once the evil empire imploded, the neocons embarked upon the new project of reconciling Jews and evangelicals within the GOP.

Yet no matter how fervent their embrace of the GOP may have been, the neocons began to flirt with the Democratic Party once more when Bill Clinton was the nominee in 1992. This was the first sign of an alliance between the liberal hawks and neocons that would flourish during George W. Bush’s presidency. The neocons had found the realist George H.W. Bush wanting for his failure to topple Saddam Hussein, his attempts to curb Jewish settlements in the West Bank, his refusal to intervene in the Balkans, and his tepid response to Tiananmen Square. Clinton, by contrast, denounced the “butchers of Beijing” and seemed to offer the prospect of tough action in the Balkans against the Serbs. The refusal of Clinton to appoint any neocons, apart from providing Richard Schifter with the token position of assistant secretary for human rights, did little to maintain their ardor. Still, as Clinton’s second term neared its end, neoconservatives such as Norman Podhoretz, writing in National Review, assessed his tenure fairly favorably. As Podhoretz noted, Clinton had been no pushover: he intervened in the Balkans and launched missiles at Iraq. Moreover, he severely curbed welfare benefits. In short, the McGovern era had come to end with Clintonite centrism. It was realist Republicans, to the consternation of William Kristol and Robert Kagan, who were denouncing Clinton for intervening abroad. The new Popular Front forged between the neocons and liberal hawks collapsed during the Iraq War, however, as liberals bailed out once the war went south.

Might there be a reunion, this time with the neocons courting the liberal hawks rather than the liberal hawks trying to court the neocons? The more conciliatory neocons have begun to send up signal flares. It isn’t simply David Brooks’s paeans to Obama. Robert Kagan has praised what he calls “Obama the Interventionist” in his Washington Post column: “Obama believes the world yearns to follow us, if only we restore our worthiness to lead. Personally, I like it.” Even the Weekly Standard has begun to reassess its seemingly intractable hostility to all things Clinton. Vigilant neocon-spotters will have noticed that the Standard featured not one but two items praising the idea of Hillary as secretary of state. The tone of both seemed to be “yes, we should.” Under the heading “Hail Clinton,” Michael Goldfarb, McCain’s deputy communications director during the campaign, blogged that she is “likely to be a nuisance to Obama whether she is inside or outside of his administration, but as our top diplomat she could reprise a role that made Powell a kingmaker in this year’s election. And perhaps she could even present the case for war with Iran to an insubordinate United Nations in the event that Obama’s personal diplomacy somehow fails to deter the mullahs from their present course.”

The Standard’s Noemie Emery went even further. In her view, “For the moment, Hillary Clinton will be the conservatives’ Woman in Washington, more attuned to their concerns on these issues than to those of the get-the-troops-home-now wing of her party, a strange turn of events for a woman whose husband was impeached by Republicans just ten years ago, and whose ascent that party had dreaded since she went to the Senate two years after that.” Indeed.

The fact is that the neocon passion for Hillary may not be as outlandish as it seems at first glance. For one thing, Hillary was instrumental in getting Madeleine Albright appointed secretary of state in 1997, and they remain close friends. Albright is a liberal interventionist of the first order. Her father, Josef Korbel, a former Czech diplomat, was a cold warrior. Albright herself ardently pushed for intervention in the Balkans, first as Clinton’s United Nations ambassador, then, more effectively, as secretary of state. Albright will have the opportunity to weigh in on hot-button foreign-policy issues such as relations with Russia.

In addition, Albright, together with former Clinton defense secretary William S. Cohen, has headed a U.S. Institute for Peace and Holocaust Museum task force on genocide. Its new report, released on Dec. 8, is called “Preventing Genocide.” It could prove almost as influential for the Obama administration as the neocon-inspired “Defense Planning Guidance” of 1992, which called for American unilateral domination of the world, was for George W. Bush’s presidency. Albright and Cohen’s document calls for the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Committee that would work with key national security officials. It further states that the director of national intelligence should “initiate the preparation of a National Intelligence Estimate on worldwide risks of genocide and mass atrocities.” Finally, it recommends that the secretary of defense and U.S. military leaders develop military guidance on genocide prevention and response and “incorporate it into Department of Defense (and interagency) policies, plans, doctrine, training, and lessons learned.” The report’s aims are noble, but it is essentially a stalking horse for liberal intervention. It would create a permanent bureaucracy with a vested interest in insisting upon armed interventionism whenever and wherever the U.S. pleases—the Congo, Georgia, Zimbabwe, Somalia, and so on.

Indeed, Hillary may appoint a number of liberal interventionists. Russia-expert Michael McFaul, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is an adviser to Obama and is reportedly angling for the post of assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor. In 2007, writing in the Washington Post, together with Abbas Milani, McFaul argued, “the United States must recommit to a policy of encouraging democratization inside Iran, because only a democratic regime will stop supporting terrorist groups abroad and repression at home.” McFaul also wants to push for democracy inside Russia. Another possible Clinton appointment might be Samantha Power, who has strenuously advocated more intervention backed by the United Nations. Power declared in Time in 2007 that as abuses mount in Burma and Darfur “a coalition of the concerned must insist that what is manifestly true of the economy is also true of human rights: in this age, there is no such thing as a purely ‘internal matter.’” How far removed is this from Bush’s rhetoric about freedom sweeping the globe in his second inaugural address?

Power’s conclusion epitomizes the distinction between the liberal interventionists and neocons on one side and realists on the other. Realists tend to believe that the internal nature of a state does not decisively affect its foreign-policy decisions. A democratic Iran might be no less likely than an authoritarian Iran to seek nuclear weapons. The country simply pursues its traditional national interests. Liberal interventionists take a different view. They want to expand democratic norms, by force if necessary, around the globe in the hopes of advancing the dream of a perpetual peace.

Whether or not Hillary actually behaves like a hawk in office is another question. She might seek to push peace talks on Israel and the Palestinians. Reaching an agreement with Iran would be a big feather in her cap. So would negotiating an arms-control deal with Russia in exchange for dismantling the Bush administration’s proposed missile-defense system in Eastern Europe.

But the notion that Obama will seek to roll back the American empire is a pipedream. It wasn’t McCain but Obama who declared on the campaign trail that America has to “lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.”

This won’t prevent the unrepentant rump faction of the neocons from denouncing Obama as an appeaser, while looking to either Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich as possible standard-bearers. But for now, the neocons touting a reversion to the movement’s original, more liberal precepts seem intent on creating a new chapter in the saga of a movement that has been repeatedly written off as dead. Perhaps reaching out to the Obama administration will help rejuvenate neoconservatism. It could prove to be a more comfortable fit than either side might anticipate.
__________________________________________

Jacob Heilbrunn, whose book They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons has just appeared in paperback, is a senior editor at The National Interest.

The American Conservative welcomes letters to the editor.
Send letters to: letters@amconmag.com

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Ex-Bush aides say he never recovered from Katrina

(WASHINGTON) Hurricane Katrina not only pulverized the Gulf Coast in 2005, it knocked the bully pulpit out from under President George W. Bush, according to two former advisers who spoke candidly about the political impact of the government's poor handling of the natural disaster.

"Katrina to me was the tipping point," said Matthew Dowd, Bush's pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign. "The president broke his bond with the public. Once that bond was broken, he no longer had the capacity to talk to the American public. State of the Union addresses? It didn't matter. Legislative initiatives? It didn't matter. P.R.? It didn't matter. Travel? It didn't matter."

Dan Bartlett, former White House communications director and later counselor to the president, said: "Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin."

Their comments are a part of an oral history of the Bush White House that Vanity Fair magazine compiled for its February issue, which hits newsstands in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday, and nationally on Jan. 6. Vanity Fair published comments by current and former government officials, foreign ministers, campaign strategists and numerous others on topics that included Iraq, the anthrax attacks, the economy and immigration.

Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that as a new president, Bush was like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee whom critics said lacked knowledge about foreign affairs. When Bush first came into office, he was surrounded by experienced advisers like Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell, who Wilkerson said ended up playing damage control for the president.

"It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin-like president — because, let's face it, that's what he was — was going to be protected by this national-security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire," Wilkerson said, adding that he considered Cheney probably the "most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur" he'd ever met.

"He became vice president well before George Bush picked him," Wilkerson said of Cheney. "And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush — personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum."

On other topics, David Kuo, who served as deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, disputed the idea that the Bush White House was dominated by religious conservatives and catered to the needs of a religious right voting bloc.

"The reality in the White House is — if you look at the most senior staff — you're seeing people who aren't personally religious and have no particular affection for people who are religious-right leaders," Kuo said.

"In the political affairs shop in particular, you saw a lot of people who just rolled their eyes at ... basically every religious-right leader that was out there, because they just found them annoying and insufferable. These guys were pains in the butt who had to be accommodated."

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The Top 10 Political Technology Stories of 2008

Every New Year marks one of the most fascinating times in the news: the yearly wrap-up, in which the top 10 stories/events in a particular category of the past year are featured. Today, we’re going to hop on that bandwagon as we present the Top 10 Political Technology Stories of 2008.

10. Senate Candidate Raises Money via Twitter

chuckdevore

Chuck Devore, Candidate for U.S. Senate

Chuck Devore, who is running to unseat Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010, took an innovative approach to online fundraising. He created a Twitter-based fundraising drive called TweetForChuck. TechPresident took note of this unique effort, commenting:

And while the donations are small in number (about 70 at press time) and amount (most are $20 or under), the project is cleverly attempting to build a tweeting web by, for example, tying contributors to those who led them to the Tweet for Chuck project. This is well worth keeping an eye on.

9. Twittering Election Results

Patrick Ruffini, Republican Online Strategist

Patrick Ruffini, Republican Online Strategist

When Patrick Ruffini initially proposed his “Twittering Iowa” idea, he concedes that he “wasn’t sure what to expect” because “Iowa is a small state, and not particularly known for tech-savviness.” However, Twittering Iowa was a great success – so much so that Election Journal began using Twitter to watch out for voter fraud on election day. After Twittering Iowa, Ruffini commented:

So I’m calling this experiment an unqualified success. This exercise in citizen journalism foretold the result far more quickly than dispatching two dozen stringers to caucus locations throughout Iowa. Post-macaca, predictions abounded of citizens armed with camera phones bringing us live coverage of everything. It hasn’t happened… yet… but we saw a glimpse of the future tonight in Iowa.

8. McCain Campaign Asks Supporters to Produce Campaign Ad

After Joe the Plumber gained instant celebrity status following the third Presidential debate, the McCain campaign launched an initiative asking people to produce a YouTube video sharing their story as to how they are like Joe the Plumber. The winning video would be run as a television ad by the campaign. The resulting video was, by many accounts, one of the best TV ads run by the McCain campaign during the entire cycle.

7. RNC Launches New Online Platform Discussion Site

Roughly two months before the Republican National Convention, the Republican National Convention launched GOPPlatform2008.com, a site that allowed anyone to use the Internet to share their thoughts on the platform for the Republican Party. The website was a significant step toward peer production for the Republican Party. ABC News took a look at the site and wrote:

An individual can log on to the site and upload their written comments or video comments. A team led by Platform Committee Executive Director Steven Duffield will sift through the online submissions up until the convention and party officials said they are open to using some of the videos or statements in the platform drafting meetings in Minneapolis.

6. Members of Congress Provide Government Transparency via Twitter

As of today, at least 39 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have joined Twitter. At first, these technology-embracing members of Congress came under heat, as NPR notes:

In essence, members of Congress are forbidden to post on any Website that might include politicking or advertising, at least in their capacities as representatives. Communications on external sites must be clearly identified as coming from a House of Representatives official for official business.

The Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan organization dedicated to increasing government transparency, soon launched the Let Our Congress Tweet website in response. In the end, the project was a success, and Congress decided “to modernize its rules so they can join us on Twitter and other online communities.”

5. Barack Obama Announces Biden Pick for VP via Text Message

Obama's Vice Presidential Selection, Joe Biden

Obama's Vice Presidential Selection, Delaware Senator Joe Biden

Breaking with campaign tradition, Team Obama decided to take its typical tech-savvy approach and announce Obama’s Vice Presidential pick via text message. Looking at this distinctive approach, Jose Antonio Vargas wrote:

Last night, in a cell phone text message that was quickly followed by an e-mail linking back to a new page on his Web site — my.barackobama.com/vp — aides to Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) campaign wrote: “Barack will announce his VP candidate choice through txt message between now & the Conv. Tell everyone to text VP to 62262 to be the first to know! Please forward.”

Note three things: the casual reference to the candidate (”Barack”); the call to “forward” the text (to friends, relatives, etc.); the perceived personal appeal of being “the first to know”; and the timing — the text was sent two weeks before the Democratic National Convention kicks off. That gives plenty of time for the text to be passed around.

4. “The Network” Beats “The List”

During the primary season, Micah L. Sifry illustrated the power of “The Network” (which the Obama campaign had) over “The List” (which the Clinton campaign used):

To be purely schematic about it, let’s posit that Clinton’s giant list falls into this form of one-to-many communication, (Forgive me if this looks like it was sketched on a back of a napkin–but it’s essentially an abstracted form of a graphic my partner Andrew Rasiej has been drawing for years in his efforts to get politicians to wake up to the power of the net.)

list

Here we have one speaker and many recipients. The conversation is all one-way. The citizens are isolated from each other, and the politician isn’t do much to either introduce them to each other, or to respond to their feedback.

That was the paradigm of broadcast TV and direct mail fundraising. Now we’re in a networked age, where everyone can connect to everyone else and expects some degree of interactivity and reciprocity. Further, the power is shifting away from the speaker at the top towards the network of connections forming among all the participants.

network

In practice, this converts in all kinds of ways to political power. A campaign can send an appeal to its million-member list, or it can foster a network of 20,000 small-donor activists, each with their own personal lists. If you assume that an email to a million people will have about a 20% open rate and a 20% click thru, that’s 40,000 responses. Not bad. But people are far more likely to respond to a personal appeal from a friend or an acquaintance than an impersonal mass email.

In the end, the power of “The Network” was clearly demonstrated in the election, as Obama’s network bested both of his opponents (Clinton and McCain), who focused on their traditional lists.

3. The Obama Campaign Used Grassroots Data and Computer Modeling to Allocate Resources in Real Time

David Plouffe, Obama for America's Campaign Manager

David Plouffe, Obama for America's Campaign Manager

On a panel hosted by Harvard’s Kennedy School, David Plouffe, the now renowned genius who ran the Obama campaign, discussed on how “the Obama campaign used volunteer-produced data to create computer-generated models of states — down to segments of a media market — to determine how the campaign was doing at any given moment.” Plouffe’s notes that by relying on data from volunteers:

You’ve got real-time data, and that makes you make scheduling decisions and resource-allocation decisions and where to send surrogates and you’re adjusting those by the end multiple times a day. Not just down to the media market, but down to chunks of voters in those media markets. We’re not doing as well as we need to here, so we’ve got to throw a lot of our resources in there. These guys are making a surge in a media market, we’ve got to go try and correct that.

2. This is the Era of Personal Politics

Nancy Scola yesterday wrote about some fine examples of personal politics in 2008. She highlights the need for the GOP to “lay a tech foundation for rebuilding the party,” the importance of crowd-powered websites like Digg in politics, a MoveOn piece about why President Obama will need to “tap into the wisdom and passions of the electorate if he’s truly going to make transformational change,” and a phenomenal article in The Washington Post, in which Jose Antonio Vargas concludes that:

Now, because of technology in general and the Internet in particular, politics has become something tangible. Politics is right here. You touch it; it’s in your laptop and on your cellphone. You control it, by forwarding an e-mail about a candidate, donating money or creating a group. Politics is personal. Politics is viral. Politics is individual.

time-poty

The 2006 Time Person of the Year was You!

In 2006, Time magazine named you the person of the year. In 2008, this was finally reflected in politics.

1. Barack Obama Raises $500 Million Online

President-elect Obama's campaign raised $500 million online

President-elect Obama's campaign raised $500 million online

For a long time, people were noting that Obama was rewriting the rules for fundraising by raising an incredible amount of money online. In the end, the Obama campaign raised a whopping $750 million in total – but even more staggering is the fact that the campaign raised two-thirds of that, $500 million, online. His fundraising was so devastating that the big question is now: will Obama’s fundraising mark the end of public financing?

Original here

Top 10 political upsets of 2008

Alexander Burns

Every election cycle has its share of upset winners, the candidates who pulled off long-shot victories that surprised the pundits, the political professionals and sometimes even themselves.

This year was no different — and was perhaps even a little more eventful because of the dramatic presidential nomination battles in both parties.

Here’s Politico’s list of the top 10 political upsets of 2008, the memorable ones that remind us that political handicapping is an inexact science.

Mike Huckabee (Iowa Republican caucus): By the time Iowans went to their caucus locations in January, it was clear that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was surging. After a series of strong debate performances and some offbeat advertising featuring martial arts expert Chuck Norris, buzz was building around the GOP longshot’s candidacy.

Huckabee wasn’t supposed to be able to compete with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s money and organization, yet he trounced Romney by nine points, changing the course of the Republican nominating contest and establishing the former preacher as a national player.

Hillary Clinton (New Hampshire Democratic primary): In fall 2007, no one would have been surprised by a prediction that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) would win the New Hampshire primary. She was, after all, the inevitable nominee. But after Barack Obama’s Iowa victory, and her third-place finish there, virtually every poll showed Clinton hemorrhaging support in the nation’s first presidential primary election.

How did she pull out a three-point victory? Experts and campaign advisers disagree, though most believe it had to do with some combination of Clinton’s strong connection with New Hampshire women, resilient support among white working-class voters, a strong field operation and voter unwillingness to hand Obama the Democratic nomination on a silver platter.

John McCain (South Carolina Republican primary): In 2008, the state that felled McCain’s 2000 presidential bid validated his strength by delivering an unexpectedly solid victory.

South Carolina was supposed to favor Huckabee, with his strong appeal to evangelical voters, or former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, with his Southern roots – or even Romney, who ran a strongly conservative campaign with the backing of the state’s junior senator, Jim DeMint.

But things turned out differently for McCain this time around, as his rivals splintered the anybody-but-McCain vote and allowed the Arizona senator to win by three points over his nearest rival. Deprived of their best chance to slow McCain’s campaign, the other primary candidates started fading fast.

Bill Foster vs. Jim Oberweis (Illinois 14th District): This March special election should have been a lay-up for Republicans. The district had twice voted for George W. Bush by comfortable margins and had been held for more than two decades by former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Instead, this seat offered the first solid sign that 2008 was going to be a very bad year for the Republican Party. In the contest to finish Hastert’s term, wealthy Democratic physicist Bill Foster bested Republican businessman Jim Oberweis — the first of three special election victories in 2008 that presaged the broad Democratic victories in the fall.

Oberweis, a familiar figure to Illinois voters after previous Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, proved to be an ineffective campaigner and was bloodied in a bitter GOP primary. Foster, on the other hand, benefited from strong Democratic support, including television commercials by then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Foster held on to the seat in the November general election, defeating Oberweis again by a margin broad enough to suggest he has already settled in.

Tom Perriello vs. Rep. Virgil Goode (Virginia 5th District): Virginia has taken on a bluish hue in recent elections, but even so, few had the 5th District – represented by the Republican party-switcher Virgil Goode – on their radar. Even the liberal bloggers who supported Democrat Tom Perriello conceded he was a longshot.

Indeed, Perriello, a 34-year-old lawyer who spent time prosecuting war crimes in Africa, started out trailing Goode by more than 30 points. But Goode’s reelection bid hit a couple of potholes, which included comments he made about Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) that were considered anti-Muslim and a late-breaking flap involving the incumbent’s tenuous connection to a racy 2003 film, “Eden’s Curve.”

When all the ballots were cast, counted and then recounted, Perriello’s strong margin among the progressive-minded university community around Charlottesville helped propel him to victory by less than 1,000 votes.

Rep. Don Young vs. Ethan Berkowitz (Alaska at Large): In the contest for Alaska’s lone House seat, most analysts had left incumbent Republican Don Young for dead. Though Young has served in the House since 1973, bringing in piles of federal money for Alaskan projects, a federal corruption investigation was supposed to spell ballot box doom for the cranky appropriator.

After barely surviving a primary challenge from Sarah Palin’s lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, Young faced a strong Democratic opponent in former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz. But Young ended up winning by a five-point margin – confounding polls that showed him trailing consistently and thus escaping the fate of Sen. Ted Stevens, another veteran Alaska Republican under an ethics cloud who met with defeat.

Kay Hagan vs. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (North Carolina Senate): North Carolina was good to Democrats this year, and no one benefited more than state Sen. Kay Hagan, the upset winner over incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

Dole, a former Cabinet secretary and presidential candidate — and the wife of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) — had star power and imposing fundraising skills. Democrats had a tough time recruiting a top-tier candidate to oppose her, and when the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee settled on Hagan, she wasn’t expected to have much of a shot at taking the seat.

But Dole’s national profile proved to be a double-edged sword. Hagan used it to portray the incumbent as a Washington politician who had lost touch with North Carolina. She gained steadily throughout the summer and the fall, leading Dole to unleash a barrage of blistering attack ads that ended up hurting her own image even more than they damaged Hagan.

The result on Election Day? A nine-point win for the Greensboro legislator.

Barack Obama (Indiana presidential election): Until this year, Democrats had carried Indiana just once in presidential elections since 1936. And in 2004, President Bush won there by a landslide.
So despite polls showing a competitive race for the state’s 11 electoral votes, it was still a bit hard to believe that Obama could win Indiana.

In the end, Obama won in a squeaker, by less than 30,000 votes. He lost most of the state’s counties but he ran up the score where it mattered — in Democratic northwestern Indiana and in Indianapolis’s Marion County.

Barack Obama (Nebraska presidential election): Of the 365 electoral votes Obama collected on November 4, none may be quite as sweet as the one he took from Nebraska.

Nebraska is one of two states that allocates electoral votes by congressional district (the other is Maine), and for the first time in history Obama forced Nebraska to split its support between two contenders by winning the Omaha-area 2nd Congressional District.

At the outset of the campaign, almost no one would have believed that Obama could pick off one of Nebraska’s electoral votes. This was a state that delivered 66 percent to Bush in 2004—and Bush had won 60 percent in the 2nd District.

Yet there were signs throughout the fall that the district’s electoral vote might be in play — Sarah Palin made an unexpected campaign stop there and Republican Congressman Lee Terry, running for reelection, made an explicit pitch for area voters to split their support between him and Obama.

On Election Night, it wasn’t clear who had captured the Omaha-based electoral vote. It turned out not to matter since Obama won a sweeping national victory. But even so, when it was finally determined that he had picked off one of Nebraska’s five electoral votes, the victory was just as gratifying for Democrats.

Anh “Joseph” Cao vs. Rep. William Jefferson (Louisiana 2nd District): If you set out to find an unlikelier new member of Congress than Cao, you’d have your work cut out for you. A Republican, he’s the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress, representing a solidly Democratic district that’s majority African-American. His New Orleans-based seat is the only one in Louisiana that voted for Barack Obama.

It helped, of course, that Democratic incumbent Bill Jefferson had been indicted. And Cao’s political success may be short-lived, given that he’ll have to run for reelection against a presumably unindicted opponent on deeply unfriendly turf. He’ll have two years to make his case, though, and if he’s smart he’ll take full advantage of his current moment in the sun.

Original here

Former Merrill Lynch executive pays 37 million for NYC apartment (with taxpayer money)

This is a little off the beaten track for me, but it is a very real example of how taxpayer money is being spent wasted on bailouts for failed executives.

It's particularly important to publicize this sort of wretched excess, known as the privatization of profits and socialization of loss, as we approach the opening of the 111th Congress and the battle for affordable and guaranteed healthcare for all Americans goes into high gear.

As sure as night follows day, we will hear some many say, the United States can't afford to provide healthcare to all our citizens. When this deceit gets going, please remember that a huge amount of taxpayer money is raining on people like Peter Kraus--no questions asked.

This is 720 Park Avenue in New York City. It's one of the most expensive buildings in Manhattan. Peter Kraus and his wife Jill, just paid $37 million for an apartment in this building. This year, Peter Kraus received a payout of $25 million dollars for working at Merrill Lynch for just three months.

720 Park Avenue

DIGG link if you're outraged.

You can't make this stuff up.

Merrill Lynch received TARP funds--taxpayer money. Lots of our money has fallen into the hands of executives who destroyed and looted their companies and are walking away with huge payouts. Peter Kraus is one such executive.

And he should be publically shamed.

In New York like most localities, real estate sales are public records. A local New York Real Estate paper, The Real Deal searches for high profile sales in in doing so, the newspaper often turns up examples of staggering greed and excess. This transaction is a further startling indictment of our times.

AllianceBernstein CEO pays $37M for pad at 720 Park Avenue

Investment advisor Carl Spielvogel and his wife Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel sold their cooperative apartment at 720 Park Avenue, at the corner of 70th Street, for $36.63 million, nearly twice what they paid for it two years ago.

The sale of the seventh-floor unit closed December 18, according to property records posted Friday.

The buyer was identified as Jill Kraus, wife of Peter Kraus, a former executive vice president at Merrill Lynch who reportedly received a $25 million bonus after working at the firm for three months this year. However, only her name was listed on the property report. He was hired as chairman and CEO of AllianceBernstein on December 19. A Merrill Lynch spokeswoman would not comment on his pay package.

http://ny.therealdeal.com/...

This story is so egregious and revolting that even the Wall Street Journal felt morally compelled to weigh in.

Merrill Lynch’s Peter Kraus Collects $25 Million, Then Resigns

Now, former Goldmanite Peter Kraus is getting his $25 million bonus, according to people familiar with the situation, though he has been at Merrill only three months. Kraus left Merrill Friday, shortly after after his rich exit package was triggered by the Merrill sale. In a year when some bankers are being paid with junk, Kraus’s exit payment is a stunner that represents to about 0.1% of Bank of America’s $25 billion capital injection from the U.S. government.

http://blogs.wsj.com/...

So where's our taxpayer money going? Well Mr. Paulson says it's fungible, so it's hard to trace.

We've been told that banks will not reveal what they're doing with taxpayer money. Money is "fungible", so how can we expect them to fess up? Do you blame thieves for not being truthful ?

Dianne Feinstein is miffed. "At present, we don't know whether these companies are using these funds to fly on private jets, attend lavish conferences or lobby Congress," Feinstein said in a statement. Let me help unmiff you, Senator Feinstein and others.

Here are some details about where our money is going.

Let's take a tour of the Kraus residence on Park Avenue.

This is the floorplan [UPDATED] of the apartment that Jill Kraus (ahem) purchased for the family.

720 Park Avenue

This looks like the living room.

720 Park Avenue

And this must be one of the dining rooms.

720 Park Avenue

The entrance foyer.

720 Park Avenue

So this guy received "fungible" taxpayer money, now you know how some of it's being spent.

Original here

Caroline Kennedy repeats 'you know' 142 times in interview

By Toby Harnden in Washington

Caroline Kennedy wants to take over Hillary Clinton's old seat in the Senate
Caroline Kennedy wants to take over Hillary Clinton's old seat in the Senate Photo: AP

When she first made it known that she wanted to be appointed to take over Mrs Clinton's seat, Miss Kennedy, 51, the daughter of the assassinated President John F. Kennedy, seemed a near certainty for the job.

But in the course of a few weeks she has alienated Governor David Paterson of New York, who has the sole power to make the appointment, and the American press, including the elite New York Times, which is a powerful influence on Democratic officials.

During an interview with the paper she stumbled badly, fuelling comparisons to Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, whose bid for the vice-presidency was blighted by a series of disastrous interviews with Katie Couric of CBS News.

Perhaps most damaging of all was her repeated use of the phrase "you know", which she uttered 142 times and was left in the transcript when it appeared in print.

Explaining why she would be a good Senator, she said: "So I think in many ways, you know, we want to have all kinds of different voices, you know, representing us, and I think what I bring to it is, you know, my experience as a mother, as a woman, as a lawyer, you know, I've been an education activist for the last six years here, and, you know, I've written seven books – two on the Constitution, two on American politics.

"So obviously, you know, we have different strengths and weaknesses."

Now Miss Kennedy, who has never held an elected office and often neglected even to vote, is in danger of emulating her cousin Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Robert Kennedy, who was shot dead in 1968 while he was a Senator for New York.

An uncomfortable campaigner, Mrs Kennedy Townsend, then lieutenant governor of Maryland, ran for governor of the heavily-Democratic state in 2002 but slumped to an ignominious defeat.

Miss Kennedy, who had always shunned the limelight before her high-profile endorsement of Barack Obama for president in February, also appears to be a reluctant politician.

Her uncle Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who is stricken with brain cancer, is understood to have played the crucial role in persuading his niece to seek the seat, which would ensure the Kennedy legacy continues in the Senate.

The full transcript of the New York Times interview, revealed a series of tetchy exchanges.

At one point Miss Kennedy, being asked to describe the moment she decided she wanted the Senate seat, asked the reporters: "Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman's magazine or something?" One of them responded: "What do you have against women's magazines?" Miss Kennedy shot back: "Nothing at all, but I thought you were the crack political team here."

Another reporter asked "Would you have sought this if there hadn't been an appointment open, if it had been an election?", Miss Kennedy said: "I think we covered that." The reporter pressed: "What's the answer, then, if we covered it?" When Miss Kennedy was asked in what ways she would be a better Senator than Mrs Clinton, she responded that "when I get in there, then I can really tell you exactly how I would improve on it".

She refused to say anything about her wealth and declined to take policy stances even on hot-button issues in education, her specialty.

Asked about performance pay for teachers, she said only that "it'll be really interesting to see what happens. There's a lot of experimentation going on in the country that we should pay attention to".

Michael Goodwin, a New York Daily News columnist urged her to "Say goodnight, Caroline", arguing she had "flubbed" the audition to become the next Senator Kennedy.

The "wheels of the bandwagon are coming off" and "fantasy is giving way to inescapable truth", he wrote. "That truth is that Kennedy is not ready for the job and doesn't deserve it. Somebody who loves her should tell her. Her quest is becoming a cringe-inducing experience, as painful to watch as it must be to endure."

Original here