Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why Bloomberg Matters

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is worth $5.5 billion according to Forbes online--more than enough to, say, finance a presidential election bid. Now I know that Mayor Bloomberg has consistently denied rumors that he'll seek the Oval Office as a third party candidate, but you have to admit that leaving the Republican party--as he announced last week--doesn't do a whole lot to quiet political pundits.

According to Forbes, Bloomberg spent $85 million in his 2005 mayoral race, about nine times more than his opponent. $85 million is a lot of money for the title of mayor. I haven't a doubt that Bloomberg might drop that $.5 billion--or roughly $500 million--tacked onto the end of his net worth in a presidential run. (Though it would drop him about 20 places on that coveted World Billions list.)

Win or lose, Michael Bloomberg would change the political landscape if he entered the 2008 race. Regardless of where one sits on the political spectrum, it's easy to see that the two-party system isn't working so well right now. According to a recent CNN/Opinions Research Corp. Poll, Al Gore is polling at 16 percent in the Democratic field, but he isn't even running. On the Republican side, more of the same: Fred Thompson is polling at 19 percent, sitting almost within the margin of error or Rudy Giuliani, the party's front runner.

Bloomberg could be the first viable candidate since the beginning of the modern two-party system. Pundits have discussed the possibility of Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator from Nebraska, joining forces with Bloomberg. While the Editorial Board has had a bit of fun at the name (Bloomberg-Hagel sounds a bit like a communicable disease), this duo's strengths might be infectious (I apologize for the pun). While the other candidates squabble over who would do a better job at running Washington, these two have no arguing to do: Together they'd already be a ticket just waiting for election day.

And that might be the sort of unity Americans are looking for.

reason without action

Not long ago I watched a PBS interview with a man by the name of Nick Gillespie. I had never heard of Mr. Gillespie, but he was introduced as the editor-in-chief of a magazine called “reason.” The magazine says it supports “free minds and free markets” which attempts to explain that it’s a Libertarian perspective. While I don’t necessarily support the libertarian ideology, I found Mr. Gillespie to be very interesting. He spoke of the changing political tide, and credited it to a large number of voters in the center, not only libertarians like himself, but independent voters who were once inclined to vote Republican that are now shifting toward Democratic candidates. This is in line with what many of the political analysts said after the 2006 election that resulted in Democratic control of the House and Senate. Many analysts believed that the shift of control was because the independent voters showed up and fired the Republicans.

Perhaps I was intrigued by Mr. Gillespie’s interview because I felt empowered. I’ve never belonged to a political party, and I often feel marginalized. Democrats dismiss my opinions and tell me I’m a conservative. Republicans call me a liberal. The truth is, I’m neither. I’m one of those independent voters that Gillespie talks about. I’ve always voted for the candidate over the party, I’ve voted for both Democrats and Republicans alike, and I had never voted in a mid-term election until last year. If Gillespie is right, it is people like myself that can tip the scales and make the difference in the elections. His philosophy has one potential flaw, though. Independents rarely vote in the Primaries or Caucus.

When I was home for Father’s Day, I talked to my Dad and brother about politics a bit. I have reason to believe that my Dad is a Libertarian, but he’ll never admit to any political affiliation. I was surprised to learn that my brother paid any attention to politics at all, but when the topic came up; he mentioned his interest in hearing that Rudy Giuliani was running for President. I’m not sure if this was new information to him, he may be very far out of the loop, but my Dad and my brother both agreed that they’d like to know more about Giuliani, but their overall opinion was favorable. The problem for them and for America’s Mayor is that neither one of them has ever voted in a primary or caucus.

I consider Giuliani to be one of the candidates nearest to the center. At one point I would have put McCain there as well, but lately he seems to be making a dash to the right. On the Democratic side, I would put Bill Richardson and Joe Biden as the two candidates closest to center. Of these four candidates, only Giuliani has been showed significant supports in the polls or in fundraising. While his numbers are high, many political analysts have serious doubts as to whether he can make it through a Republican primary. So, unless these four candidates decide to pull a Joe Lieberman and run as Independents when they lose the nomination to candidates that are more in line with their party, the influential block of voters that Mr. Gillespie speaks about will find themselves voting for the lesser of the two evils next November. Or perhaps instead of anyone going Lieberman in ’08, maybe it would make more sense for my Dad, my brother, and Gillespie’s gang to choose a side for a day and show up for those all-important primaries. This will be the first year that I will participate in the Iowa caucus, and it is long, long overdue.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The War on Islam

Almost six years have passed since the purposely vague War on Terror began in this country, and we're no closer to defining the slogan than we were on September 12, 2001. Terrorism is, above all, a tactic that can be easily applied to more than just the Islamic community. Our nation's sad attempt at stereotyping the entire Muslim community as the enemy has terrible implications, the first involving ethnic and social racism.

Since 2001 the word "terrorist" has been constantly and forcefully associated with fundamental Islam; most Americans, having little knowledge of the Muslim religion, have done nothing but accept that Islam is a dangerous and hate-filled faith. But let us remember that the Ku Klux Klan, also an illegal terrorist organization in this country, is at its base a Christian organization. I haven't met a Christian that accepts this rationale--to these individuals, members of the KKK are no more Christian than Adolph Hitler claimed to be. To the average Muslim, they feel the same about fundamental Islam.

The War on Terror is dangerous at face value, and deadly when implemented. If our president is so hell-bent on ridding the globe of terrorism, why have we concentrated our foreign policy efforts almost exclusively in the Middle East? Which nations dominate nightly news in the United States? Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran.

What of the IRA in Ireland? Or FARC, a Colombian terrorist organization that murdered three Americans in March 1999?

Or what about the genocide in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have been murdered? Is it not terrorism when wives are raped beside the murdered bodies of their husbands?

Fundamentalist Islam is not the greatest threat to the United States: National ignorance promoted by our government is. Until our president, along with Congress, says otherwise, I refuse call our Middle Eastern occupation anything but a War on Islam.

God save Darfur. It doesn't seem like the United States wants to.

Rob Verhein
DI Editorial Writer

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Let me in...

(National Past-timers/Politicos),

I'm the consummate (ball-smasher/government-basher). For years, I have perfected my (swing/"by the people" speeches). And, while I may not be the best player in (baseball/Washington), I certainly have carved out a perfect niche for myself: (base hits/reducing taxes). Sure, I have some (sand in my protective cup/absurd ideas), I've made some poor (bets/party choices), but my (stats/roll-call votes) speak for themselves: I came to (Reds' Stadium/Capitol Hill) every day, fought off every (bad pitch/tax bill) released from the hand of (the pitcher/Jack Abramoff), and triumphed as the all-time (hits leader/anarcho-libertarian).

Now, (Bud Selig/party-line-toers) down at (the Baseball Hall of Fame/Iowans for Tax Relief) are trying to (downplay my statistical achievements/cast me into further obscurity) by barring me from the (Hall/Republican-candidate debate), though I am clearly meet the groups' criteria better than (any player who ever wore a mitt/Rudy, John, and Mitt).

Oh, well. Looks like I'll spend (the rest of my life/debate night) at the (track/Neglected and Battered Politicians Support Center).


(Pete Rose/Ron Paul)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A magnificent addiction

We are all around you. We are in your coffeeshops and your parks. We are in your libraries and...well, actually, that's about all. It's hard out there for a chessplayer.

Yes, to go with the main courses of my power-nerd persona -- video games, webcomics and talking like an amphetamine-hopped Woody Allen in the presence of pretty women -- I must confess to a side order of chess. I hereby out myself as a chess nut. It's like actually coming out, except for the newfound sexual opportunities. (And for the benefit of those of you who have no sense of humor at all, I was just kidding.)

Chess has different facets. When you're just learning -- the younger you do, the better you'll play -- it's very much a hobby:

"Oh, what an interesting set of abstract wooden dolls. You say this is a game as well? How quaint!"

Later on, once you've learned how it works, it becomes a game. You learn about basic tactical tricks. Fast. Nobody who's walked into a knight forking king and queen forgets it in a hurry. You learn to control the center in the opening, how to calculate exchanges, and the weird little rules like en passant and castling.

Warning: past this point lies addiction.

You'll read the great Yugoslav master who says that any reasonably intelligent adult can become a chess master. You'll buy a new set, because you didn't like how reflective your previous one was. You'll buy a clock, a carrying case, and vast stacks of books. And the openings! Volume after volume of analysis has been written about almost every possible combination of opening moves. (The Sicilian Defense alone is a leading cause of deforestation.) You'll lie awake at night, wondering whether 5...Ba4 works against the Evans Gambit (it can) and then wonder how you came to be a person to whom that thought makes sense.

And every single time you lose a game, you will want to die. Serious chess players are famous for making excuses in order to lessen the sting of defeats, leading to a famous chess saying: No healthy person has ever lost a chess game. Conversely, victory will transport you to realms of vicious delight unknown to the non-chess player.

Yes, it's an addiction, but one with which I'd like to infect others. To that end, I offer this little brain teaser:
White wins -- brilliantly -- in of one of the most famous chess games ever played. How?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Quiz to U.S. Open Viewers: What did Johnny MIller once shoot in the final round at Oakmont?

If you cannot answer this question, then I maintain that you haven't watched more than 59 consecutive seconds of NBC's/ESPN's U.S. Open Coverage (I have--for 6 straight hours, since I woke 2 p.m.)

Why is this so important? Well, maybe because the U.S. Open is currently being played at Oakmont CC outside of Pittsburgh, PA, where years ago Johnny Miller did shoot an admittedly remarkable 63 in the final round, taking home the cup and the glory. Why else should we supposedly care? Well, because Johnny Miller himself is sitting in the booth, disparaging players who are right in saying the course is now unprecedented in its difficulty, in an effort by Johnny to make his own record all the more impressive. And his co-anchors are just gobbling it up.

Why does NBC think we want to hear this?

Honestly, every 8 seconds, an NBC anchorman says something like, "Man, if Tiger can hole out on 16, 17, and 18, he might get close to your record of 63, Johnny."

A smug Johnny Miller: "Heck, I tell you, that'd be a heck of a round. Maybe some of these other guys would stop whining about how tough the course is. It's not that tough. I shot a 63 here once, remember?"

Yes, Johnny, you did. The course was also 500 yards shorter, the rough less arduous to navigate, and the bunkers about 1/4 as deep. Oh, and the fairways were wider then, too. Oh, and you weren't battling the phenoms that the tour now pumps out at an abysmal rate in the post-Tiger era. Yeah, Jack was good, but he really was the only star. Now there are 20 players worldwide that are just as good, and they are all assembled at Pittsburgh this week to play the Open. Yet you still contend that players should be going lower.

A parallel to how ironic it is that Johnny is on-air beefing up his accomplishments could only be found if, say, members of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins broadcast the last 10 regular-season football games of a team that started 6-0, talking the whole time about how many obstacles that Dolphins team had to overcome to not lose once and about, contrary to popular belief (and reality), "it was so much harder to do back then." Are people not seeing right through this?

Also, I kept an official tally of every time Johnny said a variant of, "These players have to realize that the ball breaks toward the turnpike on most of these putts," referring to the Pittsburgh turnpike that Johnny thinks supplanted bodies of water as a ball magnet. The Saturday total? 28 times...again, one day, one line, spoken amid shameless efforts to secure the validity of his one moment of shining glory 18 years ago. It's a wonder he had time to say anything else.

So why does NBC keep this abrasive "color man" in the booth, knowing full and well that he'll milk his "miracle" round to the fullest at Oakmont at every given possibility? Because: he's candid. Too his credit, Johnny Miller is the only golf announcer on TV with the stones to say what everybody else is thinking, namely about players' emotions in major-championship play. While Jim Nantz and the other WASPs in the booth lament about how "It's too bad Mickelson couldn't pull this one off," Johnny offers a reason (and kicks Lefty while he's down): "Yeah, Phil choked here, Rog. Just made some atrocious decisions. Arguably the worst decision making we've every seen in major-championship history. He's gonna feel like hell tomorrow."

While no one is a bigger self-aggrandizing jackass, no one is better--that's why the controversial Johnny Miller remains in golf broadcasting.

And if you find it funny or annoying that I blog about golf...well...yeah, it kind of is. You see, back in '78, I shot a 63 in the final round at Oakmont...


p.s. Tiger's got this one on lock-down...playing in the final group with Baddeley, who will choke, only two strokes's over.

Gay Marriage: The Debate Continues

In one of the many comments made about our Friday editorial, one writer stated that the United States should get out of the marriage business. I couldn't agree more with that statement. The biggest issue with civil unions is the separate but equal aspect of the argument:

Civil unions are not equal to marriage, nor would they ever be considered so. Imagine a child asking his parents why some people can get married--like mommy and daddy--while others have civil unions. Regardless of what people say about civil unions, you are separating people into groups--again. We've tried this before, notably with ethnicity, and it didn't work.

The differences are clear: Some people are granted marriages (heterosexual partners exclusively), while others are given something...a little less (our homosexual counterparts.) And again the discrimination continues.

So here's the logical answer: Stop using the word marriage. The word itself carries religious implications, which shouldn't be allowed under our Constitution anyway. When a couple, gay or straight, decides to enter into a legal partnership, they should be granted a civil union by the state in which they live. If said couple wishes to include faith and religion into their partnership, they must ask their church, synagogue, mosque, etc. to grant a certificate of marriage. If a particular religion decides that homosexual relationships are sinful and prohibited by the laws of their faith, then no marriage certificate is granted.

But we have to change the language first: Civil unions for all, or civil unions for none. If you can't treat people equally, shame on your government's bumper sticker approach to "Freedom for all."

Rob Verhein
DI Editorial Writer

Friday, June 15, 2007

Gay Rights: The New Civil Rights Movement

I just wanted to add to our editorial today:

To many casual observers, my roommate is the ultimate meathead. He lifts six times daily, subsists solely on tuna fish and amino acids, and buys his whey protein wholesale (in such quantities that the three-gallon jugs dominate the top of our fridge, blocking access to my go-to healthy snack--Doublestuf Oreos). Yet, underneath his motorcycle helmet, there lies an unusually developed brain. Though he'd never admit it to his Iowa City Fitness buddies, the kid is a teeming intellectual, a shrewd political observer, and a social liberal. And, occasionally, he'll stop flexing his cheese-grater abs and dabble in profundity, transforming into Noam Chomsky in an Abercrombie polo.

A couple of months ago, he had one of those moments.

"You know what?" he said, suddenly waxing political. "I think in about 40 years, we're going to look back on the way we're treating gay people now like the way we treated black people 40 years ago, in the '60s."

It hit me. Why the hell didn't I think of that? That's a perfect way to describe rampant, harmful culture of homophobia that we cannot seem to escape in this country. It is no longer acceptable to spew the hateful N-word in public, or even to spell it out in print. Why, then, can one hear the derogatory use of the word "faggot" echo off of every wall of every college dorm, high-school basketball locker room, and GOP convention ballroom (see: Ann Coulter) in America on any given night?

What is this change-resistant juggernaut that's keeping us in the dark ages, subjecting people who are predisposed to liking members of the same sex to constant humiliation and utterly unequal protection under the law? Why, until the Iowa legislature extended protection to homosexuals in the state just months ago, was it LEGAL to NOT give a person a loan, or a job, or a home mortgage, simply because he or she was gay?

One of the most laughable arguments--and you hear right-wingers spouting this malarkey at alarming rates--is that, unlike race, homosexuality is a choice. This ludicrous assertion--that all gays are masochists who just love being pummelled by hate groups, discriminated against in all facets life, and ostracized from churches and society generally, and thus willingly choose to live as de facto second-tier citizens--is echoed by the same sad souls who believe "Creationism" should be taught alongside evolution, who deny research showing that homosexual males all seem to have this interesting little discrepancy on their X chromosomes that straight males don't happen to possess and identical-twin studies linking homosexuality to genetics, and who chalk up the fact that every other person in the free world has a gay uncle (who just happens to have been raised the exact same way in the exact same household as their straight father) as an example of "gay rebellion." Our only defense against people espousing this untenable belief is that they themselves will soon fall victim to Mr. Darwin's theory, a la the Reverend Jerry Falwell. RIP.

OK, so what else can the anti-gay religious right throw at homosexuals? "America was founded on Christianity, and Christianity says homosexuality is wrong, so we can outlaw gay marriage." Whoa, hold on. People actually say this. The same nation, Pat Robertson and and his crew claim, that specifically inserted a semi important (First Amendment) clause that "government shall respect no establishment of religion," that was conceived and delineated by documented atheists like Thomas Jefferson and deists like Ben Franklin, that was first colonized by people ESCAPING one-way theistic thought and religious persecution in England, was actually founded as a Christian state? I guess I don't follow...

So let's get down to the real problem: the fact that many Americans define "different" and "worse" the same exact way, i.e. "John is gay, so he's different than us," means the same thing to these people as "John is gay, so he's worse than us." The dilemma's simplicity makes it all the more troubling.

Until that mindset changes, Ann Coulter will still have Dale Earnhardt-status among the majority of Deep South-staters, and gays will be left where blacks were prior to 1964-65. If you believe this is OK, you're just as complicit as whites who looked the other way as blacks were denied access to the ballots and public facilities. If you're not an opponent, you're just another accessory.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bad news, or dumb public?

This morning as I read my Tribune and drank my soy milk I turned on MSNBC for some background noise in my post-sleepy-time routine. The generic female anchor informed me that the international space station's computers - the ones that control such minor luxuries as oxygen, water, and heat - had just crashed for the second time today, and NASA was scrambling to fix the problem. She then introduced someone nominally labeled as a space station expert. Just as the bespectacled techno-geek was beginning his first sentence the female anchor interrupted him and apologized fleetingly, explaining how imperative it was that the coverage break away from the space fluff story and cover the beginning of a critical press conference by a California law enforcement official. The purpose of the conference; Paris Hilton had been transferred to a new jail cell.

And there is the issue; is the problem that the media is more interested in reporting garbage or is the problem that the general public is more interested in reading garbage? Several highly-trained astronauts in a tin can weighing 450 metric tons (a heavy tin can) that sits miles above us in the sky might have some issues breathing and not freezing to death, but that's irrelevant compared to whether Paris Hilton needs an extra Prozac today? Aren't most people upset that they're in jail? Should someone maybe just step in there and slap her around a bit (I know I want to)? I understand there's a legitimate market for this human interest drivel, or magazines like People and US Weekly wouldn't exist, but can we please keep it separate from the real news of the day, the news that folks with an IQ larger than the common house fern might be interested in?

But is keeping the celebrity world and the real world separate going to do much towards clearing the clutter? The political blogs and news sites were littered with screaming headlines Thursday morning proclaiming that Tommy Thompson would have a big announcement to make at 2. Speculation ranged from Thompson dropping out of the race to a major policy plan. Instead, Thompson pulled a great big "gotchya" on the media involved by telling everyone that he was attending the immensely irrelevant popularity contest known as the Iowa Straw Poll; something he had announced in a press release on Wednesday. Evidently Thompson felt it necessary to make the same announcement again today and label it "big." Maybe he'll make an announcement tomorrow, that he's attending the Iowa Str....never mind. Don't count on the press being in your corner after that one, Tommy.

Thompson's stunt Thursday makes me believe that either some editors and newsroom chiefs and producers are making less intelligent decisions regarding coverage of issues or that - like a communicable disease - the stupidity is slowly spreading from the sections in newspapers labeled "Life" and "Tempo" and "Entertainment" to the sections closer to the front, closer to the relevant stuff, the stuff that actually may have an impact on our day-to-day lives. One of these two possible causes is behind the fact that I might wake up tomorrow and read about how Britney Spears decided that she likes the new Doritos flavor but I won't read about a possible new oil refinery being considered for construction that could drop gas prices nationwide.

Whoever is to blame for this increasing drivel in the papers and on the tube I just hope it stops. The Chicago Tribune limits their celebrity news coverage in a nice, neat, easily ignorable sidebar column once a week. It's appropriately titled "Celebrity Magazines: We read them so you don't have to."

Great. Can we do that everywhere else too?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Climbing the Poll

It’s official: Hillary Rodham Clinton is the new president-elect. Her victory was confirmed last week after narrowly defeating former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, the Republican nominee, in an election almost too close to call.

Never mind that the 2008 presidential election is still a year and a half away. Political pundits, party elites, and just about every political junkie in the United States are already analyzing an election that hasn’t happened. Relying on new polling data, these most educated individuals have begun dissecting a campaign season that hasn’t yet started; my hat is off to them. I can’t even predict the winner of the World Series before registering to play Fantasy Baseball.

With the Iowa caucuses still seven months away, it’s impossible to distinguish between frontrunners and most second-tier candidates in either party. In the world of politics, seven months is a lifetime. Congressional presidential candidates will face enough controversial bills this summer alone to make any campaign staff cringe. One wrong vote can spoil years of meticulous preparation.

Combine that with four hundred dollar haircuts for a Democrat that prides himself on aiding the poor, Beach Boys songs’ that shouldn’t be parodied by a former POW turned senator, and a Republican frontrunner’s constant defense of his pro-choice views, and you have one thing: Disaster waiting to happen.

Mitt Romney staffers have been quick to point to polling in New Hampshire that shows their candidate leading amongst likely Republican primary goers, yet they conveniently forget to mention national polls that have their horse running fourth.

The same applies to John Edwards, who has visited Iowa often enough in the last three years to gain residency here, something even I haven’t yet accomplished. His dedication to Iowans has done him well. He leads most statewide polls. Too bad he’s also running in fourth place nationwide, behind Senators Clinton and Obama. And some guy named Al Gore. I didn’t even think he was running.

In fact, if the former vice president is polling within the margin of error of Barack Obama, what does that say about polling? Al Gore has denied on many occasions that he plans to again seek the Democratic nomination; by now most Americans should know this (or at least those that respond to telephone interviews should.)

When given a dozen names to choose from, most people will choose the one most familiar to them. Hillary Clinton, who shares the same last name as her husband and the former president, has been in the national spotlight for fifteen years.

Rudy Giuliani is perhaps the most recognizable mayor in American history. If you didn’t know that he was the mayor of New York City on September 11, 2001, just wait a minute. He’ll remind you himself.

Mitt Romney is polling well in New Hampshire for one reason: The latest round of party debates were held there, and many pundits agree that Mr. Romney won the Republican debate.

Polls don’t mean anything. John Kerry was leading in several polls twenty-four hours before the 2004 presidential election. If you’re so convinced that polls are accurate, e-mail the Massachusetts senator and ask him how everything worked out.

Rob Verhein
DI Editorial Writer


"Cry havoc," are the words that Shakespeare puts into Antony's mouth as he predicts bloodshed and ruin. It appears that the Middle East has adopted them as a mantra.

The Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah have embarked on such a breathtaking spate of self-mutilation that describing it as a civil war seems almost insufficient: this, ladies and gentlemen is a conflagration.

I'm watching CNN right now, and I just saw a man go sprinting by the camera, firing an AK-47 with stiff, unnatural-looking arms down the street at a group of other people waving flags. A man shoves a child out of the way as the gunman passes, maneuvering the youth towards the other side of the street. He keeps his body between the gunman and the child; hunched and panicked. Now I'm looking at what can only be described as a pitched battle; dark-clothed fighters moving towards the enemy with the curious, crouching gait of soldiers as they pour round after round into an unseen enemy.

Hamas, the Islamist faction, appears to be winning. They wear a lot of black. Fatah fighters also wear a lot of black. I'd say that it must be difficult for them not to shoot their own people, but they seem to be managing just fine.

Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq are ferociously attacking each other's places of worship, demolishing mosque after mosque after mosque. I can't tell the sides apart on TV. I'd say that it must be difficult for them not to blow up their own mosques, but they seem to be managing just fine.

This is chaos; bloody and furious and entirely mindless. Past a certain point, there really isn't any cognitive activity involved in violence like this, just a perfect certainty cemented in the brain by adrenaline and terror and desperation that the whole world needs to die today.

There are times when we propose clever solutions. There are times when we critically analyze the problems and issues that lead to hellish violence like this. I can't; not just yet. I'm still too busy digesting the enormity of what amounts to three (3) civil wars happening at the same time in the most incendiary place on Earth.

I am, in fact, pretty furious myself.

Monday, June 11, 2007

U.S. finding unlikely ally in Iraq

The New York Times reported Monday that the United States is cooperating with Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Some insurgent groups have grown tired of the more radical actions committed by groups sympathetic to al-Qaeda, and have turned to the U.S. for weapons.

This has been widely implemented over the last few months in western Iraq, in the predominantly Sunni province of Anbar (the Times called it the "Anbar Model"). Once the most restive location in the country, and most dangerous for U.S. forces, Anbar has quieted down significantly. Sunni tribes have turned most of their attention from attacking U.S. forces and focused their energies on extremist Jihadist groups in the region.

Certainly, many of these insurgents have previously targeted U.S. forces, and many have American blood on their hands. Almost all resent the American occupation of Iraq, but have put aside these concerns - for the time being - in order to combat Islamist terrorists in the country.

General David Petraeus' pragmatic approach towards these groups demonstrates innovative thinking that all previous American commanders in the country have failed to show.

The Baghdad Surge, which seemed to have initial potential, has sputtered after Moqtada al-Sadr reemerged into the public sphere. Death squad killings are nearing pre-Surge levels, and many Sunnis in mixed enclaves in Baghdad are being forced out by Sadr's Mahdi Army and other Shiite militant groups, including the Badr Brigades of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (formerly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq).

While some complain that the U.S. is now supporting both sides in a civil war, the reality is far more complex. There is more than one civil war, with intra-sectarian fighting nearly as prevalent as inter-sect conflict.

Timetables for withdrawal would be disastrous for U.S. interests in the region. Domestic politics should not be an arena for foreign policy disputes. The base of the Democratic Party, and its presidential candidates, must put aside the possibility of political gains for such a vital foreign policy task. Pragmatic and nuanced actions, such as these temporary alliances with some Sunni insurgents, show that there is still a chance for a measured success in Iraq.

Thanks but no thanks, David Chase

(Spoiler alert: if you have not yet seen the Sopranos finale, you're going to hear about it somewhere. May as well be here. Read on...)

The Sopranos. It was once one of my favorite shows. But for some reason, in the last few years it's become more like a bad relationship. Most of us have had those relationships where we know that we should probably leave... we've been putting more into it than we're getting out of it for quite some time... yet, for some reason- we always stay a little too long.

but why?

Is it for the memories? There were some great times that we spent together back in the days when Tony kept Dr. Melfi a secret. When everything was so uncertain- if Big Pussy Bompensaro could become an informant and swim with the fishes, no one was safe! There was so much excitement back then.

And the laughs that we've had together. Tony's wacky dreams. Tony's mother was always good for a laugh. There was the time that Paulie was followed around by ghosts of the guys he had whacked. And the madcap episode in Pine Barrens where Paulie and Christopher's involvement with a Russian seemed more like a Three Stooges episode than The Sopranos. We sure did laugh over that one.

Ahhh, memories.

Of course, we had our rough spots: Janice.

But through the good times and the scenes with Janice in them, things eventually turned a bit sour. It's hard to pinpoint when. Maybe I stuck it out longer than some fans, but I really thought it was going to work out. Sure, the last three seasons have been anticlimactic, but they've had their moments of redemption. Didn't it make it season 5 worthwhile to watch Adriana puke on the FBI?

Okay, maybe I'm an enabler. The truth is that The Sopranos peaked somewhere around season 3, and it's not been able to live up to it's own standards ever since. Still, I could never give it up. I put up with the suspense of waiting months and months for the next season. I let James Gandolfini toy with my emotions each season he claimed it was going to be his last. I'm a tool, an enabler, codependent... all of those wishy-washy terms for "sucker." That's me.

When I sat down to watch the premiere of Season 6, part 2 (Part 2? That should've been a red flag right there!) I tried not to get my hopes up, but I wanted greatness. I'm glad that I didn't get my hopes up because I did not witness greatness. I finished that first episode of the return of season 6, and I said the same thing I've said for all 9 of the final episodes. "I'm so glad this is over." I never stopped watching, though. I sat through every single episode and waited it out. After about 3 of the final 9 episodes, I started to get anxious. Why was everything moving at such a slow pace? There were a lot of loose ends to tie up over the last 8 years, and the scenes were dragging on and on with more Janice, and the disturbed young son of Vito Spatafore. The sixth season was producing even more sappy stories that I just wanted to fast-forward through. But of course I didn't, I just waited and pinned all of my hopes onto the series finale. Last night, I was ready.

I watched with a friend who was certain that Tony was going to die. This is about the 8th time that he's been certain that Tony was going to die, but this time he was really really certain that it was going to happen approximately 21 minutes into the episode. (And I thought I was a sucker!) I was not on board with Tony dying in the finale, I was sure that the episode would end and the credits would roll without any of us knowing if Tony was still alive or not. I guess you could say that's true. It wasn't entirely clear what the guy in the Members Only jacket was up to, and we don't know what Meadow saw when she opened the door of that diner. It doesn't matter. What matters is that everything that has been frustrating me about this show culminated in the final scene. Everything that's been making me miserable: the obscurities, the unresolved plot lines- they were all there in one final "screw you!" from David Chase. So, no one knows what happened to Tony and the family. The final episode suggested even more possibilities than those they had been building to. Did the chummy FBI guy convince them to enter the witness protection program? Who knows?

David Chase, that's who. David Chase is the one who has been keeping this dysfunctional tv show/audience relationship going for years. I should have broken it off years ago, but I couldn't find it in myself to let go. Now, I have no choice but to give it up and I'm left with that final image of onion rings and bad parallel parking. What was it all about? What did it all mean?

I'll tell you what it means for me... I'm a sucker.
I'm so glad it's over.
RIP: The Sopranos, 1999-2007.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Stop Being Humble, Al

Why hasn't Al Gore decided to run for president again? This question has puzzled political pundits, thousands of likely Democratic caucus and primary voters, and at least one DI columnist: Me.

I'm not trying to argue that Al Gore would win in the general election, but at least a few of you are thinking the same thing as me--the man did win the popular vote in 2000. It's not a far stretch to say he couldn't do it again. (And maybe, with any luck, he might take the Electoral College, too.)

Surely the former vice president has realized that he could accomplish more in one day as president than he ever will as the celebrity and political face of the environmental movement. There are few that question his intentions; since he repeatedly refuses to throw his hat into the race, it's difficult to say he's politicizing global warming in attempt to launch himself to the front of the Democratic field of presidential nominees. If he does choose to run, there may be some that will consider his Inconvenient Truth lecture series and movie a political stunt. If they're right, it'd be one successful stunt at that.

In a FOX News/Opinions Dynamics Poll released today, Gore is running in third place behind Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama among likely likely primary goers, ahead of John Edwards. Now you might consider the poll forgettable, as FOX News had a hand in it. But it's not all that discouraging. Numerous other polls have revealed the same thing.

People want Gore to run. And, if you consider the margin of error of the FOX News poll, Gore could conceivably land himself in second place, as he's within the M.O.E. of Obama.

Maybe Al Gore doesn't want to be president. Maybe he doesn't think he could win. But he wanted to be president eight years ago, and many argue he did win then. Why not give it a chance, Al? What do you have to lose? The presidency? That already happened once, and you seem to be doing just fine.

Rob Verhein
DI editorial writer