Friday, July 25, 2003

Ruminating on a Recall

You know, I'm beginning to think that the recall effort against Gray Davis may turn out to be a huge boondoggle for the Republicans. Why? Consider the numbers. Davis currently polls in the low 20s on approval rating. The most recent poll had the recall winning, barely, by 51-49. Not great, but pretty good considering Davis' popularity. People tend to be more radical in their response to polls on heated subjects, especially when it is not clear that it will really happen. But, when they walk into the voters booth and have to actually pull that lever they tend to be much more conservative (in the traditional sense of "don't rock the boat" conservatism). I come from Oregon, the most citizen initiative intense state in the country. Some years we have had as many as 25 measures on the ballot. The initial response to hot button issues may lean one way, but as the campaign progresses and people hear more sides and then finally cast their ballots they take it a lot more seriously and the measures often go down to defeat. I also think the whole image of Republicans being able to buy the Governorship, even if the winner on the replacement ballot only gets 20-30% of the vote, will just strike a lot of people as unfair. I think Davis has already reached the low point in the polls as far as the recall is concerned. I think the momentum will shift in the upward direction now that it has become a reality. My prediction: it will fail with numbers in low 40s (if that).

Baker to Iraq?

Kevin Drum is understandably confused about the story today that Jim Baker might be heading to Iraq:
I was mulling over this story during lunch, trying to figure out what it means, and I'm having a hard time. Baker is obviously a very senior guy, he has lots of international experience, and he's practically the Bush family consigliore, so in some way it makes sense that he might be chosen to head up Iraq. The problem is, he's not being chosen to head up Iraq. He's being chosen for a very specific role: "physical and economic reconstruction." As far as I know, Baker has no expertise in this area at all, so it's hard to see what he brings to the table. Wouldn't a better choice be some high profile executive who's actually had a lot of experience bossing big infrastructure projects? Or maybe a Wall Street economic guru? The only thing I can figure out that's unique to Baker is that he's completely loyal to the Bushes. There must be something about Bremer that Bush doesn't like, so he wants to get somebody over there that he completely trusts, someone that he knows won't be pursuing an agenda of his own. That's the best I can come up with at the moment anyway. Unless, of course, Bremer is just completely screwing things up and Bush is getting set to throw him overboard.
It seems pretty obvious to me what is going on: 1) Bremer is yet another failed administrator (the 2nd one so far) 2) The Bushies don't want to admit this because it will be yet another blow to their prestige at a time when they definitely don't need it. 3) The Bushies don't want Iraq to continue to fall apart because that ALSO would be a blow to their prestige. So.... 4) Send in Baker under a title that appears to have little real power, but put him in charge behind the scenes and retain Bremer as a figure head. They avoid having to admit another failure while getting a REAL fixer in there. Of course, Iraq might be a little harder to fix then Florida.

The bat is back!

Many positive things can be said about the Dean team, but one thing they REALLY know how to do is to rally the support of their base in order to make a point about fundraising: that Democrats CAN match Bush dollar for dollar. This weekend they are going to try and prove it:
On Monday, July 28th, Vice President Dick Cheney will raise $250,000 from a handful of special interest contributors at a luncheon in Columbia, South Carolina. Let's show Dick Cheney that the grassroots have the power to take on the special interests that have bought the Bush administration. Let's show George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that we will not let our government be sold to the highest bidder. To take on Dick Cheney and George W. Bush-- to beat back the special interests-- the Dean campaign is "Bringing Out the Bat" this weekend. Our goal is to raise $250,000 in online contributions by midnight, Monday, July 28th. You can take part. You can show George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that the grassroots campaign for Howard Dean is going to send them packing.
They have provided the HTML necessary to add the bat to other web pages, so I have done so to the left (and yes, I've contributed to it as well).

The President Has Misled Us

Howard Dean made the following statement today while campaigning in Iowa: "When George W. Bush ran for president three years ago, he promised us an era of responsibility in Washington--instead we've got an era of irresponsibility unparalleled in our history. A week after discovering that the cost of occupying Iraq will be double the original estimates, we found out that the nation's deficit is 50 percent higher than estimated just five months ago. In fact, during his two-and-a-half years in office, the President has misled us, the American people, on nearly every policy initiative his administration has put forth. "Trust and credibility are at the very heart of the relationship between a government and its people. And that trust demands that leaders level with the people about what they are doing, the reason they are doing it and the consequences of their actions. The very soul of democracy is at risk when leaders are not straight and truthful with the people. more...
This is what is known as a "big picture" statement. Dean uses the lies about Niger Uranium as a launching point to list the repeated deceptions of the Bush administration on nearly every issue for the last three years, both foreign and domestic.
ASSERTION: President Bush: “Government cannot manage or control the economy.” (President Bush’s budget message, 2/3/2003) TRUTH: George W. Bush’s administration cannot manage or control the economy.
Speak it brother!

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Still ragin'

Sweet baby James speaks the plain truth: "If you can't say the simple fact that they lied to get us in and have no idea how to get us out, then there's something wrong with America."

So much for a great victory

There are few outside the most loyal Saddamites who would say that the passing of Udai and Qusai is not something to cheer the mind at least a little. But still there is an important question that needs to be asked and, surprisingly, some in the establishment media are asking it:
Excessive Force? The U.S. military is celebrating the deaths of Saddam’s sons. But some are questioning whether Uday and Qusay could—and should—have been taken alive By Rod Nordland NEWSWEEK WEB EXCLUSIVE July 23 — It was much-needed tangible proof that America was making progress in the war in Iraq. After several weeks of drooping morale and a daily, if single-digit body count, the U.S. military on Tuesday announced its soldiers had killed Saddam Hussein’s sons in a ferocious firefight in their Mosul hideout. AMERICAN OFFICIALS crowed about it, troops around Iraq high-fived each other, friendly Iraqis fired their guns in the air in celebration. Even the stock markets rose on the news. Certainly only a few diehards mourned the passing of Uday and Qusay Hussein; the regime’s Caligula and its Heir Apparent were if anything despised and feared even more than their dad. But as details became clearer of the raid that eliminated what the U.S. military calls High Value Targets (HVTs) Nos. 2 and 3, a lot of people in the intelligence community were left wondering: why weren’t they just taken alive? Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez answers questions at a press conference in Baghdad on Wednesday At a news briefing today, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, squirmed his way past that question repeatedly. It was, he said, the decision of the commander on the ground based on the circumstances and his judgment—”and it was the right decision.” But was it? Who beside the sons might have better information about the one HVT that really matters, Saddam? “The whole operation was a cockup,” said a British intelligence officer. “There was no need to go after four lightly armed men with such overwhelming firepower. They would have been much more useful alive.” But Sanchez insisted it wasn’t overkill. “Absolutely not. Our mission is to find, kill or capture high-value targets. We had an enemy that was barricaded and we had to take measures to neutralize the target.”
This brings up what is quickly becoming known as the Noriega option: why, once we knew where Udai and Qusai were holed up, couldn't we simply surround the house they were in and starve them out? Why couldn't we blast their compound 24 hours a day with a mixture of Cher, Neil Sedaka and Ah Ha! until they begged to be dragged off to camp X-ray? Wouldn't they have provided a lot of useful information about where there father is? Couldn't they have provided information about where the WMD are? Was it really necessary to blast them back to hell? It's only been, what, 48 hours since this great victory and already the administration is already starting to feel the heat from these questions. I would say the flower is definitely off the vine as far as the media's love affair with the Bush administration is concerned. Note: I'm not saying the soldiers who attacked the house were ordered to kill the brothers. But I have to wonder if the frustration of our military forces might have lead them, once they received sign of resistence, to say, "Fuck it! Let's waste them!"

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

George 'fesses up

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The speech that I gave was cleared by the CIA, and the thing that’s important to realize is that we’re constantly gathering data. Subsequent to the speech, the CIA had some doubts. But when I gave-when they talked about the speech, when they looked at the speech, it was clear. Otherwise I would not have put it in the speech.
Well, that answers THAT question

Google News Poll for 7/23/2003

  This Week (7/23) Last Week (7/16)
1 John Kerry 4880 19.3% -0.7 1 5580 20.1%
2 Howard Dean 4280 17.0% -0.4 2 4840 17.4%
3 Bob Graham 3830 15.2% +1.0 3 3940 14.2%
4 John Edwards 2580 10.2% -0.7 4 3050 11.0%
5 Joe Lieberman 2510 10.0% +1.0 6 2500 9.0%
6 Dennis Kucinich 2420 9.6% +0.1 5 2630 9.5%
7 Dick Gephardt 2080 8.2% +0.3 7 2200 7.9%
8 Al Sharpton 1590 6.3% -0.7 8 1950 7.0%
9 Carol Moseley Braun 1050 4.2% +0.2 9 1110 4.0%

Best performers for the week as far as improving media share were Bob Graham and Joe Lieberman. Graham's share may be going up in anticipation of (finally!) the release of the 9/11 report. Look to see him get good coverage in the coming week.

Why Lieberman's share went up I couldn't tell you but he did earn enough to push Kucinich back in the rankings. But really no one had any significant movement on the charts (significant being defined as more than one percentage point change).

(Methodology: All numbers are taken from the hit counts when searching on the Google News Service for news stories containing each candidate's name. Click on each name to rerun the search. You will likely get different results as the numbers are constantly changing. I make absolutely no claim that these numbers have any real meaning.)

A hopeful sign for the future

So, the Republican led House of Representatives voted 400-21 to rescind the recent attempt by the FCC to weaken media monopoly rules. This is a surprising development on several levels. First of all there is the fact that so many Republicans, especially HOUSE Republicans, would essentially vote in favor of media regulation (using the equivalent of the Republican "tax hike" argument that says that if you vote to repeal something that hasn't come into effect you are effectively voting to impose the thing that would have been repealed). At the next level there is the fact that they would do so in the face of a veto threat from their commander in chief. And then finally there is the fact that Bush would make this kind of threat without knowing in advance that it would be so badly repudiated. The last is perhaps the most startling development. Bush, recall, has yet to use his veto power. In fact, the Bushies like to brag about the fact that they haven't had to do so. It indicates the degree to which they control the legislative agenda that just the mere whisper that they might do it can keep the Congress from passing something that Bush doesn't like. That the Republicans in the House still passed this under such a threat indicates a couple of things: (1) they aren't as afraid of the threat as they used to be (could this be fallout from the WMD scandal?) and (2) the WH congressional liaisons really dropped the ball in not seeing that the threat would be brushed off so soundly. Could this be an indication that the Bushies are losing their touch when it comes to dictating the debate in Washington? We can but hope.

Worrying about the future

Over on one of the Howard Dean mailing lists someone posted a question asking what our strategy should be if everything breaks Bush's way for the next year. If (1) Saddam is captured and/or killed, (2) bin Laden is captured and/or killed, (3) no major terrorist attacks happen, and (4) the economy switches into a strong recovery (high growth, dropping unemployment, deficit starts going down, etc.) then what should Dean do? My simple answer: lose. Seriously. If everything breaks Bush's way then of course Bush is going to win re-election. This is pretty much axiomatic as far as electoral politics is concerned. When things are going right you don't change course. The thing about it is that it is highly unlikely that everything will break Bush's way for the next year. So why bother sweating about this kind of stuff? Really, I think it is pointless to fret about unlikely contingencies, especially when those contingencies pretty much make your case hopeless. In fact, this is a problem that often derails political campaigns: worrying so much about your opponent getting all the breaks. We need to concentrate on what we know now, not what might be the case in the future. When you are in a crisis you don't worry about what you are going to do six months from now.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Time for a Special Prosecutor?

There have been calls for criminal investigations into the growing WMD scandal but really this has been mostly wishful thinking because, until now, there hasn't actually been any credible allegations of criminal conduct that needed investigating. That has changed with the allegation that "senior administration officials" may have divulged national security information (the name of a CIA asset) in order to smear one of its critics. For the first time this scandal has broadened into a clear allegation of criminal conduct which should require a Justice department investigation. Of course, Ashcroft cannot be trusted with such an investigation. Since the Independent Counsel law has lapsed, that means that a Special Prosecutor(*) needs to be appointed to investigate this matter. You think Bush will go along with such an investigation? (*) The primary difference between an IC and an SP is that an IC was answerable to the special court on independent investigations (Sentelle et. al) while an SP is appointed by the Attorney General directly and can, theoretically, be fired by him (think Archibald Cox). An SP, however, has full authority to empanel grand juries, issue subpoenas and take people to court without having to first get the authorization of the AG. Update: Bush Wars has a good run down of the evolution of the latest scandal. Here's the Robert Novak column that started it all.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Book Recommendation

I am currently reading a fascinating book called Captain America and the Crusade against Evil -- The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism by Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence. Jewett and Lawrence argue in their book that American political history has been dominated at various times by two conflicting biblical traditions. The first is zealous nationalism, a tradition that "seeks to redeem the world by destroying enemies." The second is Prophetic Realism, a tradition that "seeks to redeem the world for coexistence by impartial justice that claims no favored status for individual nations." America is a study in conflicting personalities. At times it wants to be that "shining city on the hill" that is an example to the rest of the world of how to live. At other times it simply wants to "rid the world of evil doers" in the zealous belief that doing so will usher in the eternal peace of the kingdom of God. The problem, of course, with the latter belief is that it never quite seems to work and ultimately leads to a dispirited sense that America has lost its way which can then lead to a new revival of the zealous spirit to go out and try it again but this time do it right. What I find interesting about this book is the sense I have that the tendency towards zealous nationalism is almost unavoidable given our human desire to meet out justice to wrong doers. That desire is often frustrated by the practical limitations of day-to-day life and that frustration eventually boils over into a feverish zealotry that often results in even more injustice. Yet can such zealotry ever be defeated purely by rational arguments? I think not and Jewett and Lawrence seem to argue the same thing. Instead what appears to be needed is the continued development and support of a prophetic realism that will counter our natural zealous tendencies. In a way, the only argument that seems to win out over a religiously inspired sense of "being on a mission from God" is to also appeal to a religious sense to "let God's will be done" but to not become so arrogant as to presume that we can ever know what God's will is. I've been thinking long and hard about this over the last several years and it seems to me that one of the most important, yet least appreciated, of the ten commandments is the commandment against idolatry. I think many people forget this commandment because they are under the mistaken impression that it is an obsolete rule that applied primarily to a time when the early Israelites were fighting against "heathen idolaters" who were occupying the Promised Land. But idolatry is not simply a matter of graven images. It is an insidious idea that presumes that man has the ability to create any artifice, whether it is stone, wood, or even mere thought, that could contain the magnificence of God. Indeed, idolatry, in its most basic form, is an attempt by man to control the powers of God and make them submit to man's will. The heresy in presuming that we can identify and quantify God's will is the heresy that says that man can be equal to God. I think THAT is what the second commandment is all about. The first commandment tells us not to put any god's on the same footing with God. The second commandment tells us not to put OURSELVES on his level as well. The zealot presumes that he can understand God's will. The zealot mistakes his own will for the divine Will and that ultimately leads to the destruction of the zealot and much of what they fought for in the first place. The problem, of course, is that the zealot cannot be dissuaded by an appeal to rationalism. Thus he must be opposed by an appeal to spirituality that is as strong as their own zealous impulses. It may be that the only way to defeat the "armies of God" is with God.

The sounds of silence

Sorry for the lack of posts for the last few days. I've been out of town on vacation, blissfully disconnected from all the interesting things going on. Once I get back into the groove of things I'll be posting again.