Between the Lines
October 29, 2004
|'Confusion and intimidation'
The big picture in Ohio (free New York Times site registration may be required):
Ohio was a confusing patchwork of litigation and election board hearings on Thursday as Democratic and Republican lawyers waged courtroom battles from Cincinnati to Newark, N.J., over the rights of tens of thousands of Ohioans to cast ballots next week.
When Catherine Herold received mail from the Ohio Republican Party earlier this year, she refused it.
The longtime Barberton Democrat wanted no part of the mailing and figured that by refusing it, the GOP would have to pay the return postage.
What she didn't count on was the returned mail being used to challenge the validity of her voter registration.
She went to the Board of Elections on Thursday morning to defend her right to vote and found herself among an angry mob -- people who had to take time off work to defend their right to vote.
After hearing some of the protests, the board voted unanimously to dismiss all 976 challenges.
The move, ironically, came from Republican board member Joseph Hutchinson and was seconded by Republican Alex Arshinkoff after they determined that the four local Republicans who made the challenges had no evidence to back up their claims.
Some people seem shocked that the D's are hiring lawyers to watch this year's elections in places like Ohio and, of course, Florida. They'd be fools not to.
Still, as my Seattle Times colleague Danny Westneat notes, most of the time in most places our elections go pretty smoothly.
Lawsuits over this election may be inevitable, but why obsess about it? Tell the lawyers to step aside. If the poll workers don't have you on the list, ask for a provisional ballot.
Most of all, don't believe the hype … nothing can stop a voter determined to be counted.
Finally, we all ought to at least try to respect the opinions of our fellow citizens even if we think they're wrongheaded. In this respect, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Florida seems to be the chief exhibit for Voters Behaving Badly:
In the most publicized incident, a motorist was arrested Wednesday on charges of trying to run down Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla., at a Sarasota intersection.
The story recounts equally threatening activities by Bush supporters. Please, folks. This is an important election, but we've survived other important elections before. So vote. And respect the rights of others to do so.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:42 PM
|Iraqis are better off … except for these
A new study in the British medical journal, The Lancet, concludes that nearly 100,000 more Iraqis are dead now than would have been had we not invaded Iraq. Some 80,000 are said to have died in U.S. air attacks.
If this is true—a question I'll address in a moment—then even the humanitarian justification for the invasion is bogus. As blogger Juan Cole notes:
The troubling thing about these results is that they suggest that the US may soon catch up with Saddam Hussein in the number of civilians killed. How many deaths to blame on Saddam is controverial. He did after all start both the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War. But he also started suing for peace in the Iran-Iraq war after only a couple of years, and it was Khomeini who dragged the war out until 1988. But if we exclude deaths of soldiers, it is often alleged that Saddam killed 300,000 civilians. This allegation seems increasingly suspect. So far only 5000 or so persons have been found in mass graves. But if Roberts and Burnham are right, the US has already killed a third as many Iraqi civilians in 18 months as Saddam killed in 24 years.
The authors of the new study arrived at their estimates by using a cluster sample survey, a common technique in public-health studies. Thirty-three clusters of 30 households each, or 990 in total, were interviewed about what had happened to them since January 2002. Then the authors compared the number of deaths in the months preceeding the war with those since it began. Which produced this conclusion:
Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100,000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths. We have shown that collection of public-health information is possible even during periods of extreme violence. Our results need further verification and should lead to changes to reduce non-combatant deaths from air strikes.
The authors also found that, "Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children."
Are these numbers anywhere near accurate. Frankly, I have to wonder. As blogger David Adesnik notes, "Historically, only out-and-out carpet bombing, as in WWII or Vietnam, tends to have this kind of result. And one has to wonder how Western journalists failed to notice this alleged scale of destruction in Iraq."
The only continuous attempt to track civilian casualties in Iraq that I am aware of is by Iraq Body Count, which compiles deaths as reported in media accounts and by official sources in Iraq. The IBC site today estimates civilian deaths at between 14,181 and 16,312. This is still a lot of dead people, but nowhere near what the study in The Lancet is reporting. In a place as chaotic as Iraq it may well be that there are many deaths that don't make it into news stories or official accounts. But could there be over 80,000 such deaths? Let's hope not.
Note: The full text of the new study is available here, but free registration is required.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:39 PM
|Statistic of the day
The missing high explosives at the al-Qaqaa site comprise just .06 percent of all missing munitions in Iraq.
Yes. You read that right. So the issue, once again, is not so much about a single incident, bad as it may have been, as it is about the key issue since "Mission Accomplished": Security.
U.S. military commanders estimated last fall that Iraqi military sites contained 650,000 to 1 million tons of explosives, artillery shells, aviation bombs and other ammunition. The Bush administration cited official figures this week showing about 400,000 tons destroyed or in the process of being eliminated. That leaves the whereabouts of more than 250,000 tons unknown.
Those thousands of tons of missing ammo and explosives, which are being used daily to kill Americans and Iraqis, will last the Iraqi insurgents and jihadis a long, long time.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:33 PM
October 28, 2004
|The real October surprise?
Yasser Arafat appears to be near death, despite the stream of Kremlinesque reassurances from his headquarters.
When he goes, and it seems like that could be at any moment, there will be an immediate and intense refocusing of world attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and new questions about what the U.S. role should be. In other words, a huge dose of new uncertainty. And uncertainty favors the incumbent.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:29 AM
|The November surprise?
Here's a really interesting new poll by Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, taken only in the so-called battleground states. The burden of it is that two trends are pointing increasingly to a Kerry victory:
-- Ralph Nader's support is "evaporating."
-- More importantly, a possible surge in minority voting could put Kerry over the top Tuesday.
... as the data below illustrates, when the data is weighted to reflect minority turnout based on the 2000 exit polls, Sen. Kerry leads by 3.5% and if minority turnout is weighted to census levels, Sen. Kerry's lead expands to 5.2%.
"It is clear that minority turnout is a wildcard in this race and represents a huge upside for Sen. Kerry and a considerable challenge for the president's campaign. If one assumes minority turnout exceeds their 2000 election levels, then it appears a number of these stats would tip to Sen. Kerry," Fabrizio concluded.
Note: Here's a link, but be forewarned that this is a PDF file.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:28 AM
|The disappearing explosives
Blogger Josh Marshall does a pretty good job here of untangling the threads of what happened to the 380 tons of high explosives that disappeared, apparently to looting, during the first days of the war.
There is also this story from The New York Times (free site registration may be required), based on interviews with Iraqis who where there:
The Iraqis described an orgy of theft so extensive that enterprising residents rented their trucks to looters. But some looting was clearly indiscriminate, with people grabbing anything they could find and later heaving unwanted items off the trucks.
The accounts do not directly address the question of when 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives vanished from the site sometime after early March, the last time international inspectors checked the seals on the bunkers where the material was stored. It is possible that Iraqi forces removed some explosives before the invasion.
But the accounts make clear that what set off much if not all of the looting was the arrival and swift departure of American troops, who did not secure the site after inducing the Iraqi forces to abandon it.
"The looting started after the collapse of the regime," said Wathiq al-Dulaimi, a regional security chief, who was based nearby in Latifiya. But once it had begun, he said, the booty streamed toward Baghdad.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:24 AM
|Find your polling place
People for the American Way has put together a national database of polling places. Enter your street address and ZIP and it returns the address of your polling place. It worked fine for me – and my polling place was one of many in Washington state that has moved since the last election.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:22 AM
October 27, 2004
Let's talk about voters and voting. There's a lot of pot-stirring going on nationally. Some encouraging. Some not. All of it potentially important if this election turns out to be a replay of 2000 in terms of closeness.
Millions of new potential voters have been registered. Many of these are, predictably, from poor and/or minority areas. Republicans say they're worried about vote fraud by Democrats, who they claim are registering people who don't exist or are inelible to vote. Democrats say they are worried about voter intimidation by Republicans, who they claim are doing everything they can to suppress turnout in areas that can be expected to vote heavily Democratic.
I'm worried about another election being decided by the nine unelected politicians who picked the winner last time. Or maybe by eight of those nine, plus a player to be named soon, if this post is any indication.
My anxiety about another judicially appointed president inched up this morning, when I read here that a computer model has calculated 33 combinations in which the 11 so-called swing states could align to produce a 269-269 tie in the electoral vote. That outcome, of course, would guarantee Bush's re-election because the GOP-controlled House of Representatives would decide the winner. Worse, it would guarantee months, and probably years, of recriminations that would further undermine the fragile structure of public trust that underlies our government.
Logically, it would seem that there also would be 33 alignments that would not produce a tie. Let's hope for one of those – and that either Kerry or Bush wins the popular vote by at least 1 percent, the threshold that usually is enough to ensure what most people can agree is a legitimate victory.
Unfortunately, the possibility that this election, too, may wind up in judicial hands seems distinctly possible. And, of course, what's happening in the swing states may prove crucial in this respect. Let's take a look:
'Fraud' and 'suppression' in Ohio
There, as elsewhere, newly registered voters are on everyone's radar screen. As The New York Times reports:
… many newly registered voters are wild cards whose uncertain allegiances could tip the vote in closely contested states like this one, making such voters the focus of an intense tug of war between the parties.
Certainly, their numbers are legion. In Ohio, nearly three-quarters of a million people registered to vote this year, bringing the state's total registration to over 7.8 million, a record. In Iowa, Florida and Pennsylvania as well, registration drives -- largely by Democratic groups -- have swelled voter rolls to new levels, raising the likelihood that more people will vote this year than since the high-turnout year of 1992, experts said.
One major question for both Democrats and Republicans is how likely the newly registered are to actually vote. After all, there's a reason a lot of people were unregisted: they aren't interested. Still, in most places new registrants seem to be much more heavily Democratic than they are Republican. So even if they vote in relatively modest numbers, if they vote along the lines shown by registration statistics it could be enough to make the difference for Kerry in close states. As the Times reports:
But with as many as 60 percent of the new registrations thought to be for Mr. Kerry in Ohio -- people here do not register by party, leaving partisan breakdowns imprecise -- Republicans have intensified efforts to ferret out fraud and raise questions about the validity of new voters in Democratic precincts.
Last week, the Ohio Republican Party challenged more than 35,000 new registrations after mail sent to those addresses was returned as undeliverable. Several thousand of those challenges have been withdrawn because of technical problems with the challenge forms. But the Republicans say they will push for a review of about 14,000 registrations in the Cleveland area, the heart of Mr. Kerry's support in Ohio.
The Ohio Republicans also plan to have people in more than 3,600 polling places, mostly in heavily Democratic urban areas, to challenge the right of people to vote on Election Day itself. And they are pressing for criminal investigations into accusations of fraudulent registrations in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and several other cities.
Democrats say the Republican antifraud campaign amounts to an effort to suppress voting in Democratic areas, particularly black communities. Acorn, a nonprofit group that conducted voter registration in poor neighborhoods, asserts that 46 percent of the Republican challenges in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, were against black people, who represent only 27 percent of the county's population.
So there you go: fraud or suppression, take your pick.
Let Florida be Florida again
Lord knows, it's trying:
A secret document obtained from inside Bush campaign headquarters in Florida suggests a plan -- possibly in violation of US law -- to disrupt voting in the state's African-American voting districts, a BBC Newsnight investigation reveals.
Setting aside possible illegal activity, we shouldn't discount the possible impact of mere incompetence in Jebland, either.
The Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office pointed a finger at the U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday for nearly 60,000 missing absentee ballots, but took the blame for having a phone system that was being overwhelmed by calls from frustrated voters.
While the post office denied responsibility for the missing ballots, Broward County commissioners, anxious to avoid another failed election, offered to send county employees to help with the phones. Dozens of employees could begin assisting the elections office today to answer telephone calls and to process voters at the 14 early voting sites.
"What we are seeing is unprecedented, so if the supervisor of elections needs our help, we will help," County Mayor Ilene Lieberman said. "It's a week to the election, and voting is a basic right in our country."
Most of it, anyway.
All peeved in Pa.
Republican talk about vote fraud and Democratic talk about voter intimidation have become the targets of an urban war being fought nationwide between the election organizations of Democratic challenger John Kerry and Bush. Each side has used suspicion of the other's motives to energize its supporters and get them out to vote Nov. 2.
Political historian Michael Young, a retired professor at Pennsylvania State University-Harrisburg, said there was precedent for each side to worry.
"Republicans have frequently -- almost chronically -- engaged in what I think can fairly be called voter-intimidation tactics in order to hold down the Democratic vote," he said. "On the other hand, the Democrats have been chronic cheats in being able to vote the cemeteries."
Both sides, of course, have legions of lawyers standing by, eager, as always, to rush perceived wrongs into the nearest courtroom. Please -- do your part for a decisive result Tuesday.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:54 PM
|Washington is not a swing state
I still see it described that way in some electoral-vote counts. It isn't. That became clear when the Bush campaign cut its advertising campaign here.
Kerry will get at least 52 percent of the vote in Washington, Nader maybe 1.5 and Bush somewhere around 47. And I think I'm being conservative, based on what we know today (I never discount the possibility of a final October Surprise).
|Posted by tbrown at 01:42 PM
About a third of the undecided have not really been paying attention.
-- Terry Madonna, director of the Pennsylvania poll at Frankly & Marshall University in Lancaster, Pa.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:41 PM
|Correction of the day
From The Wall Street Journal:
News Corp.'s Fox News was incorrectly described in a page-one article Monday as being sympathetic to the Bush cause.
Really. It's impossible to make this stuff up.
Here's the offending paragraph from the original story:
Mr. Bush believes the key to victory lies in his party's conservative core. He gave a rare interview over the weekend to Fox News, a network sympathetic to the Bush cause and popular with Republicans. Among other things, Mr. Bush voiced doubts about whether the country can be fully protected from future terror attacks. "Whether or not we can be ever fully safe is up -- you know, up in the air," he said
Oh, I get it – Fox is popular with Republicans because it's "fair and balanced."
|Posted by tbrown at 01:40 PM
October 25, 2004
|How Bush's landslide vanished
The closeness of this presidential election is the best measure of how thoroughly George Bush has screwed up his term in office (despite his own inability to recall a single thing he might have done wrong). He should be on his way to winning re-election by a landslide for the simple reason that Americans don't switch presidents in wartime. Yet this president stands a good chance of being thrown out of office next week by a Democratic opponent who could have been this year's Michael Dukakis if Bush had done even a modestly competent job.
In a post this morning, blogger Jeff Jarvis boils it down to two critical mistakes:
1. He should have called Iraq a one-year war (at least), not a one-week war.
He should have known that this would not be as simple as overpowering Saddam's limp military. He should have known that only when we had installed democracy in Iraq could we declare victory. He should have put in sufficient resources to do that while better securing the lives of Iraqis and our soldiers. He should have managed our expectations and should not have declared victory.
2. He should have served the center.
Hey, if Bush can become an interventionist and nation-builder, it's not so damned far-fetched that he could have become a centrist, or at least played one on TV.
Jarvis's points are overarching formulations that encapsulate the administration's myriad miscues abroad and at home. But those screwups continue to gather, and their cumulative weight may get Kerry elected.
We find now, for example, that we didn't bother to guard 380 tons of the most potent conventional explosives made, RDX and HMX. The storage facility, which had been sealed by UN weapons inspectors, was looted and, according to sources for this New York Times story (free site registration may be required) probably are being used by insurgents in Iraq to kill U.S. troops and Iraqis.
A little perspective here: 380 tons is 760,000 pounds. A little less than one pound of RDX was used to blow apart that Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Further, these explosives were of particular interest to the UN weapons inspectors because when machined into precise arrangements they are used as the detonators for nuclear weapons.
USA Today, in another reprise of information that was readily available to the White House, reports that an Iraqi insurgency was predicted in intelligence reports – and was encountered directly by U.S. troops just three days into the war:
• Military and civilian intelligence agencies repeatedly warned prior to the invasion that Iraqi insurgent forces were preparing to fight and that their ranks would grow as other Iraqis came to resent the U.S. occupation and organize guerrilla attacks.
• The war plan put together by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Army Gen. Tommy Franks discounted these warnings. Rumsfeld and Franks anticipated surrender by Iraqi ground forces and a warm welcome from civilians.
• The insurgency began not after the end of major combat in May 2003 but at the beginning of the war, yet Pentagon officials were slow to identify the enemy and to grasp how serious a threat the guerrilla attacks posed.
Well, now we know.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:16 PM
One of Clinton's laws of politics is this: If one candidate is trying scare you and the other is trying get you to think, if one candidate's appealing to your fears and the other one's appealing to your hopes, you'd better vote for the one who wants you to think and hope.
-- Former President Bill Clinton, today
|Posted by tbrown at 01:15 PM
October 21, 2004
|Mixed message to the terrorists
From our steadfast president, who said he'd accept an Islamic theocracy in Iraq if that's what January's scheduled elections produce:
"I will be disappointed. But democracy is democracy," he said during an interview given on Air Force One.
"If that's what the people choose, that's what the people choose," he said. Free elections are expected in the country next January.
An appropriately appalled Mark Kleiman asks:
Does the leader of the free world really understand so little about the meaning of democracy that he thinks an elected religious tyranny is a democratic form of government? Or that 1000 American lives was a fair price to pay for creating a second mullocracy next to Iran? Or that an Islamist Iraq would be less of a threat to the United States than Ba'athist Iraq?
George W. Bush just stuck a knife in the back of every Iraqi working for a truly republican form of government and a truly democatic way of life for his or her country.
With leadership like this, I suppose it's scant wonder that Bush supporters seem just as out of touch with reality as he does. Read on.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:44 AM
|It's not a river in Egypt
Denial, I mean. It's a persistent state of mind among Bush supporters, as documented by the Program on International Policy Studies:
Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points.
Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions.
These are some of the findings of a new study of the differing perceptions of Bush and Kerry supporters, conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and Knowledge Networks, based on polls conducted in September and October.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:41 AM
October 20, 2004
|New CIA report names names …
… about who was asleep at the switch before 9/11. But don't expect to find out which names until after Nov. 2. The CIA is withholding the report, though it seems to have no legal basis for doing so.
The [intelligence] official stressed that the report was more blunt and more specific than the earlier bipartisan reports produced by the Bush-appointed Sept. 11 commission and Congress.
"What all the other reports on 9/11 did not do is point the finger at individuals, and give the how and what of their responsibility. This report does that," said the intelligence official. "The report found very senior-level officials responsible."
By law, the only legitimate reason the CIA director has for holding back such a report is national security. Yet neither [new CIA chief and former GOP congressman Porter] Goss nor [CIA deputy chief John] McLaughlin has invoked national security as an explanation for not delivering the report to Congress.
"It surely does not involve issues of national security," said the intelligence official.
Very senior-level officials. I wonder who they could be. Well, we certainly have no need to know before we vote, do we?
|Posted by tbrown at 12:35 PM
Insights into George Bush sometimes come from strange places. TV preacher Pat Robertson showed up on Paula Zahn's show the other day and recounted a meeting he had with our president before the war began:
"You remember Mark Twain said, 'He looks like a contented Christian with four aces.' I mean he was just sitting there like, 'I'm on top of the world,' " Robertson said on the CNN show, "Paula Zahn Now."
"And I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, 'Mr. President, you had better prepare the American people for casualties.' "
Robertson said the president then told him, "Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties."
"I mean, the Lord told me it was going to be A, a disaster, and B, messy," Robertson said. "I warned him about casualties."
I know, Pat Robertson is not the most reliable recorder of reality we have. Nonetheless, this does sound just like the kind of thing Bush would say. The scarier question is how much of it he believed.
For some detailed reporting on how Bush's "faith-based certainty" influences how he does his job, don't miss Ron Suskind's piece in The New York Times Magazine, "Without a Doubt" (free Times site registration may be required).
|Posted by tbrown at 12:32 PM
|The trouble with John
In a weird way, John Kerry is even more inarticulate than George Bush. Chris Suellentrop puts his finger on it at Slate:
Kerry proves incapable of reading simple declarative sentences. He inserts dependent clauses and prepositional phrases until every sentence is a watery mess. Kerry couldn't read a Dick and Jane book to schoolchildren without transforming its sentences into complex run-ons worthy of David Foster Wallace. Kerry's speechwriters routinely insert the line "We can bring back that mighty dream," near the conclusion of his speeches, presumably as an echo of Ted Kennedy's Shrum-penned "the dream will never die" speech from the 1980 Democratic convention. Kerry saps the line of its power. Here's his version from Monday's speech in Tampa: "We can bring back the mighty dream of this country, that's what's at stake in these next two weeks."
|Posted by tbrown at 12:30 PM
|If you love a horse race …
… here are some good sites.
Poll roundups:2.004k.com and Real Clear Politics.
Electoral-vote predictions (which, of course, are based on polls): Slate and Electoral Vote Predictor.
Interestingly, both electoral-vote sites now have Kerry winning, though Bush continues to have a slight edge in most national polls. I think the real wild card in this race is the large number of new voters being registered across the country. More about this next week.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:29 PM
One of the problems with John Kerry, for some people, is that the Germans and, especially, the French might like him.
Well, how about these endorsements for our president:
Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Iran's hard-line ruling mullahs.
Putin is a former KGB officer who has been steadily undercutting democracy in Russia.
Iran's mullahs are on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, view the U.S. as "the great Satan" and are thought to be actively working to develop nuclear weapons.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:24 PM
October 19, 2004
|Undecided bloggers are beginning to break
Bloggers are human too, whatever doubts you might harbor. Some have been carefully watching the presidential campaign develop before deciding who they're going to hang their chad for. But they're beginning to make up their minds, and what they have to say is good reading.
We'll begin with Greg Djerejian, an American lawyer who writes the thoughtful and usually conservative Belgravia Dispatch from London.
He has a long and interesting post that deconstructs the semingly countless screwups of the Bush administration in Iraq – then explains why he plans to vote for the president anyway. The post is well worth a full read, but here's Djerejian's bottom line:
George Bush, in my view, understands the nature of the evil we are combating. He understands it deep in his gut, to his very core, and this is why I will be voting for him in November. To be sure, I am voting for him with many reservations (of which more below); but I am confident and, indeed, proud of my vote because Bush's intellectual firmament has grasped this essential truth.
I don't believe, in his gut, Kerry believes that we face an existential challenge with regard to the war on terror.
Next we have a couple of respected bloggers who I'd describe as centrists, Daniel Drezner, a University of Chicago prof and international affairs expert, and David Adesnik, who writes at Oxblog.
First, the professor (ignore the math references; he's an economist):
After the debates, I'd say my p-value for Kerry is now at 0.8 (i.e., an 80% chance of voting for Kerry). I'm still uneasy about making this choice, because I remain unconvinced that Kerry understands the limits of multilateral diplomacy.
But here's Drezner's bottom line:
Given the foreign policy stakes in this election, I prefer a leader who has a good decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I don't like, over a leader who has a bad decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I do like.
Yes, competence does count. Since his original post, Drezner has received a lot of e-mail, and he has a lengthy second post addressing some of the questions raised by readers. It's worth reading as well.
Adesnik's big problem with Kerry is not his perhaps naive belief in the efficacy of multilateral diplomacy,
Rather, it is his total resistance to making about any positive statement about the importance of ensuring a democratic outcome in Iraq. Even though things are not going well on the ground, I believe that a true opportunity for democratization still exists. But that opportunity will amount to nothing in the absence of an all-out American effort to take advantage of it.
Nonetheless, he expects Kerry to attempt to establish a stable, representative government in Iraq:
I believe that Kerry recognizes the danger of withdrawing from Iraq before it is stabilized. And I don't believe that Kerry could accept (let alone achieve) a process of stabilization that isn't democratic.
This doesn't mean that I expect Kerry to consistently make the right decisions about democracy in Iraq. In fact, I fully expect there to be a major struggle within the Democratic Party to define Kerry's agenda should he become President. I will simply do my best to play my small part in that struggle and to persuade as many Democrats as I can that democracy is the answer for Iraq.
Ultimately, I recognize that the arguments made above reflect a considerable degree of speculation about Kerry's motives. Thus, I will not hold it against anyone if they vote for Bush because their subjective assessment of the candidates' motives is different from my own.
There's some chewy reading here.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:28 PM
October 18, 2004
As I've noted before, the conventions of journalism favor liars. This is a particularly troubling problem in political campaigns, where the stakes are substantial. If both sides are lying more or less equally, then it's kind of a wash even though the pols certainly are doing the public no favors. You report what they say, you compare that with the facts and move on. But when one side raises dishonesty to the level of a science, then it becomes difficult for newsies to let their audience know what's really happening. You wind up with stories that try to be "balanced" even though one side is doing 75 percent of the lying. When that happens, standards that work most of the rest of the time are no longer effective.
The Washington Post ombudsman, Michael Getler, addresses the issue here:
… aside from catching mistakes, several readers have also complained that the paper has presented these stories in such a "balanced" fashion that it has diminished the weight of the assessments. More frequently than not, they contend, this has benefited Bush and Vice President Cheney. These charges undoubtedly have a partisan edge to them. But that doesn't mean they are wrong, or that it couldn't go the other way politically as well. It does mean, in my view, that news organizations need to look hard and fast at whether they are truly "leveling with the reader."
Read it all.
Then consider this morsel from a post by blogger Josh Marshall. The speaker is an unidentified top administration official:
"We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Here in the "reality-based world" that most of us inhabit, the result is wars of choice abroad and what blogger Matt Yglesias calls "The Putinization of American life" at home.
|Posted by tbrown at 10:38 AM
October 15, 2004
|All sex all the time edition
O'Reilly: 'He's going down'
As you've no doubt heard, the mighty bully Bill O'Reilly has been sued by a 33-year-old former employee, Andrea Mackris, who claims he repeatedly made "vile" sexual overtures to her over the "Fair and balanced" Fox network's phones. Looks like she taped them. Oh, Bill.
"Guys like O'Reilly who like to espouse what right-wing Republicans espouse about family values shouldn't be doing stuff like this. The man knows he did it. He finally got it through his thick skull that he did it, and he's not going to get away with it. . . . He's going down."
-- Benedict Morelli, lawyer for Andrea Mackris
Fox and O'Reilly have sued Morelli and Mackris, accusing them of extortion (Mackris, needless to say, wants money. Lots of it.) O'Reilly said in an interview that,
"I knew that by filing this lawsuit I was going to perhaps ruin my career. . . . If I have to go down, I'm willing to do it. But I've got to make a stand."
A real hero.
Said Morelli: "That's a very interesting comment to make for a guy who is innocent, isn't it? Mr. Family Values. Mr. No-Spin Zone. Ask him, did he do it?"
O'Reilly's attorney, Ronald Green, would not deny that the sexual conversations had taken place, saying he could not address whether his client "used a particular word or phrase at any time as part of a joke." He said that the lurid, highly detailed "snippets" recounted in Mackris's lawsuit could have been "taken out of context" or "spun for exaggeration," and that O'Reilly "wants to hear the tapes if they exist." Green said he has witnesses who say Mackris told them that she decided to tape O'Reilly when the four-year employee returned to Fox.
Morelli declined to say whether the conversations were taped. In New York, it is illegal to tape a phone conversation without the other party's consent.
Mackris alleged in the suit that when she told O'Reilly in April that he had engaged in similar conduct with other staffers and should be careful, he replied: "If any woman ever breathed a word I'll make her pay so dearly that she'll wish she'd never been born. . . . It'd be her word against mine and who are they going to believe? Me or some unstable woman making outrageous accusations. They'd see her as some psycho, someone unstable."
There's only one psycho in this tale. And it isn't Mackris.
The indispensible Smoking Gun has Mackris' 22-page complaint here, and these are not exactly "snippets." They're lengthy disquisitions that provide insight, if that's the right word, into O'Reilly's fantasy life. And they're not for the squeamish.
Mary Cheney: so what's the fuss about?
Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne are trying to make much of the little John Kerry said during Debate 3 about the fact that the Cheney's daughter, Mary, is a lesbian.
Here's what Kerry said, in response to a question about whether homosexuality is a "choice":
If you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as."
Boy, that's really offensive.
The Cheney's reaction:
Dick: "You saw a man who will do and say anything to get elected. And I am not just speaking as a father here, although I am a pretty angry father
Lynne: branded the comment a "cheap and tawdry political trick" after the debate and said of Kerry, "This is not a good man."
Mary Cheney, the person who presumably would be harmed by all this, has been openly gay for years. Among other things, she used to work in gay and lesbian outreach groups. In addition, Mary is her father's campaign manager, so she is, in the context of a political campaign, a public figure. She and her partner attended the vice presidential debate.
At that debate, where sexual orientation also was briefly discussed, John Edwards said,
"You can't have anything but respect for the fact that they [the Cheneys] are willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her."
Asked is he wished to follow up, Cheney said only, "Let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter."
Kerry wasn't the first to mention the fact that Mary Cheney is gay. Neither was Edwards. Dick Cheney himself brought it up in August, when he parted ways with Bush on the reprehensible proposal to amend the Constitution to prohibit gay marriage. Cheney said the question should be left to the states and added, "Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with." I wrote about it here. So Cheney mentioned his daughter in a political context nearly two months before the Democrats did.
Nor did we hear any complaining from the Cheney clan when Alan Keyes, the GOP loose cannon of the fringe right who's running for U.S. Senate in Illinois, described Mary Cheney as a "selfish hedonist" because she is gay.
If Lynne Cheney was looking for something truly "cheap and tawdry," surely this would qualify. But the Cheneys didn't complain. Instead, the campaign flack just said, "It was inappropriate."
This faux anger is desperation, I'd say. It's time to move on, folks.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:05 PM
October 14, 2004
The debates are over, and if you believe the insta-polls – your choice – they pretty clearly were a positive for John Kerry and a negative for George Bush.
From Dan Froomkin's roundup at The Washington Post:
A CBS News poll of uncommitted voters who watched the debate named Kerry the winner 39-25 percent. But 36 percent of those polled called it a tie.
A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll of registered voters who watched the debate found Kerry judged the winner 52-39. That was nearly as clear a victory as he scored after the first debate.
"By double-digit margins, those surveyed gave Kerry higher marks than Bush for expressing himself clearly, understanding issues and caring about the needs of people like them. Kerry was more believable, they said. On only one of seven characteristics did Bush come out ahead: likeability."
An ABC News poll of registered voters who watched the debate found Kerry winning by a tiny 42-41 margin -- but as anchor Peter Jennings acknowledged, the survey reached more Republicans than Democrats. Among independents in that poll, Kerry won 52-43.
Take 'em for what they're worth, which is one quick snapshot of an event that probably won’t stick in many minds for very long. But for the moment, they've served a purpose for Kerry, helping him recapture some of the momentum his campaign lost after the GOP convention.
A better question may be whether they were helpful to voters. I doubt they changed the mind of anyone who was already committed to either Bush or Kerry, but they most likely did move undecided voters toward one camp or the other. Current polls indicate Kerry got most of this benefit. But there are still 18 campaign days left before Nov. 2 and much can happen.
The returns on who won on which points are, you might say, mixed.
Tom Shales, Washington Post columnist and former TV critic, thinks,
An essentially dignified and thoughtful performance by Sen. John Kerry, contrasted with an oddly giggly turn by President Bush, combined to give the last debate of the presidential campaign to the challenger last night, but very narrowly.
But he was a little testy about some of the details:
Bush must have said 98 times during the debate -- or so it seemed -- that Kerry had voted 98 times to raise taxes. Kerry didn't go long before saying "I have a plan," in this case a plan for health care during the upcoming flu season. He also mentioned at every opportunity -- or else created an opportunity to mention -- that Bush's tax cuts allegedly benefit only the richest Americans.
Good Lord, if I hear that one more time I will shriek.
Seattle Times Backyard Bloggers Ian Stewart and Garrett Ferencz faced off again on the debate, and both found it helpful. Here's a snip from Ian's summary …
We got what we were hoping for tonight...more great stuff from both candidates. In fact, we got far more than we expected from these debates.
In the run-up to Bush v. Kerry 1, we were all ratcheting down expectations.
Instead, we got debates reminiscent of a long-gone era. Real differences on positions, opinions, and approaches to the issues we want to know about. Voters looking for information got it, in spades.
And one from Ferencz:
We once again are traveling down the road of 2000, and for this blogger the biggest difference between then and now is that we have been given the information we need to vote. The candidates told us where they stand.
Now it is our turn to decide.
Check the Backyarders out here.
Jeff Jarvis also blogged the debate last night, and was less impressed. He had some acerbic reactions to both men:
The first question is a right one: Will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe as the one we have known. (Read: Or will we try to convince ourselves that terrorism is a 'nuisance'?)
Rather than giving an answer to how he will accomplish that, Kerry starts by attacking Bush on Iraq. Same Iraq line. Same cargo line. Same bin Laden line. Same, same, same.
Yes, Kerry was: repetitive, repetitive, repetitive.
Later, Bush brandishes the "L" word:
"There's a mainstream in American politics and you sit on the far-left bank," says Bush. That dog don't hunt for me, of course. Treating "liberal" as an insult is ridiculous; it's not something a president of the center does.
It sounds like Jarvis is going to have a hard time voting for either of these guys:
Nick Gillespie says ... that both these guys are losing.
No, we're losing.
That's the bottom line of this debate so far: Damn, it's a bad choice.
I expected Kerry to win this debate hands-down, given my views on domestic issues. I hoped it would shift the needle. But I still focused on the bad choice we have.
You want a score? Zero-zero in extra innings.
The only real conclusion from this debate is that we should have more debates -- for they are the only opportunities we have had to dwell on issues rather than mud and they have had big impact on the election -- and they should all be run by the citizens, not the journalists.
Three weeks now. Just three weeks.
Less, actually. And there will be no more debates. But lots of mud, no doubt.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:56 PM
October 13, 2004
|Debate 3 warmup
Tonight's topic is domestic policy. Domestic policy -- other than the predictable bickering over the Patriot Act, whether it has been applied properly and whether it should be expanded – boils down to two things: taxes and spending.
Most analyses of what President Bush and John Kerry have said about it conclude that Bush would tax less and spend less and that Kerry would tax more (at least in the upper income brackets) and spend more. But neither has outlined a credible way for paying for what he promises.
The Concord Coalition, which describes itself as a "nonpartisan, grassroots organization advocating fiscal responsibility while ensuring Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are secure for all generations," suggests some questions the candidates should be required to answer:
1. Do you believe that large, sustained budget deficits pose a threat to our nation's economic future?
2. Do you believe that Congress and the President should agree to a new multi-year plan to balance the budget, and if so should that plan exclude the Social Security surplus?
3. What specific spending cuts would you propose to help balance the budget?
4. The tax cuts passed since 2001 are set to expire at different times over the next seven years. Do you believe they should be extended permanently, or should all or some of them be allowed to lapse?
Here's a link to a PDF that gives Concord's explanations of why these questiions matter.
|Posted by tbrown at 04:30 PM
October 12, 2004
|Welcome to 'Mortaritaville.' A new draft next?
One of President Bush's constant reassurances has been that if commanders in Iraq need more troops, they'll get them. Unless, of course, we don't have more, a caveat he never mentions.
This problem arises today in a dual context:
-- In Iraq, a Washington National Guard general says that he has twice asked for more troops to secure the perimeter of Logistical Support Area Anaconda, a 15-square-mile supply dump and support base 50 miles northwest of Baghdad. The Baltimore Sun (free site registration may be required) reports that the area is under fire so often that troops and contractors stationed there have dubbed it "Mortaritaville."
-- The paranoia among young people in this country (fed by Democrats for their own purposes), that a vote for Bush is a vote for a new draft.
First we go to LSA Anaconda:
Since May, Brig. Gen. Oscar B. Hilman, commander of the 81st Brigade Combat Team, a National Guard unit from Washington state that operates the base, has requested 500 to 700 more soldiers. But he said the request has been denied.
"Because the enemy is persistent, we need additional forces. We asked twice," said Hilman, who arrived here in April for a yearlong stint. But Hilman said he was told that "there are no additional forces," and that U.S. soldiers are needed elsewhere, particularly to battle insurgents and cover a large area to the north that includes the rebellious cities of Tikrit and Samarra.
The 81st Brigade's top enlisted man, Sgt. Maj. Robert Barr, said the soldiers here are frustrated, and that he often hears the same question: "Why aren't we stopping it or killing their guys who are doing it?"
The Sun reports that the request was kicked up the chain of command and was approved by Hilman's superiors at 13th Corps Support Command, but denied at the next level, Multi-National Corps Iraq headquarters. The problem: too many fires elsewhere in the country and not enough troops to control them.
The lack of sufficient boots on the ground is a well-known complaint both among troops in Iraq and critics of Bush's policies at home. The issue was raised before the first U.S. tank clanked in from Kuwait and has become one of the constant refrains among war critics.
However, does this mean the Bush administration intends to resurrect the draft if the president is re-elected? Bush emphatically said no last Friday in his second debate with John Kerry:
"Forget all this talk about a draft. We're not going to have a draft so long as I'm the president," Bush said.
Nonetheless, many young Americans seem to suspect otherwise:
The National Annenberg Election Survey found that 51 percent of adults age 18 to 29 believe Bush wants to reinstate the draft. Eight percent said Kerry supports bring back the draft, and 7 percent said both want to. A fourth of those polled said neither candidate favors the idea.
Both Bush and Kerry say they don't support a renewed military draft. Earlier this week, the House defeated a bill paving the way to a draft 402-2. House Republicans have sought to quash the persistent Internet rumor that the president wants to reinstate the draft if re-elected while Democrats have fanned the flames on the rumor.
"Young voters are much more misinformed about the presidential candidates' positions on the draft than the population in general," said Kate Kenski, an analyst at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center.
Lacking anything other than candidates' statements, we can't be sure what will follow the election. My guess is that both Bush and Kerry are sincere when they say they don't want to bring back the draft (though Kerry has said he would increase the Army by two divisions by enlarging the present all-volunteer force). Restoring the draft would create a huge political problem for the party suggesting it, and neither wants that.
The unknown factor is the course of events in the months ahead. We know that our forces already are stretched beyond what is sustainable in the long term. Ten of the Army's 11 divisions are involved in Iraq in one way or another (with components there, leaving or returning). The U.S. has about 140,000 troops there, another 20,000 in Afghanistan and 230,000 others around the world, primarily in Europe, Japan and South Korea. The military has done about all it can within the confines of our current structure to maintain these deployments. Tours have been extended, active-duty personnel have been forbidden to leave the service and large re-enlistment bonuses are being offered to those already in uniform. Another tool, the so-called "backdoor draft" of National Guard troops is now being challenged in court.
Thus, as so often, events may dictate what happens next, regardless of what Bush or Kerry might prefer. Our current inflexibility leaves us one step short of having to take possibly drastic action to increase the size of the military.
If Iraq is able to hold meaningful elections in January, get its security forces trained and in place and begin moving forward on its own, then a door may open for gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops. If chaos continues its reign – or if U.S. troops are required to deal with a threat from Iran or North Korea, or to reestablish order in Pakistan if militants there are successful in overthrowing president Pervez Musharraf – then we'll probably have to do something quickly. A modest increase in force size may be achievable with volunteers. A major increase might very well require a return to conscription.
Young people may be paranoid for good cause. They may just be focused on the wrong reason.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:37 PM
October 11, 2004
|Afghans vote – and seem to like it
The votes won't all be counted for weeks, but so far the first presidential election in Afghanistan's history appears to be a success. An international watchdog group pronounced them "fairly democratic" despite complaints of fraud from 15 candidates opposing the U.S.-installed president, Hamid Karzai.
Blogger Matt Yglesias has some initial thoughts on the good news, and comparisons between Afghanistan and Iraq:
Karzai is a more skilled leader than [Iraqi Prime Minister] Iyad Allawi.
International involvement per se has a value beyond spreading the burden because it makes foreign involvement look less imperial.
Afghans are less concerned about the Palestinian issue than are Arabs, which makes it easier for Americans and other Westerners to credibly pose as helpers.
The motivation of the Afghan War was clear (al-Qaida attacked us and the Taliban was protecting al-Qaida) making Afghans less suspicious of our troops.
Afghans got to try out the whole "civil war and ethnic conflict" thing over a prolonged period of time before the invasion, which has decreased the appeal of communal brinksmanship.
The decision to allow the central government to be extremely weak lowered the stakes of conflict in Kabul encouraging various actors to compromise.
Though it will be a big problem in the medium- and long-term, widespread poppy cultivation has provided Afghans with economic options despite a chaotic security situation and a desperately screwed-up infrastructure.
Better cooperation between key regional actors (US, Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan) in Afghanistan than in Iraq, where the US, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey haven't been able to get on the same page.
Zalmay Khalizad [the U.S. ambassador] is a better proconsul than Paul Bremer.
In addition, a major contribution to the success of the election was the utter ineffectiveness of the ousted Taliban in disrupting it.
Bottom line, Afghanistan and Iraq are different places, so it would be hazardous to draw the conclusion that a successful election in one indicates we'll have a successful one in the other.
Nonetheless, despite the miserable security situation in Iraq, there also is good news there that is often drowned out by terror bombings and the daily drip of American blood. Australian blogger Arthur Chrenkoff writes about them at length today in the Wall Street Journal. He finds civic enthusiasm for the scheduled January elections, notes that an Iraqi delegation is touring Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country) to learn more about its gradual path from dictatorship to democracy and some progress on major infrastructure projects.
You can read it all here.
Unfortunately, lining up the good news doesn't eliminate the bad, as Dexter Filkins makes clear in this New York Times piece (free site registration may be required). By Filkins' account, it has become virtually impossible for reporters to do their job in Iraq, which decreases the likelihood that we'll get a coherent picture of what's going on there. Consider that Americans – and, as we've seen repeatedly, other Westerners – in other lines of work are bound by the same secuirty considerations and it's difficult to see how very much progress will occur unless Iraqis are able to successfully assume leadership of their own affairs.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:11 PM
|Politics and war
Meanwhile, the L.A. Times reports that the Bush administration is delaying any major push against insurgent strongholds until after Nov. 2:
"When this election's over, you'll see us move very vigorously," said one senior administration official involved in strategic planning, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Once you're past the election, it changes the political ramifications" of a large-scale offensive, the official said. "We're not on hold right now. We're just not as aggressive."
Unfortunately, from the troops' point of view, military action always has a domestic political component. Always has, always will.
But it doesn't make the grunts happy, as a Washington Post reporters on patrol with Marines at Iskandariyah finds:
The Marines' opinions have been shaped by their participation in hundreds of hours of operations over the past two months. Their assessments differ sharply from those of the interim Iraqi government and the Bush administration, which have said that Iraq is on a certain -- if bumpy -- course toward peaceful democracy.
"I feel we're going to be here for years and years and years," said Lance Cpl. Edward Elston, 22, of Hackettstown, N.J. "I don't think anything is going to get better; I think it's going to get a lot worse. It's going to be like a Palestinian-type deal. We're going to stop being a policing presence and then start being an occupying presence. . . . We're always going to be here. We're never going to leave."
Several members of the platoon said they were struck by the difference between the way the war was being portrayed in the United States and the reality of their daily lives.
"Every day you read the articles in the States where it's like, 'Oh, it's getting better and better,' " said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Snyder, 22, of Gettysburg, Pa. "But when you're here, you know it's worse every day."
Pfc. Kyle Maio, 19, of Bucks County, Pa., said he thought government officials were reticent to speak candidly because of the upcoming U.S. elections. "Stuff's going on here but they won't flat-out say it," he said. "They can't get into it."
Senior officers said they shared many of the platoon's frustrations but added that it was difficult for low-level Marines to see the larger progress being made across Iraq. Maj. Douglas Bell, the battalion's executive officer, said "one of the most difficult things about the insurgency is identifying the enemy."
Bell said it was frustrating for "every Marine in the battalion" to search for insurgents on a daily basis, only to be attacked repeatedly with bombs and mortars detonated or launched by an invisible enemy. "You want to get your hand around his frigging collar and kick his ass," Bell said. "But they slip away."
Bell said Marines offering dire predictions for Iraq were not taking into account the training of the new Iraqi security forces. He said the installation of the new Iraqi army, Iraqi National Guard and police across the country would lay the foundation for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
"That's how we're going to get out of Iraq," Bell said. "That's how America is going to get out of Iraq."
Anyone remember the ARVN?
|Posted by tbrown at 01:06 PM
October 08, 2004
|Debate 2 warmup
This piece is pretty good for a pre-debate thumb-sucker. It points out that unlike the totally scripted format of Debate 1, the so-called "town hall" format introduces a fair amount of uncertainty into the equation. The questions will come not from a media heavyweight, but from supposedly undecided voters chosen by the Gallup polling organization.
In other words, the questions aren't likely to resemble those featured at "Meet President Bush" events. Recent examples: "What do you like best about being president?" and "How has your faith helped you in your job?" and "Thank you for signing into law the partial-birth abortion ban."
Gallup had sole discretion to choose participants from a random sample in the St. Louis area. The organization asked people whether they were registered voters, whether they planned to vote and whether they were committed to a candidate.
If undecided, they qualified, but "those are few and far between," said Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll. He noted that the most recent Gallup survey showed zero percent of voters undecided, the first time anyone can remember that.
If the Missourians answered that they favored one candidate, Newport said, they were asked whether there was a chance they would vote for a different candidate. If they said there was a chance, Newport said, they were told they could join the town-hall pool.
While Bush may be asked to answer real questions, rather than the marshmallows he gets tossed at campaign appearances, the president is usually judged to be much better than John Kerry at relating to ordinary folks, so the format of this debate could suit him better.
For an early check on how it's going, click in with our Backard Bloggers, Garrett and Ian.
The debate will air at 6 p.m. Pacific time on all major channels. In the Seattle area, KCTS, the PBS station, plans to broadcast the debate at 9 p.m.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:03 PM
As President Bush says all the time on the stump: No WMDs? No problem.
Columnist Paul Krugman, however, begs to disagree (free New York Times site registration may be required:
In the world according to the Bush administration, our leaders are infallible, and their policies always succeed. If the facts don't fit that assumption, they just deny the facts.
As a political strategy, reality control has worked very well. But as a strategy for governing, it has led to predictable disaster. When leaders live in an invented reality, they do a bad job of dealing with real reality.
The point is that in the real world, as opposed to the political world, ignorance isn't strength. A leader who has the political power to pretend that he's infallible, and uses that power to avoid ever admitting mistakes, eventually makes mistakes so large that they can't be covered up. And that's what's happening to Mr. Bush.
One reason this kind of reality control works, as Josh Marshall points out, is that the conventions of journalism often give a tactical advantage to liars.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:01 PM
|The Bush defense
Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online says it's Kerry supporters who should be ashamed of themselves.
I'm not saying there are no good arguments against the war. I am saying that many of you don't care about the war. If Bill Clinton or Al Gore had conducted this war, you would be weeping joyously about Iraqi children going to school and women registering to vote. If this war had been successful rather than hard, John Kerry would be boasting today about how he supported it — much as he did every time it looked like the polls were moving in that direction. You may have forgotten Kerry's anti-Dean gloating when Saddam was captured, but many of us haven't. He would be saying the lack of WMDs are irrelevant and that Bush's lies were mistakes. And that's the point. I don't care if you hate George W. Bush; it's not like I love the guy. And I don't care if you opposed the war from day one. What disgusts me are those people who say toppling Saddam and fighting the terror war on their turf rather than ours is a mistake, not because these are bad ideas, but merely because your vanity cannot tolerate the notion that George W. Bush is right or that George W. Bush's rightness might cost John Kerry the election.
Bogus, but that's just my opinion. Goldberg's rant actually is pretty funny regardless of what you think about the war. You can read it all here.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:57 PM
|Bremer's mea culpa
It's on the New York Times op-ed page today. His assertion that the U.S. blew the occupation because it lacked enough troops to impose security was a bombshell the Bush administration is trying urgently to defuse. It's not working though, for reasons Phil Carter assesses at Inteldump:
You cannot say on the one hand, as the White House has done, that you will commit everything necessary to win in Iraq -- and then fight a war on the cheap without sufficient numbers of boots on the ground. I have been told by mid-level officers and commanders that the U.S. "troop to task ratio" never was what those commanders wanted. But at some point in the chain of command, political calculations entered the decisionmaking process, and the administration made the conscious choice to not send the resources necessary to Iraq in order to support the effort there. Bremer knows that, and Bremer said as much in his speeches that were reported this week. It's a shame he felt obligated to backpedal and spin his comments. Although, as we can see from this op-ed, the core of his opinions haven't changed: "I believe it would have been helpful to have had more troops ..." All that has changed is the spin.
Yes. More reality control.
Correction: I've previously referred to Phil Carter as a former Army intelligence officer. He is a former Army officer all right, just not in intelligence.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:53 PM
|The Afghanistan referendum
Afghans vote for their president for the first time tomorrow in what is being interpreted as a referendum on both the U.S.-installed president, Hamid Karzai, and the U.S. presence there.
The New York Times (free site registration may be required), says the intrusive, but essential, security provided by the U.S. has made Karzai a shadow candidate:
He spends most of his time confined in the palace compound in Kabul, where he takes nightly loops for exercise. When he leaves, he is accompanied by an armada of DynCorp Inc. guards -- one of whom slapped a government minister who got too close in a recent trip to the north -- and, at this rally, American attack helicopters.
Mr. Karzai was so frustrated after a trip to Gardez was aborted because of a rocket attack that he sneaked out with two guards to a neighborhood in Kabul, evoking a fablelike image of a king so eager to be among his people that he disguises himself as a commoner.
For many Afghans, as a result, Mr. Karzai has become an insubstantial figure, clearer for what he stands for than for who he is or what he has done. To supporters who will vote for him on Saturday, he represents three years of relative peace and national unity, as well as the leader of an important Afghan tribe. Opponents see him as weak, beholden to the West or incapable of fulfilling the expectations they had for reconstruction.
The 15 other candidates for president are far less known, however, so anything other than a Karzai victory (though it might take a runoff with the second-place finisher) would be a shocker.
Jeremy Barnicle at a Afghanistan Watch, a new site devoted to developments there, also notes the tight relationship between Karzai and the U.S.:
According to Afghanistan's election commission, Interim President Hamid Karzai's running mates are Ahmed Zia Massoud, brother of the legendary Tajik commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, and Karim Khalili, an ethnic Hazara leader.
But the casual Afghan observer could be forgiven for thinking another man, Zalmay Khalilzad, was joining Karzai on the ticket.
Khalizad is the U.S. ambassador.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:49 PM
October 07, 2004
|The 'new' Bush for Debate 2
For Debate 2 tomorrow night, expect President Bush to be more aggressive, more negative, nastier.
We got a preview in his speech in Pennsylvania yesterday, which turned out to be familiar arguments in a new wrapper. As the final props were knocked from under the administration's prime rationale for war by a new 900-plus page report that concludes Saddam Hussein had no meaningful WMD programs after 1991, Bush sought to shift the focus back to John Kerry's supposed inconstancy on national security.
As The New York Times reports (free site registration may be required):
The result, many around Mr. Bush concede, is that the president is taking a considerable risk in the next 27 days that he will appear out of touch with the realities on the ground in Iraq -- and indeed Mr. Kerry's campaign quickly sought to exploit that vulnerability on Wednesday. But one of Mr. Bush's closest aides said that "it's more important that he shows he is going to stick with it, not look back, and make this work."
Will it work? Tune in to the channel of your choice at 6 p.m. Pacific time tomorrow.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:49 PM
|Saddam: No WMDs, but lots of bribes for friends
The new 918-page report by Charles Duelfer, the Bush administration's chief weapons inspector in Iraq sinks the already torpedoed argument that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
To the contrary,
The 1991 Persian Gulf War and subsequent U.N. inspections destroyed Iraq's illicit weapons capability and, for the most part, Saddam Hussein did not try to rebuild it, according to an extensive report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq that contradicts nearly every prewar assertion made by top administration officials about Iraq.
Charles A. Duelfer, whom the Bush administration chose to complete the U.S. investigation of Iraq's weapons programs, said Hussein's ability to produce nuclear weapons had "progressively decayed" since 1991. Inspectors, he said, found no evidence of "concerted efforts to restart the program."
"We were almost all wrong" on Iraq, Duelfer told a Senate panel yesterday.
The new report contains some hitherto unknown Machiavellian plot twists. This piece reports that Saddam kept the fact that Iraq had no WMDs secret even from his closest aides:
The accounts contradict many previous U.S. assumptions about relations between Saddam and his senior aides, as well as previous U.S. views on what Saddam was doing and how he saw the outside world before the Iraq war.
Previously, for example, many in the U.S. intelligence community believed Saddam's sycophantic generals kept him in the dark about the true state of Iraq's chemical-, biological- and nuclear-weapons programs — that is, that the dictator was misled by associates who told him what he wanted to hear.
Far from being misinformed, the ISG [the U.S. arms inspectors] report says, Saddam had been micromanaging Iraq's WMD policy himself and kept even his most loyal aides from gaining a clear picture of what was going on — and, more important, not going on — with the program.
The Duelfer report also advances the simmering oil-for-food scandal in which Saddam tendered lucrative oil-trading vouchers to influential people around the world who might do him a favor in return. And this section of the report does provide fodder for an oft-repeated Bush administration post hoc justification for the war: that Saddam had the "intent" to create WMDs and would've if he could've.
From The Washington Post (free site registration may be required):
Saddam Hussein made $11 billion in illegal income and eroded the world's toughest economic embargo during his final years as Iraq's leader through shrewd schemes to secretly buy off dozens of countries, top foreign officials and major international figures, according to a new report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector released yesterday.
Oil "vouchers" that could be resold for large profits were given to officials including Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua and former Russian presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky as well as governments, companies and influential individuals in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the report said.
Russia, France and China -- all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- were the top three countries in which individuals, companies or entities received the lucrative vouchers. Hussein's goal, the report said, was to provide financial incentives so that these nations would use their influence to help undermine what Duelfer called an "economic stranglehold" imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Hussein's effort to thwart the embargo and divide the nations that supported it has long been known, but the Duelfer report reveals the lengths to which he went in attempting to defy the United Nations. The details could buttress Washington's contention that important players were preventing the U.N. program from squeezing Saddam, forcing the United States to launch a war to topple him.
There's also this disquieting disclosure:
Several American companies on the list, compiled from 13 documents kept by Hussein's vice president and oil minister, were given vouchers to purchase billions of dollars of oil at discounted prices. The U.S. companies are not named in the report because of privacy laws, U.S. officials said.
Gee, I bet they're insignificant little outfits we've never heard of with no ties to anyone we know in Washington and I have full confidence they'll be investigated and, as they love to say back there, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
But meanwhile, let's beat up the French, who certainly deserve it. From The Scotsman:
Saddam Hussein believed he could avoid the Iraq war with a bribery strategy targeting Jacques Chirac, the President of France, according to devastating documents released last night.
Saddam was convinced that the UN sanctions -- which stopped him acquiring weapons -- were on the brink of collapse and he bankrolled several foreign activists who were campaigning for their abolition. He personally approved every one.
To keep America at bay, he focused on Russia, France and China - three of the five UN Security Council members with the power to veto war. Politicians, journalists and diplomats were all given lavish gifts and oil-for-food vouchers.
Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told the ISG that the "primary motive for French co-operation" was to secure lucrative oil deals when UN sanctions were lifted. Total, the French oil giant, had been promised exploration rights.
Iraqi intelligence officials then "targeted a number of French individuals that Iraq thought had a close relationship to French President Chirac," it said, including two of his "counsellors" and spokesman for his re-election campaign.
They even assessed the chances for "supporting one of the candidates in an upcoming French presidential election." Chirac is not mentioned by name.
A memo sent to Saddam dated in May last year from his intelligence corps said they met with a "French parliamentarian" who "assured Iraq that France would use its veto in the UN Security Council against any American decision to attack Iraq."
As George Bush has discovered, trying to retroactively justify a war is hard work. On the other hand, the sad truth is that the Chirac government most likely would have found a way to oppose military action in Iraq even if there had been concrete proof of WMDs. Fortunately, France is a democracy, and governments there come and go, too.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:39 PM
|Can you say 'voodoo'?
Another four years of the Bush administration's economic policies will carry us much further down the road toward the banana-republic social structure he seems to so devoutly desire. No More Mr. Nice Blog sums up one thrust of this thrust here: the drive to eliminate all taxation of income from savings and investments (a minor source of income for the vast majority of Americans and a very large one for the wealthy and the superrich).
In this letter, via the blog Max Speak, more than 150 professors of business and economics from major universities all over the country tell the president that his policies are imperiling the nation:
As professors of economics and business, we are concerned that U.S. economic policy has taken a dangerous turn under your stewardship. Nearly every major economic indicator has deteriorated since you took office in January 2001. Real GDP growth during your term is the lowest of any presidential term in recent memory. Total non-farm employment has contracted and the unemployment rate has increased. Bankruptcies are up sharply, as is our dependence on foreign capital to finance an exploding current account deficit. All three major stock indexes are lower now than at the time of your inauguration. The percentage of Americans in poverty has increased, real median income has declined, and income inequality has grown.
The data make clear that your policy of slashing taxes – primarily for those at the upper reaches of the income distribution – has not worked. The fiscal reversal that has taken place under your leadership is so extreme that it would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. The federal budget surplus of over $200 billion that we enjoyed in the year 2000 has disappeared, and we are now facing a massive annual deficit of over $400 billion. In fact, if transfers from the Social Security trust fund are excluded, the federal deficit is even worse – well in excess of a half a trillion dollars this year alone. Although some members of your administration have suggested that the mountain of new debt accumulated on your watch is mainly the consequence of 9-11 and the war on terror, budget experts know that this is simply false. Your economic policies have played a significant role in driving this fiscal collapse. And the economic proposals you have suggested for a potential second term – from diverting Social Security contributions into private accounts to making the recent tax cuts permanent – only promise to exacerbate the crisis by further narrowing the federal revenue base.
Just one more critical piece of national life slowly being rendered FUBAR by this administration's jihad on common sense.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:33 PM
October 06, 2004
I passed on last night's debate in favor of going with my wife and daughter to see the women who are trying to bring a national sports championship to our deprived burg for the first time since the Sonics in 1979 (unless you count the University of Washington football team's tie with Miami over a decade ago for the mythical college football title). So I don't have a firm conviction about who "won" this debate, just some impressions:
-- Vice President Dick Cheney did well on foreign policy and in seeking to define the Senators John (Kerry and Edwards) as weak and irresolute on critical national security questions.
-- Edwards thoroughly chewed up the vice president on domestic policy, especially the lackluster jobs "recovery," the "outsourcing" of the hunt for Osama bin Laden to Afghan warlords and Cheney's potential conflict of interest with his former employer and bigtime Iraq contractor, Halliburton.
Thus, it seems like pretty much a coin-flip. But as we all know, draws are unsatisfying outcomes. Kissing your sister and all that. So for those of you who need a conclusion, here are a couple:
Cheney won:Jonathan Goldberg at National Review Online:
If I inhale some asbestos, Edwards is my guy. If I want someone to "stand up" democratic regimes in the Middle East and obliterate jihadist terrorist groups, I'll go with Cheney.
Edwards won:William Saletan at Slate:
It's like a ninth-inning rally. Kerry got the lead-off hit. Edwards singled him to third. How will it end? Pass the popcorn.
Mine's in the microwave.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:23 PM
|The stock market's vote
Tired of see-sawing polls? Watch the Dow Jones Industrial Average instead. It certainly does its share of see-sawing as well. But James Stack, one of our best stock market analysts and historians, says in the Sept. 24 issue of his InvesTech Research Market Analyst that the performance of the stock market (as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average) in the two months preceding a presidential election "has displayed an almost uncanny ability to forecast who will win the White House."
Since 1900, there have been 26 presidential elections. In 16 of them, the DJIA climbed during the two months preceding election day. The incumbent president or party won in 15 of those 16 instances. However, in 9 of the 10 elections where the DJIA fell in those two months preceding election, the incumbent party lost.
So this indicator is 92.3 percent accurate. This year's magic number is Dow 10,298.28. A close above that on the Monday before election day would provide a gain for the critical two months and indicate a Bush victory; below would produce a loss and predict a Kerry win. As I write, the Dow is a little less than 1 percent into Kerry territory at 10,197, but is rallying modestly.
More popcorn, please.
The InvesTech Web site, which has subscription information and some free data and opinion, is here.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:15 PM
October 05, 2004
|The veep faceoff
Tonight it's Dick Cheney vs. John Edwards. The pit bull vs. the lapdog.
By some estimates, it may be the most-watched vice presidential debate in 20 years (see Note below).
Forty-one percent of voters, about 42 million people, plan to tune into the broadcast of tonight's debate from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, according to the Washington-based Pew Research Center. In 2000, 29 million people watched Cheney debate Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, according to Nielsen Media Research.
But will it mean anything? These guys are, after all, running for the job that FDR's first veep, John Nance Garner, memorably described as "not worth a bucket of warm spit." (For what he actually said, click here.)
The answer to the question, provisionally at least, is yes.
Garner was a bit player – and a disgruntled one at that -- to a president who was always in charge and never in doubt. On the other hand, Dick Cheney is widely viewed as perhaps the most powerful vice president in history. Whether that's accurate we'll leave to the history books. He is, however, indisputably connected directly to two of the administration's most critical decisions:
-- To invade Iraq.
-- To cast the administration's tax cuts in a way that the benefits flow disproportionally to the richest 1 percent of Americans.
As the Washington Post's Dan Froomkin notes in a good pre-debate roundup,
… unlike at the vice presidential debate four years ago Cheney is now in the awkward position of defending an assailable record. Cheney has been the point man for many of the most disputed assertions made by the Bush administration.
Plus, the campaign clearly wants him to repair the damage inflicted by President Bush himself at last week's debate.
So Cheney will be on the spot. Edwards will push aggressively to put him on the defensive about Iraq and taxes to undermine any attempt to ameliorate President Bush's self-inflicted injuries from Debate 1. And Edwards is at the very least a far more skilled and compelling speaker.
However, in one critical area – experience in government – Cheney holds all the cards. The veep has devoted his career to government service (chief of staff for President Gerald Ford, congressman from Wyoming and defense secretary for Bush 1). There is hardly an area of government that Cheney cannot address with the authority of personal experience.
Edwards, a one-term U.S. senator, is a pup by comparison. He did not, however, become a millionaire trial lawyer, by being dumb or shallow. And the personality contrast between Edwards and Cheney could scarcely be greater.
Tune in (6 p.m. Pacific time on C-SPAN and C-SPAN2, ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel). This is bound to be interesting and, "Cactus Jack" Garner notwithstanding, may even be meaningful.
Note: The most-watched vice presidential debate in history was the 1984 contest between then-Vice President George H.W. Bush and U.S. Representative Geraldine Ferraro of New York, who ran with Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale. That debate drew 56.7 million viewers.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:57 PM
October 04, 2004
|Polled today, gone tomorrow
All year various talking heads have been telling us that we're seeing the most polarized electorate in years. The underlying subtext of this is that there aren't many undecided voters. But if that's so, how come we're seeing such big swings in poll results over relatively short periods of time?
I haven't had the opportunity yet to look at the so-called "internals" of the latest polls, but I expect there are a couple of things at work.
One, pollsters have been having a harder time getting good, representative polling samples. Some of it is personal: It seems that more people don't want to be bothered to take polls or don't participate because of some suspicion about the polling process itself. Some of it is technological: The proliferation of cell phones, for example, makes it harder to get the right demographics for a sample (you can't tell for sure what ZIP code, or codes, a cell phone might be located in). And so forth. Since good samples are critical to reliable results we face the possibility of a) polling models that could leave us quite surprised on Nov. 2, or b) tinkering with sampling methods that can adversely affect trend-tracking, which is really where polls are most useful.
Second, most polls ask some version of this question:
Suppose that the presidential election were being held today, and it included John Kerry and John Edwards as the Democratic candidates, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as the Republican candidates, and Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo as independent candidates. Who would you vote for?
You'll notice that there's no option for saying you're undecided, though if a respondent says he has no opinion this will be noted. So basically, the question pushes respondents into a position, even if they are undecided. As a result, the real number of undecided voters is somewhat higher than the 2 or 3 percent reported in stories about the polls.
Which brings us to the first post-debate polls. In the aftermath of the Republican convention, you'll recall, President Bush jumped to a lead of several points (variously reported at 5 to 14 in the polls I saw) over John Kerry. In the wake of Debate 1, that lead has vanished.
Kerry now leads very narrowly in the latest Newsweek poll (they call it a statistical dead heat, which is true in that it is within the poll's margin of error):
With a solid majority of voters concluding that John Kerry outperformed George W. Bush in the first presidential debate on Thursday, the president’s lead in the race for the White House has vanished, according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll. In the first national telephone poll using a fresh sample, NEWSWEEK found the race now statistically tied among all registered voters, 47 percent of whom say they would vote for Kerry and 45 percent for George W. Bush in a three-way race.
Removing Independent candidate Ralph Nader, who draws 2 percent of the vote, widens the Kerry-Edwards lead to three points with 49 percent of the vote versus the incumbent’s 46 percent. Four weeks ago the Republican ticket, coming out of a successful convention in New York, enjoyed an 11-point lead over Kerry-Edwards with Bush pulling 52 percent of the vote and the challenger just 41 percent.
The new USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll shows the two men tied:
Favorable public reaction to his performance in the first presidential debate has boosted Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and narrowed the contest with President Bush to a tie, according to a new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll.
Bush's lead of 8 percentage points before Thursday's debate evaporated in a survey taken Friday through Sunday. Among likely voters, Bush and Kerry are at 49% each. Independent candidate Ralph Nader is at 1%.
As always, read these results with caution. They were valid (if ever) over the two or three days they were taken following the debate and no doubt will change in the next four weeks. Or, as the car people say, your mileage may vary.
Nonetheless, while we won't know a real number until Nov. 2, both campaigns are acting as though the race is a dead heat again. That may make tomorrow night's vice presidential debate tomorrow night more important than it might otherwise be (more about that tomorrow) and raises the stakes for presidential Debate 2 on Friday.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:02 PM
|Debate 1 mop-up
Wait – DO forget Poland
Kerry: The United Nations, Kofi Annan offered help after Baghdad fell. And we never picked him up on that and did what was necessary to transfer authority and to transfer reconstruction. It was always American-run.
Secondly, when we went in, there were three countries: Great Britain, Australia and the United States. That‘s not a grand coalition. We can do better.
Lehrer: Thirty seconds, Mr. President.
Bush: Well, actually, he forgot Poland [which, with 2,500 troops is the fourth-largest contributor to the coalition effort in Iraq]. …
Sadly, today we have this news:
Polish troops will start to withdraw from Iraq in the New Year and all will be out by the end of 2005, the country's president has promised.
The 'global test'
Like most conservative bloggers, blogger Tom Maguire is having fun with Kerry's assertion that U.S. wars ought to be able to pass a "global test." Taken in context, I don't think what Kerry was trying to say should unduly tax anyone's understanding:
Lehrer: New question. Two minutes, Senator Kerry. What is your position on the whole concept of preemptive war?
Kerry: The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for preemptive strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War. And it was always one of the things we argued about with respect to arms control.
No president, though all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America.
But if and when you do it, Jim, you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you‘re doing what you‘re doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons. …
Seems straightforward to me, but not to Maquire and others.
Maybe they can comprehend this suggestion from Mark Kleiman, who proposes that Kerry clarify what he meant this way:
The President isn't criticizing me. He's criticizing the signers of the Declaration of Independence. They proposed the first global test. They called it "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." The test is not whether other people like what we're doing. It's whether we're doing it for reasons we're prepared to explain to the world.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:55 PM
|| July 2006