Between the Lines
February 27, 2004
|Global warming: a threat worse than terrorism?
I took a look at this piece in The Observer on Monday, then set it aside. It seemed slightly hysterical. After all, the authors of the report on which the story is based say its contents represent the “worst case.”
As it has been digested in the political, scientific and environmenal communities, however, the report for the Pentagon has taken on a life of its own. The report, done by a couple of futurists (one of whom, at age 82, is known as Yoda), was never “secret,” as the Observer suggested and has been released publicly.
Nonetheless, the worst case it forsees is, indeed, bad:
Global warming leads to the melting of glaciers, which in turn flood the oceans with fresh water, leading to severe cooling in the Northern Hemisphere. Shorelines encroach on coastal cities. The shutdown of warming ocean currents plunges Britain into winters of Siberian intensity. Europe and America become fortresses trying, perhaps futilely, to protect the food, water and energy resoures their populations need.
Military confrontations over natural resoures – including possible nuclear war – would be come commonplace. And so forth.
The scariest part of the report is that this could all happen quite suddenly – as in the next 5 to 15 years, according to the report’s authors, Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall. They write:
"The purpose of this report is to imagine the unthinkable—to push the boundaries of current research on climate change so we may better understand the potential implications on United States national security.
“We have interviewed leading climate change scientists, conducted additional research, and reviewed several iterations of the scenario with these experts. The scientists support this project, but caution that the scenario depicted is extreme in two fundamental ways. First, they suggest the occurrences we outline would most likely happen in a few regions, rather than globally. Second, they say the magnitude of the event may be considerably smaller.
“We have created a climate change scenario that although not the most likely, is plausible, and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately."
Tom Regan of the Christian Science Monitor has a good overview of reactions to the report and several links to articles about it.
Now, will our “war president” also become a “global warming president?” Well, in five years it'll be someone else's problem.
|Posted by tbrown at 02:53 PM
|Does Greenspan want to destroy Social Security?
Yes, says Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post (free site registration may be required).
“ … over the last week, in a remarkable series of talks, Greenspan has decided to cash in his personal credibility, as well as the reputation of the Federal Reserve System, to push a radically conservative agenda while serving as cheerleader for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign,” writes Pearlstein.
“Greenspan was in full Republican dress Wednesday during his appearance before the House Budget Committee. Describing the long-term deficit outlook in bleak terms, he urged Congress to cut back on future benefit levels for Social Security and Medicare -- not coincidentally, the necessary political predicate to the private accounts that top the Bush-Cheney agenda.
“Then, without missing a beat, Greenspan declared that it would be a bad idea to try to balance the budget by raising taxes in any way, effectively embracing the lunatic notion that cutting taxes will generate more government revenue, not less, by stimulating additional economic growth. This theory, of course, was disproved both during the 1980s, when taxes were cut and the deficit swelled, and the 1990s, when taxes were raised and deficits turned to surplus. It also suggests the intriguing proposition that the optimal tax rate is zero, which no doubt has some appeal to Greenspan's inner libertarian.”
Blogger Billmon also has an excellent post on the “The Two Faces of Alan Greenspan.”
|Posted by tbrown at 02:43 PM
February 26, 2004
|The Kerry avalanche explained (in part)
Before Christmas, Sen. John Kerry’s presidential ambitions seemed vaporous at best. Then, suddenly, he won in Iowa and New Hampshire and has been unstoppable since. There are two parts to this story that have gotten little attention. One is the genesis and impact of attack ads aimed at Howard Dean. The other is an intriguing look by a sociologist at human “social decision-making” – in this case, why people vote as they do.
The ads: Interestingly, the beginning of Dean’s decline coincided with attack ads paid for by the conservative Club for Growth and a Democratic group called Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values.
The Club for Growth’s assertion that Dean would “raise taxes on the average family by more than $1,900 a year”** no doubt hurt the former Vermont governor. But the man-bites-dog attack by Americans for Jobs etc. is more interesting. This group, which the Dean campaign claimed was cobbled together by the “Democratic establishment” to derail his campaign, raised $663,000 from a handful of donors and spent $626,400 of it on three ads aimed at Dean.
Among the donations was $100,000 from Yankee Entertainment & Sports Network LLC, owned by George Steinbrenner (as if we needed another reason to dislike the Yankees).
Also among the major donors were former Sen. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, a Kerry supporter, who gave $50,000, and labor unions that supported Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, who was still in the race then. The unions included The International Longshoremen's Association, Laborers International Union and International Association of Machinists, which gave $50,000 each; the International Association of Ironworkers, $25,000; and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, $5,000.
Dean’s campaign had plenty of problems of its own making – among them burning through $41 million in campaign contributions before even getting to the primaries and caucuses themselves – and a candidate whose personality probably condemned him to be a placeholder for the eventual nominee in any case. But the ads no doubt accelerated the governor’s slide.
Social decision-making: Meanwhile, to the surprise of many, including me, Kerry experienced an amazing resurrection. How? For this, we turn to a most interesting piece by sociologist Duncan Watts at Slate.
Watts recalls some groundbreaking research in the 1950s that appeared to pretty conclusively demonstrate that many people are influenced by the preceding decisions of others to a far greater extent than they’re aware. One example:
“Princeton social psychologist Solomon Asch showed a room of participants a series of slides displaying sets of vertical lines. Two of these lines were clearly the same length, while the others were obviously very different. The subjects were then given the seemingly trivial task of identifying which pair of lines were the same. But there was a trick: Everyone in the room except for one person had been instructed beforehand to give the same incorrect answer. The real subject of the experiment was the lone unwitting participant, and the real test was of an individual's ability to disagree with his or her peers. Asch demonstrated a stunning effect: Faced with a decision that, in isolation, no one would ever get wrong, the unwitting subjects went against the evidence of their own eyes about one-third of the time.”
The same thing, Watts says, happens all the time in daily life – including the polling booth. Many people tend to imitate the actions of others. Thus, when Kerry unexpectedly trounced Dean in Iowa, the stampede was on. Kerry’s ascension and Dean’s defeat became inevitable.
“In many situations,” Watts writes, “social decision-making isn't a bad idea at all. After all, the world is a complicated place, and other people often do have information that we lack. So, we can often do reasonably well, or at least no worse than the people we are copying, by letting them do the hard work for us. But sometimes the people we are copying aren't working either, and that's where the problems come in. When everyone is looking to someone else for an opinion—trying, for example, to pick the Democratic candidate they think everyone else will pick—it's possible that whatever information other people might have gets lost, and instead we get a cascade of imitation that, like a stampeding herd, can start for no apparent reason and subsequently go in any direction with equal likelihood.”
Read it all. It’s interesting stuff.
** Footnote: The Club for Growth appears to have added up all of President Bush’s No Plutocrat Left Behind tax cuts that primarily benefited precisely the class of people represented by the Club for Growth and divided by the number of U.S. households to come up with the “average family” figure. Just as the “average family” never received a $1,900 tax cut from Bush, neither would it have gotten a $1,900 bigger tax bill from a Dean administration.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:44 PM
A little Democratic bigotry: Here’s a charming episode. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat, attacked Bush administration policy toward Haiti as “racist” and those carrying it out “a bunch of white men.” One of them, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, took exception. "As a Mexican-American, I deeply resent being called a racist and branded a white man," he said. Brown then waded into even murkier water by telling him "you all look alike to me." Lovely, don’t you think?
The administration really wanted more time for the 9/11 commission: Talk about bogus. Josh Marshall debunks it for us. One commission member, former Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska (yes, he’s a Democrat) may resign because of the administration’s lack of cooperation with the commission.
One neocon down: Richard Perle, one of the intellectual godfathers of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, resigns from the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. About time.
Senators do well -- really well -- in the stock market: There’s a new academic study out that shows U.S. senators’ stock portfolios outperformed the market by 12 percent a year in the five years up to 1998. Very, very few professionals can do this. So how do our representatives back in D.C. do it? “The results clearly support the notion that members of the Senate trade with a substantial informational advantage over ordinary investors," says the author of the report, Professor Alan Ziobrowski of the Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. Ah, insider trading. Could it be that Martha Stewart is the wrong target?
Students against creation “science”: It appears these kids prefer the real thing. "If you want to worship, go to church,” said Ben Gade, a freshman. “If you want to learn about science, go to the public schools." Let’s elect him to the school board.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:37 PM
February 25, 2004
|We’ll be in Iraq for how long?
Decades, says former Gen. Jay Garner, our first Iraq administrator. He thinks we ought to view it like the Philippines. We acquired them after the Spanish-American war and maintained forces there until the Filipinos finally asked us to leave after the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos. "To me that's what Iraq is for the next few decades. We ought to have something there ... that gives us great presence in the Middle East. I think that's going to be necessary." he said in an interview with National Journal.
What a pleasant prospect. There is, however, a small problem:
“Iraqi Shiite Leader Seyyid Ali Al-Sistani yesterday warned that he would call for an intifada (uprising) if American soldiers stayed in Iraq after the hand-over of power on June 30, 2004.”
So far we’ve had to deal only with an uprising by groups from the minority Sunni Muslim population. If there is, indeed, an uprising by the Shiites, problems for our troops in Iraq will escalate dramatically, and perhaps irretrievably.
This may be jawboning by Sistani to prod the U.S. to meet the scheduled transfer of governing authority from the U.S. back to the Iraqis on June 30, as scheduled, not necessarily the removal of all troops. Let’s hope.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, attacks by the Taliban have reached their highest level since before the hard-line Islamic government collapsed after the U.S. invasion:
“Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, who heads the Defense Intelligence Agency, called the continuing Taliban attacks aimed at humanitarian and reconstruction efforts ‘a serious threat, potentially eroding commitments to stability and progress in Afghanistan.’ "
|Posted by tbrown at 01:57 PM
|Congress may go slow on the gay-marriage ban
President Bush favors amending the Constitution to ban gay marriage, but he really has no say over what happens beyond lending the prestige of his office to the debate. It’s strictly a matter, first, for Congress, and the GOP leadership there seems somewhat less than enthusiastic about tackling it.
It takes a two-thirds majority of each house to pass a constitutional amendment, which then must be sent to the individual states for ratification by at least 38 of them. The two-thirds hurdle is a high one, and it’s clear the GOP leadership has nowhere near the necessary votes at the moment. For one thing, not all Republicans favor an amendment. Even if they did, they’d need support from a significant number of Democrats to get it passed. Democrats are not in a particularly helpful mood these days.
“We're looking at other ways of doing it, knowing that it will be very difficult to pass a constitutional amendment both through the House and the Senate," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) told reporters. "The groups that are for a constitutional amendment are split over what it would be. We're trying to bring them all together and unify them. That's going to take some time."
The arguments about same-sex marriage, however, are in full bloom.
At the Wall Street Journal (site registration required), Mary Ann Glenndon, a Harvard law professor, claims that extending the rights of marriage to same-sex couples would increase taxes (for Social Security) and insurance premiums. Would it? Beats me, but it seems safe to guess that it would in the case of Social Security. No doubt this will be quantified as the debate rolls on.
She also asks this somewhat muddled apples-and-oranges question: “How can one justify treating same-sex households like married couples when such benefits are denied to all the people in our society who are caring for elderly or disabled relatives whom they cannot claim as family members for tax or insurance purposes? Shouldn't citizens have a chance to vote on whether they want to give homosexual unions, most of which are childless, the same benefits that society gives to married couples, most of whom have raised or are raising children?”
I hope this is a rhetorical question, since in the real world no citizens, other than those who are members of Congress or state legislatures*, will get to vote on this anyway.
Columnist Crispin Sartwell’s argument makes a lot more sense to me:
“Amending the Constitution is required to ban gay marriage, because the document gives the federal government no jurisdiction whatever over marriage. It shouldn't. It never was meant to. And the proposed amendment fundamentally contradicts other aspects of the Constitution:
“The first amendment guarantees of freedom of religion and of association.
“The ninth and 10th amendment limitations on the power of the federal government.
“The equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.
“More frightening, it asserts an absurdly intrusive power over the private lives of each of us, whether we are gay or not. …”
* Footnote: UCLA law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh points out that Congress could, if it wanted, require the states to hold constitutional conventions to consider ratification of an amendment, rather than giving state legislators that job. In that case, a few more citizens would be able to vote directly on the amendment. Volokh’s post explores the possible political rationales for choosing one route over the other.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:54 PM
|‘Manufacturing’ burgers and fries
U.S. Rep. John Dingell of Michigan was not amused when Gregory Mankiw, chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in effect that a) jobs are now just another commodity in international trade and b) definitions of what constitutes manufacturing are rapidly changing.
In a letter to Mankiw, Dingell wrote:
“I am sure the 163,000 factory workers who have lost their jobs in Michigan will find it heartening to know that a world of opportunity awaits them in high-growth manufacturing careers like spatula operator, napkin restocking and lunch tray removal. I do have some questions of this new policy and I hope you will help me provide answers for my constituents: …
“Will special sauce now be considered a durable good?”
Read it here.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:48 PM
February 24, 2004
|Consumer confidence tanks
The closely watched Conference Board assessment of consumer confidence dropped to its lowest level since October – and took its biggest one-month dive since before the Iraq war. The number, 87.3, came in below Wall Street’s already lowered expectations, and was down sharply from 96.4 in January.
The Conference Board’s survey has two components, current situation and future expectations. Both were down. The expectations component is considered particularly important as a gauge of likely consumer spending six months or so into the future. Consumer spending is ultimately responsible for about two-thirds of U.S. economic output.
Many analysts believe that tax refunds will help prop up the economy at least in the short term.
But the big issue is still jobs – or rather, the lack of them.
“Consumers began the year on a high note, but their optimism has quickly given way to caution,” said Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board’s Consumer Research Center. “Consumers remain disheartened with current economic conditions, and at the core of their disenchantment is the labor market. While the current expansion has generated jobs over the past several months, the pace of creation remains too tepid to generate a sustainable turnaround in consumers’ confidence. And, with consumers anticipating economic conditions to remain about the same in the months ahead, their short-term outlook turned less optimistic.”
The job recovery from the recession that began early in 2000 has been among the most sluggish on record.
|Posted by tbrown at 02:03 PM
While the conference board was readying its numbers for release today, President Bush was opening his re-election bid. His key assertions: he’s doing a good job in the war on terror and on the economy:
“We have a record of historic achievement. And most important, we have a positive vision for the years ahead -- for winning the war against terror, for extending peace and freedom, and creating jobs and opportunity here at home.”
The president got in a couple of good jabs:
At his presumed Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry: “The other party's nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group, with diverse opinions: For tax cuts, and against them. For NAFTA, and against NAFTA. For the Patriot Act, and against the Patriot Act. In favor of liberating Iraq, and opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts.” (The Kerry camp denied he was inconsistent on these issues.)
At opponents of the war: “They now agree that the world is better off with Saddam Hussein out of power; they just didn't support removing Saddam from power. Maybe they were hoping he'd lose the next Iraqi election."
The one piece of news was that Vice President Dick Cheney, who is beginning to look more a detriment than a help to the president, will be on the ticket with him again:
“ … I have taken the measure of this man. They don't come any better, and I am proud to have Dick Cheney by my side.”
Otherwise, the speech – while highly partisan and, no doubt, what the solid GOP base wants to hear – struck me as both wooden and disingenuous. That may just be me. The full text is here. Decide for yourself.
Update: I guess it is just me. Bill Clinton's former chief speechwriter, who would have to be considered an expert witness, gives Bush high marks for this one.
|Posted by tbrown at 02:01 PM
|Bush will support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage
That’s the headline. The real story is that the amendment not only would ban gay marriage, it looks like it would deny them the rights of civil unions and domestic partnerships as well. Here’s what the proposed amendment says:
“Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.” It’s that “legal incidents thereof” that may extend the amendment beyond just marriage, as a law prof explains here.
Andrew Sullivan, an influential blogger and a gay, says Bush has “launched a civil war against the rights of gay citizens and their families.” He has a lot to say, and it’s well worth reading. He follows up with additional posts here.
Town Hall rounds up some of the pro-amendment sentiment, including this from the Heritage Foundation:
“Activist judges and local officials in several states have shown a disregard for laws which protect traditional marriage. By their precipitous action, these officials have sought to freeze out the voice of the people, creating a new social order by judicial fiat. It is now the prudent course-for the sake of constitutional government and the sake of marriage-to amend the United States Constitution to define marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman.”
Washington Post columnist William Raspberry has an excellent piece today centered around David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, who thinks the debate over same-sex marriage mostly misses the point:
“What got me into this whole field some 15 years ago was the disturbing phenomenon of father absence. Thirty-five percent of our children are living without their fathers, a fact that exacerbates a whole range of social problems — and almost the entire problem of father absence is due to heterosexual behavior. But that doesn't make the opponents of gay marriage wrong.
" … in a liberal society, a lot of our difficult choices are between two goods. That's the case here. There is the social good of equal dignity for all people. I support that. Equal dignity is a very American idea, in theory if not always in practice.
"On the other hand, if there is one thing in this life I know, it's that children need mothers and fathers. …”
|Posted by tbrown at 01:59 PM
February 23, 2004
|Keeping up with the Theodoms
One of the key principles that distinguishes the U.S. from, say, Afghanistan, is that historically we’ve resisted the urge to let the pulpit dictate government. We don’t, yet at least, live in One Nation Under Pat Robertson. But Robertson and others of his ilk certainly are trying.
In fact, their latest effort to get around the inconveniences of the traditional interpretation of the U.S. Constitution is profoundly disturbing. The heart of it is “The Constitution Restoration Act of 2004.” On its face, this bill would seem to allow public officials and lower courts to make decisions on religious grounds and prohibit any court, including the U.S. Supreme Court, from reviewing them.
Fortunately, a few people are watching these not-so-harmless folks.
We turn first to Seattle blogger and author David Neiwert, who provides an excellent overview.
Katherine Yurica provides more detail on the act itself.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:58 PM
February 20, 2004
|The new big issue
So far, President Bush and John Kerry, his presumed Democratic opponent, have avoided making gay marriage a prominent campaign issue. All that is about to change. Bush is said to be on the verge of not only endorsing a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage, but to committing himself to fight for it during the campaign. Kerry has attempted to stake out a middle-ground position (against gay marriage, but for partnership rights), but no doubt will be under pressure from the left wing of his party to oppose a constitutional amendment.
Here’s a roundup of news on an issue that is gaining momentum by the hour:
Bush to support amendment banning gay marriage
The president’s political director, Karl Rove told an alliance of conservatives known as the Arlington Group in a telephone conversation that Bush would back the amendment being put forward by Colorado Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave and that his statement would come "sooner rather than later."
San Francisco sues state over gay-marriage ban
The city of San Francisco, which has issued some 3,000 marriage licenses to gay couples in the last few days, sued the state of California, contending that a state ban on gay marriage – passed by initiative four years ago – violates the equal protection and due processes clauses of the state constituton.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the marriage licenses are illegal.
State Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer says he will defend the gay-marriage ban, Proposition 22 (as he is required to by law), but sounds like he agrees with the other side, saying he does not “personally support policies that give lesser legal rights and responsibilities to committed same-sex couples than those provided to heterosexual couples."
Religious principles are the foundation of two groups that have sued San Francisco to halt gay marriages. The attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund said "the homosexual lifestyle is immoral. It violates God's plan."
A poll shows Californians oppose gay marriage 51 percent to 43 percent. The level of support, however, is 6 points higher than it was in 2000 when Proposition 22 was passed.
Massachusetts governor seeks passage of a same-sex marriage ban
Gov. Mitt Romney wants a measure that would provide a “rational basis” for prohibiting gay marriage. The bill apparently would seek to legalize heterosexual marriage only on the basis of procreation and child-raising.
Elsewhere around the country
Oregon: Opponents of gay marriage filed four versions of a proposed initiative to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Only one measure is expected to be sent to the ballot.
Chicago: Mayor Richard Daley says he’d have no problem if his city clerk began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Illinois state law recognizes only heterosexual marriage.
Pennsylvania: The state legislature is too divided to reach agreement on a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a relationship between one man and one woman and postponed further consideration until March 11.
Utah: The state legislature adopted a new “Marriage Recognition Policy” that would bar state agencies from recognizing gay marriages performed in other states or giving same-sex couples the legal rights of inheritance, medical power of attorney and child custody assumed in a marriage between a man and a woman.
New Mexico: Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples on the ground that state law doesn’t specifically prohibit it. "If there are no legal grounds that say this should be prohibited, I can't withhold it,” she said. “This office won't say no until shown it's not permissible." The county, located north of Albuquerque, has a population of about 90,000.
Arizona: A non-binding resolution urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is working its way through the Legislature.
Georgia: The state Senate has passed a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, but it faces opposition in the House.
Alabama: The state has a law banning gay marriage, but is now considering a constitutional amendment.
Oklahoma: The state Senate spiked a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriages.
Indiana: Republicans in the state House may attempt to force a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Maine: The state House rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to make same-sex marriages illegal.
Canada: The Supreme Court of Canada in October hear the case of a Montreal gay couple who won a lower-court ruling that they could marry.
And, finally, Cambodia (yes, Cambodia): After watching TV accounts of the situation in San Francisco, King Norodom Sihanouk, 81, opined that same-sex marriages should be allowed in Cambodia.
|Posted by tbrown at 03:13 PM
|Amending the U.S. Constitution usually takes years
An amendment prohibiting gay marriage is high on the agenda of religious conservatives, but actually getting it done is likely to prove quite challenging. The Founders deliberately set a high hurdle for amendments to prevent transitory passions from being enshrined, and perhaps later regretted. (It did happen once anyway, with the 18th Amendment, which made prohibition of alcohol consumption part of the supreme law of the land, and the 21st Amendment, which repealed it.)
Thus, amending the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of each House of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the state legislatures (38 states).
The first 10 amendments, which became known as the Bill of Rights, were passed in 1791. In the subsequent 213 years, only 17 other amendments have been ratified. The majority dealt with expanding the civil rights of Americans or with adjustments to federal election law.
Here are links to the Constitution and all amendments.
|Posted by tbrown at 02:59 PM
February 19, 2004
|Now Edwards beats Bush in a poll matchup
John Edwards, the other candidate besides John Kerry who’s still realistically in the hunt for the Democratic nomination now also is running 10 points ahead of President Bush in a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll (Kerry has been ahead of Bush for some time in these hypothetical contests).
“In a head-to-head contest, 55 percent said they would choose Kerry for president over Bush, who drew the support of 43 percent. Edwards led the president 54 percent to 44 percent.” (The tables for the poll are available here.)
And Edwards has only won one out of the 15 Democratic primaries and caucuses so far.
Well, it’s early. We don’t have a Democratic candidate yet (though Kerry will have to be incredibly inept to lose it at this stage). The big leads for the Democrats cited above were among “likely voters,” who could, later, decide not to vote. Further, I never underestimate the capacity of the GOP to destroy Democratic candidates via whatever means is at hand. Neither do I underestimate Democratic candidates’ capacity for self-destruction.
But these numbers have got to be lighting up the West Wing like some giant … well … spinball machine.
Marc Racicot, Bush’s re-election campaign chairman, understandably is trying not to act overly concerned:
"There's been a huge focus on the Democratic primary, a lot of media coverage of those events ... huge amounts of money spent attacking the president. We predicted that we were probably going to be in a position where we would be trailing for a period of time, so I think that we've known all along that this is going to be a tough race," he said.
It’s too early to tell yet. Gallup, which conducted the poll, notes that among registered voters (in contrast to "likely" ones) there has been little change in sentiment recently (Kerry leads bush by 5 points among those registered, while Edwards and Bush are tied among this group).
“The larger fluctuation Gallup found among likely voters probably reflects the ebb and flow of news stories about the Democratic primaries, which in turn can affect the relative number of Democrats or Republicans in the ‘likely voter’ pool at any given point in time. During a period of intense coverage of Democratic primaries and caucuses, as occurred during the New Hampshire primary and more recently in anticipation of the Wisconsin primary, Democrats become especially interested in following the campaign -- a measure that boosts their chances of being included in the Gallup ‘likely voter’ model,” Gallup notes.
Earlier this month, with Kerry leading Bush by a slightly smaller margin than was reported today, Gallup posted a piece on its site analyzing seven presidential elections back to the 1948 Truman-Dewey contest.
“ … Gallup's historical polling shows it is rare for an incumbent to be trailing any named opponent at this early stage in the election year. The only other time an incumbent trailed his eventual challenger (or, for that matter, any other possible opponent tested) at this stage in the campaign was in 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter held a slight edge over incumbent Gerald Ford, 48% to 46%. (Carter eventually defeated Ford in a close election.)
“In seven other elections for which there are comparable data, the incumbent president led his eventual challenger when voters were asked in January or February about their current voting intentions. It should be noted that in a few elections in which the incumbent eventually won, such as those of Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Bill Clinton in 1996, the incumbent trailed the challenger at some point in trial-heat polls conducted in the year prior to the election year. …
“If history is any guide, Bush's current deficit in the trial-heat polls suggests that he could be in for a tough re-election fight,” Gallup said.
It’s a long way till November, but it looks like this fight won’t be a “cakewalk” for the president either.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:35 PM
February 18, 2004
|What Howard Dean left behind
The doctor from Vermont bowed out today, but he left behind a Democratic party whose backbone he almost single-handedly reconstructed. Little more than a year ago, Dean’s party, with its wan cast of presidential wannabes, seemed headed for certain defeat. Dean’s gusto for articulating the questions that bothered – and, yes, infuriated – many Democrats gave other candidates the fortitude to start worrying less about offending supporters of our “war president” and more about reconstituting Democratic positions on the war and the economy.
As Robert Kuttner writes in today’s Boston Globe, “Dean demonstrated that there was a real hunger -- and not just among the young -- for a candidate who would speak truth to power. In a sense, he made it safe for the rest of the Democratic field to be a lot tougher on Bush and his rogue foreign policy. If Bush today seems an incumbent with a glass jaw, history should give Howard Dean a lot of credit.”
Dean’s other singular accomplishment was to demonstrate that traditional Democratic machine politics is not all that counts. The record turnouts that have marked many of this year’s Democratic caucuses and primaries were in large part the result of Dean’s tireless campaigning, which energized the party’s base, drew in new voters and blazed an important electronic trail in fund-raising.
“In fact what happened is that in a virtual sense, the Internet was looking for a candidate, and Howard Dean fit the bill,” blogger Dave Winer wrote as Dean’s prospects began to dim. “He was bloggable. He was interesting. And get this, he was interesting if you were for the war, as well as if you were against it.
“The man is interesting, like him or not, and that's a rarity in US politics where candidates are as exciting as toothpaste or underarm deodorant, because that's exactly how they want us to view them, as products, not people. Enter Howard Dean, person. …”
Sometime newsman and Democratic operative Al Giordano put a slightly different twist on it. “The first chapter of Campaign 2004 has been written,” he wrote at the time of the Iowa caucuses. “The story begins with the discovery that Bush is not inevitable: that there are potential new Democratic voters out there, and that you can inspire them to vote, and that a lot of them ‘live’ on the Internet, is something that the other candidates and the Democratic Party are going to take a lot more seriously, looking down the road at November. No matter what happens, Dean's name will always be attached to the historical accounts of that advance.”
The question for Dean, and for John Kerry of whom he has been harshly critical, is what role he will play from here on. Dean is making no effort to remove his name from the ballot in states with upcoming primaries and he said today he would continue his effort to transform the Democratic party and support the eventual nominee. This is an edgy role and how he plays it will determine whether he continues to be a positive force in his party -- or something lesser.
Update: The New York Times campaign blog takes a bigger-picture look at Dean's candidacy and concludes that Dean had the chance to become the "uniter" Bush failed to be -- and blew it.
"In the end," writes Matt Bai, "the tragedy of Howard Dean's impressive grass-roots campaign is that he will be remembered not for any lasting reform agenda, but for the missed opportunity to create one."
He's right, but dismissing Dean's accomplishments as "merely tactical," as Bai does, misses part of the impact of the doctor's campaign. Let me say it another way: Until Dean came along and got the partisan juices flowing again, the Democrats seemed so demoralized that there was zero chance of them formulating a competitive strategy -- much less the grand vision Bai seeks. Now, at least, one of them ought to be able to carry the party's flag this fall with some prospect of winning. From that, a larger strategy may begin to evolve.
Footnote: The eventual failure of Dean’s campaign, while no doubt devastating to the doctor, also deprived President Bush’s advisers of the man they most wanted to run against. Tsk, tsk.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:57 PM
February 17, 2004
|It doesn’t play in Peoria, either
When I left Thursday for a long weekend, Matt Drudge was hyperventilating over the sex scandal that was about to envelop Democratic front-runner John Kerry. When I got back in today, he was “reporting” that, “A woman at the center of John Kerry intrigue dated longtime Kerry Finance Director Peter Maroney … " Uh, Matt, I don’t think Maroney is running for president.
But never mind. This latest purported fact gave Drudge the excuse to make it appear that this turkey still has some life. He claimed that while she was supposedly dating Maroney, “mystery woman” Alexandra Porlier “would joke that she was dating the next president of the United States.” Wait – maybe Porlier thought Maroney was going to run. Or, as Wonkette points out, “ … this was, what, a year ago? Shouldn't they have assumed the lady was dating Howard Dean?”
Anyway, right now, here’s what we know:
Kerry said: "I just deny it categorically. It's rumor. It's untrue. …”
Porlier sounded pretty unmysterious: "I have never had a relationship with Senator Kerry, and the rumors in the press are completely false."
Porlier’s parents praised Kerry’s handling of Drudge’s dredging and said they planned to vote for him.
In Peoria, Dorothy Porlier, Alexandra’s grandmother, said: "There's nothing to all of this."
Misha Schubert, who attended Columbia Journalism School with Porlier, in The Australian wrote this about her classmate:
“She has the perkiness of a cheerleader and the ambition of a Hollywood starlet, but it's hard to believe Alexandra Polier ever had an affair with US Democratic presidential frontrunner John Kerry.
“For one thing, at the time my former journalism school classmate was supposed to be sharing intimate moments with the senator, she was working up to 80 hours a week on student assignments and dating one of our classmates.”
Drudge is – or should be – used to being beaten up for his willingness to float any rumor that might be helpful to Republicans. Still, lots of people are having a good time at his expense this week:
In London, The Guardian discloses that Matt has a new occupation:
"Howard Dean isn't the only one on the American political scene these days with a credential in the field of health care. Matt Drudge has revived his practice, too, as a proctologist."
In New York, Michelangelo Signorile writes, “I happen to know that several major news organizations have for some time been looking into claims about portly conservative moralizer William Bennett and a leather-bound dominatrix bodybuilder in Las Vegas, a woman who has some very interesting narratives to recount. What news organizations? The top five that come to your mind are on the list. Some reporters have even traveled far and wide on this story. Does this mean the story is true? No. It is "developing," as our favorite cybergossip character assassin likes to say, and it may go nowhere.”
In Denver, Mike Litwin says, “ … unlike Hillary Clinton, I don't believe in a vast right-wing conspiracy. You don't need a conspiracy. You just need to plant a story with Drudge and watch it work its way - like the Mydoom virus - through the media food chain. It's the ugly season, and, with many months before November, it will stay ugly for a while.”
|Posted by tbrown at 02:06 PM
February 12, 2004
|Natural selection in academia. Or is it bias?
There’s a funny little flap circulating in the blogosphere about the supposed dominance of liberals on the staffs of colleges and universities in the U.S. The Duke Conservative Union got things rolling with an ad in the campus newspaper complaining that there’s inadequate “intellectual diversity” at Duke.
"The purpose of the ad was basically to bring to light the fact that the faculty in many humanities departments are completely skewed toward the left," said Madison Kitchens, executive director of Duke Conservative Union. "Their viewpoints don't represent a broad, diverse intellectual balance of opinions, but rather a monochromatic look at certain subjects."
This theme is a favorite of conservative critics of academia. In fact, John Leo would have a hard time making his column schedule if he didn’t have this, and the supposed misdeeds of all those liberal academics, to gripe about.
But what really seems to have gotten my blogging colleagues on the right in a swivet were what appeared to be some tongue-in-cheek comments by Robert Brandon, chair of the Duke philosophy department, which were buried pretty far down in a fairly lengthy piece in the campus paper. Here’s what he said:
"We try to hire the best, smartest people available," Brandon said of his philosophy hires. "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.
"Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too."
You can check out how Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, a law professor, reacted here.
Kieran at Crooked Timber, though, gets the last word because he takes the time to make an important larger point. He notes biases and inequalities are found “all over the place” – a truth many conservatives prefer to ignore in favor of the notion that markets are efficient and correct such aberrations.
“So if we assume … that conservatives really are significantly underrepresented in academia, it seems to me that conservatives face a simple choice,” Kieran says. “They can acknowledge the wealth of evidence for durable inequality of different kinds and join the people investigating the many and varied ways that it’s produced and sustained, and maybe even sometimes eliminated. Or they can bite the bullet and accept that the poor market performance of conservatives must reflect their inability to compete on human capital terms with their sharper, more skillful and harder-working liberal competitors.”
|Posted by tbrown at 12:46 PM
February 11, 2004
|It looks like the Democrats have a candidate
Sen. John Kerry handily took the Virginia and Tennessee primaries, and thus has won in 10 of the 12 states that have caucused or voted so far. It helped considerably that his wins yesterday were in the South, where the Democrats probably need to take at least a couple of states to have a realistic shot at winning in November. Former Gen. Wesley Clark dropped out after the results were clear. So now we’re down to three: Kerry, Sen. John Edwards and Howard Dean.
Edwards is good looking, seems younger than he is (he’s 50), is an excellent speaker and has addressed the concerns of middle-class Americans better than any of the other Democratic candidates. He’s also is a centrist, which could be important in November. But it doesn’t look like these strengths will be enough this time around.
Dean, let’s face it, is going nowhere.
This still doesn’t seem to be good enough for William Saletan at Slate, who seems to attribute Kerry’s rise to voter stupidity. Well, voters aren’t always right, just right more often than not. As I’ve noted here previously, I, too have some doubts whether Kerry is capable of beating George Bush in November.
But who are you gonna believe – the voters in 12 states or a couple of pundits? Read Saletan’s analysis anyway, though. It’s thorough and interesting.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:20 PM
|Good news from Iraq
Let’s take a break from bombings and death. There are some promising things happening in Iraq as well as the much-covered bad ones.
Salam Pax, the Baghdad blogger, spoke at length about some of the good this week on Canadian Broadcasting’s “As It Happens” radio show (click on the Part 2 link and move your slider to about 33:45). Here’s a taste:
Despite horrific car bombings and other violence, “… it’s great to see people just getting on with their lives. … Business is going great … people are buying and selling like crazy.”
And Pax is optimistic that eventually the bombings, too, will stop because, “At some point you see how futile what you’re doing is.”
The big question on Iraqis’ minds now, Pax says, is self-government and how to achieve it. He expects there to be elections of some kind soon, but doubts his homeland is ready for one-person, one-vote quite yet:
“We’ve been like a closed room with no windows for 30 years. Now the doors are open and you are blinded with the light. You cannot really find your way. It takes time to realize what sort of representation we need. …”
And those WMDs we’ve never been able to find? They’re a problem for the U.S. and British governments, Pax says, but not for Iraqis: “We kind of got our part of the deal. We’re very glad that things have changed. We got rid of Saddam and have hopes for a better future.”
And there’s also this, from Knight-Ridder:
“Hundreds of Arab Americans have made their way -- or way back -- to Iraq as interpreters, soldiers, humanitarian workers and contractors. As tensions run high nine months after the war's official end, Arab Americans are playing increasingly crucial roles in bridging the cultural divide between Iraqis and U.S. troops.
“And as they help, many Arab Americans are rediscovering their roots, enjoying again the food their grandmothers made, brushing up on Arabic slang and teaching their U.S. colleagues empathy for a people who found that their suffering didn't end with the overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.”
The strong links of everyday Americans to just about every culture on the planet is one of America’s huge strengths, and one no gang of terrorists will overcome. This is an invigorating read.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:16 PM
|Watching the watchers – II
Tom Regan of The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent roundup of links to a spate of articles about how U.S. and foreign media have covered the Iraq war. It begins with a look at Michael Massing’s piece in the New York Review of Books, which excoriates the press for failure to closely examine the administration’s rationale for the Iraq war before it began.
“In the period before the war, U.S. journalists were far too reliant on sources sympathetic to the administration. Those with dissenting views – and there were more than a few—were shut out. Reflecting this, the coverage was highly deferential to the White House. This was especially apparent on the issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction – the heart of the President's case for war. Despite abundant evidence of the administration's brazen misuse of intelligence in this matter, the press repeatedly let officials get away with it. As journalists rush to chronicle the administration's failings on Iraq, they should pay some attention to their own.”
Later, Reagan wonders, “ … has the pendulum of war coverage now swung too far in the other direction? The New York Observer reports that Dr. Bob Arnot, the physican turned reporter for NBC whose contract was not renewed when it expired in 2003, alleges that one reason for this turn of events is that NBC News boss Neal Shapiro had problem with his reporting from Iraq – "it was just very positive." Mr. Arnot accuses the network of failing to report stories about the progress being made in Iraq, particularly efforts by the Coalition Provisional Authority, something that Mr. Shapiro denies.”
There’s lots of other interesting stuff sandwiched between these bookends.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:12 PM
February 10, 2004
|Oh, dear – the FBI is asking harsh questions
The FBI investigation of the Valerie Plame affair appears to be moving swiftly – and judging from the stuff that’s leaking out, indictments may not be far distant.
“ … prosecutors have conducted meetings with presidential aides that lawyers in the case described as tense and sometimes combative.”
-- The New York Times
“In at least a few cases, the FBI questioning was portrayed as very aggressive, with agents homing in on specific conversations with journalists. ‘Even witnesses that they describe as being potentially helpful are being treated as adversaries,’ … "
– The Washington Post
My, my. Things appear to have gotten hot since Attorney General John Ashcroft stepped aside and turned the investigation over to a Justice Department professional, Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney for the Chicago area.
Among the White House officials grilled by the FBI are Karl Rove, Bush's senior adviser; Press Secretary Scott McClellan; Mary Matalin, former counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney; former White House press aide Adam Levine; White House communications director Dan Bartlett; former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer; I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff; and Cathie Martin, a Cheney aide.
Further, Matalin, McClellan and Levine have appeared before a federal grand jury in Washington that is hearing evidence in the case.
All this because this administration just couldn’t resist taking revenge on a critic. You’ll recall that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA operative until “two senior administration officials” identified her as such to syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who blew her cover in this article. Her husband, Joseph Wilson IV, the former U.S. ambassador to Gabon, had been dispatched by the CIA to Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase partially processed uranium ore known as yellowcake from that African country. Wilson found no such evidence and blew the whistle on the administration’s claims that Saddam was trying to obtain nuclear weapons materials in this op-ed piece for the New York Times. The administration retaliated by naming Plame and suggesting that she had proposed to superiors that her husband be sent to Niger (a conflict of interest for which no evidence seems to exist).
The Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it a felony to disclose a covert agent's identity if the person making the disclosure knew the covert status of the employee and revealed it intentionally. If the FBI can’t round up the evidence for that charge – and it is a pretty steep evidenciary slope – it may well find evidence of obstruction of justice.
Then there’s this most intriguing paragraph in today’s Post story:
“A parallel FBI investigation into the apparent forgery of documents suggesting that Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger is ‘at a critical stage,’ according to a senior law enforcement official who declined to elaborate. That probe, conducted by FBI counterintelligence agents, was launched last spring after U.N. officials pronounced the documents crude forgeries.”
There are two reasons why reporters Mike Allen and Susan Schmidt might have stuck this paragraph into a story about the seemingly unrelated Plame investigation. 1) It gave them a quick, shorthand way to update the Niger forgeries story or, 2) The Niger investigation actually is related to the Plame investigation.
If the latter is the case, then you’d have to suspect that whoever outed Plame either knew about, or had a hand in, the creation of the forged Niger documents.
Now wouldn’t that be something?
"I'd like to know who leaked,” Bush said last October. Well, sir, so would we all. And it looks like the FBI is determined to find out.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:41 AM
February 09, 2004
I didn’t watch President Bush on “Meet the Press” yesterday, but from reading other blogs and skimming the transcript I gather he didn’t come off very well. He avoided answering questions he didn’t like, displayed either a) amazing ignorance or b) amazing dishonesty about his own budget, and returned to the tired theme that we need him because he’s tough.
Interestingly, conservative bloggers and pundits have been harder on Bush’s performance than those futher left.
Let’s start with Andrew Sullivan: “We have a captain on the fiscal Titanic who thinks he's in the Caribbean.”
At Slate, William Saletan notes Bush’s numerous evasions of unpleasant truths and says, “Republicans used to observe derisively that [Bill] Clinton had a difficult relationship with the truth. Bush has a difficult relationship with the truth, too. It's just a different—and perhaps more grave—kind of difficulty.”
Billmon thinks Bush is digging himself a deeper hole:
If, as the polls suggest, people (particularly the independents) are already having doubts about Bush's judgment calls -- especially on Iraq -- then I don't see how this kind of dialogue is going to help him:
RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq. And this is the whole idea of what you based your decision to go to war on.
BUSH: Sure, sure.
RUSSERT: The night you took the country to war, March 17th, you said this: Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.
RUSSERT: That, apparently, is not the case.
Economist and blogger Brad DeLong, one of several who spearheaded a campaign to supply Tim Russert of “Meet the Press” with questions for Bush (Russert’s staff said it received more than 2,000 e-mails), wasn’t impressed with the questioning, and sends readers to Bob Somerby’s “Daily Howler:”
“ … Russert didn’t follow up when Bush gave a speech to avoid his first question. As he did throughout the hour, he simply moved on to Question 2 when Bush failed to answer Question 1. What happened to that frightening bulldog—the one the press has talked up for years? … "
Wonkette helpfully removes the connecting language between iterations of Bush’s main thought:
“[W]ar against the terrorists . . . war against terrorists . . . war against terror. . . Yeah. . . Yeah. . . . this war on terror. . . fight the war on terror. . . . Yeah. . . . this is all in the context of war. . . war against terror. . . . this war on terror. . . Yeah. . . . Yeah. . . . the war on terror. . . . the war is against terrorists . . . Yeah . . . Um hmm. . . . war against these terrorists. . . the war against terror. . . Yeah. . . . Yeah. . . Yeah. . . . Yeah. . . . Yeah. . . Um hmm. . . Um hmm. . . . we are at war. . . Yeah. . . Yeah. . . . I want to lead this great country to work with others to change the world in positive ways, particularly as we fight the war on terror. . . . Thank you, Tim.”
Good night, Tim. Good night, Wonkette.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:54 AM
|Tennessee and Virginia hold primaries tomorrow
Expect two more Kerry wins. The only suspense will be who places second. In Tennessee, it looks close between Sen. John Edwards and retired Gen. Wesley Clark. In Virginia, Edwards appears to have the edge.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:49 AM
February 06, 2004
|Watching the watchers -- I
It looks like we’re in for a hard-fought and probably slimy presidential campaign.
President Bush’s many chickens have finally figured out where the roost is, and they’re coming home with a vengeance. No WMDs in Iraq. The exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame (a stealth scandal that looks like it’s about to become a big blip on political radar). That question of what he was doing back in 1972 when he was supposed to have been going to National Guard drills. Budgets that have variously been described as “Pinocchio budgets” and “budgets of mass destruction.” And, perhaps most threatening of all, a job market as flat as one of those pancakes they flip at campaign breakfasts.
John Kerry (I’m assuming that he’ll be the Dems’ candidate) has problems, too – probably including some we don’t know about yet. We do know that he’s a Massachusetts senator with a voting record that by some accounts is more liberal than Ted Kennedy’s. One who’s raised tons of special-interest money. A kind of confusing record on the two Iraq wars. A home-state Supreme Court that has legalized gay marriage, perhaps the hottest button in the so-called culture war. A personality that sometimes seems detached from everything, including Mr. Kerry. And, lying out there in the weeds (a fitting place), the utterly self-absorbed Ralph Nader, who may “run” again.
In this atmosphere, media coverage of the campaigns is going to be critically important. So from time to time I plan to discuss coverage issues here and, if nothing else, try to shed some light on why newspapers and TV do some of the things they do.
I’ll also be exploring the contributions of bloggers. In the last couple of years – and especially since the beginning of the war – they’ve become an interesting, and sometimes significant, new voice in the political discourse. There’s a case in point today:
At the Columbia Journalism Review’s excellent Campaign Desk web site, Managing Editor Steve Lovelady has written what can kindly be described as a bogus little screed about the evils of blogging. He takes off from the fact that during last Tuesday’s primaries, some bloggers “leaked” exit poll results before all the polls had closed in the affected states. Also, he’s worried that many blogs, unlike Campaign Desk, aren’t edited by some higher authority. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: bloggers are lazy, too.
Let’s start from the top. Here’s what Lovelady says about the exit poll issue:
“ … it's not rocket science to figure out what's wrong with leaking exit poll results hours before the polls close -- it influences voters undecided about whether to even vote. ‘Why should I bother-the exit polls show my guy is getting his ass kicked?’ So they turn around and go back home. Thus the exit poll becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy ... and the blog becomes more powerful in determining the outcome than either the candidates or the voters [my emphasis].
“That danger increases exponentially when news wires capitulate to the pressures to chase blog reports, and exit poll results begin to appear on the web sites of traditional newspapers, as also happened yesterday.”
Consider, for just a moment, the absurdity of that phrase in italics above. Does Lovelady actually believe this happened last Tuesday? If so, where, and what’s the evidence? (At least we lazy bloggers link to sources so people can make up their own minds; Lovelady doesn’t bother.) If so, why aren’t the candidates screaming about it? Well, because it didn’t happen. As I noted here, Democrats turned out in record numbers almost everywhere and in those few places they didn’t, weather and lack of clarity about the candidates seem to be the most frequently cited reasons.
So Lovelady’s assertion is nonsense, without even getting into the question of how “undecided” voters would be influenced to stay at home because “their guy” is getting his kiester kicked (hey – doesn’t anyone edit his stuff?). And what about those poor, picked upon “web sites of traditional newspapers?” If they were so concerned about exit poll numbers polluting the political process, why’d they use them? They’re the “gatekeepers” aren’t they? Doesn’t anybody edit their stuff either?
To Lovelady’s credit, he gives equal space to Jack Shafer of Slate, whose thoughts more closely parallel my own (just follow the link above to Lovelady's piece and find Shafer's below).
Having said all this, I think there is an important question about the impact of polls on voter behavior, but it’s not the one identified by Lovelady. Rather, it’s the campaign-long dribble of polls and the endless associated blather about every two-point move in some candidate’s approval rating, never mind that two points is within the margin of error of any poll we’ll ever see. Excessive concentration on horse-race polling is one of several factors that I believe lead to voter fatigue, to the detriment of the discussion of real issues. That, I think, is where some of the self-fulfilling prophecies that trouble Lovelady emerge.
But bloggers deciding elections? Puhleeze.
At The Blogging of the President, Matt Stoller takes a much more productive approach – not to mention one that’s closer to reality – and lists 10 interesting questions about blogging that Lovelady could have addressed. Here’s just one:
5) Lovelady might consider asking the question of how the press blew the [Bush] AWOL question in 2000, while Kevin Drum can explain it so clearly.
Update: Lovelady has now posted a response to Schafer's response, and it is much more cogent, thankfully, than the piece I cite above. Here's one good point me makes:
"We all, journalists and non-journalists, have information that we 'release' and information that we keep to ourselves. There are cases aplenty in which journalists, quite properly, recognize a higher interest at stake than informational freedom. If you had information about, say, upcoming troop movements in a time of war, would you print it? We hope not. Bob Novak recently took heat for publishing information that outed a CIA operative. The criticism was justified, in our view, even though there was no indication that his action put lives at risk. Others, offered that scoop, refused to publish it. Given that journalists make exceptions to the 'information freedom' imperative, why should protecting the legitimacy of the democratic process not qualify as one of those exceptions?"
Read it all here.
Footnote: For the record, this is an edited blog, and I'm glad that it is. I think anyone can use a second set of eyes. I do not, however, concur with the notion that there is some inherently wrong with unedited blogs. Many of the very best blogs are the work of individuals. How many editors did Tom Paine have?
|Posted by tbrown at 02:04 PM
February 05, 2004
|Naming names in the Plame affair
UPI quotes unnamed “federal law enforcement officials” as saying they have hard evidence of possible criminal misconduct by two officials of Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff in connection with the disclosure that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA agent (tip via Joshua Marshall).
The two are John Hannah, a senior national security aide on Cheney’s staff, and the veep’s chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, UPI says. The FBI is making it clear to Hannah that he could be prison-bound in an attempt to get him to name superiors who were involved, the news agency says.
This is big, big news if it proves true. And it seems quite unlikely that even in its now much-diminished state (it’s owned by the loony South Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon) UPI would name names without having the goods.
Also, see this post by Marshall, which documents how the CIA had to conduct it's own investigation of Plame's outing, and send a memo of the findings to the Justice Department, before Justice agreed to investigate.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:25 PM
February 04, 2004
|Howard Dean isn’t the only angry Democrat
Notice a pattern here?
“Party officials said more than 216,000 South Carolinians voted Tuesday — a record for a Democratic presidential primary.”
“About 15 percent of the state's 224,925 registered Democrats turned out to vote - three times the percentage in 2000, a nonbinding primary won by former Vice President Al Gore.”
“By the time straggling ballots were counted, officials expected statewide turnout of far more than 200,000 voters, roughly one-quarter of the state's registered Democrats, far exceeding previous highs.”
“More than 95,000, or nearly 20 percent, of New Mexico's 484,000 registered Democrats voted in Tuesday's caucus, either in person or by absentee ballot. Party officials had predicted a 10 percent turnout at best.”
“The caucuses attracted almost five times as many Democratic voters as a similar presidential preference caucus in March 2000. About 2,200 people took part in the caucuses four years ago; on Tuesday, 10,508 people voted.”
“Icy sidewalks, brisk temperatures and voter indecision combined to produce a lackluster turnout across Missouri for the presidential primary, officials said.”
I couldn’t find an estimate on how this Oklahoma primary compared with previous ones.
“A hotly contested seven-way race lured a record number of voters to the polls in New Hampshire's Democratic presidential primary Tuesday.”
“But Monday's night's record Democratic turnout, nearly half of which consisted of new voters according to the polls, can't be comforting to the White House.”
Here’s a Washington Post analysis of exit polls on why Democrats are angry, or at least concerned enough to turn out in record numbers almost everywhere.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:16 AM
February 03, 2004
|It's Kerry and Edwards in the exit polls
There are some exit polls from the largest states that have primaries today and so far they show Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts ahead in three and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina leading in two. Be aware that exit polls are not necessarily representative.
Arizona: Kerry 46, Clark 24, Dean 13.
Missouri: Kerry 52, Edwards 23, Dean 10
South Carolina: Edwards 44, Kerry 30, Sharpton 10
Oklahoma: Edwards 31, Kerry 29, Clark 28
Deleware: Kerry 47, Dean 14, Lieberman 11, Edwards 11
|Posted by tbrown at 03:51 PM
|The Bush budget is one more bad joke
On us. Another hand of three-card monte dealt by the expert.
Just a couple of points before I turn you over to higher authorities:
1. The Bush budget does not include additional appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan, which administration officials acknowledge will run to at least another $50 billion this year alone. And we won’t be through in either place this year, next year or, probably, any time during the five years this budget plan covers. So why is there no provision for these costs in the budget?
2. The budget is for five years, rather than the 10 that had become customary before this administration took office. Why? Because if Bush’s tax cuts are made permanent – a centerpiece of his budget – deficits will explode again, just in time for someone else to be stuck with cleaning up the mess.
3. Nowhere in Bush’s budget message does he mention that his tax cuts are the single largest cause of the deficit – larger than the economic slowdown, larger than the war. Now tax cuts can be legitimate parts of economic planning -- but shouldn't the prez fess up to their impact?
4. The assertion that the budget deficit will be cut in half over the next few years isn’t worth the government paper it’s printed on. It will never happen.
Blogger Mark A.R. Kleiman rounds up some good links.
In his blog, economist Brad DeLong complains that the first 10 paragraphs of the Washington Post’s story on the budget simply parrot the administration’s assertions about the document and what it means. Well, that’s the way the game is played: the president gets his say on these things first, then others get theirs lower down in the story. Does this formulation work for regular newspaper readers? Probably not. But don’t expect it to change anytime soon. And this is a point to remember as the political campaign unfolds: if you want other views, start at the end and read back toward the beginning. You may not understand why journalistic life is like this, but Lewis Carroll would.
DeLong also provides a link to some more realistic deficit estimates.
In the New York Times story, the administration doesn’t even attempt to camouflage the political nature of the budget sham submitted by Bush. Instead, the administration is portrayed as attempting to push the Democrats into a corner in which they will have to fight domestic program cuts and propose tax increases to support them – a calculus the administration thinks it can win. This may be an accurate estimate, given our new addiction to government by credit card, in which everything seems free. For now. Just remember who signed the sales slips when the bills come in.
Calpundit suggests the administration is engaged in “faith-based budgeting”: keep repeating that tax cuts will increase government revenue and maybe, someday, somehow, it will come true.
And remember who said this: "Listen. Government has got plenty of money, and it needs to stay focused and principled. ..." Maybe he's being "abused" by bad information again (see "It's the CIA's fault").
|Posted by tbrown at 12:56 PM
February 02, 2004
|Our friend the Israeli
You’ve heard, of course, about the Israeli citizen who shipped 200 U.S.-made nuclear weapons detonators to Pakistan? Neither had we. It’s one of those stories that you’d think would rise to the surface, but sometimes doesn’t. AP has been doing its best, but not many papers have been running the stories (the case has gotten a lot of ink abroad).
In any case, here’s what we know. On Jan. 2, the feds arrested a guy named Asher Karni, who is described as an Israeli citizen living in South Africa, for illegally exporting the high-speed electrical switches, known as triggered spark gaps, to Pakistan. Besides detonating nuclear explosions, the devices appear to have one other use: their pulses can break up gall stones. In this case, we have to assume that the switches were destined for weapons use by Pakistan – at the moment our ally in the “war on terrorism,” but also a politically unstable nuclear power with a history of selling the technology to others.
In late January, the chief of the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency (such as it is) described the nuclear blackmarket centered around Pakistan as one of “fantastic cleverness” that benefitted both Libya (which recently pledged to give up its nuclear weapons programs) and Iran (which, absurdly, claims it has none).
Fortunately, Asher Karni’s plot was disclosed to U.S. authorities by a business associate. After being alerted by the feds, the switch-maker, Perkin Elmer Optoelectronics, disabled the shipment of switches so they’d be useless to whoever eventually received them, and the sale went ahead. Karni was arrested when he visited Colorado on a ski vacation.
Then – incredibly, IMHO -- the presiding judge let Karni, who I have to believe is a major flight risk, out of the slammer on bond on condition he agreed to electronic monitoring and stayed with a rabbi in Maryland (the case against him has been filed in U.S. District Court in D.C.). This Denver Post piece sums up some of the questions, and risks, involved in the case.
I’ll just pose one question: What do you suppose the response to this story would have been had Karni been a Muslim?
|Posted by tbrown at 12:10 PM
|Tuesday’s primary and caucus lineups
Here’s a link to the polls, many of them taken within the last week. The John Kerry surge seems big and real, though others could still take a couple of states. Based on the polls, and what I’ve been reading, here are my guesses:
Missouri: Kerry, with Sen. John Edwards a distant second.
Arizona: Kerry, with Wesley Clark a distant second.
South Carolina: Edwards, with Kerry a close second.
Oklahoma: Could still go to Clark, who has been leading there for some time. But my money is on Kerry. Edwards has some traction here, too, and could edge Clark but not Kerry.
New Mexico: Kerry, with Clark and Howard Dean scrapping for second.
Delaware: Kerry, with no clear second-place favorite.
North Dakota: Kerry, with Clark second.
That’s my vote. The real one is tomorrow.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:06 PM
|| July 2006