Friday, August 22 2003
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WHY WE'RE WINNING: Okay, this is going to a longish post, so strap yourselves in. On Wednesday, Josh Marshall wrote the following about the UN bombing in Iraq and demanded some answers:

I see from Matthew Yglesias' site that there is a notion being peddled by certain conservative columnists that the bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad is actually a sign that the bad guys are on the ropes. Now, that strikes me as a rather creative of interpretation of the event...

...now we have what I guess we could call the 'paradoxically positive mass-casualty terrorism event' theory: that mass-casualty terrorism events show the success of our policy since they are a sign 'the terrorists' are becoming desperate.

For my part, I don't think either guerrilla attacks or mass-casualty terror attacks in themselves show the administration's policy is a failure. This is a difficult business. But they also don't strike me as positive developments.

So I think it's time for the hawks to give us a few examples of events that would show that our policy was not working or at least facing setbacks. You know, just so we can put down some benchmarks, so we can know what we're working with..

Since I'm one of the "hawks" who believes in Marshall's "paradoxically positive mass-casualty terrorism event" theory I guess it falls on me - at least in part - to respond.

Let me start first by saying that Marshall misses (either purposefully or not) the fundamental point of the argument. The question isn't whether terrorists in Iraq are still able to blow things up and create mass casualties - they can and will continue to be capable of doing so for the foreseeable future with some degree of success. We will never be able to prevent every attack.

The core of the hypothesis, at least in my mind, is that the success of our policy in Iraq is demonstrated by the simple fact that the terrorists are not able to attack the targets they want to in the way they want to attack them. That fact, in and of itself, proves the terrorists are operating from a position of weakness.

Clearly, all the various terrorist elements operating in Baghdad have a common goal: to kill Americans and to drive the U.S. out of Iraq in humiliating fashion. But if every terrorist in Iraq were to sit down and put together a list of the Top 10 targets they would most want to strike, parking a truck bomb outside the hotel where the UN was conducting business would almost certainly not be among them.

They were forced into striking the UN because it was one of the most attractive soft targets available to them at the time. Even more tragic is the fact that the attack could most likely have been prevented if the UN had accepted the offer of protection given to them by U.S. troops.

Now, by saying this I'm not making the false argument Marshall implies, i.e. that the death of large numbers of people at the hands of terrorists in Iraq is somehow a "positive" event. It's not - and I think Marshall has done himself a disservice by trying to mischaracterize the point people are making.

Marshall knows full well that it's impossible to ignore the important role symbolism plays in acts of terrorism. The symbolic nature of a terrorist target is at least as important, if not more important, than the number of casualties the attack produces and that each attack (excluding the Israel-Palestinian conflict which I think has taken on its own unique set of properties) is intended to make some show of force or power. Simply producing casualties - whether at a hotel in Iraq or on a beach in Bali - isn't enough.

For example, less people died in the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 than did this week in the bombing of the UN in Iraq. Yet the ramifications of the attack on the Cole, both in America and around the rest of the world, were more significant by a factor of a hundred because of what the target was, where it was attacked, and who the casualties were.

Let's take another example, this time a hypothetical from the terrorists' point of view. If you were a terrorist in Iraq and you had your choice, which would you rather do: blow up 500 aid workers in Mosul or successfully assassinate L. Paul Bremer? Every single terrorist would choose the latter because it would have a devastating psychological effect on our troops, our government, and the American public's confidence.

Josh wanted a list of examples that would show our policy in Iraq isn't working or is facing set backs. Here's mine, in no particular order:

Our policy in Iraq is failing when terrorists can successfully prevent us from:
-keeping schools and hospitals open
-continuing to establish a functioning form of representative government for the Iraqi people
-conducting military and security operations
-continuing to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure
-winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people

To elaborate on the last point: despite what has been reported in the press over the last few months, there is a significant body of evidence suggesting that the Iraqi people understand that we are there to help, not to conquer. Furthermore they are glad we're there, wish there were more U.S troops there, and hope we'll continue to stay for quite some time.

Our mission in Iraq is safe as long as public sentiment doesn't turn overwhelmingly against us. Right now, it's hard to see how that will happen, given that we continue to labor and produce tangible results for the Iraqi people every day while rogue terrorist elements seek to do exactly the opposite.

TUCKER'S TORTURE: If the producers of CNN's Crossfire were trying to give Tucker Carlson a brain aneurysm, then having Janeane Garofalo co-host the show all week was the perfect idea.

I used to watch and enjoy Crossfire a lot during the Kinsley-Buchanan heydays, but today the show is virtually unwatchable. In a desperate attempt to revive the once-great show from sagging ratings, the folks at CNN have turned it into a parody of a political talk show. There's barely a serious thought spoken in the entire thirty minutes. Now it's just four people racing through partisan talking points as fast and furious as they can and seeing who can come up with the best one liner - all to a Jerry Springeresque live audience hooting and hollering with approval. No wonder their ratings continue to suck. - T. Bevan 8:00 am

Thursday, August 21 2003
GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER:
Schwarzenegger did what he had to do yesterday in a very impressive news conference to kick off the substantive phase of his campaign. He was able to put to rest the background noise from last week that questioned his commitment to lower taxes and less government regulation. Just these few comments below on taxes will be enough to win over conservatives whose votes he will need to win: (video)

Does that mean we are going to make cuts? Yes. Does this mean education is on the table? No. Does this mean I am willing to raise taxes? No. Additional taxes are the last burden we need to put on the backs of the citizens and businesses of California.

I feel the people of California have been punished enough. From the time they get up in the morning and flush the toilet they're taxed. When they go get a coffee they're taxed. When they get in their car they're taxed. When they go to the gas station they're taxed. When they go to lunch they're taxed. This goes on all day long. Tax. Tax. Tax. Tax. Tax.

Not only is this exactly what conservative voters want to hear, this message will resonant with millions of voters in the political middle who also feel they are overtaxed considering what they get in return from Sacramento.

When this anti-tax message is contrasted with Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's plan to raise taxes and fees a whopping 8 billion dollars it will work as a very powerful campaign message between now and October 7.

CRUZ OR DAVIS? DAVIS OR CRUZ?: Before this week I had been of the belief that the Democrats would jettison Gray Davis sometime in the next several weeks and move all their support to Bustamante. However, after Cruz's terrible performance earlier this week where he basically promised the voters he would enact policies that will chase more jobs and businesses from California - and then Arnold's performance yesterday where he promised voters just the opposite - I don't think Cruz has a chance. And I think the Democrat powers-that-be in California might just come to that same conclusion as well.

It may be Cruz, and not Davis, who gets chucked overboard by the Democrats in the next few weeks as they decide that rallying around Governor Davis and trying to convince the voters the entire recall is a "right-wing power grab" is the best strategy in their attempt to hold on to the nation's most important governor's mansion.

The Democrats are saddled with two not so attractive choices: 1) backing Cruz, who will lose or 2) rallying around the most hated Governor in America. It should be a fun six weeks if you are a Republican because the odds look pretty darn good that the next governor of California will be Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. J. McIntyre 7:26 am

Wednesday, August 20 2003
HEY AMERICA, WE'RE STILL AT WAR: While we're focused on blackouts and recalls, yesterday came a couple of stern reminders that we're still fighting a deadly war against terror - even if the most recent manifestations of evil weren't perpetrated directly against U.S. troops or American citizens.

Ralph Peters gets it right in today's New York Post: the attack in Iraq is another indication of the terrorists' weakness, not their growing strength. Even if the terrorists consider the killing of 20 UN workers a "success", they are pursuing a strategy that over the long term will alienate the Iraqi population and hopefully continue to galvanize the international community to fight against terrorist groups around the globe. It is a strategy that is ultimately doomed to failure.

The only way we can lose the fight is if we lose our resolve - which is what bothers me about this dispatch from Reuters suggesting the UN is leaving Baghdad. This is exactly what the terrorists wanted to happen and it will convince them that future bombings will produce similar results. We cannot allow that idea to stand.

BUSTAMANTE'S BUDGET: Bustamante is calling his new budget "tough love" for California. Here's a blurb on it from Dan Weintraub's blog:

The plan would raise taxes by $8 billion on the wealthy, business owners, commercial property, and on the users of cigarettes and alcohol.

Ostensibly, taxes are placed on alcohol and cigarettes because they are "sins" which the government would like to deter people from using - or make them pay extra for the "privilege" of consuming - because of some of the additional burdens placed on states down the road in terms of health care costs, etc.

Isn't it curious that Bustmante's budget lumps the earning and creation of wealth, businesses and jobs along with other "sin taxes." And doesn't simple logic suggest that the more taxes you place on these things the less of them you'll get?

BUSH SITE: If you missed the story yesterday, President Bush's team unveiled the new Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign web site. Former blogger Patrick Ruffini is heading up the operation which includes some new tools designed specifically for bloggers and the Internet. Check it out. And don't forget to donate.

CONASON, PART II: A few days ago I ripped Joe Conason for his awful Oberserver column accusing Republicans of an "unquenchable urge to seize power by whatever means are available."

Well, it looks as if this was just the beginning, rather than the end of Conason's ridiculousness. It now turns out that liberals are responsible for everything good in our society. - T. Bevan 8:05 am

Tuesday, August 19 2003
THE SCHWARZENEGGER PICTURE: In case you didn't get the memo, today's media theme is "conservatives wary/concerned/upset about Arnold." (For reference see: Washington Post, Washington Times, Wall Street Journal, CS Monitor, Chicago Tribune).

Since John addressed this issue at length on Hugh Hewitt's radio show last night, I'm going to spare myself the trouble of writing anything original and just paraphrase his comments.

By and large, it seems as if California conservatives are willing to give Arnold a pass on his liberal social views. Peter Robinson, former Reagan speechwriter and current host of Uncommon Knowledge, agrees in John Fund's column this morning that conservatives are indeed "willing to cut Schwarzenegger enormous slack."

What conservatives won't tolerate, however, is Arnold going soft on taxes. Schwarzenegger's ultimate success rests not on him proving his liberal social credentials to moderates and Democrats but on his ability to assure Republican voters that he is a solid fiscal conservative. It's a crucial piece of the overall puzzle.

That's why the Buffett fiasco is so damaging to his candidacy. When your newly-anointed superstar economic advisor walks over and grabs the third rail of California politics with both hands and holds on, you need to respond in a big, public way. Arnold should have gone straight into the studio the day after Buffett's interview and cut a :30 TV or radio spot declaring he would "terminate" any proposal to raise property taxes. He didn't do that and the story festered in the media, despite his campaign's best effort at swatting it down.

Arnold still has time to right the ship - but he needs to get cracking. The willingness of conservatives to compromise on his social views is a significant development. This is a group of voters who rarely put pragmatism ahead of principle. It's an opportunity that won't last very long and one Arnold cannot afford to miss.

After spurning moderate Dick Riordan last year in favor of conservative neophyte Bill Simon and watching him implode against Gray Davis, it seems as if conservatives are looking at Arnold and finally seeing the bigger picture. He may not be the Moses of the California GOP, but if Arnold can begin fixing the state's problems and win a second term, voters in the nation's largest state will begin to remember that Republicans aren't such terrible creatures after all. And that may eventually pave the way for those with more conservative social agendas to win statewide office.

SOBER ANALYSIS: Check out Hugo Young's white-is-black, black-is-white" 2004 election analysis:

This [the Bush government] is a hard-right administration offering virtually no concessions to the soothing niceties that might make it more electorally attractive to voters who are not Republicans. Its tax policy is grotesquely loaded against the masses and in favour of the rich. Its bias on the environment unfailingly comes out on the side of the big commercial interests. It is daily tearing up tracts of policy and practice that protected the basic rights of people snared in the justice system. It is the hardest right administration since Herbert Hoover's from a very different era. And, which is the point, delights in being so. There is no apology or cover-up.

But even that isn't the most striking thing about the set-up as it now stands. For this we have to turn to the Democrats. Unlike Bush, many Democrats are sticking to the conventional wisdom. They grope for some kind of centre ground. But so far has the territory shifted, thanks to the Republicans' shameless stakeout on the hard right, that their quest continues to drain their party of most of its meaning and any of its capacity to inspire.

According to Young, Joe Lieberman is "dreary" and John Kerry is a "calculating wimp." And Howard Dean is right down the middle. - T. Bevan 8:45 am

Monday, August 18 2003
PROGRAMMING NOTES: Over the weekend we made a couple of changes to the site. First, we added a page devoted to coverage of the California recall election. As usual, we've tried our best to create a page that displays the most recent news stories and polling data in a simple, quick-read format, as well as to create a base from which you can easily access all the news coverage. Please take a visit and let me know what you think.

We've also made a change to our News Coverage page. Instead of compiling a list of day's top 15 or 20 news stories from various sources (which you can find on hundreds of web sites out there) we've reconfigured the page to display the stories that are running on the front pages of the top 15 to 20 newspapers from around the country (something I don't believe you can find anywhere else). Again, please check out the page and give me some feedback.

SIMONIZING ARNOLD: Speaking of the California recall, Bill Simon went up with radio ads attacking Arnold for being a "liberal" and exploiting Warren Buffet's recent gaffe on Prop 13. Simon also used his appearance on Meet the Press yesterday to drive the point home:

You know, itís good to hear about some of the stances that Arnold has. You know, for example, heís pro-abortion; Iím not. Iím pro-life. But the bottom line, again, is this: We need plans to fix California. We need to hear about Mr. Schwarzeneggerís ideas in a broad variety of areas. The lieutenant governorís correct. This electionís not about personality; itís about plans. Itís about people that care about California. To me, itís not about raising taxes. When the lieutenant governor says, ďLetís repeal the tripling of the car tax,Ē I agree. But I believe what heíd like to do is raise taxes in other areas.

I donít want to do that. I want to shrink the size of government. Mr. Schwarzeneggerís surrounded himself with liberals in terms of spending. Mr. Buffett said last week, his chief economic spokesman, that he thinks the property tax is too low. I donít think it is too low. Iíve talked to hundreds of thousands of our citizens that are having trouble making ends meet, having trouble paying their electricity bills, making their mortgage payments. This is not a time for higher taxes. It is a time for responsible government.

So Simon is back to the RINO (Republican In Name Only) campaign that worked against Riordan in last year's primary - thanks to $10 million of help from one Gray Davis.

I can't speak for California voters, but from where I sit Simon is the least attractive of the GOP candidates if for no other reason than because the guy just had his bite at the apple last year and choked on it by running a crappy campaign.

McClintock looks to be the new standard bearer for California conservatives and it's quite possible that Simon's ads tagging Arnie as a liberal will benefit McClintock more than Simon.

On the other hand, on MTP yesterday Simon didn't knock down the possibility of getting out of the race at some point in the future. So what's his plan? Take a swing at Arnold's kneecaps and see if he falls.

But if Arnold doesn't fall, and if Bill Simon stays in this race and Schwarzenegger eventually loses in a squeaker to Bustamante, Bill Simon will almost single-handedly be responsible for keeping the GOP locked out of the governor's mansion twice in less than a year.

"HIGHLY LIKELY": A study due out today from the World Markets Research Center has the United States ranked 4th on a list of countries most likely to be targeted for a terrorist attack in the coming year.

Colombia is ranked number one on the list, for good reason.

ILLINOIS SENATE: Quick update on the race from Steve Neal: Barack Obama, the Harvard-educated Illinois State Senator is gaining ground and could be paving the way for an upset victory in the Dem primary.

PROSECUTING THE HUMAN SHIELDS: I'm not crazy about the Justice Department spending valuable resources prosecuting a few hundred anti-war-granola types who were so misguided they thought putting their lives on the line in defense of Saddam Hussein's regime was a good idea and a moral cause.

That being said, if you break the law you should suffer the consequences. In this case, the consequences are some hefty fines for violating sanctions against Iraq that have been in place since 1990. It doesn't matter what these people thought about the morality of the war or what their intentions were.

Here's a quote from one of the human shields followed by a response from the spokesperson from the Treasury Department:

"What we did going over there was a humanitarian act, and to be prosecuted for it is a form of persecution," Passalaqua said.

Griffin denied that the letters carried any political overtones or were intended to soften criticism of the Iraq war.

"The right to free speech is not a license to violate U.S. or international sanctions," Griffin said. "And while free expression is a right enjoyed by all Americans, choosing which laws to abide by and which to ignore is not a privilege that is granted to anyone."

It's hard to argue with Griffin's logic.

One more thing: the US military's forced removal of Saddam's regime and their continued presence in Iraq today represents the single greatest humanitarian act performed on behalf of the Iraqi people in the last half-century. Yes, it came with and continues to exact a cost in terms of the loss of innocent Iraqi civilians and the precious lives of US soldiers.

But we also freed 35 million people from tyranny and gave them hope for more prosperous, peaceful lives. Isn't that better and more humanitarian than delivering "several hundred dollars worth of vitamins, children's Tylenol, iron supplements and water-filtration kits" to Iraqi citizens but leaving them to be tortured and terrorized by Saddam Hussein? - T. Bevan 9:15 am

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