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March 31, 2006

WA Senate Poll

New SV poll out of Washington State: Cantwell 49%, McGavick 39%. Cantwell's job approval is at 49%.

A couple of other interesting results:
--- Republican Dino Rossi easily beats Christine Gregoire in a hypothetical 2008 rematch of the Governor's race, 51%-38%
--- Bush job approval 32%
--- 56% favor immediate withdrawal from Iraq within six months.
--- 57% of Republicans say Bush isn't a Reagan conservative.

Krugman's Penance

krugman.jpgIt's like clockwork. Whenever a liberal columnist gives off even the slightest hint of violating progressive orthodoxy they get absolutely blasted by readers, and as sure as the sun will rise in the East that pundit's next column will contain some sort of modification or qualification, inevitably packaged in an unhinged rant against the right. You see this pattern somewhat frequently with Richard Cohen, and to a lesser extent with guys like Tom Friedman and E.J. Dionne.

One person you never see it happen to is Paul Krugman, because he's so consistently, rabidly anti-Bush and anti-Republican. Last week, however, Krugman wrote about "some uncomfortable facts about the economics of modern immigration, and immigration from Mexico in particular."

Krugman stated up front he was "instinctively, emotionally pro-immigration" but went on to acknowledge that low-skill immigrants threaten to "unravel" the social safety net and that "realistically, we'll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants" with "better controls on illegal immigration."

Even though Krugman took a few gratuitous partisan shots, the column was noticeable for its attempt to deal, at least in part, with some of the realities of a very complex, difficult, and emotional issue. Mickey Kaus noticed it too, commenting that "Krugman is clearly way off the PC/Dem/elite legalization reservation here."

Indeed, judging by the opening of his column today (Times $elect), Krugman seems to have been threatened with being excommunicated from the Upper West Side cocktail party circuit:

For now, at least, the immigration issue is mainly hurting the Republican Party, which is divided between those who want to expel immigrants and those who want to exploit them. The only thing the two factions seem to have in common is mean-spiritedness.

Nothing like a vicious slander to reestablish your liberal bona fides and moral superiority. Krugman goes on to recast his argument and reiterate that "it's important to be intellectually honest, even when it hurts," but his column today is vastly different in tone from the one last week, with much more emphasis on his unequivocal support for total amnesty.

So it looks like Krugman has more or less paid the penance for his little indiscreet episode of independent thinking. It must have been a nervous few days at Princeton fielding the angry phone calls and emails from fellow members of the progressive intelligentsia.

March 30, 2006

Gesturegate Continues

scalia.jpg Looks like I was a bit premature yesterday in declaring "case closed" on gesturegate. Peter Smith, the photographer who snapped the pic of Scalia for The Pilot says "It's inaccurate and deceptive of him [Scalia] to say there was no vulgarity in the moment." Smith also says Scalia accompanied the gesture by saying "Vaffanculo!", which is apparently an Italian expletive that is pretty darn close to what Dick Cheney told Pat Leahy to do to himself in the Senate last year.

If Scalia got caught making an off-color gesture while trying to be funny, fine - though he probably shouldn't have publicly chastised the reporter, even if her coverage was ridiculously over the top. I still find all of this fuss to be amusing, though if you read the column Ron Cass wrote for RCP this morning you'll see there's more to the media's obsession with Scalia than just fun and games.

The "Culture of Rape" at Duke University

It will be interesting to see where the story of the Duke lacrosse team heads in the next several weeks. For those unaware, the top-ranked Duke team was suspended from play after an exotic dancer claimed that she was gang raped by three players at a private party. There is a clear racial element to the story, as the alleged victim is black and 46 out of the 47 members of the team are white.

All 46 white players on the team were asked to provide DNA to the local authorities investigating the case (the accuser says her attackers were white). The Smoking Gun has the document filed by Durham police outlining the alleged victim's account of what happened on the night of March 14th. The alleged crime is brutal and if true, these young men are in a world of hurt and deserve to be met with the full force of the law.

The team's three captains have issued a statement on behalf of the team stating "unequivocally that any allegation that a sexual assault or rape occurred is totally and transparently false."

I don't even pretend to know what happened at this party. It's easy for me to believe that there are some real bad apples on this team and the alleged victim was subjected to something like Jodie Foster in The Accused, or worse. It's also possible this young woman was demeaned and treated shabbily by a bunch of drunk college athletes and decided she would show them by making up a story about being gang raped. And then, of course, there are all of the gray areas in between.

I do, however, find this quote in USA Today from Duke student Alvaro Jarrin protesting the incident just a wee bit hysterical:

It is important that we not let this go down easily, There's a culture of rape at Duke, so we're hoping this will get them to speak up. This rape is a symptom of a larger problem at Duke.

Being a Maryland basketball fan I have no love for the Duke student body, but the idea that there is some kind of "culture of rape" at Duke University is just absurd. This type of attitude is a by-product of the Women's Studies, leftist mentality that is so prevalent among student activists and faculty on college campuses.

There are so many cross currents here (race, rape, privileged athletes, poor victim, college politics) it will be fascinating to see how this story unfolds as the facts spill out......which they will.

This has the potential to blow up into a huge story.

Reagan Shot Today 25 Years Ago

Today is the 25th anniversary of John Hinckley's attempted assassination of President Reagan. The Washington Post's Sue Anne Pressley has a look back on that day 25 years ago and its effect on the country and those involved. Here also is David Broder's report from Tuesday, March 31, 1981.

March 29, 2006

Don't Mess With Scalia

Welcome to Part III of our look at the Boston Herald brouhaha over the allegedly "obscene" gesture made by Justice Scalia (For backstory see Part I and Part II).

In today's episode, poor Herald reporter Laurel J. Sweet discovers what it's like to be publicly taken to task by a Supreme Court Justice who swims in the deep end of the IQ pool:

To The Editor:

It has come to my attention that your newspaper published a story on Monday stating that I made an obscene gesture - inside Holy Cross Cathedral, no less. The story is false, and I ask that you publish this letter in full to set the record straight.

Your reporter, an up-and-coming "gotcha" star named Laurel J. Sweet, asked me (o-so-sweetly) what I said to those people who objected to my taking part in such public religious ceremonies as the Red Mass I had just attended. I responded, jocularly, with a gesture that consitsted of fanning the fingers of my right hand under my chin. Seeing that she did not understand, I said "That's Sicilian," and explained its meaning - which was that I could not care less.

[Scalia goes on to quote at length from a book by Luigi Barzini, The Italians, explaining the origins of the gesture.]

How could your reporter leap to the conclusion (contrary to my explanation) that the gesture was obscene? Alas, the explanation is evident in the following line from her article: "'That's Sicilian,' the Italian jurist said, interpreting for the 'Soprano's' Challenged." From watching too many episodes of the Soprano's, your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene - especially when made by an "Italian jurist." (I am, by the way, an American jurist.)

Sincerely,
Antonin Scalia

Case closed.

Lane Evans Retires

Illiinois Democratic Congressman Lane Evans announced his retirement yesterday after serving 24 years in the House representing the 17th district. Evans was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1995 but didn't make the news public it until three years later.

In 2004, Evans' opponent, Republican Andrea Zinga, made his health an issue by saying ""People who are on the medications he is on may have trouble with judgment, which can be worsened by excitement or stress." Bad move. Evans easily fended her off, winning by 22 points.

With Evans stepping aside the 17th is suddenly very much in play, though Democrats feel confident they'll be able to hold the heavily-gerrymandered district with a hand-picked successor. Republicans note that the district showed a big swing toward Bush in 2004 - he lost it to Kerry by only 3 points, 51-48 - after losing it 54-44 to Al Gore in 2000.

Ms. Zinga is back as the GOP nominee after squeezing out a victory in last Tuesday's competitive three-way primary by roughly 300 votes. The upside is that she's a known quantity with high name recognition in the district, the downside is she exits the primary essentially broke.

Santorum on Iraq & Saddam Documents

Here is Senator Rick Santorum on the floor of the Senate yesterday:

Mr. President, I have to respond to my colleague from Illinois, who suggested that somehow the Iraqis are not standing up and fighting for the freedom of their country and the comment, ``How much longer do we have to wait?''

Ask the Iraqi families of the men who were beheaded--30 of them most recently--whether they are waiting for the Iraqis to step forward and sacrifice for their country. Ask the Iraqis who are in the military who are dying today, sacrificing for the freedom of their country, whether they are waiting. The people of Iraq are stepping forward and fighting for their country. We are helping them do that. It is the clear intention of our policy in Iraq to hand over the responsibility, and it is happening.

I find it almost remarkable that here now, 3 years into this conflict, where we are trying to transform an entire society, that the level of patience for this very difficult process, given all the progress made and all the elections that have been held and the Constitution drafted--I think in all but four of the provinces, there is very little terrorist activity, or insurgent activity, or whatever you want to call it. There is a concentration in a few provinces where there are problems.

But I met with people from Mosul yesterday--elected officials--who came here and talked about the dramatic improvements that are going on in that area, and the lack of any kind of al-Qaida operations and terrorist operations in that area, saying that

life is dramatically advancing. We don't hear talk about that. We hear talk about the problem spots, and that is legitimate. But the idea that the Iraqis are not fighting for their country, that they are not stepping forward--as we see day in and day out that they are conducting missions and they are eliminating the terrorist threat in Iraq--I think it is almost incredible. I don't know how you can read the news and suggest that the Iraqis are not stepping forward to defend their country and fight for their freedom.

Also, coming back to the issue of patience, I thank God sometimes that some of the elected officials who are here today were not around in 1777, 1778, and 1779. We would still be singing ``God save the queen,'' not ``hail to the chief.'' It took us 11 years to put a democracy together, in circumstances that I suggest were far less difficult, in a neighborhood that was far less problematic than the neighborhood Iraq happens to be situated in. So the idea that we have lost our patience in a struggle against Islamic fascism, which is a real present danger to the future of the United States of America, to me, is almost unconscionable.

This is a struggle we are engaged in. This is a struggle for our time. It is one that I believe history will look back upon and suggest that we met the threat that would have fundamentally changed the future of the world, and we met it before it did so. We met it with strength, with determination, and we overcame the doubters, overcame those who would have rather cut and run. I am not for cutting and running when it comes to the future security of this country. I have patience because things that are difficult and meaningful take time. We have to give that time.

I suggest there are some things that we are finding out now. Another effort I have been working on in Iraq is the intelligence information we have been able to gather from the former regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. This has been a project that Congressman Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been working on--and I have worked with him--to make sure these 48,000 boxes, containing roughly 2 million documents, are released to the American public and the world to determine what was the intelligence assessment and the activity level and, in particular, in Iraq with Saddam, and with his interaction with elements of al-Qaida or other terrorist organizations.

What we are finding is that some of the statements that have been made on the floor and statements that were made just as recently as March 19, 2006 by my colleague from Pennsylvania, Congressman Jack Murtha who said:

There was no terrorism in Iraq before we went there. None. There was no connection with al-Qaida. There was no connection with terrorism in Iraq itself.

Yet if we look at some of the documents that are being released by Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte--and, again, only a few hundred of the millions of documents have been released. As a caveat, while Congressman Hoekstra and I are excited about the fact that DNI decided to release these documents, the pace of the release is, let us say, unsatisfactory to this point.

We have, with the blogosphere, the Internet, the opportunity to put these documents out there and have almost instantaneously translated postings about what these documents contain.

During the time the Director of National Intelligence Negroponte has had these documents--this is 3 years ago--less than 2 percent of the documents have been translated. At this pace, my grandchildren may know what is in these documents.

We need to get these documents out. Mr. President, 600 over a little over a 2-week period is almost the same pace as translating with the people they had over in DNI Negroponte's shop. We need to get these documents out quicker. Why? Because if we look at what is in these documents, there is important information in understanding the connection between Iraq and terrorist organizations and the threat we were facing, the potential threat we had talked about, which is the coordination between a country that had used chemical and biological weapons, was thought universally to have chemical and biological weapons, and terrorists who have expressed a direct desire to use those weapons and get access to them.

If we look at a report that was issued by the Pentagon Joint Forces Command translating and analyzing some of these documents, called the ``Iraqi Perspectives,'' on page 54, they write: Beginning in 1994, the Fedayeen Saddam opened its own paramilitary training camps for volunteers--this is 9 years, by the way, before the Iraq war--graduating more than 7,200 ``good men racing full with courage and enthusiasm'' in the first year.

Mr. President, 7,200 in the first year, 1994.

Beginning in 1998, these camps began hosting ``Arab volunteers from Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, `the Gulf,' and Syria.'' Volunteers. I wonder why they would be volunteering to help Saddam. It is not clear, it says, from the available evidence where are all these non-Iraqi volunteers who were ``sacrificing for the cause'' went to ply their newfound skills. Before the summer of 2002, most volunteers went home upon the completion of training. They didn't stay in Iraq. They came for training from countries in the gulf regions, and they went home. Odd that they would be fighting for the cause which would, in that case, be Saddam, if they went home.

Before the summer of 2002, as I said, most volunteers went home upon completion of the training, but these camps were humming with frenzied activity in the months immediately prior to the war.

As late as January 2003, the volunteers participated in a special training event called the Heroes Attack.

Stephen Hayes, who deserves a tremendous amount of credit for his reporting on these documents in the Weekly Standard, has brought this issue to the forefront and has awakened Members of Congress, myself included, to the importance of discovering the content of these documents as well as some of the information contained in these documents.

He reminds us of the special significance of that training in 1998:

That is the same year that the U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq for good; the same year a known al Qaeda operative visited Baghdad for 16 days in March; the same year the U.S. embassies were bombed in East Africa; the same year the U.S. bombed Baghdad in Operation Desert Fox; and, the same year Saddam wired $150,000 to Jabir Salim, the former Iraqi Ambassador to the Czech Republic, and ordered him to recruit Islamic radicals to blow up the headquarters of Radio Free Europe.

What we have here is, again, information that I believe is vitally important for the American public to see. I encourage Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte to step up the pace. Congressman Hoekstra and I have introduced legislation which would require just that: it would require the release of these documents and provides a way to do so.

We introduced this legislation prior to the decision to release these documents, but, again, I just make the point that the pace with which these documents are being released is inadequate. We need to continue to step that up, allow this information to get out for people to see, pro and con--all the information that is available to us. These are old documents. They are at least 3 years old; in some cases much more than that. The classified nature is specious, at best. We want to protect names, obviously, if there are reasons to protect certain names because of potential fallout from having their names released. If there are recipes for chemical weapons, fine. But the bottom line is most of this information should be released, can be released, and is not being released.

I assure my colleagues--and I think I can speak for Congressman Hoekstra in this regard--we will stay on this issue, and we will make sure all of this information is made available to the American public so we have a better understanding of what the situation was in Iraq prior to the war.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Bolten-o-Rama

For those who just can't get enough of the D.C. parlor game, here is a quick round up:

Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post says Card's resignation is evidence that "Bush is more often deferring to the expectations of Washington conventional wisdom." That sounds like a bit of stretch to me. Nevertheless, at the very end of the piece VandeHei also drops the news that "aides said more changes will come and that Bush is strongly considering adding one or two well-known Republicans to help soothe relations with Congress."

Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer characterizes the Card-Bolten switch as little more than a minor tweak: "There is no outsider element in this personnel shuffle." Polman rounds up a host of reactions, including a quote from John Hinderaker at Powerline.

David Sanger of the New York Times takes a similar angle, writing that Bush's move is "unlikely to satisfy calls within his own party for fresh thinking to address the administration's troubles."

Deborah Orin writes the New York Post: "Republicans have been fuming about White House fumbling in dealing with Congress and overall communications strategy, especially on Iraq. Bolten, meanwhile, has been skillful at dealing with Congress and has no press disasters on his watch."

Eli Lake in the New York Sun also writes an ominous first graph: "Conservatives are warning that President Bush's decision to bring in a new White House chief of staff won't be enough by itself to salvage an administration lagging in the polls." Grover Norquist gives the best quote on the White House's move (page 2): "Nobody with the possible exception of their wives will notice this change."

James Gerstenzang of the Los Angeles Times quotes a less than satisfied Trent Lott on the move: ""They still need men and women of stature and gravitas in a number of slots there in the White House. They need to bring in some experienced hands to get a handle on things." Gerstenzang also offers a pro-Bolten snip from former White House Congressional liason Nick Calio, who called Bolten "the logical and best choice" and also said that President Bush is not "particularly susceptible to calls that he needs to shake things up for the sake of shaking things up."

Lastly, Michael Kranish & Susan Milligan of the Boston Globe go even further with the "not enough of a change angle" by reporting the deep disappointment of beltway Democrats:

Some Democrats want the ouster of top Bush aides such as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, an architect of the Iraq invasion, and deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, Bush's powerful political guru. Both men remain in their posts.

Democratic leaders said the president missed an opportunity to reinvigorate the White House, suggesting that Card -- who is popular and respected by Republicans and Democrats -- was not part of the problem.

''I have always found Andy Card to be reasonable, professional, and a man of his word," said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois. ''If the White House is looking to change course, they picked the wrong person to toss overboard."

One thing is for sure, if President Bush stubbornly refused calls from members of his own party to make changes in his administration and eventually settled on swapping out Bolten for Card, he's certainly not going to pay any heed to calls from the D.C. chattering class (but especially Dick Durbin) to fire either Don Rumsfeld or Karl Rove.

UPDATE: Missed this one from John McKinnon and Jackie Calmes in The Wall Street Journal. It's essentially more of the same, best summed up by this quote from Vin Weber: "The biggest distinction between Josh and Andy is that Josh's job has been primarily a policy job for the last five years, while Andy has been focused on management and administration. That might mean some differences at the margin."

NY Gov Race

No surprise: Spitzer continues to spank Suozzi in the lastest Quinnipiac poll, 69 - 14, and he holds big leads over all potential Repubican challengers.

On the GOP side, John Faso pulls 22%, William Weld is at 16% and Randy Daniels gets 8%. Forty-eight percent of registered Republicans remain undecided.

The Pathetic Ethics of Jim McDermott (Cont.)

Yesterday, Jim McDermott lost in court - again:

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott violated federal law by turning over an illegally taped telephone call to reporters nearly a decade ago.

In a 2-1 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that McDermott violated the rights of House Majority Leader John Boehner, who was heard on the 1996 call involving former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The court ordered McDermott to pay Boehner more than $700,000 for leaking the taped conversation. The figure includes $60,000 in damages and more than $600,000 in legal costs.

I wrote about the last time the wheels of justice spun against McDermott in this case. In late December, 2004, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge ruled that Congressman McDermott's "willful and knowing misconduct rises to the level of malice."

At the same time, Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly got his hands on a fundraising plea being circulated by Mr. McDermott to help fill the coffers of his legal defense fund. The letter cited Tom DeLay - who has nothing whatsoever to do with the case - and accused the GOP House leadership of "using the courts" to "pursue" him. "We cannot allow Republican leaders to financially destroy a member of Congress who has a proven track record of standing up for endangered democratic values," the McDermott letter said.

But three years ago the vicious Mr. Boehner offered McDermott a deal: Boehner would drop the suit if McDermott would admit he was wrong, apologize to the House, and donate $10,000 to charity. McDermott refused and has been appealing the case since - and losing every time, with legal fees now totalling over a $1 million. Sometimes saying you're sorry is not only the right thing to do, it's the cheap thing to do as well.

The Mouth From The South

America can breathe a sigh of relief: Ted Turner says he won't run for president. The AP quotes Turner as saying, "I've thought about it a lot" but that at 70 years of age his "opportunity has passed."

March 28, 2006

Weinberger on U.S., India Relations

Our friend Rich Karlgaard sent this audio of an interview Cap Weinberger gave just two weeks ago on U.S., India relations. It shows Weinberger's mind to be undiminished by age and his failing body. Rich also has some reflections here on his last time with Cap in August 2005.

Caspar Weinberger, R.I.P.

Another one of the Reagan old guard passes away. "Cap Weinberger was an indefatigable fighter for peace through strength." - Former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Chavez Uses Electronic Voting Company to Expand Power Base

Richard Brand has a fascinating article on how Smartmatic, a company with close ties to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, quietly purchased Sequoia Voting Systems, a U.S. e-voting company. Smartmatic was an integral part of the Chavez strategy to survive the 2004 recall aimed at legally removing him as President. Prior to the recall effort, Venezuela had a relatively modern and up-to-date voting system which Chavez ordered replaced by Smartmatic, a company that had no previous experience with electronic voting machines.

A Wall Street Journal editorial a month after the August 2004 recall vote points to a study by MIT professors Ricardo Hausmann and Roberto Rigobon suggesting Chavez stole the August '04 election with the aid of the Smartmatic voting machines.

Mr. Hausmann told us that he and Mr. Rigoban also "found very clear trails of fraud in the statistical record" and a probability of less than 1% that the anomalies observed could be pure chance. To put it another way, they think the chance is 99% that there was electoral fraud.

Brand elaborates on Smartmatic's checkered past in his column:

Smartmatic has a brief but controversial history. The company was started in Caracas during the late 1990s by engineers Antonio Mugica and Alfredo Anzola. They worked out of downtown Caracas providing small-scale technology services to Latin American banks. Despite having no election experience, the tiny company rocketed from obscurity in 2004 after it was awarded a $100 million contract by the Chávez-dominated National Electoral Council to replace Venezuela's electronic voting machines for the recall vote.

When the council announced the deal, it disingenuously described Smartmatic as a Florida company, though Smartmatic's main operations were in Caracas and the firm had incorporated only a small office in Boca Raton. It then emerged that Smartmatic's ''partner'' in the deal, Bizta Corp., also directed by Anzola and Mugica, was partly owned by the Venezuelan government through a series of intermediary shell corporations. Venezuela initially denied its investment but eventually sold its stake.

When the vote finally came, exit polls by New York's Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates showed Chávez had been defeated 59 to 41 percent; however, when official tallies were announced, the numbers flipped to 58-42 in favor of Chávez. Venezuela's electoral council briefly posted machine-by-machine tallies on the Internet but removed them as mathematicians from MIT, Harvard and other universities began questioning suspicious patterns in the results.

Flush with cash from its Venezuelan adventures, Smartmatic International incorporated in Delaware last year and purchased Sequoia, announcing the deal as a merger between two U.S. companies.

Sequoia's machines were used in the most recent election here in Chicago. A March 24th Chicago Tribune article detailing problems with the new voting system refers to the company as "California-based Sequoia." Nowhere in the article is it mentioned that the company is owned by Smartmatic. Brand details the Sequoia/Smartmatic ownership chain further:

Smartmatic International is owned by a Netherlands corporation, which is in turn owned by a Curacao corporation, which is in turn held by a number of Curacao trusts controlled by proxy holders who represent unnamed investors, almost certainly among them Venezuelans Mugica and Anzola and possibly others.

One would think with all of the connections to the Chavez regime the Smartmartic purchase of Sequoia would have raised some red flags inside the U.S. government. The truth is with all of the foreign policy focus on Iraq and the War on Terror, Chavez has been able to fly beneath the radar on many strategic issues. Sixty-dollar plus oil has given Chavez the opportunity to play sugar-daddy to many of the poor countries in the region, with the goal to make him the power broker in the region, not the United States. The U.S. should be under no illusion: the Chavez regime is a growing and dangerous menace.

Chavez is hoping to install Smartmatic voting machines in other Latin American countries, and while there are enough safeguards here in the U.S. to make it extremely unlikely Chavez would be able to influence U.S. elections through the Sequoia/Smartmatic machines, the same can not be said of other Latin American countries where Smartmatic may soon be employed - and where the Sequoia purchase and U.S. contracts will be used to lend credibility to the Smartmatic machines.

This is a story that deserves far greater press attention.

Lyn Nofziger, R.I.P.

"Lyn Nofziger, the irascible and outspoken aide who served Ronald Reagan most prominently as communications director during his two terms as California governor, died Monday. He was 81."

Scalia's Salute

I have to admit this is a bit silly. Yesterday I posted an item on the report by Laurel Sweet of the Boston Herald that Supreme Court Justice Scalia had made an "obscene" gesture to reporters (flicking his hand under his chin) outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday. Today, reader CM emails to say that Margery Eagan of the Boston Herald writes in her subscriber-only column today she can't find any Italians to back up the charge that the gesture Scalia used was "obscene."

Nevertheless, the Herald carries a follow up story by Ms. Sweet today gauging reaction to Scalia's "off-color 'Sicilian' salute" which borders on the comical:

"He's got a reputation as being a cantankerous guy," said Andrew Perlman, who teaches legal ethics and professional responsibility at Suffolk University Law School.

Still, said Perlman, the indiscretion by Scalia, who can be judge for life if he minds his Ps and Qs, doesn't rise "to the level of questioning his ability to do his job."

Thank God we got that straightened out. Surely the Boston Herald can find more burning questions for their reporters to probe, no?

March 27, 2006

Pessimism, Optimisim and Freedom - by Brian Wesbury

Ever since the current recovery began, a disconnect between the economy's performance and the public's perception of that performance has existed. Time has not closed this gap.

According to a survey sponsored by the American Research Group, taken between March 18th and 21st, only 40% of Americans rated the national economy as excellent, very good or good, while 59% thought it was bad, very bad or terrible.

When these very same people were queried about their own household finances, 65% said they were excellent, very good or good, while just 32% thought them bad, very bad, or terrible.

People seem to think they are doing well, but their neighbors are not. With unemployment down to 4.8%, the stock market up, interest rates low, incomes and wealth growing, and the economy expanding solidly, this divergence in opinion is hard to fathom.

Part of this disconnect is due to an unending onslaught of negative news about the economy. Certainly, there are some bad things happening. Hundreds of thousands of workers at auto and auto parts manufacturers face an uncertain future. These problems come on the heels of major problems at large US airlines. But, a great deal of the fear about our economy comes from a group we call the Pouting Pundits of Pessimism who see potential calamity behind every bush and around every corner.

Illegal immigration, low savings rates, bird flu, terrorism, foreign enmity of the US, slow wage growth, high energy prices, Fed rate hikes, China, global warming, pension problems, budget deficits, and trade deficits are not an exhaustive list.

It is impossible to analyze each of these "issues" in such a short space. In brief, however, the last time we can remember so much negativity was in the early 1980s, when Japan and Germany were "stealing" all our manufacturing and pundits fretted constantly about deficits, savings and wage growth.

But, in the 1980s and 1990s, the US economy continued to grow much faster than other developed countries. The same is true today. The US is growing two or three times faster than Germany or France, a record number of people are employed in the US, average hourly earnings have expanded at a 4.8% annual rate in the past three months, and household wealth has hit an all-time high. Moreover, in February, the Federal Reserve's manufacturing output index rose to a record high - the US manufacturing sector has never produced more "stuff." China is not stealing all our manufacturing.

The data speak for themselves, but so do the polls and surveys. Despite a good economy, people are worried. The "old" ways of doing things are giving way to "new" ways. For many, these changes cause consternation and fear.

This is unfortunate. The US has been the world's most successful economy for nearly two centuries. The reason for this has been a focus on freedom. Immigration, free trade, low taxes and limited government interference are the signposts of this freedom. Any deviation from that path threatens that success.

(Brian Wesbury is the Chief Economist for First Trust Advisors in Chicago, IL)

Scalia's Sicilian Message

Boston Herald reporter Laurel J. Sweet tut-tuts about "conduct unbecoming a 20-year veteran of the country's highest court," though I suspect this little incident will only make Scalia's supporters like him even more:

Minutes after receiving the Eucharist at a special Mass for lawyers and politicians at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had a special blessing of his own for those who question his impartiality when it comes to matters of church and state.

"You know what I say to those people?" Scalia, 70, replied, making an obscene gesture under his chin when asked by a Herald reporter if he fends off a lot of flak for publicly celebrating his conservative Roman Catholic beliefs.

"That's Sicilian," the Italian jurist said, interpreting for the "Sopranos" challenged.

"It's none of their business," continued Scalia, who was the keynote speaker at yesterday's Catholic Lawyers' Guild luncheon. "This is my spiritual life. I shall lead it the way I like."

Discrimination Against Reservists?

The Chicago Sun-Times weighs in with Part II of "A State of Shame", its special report on Illinois veterans:

Reservists fight to keep jobs

March 27, 2006

BY CHERYL L. REED STAFF REPORTER

Edgar Montalvo has been deployed overseas six times in 10 years. First Sgt. Brandi Schiff has spent more time overseas for the military in the last six years than in the United States. Montalvo and Schiff aren't full-time soldiers. They're Army Reserve officers. And they say their civilian careers have suffered as a result.

Montalvo had been with the same employer for 19 years. Then, six weeks after returning from an overseas deployment, he got a negative job review and immediately accepted a buyout to leave. Schiff was laid off six hours after telling her bosses the Army was sending her to Afghanistan.

Read the rest.

Part I can be read by clicking here.

MI Gov Race

Rasmussen Reports out with a new poll showing Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm tied with Republican challenger Dick DeVos, 44%-44%.

Granholm's approval rating in the latest SurveyUSA monthly tracking poll is only 45% (52% disapprove), but that actually represents an improvement and her best showing over the course of the last eleven months.

The March To War

Don Van Natta, Jr. clearly thinks he's found a smoking gun. How else to explain his treatment of the contents of a top-secret British memo in this morning's New York Times:

Bush Was Set on Path to War, Memo by British Adviser Says By DON VAN NATTA Jr.

LONDON -- In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second United Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

There are two ways to frame this story, and it's clear which angle Van Natta takes. He starts by suggesting that President Bush's private discussions about Iraq were somehow at odds with his public declarations telling Hussein to "disarm or face war" and casting the contents of the memo as more evidence of a President hell-bent on war regardless of the circumstances.

A more benign - and some would say fair - view of the meeting would be to say that by late January, 2003 President Bush had lost almost all hope that Saddam would comply with the demands for immediate, accurate and complete disclosure of his WMD programs laid out in Resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the UN Security Council on November 8, 2002.

In fact, President Bush had every reason to be pessimistic. As I've written about before, by late January 2003, Iraq had already submitted a WMD declaration which many experts found dubious, and only four days prior to the meeting Van Natta writes about Hans Blix had gone before the UN Security Council and declared that "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace."

Furthermore, the idea that the U.S. would have "penciled in" a date for the invasion at that point isn't all that surprising. Military experts had been warning for months that it would be difficult for the U.S. to maintain a substantial military presence on the border of Iraq for any length of time (one of the reasons Saddam grudgingly allowed inspectors to continue operating, it should be pointed out) and also that military action would need to be conducted sooner rather than later to avoid starting an invasion at the height of the Middle Eastern summer.

There's more in the Van Natta story that could be seen as favorable to the President, though it's all buried well below the lede. What Van Natta's "march to war" story misses, as do so many others about the subject, is that ultimately the choice for war was Hussein's not Bush's. Once Resolution 1441 passed, the onus on WMD disclosure and thus the responsibility for avoiding military action fell on Saddam. He had months to comply, but failed to do so fully or convincingly even by the lenient standards of the United Nations. Even up until the last hours before the invasion Hussein could have prevented military action by coming clean on WMD or by going into exile, as many called for him to do. In the end Hussein did neither, and so the invasion began as promised.

March 25, 2006

What's Happening In The Northeast

(Editor's Note: the other day Jay Cost wrote a post on the Boston Globe story suggesting potential Republican vulnerability in the Northeast this year. Yesterday, we posted an email from a Republican in Connecticut providing anecdotal evidence supporting that notion. The following is Jay's repsonse to the reader who emailed.)

There is no doubt that something is going on in the Northeast. I would actually go a few steps further than you and say that not only is a tidal wave building, but it is already in existence and has been operative for several decades. If you track the GOP's shares of US Senate seats, US House seats, state senate seats and state house seats in the Northeast over the last 60 years, it becomes very clear. In 1944, the GOP held more than 60% of all state senate and house seats; they held about 55% of all US Senate and House seats. Today, all of those numbers are at or below 45%.

Your anecdotal perspective is consistent with this.

However, the real question for 2006 is: does this translate into pickups for the Democrats this year? The answer is: not necessarily. National trends like this are usually only operative in open seats. If, for instance, CT 04 were open this year, i.e. Chris Shays had decided to retire, then clearly the Democrats would pick it up because the district is Democratic. This is how they have picked up most of the seats they have acquired since 1944. As it stands, the only seat that is open in the Northeast is Boehlert's, which is more conservative than the rest of the region.

The other way to take seats that "should" belong to one party or another is to (a) run really good challengers who (b) can tie incumbents to unpopular elements of the party of the incumbent. This is how the GOP was able to get so many Southern Democratic incumbents in 1994. They ran strong challengers who tied individual representatives to the 1993 Omnibus Budget Act, the assault weapons ban and the Brady Bill. The reason that you have to do this with incumbents is because there is a strong bias toward them in congressional elections. Voters tend not to associate incumbent politicians with what they dislike about their party or the government. Voters also tend not to know anything about the challengers. In 2002, for instance, only about 15% of the public could name the challenger in their district. Voters tend to view House elections in terms of what they think about the member personally -- not about the national context. And, who provides them with information about the incumbent? Almost always, it is the incumbent.

All in all, it adds up to what is known as the "incumbency advantage." In the last two election cycles, the reelection rate has averaged 99%.

All of this is why Democrats in the South could hang on for as long as they did. The national party was becoming increasingly unpopular (the first southern revolt against the Democrats occurred in 1948), the electorate in presidential elections increasingly voted Republican -- but Democratic members could survive because of weak challenges and the ability to run away from the party. The GOP did as well as they did in the South in 1994 because they ended both features of southern congressional politics. They were able to tie individual members to the national mood by referencing specific roll call votes and they offered up more appealing, better known, more viable challengers.

This year, I just do not see the Democrats as being able to do either.

First, as I mentioned in the column, recruitment is lackluster -- many of the opponents of these GOP reps have NEVER held office before. This means that they are amateurs -- and it is hard to beat a pro with an amateur. Further, and more importantly, it will be hard to tie somebody like Chris Shays to "Bush Republicanism." Ditto, I think, for Nancy Johnson (she was, after all, first elected in 1982 -- a year that was a big one for the Democrats; she has survived several Democratic years, including 1992, 1996, 1998). Bob Simmons, I think, is the only GOPer from the CT delegation who might be going down.

It is important to remember that Chris Shays and Nancy Johnson know what is going on up in CT just as much as you do, probably more so. Their jobs, after all, are entirely dependent upon gauging in advance the district mood and positioning themselves to maximize their chances of reelection. So, both Johnson and Shays have been defying the Bush Administration of late -- so they can go to their districts and say, "We agree! And we are your *independent* voices in Washington!" On election day -- the average voter in CT 05 will be mad at Bush, will still like Nancy Johnson, and will not recognize the name of the challenger. What will she do? She'll vote for Johnson.

Again, the reason for this is that House elections are not a very good representation of the national mood. Over the course of the next 10 years, I fully expect the Northeast GOP delegation to get whittled away due to the regional realignment that has been occuring for some time, but the Democrats have not put themselves in a situation to capture a lot of these seats in 2006. - Jay Cost

March 24, 2006

More On the Media Backlash Over Iraq

Howard Kurtz discussed the subject of the media's coverage of Iraq yesterday on the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. There's a good deal worth reading, but here's the takeaway from Blitzer's final quetion:

BLITZER: Very briefly, is there any sign of a backlash against the mainstream media because of our coverage of what's happening in Iraq?

KURTZ: Yes, among conservatives, among military family members and others. A lot of people, as we saw that woman from West Virginia, blaming us for the situation there.

I think Kurtz misspoke here: nobody is blaming the media for the situation on the ground, only for largely failing to present a balanced picture of what's taking place in Iraq. There is also an implication, however, that by providing so much of a one-sided, negative picture of the war the media is buoying the hopes and spirits of the insurgents and making things harder on our troops, as well as depressing public opinion back here at home.

Right after the interview with Kurtz ended, Jack Cafferty came on to provide what I think could be accurately described as the prevailing point of view of the MSM on the subject:

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I just have a question. I mean, part of the coverage, they don't like the coverage, maybe because we were sold a different ending to this story three years ago. We were told that we'd be embraced as conquering heroes, flower pedals strewn in the soldiers' paths, a unity government would be formed, everything would be rosy this -- three years after the fact, the troops would be home.

Well, it's not turning out that way. And if somebody came into New York City and blew up St. Patrick's Cathedral and in the resulting days they were finding 50 and 60 dead bodies a day on the streets of New York, you suppose the news media would cover it? You're damn right they would.

This is nonsense, it's the media's fault and the news isn't good in Iraq. The news isn't good in Iraq. There's violence in Iraq. People are found dead every day in the streets of Baghdad. This didn't turn out the way the politicians told us it would. And it's our fault? I beg to differ.

First, Cafferty errs in saying that anyone ever suggested the troops would be home in three years - or any amount of time, for that matter. Second, it's clear he's opposed to the war in Iraq - he thinks we were misled, the policy is a failure, etc - and that the media is just fulfilling its obligation to report on the violence that is taking place as a result of the administration's policies. That's fine, but it's also a bit of a cop-out because there is another side to the story.

How can Cafferty explain the fact that the vast majority of people who have traveled to Iraq, including elected officials from both parties, say things are significantly better than expected and surprisingly different from what they were led to believe from media coverage in the U.S.?

The fact is there are two realities in Iraq. One reality is the intense and sometimes gruesome violence that takes place in Baghdad and the surrounding provinces. Another reality is the millions upon millions of people who are living peacefully throughout the country and also the work our soldiers are doing to make those lives even better. If Jack Cafferty considers himself to be a journalist, then he has an obligation - irrespective of his personal feelings about the administration's policy in Iraq - to provide a balanced look at both of those realities. But Cafferty, like the rest of the mainstream media, doesn't seem too concerned about putting forth the effort to provide either balance or context, and therein lies the entire problem.

Republican Unrest in the Northeast

A reader emails in response to the yesterday's Boston Globe story suggesting Democrats are poised to make gains in the Northeast this November:

I'm one of those comfortably off, middle-aged, mild Republicans who inhabit some of the more expensive homes along the Connecticut shore. At least I was a Republican until the Iraq fiasco and the fiscal nightmare they have created turned me off. I tend to hang out at cocktail parties and yacht clubs where most folks are (or were) like me: mild Republicans. Let me tell you, this group is deeply unhappy with the way things are going. It's not an exaggeration to say they are embarrassed by the performance of this administration and Congress which seems to fly in the face of everything we've thought the GOP stood for. Many of them openly say the Democrats have got to be given back control of the Congress. This is anecdotal. Will all of them vote Democrat? Probably not, but based on what I am seeing the Republicans are in trouble in Connecticut and I suspect the rest of New England. Is a tidal wave building? Who knows, but the above is not an invention.

Doing The Lord's Work On Immigration

Watching this issue take the spotlight is like watching someone take the lid off a pot of water that's been boiling for hours: steam is rising everywhere. Jonathan Weisman and Jim VandeHei take the 2008 angle in the Washington Post this morning, and Elisabeth Bumiller looks at the issue from the view of President Bush in the New York Times.

The best immigration story of the day, however, is by Peter Clark in Newsday who reports on Rep. Peter King's (one of the co-sponsors of the immigration bill passed by the House) response to critics - including Hillary Clinton - who suggest that some of the enforcement measures in the immigration bill are too draconian and don't comport with Scripture:

Peter King, the recreational boxer with a combative record during nearly 14 years in the House, is now taking on the Roman Catholic Church.

King is co-sponsor of a bill that would strengthen the nation's borders and make it a felony to knowingly aid illegal immigrants, a measure that has outraged Catholic activists who work with them.

King (R-Seaford) has no patience for the mounting criticism of him and his bill, even from his own church's leaders.

"Stopping alien smuggling gangs is doing God's work," King said in an interview Thursday. "These people who are supposed to be speaking for God, saying this [the bill] is a sin, and they should go to confession, he added.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) added to the religious nature of the debate Wednesday at a news conference when she claimed that a Republican-supported immigration proposal would judge "Jesus himself" as a criminal.

King was as outspokenly critical of Catholic leaders Wednesday as he was Thursday.

He said Catholic leaders opposed to the bill are politically correct liberals who "should spend more time protecting little boys from pedophile priests."

Needless to say, that last remark didn't go over well with some members of the clergy. What's interesting about this aspect of the immigration debate is that once again Democrats are trying to recast their policies in a religious context - something they've been trying to do for some time with issues like poverty and education - to help try and bridge the cultural gap that has made it exceedingly difficult for them in red states. Up until now, this effort has been a failure characterized by embarrassing displays of false piety and by folks like Howard Dean and John Kerry. My impression is this latest effort on immigration won't yield much better results.

Media Pushes Too Far on Iraq Negativity

RadioBlogger has the transcript of Hugh Hewitt's interview with Victor Davis Hanson on Iraq and the media coverage of the war. Here is the full audio and transcript. But the exchange where VDH takes on Time Magazine's bureau chief in Baghdad is particularly interesting.

Hewitt: Professor Hanson, I'd like to play for you a little bit of Michael Ware, Baghdad bureau chief for Time Magazine. Two nights ago on CNN, I was debating him. I'd like to get your reaction to what this says about our culture.
H. Hewitt: Compared to what, Mr. Ware? Compared to Baghdad under Saddam? Are you arguing that Iraqis are worse off today than they were four years ago?

A. Cooper: Michael Ware, do you want to respond?

M. Ware: Yeah, well I think if you ask a lot of Iraqis, I think you'll be surprised by what the answer is. A lot of them say what? This is democracy? The joke is you call this liberation. And okay, let's look at the context as you suggest. Let's look at the even bigger picture. What is the bigger picture? Who's winning from this war? Who is benefiting right now? Well, the main winners so far are al Qaeda, which is stronger than it was before the invasion. Abu Musab al Zarqawi was a nobody. Now he's the superstar of international jihad. And Iran...Iran essentially has a proxy government in place, a very, very friendly government. Its sphere of influence has expanded, and any U.S. diplomat or senior military intelligence commander here will tell you that. So that's the big picture. Where's that being reported?

Hewitt: Now Victor Davis Hanson, how do you respond to that?

VDH: Is that man a journalist?

Hewitt: Well, he's the Time Magazine Baghdad bureau chief.

VDH: That's just a mockery of what we would call sober and judicious reporting. And everything he said was factually incorrect. We dismantled two thirds of the al Qaeda hierarchy, and Mr. Zarqawi was well enough to get an invitation to come before we went into Iraq to seek medical care under Saddam. Everything he said was untrue, and when we went into Iraq, nobody knew much about the Iranian nuclear program. The entire world is galvanizing against it now. The Iranians are petrified that this democratic experiment will work right on their border, and one of the most subversive things they can imagine right next to them. And the United States knows so much more about the danger of Iran than it did two years ago. The world was asleep to their nuclear antics. And 67% of the people have confidence in Iraq, according to the polls, that things are getting better. And it shows two things. One is that this idea of stability is always better than the chaos that comes with freedom. It's like saying that Hitler or Stalin...1936 Germany was much, much better than anything you can imagine in the 20's, when you had inflation. Or Stalin's...after the purges, there was a sense of order in Russia. All of that's true, as long as you accept that Saddam was killing 40-50,000 people a year. And the second is this utopianism that all wars are a choice between something's perfect, and something that is bad. When we went to war after 9/11, and we had one war with Saddam in '91, a second war with 12 years of no-fly zones, then we had...there were no good choices. There was a bad choice and a worse choice.

Hewitt: So with this in mind...again, I stress he's the Baghdad bureau chief of Time Magazine, at one time the most influential magazine in the West, I believe. What is the disease in the media? Where did it come from?

VDH: I think it came to be frank between the journalism schools, the academic training of a lot of the people, and this affluent, elite culture, to be frank, that comes out of the universities on the left and right coasts, that's divorced from the tragic view, because these people are not...they don't open hardware stores. They don't service cars. They've never worked physically with their hands. They have an idea in this international culture of the West that somehow, all of their affluence, all of their travel, all of their freedom came out of a head of Zeus, and it's not dependent on the U.S. military, the United States role in the world. They have no appreciation for the very system that birthed and maintained them. And they've had this sort of sick cynicism, nihilism, skepticism, and the height of their affluence and leisure, that they don't have any gratitude at all, which is really one of the most important human attributes. Humility to say you know, I'm very lucky to be a Westerner, and have certain freedoms. And that's why he cannot appreciate what we're trying to do in Iraq, because he has no appreciation of the very idea that he can jet out of Baghdad anytime he wants on a Western jet that's going to get him safely to a Western country, where he's going to be protected, that the people in Iraq want that same thing that he doesn't seem to appreciate. And that's...I know I'm sounding a little emotional, but that's been one of the most depressing aspects of this entire media...you did a great service to the country, Hugh, by having him on your show, and having him admit to something that we all suspect. But that hysteria and that anger and that prejudice was very valuable for people to see.

Earlier this week on NBC's Today Show Laura Ingraham hit back hard at her hosts (Video):

The Today Show spends all this money to send people to the Olympics, which is great, it was great programming. All this money for "Where In The World Is Matt Lauer?" Bring The Today Show to Iraq. Bring The Today Show to Tal Afar. Do the show from the 4th ID at Camp Victory and then when you talk to those soldiers on the ground, when you go out with the Iraqi military, when you talk to the villagers, when you see the children, then I want NBC to report on only the IEDs, only the killings, only the reprisals.....

To do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military to go out with the Iraqi military, to actually have a conversation with the people instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off.

The press has pushed too far with the one-sided negativity on Iraq and the backlash will work to the President's benefit.

The Civil War Debate

Charles Krauthammer: "Of Course It's Civil War" versus Ralph Peters: "It's Not Even Close"

Privacy Please!

Rick Santorum will net close to half a million bucks from a private fundraising visit from President Bush tonight. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Philadelphia Inquirer both report.

'We Fight For People Like You'

Brace yourselves. Rev. Fred Phelps, the nutter from Kansas who started GodHatesFags, and his ilk are back with more insanity:

An anti-gay protest outside the state Capitol on Thursday afternoon by members of a controversial Kansas church drew jeers, tears and confrontations from counter-demonstrators.

About 30 members of the Westboro Baptist Church, founded in Topeka by the Rev. Fred Phelps, stood on the sidewalk along Broadway, holding signs that said "USA = Fag Nation" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

The demonstrators, mostly relatives of Phelps, went to the Capitol to oppose proposed legislation inspired by their latest protest target - funerals of American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The group believes God is punishing the country - and causing the deaths of soldiers and Marines - because it condones homosexuality.

Margie Phelps sang, shouted and led chants, referring to the bombs, known as IEDs, that claim American lives in Iraq.

"Give me an I," she yelled.

"Give me an E."

"Give me a D."

"What does it spell?"

"Dead soldiers!" shouted the protesters.

Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremy Palmer, 22, of Commerce City, couldn't take it any longer as he listened to the Westboro members sing their own lyrics to the tune of the Marine Corps anthem.

He stood within a foot of the singers, waved a Marine flag and yelled the correct last line to the song.

"We fight for people like you," he yelled at them.

The picture accompanying the story is equally repugnant:

flag.jpg

These folks are every bit as bad - and yes, unpatriotic - as the despicable Code Pink anti-war protesters who stood outside the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. with signs that read "Maimed for a Lie" and "Enlist here to die for Halliburton."

It's true that good, honorable Marines and other members of the U.S. Armed Forces have sacrificed, and continue to sacrifice around the world today so that these people have the right to say the things they say. It's just a damn shame they say them.

The Moussaoui Case

Yesterday the prosecutors seeking the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui rested their case. TSA lawyer Carla Martin, the woman who put the case in jeopardy by sharing evidence with witnesses in violation of Judge Brinkema's order, has been ordered to testify at a court hearing on Monday.

MORE: Debra Burlingame says prosecutors in the Moussaoui trial have done nothing wrong.

March 23, 2006

Polling Republicans

There's a new Diageo/Hotline poll out looking at the attitudes and preferences of 602 registered Republicans across the nation. The data on 2008 is interesting, though I would echo Jay Cost's recent warning that '08 horserace/preference questions at this point are almost totally useless and represent nothing more than reflexive name recognition on the part of respondents.

That being said, however, we probably can glean a bit of value from questions asking for favorable/unfavorable impressions. With that in mind, take a look at these numbers:

President Bush
Strongly favorable 54%
Somewhat favorable 30%
(Net favorable rating 84%)
Somewhat unfavorable 8%
Strongly unfavorable 6%
(Net unfavorable rating 14%)

Vice President Cheney
Strongly favorable 39%
Somewhat favorable 37%
(Net favorable rating 76%)
Somewhat unfavorable 7%
Strongly unfavorable 9%
(Net unfavorable rating 16%)

Senator John McCain
Strongly favorable 23%
Somewhat favorable 39%
(Net favorable rating 62%)
Somewhat unfavorable 12%
Strongly unfavorable 8%
(Net unfavorable rating 20%)

As you can see, McCain's unfavorable ratings (particularly the strongly unfavorable) aren't significantly different from Bush or Cheney, but his favorable ratings (particularly the strongly favorable) are well below the President and Vice President, suggesting, once again, that McCain's support with the base is positive but still remains on the tepid/shallow side.

The Globe Drops the Ball - by Jay Cost

The Boston Globe ran a story this week highlighting Democratic challengers in the Northeast. It claimed that the Democrats had prioritized 17 races from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire. The closing quotation indicates the tenor of the story:

"Said (Michael) Franc (vice president of government relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation), ''We may wind up with the Northeast just as Democratic as the South is Republican right now.""

This story is, I think, a great example of how the media fails to provide accurate coverage of congressional elections. The Globe provides a list/map of the 17 districts.

Take a look at it, noting in particular PA 18.

It is in the wrong spot. That is actually PA 11 -- a district the Democrats already control.

PA 18 is actually a southern suburban district of Pittsburgh. It includes Mt. Lebanon, Moon Township, Monroeville and Washington, PA. It is nowhere near the place where the Globe says it is.

To quote Gob Bluth: "Come on!"

More than this, though, the story fails to mention how the Democrats have had a very difficult time recruiting candidates in many of these districts. PA 18 is actually a great example of the problem. The DCCC worked hard to get Barbara Hafer - former State Treasurer and Republican-turned-Democrat - to run against Tim Murphy, the Republican representative of the district. She declined. They even tried to recruit Stan Savran - a local sports reporter. No go. Ditto for George Matta - Allegheny County Clerk of Courts. Who is running against Murphy? A telecommunications executive and an insurance company loss engineer.

With this kind of competition, Murphy is breathing a big sigh of relief. He is probably having a good chuckle about this story, too. It must be news to him that he does not represent the Pittsburgh suburbs, but rather the wilderness between Philadelphia and Scranton!

In fact, of those 17 targeted districts the Globe mentions, the Democrats have put up real contenders in only about 8 of them. At this point, they stand a reasonable chance of victory in about 5 of them (and they will not get all 5, either). Thus, accidentally of course, the Globe indicates one of the biggest problems the Democrats face this year. To retake the House, the Democrats need to put up a good fight in all 17 of these districts. They seem to be doing half of what they need to do.

Districts like PA 18 "should" be on the table for them. It went only slightly for Bush in 2004, it has a strong base of Democratic support in Washington and Westmoreland counties, and Republican supporters in places like Mt. Lebanon are precisely the ones pundits think are trending away from the GOP. Unfortunately for the Democrats, it is off the table - simply by virtue of recruitment failures.

This Globe story is unique in its sloppiness, for sure. It is hard to mistake Luzerne, Pa for Pittsburgh, Pa. I do think, however, the mistake with the map is indicative of the general problem that major news outlets have with covering these races: everything looks the same to them. From the Globe's perspective, PA 11 and PA 18 are indistinguishable. Nobody in the Globe's bureau knew enough about either district to pipe up and say, "Hey! Ya got that wrong, pal!" Similarly, nobody knows enough to comment intelligently on whether the Democrats stand a reasonable shot in any of the districts in question. They are just ignorant of the nuances of this topic.

The media's response to this information problem has not been to send a copy editor out to pick up a copy of the 2006 Almanac of American Politics and spend some time researching the districts. The response, rather, has been to develop what I would call The 2006 Template for when Bush's Numbers are Down. You take one party's spin about the election as the baseline for the story. Quote the DCCC at length, toss in a quote from a professor at some local school, toss in another quote or two from nervous Republican-types, and you got yourself a story about '06!

When Bush's numbers go back up, you just use the handy 2006 Template for when Bush's Numbers are Up. This time, you take the RCCC's spin as the baseline. Quote a bunch of Democrats who think their party is blowing it worse than Chamberlain at Munich, toss in a quote from a professor at some local school, and you got yourself a story about '06!

Apparently, it is asking too much of reporters covering the congressional races to actually learn a thing or two about the races that they are covering before they report on them. All we can expect is either of these templates and a failure to distinguish Southwestern from Northeastern Pennsylvania. We must be satisfied with the press using partisan spin as the foundation for unquestioning, vacuous, factually sloppy stories about the election.

ABC News Takes Ill

ABC News was already taking heat over complaints of bias in its coverage of Iraq, and I'm sure Matt Drudge just made things infinitely worse for them by exposing this email bashing President Bush.

The Hillary & Harry Show

Egad. We knew the immigration debate in Congress would be heated, but who would have thought Jesus would get dragged into it right off the bat. Here's Hillary Clinton in today's New York Times:

"It is hard to believe that a Republican leadership that is constantly talking about values and about faith would put forth such a mean-spirited piece of legislation," she said of the measure, which was passed by the House of Representatives in December and mirrored a companion Senate bill introduced last week by Senator Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and the majority leader.

"It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scripture because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself..."

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid toured the border in San Diego yesterday and then announced he would "use every procedural means at my disposal" to block Senator Frist's immigration bill.

Reid also made a bit of news on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer yesterday:

BLITZER: Senator Feingold, former Vice President Gore, other Democrats, they say the president broke the law; this wiretapping without warrants was illegal.

Do you believe it was illegal?

REID: With the information I have, which is very spotty, you know, I -- you know, it's really hard to come by -- I think what he's doing is illegal.

That's why we have reached out to him and said: Mr. President, we think what you are doing is wrong. Come with us and work with us. For example, FISA has worked well since 1978. Twenty thousand requests, we have only -- the courts have only turned down five.

And FISA would work -- we have been told by all the experts, all the academics, it would work with what he's trying to do. Let's do it the legal way. Let's do it the way that appears to be constitutional.

BLITZER: If he broke the law, as you suspect he might have, why not simply go for impeachment, as opposed to censure?

(LAUGHTER)

REID: Well, I have been through one impeachment proceeding already during my tenure in the Senate. It wasn't real pleasant. And I think it has to be a last resort. And I'm not at that last resort yet.

BLITZER: But you're not ruling that out? Is that what you're saying?

REID: I'm not ruling anything out. But I think it is just way too early to talk about that now.

Senator Frist responded to the Minority Leader's antics yesterday with a post on his blog this morning thanking Reid "for finally being so candid with the American people."

This is surely only the beginning of what we'll see over the next seven months and then on into 2008.

MORE: Visit the RCP Topic page on immigration for more news & commentary.

Does Abdul Rahman Foreshadow a Bigger Problem?

Yesterday Michelle Malkin brought to our attention the plight of Abdul Rahman, the Afghani currently facing execution for converting to Christianity 16 years ago. Both the Washington Times and New York Times have editorials out today decrying this affront to civilized society. The Washington Times asks: "What have American soldiers achieved if they have not eliminated this barbaric medieval legacy?"

Afghanistan looks to be moving towards declaring Rahman "mentally unfit," allowing for a face-saving way to diffuse this diplomatically explosive situation. I don't think it is an overstatement to say that had Rahman been executed, U.S.-Afghanistan relations would have been destroyed. So, while Rahman looks likely to be spared the barbarism of Shari'a law, the case exposes a gaping problem with the President's democracy initiative.

Is democracy compatible with Islamic law?

Administration officials have said over and over that we shouldn't expect democracy in Iraq or Afghanistan to look like democracy in England or the U.S. That's fine - up to a point. But reasonable people have to wonder how the new Afghanistan, with a government we essentially installed, can legally allow executions based solely on one's religion.

Andy McCarthy points out our complicity in the drafting of these laws we are now decrying.

You reap what you sow. What is happening in Afghanistan (and in Iraq) is precisely what we bought on to when we actively participated in the drafting of constitutions which -- in a manner antithetical to the development of true democracy -- ignored the imperative to insulate the civil authority from the religious authority, installed Islam as the state religion, made sharia a dominant force in law, and expressly required that judges be trained in Islamic jurisprudence. To have done all those things makes outrage at today's natural consequences ring hollow.

We can pull our heads up from the sand now and say, "No, no, no! We're nice people. We didn't mean it that way. That's too uncivilized to contemplate." But the inescapable truth is: the United States made a calculated decision that it wasn't worth our while to fight over Islamic law (indeed, we encouraged it as part of the political solution). People who objected (like moi) were told that we just didn't grasp the cultural dynamic at work. I beg to differ -- we understood it only too well.

Islamic law does not consider conviction, imprisonment, or death for apostasy to be an affront to civilization. That's the way it is.

And that is a big problem for President Bush, the United States and the entire free world.

At some point this is an issue that cannot continue to be papered over with diplomatic niceties. There are certain minimum standards of acceptable conduct for nations that expect be allies of the United States in 2006. The sooner we start telling our "friends" that these types of laws are simply unacceptable and will not be tolerated any more than we would tolerate laws that allowed slavery, the better.

MORE: Special Report with Brit Hume - Roundtable Discusses the Rahman Case

March 22, 2006

The MSM, Iraq and the Midterm Elections

Hugh Hewitt has a good post on the mainstream media's reporting in Iraq.

A large portion of the American public doesn't trust MSM coverage of Iraq because MSM coverage of Iraq almost always punts on context...

Some of the contempt for American media which is widely felt in the USA is rooted in the belief, widely shared, that MSM is invested in the failure of the Iraq invasion and in the idea that President Bush's policy is a catastrophe. MSM seems to be rooting for Iraq to turn out badly, and this does not sit well with the average American...

The takeaway: MSM wants Bush to fail, and as a result MSM's coverage of Iraq tilts to the IEDs and the terrorist successes and never, ever provides the context that the president did in the press conference today. The MSM thus allows itself to be used by the terrorists, and thus to hamper victory. MSM doesn't believe in "victory," in fact, or in Saddam's unique evil. It believes, mostly, in the necessity of humbling Bush.

But a majority of America voted for Bush. Which is why the collapse of MSM is ongoing. The opinion polling has once again seduced the opinion elite into believing that it knows better than the voters what America thinks.

If the GOP has the courage to keep the focus on the war and the threat, it will again triumph in November, 2006. The MSM is powerless to stop the voters from registering their real opinion.

There is some good political advice here for Republicans. Hewitt hits the nail on the head by saying, "If the GOP has the courage." Right now this remains an open question, as many on the right who had been standing firm with the President appear to be wobbling with the latest batch of poor polls and recent spate of negative news out of Iraq.

Politically, Hugh is correct that if Republicans have the courage to stand with the President and focus on the war they can triumph again in November (or at least mitigate their losses and keep Congress). Bush will never win over his critics on the left, but he can pull back some independents and disillusioned Republicans by publicly arguing his side of the Iraq story. But at the end of the day, the reality on the ground in Iraq is going to be the strongest determinant of whether the President will be able to keep that unified GOP support. And as long as he is able to keep Republicans on board, the Democrats are unlikely to recapture either the House or the Senate. However, if Republicans panic and ditch the President they can kiss control of the House goodbye.

McCain in '08: Jekyll or Hyde?

John McCain was in Seattle last night to help raise money for GOP Senate candidate Mike McGavick. Here is the Seattle PI's report on the event, which includes the following from America's premier quote-machine:

"McCain has been playing a double high-wire act," Larry Sabato, director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Virginia, said in an interview Monday.

"He's staying on the wire that got him where he is, and that's the maverick wire that pleases the moderates. But he's decided to take his right foot off and put it on the conservative wire, aligning himself more strongly with President Bush and the Iraq war than any of the other Republicans (eyeing the presidency)," Sabato said. He noted that McCain's Senate voting record is solidly conservative.

"The key question is, which McCain do Republicans buy?... And I think that will determine whether he gets the party nomination. If he's the Republican regular, he will win the nomination. And if he's still the maverick, he will not."

That sounds about right. The Republican base traditionally rewards loyalty and even though as of right now McCain undoubtedly has the strongest general election numbers of any GOP hopeful, he still has plenty of fences to mend and questions to answer before Republicans give him two thumbs up.

Let me tack on a final, random thought. I see that Russ Feingold has now moved into a commanding lead in the Daily Kos monthly straw poll, no doubt thanks to his "speak truth to power" move asking the Senate to censure President Bush. What a bizarre twist of fate it would be to see McCain-Feingold come to life as a presidential race bound by the dubious piece of campaign finance legislation bearing both their names. It would be like a bad reality television show watching the two "reformers" crisscross the country vacuuming up wads of cash, looking the other way while 527's from either side blasted them both, all the while decrying the deleterious effects of money in politics. The affair would be doubly ironic for McCain given that much of the conservative base considers campaign finance reform to be a crime against the First Amendment and one of the things they've found most difficult to forgive him for.

IL Primary Roundup

When I went to bed last night it looked like Topinka was in a bit of trouble but might still eke it out. She ending up doing much better than that, beating Jim Oberweis by 45,000 votes, or six percentage points. Blagojevich won easily, as expected, but can't be too happy to see his primary opponent winning 30% of the vote.

Rahm can breathe a sigh of relief: fighting Dem Tammy Duckworth narrowly beat out Christine Cegelis in the sixth district, 44% to 41%. She'll face Republican Peter Roskam in the general.

Dave McSweeney easily outdistanced Kathy Salvi in the 8th district GOP primary, setting up a very competitive race against incumbent Democrat Melissa Bean in November.

Finally, the Democratic primary race for Cook County Board President remains up in the air, with charges of vote fraud swirling. This has been a remarkable race, with three-term incumbent John Stroger battling to hold on after suffering a stroke last week. He remains in serious condition even as the votes are being counted, and it's unclear whether he'll be able to resume his duties if reelected, which could set off a power struggle among a host of Dem committeemen.

March 21, 2006

The Ghost of Andrew Jackson

In today's New York Times, H.W. Brands offers a cautionary history lesson for Democrats eager to censure President Bush. Brands recounts the censure of President Andrew Jackson in March 1834 which passed the Senate 26 to 20 behind the efforts of Henry Clay:

Clay thought he had won a great triumph. But the 1834 midterm elections returned control of the Senate to the Democrats, as the Jacksonians were called by then. And the Democrats refused to let the censure issue rest. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, who had once shot Jackson in a street brawl (the president still carried bullet fragments in his shoulder) but eventually became the president's most devoted partisan, campaigned incessantly against the censure and all who had voted for it. His efforts helped make the retiring Jackson the focus of the 1836 presidential election, bringing voters out in force for Van Buren, Jackson's uncharismatic protégé...

...Clay continued to pay for his temerity: in 1844, even as Jackson declined toward death, Clay lost his third (and final) race for the presidency to another Jackson protégé, James K. Polk.

Russ Feingold is no Henry Clay, at least not yet. And if he hopes to discredit Mr. Bush, as he doubtless does, I'd suggest he find means other than censure. The last thing today's Democrats want to do is to make George W. Bush look like Old Hickory.

Indeed, the one thing Democrats have going for themselves at the moment is that Republicans are fractured and depressed over the administration's leadership on spending, immigration, the Dubai ports deal, scandals, and frustration over the pace of progress in Iraq. Charlie Cook examines the GOP's depression problem in detail today, adding, "Of course, the more Democrats talk about censuring or even impeaching President Bush, it's a pretty good bet that the intensity level of Republicans could rise, negating that Democratic advantage."

Speaking of the ghost of Andrew Jackson and things that would excite the Republican base, the press continues to generate easy column inches with speculation about an Al Gore comeback. This time it's Scott Shepard in the Atlanta Journal Constitution ruminating on the odds of Gore becoming only the third president in history to win the White House after previously losing the electoral college while winning the popular vote (Andrew Jackson accomplished the feat in 1828 and Grover Cleveland in 1892). Most of the evidence Shepard collects argues against a Gore run, but he finishes with this quote from Chris Lehane:

"In the Internet age, there is the potential for someone with his [Gore's] profile to mount a non-conventional campaign. Someone with a high name identification, someone who could raise money online, someone with prime time experience and someone who could potentially attract support from the angry left."

The thought of a Moveon.org-backed Al Gore run for the presidency in '08 would have Republicans manning the battlestations faster than you could say "no controlling legal authority." In the meantime, however, the GOP has to find something else to get excited about this November.

Approval Ratings For All 50 Governors

SurveyUSA's March rankings are out: North Dakota's John Hoeven tops the list with a plus 59 net rating (76% approve, 17% dispprove), and Ohio's Bob Taft remains at the bottom for the eleventh consecutive month with a minus 60 net rating (17% approve, 77% disapprove).

Here's a run down of Governors up for reelction this November with approval ratings currently below 50% mark:

Ehrlich (R-MD): plus 4 net rating (48 approve - 44 disapprove)
Rendell (D-PA): plus 3 net rating (49-46)
Perry (R-TX): plus 1 net rating (48-47)
Doyle (D-WI): minus 4 net rating (44-48)
Granholm (D-MI): minus 7 net rating (45-52)
Blagojevich (D-IL): minus 8 net rating (44-52)
Minner (D-DE): minus 11 net rating (41-52)
Baldacci (D-ME): minus 16 net rating (39-55)
Kulongoski (D-OR): minus 20 net rating (36-56)
Schwarzenegger (R-CA): minus 25 net rating (36-61)
Murkowski (R-AK): minus 36 net rating (29-65)

Immigration Debate Heats Up

Gary Martin of the San Antonio Express News reports that the Judiciary Committee is putting the finishing touches on an immigration bill for the Senate to debate. For those following this issue closely, the Committee is working up the McCain-Kennedy proposal which is considered the more lenient of the two competing immigration bills in the Senate (John Cornyn and Jon Kyl co-sponsor the tougher version) which some characterize as granting "amnesty" to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

Majority Leader Frist set a deadline for the Senate to debate immigration reform by the end of the month - with or without a bill on the floor. As you can see from Martin's report, this is going to be a very, very contentious debate:

Despite the wrangling, the committee reached a compromise under which the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country would be eligible for permanent status, but only after 3 million people seeking visas through legal channels are processed.

Specter said the compromise "laid the groundwork for some productive staff work."

Senate staff will iron out the details next week, when lawmakers are in recess.

The agreement was praised by groups seeking an increase in legal immigration.

"This is a real turning point today, and a real blow to Senator Frist," said Cecilia Munoz with the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic rights organization.

Frank Sharry with the National Immigration Forum applauded the panel for standing up to Frist, who is "trying to hijack this process and playing politics with it."

But 70 House members, led by Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., sent a letter to Specter voicing "grave concern" about some of the Senate proposals.

Tancredo, chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, warned against guest worker provisions and any form of "amnesty" that would reward those who have broken immigration law.

Some of the Senate provisions are incompatible with the House bill, Tancredo said, and could "doom any chance of a real reform bill reaching the president's desk this year." [snip]

"Under any scenario, there can be no amnesty for those who have broken our laws and I will not support any such proposal," Cornyn said.

Martin reports that Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said he would be willing to put Cornyn's bill to a vote, but both Cornyn and Kyl concede it doesn't have enough support to pass. Immigration reform is one of the fault lines in the GOP and it's going to be very interesting to see this heated debate play out publicly over the next few weeks.

MORE:
"Lawmakers at odds on immigration" - Rick Klein, Boston Globe
"A fence and legalization may break the stalemate" - Colin Hanna, San Francisco Chronicle
"Mexico Weighs In On Immigration" - Michelle Mittlestadt, Dallas Morning News

Reason 3,223 To Support The Patriot Act

Jerry Markon and Timothy Dwyer in today's Washington Post:

Agent Harry Samit told jurors at Moussaoui's death penalty trial that his efforts to secure a warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings were frustrated at every turn by FBI officials he accused of "criminal negligence." Samit said he had sought help from a colleague, writing that he was "so desperate to get into Moussaoui's computer I'll take anything."

That was on Sept. 10, 2001.

Harry Reid's proud announcement that "we just killed the Patriot Act" will continue to haunt.

By the way, in case you missed it: yesterday we ran an exclusive on the Moussaoui trial by Debra Burlingame that is an absolute must-read.

Fighting Dems

I mentioned the "Fighting Dem" strategy in my post last night on the Illinois primary and the battle in the sixth district between Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth and Christine Cegelis. Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a lengthy piece on the Fighting Dem strategy on Sunday, finishing with a great question and anecdote:

And that illustrates one of the biggest challenges this year for the Democratic party and their Fightin' Dems: Will the vets change the image of the party - or will the party's traditional culture undercut the vets?

On the latter possibility, here's Paul Hackett. Last year, during his first meeting with Washington Democratic strategists, he mentioned in passing that he was an OIF vet.

An operative asked him, "What's an OIF vet?"

Hackett leveled his gaze and said, "That's Operation Iraqi Freedom. It's what we're spending billions on. Does that ring a bell for you?"

Hardline Hamas

This should be fun:

HAMAS, the militant Palestinian group, has named a government dominated by its own leadership, defying international pressure and confounding hopes that it would moderate its extremist stance. [snip]

President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to approve them but may try to delay the decision until after the Israeli general election on March 28. However, Shaul Mofaz, Israel's Defence Minister, said that if President Abbas accepted the line-up he would "officially turn the Palestinian Authority into a terror entity".

At least the Yale recruiting office knows where to look for future matriculants.

Cartoon of the Day

cotd1.jpg

- Gary Varvel, Indianapolis Star

March 20, 2006

Is Bill Kristol Working for Karl Rove?

On FOX News Sunday, Bill Kristol took the position that the Feingold censure was good politics for the Democrats and hurting Bush and the Republicans.

KRISTOL: I think Feingold is smarter than the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate, and I think he deserves some credit for taking a principled stand. And I honestly believe that, in fact, he's winning this debate right now.

We're sitting here talking about well, the censure, that's politically unwise. Who is defending the president's NSA actions? Suddenly everyone is talking about warrantless wiretapping. It's on the table, as Mara just said. Well, maybe he doesn't have legal justification. Impeachment will be too much, but it's certainly fair to question what he's done. I think Feingold has succeeded in casting a big cloud over the president's program here.

WALLACE: So you think this is helping Democrats and hurting Republicans?

KRISTOL: Yes, absolutely.

Last week I wrote the censure was good politics for Feingold and Republicans, and on the roundtable yesterday Brit Hume quickly countered Kristol, acknowledging that while it may play well for Russ Feingold and his run for the Democratic nomination, censure wasn't a smart move in terms of damaging the president. In my mind this is the simple, straight-forward, and pretty obvious analysis.

Kristol is one of the most astute analysts in the business, but he does get it wrong sometimes. I remember him opining after the New Hampshire primary in 2000 that Bush was finished and there was no way the McCain momentum could be halted. Kristol may have been letting personal loyalties get the better of him with that analysis, but this latest proposition that censure is good politics for the Democrats is great fodder for conspiracy theorists who can now whisper that Kristol is in cahoots with the White House trying to sucker Democrats into engaging on a sure fire loser of an issue.

Andrew Sullivan appears to have bitten on Kristol's rationale, writing yesterday, "Maybe the (censure/impeachment) meme has legs; and I should reconsider, as my reader has, the wisdom of Feingold's move."

Karl Rove couldn't hope for anything more than for Democrats to embrace Feingold's call to censure the President. It must be frustrating to Rove that Democrats appear to have finally gotten a little street sense when it comes to dealing with the White House political operation. Last week Senate Dems correctly realized the censure issue had the ability to completely undo all of the gains they had made from the Dubai Ports fiasco.

The problem for Democrats on this issue is their base, as heard through its megaphone on the Internet. The base is chomping at the bit to go after Bush, and this pressure coupled with the reality that privately many, if not most, Democratic Senators probably agree with Feingold are two powerful forces that make it hard for Democrats to keep this genie in the bottle and play the censure/impeachment issue the politically smart way. Dick Durbin, the Senate's #2 Democrat, unwittingly admitted as much yesterday when he couldn't bring himself to rule out impeaching the President should Democrats win control of Congress.

I do agree with Kristol that Republicans will be in trouble in November if they don't have more of a message than asking the public to reelect the GOP so that the Democrats won't impeach President Bush. But he is wrong to suggest that going at the President on the NSA issue is smart politics for the Democrats. One of the reasons Republicans may not be making "a substantive defense of the program" (to use Kristol's words) is there is nothing to defend. Bush and the Republicans have won on the NSA issue, and no amount of Feingold, Boxer, Harkin, or MoveOn.org whining is going to change that.

The Republicans are just hoping Democrats are naive enough to get in the ring again on the issue of whether the President, in consultation with Congress, has the authority to wiretap Al Qaeda phone calls in to the U.S.

Showtime in Illinois

Tomorrow is primary day in Illinois and there are three races to watch. The first, and biggest, is the GOP primary for Governor which has essentially boiled down to a two person race between moderate Judy Baar Topinka and conservative Jim Oberweis.

Topinka is the only Republican currently holding statewide office (Treasurer) which demonstrates her appeal in a state where the GOP has basically been reduced to a smoldering heap of ruins. However, Topinka's longevity also has a downside; she has ties to the lowly-regarded Illinois political establishment and she served with former Governor George Ryan - who sits awaiting a jury verdict on his corruption trial at this very minute.

Oberweis, the multimillionaire dairy magnate and financial services manager, is a two-time loser for the GOP Senate nomination, most recently in 2004 when he made a name for himself - in a bad way - with an over the top anti-immigrant TV spot that had him flying in a helicopter over Soldier Field.

The last poll taken in the race showed Topinka leading Oberweis by 11 points (36 to 25), though that represented a loss of ground for Topinka from the month prior. Since that time, Topinka skipped the final debate held last week while calling her three male opponents "morons" (she later apologized) and has been battered by a sharp Oberweis ad that has footage of Topinka doing a polka with the now-disgraced George Ryan.

However, Oberweis has problems of his own, which include an alternative conservative candidate pulling double digits (State Senator Bill Brady, 15%) and a penchant for making himself look silly by daring his opponents to draw straws for the nomination and passing out coupons for free ice cream wherever he goes. Frankly, Oberweis would be more of a threat if he wasn't such a bad candidate. Be that as it may, Oberweis may have a good enough organization to make this one close.

In the eighth Congressional district, another Republican primary pits six candidates against each other for the privilege of taking on Melissa Bean in November. Bean is the woman who rather unceremoniously relieved Phil Crane of his seat two years ago, winning 52% of the vote in a heavily Republican district at the same time President Bush was thumping John Kerry by 16 points. The two leading contenders in the race are Dave McSweeney and Kathy Salvi, neither of whom have prior legislative experience. McSweeney has spent close to $2 million on the race already and, according to Lynn Sweet, the race has turned "nuclear negative" in the final days.

Last but by no means least, in Illinois 6 Democrats are squaring off in a bid to challenge for Henry Hyde's seat which comes open this year with the Congressman's retirement. The race is a litmus test for Rahm Emanuel's "fighting Dem" strategy, pitting Iraq war veteran and double leg amputee L. Tammy Duckworth against Christine Cegelis. Cegelis scored 44% of the vote against Hyde in 2004 and seemed in perfect position to capture the seat until Emanuel intervened, recruiting Duckworth - a political novice who does not live in the district - and pouring tons of money into the race on her behalf. This race should be close and will depend on whether voters take offense at the party elite's meddling or whether they take to the patriotic life story of Duckworth. We'll know the answer to that question tomorrow night.

The Buzz - March 20

If you aren't reading the new RCP Opinion Buzztracker, I suggest you start today. We're combing the Internet constantly throughout the day to find which stories are the most talked about. Right now, the hottest story in the blogosphere is this morning's effort by Dan Balz and Jonathan Weisman in the Washington Post reporting on the difficulty Republicans are having in getting their act - and their message - together.

Other stories showing up on Buzztracker are pieces on Iraq from the New York Times and ABC News; Erik Eckholm's report on the plight of black men in America; and Michael Barone's essay this morning on Bush's foreign policy.

Bookmark Opinion Buzztracker to stay on top of what's hot in the blogosphere every single day.

A "Seismic Shift" in Florida?

That's the question Adam Smith of the St. Petersburg Times explores in his most recent column, which we'll pick up with Republican Matt Towery arguing in the affirmative:

"There's been a phenomenal reversal of fortune down there," said Matt Towery, who runs an Atlanta-based polling and online media firm. Having completed a March 6-9 poll of 1,000 registered voters in Florida, the former Republican lawmaker and Newt Gingrich aide sees a seismic shift in Florida politics.

"These numbers are like a tsunami. There has been a literal sea change, a potential realignment toward the Democrats in Florida," Towery said. "I think the state's gone from being pretty safe Republican to being pretty safe Democrat. And it's because the independents who kept (both Bushes) in office have shifted something like 70 percent to the Democrats."

This is just a snapshot in time, of course, and the election - including governor, U.S. Senate, state attorney general, chief financial officer and a smattering of competitive congressional and legislative races - is still eight months away. Republicans have an enormous financial advantage and a get-out-the-vote effort that's proven its superiority in the last two Florida elections.

Republican strategist Geoffrey Becker is worried but much less pessimistic than Towery. As the old saying goes, you can't beat somebody with nobody, and Florida Democrats have yet to prove they have somebody.

"Republicans have every right to be concerned, but I don't see it in the sense of a Democratic frenzy of turnout. I see it in less than ecstatic Republican enthusiasm. Republicans right now, despite the economy doing well and us doing a lot of good things and having a lot to talk about in Florida, don't seem to have the same intensity that we normally should at this point in time in the cycle," Becker said. [snip]

So it's way too early to project big Republican losses, especially given the state's gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts and the Democrats' track record in recent Florida elections.

Still, it sure seems lately like the Republicans are holding the door open for Democratic advancements. [snip]

If there's anything to reassure Florida Republicans, it's history: Democrats have a knack for snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Becker's take - as well as Smith's concluding thoughts - mirrors my own impressions of the crowd of Southern GOP delegates in Memphis last weekend: concern but not panic. Towery seems to be giving an awful lot of credence to the results of a single poll - which could be terribly misleading for a number of reasons - especially going so far as to conclude that his survey of 1,000 registered voters in March constitutes a "political realiagnment toward the Democrats in Florida." As always, intensity among the respective party bases is going to be the key to this election, and there's simply no way of telling what that intensity may or may not be in November based on a poll taken in March.

Rounds Channels Humphrey?

Interesting historical note from David Kranz's column in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader this weekend:

When Gov. Mike Rounds was defending the state's legislative action making most abortions illegal, he offered a statement of support.

"In the history of the world, the true test of civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society."

Rounds' original words?

Well, sort of.

Vice President Humphrey has been dead since Jan. 13, 1978, but his life is carefully documented, including his quotes.

Steve Sandell, director of the Humphrey Forum of the University of Minnesota, saw Rounds' reference and wrote a letter to the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

"Those are the words taken from speeches that Humphrey made on several occasions," including the 1976 Democratic National Convention, Sandell wrote.

Humphrey's full quote: "The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."

Sandell concludes his letter saying, "Regardless of one's opinion on the issue of abortion, we might expect the governor of Humphrey's home state to attribute his words to their author, and to use them in the context of their original meaning."

So the question is this: Did the governor alter the wording enough to rightfully make it his own, or was attribution appropriate?

Rounds did not return phone calls.

Does Eleanor Clift Speak for the Country?

On the McLaughlin Group this weekend there was this heated exchange between Eleanor Clift and Tony Blankley on the War in Iraq.

CLIFT: The country has come to the conclusion that this (Iraq) is a failure. I think that is evident in the polls.

BLANKLEY: Don't speak for the country Eleanor. You have been losing elections for decades.

This was a great comeback by Blankley, but beyond the immediate smack down there is a kernel of insight in the exchange that exposes a significant Democratic weakness. Eleanor Clift has no doubt in her mind that the country thinks Iraq is a failure - because she and most of her MSM colleagues think it is a failure and they spend their hours in that self-reinforcing bubble. Media polls that then take the public's temperature on Iraq at a static time, with questions that are usually constructed less than favorably toward the Bush administration, are then offered as proof of the public's conclusion on U.S. Iraq policy.

It was this type of thinking that led the Democrats to their presidential strategy in 2004. Democrats, under the misguided assumption that it was a foregone conclusion that Iraq and Bush were failures, thought all they had to do was nominate anyone but Howard Dean and they would walk away with the presidency. The idea that the majority of the country might not agree with their conclusion about the war or Bush never seriously occurred to them.

So here we are in 2006 and Democrats and many in the media elite are convinced the public thinks Iraq is an utter failure and Bush is incompetent. And we are beginning to get straight-lined observations that Democrats are poised for big gains in November. Well, we'll see. Eleanor Clift may know what is going to happen in Iraq over the next year, but I don't. Given just how awful the media coverage has been out of Iraq, I wouldn't discount the possibility that the situation improves over the next eight months as we head into the mid-term elections.

Multiple different forces are aligning to give the Democrats a credible shot to recapture the House this fall, but Democrats should be wary. In the last two election cycles their poll-driven analyses in March, April and May haven't translated into November wins.

March 17, 2006

Quote of the Day

"We're feeling pretty good. If they did a snapshot today, the Senate would be 50-50," DSCC Chair Chuck Schumer.

The Censure Wars

To play off E.J. Dionne's metaphor this morning, Russ Feingold tossed a grenade into the Senate earlier this week and fragged his fellow Dems. Feingold says his proposal has gotten "a massive response on the Internet" and he can't seem to grasp the reticence among members of his caucus to hold Bush to account. After all - and I suggest you swallow your coffee before continuing - Feingold considers himself a "voice of moderation" within the Democratic party because he only wants to censure the president during a time of war, not impeach him.

Ryan Lizza has to lay out for Feingold the explanation as to why he's being such "an ass:"

At the nadir of Republican disarray, Democrats somehow managed to turn the spotlight back to their divisions. So which side really cares more about holding Bush to account? Feingold and the Bush-hating hordes or the consultant-driven Democratic wimps in the Senate? It's not even a close call.

The nature of the split is obvious.Feingold is thinking about 2008. Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, and other Democrats are thinking about 2006. Feingold cares about wooing the anti-Bush donor base on the web and putting some of his '08 rivals--Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Evan Bayh--in uncomfortable positions. Reid and Schumer care about winning the six seats it will take for Democrats to win control of the Senate. Feingold cares about making a political point with a measure that has no chance of succeeding and which, even if it did, would have no actual consequences. His colleagues want something with a little more bite: subpoena power, control of committees, and the rest of the perks that go along with a Senate majority, which would make Bush's last two years hell.

Lizza points out the uphill battle Democrats face in taking back the Senate and also that Democratic challengers have been faring well in some states thanks to the bad run Bush and Congressional Republicans have been on - until Feingold showed up in the Senate chamber on Monday, stole the spotlight and changed the subject. Lizza concludes:

So the partisans on the left cheering Feingold appear to have both the policy and the politics wrong. Censure is meaningless. Changing the FISA law is the way to address Bush's overreach. And the only way for Democrats to change FISA is for them to take back the Senate. This week, Feingold's censure petition has made that goal just a little bit more difficult to achieve. What an ass.

Feingold and the far left seem to be misinterpreting the President Bush's falling job approval to mean that the NSA surveillance issue has somehow become a winner for them. That's a mistake, and most of the Dems in the Senate know it.

The Madison Capital Times declares in an editorial this morning that "there is no serious debate" about whether Bush violated the law and the Constitution. Wrong. There is serious debate, and by people much more serious than the ones writing editorials at The Capital Times.

And John Nichols, writing in the same paper yesterday, said this:

Really cynical folks might even suggest that the Republicans have an ulterior motive: that of forcing the censure issue back in the closet because it could develop into a serious threat to the White House much like the threat that Karl Rove admitted he feared could have emerged in the 2004 presidential election if, instead of Kerry, Democrats had nominated an aggressively anti-war presidential candidate.

Wrong again. Republicans may be in disarray and they may have a few ship-jumpers in their caucus (Chafee, for one) but there's no way they're going to vote to censure their own president. Dems will have to win the Senate in November for this to become anything more than fantasy, and even then there will be enough red-state Senators interested in keeping their jobs to prevent a censure from becoming reality.

P.S. I'd appreciate someone refreshing my memory about the time Rove admitted fearing a run against an anti-war candidate. As I recall, Rove was salivating over the prospect of running against Howard Dean.

Sullivan Gets Mugged

Russ Smith pulls off a hat trick in his weekly "Mugger" column in the NY Press, slapping Andrew Sullivan, Eric Alterman, and Paul Krugman - though Sullivan definitely gets the worst of it:

It's a question that can't be asked too often. Is selective homophobia acceptable when practiced by left-wingers who otherwise have impeccable anti-Bush, anti-Republican, anti-Alito, pro-abortion and soak-the-rich credentials? The one sliver of grace in Paul Krugman's I-told-you-so March 10 Times column, in which he reluctantly welcomed "born-again Bush bashers" Bruce Bartlett and Andrew Sullivan to his club, was that he didn't mention the latter's preoccupation with gay marriage. Maybe Krugman's squeamish about the subject, but I'm grateful.

The Nation's Eric Alterman, on the contrary,has no manners.

Sullivan, as noted here before, is not one of my favorite pundits. He denies it, of course, but his animus toward George W. Bush--the man who allegedly tortures at will, has an IQ lower than the typical unionized highschool teacher, presides over an economy that'll leave the country bankrupt sooner rather than later and is in favor of a police state--coincided with the president's vocal stance leading up to the 2004 elections that marriage is an institution reserved strictly for heterosexuals. That's certainly a reasonable point of view from a proud gay man who writes about his "fiancé" and snickers in print about the "hot" Olympian John Weir, but he ought not cloak his "born-again" opposition to Bush with arguments that minimize this crucial difference of opinion.

Additionally, it's off-putting to hear Sullivan on the subject of Iraq--you'd think he was writing from Baghdad's "Green Zone" rather than one of television's "green rooms" that he frequents more than is decent--especially after he told the citizens of Iraq "you're welcome," after Saddam Hussein was ousted three years ago. It's also strange to read his ongoing hagiography of Sen. John McCain--in similar terms with which he once described Bush. After all, the Arizona senator is one of the politically beleaguered president's most fervent supporters right now, as he mines Bush's contributor lists in preparation for a 2008 presidential run. Also, McCain is against gay marriage and is cultivating, somewhat successfully, an alliance with the cultural right.

On March 11, Sullivan wrote on his Time-financed blog, "Too many [Republicans] hate [McCain], I fear. And the factions who hate him--the factions who [detested] him in South Carolina in 2000--are among the most vicious and shameless in the country." Oh, please. Both economic and social conservatives are not shy today about plumping McCain as the best Republican bet in 2008. Sure, there's strenuous disgust still with the Senator's grandstanding, sponsorship of a First Amendment-busting campaign finance bill and coziness with some Democrats and almost every reporter in the country, but the onetime POW and Keating Five survivor has the look of a winner. Anyone who thinks Sens. George Allen, Bill Frist or Chuck Hagel are going to defeat the McCain machine are living in the past.

Krugman, a detestable writer who picks random facts to make political points, nevertheless was right on target on March 13--far ahead of his colleagues--when he skewered McCain. "[H]ere's what you need to know about McCain," he wrote. "He isn't a straight talker. His flip-flopping on tax cuts, his call to send troops we don't have to Iraq and his endorsement of the South Dakota anti-abortion legislation even while claiming that he would find a way around that legislation's central provision show that he's a politician as slippery and evasive as, well, George W. Bush."

Coming to andrewsullivan.com soon: full-throated support of Sen. Russell Feingold.

March 16, 2006

George Shultz on Iraq

Yesterday in a speech on the War on Terror at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, former Secretary of State George Shultz said, "The world has never been in a situation of better promise than now. The terrorists must not be allowed to abort this opportunity."

Here's more on his speech from The Daily Princetonian:

Shultz, who traced the war on terror back to the 1970s, divided the struggle into three stages.

The first period, which lasted until Sept. 11, 2001, was marked by U.S. passivity and inaction toward terrorist attacks. Even in the 1990s, the U.S. government was aware of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda but failed to check their growth, much like American inaction during Hitler's rise to power, Shultz said.

"The terrorists had completely free reign," he said.

September 11 set off the second, active military phase of the war against radical Islam, Shultz said. Americans were now aware that terrorist groups could target not just sovereign states, but also world finance, tourism and even air travel.

At present, with the war in its third stage, Shultz said that economic and military sustainability are vital for America to prevail. And in Iraq, he said, Americans must remain dedicated to the cause.

"We took far too long to put an Iraqi face on what we are doing in that country, but Iraqis now have responsibility," he said.

Think about that for a moment: roughly four years of force after thirty years of passivity. During that time, the two thousand six-hundred U.S. military personnel who have paid the ultimate price in defense of their country also liberated more than 30 million people from the yolk of tyranny, oppression and terror.

It's disheartening that more Americans don't take the long view about what sort of perseverance the war against Islamic radicalism is going to take on our part and also that they aren't quicker to recognize the significant historical achievements produced by our efforts so far.

We Are Doing Just Fine - By Larry Kudlow

If things are so bad according to the polls, why are they so good according to the stock market?

I am one of those who believe that stocks are the best barometer of the health and wealth of our nation, and our nation's businesses. Poll after poll keep telling us how unhappy people are with the President Bush, the economy, the Iraq war, and the direction America is going in. Yet stocks are telling a decidedly different story. They are making five-year highs among the broadest averages, a completely different message altogether.

Some important indexes like the NYSE (about 2500 stocks), the Transportation Index and the small-cap Russell 2000 are registering all-time highs. Today's inflation report shows diminished price pressures. With respect to interest rates, the Wall Street rumor mill is discounting "one and done," or at most, only two more Fed rate hikes to 5 percent. Profits continue their surge, consumers are spending, and the economy is healthy.

My guess is large-scale troop withdrawals from Iraq are already in the planning stage. The U.S. military knows what it's doing, and President Bush is listening to them. We are about to open up new talks with Iran concerning their mischief in Iraq, and you can bet these talks will include nuclear weapons as well.

With all due respect to the many fine pollsters out there, I'll take the stock market as a better indicator of American health and wealth.

We are doing just fine.

- Larry Kudlow, Host of CNBC's Kudlow & Co.

Scanning RCP

Just a note to make sure you're aware of all the different sections of the new and improved RCP. For example:

The Christian Science Monitor has a story today on the shifting political atmosphere in the Mountain West. Many more stories, including polls from races around the country, updated daily on the RCP Politics & Elections page

Here's a title from the new RCP Reader Articles page that got my attention: "PA Grants Murderer of 4-Year-Old Girl Honorary Citizenship." Keep scrolling to see all the different articles submitted by RCP readers in the last 7 days. You must register to submit a link or cast a vote for a particular article.

David Kirkpatrick's article on the move to censure Bush is generating some buzz in the blogosphere. Go to RCP's new Opinion Buzztracker to see what else people are talking about.

A bunch of new polls have been released in the last 2-3 days, and we've posted them all on the new RCP Polls Page.

On the RCP Blogs page you'll find a list of the day's best posts from around the blogosphere, hand-picked by the RCP edit staff.

In the RCP Resource Center, you'll find a link to the 2006 National Security Strategy document released by the White House today, as well as tons of other transcripts of speeches and talk shows.

Finally, let me remind you that you can click here to subscribe to RSS feeds for any of these pages (or just about any topic you'd like) to stay abreast of all the great content being posted to RealClearPolitics. Feel free to email me with any questions.

Harris Bets It All

Years ago (I don't remember if it was '92 or '96) Dennis Miller did a hillarious bit on Ross Perot's campaign for the White House, analogizing him to a delusional but enthusiastic starship captain who turns to his crew and says "Set the controls for the center of the Sun and crank 'er up to warp 10!"

Katherine Harris isn't as nutty as Perot was, but my take is that she's just made a very similar move by pledging to spend $10 million of her own money (what she called "everything that I have") to stay in the race for Senate.

Then again, it may turn out to be a brilliant move. Politics often rewards those who take the biggest risks. I remember thinking John Kerry was a fool for mortgaging his Beacon Hill home in late 2003 to pump another few million into his campaign which, at the time, seemed utterly and completely doomed. The difference, of course, is that Kerry had Teresa's vast fortune to fall back on - and he wasn't tainted by any direct links to a beltway corruption scandal.

March 15, 2006

A Pathetic State of Affairs - By Larry Kudlow

The Senate budget resolution now in play has dropped Bush's entitlement savings according to Budget Chairman Judd Gregg. Plus, Republican senators are trying to front-load new pork into the resolution even though Gregg wants to hold the line (at least on that).

After all the GOP Congressional talk about newfound budget-cutting religion, including earmark transparency and reform, so far they have produced nothing.

People like Arlen Specter, and many others, are still trying to get their pet projects funded. So, what else is new?

Gregg has thrown in the towel on mandatory spending cuts because he says he doesn't have the votes. Well then, I don't think that the American people should "have the votes" to keep the Republicans in charge of the Senate--or the House for that matter.

This is a pathetic state of affairs.

- Larry Kudlow, Host of CNBC's Kudlow & Co.

Bush Approval Sinks Further

Two new polls show Bush 's approval slipping even further. Pew Research has Bush's job rating at 33% this month, a seven-point decline vs. February.

SurveyUSA's new 50-state tracking poll also shows Bush's approval declining. According to SUSA, the President's job approval remains over 50% in only three states (Utah, Wyoming, and Alabama) and his nationwide approval (weighted for population) is down to 36% approve, 60% disapprove. The negative 24-point spread between approval and disapproval is the highest ever recorded by SUSA in eleven months of tracking Bush's approval.

Overall, Bush's approval in the RCP Average dropped to 36.4%. I'll have to go back and check to be absolutely sure, but I believe that's a new low for the President as well.

Quote of the Day

"The inability of the opposition party to capitalize on one of the most horrible years President George W. Bush has ever known is nothing short of remarkable." - Jake Tapper, on his blog at ABC News.

Make The Glass Half Full

Saddam is at it again. The Iraqis should have listened to Krauthammer three months ago when he suggested stuffing Hussein in a glass booth.

Feingold's Backseat Driving

A party's Senate caucus is like a car. In the case of the Democrats, right now that car has 44 passengers. They've chosen to put Harry Reid behind the wheel, and Dick Durbin is riding shotgun. But the rest of the Democrats are sitting in the backseat where it's crowded and uncomfortable. Worse, many of these folks are insufferable backseat drivers: they bitch and moan and carp, constantly offering advice about which route to take or whether to speed up or slow down. Others just sit in the back like impatient pre-teens asking over and over again, "Are we there yet, daddy?"

Theoretically, the people in the car have arrived at some general consensus as to where they're going and, despite their differences, do their best to work to find a way for all of them to get to that location together and in one piece. But, as we saw in the case of Russ Feingold this week, every now and then one of those backseat drivers gets either so impatient, so arrogant, or so ambitious they just reach right up into the front seat, grab the wheel of the car and start tugging.

Feingold's maneuver Monday was a bit of a Thelma & Louise moment in politics: he slammed the gas pedal to the floor and set Senate Democrats heading straight for the edge of the Grand Canyon. Liberals stood on one side cheering it as an act of heroism, Republicans stood on the other cheering it as a stunt of monumental stupidity and hoping the car would actually catch air. And poor Senate Democrats were left strapped in the vehicle, with eyes bulging and mouths wide open, as they scrambled to find the brake.

Friedman on Dubai

Tom Friedman (Times $elect) does not mince words this morning:

When it came to the Dubai ports issue, the facts never really had a chance — not in this political season. Still, it's hard to imagine a more ignorant, bogus, xenophobic, reckless debate than the one indulged in by both Republicans and Democrats around this question of whether an Arab-owned company might oversee loading and unloading services in some U.S. ports. If you had any doubts before, have none now: 9/11 has made us stupid. [snip]

What's ironic is that if Democrats who hate the Bush war in Iraq actually had a peaceful alternative policy for promoting transformation in the Arab-Muslim world, it would be called "the Dubai policy": supporting internally driven Arab engines of change.

That's why Arab progressives are stunned by our behavior. As an Arab businessman friend said to me of the Dubai saga: "This deal has left a real bad taste in many mouths. I mean this was Dubai, for God's sake! You could not have a better friend and more of a symbol of globalization and openness. If they are a security danger to the U.S., then who is not?"

So whatever happens with the Iraq experiment — but especially if it fails — we need Dubai to succeed. Dubai is where we should want the Arab world to go. Unfortunately, we just told Dubai to go to hell.

March 14, 2006

McGavick Gets a Favor

Last November Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) authored a bill designed to increase the number of oil tankers allowed to operate in Puget Sound. It's a relatively big issue among the environmentally-conscious folks in Western Washington, and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) had been playing the David to Stevens' Goliath, vowing to filibuster the legislation.

The week before last, Senator Stevens withdrew the bill from consideration, a move explicitly designed to boost the candidacy of Ms. Cantwell's challenger this fall, Republican Mike McGavick:

"I have never in my 38 years in the Senate asked to have any bill I introduced be permanently postponed, but that is my intention now," Stevens said from the Senate floor.

"One letter from a Washingtonian convinced me," he added.

At a press conference later, he identified the letter writer as McGavick. "Mike McGavick came to me and said it ought to be discussed," Stevens said.

Stevens' speech played into McGavick's own announcement about the bill a couple of hours later.

"I'm pretty proud of the role I played in this," McGavick said. "If I can do this as a candidate, imagine what I can do as a senator."

It's a nifty move of political teamwork by the GOP, but the way things are shaping up Mr. McGavick might need a few more favors before November rolls around.

Ms. Cantwell has been high on the GOP's target list since the day she shocked Slade Gorton by 2,229 votes in 2000. After former GOP Gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi passed on a Senate bid in late April of last year, Republicans thought they had found their man in Mr. McGavick, now former CEO of Safeco Insurance and the former Chief of Staff to the aforementioned Senator Gorton. McGavick is young (48), smart, articulate, moderate, and has deep roots in the business community as well as the ability to self-finance.

But the political landscape in Washington, as in the country at large, has become increasing difficult for Republicans in the last few months. Dissatisfaction with President Bush, a Congress run by Republicans, the war in Iraq, etc. are all a drag for Mr. McGavick on top of the already formidable task of being an unknown, first-time candidate trying to unseat an incumbent Democrat in a blue state.

And yet Ms. Cantwell continues to show signs of weakness. A Strategic Vision survey taken in early December had her polling at 50% (Mr.McGavick was at 39%) with a job approval rating of 49%. A more recent poll by Rasmussen Reports taken at the end of January also had Ms. Cantwell right at the 50% mark (Mr.McGavick was at 36%). Normally, you'd expect an incumbent with such favorable political dynamics running against a virtual unknown to be doing better. If Mr. McGavick runs a sharp campaign and picks up another favor or two along the way - especially if they come in the form of missteps by Ms. Cantwell - this could turn into a very interesting contest.

The Bush Censure.....Good for Feingold, Good for Republicans

With Bush's poll numbers returning to post-Katrina/Harriet Miers lows, most Democrats seem to understand the political stupidity of Feingold's move to censure the President. Most of the major newspapers appear to have buried the story off their front pages (except for the Washington Times) as even the MSM understands this censure idea is a loser for Democrats.

Feingold, of course, has his own agenda and this works nicely to cement his place in the '08 Democratic field as the one guy who is willing to fight the "fascists" in the Bush administration. And as far as pissing off the Democratic hierarchy or the elite power-brokers in the party, he couldn't care less. If he hopes to seriously get in the mix in the 2008 field, he is going to have to be a pure insurgent candidate (the '08 Howard Dean) and this move only helps in that regard.

Republicans, on the other hand, should use the opportunity that Feingold has provided them and hammer Democrats mercilessly on this issue. If played right, this could be like the Jack Murtha episode where Democrats will have to turn off their non-stop Bush bashing and vote against Feingold or risk appearing to be on the Michael Moore fringe of the debate.

March 13, 2006

SRLC Post Mortem - Part II

Continuing with some post mortem thoughts on the SRLC this weekend:

John McCain: I thought this weekend would provide some clarity on McCain's relationship with the base, but he continues to be a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. As I mentioned on Saturday, McCain's speech was fine and, as Howard Kurtz notes today, the MSM never seems to tire of the maverick, frontrunner storyline, but I did not sense a great deal of "warmth" for McCain among the crowd of delegates. That's not to say there isn't a greater level of respect (perhaps tolerance is a better word) for McCain among conservatives activists at the moment, in part driven by a left-brain pragmatism that acknowledges he may be the GOP's best bet in the '08 general election. But my sense remains, at least as things stand now, that if Republicans do nominate McCain it'll be a marriage of convenience rather than love.

Other miscellaneous thoughts:

Despite the fact that nearly every speaker harped on two issues that would seem to be implicit indictments of President Bush (runaway federal spending and the need to secure the border), the biggest applause lines of the weekend came when speakers voiced a full-throated defense of the President. Mitch McConnelll got a standing ovation after telling the audience, "I want you to know I think we have one of the great presidents in the history of the United States of America." Lindsey Graham received a similar reaction when he called President Bush "the Winston Churchill of our time." Graham said, "this president is under siege. He’s had more happen on his watch than anyone I can imagine. He’s not polling to make his decisions, if we follow him or not follow him based on polls, then shame on us."

The star of the weekend, by far, is a man who isn't running for office but I dare say could win anything he wanted: former Congressman J.C. Watts. Those who cling to the stereotype that the GOP's dominance in the South is predicated on covert appeals to racism should have been the room on Friday night. Watts held the virtually all-white crowd spellbound and received thunderous applause as he talked about his values and his vision for America, with particular emphasis on the need for diversity and inclusion. "God likes diversity," Watts said, likening the Almighty to an artist who paints in many colors. It was a virtuoso performance. In the lobby of the Peabody Hotel after the speech, Watts was mobbed by delegates wanting pictures, autographs, or just a shake of the hand. He is probably the closest thing conservatives have to a true rock star, and he just happens to be black. During Watts' speech I kept thinking to myself what a treat it would be to see Watts square off against Barack Obama in a debate, and how much the country might benefit from seeing two of its brightest African-American stars passionately and persuasively arguing such opposite points of view. That would be a ticket worth having.

The Real Threats to the Economy - by Brian Wesbury

The current recovery began in November 2001 and is 52 months old. Growth in the first 18 months of the recovery was anemic, with real GDP rising just 2.1% at an annual rate. Ever since the May 2003 tax cut, however, the economy has boomed and real GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 3.9%.

Business investment in equipment and software fell an annualized 1.4% during the first 1 1/2 years of the current recovery. Since the tax cut, equipment and software investment has accelerated to an 11.1% annualized rate.

Between November 2001 and May 2003, non-farm payrolls contracted by an average of 58,000 jobs per month. In the past 12 months, the average gain is 171,000 new jobs, while in the past 4 months, payrolls have added 228,000 per month.

Despite this convincing evidence that the tax cut worked, and that the economy has consistent and robust forward momentum, there are still many who feel as if this economic recovery is fragile.

The laundry list of worries is long: High and rising energy prices, a large and growing trade deficit, budget deficits, rising interest rates, a slowdown in housing, consumer debt levels, layoffs, and pension problems make up part of the list.

But, none of these so-called problems has ever killed a recovery in the past, despite the fact that they have been feared for a very long time.

Our forecasting methodology concludes that there are really only four threats to the economy that investors should worry about: 1) Tax hikes. 2) Protectionism. 3) Government spending and regulation. 4) Bad monetary policy.

Right now, monetary policy is not a threat. We continue to believe that a neutral federal funds rate is near 5.5% and we doubt the Fed will push rates beyond that level. However, the economy could be hurt either way - if the Fed tightens too much, or does not tighten enough.

Tax policy is in good shape, at least through 2008. While an extension to the current 15% investment tax rates is important, as long as the low tax rates are in place the economy will do fine.

On the other hand, rising government spending and expanding regulation are a burden on the economy. Protectionist sentiment is also on the rise.

Currently, low tax rates and a reasonable Fed policy outweigh any negatives from the other threats and we continue to forecast strong economic growth well into 2007. For any change to this forecast, look to the four threats, not a laundry list of fears.

-- Brian Wesbury

(Brian Wesbury is the Chief Economist for First Trust Advisors in Chicago, IL)

A Story From Walter Cronkite

I ran across this gem of a story related by Walter Cronkite in an interview in this month's Esquire (no link available):

Cronkite: I became friendly with Dwight Eisenhower. He told me a delightful story about General Patton that showed a lot about the character of both men. At one point before D-day, Patton made a statement in England that it was the destiny of America and Britain to rule the world. It wasn't the first time the bellicose Patton had gotten into trouble. He was very egotistical, and he assumed that he knew how to win any war in any place. This time, there were demands in Washington that Patton be sent home. So Eisenhower called for him. Eisenhower told me he thought he had no choice but to fire Patton. When Patton came in, he was wearing that helmet liner of his with big stars on it. He knew what was coming. He stood at attention at Eisenhower's desk. Eisenhower asked him to sit down. Patton said he preferred to stand. Eisenhower told him to at least stand at ease, and he proceeded to tell him all the reasons he was in trouble. Tears began to well in Patton's eyes. But just as Eisenhower was getting to the point of ordering him back home, he realized that he simply couldn't do it. He needed him too much. So Eisenhower told himself, Dammit, I'll just take the licks if I have to on this one. He got up, walked over to George, and said, "Despite all that, I'm going to give you another chance. Patton let out a sob and threw his head on Eisenhower's shoulder, and the helmet liner came off and clattered across the floor. It was so ridiculous that Eisenhower laughed. When he did, Patton pushed him away and said, "Thank you for that, and I'll stay, you son of a bitch." Then he stamped out.

A Tiger on The Court

A profile of Associate Justice Sam Alito's days at Princeton in the new issue of the university's alumni magazine. Eat your heart out, Joe Biden.

Welcome To The New RCP

So here we are at the new and improved RealClearPolitics. As we said in the original note, the look and feel of the site may have changed, but what we do hasn’t. Every piece of content from the old site has been incorporated into the new design, along with a number of new features that we hope are going to make RCP even better.

We’ve fielded a ton of questions and comments about the new site over the weekend, and we wanted to take a moment to answer a couple of the most frequently asked ones and to walk you through some of the new features.

Probably the biggest structural change made to the site is that we’re no longer displaying 5-7 days worth of commentary and opinion stories down the center of the front page. Instead, each day can be seen in its entirety by simply clicking on the day at the top of the site across from the current date.

rcpfaq1.jpg

Scroll over each tab to see the numeric date (i.e. March 11, 2006). Clicking will take you to a page displaying not only the commentary and editorials from that day, but also any political news stories, blog posts or transcripts that were posted on RealClearPolitics that day.

Another change is the introduction of topic pages and RSS feeds. Every article posted to RCP is now tagged with keywords allowing them to be sorted and displayed automatically. Topics can be reached on the left column, by clicking on the main “topics” tab or any of the featured topics in the left column.

What’s more, you can subscribe to an RSS feed on any individual topic so that any time we post an article in a particular area of interest to you on RealClearPolitics it will be sent to you automatically via RSS. You can see a comprehensive list of topics by clicking here: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/topics.html. A full list of RSS feeds can be accessed here: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/rss/.

Stories from the RCP Politics & Elections section can now be found every day in the center column below the editorials. Clicking on the title will take you through to the P&E archive page (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/politics_and_election_news/). The daily RCP Blogosphere round up feature continues as well. You will find it in the left hand column or you can bookmark the Blog archive page (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/blogs/). Again, RSS feeds are now available for both of these pages.

For a more detailed description of all the new features on RealClearPolitics, see this letter from our new publisher.

Let us finish by saying that the response to the upgraded site has been overwhelmingly positive. Of course, change is not always easy, especially for a site that from a design standpoint hadn’t really changed since 2000. We’ve done our best to stay true to the original concept of RealClearPolitics and to improve and expand on what people have come to like and expect from RCP every single day.

Thanks again for your patience and support as we move through this transition. Please continue to send us feedback at feedback@realclearpolitics.com; and we look forward to hearing from you.

- John & Tom

SRLC Post Mortem - Part I

Got back from Memphis last night. I'll have a column on the event up tomorrow, but here are some brief final impressions on the gang of speakers from this weekend:

Mitt Romney: I've already talked about Romney's performance, and his showing in the straw poll is evidence that his message resonates with the base - though it was also clear that Romney had put a decent amount of effort into mobilizing his folks for the event.

Mike Huckabee: I was impressed with Huckabee. It was the first time I'd seen him live and he has a genuinely warm, folksy way about him, a decent stump speech and a great life story. I spoke with his media consultant after the straw poll results were announced and she feigned satisfaction, though I was surprised he didn't do better given the event's proximity to his home state and how well his speech was received by the crowd of delegates.

Bill Frist: Location and expectations being what they were, this event held a ton of downside for Frist and very little upside. So he did what he had to do on the organizational front and got his home crowd out to vote. As a result, however, I don't know that the straw poll results give a true indication of where he stands with the base of the party at this point.

I spent fifteen minutes interviewing Senator Frist on Friday afternoon and I can tell you this: he immediately strikes you as a kind, caring guy, a true gentleman, and exceedingly smart and competent. As Mitch McConnell noted in his introduction of Frist on Saturday: can you name another person in America who has risen to the top of two of the most competitive professions in the country (heart surgery and national politics) in their lives besides Frist? Frist rose to Majority Leader after only 8 years in the Senate - faster than anyone else in history except Lyndon Johnson. You don't do that without winning the respect, trust and admiration of your peers. The biggest challenge for Frist is whether he can ignite the sort of excitement among the base he'll need to win the nomination and whether he's the sort of guy who can capture the imagination of the public. Right now, I'd say the jury is still out.

Sam Brownback: I was surprised Brownback didn't get a warmer reception from the crowd, I guess I expected his focus on socially conservative issues to ring more bells with the delegates. Part of this was Brownback's delivery: his rhetoric wasn't fiery or heavy on red-meat, and his speech was built primarily around Ronald Reagan's concept of American exceptionalism.

George Allen: Allen's performance in the straw poll is probably the biggest shocker of the weekend, only because he was so well received by the delegates. Despite drawing the early morning slot on Saturday (8:30m) Allen got the crowd going with an enthusiastic rendition of his stump speech that touched on a variety of issues - all of which brought approving applause. Allen had been downplaying the straw poll all weekend in his folksy, football fashion, calling the event a "fun pickup game" rather than a serious "intrasquad scrimmage." Still, expectations are part of the game and I'm sure his camp wasn't thrilled with the results - even if they have absolutely no long term meaning.

Part II of the post-mortem later today.

March 11, 2006

SRLC Straw Poll Resuts: Frist on Top

Here are the just announced results of the straw poll from the Southern Republican Leadership Conference:

Senator Bill Frist 36.9%
Governor Mitt Romney 14.4%
Senator George Allen 10.3%
President Bush (write in) 10.3%
Senator John McCain 4.6%
Governor Mike Huckabee 3.8%

A total of 1427 ballots were cast.

Here are the second choice picks among the 526 people who voted for Senator Frist:

None 24.1%
Allen 18.4%
Romney 12.0%
Giuliani 10.8%
McCain 10.6%
Bush 7.0%
Huckabee 4.0%
Gingrich 3.4%

Other notable info: More than half (52%) of all votes came from Tennessee. Senator Frist got 81.7% of his votes from Tennesse delegates. Forty-two percent of voters from Tennessee did not choose Frist first on their ballot.

McCain At The SRLC

Last night at the SRLC, John McCain drew the unenviable task of speaking after former Congressman J.C. Watts. Depending upon how much a conspiracy theorist you are, this could have been either sheer coincidence or the devilish, micro-detailed machinations of pro-Frist forces seeking to give their man every possible advantage playing on his home field.

Nevertheless, McCain did his best, starting with a smart, if somewhat risqué joke that paid homage to Watts’s inimitable speaking style and also lowered the expectation bar back down to a more manageable level. “I feel like Zsa Zsa Gabor’s fifth husband on his wedding night,” McCain deadpanned, “I know what I’m supposed to do, I just don’t know how to make it interesting.”

By the time McCain took the stage people had already been buzzing about his plan to tell delegates to write President Bush's name down on their straw poll ballots, saying "personal amibitions should be a distant second" to standing with President Bush in the war on terror. The implication, however, is that McCain wants to avoid an embarrassing showing in the straw poll so he chose to try and deligitimize it - which is pretty ironic since straw polls aren't all that legitimate to begin with. Anyway, Drudge is now touting this as a huge embarrassment for McCain, though my sense is that might be overstating things a bit.

One more note from McCain's speech last night. Among the "straight talk" he offered to the delegates was the view that killing the Dubai ports deal was a mistake. McCain talked about depth of our relationship with the UAE, especially with regard to how much logistical assistance our Navy receives from Dubai, and how it was harmful to America's effort to win the war for the hearts and minds of the Arab people around the world. He said he felt the decision to kill the deal was premature and not handled particuarly well by Congress: "The president deserved better," McCain said to a smattering of applause.

SRLC Day One: Mitt Romney

The star attraction of the morning session yesterday was Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The first thing that jumps out at you about Romney is his physical appearance: tall, svelt, classically handsome. He just looks presidential. Standing up on stage at the podium with the line of flags behind him, Romney cut a picture straight out of central casting from a Hollywood movie studio.

Romney started by offering the ostensible purpose of his visit: to address the delegates on behalf of the Republican Governor’s Association. After a quick run through of the list of important gubernatorial contests in 2006, Romney launched into his ’08 stump speech which consisted of the four challenges he says America must face. They are, in order: 1) the threat of Islamic jihadis, 2) runaway government spending, 3) the rise of Asia, and 4) “cultural challenges.”

Romney finished with a stirring story about the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics when speed skater Derek Parra carried the tattered American flag taken from the World Trade Center into the stadium in Salt Lake City.

All in all Romney’s speech was well received. He came across as very articulate and passionate, and hit all the right notes with the crowd, including the issue of gay marriage, which received big applause. The question mark for Romney, of course, is the issue of his religion. It seemed a bit of an elephant in a room full of hundreds of GOP delegates, a majority of whom are evangelical Christians.

March 10, 2006

No Gloating On the Ports Deal - By Mark Davis

No gloating, please, from those of us who were dead right about this Dubai ports deal.

Relief is fine, but let's not strut. This has not been fun. Does anyone think it has been a picnic to see a bruise well up on the reputation of a wartime President whose radar has been totally reliable until this?

The good news is that the bruise can heal. The best way to help it heal is to examine the lessons learned from this experience:

1) When President Bush told us after 9/11 of the high caution we need to exercise as we battle terrorists, we listened. That is why we could not grow cavalier about turning port control over to a Muslim nation.

2) The UAE is a far more friendly Islamic country than some of its neighbors. But the suggestion that this made the ports deal safe was crazy. The ruling emirs and business tycoons were never a problem. The concern stemmed from the portion of the UAE population that might share the pervasive Islamic view that America is evil. No amount of security or oversight could have changed that factor.

3) Proponents of the deal would do well to revisit the insults they delivered to critics. The worst low blow was that opposition to the deal was based on bigotry. How sad to hear such a baseless attack coming out of the mouth of a wonderful man like General John Abizaid.

4) The public should deliver some accountability to every politician who sincerely or insincerely opposed the deal. Anyone delivering proper indignation on the subject of the ports is a hypocrite unless there is an accompanying passion to get serious about our borders.

- Mark Davis
Host of The Mark Davis Radio Show

Dispatches From The SRLC

I'm in Memphis covering the Southern Republican Leadership Conference and will be filing dispatches throughout the weekend. I'm just about to head over to the Peabody Hotel for the opening session to hear a number of speeches, including one by RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman. Looks like the Associated Press must have a patent on a time machine, since they've already run a story on Mehlman's speech over the wire.

The DPW Post Mortem

So the deal is dead. I think the emotion behind the issue was understandable, though misplaced. Turning away Dubai may or may not have long term economic and foreign policy ramifications, but anyone who thinks that we've somehow made our ports safer by telling DPW to shove off is kidding themselves.

And now that we've set this precedent and labeled it as vital to national security, aren't we obligated to start asking some other questions? Something like eleven out of the thirteen terminals at the port of Long Beach are operated by foreign-owned companies, almost all of which have some level of government ownership. That includes the Chinese, who are probably less of a strategic ally than Dubai. Must we insist they divest themselves from port operations?

And if Arab-owned companies can't manage our ports, should they be able to fly airplanes over our cities? Reader CS notes that we have a handful of Arab-owned airlines that fly daily into Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and other locations around the country. Surely that has to be classified as a national security concern as well. Can we allow that to continue?

All that being said, the lesson here is that sometimes you can't fight the politics of an issue no matter what the policy merits might be. This was a loser from the beginning, and the administration deserves a great share of the blame for the way it blew up and got out of hand.

More DPW related stuff below:

John Podhoretz says Congress saved Bush again.

The New York Times editorializes, "Even if the battle over DP World is headed toward a resolution, our ports remain dangerously vulnerable to terrorist intrusions."

Marc Sandalow of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, "The collapse of the Dubai port deal was a victory for the politics of fear."

The Washington Post looks at just how deeply overseas firms are entrenched at our ports.

The Seattle Times reports on SSA, the U.S.-owned company that is the ninth largest port operator in the world, now first in line to be the beneficiary of DPW's decision yesterday. For the record, SSA, who already had joint venture operations with P&O (the company acquired by DPW earlier this month) did not see any security concerns in the deal. The Washington Times reports on SSA and the other company in the running, Maher.

The Washington Times also performs editorial jujitsu on Chuck Schumer, calling him the "exploiter-in-chief of the Dubai acrimony" and slamming him for an underhanded Senate maneuver conducted by duping a member of his own party.

The Baltimore Sun editorializes, "There's no cause for celebration in yesterday's announcement that a Dubai-owned company will sell its interest in the management of six American ports in order to quell a political prairie fire that was about to engulf the White House."

Lastly, Linda Feldmann and Gail Russell Chaddock examine "Why the Dubai deal collapsed" in the Christian Science Monitor.

AP Poll: Bush at 37%

New AP-Ipsos poll out showing Bush's job approval at 37% (news story, full results - pdf) That number represents a 3-point drop from last month and puts Bush back to the same level he was in early November after Katrina and the Harriet Miers nomination. Bush's overall job approval in the RCP Average dropped two-tenths of one percent to 39.6%.

Other numbers from the AP poll:

Congression Job Approval: Down 5 points to 31%. (RCP Average now at 32.4%)

Direction of Country: Right track down 5 points to 30% (RCP Average now at 31.4%)

Generic Congressional Vote: Unchanged from last month: Republicans 36%, Democrats 47% (RCP Average is Democrats +11.2%)

Quote of the Day

"I ran into my buddy Korg last week. Korg is a lifelong Democrat but he told me he was switching to the Republicans. Why? I asked.

"Because if a Republican shoots somebody in the face, the other guy has to apologize."

- Rich Miller, writing in today's Chicago Sun-Times.

March 09, 2006

A Political Surrender To Protectionism? - By Larry Kudlow

So the White House arranged a sale of Dubai Ports World that will transfer its port operations to a yet-to-be-named U.S. entity. We don't even know if it is a private American company or a government agency of some sort.

Here's something Sen. Schumer can fume about -- one of the very few private American firms capable of running a bunch of port terminals is HALLIBURTON. That's right, Halliburton. Remember them? Every Democrats' favorite.

But the big question is whether foreign investors are being repelled by neo-protectionist American politicians who are using phony national security reasons to advance an anti-trade, anti-investment, xenophobic agenda. This is a point that Steve Moore over at the WSJ is putting forth and it is vitally important. Do we really want to tell foreign capital not to come here? Do we want it in China? Russia? Brazil?

An international think tank estimates that U.S. jobs from foreign direct investment average over $60,000 per job; 34 percent more than U.S. capitalized jobs.

Today's stock market opened up, but at precisely 2:00 p.m. EST when the Dubai Ports World sale was announced, stocks turned tail and closed down 33 points on the day. What does that tell you?

Do we really want to send a message to world investors that we don't want their capital? Do we really want a political surrender to protectionism? Do we really want to emulate the political economy of Smoot Hawley of the 1930s? I don't think so.

- Larry Kudlow, Host of CNBC's Kudlow & Co.

Zarqawi Was Here

Michael Totten is back on his feet after an illness and files a new dispatch from northern Iraq.

Is The Dubai Rebellion Over?

It doesn't quite rank with some of the other great rebellions in American history, and it didn't involve taking up arms or spilling any blood. This was a political rebellion: a few lopsided polls, a near-unanimous vote by the House Appropriations Committee yesterday and a closed door talking to with the President of the United States today, and the Dubai Ports World deal looks to be dead with the company's announcement this afternoon that it will divest itself of all U.S. interests and ""transfer fully the operations of U.S. ports to a U.S. entity."

Will this be the end of it? I suspect so. Bush saves face and doesn't have to make good on a veto threat. A Republican-led Congrees looks good to its constituents (and feels good about itself) for flexing its muscle and derailing the deal. DPW loses, at least for the moment (The statement was notably vague, so we'll have to wait and see if a restructured deal, of which they may have some connection, emerges at some point after the election).

As with the Harriet Miers nomination, in a few weeks the DPW deal will probably be reduced to a footnote. The question is whether Bush's standing will rebound fully or whether the Dubai Rebellion will take a further chip out of the President's credibility with the Republican base that he won't ever be able to recover.

Immigration, Censorship, and the Great Netroots Debate

Quite a few interesting posts in the blogosphere today:

At The American Scene, Ross Douthat comments on Robert Samuelson's immigration column calling for the U.S. government to both erect a wall along the southern border and grant amnesty to illegal immigrants already in the country. Douthat concludes:

The odds of our actually building a San Diego or Israel-style barrier (which seems to be the only realistic way of significantly slowing the influx) are astronomically low, given how many powerful interests are arrayed against the idea of enforcing our immigration laws to any extent whatsoever. And so it behooves immigration skeptics to seize on a Samuelson-style compromise if it's ever offered, instead of holding out for the kind of sweeping, best-of-all-possible-worlds crackdown that they'll never, ever get.

Though you never know - maybe calling for a fence is what puts Hillary over the top in '08 . . .

John Leo gives some startling examples that suggest a coming "wave of pro-Muslim censorship, both voluntary and involuntary." For instance:

The University of Chicago threatened a student with punishment for posting on a door a crude cartoon that said, "Mo' Mohammed, Mo' Problems." After complaints, the student took the picture down and apologized. The student handbook contains a ringing endorsement of free speech, stating that the university does "not attempt to shield people from ideas that they may find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even offensive." Nevertheless, the student was placed under investigation and, according to a fellow student, was told that he might be kicked out of university housing.

That was his status two weeks ago. A database check showed no articles on his case since.

Do we get all the news that's fit to print?

Arianna Huffington reviews Glenn Reynolds' new book, The Army of Davids:

You know Reynolds has hit on something when John Podhoretz and I agree that "Army of Davids" is a must-read...

Reynolds may be identified with the right, but his central thesis that technology is evening the playing field between the media haves and the media-have-only-a-laptop-and-an-Internet connection crowd cuts across partisan lines.

This post by The New Republic's Jason Zengerle has sparked a debate in the left blogosphere over the Texas 28th district primary and "netroots" campaigns in general:

More often than not, these liberal bloggers (especially Kos) act like they already have taken over the world--writing manifestoes, issuing threats, and engaging in all sorts of chest-thumping behavior. But, like I said, their batting average is still a big fat zero.

Zengerle's slam prompted responses from Kevin Drum, Kos, and numerous others. Zengerle follows up here.

Another Step To The Left in Latin America?

Now it's Peru:

One of Latin America's most extraordinary political families is poised to produce another of the continent's Left-wing authoritarian leaders with no love for Washington.

Ollanta Humala is one of two favourites to become Peru's next president, a role for which, to believe his mother, he has been groomed from birth. [snip]

"The new world struggle is not between the Left and the Right, it is between the globalisers and the globalised and Peru falls into the latter category," he [Humala] said.

"We have to fight the pernicious effects of globalisation. I am a nationalist and anti-imperialist."

The former army colonel and coup leader is now only a few points behind the frontrunner for the April 9 elections, Lourdes Flores, in polls that underplay his support among the poor. His victory would usher into power yet another Latin American Left-winger hostile to the United States, like his friends Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and President Evo Morales of Bolivia.

Meanwhile, Michelle Bachelet will be sworn in on Saturday as the new president of Chile. Andres Oppenheimer pens a tribute to outgoing Chilean President Ricardo Lagos in today's Miami Herald that includes this Q&A:

Q: A recent Globescan poll shows that Latin America is the world's region that is most critical of free-market capitalism. Can the region draw more investments with that attitude?

Lagos: ``I'm not surprised to find that response in Latin America. Too many countries have grown, have followed Washington's recipes, yet people haven't seen any benefits of that at their home level. Progress is seen on TV, but not at home. But investments are important. Latin America's defect is often wanting to blame others outside our hemisphere or our region for our problems. I'm not saying that there aren't things that need to be fixed -- but we often forget that our first responsibility is to put our house in order. In that sense, we need clear policies to attract investments.''

And Der Spiegel runs an interview with President-elect Bachelet touching on the legacy of Pinochet and the prospect of dealing with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez and his "axis of good." Chile remains one of the few brightspots in South America. Washington should take extra care to maintain good relations with Ms. Bachelet's socialist government to help make sure it resists the siren song of Chavez's anti-American, anti-globlization influence that continues to make gains across the continent.

Note To Readers: Change Is On The Way

We wanted to give some advance notice that change is on the way. We’re in the process of putting the finishing touches on a new version of RealClearPolitics which we plan to launch in the next few days.

The first thing we want to tell you about the new site is that it’s going to contain all the same things many of you have come to know and expect from RealClearPolitics.

The second thing we want tell you is that the new site will also contain a number of new features which we believe will provide an even richer, more complete experience for readers who thrive on political news and commentary.

Finally, after five years we felt it was time to update the look of RealClearPolitics to accommodate our new features while still delivering the great above-the-fold content to which you are accustomed. We’ve tried our best to stay true to and improve upon the core of what RealClearPolitics has been about from the beginning. We hope you’ll find we’ve succeeded in doing just that.

As always, we appreciate your feedback and ask that you bear with us as we work through the kinks and quirks that will inevitably be part of launching a new and improved site.

- John McIntyre & Tom Bevan

March 08, 2006

General Franks in Qatar

Responding to a question after a speech yesterday in Doha, Qatar, General Tommy Franks lamented the lack of accountability in the media:

“The number of stories presented in any media outlet over the last five years that can be called into question and proven invalid is huge, and the number of incorrect assertions and absurd allegations is enormous.

If you as a military officer, diplomat or politician, use your judgement to make decisions and if your judgement is bad, what happens? You lose your job, livelihood, because you are responsible for what you do..."

In the same Q&A session Franks also was quoted saying "I doubt that we will ever see an armed conflict with Iran."

The South Dakota Gambit

Andrew Sullivan notes that the editors of NRO are conflicted over the South Dakota law banning all abortions except to save the mother's life:

We have mixed feelings about these laws. We share the pro-life objectives that animate them, but we doubt that they actually advance those objectives.

Alan Akers, a former South Dakota State Senator, voiced a similarly contradictory opinion earlier this week in the Rapid City Journal:

And so, as a candidate and a legislator, I had no hesitation in saying I supported a ban on abortion, with no exceptions for rape and incest.

Even so, the Legislature made a mistake in refusing to include these exceptions in their abortion ban.

If Gov. Mike Rounds signs the abortion ban, I'll be surprised if the pro-choice side doesn't gather the necessary signatures to put it to a vote of the people this November. Why would I fear that? After all, we pro-lifers have always claimed we have the majority of the electorate on our side.

I fear that referendum because, by the time we vote, it won't be a straightforward choice between pro-choice and pro-life. Pro-life would win. No, what we'll be voting on this November is whether the state of South Dakota is going to make the emotionally shattered, physically battered 16-year-old rape victim into a criminal. Never mind that the law would only charge the abortionist with the crime. Never mind the statistics on how few victims of a brutal rape would become pregnant and decide they want an abortion. We'll be voting on whether our state should be pointing fingers at that broken, battered young girl.

Fears that the ban is a tactical mistake on the part of the pro-life movement are well founded. The issue is always ripe for demagoguery, and one doesn't have to flex the imagination too hard to visualize how some will use the ban to try and scare people across the country out of their wits. In today's Salt Lake Tribune Molly Ivins provides a decent example of the over-the-top fearmongering we can expect on the issue:

The state Legislature of South Dakota, in all its wisdom and majesty, a legislature comprised of sons and daughters of the soil from Aberdeen to Zell, have usurped the right of the women of that state to decide whether or not to bear the child of an unwanted pregnancy. They will decide. Women will do what they decide. [snip]

Look at some of the incompetent women we have running around in this country - Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright, now there are a couple of girls in need of guidance from the South Dakota Legislature. Female doctors, lawyers, airplane pilots, engineers and, for that matter, female members of the South Dakota Legislature - who could ever trust them with an important decision?

In South Dakota, pharmacists can refuse to fill a prescription for contraceptives should it trouble their conscience, and some groups who worked on the anti-abortion bill believe contraception also needs to be outlawed. Good plan. After that, we'll reconsider women's property rights, civil rights and voting rights.

Ivins' rhetorical excess sounds similar to Hillary Clinton's standard refrain about the right wing trying to "turn back the clock on the progress of the 20th Century." I'll be surprised if Hilllary doesn't cite the South Dakota ban at some point as proof her concerns are legitimate and also use it to try and further position herself in the center.

Texas Primaries: A Warm-Up

Texas held its primary elections yesterday, and the results for the most part were unsurprising. The 28th district Democratic primary received much attention because it featured a rematch of the 2004 battle between Ciro Rodriguez and Henry Cuellar. Despite a passionate “netroots” effort led by blogs such as Daily Kos and MyDD, Rodriguez’s challenge from the left received 41 percent of the vote to Cuellar’s 53 percent. In the 2004 primary, Cuellar beat out incumbent Rodriguez by only 58 votes.

No Republicans were on the ballot for the 28th district, so Cuellar should hold on to his seat in November.

In the 22nd district, Rep. Tom DeLay easily defeated three Republican opponents who together managed to rack up only 39% of the vote. At The Washington Note, Steve Clemons says DeLay’s ethics troubles mean the result was actually favorable for Democrats: “They need a punching bag and foil -- and Tom DeLay has just given them that.”

At Outside the Beltway, James Joyner concludes: “It is not inconceivable that Nick Lampson, a conservative Democrat and former Congressman, could beat him [DeLay] in November as details from the Abramoff mess become public. But, despite their low approval ratings elsewhere, Tom DeLay, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney are still quite popular deep in the heart of Texas.”

And in what is shaping up to be a huge battle for Texas governor, “former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston defeated former Texas Supreme Court justice Bob Gammage for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination Tuesday, while Gov. Rick Perry coasted to the Republican nomination against minor opposition.”

But this race will likely feature four major candidates after Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn gather signatures for their independent runs. Strayhorn is mother of White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, and Friedman is a provocative singer, songwriter, and novelist, whose candidacy resembles that of Minnesota’s Jesse Ventura. You will want to keep up with this one.

Bennish Must Go - By Mark Davis

Once the shock wore off from hearing Jay Bennish's Colorado classroom rant, I wrestled with whether he had committed an offense worthy of firing. For a while, I was willing to give this poor misguided dude a break-- a strong letter in the file pointing out that he was not "encouraging debate" but rather jamming absurdly radical views down kid's throats, and telling him to cut it out right now.

I'm over that now. This guy must be terminated.

I haven't changed my mind about his comments. They are moronic beyond belief. In some moments the guy makes Cindy Sheehan look like Peggy Noonan. But with just one chunk of tape as the evidence against him, I was willing to chalk it up to the stupidity of youth on one particularly zealous day.

Then he opened his mouth to reporters. Not one morsel of remorse. Not one shred of recognition that he had horribly ill-served his class that day. This tells me-- and should tell the school system that employs him-- that he is irretrievable. He is a complete idiot with no place in front of a classroom.

I can take a teacher who hates Bush. I cannot take a teacher who spews that hate and tries to sugar-coat it by calling it a spark for critical thinking. Add the raw duplicitousness of his self- aggrandizing comments since, and you have a case that should be closed immediately.

And while we're at it, how about a big happy detention hall for every student who walked out in protest? This school system needs to make clear that it has behavioral expectations for teachers and students alike.

- Mark Davis
Host of The Mark Davis Radio Show

Jay Bennish: Class Clown

I watched Matt Lauer's interview of Jay Bennish on the Today show yesterday morning, and I have to agree with Al Knight's take that Mr. Bennish's defense was less than convincing:

In his "Today" show interview, he [Bennish] presented three different explanations, none of them very satisfying. He first told host Matt Lauer that the balance could be found in the unrecorded portion of the class. That will be up to the school district to determine if that claim is true.

The other two explanations offered by Bennish are just plain silly. He said, for example, that it is his job to make a series of provocative statements so that his students can take them home and somehow "deconstruct" them and come to their own independent conclusions. Obviously, that is a very convenient and self-serving approach to education. The teacher gets off the hook for saying just about anything and the responsibility is shifted to the student. Put another way, it isn't the job of the teacher to point out that capitalism is subject to multiple layers of government regulation, it is instead up to the student to learn and incorporate that fact into his or her own thinking.

Finally, Bennish suggested that his lopsided lectures arise from his perception that his students haven't been broadly exposed to certain ideas. In other words, the students come to class reflecting a societal imbalance that needs correction. But that poses the question of how Bennish knows what societal imbalance exists and, more importantly, how he knows what "correction" is needed.

Bennish started the interview with the loopy explanation that his rant against Bush was somehow appropriate subject matter for a world geography class. He went on to cite "cognitive dissonance" as a valuable teaching method, which is a twist on the idea that teachers should be able to avoid responsibility for saying any number of outrageous things in the classroom if they merely make passing reference to an opposite point of view. Of course, nobody in their right mind would buy that argument if Bennish had been making derogatory, politically-motivated comments about blacks, women, etc. He'd be out of a job, plain and simple.

The bottom line is that Bennish wasn't presenting facts, he was pushing opinions. Teachers are a lot like journalists in the sense that there is a public trust and expectation that these people are professionals who will leave their politics at the door and stick to giving a balanced presentation of the facts. That's especially true for those charged with educating our children at the elementary and high school level of our public school system.

I don't think Bennish should be fired, but he certainly deserves a good dose of criticism for spending 20 minutes ranting and injecting his politics - irrespective of what they are - into the classrooom.

Fire Breathers

On the right we have Bruce Bartlett in The American Conservative:

Although I lost my job for writing a book critical of George W. Bush, I have no regrets. Sometimes you just have to say the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. My loyalty to my country and my party supersede whatever loyalty I may have to my president. As someone once said, facts are hard things.

I think it better for all loyal Republicans to face these facts now, no matter how painful they may be. Denouncing Bush’s conservative critics or firing them from allegedly conservative organizations won’t make those facts go away. Refusing to address them and circling the wagons against even the friendliest of critics only erodes the Republican Party’s base, setting it up for defeat in 2008. Better to have a debate now, when there is still time to change course.

Dana Milbank reports on the forum yesterday hosted by the Cato Institute where Bartlett laid out the case against Bush. Andrew Sullivan was also there voicing criticism of the administration, going so far as to call the President a "Christian Socialist."

Meanwhile, Molly Ivins is equally disgusted with the left. In the March issue of The Progressive , she blasts Democrats in her classic southern style:

Mah fellow progressives, now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party. I don’t know about you, but I have had it with the D.C. Democrats, had it with the DLC Democrats, had it with every calculating, equivocating, triangulating, straddling, hair-splitting son of a bitch up there, and that includes Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I will not be supporting Senator Clinton because: a) she has no clear stand on the war and b) Terri Schiavo and flag-burning are not issues where you reach out to the other side and try to split the difference. You want to talk about lowering abortion rates through cooperation on sex education and contraception, fine, but don’t jack with stuff that is pure rightwing firewater.

I can’t see a damn soul in D.C. except Russ Feingold who is even worth considering for President. The rest of them seem to me so poisonously in hock to this system of legalized bribery they can’t even see straight.

Look at their reaction to this Abramoff scandal. They’re talking about “a lobby reform package.” We don’t need a lobby reform package, you dimwits, we need full public financing of campaigns, and every single one of you who spends half your time whoring after special interest contributions knows it. The Abramoff scandal is a once in a lifetime gift—a perfect lesson on what’s wrong with the system being laid out for people to see. Run with it, don’t mess around with little patches, and fix the system.

It's been a while since we've seen both parties foundering so badly at the same time. Republicans are in the process of falling apart and Democrats - despite all the political gifts bestowed upon them by events and missteps of the GOP - can't seem to get it together. It's going to make for an interesting 2006 and an even more interesting race for the 2008 nominations.

March 07, 2006

Do Democrats Really Need Cohesion? - By Lawrence Kudlow

Much has been made recently of the Democrats' lack of unity.

Just yesterday, The New York Times ran a story highlighting the lack of cohesion among Democrats leading into November’s midterm elections (“For Democrats, Many Verses, but No Chorus”). The gist of the article is that the Democratic Party’s inability to craft a unified message poses a significant roadblock to their chances at gaining ground over Republicans in the upcoming election. The Washington Post printed a similar story today (“Democrats Struggle To Seize Opportunity”) echoing much of the same.

This idea that Democrats are shooting themselves in the foot by not having a unified message, or more specifically, their own Contract with America, is gathering steam and quickly becoming conventional wisdom in Washington. But like most conventional wisdom in Washington, I’m not sure it has any real merit.

There is little doubt that the Republican “Contract with America” was a factor that helped the GOP overturn the House after forty years of Democratic dominance in 1994. But its importance seems a tad overstated. While the contract certainly helped bring out a greater portion of the Republican base, it was just one of the many reasons for the Democratic pink slips. Another catalyst was the blowup of the congressional check kiting scandal. I’m referring of course to the discovery of corruption among various congressional post office employees and members of the House of Representatives. (You’ll recall that this scandal later reached its climax with House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL) donning prison pinstripes.)

In addition to the corruption, in ‘93 and ’94 President Clinton raised taxes bigtime. While Bill was busy raising taxes, the First Lady was pressing ahead with her ill-fated stab at socializing health care. Republicans and independents were led to believe that the Clintons and the Democrats were going to be moderate (which is how they campaigned), but in the first two years, the Democratic machine turned out to be anything but. They were big taxers and big government planners, and therefore quite extreme. Add to that gays in the military which became a hot-button issue in the Republican base.

It was the convergence of these three factors—rampant corruption in the House, tax hikes and “Hillarycare”—that ultimately turned off voters. These were the combustible elements that ushered in the political sea change. The point here is that the 1994 Republican sweep was as much about negative voter feelings towards Democrats, as it was about the more positive Gingrich “Contract with America.”

The polls are suggesting that a similar strain of negativism is emerging in 2006. This phenomenon has the potential to really hurt Republicans on Capitol Hill. The Dubai ports issue (which I still favor), the war in Iraq, Katrina bungling, corruption in Congress (yet again), rampant overspending, large deficits, corrosive budget earmarks, are all are killing the GOP.

Worst of all, is the distinct impression among many voters that Republicans are doing next to nothing to remedy these problems.

The best thing the GOP has going for it is the economy. It remains strong. More people are working, evidenced by the historically low unemployment rate. And the falling price of gasoline certainly helps matters. But these folks hardly ever talk about this.

This growing negativism and dissatisfaction with Republicans might very well have reached its tipping point. The message is clear. The GOP must mount serious reform. It needs to eliminate earmarks, produce a truly lean budget, resolve the Dubai ports issue, get the investor tax cuts passed, somehow get Katrina off the front pages, and hope for a little bit of luck in Iraq. Bush’s line item veto to remove pork barrel spending and earmarks is also a good idea. If these things occur, Republicans can cut their losses in November.

Right now, I think they’re pretty close to losing fifteen seats in the House. Such a loss will change the makeup of the House altogether. Perhaps, if things go their way, and they mount a real reform message, Republicans can limit their losses to six or eight. (And then there’s the Senate which in my view is just as vulnerable.)

In the final analysis, Democrats don’t really need their own Contract with America. A negative campaign may work well, unless the GOP changes its stripes. At any rate, whenever I see the Washington Post and the Grey Lady promote all of this conventional wisdom (even though this one on the surface purports to help the GOP) I just don’t believe it.

- Larry Kudlow, Host of CNBC's Kudlow & Co.

The Fat Bald Guy Rule

Paul Campos explains the Fat Bald Guy Rule (FBGR) in today's Rocky Mountain News:

The FBGR posits that, when considering otherwise roughly equivalent candidates for any job whose formal requirements don't include being good-looking, hire the fat bald guy. The reason is simple: Society gives all sorts of unearned preferences to good-looking people, so when a fat bald guy manages to assemble a résumé that at first glance resembles that possessed by his good-looking competition, the FBGR assumes that the former record is actually far more impressive than the latter, all things considered.

Examples of the FBGR can be found all over our image-conscious and media-driven culture. For instance, the essential difference between a ranting lunatic like Ann Coulter - who at a national GOP event last month gave a speech in which she referred to Arabs as "ragheads," and who has opined that "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity" - and the schizophrenic bag lady who wanders the downtown mall is that Coulter is equipped with a law degree and long glossy blonde hair.

A bit of a cheap shot on Coulter, in my opinion, but I'm sure it'll get an "Amen" from Bob Wright in the inevitable Round 4 on Ann Coulter over at bloggingheads.tv.

Avian Flu Fears: 1918 or 1968?

The latest issue of the Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin carries an interview with Dr. Margaret Chan, representative of the WHO Director-General for Pandemic Influenza. Prior to joining the WHO, Dr. Chan spent 10 years as the Director of Health For Hong Kong. During that time she was in charge of managing the response to the SARS outbreak, so she's probably as experienced and well informed as anyone on the planet regarding the threat posed by the H5N1 virus. Here's the crucial Q&A:

HBS: The 1918 influenza pandemic, caused by a mutated avian virus, killed some 50 million people. How does the current threat compare?

CHAN: First, it’s important to remember that the 1918 flu pandemic was an exceptional event. More people died in 1918 from influenza than in a similar period from any other infectious disease outbreak ever, including smallpox and the plague. Comparisons to 1918 may thus be unfair. What we can say is that the world is now closer to a pandemic than at any time since 1968, when the last influenza pandemic occurred, causing 1 to 2 million deaths.

The H5N1 virus is treacherous — we know that it can jump the species barrier to infect humans and that it is prone to mutation. Indeed, every case of human infection increases the probability that the virus will mutate. We don’t know if or when the H5N1 virus might evolve into a pandemic strain that spreads easily among people, or what its lethality might be. We know only that a pandemic is possible, and that’s why the world must prepare now for the very real threat of a global public-health emergency.

Chan notes that 140 million birds have been culled around the world as of December 2005 at a cost of $10 billion which she says has largely hit poor farmers in developing countries. You can read the rest of this interesting interview here.

What is Really Going On in Iraq?

We are told over and over by the media that Iraq is a failure and descending into civil war. And it is not only the overwhelmingly liberal MSM that runs with the standard “Iraq is a disaster” meme. Conservatives Bill Buckley and George Will have written highly critical columns in the last 10 days. Will suggests Iraq is more a threat today than when Saddam, Uday and Qusay controlled all of Iraq’s oil wealth. Buckley is even more direct: “One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed.”

Now Buckley and Will have always been more in the realist camp when it comes to the wisdom of the Iraq War, so this is more an evolution of their position rather than an about face, but they are certainly not part of the New York Times crew or other knee jerk critics on the left. However, to my knowledge neither Will nor Buckley have actually been in Iraq over the last year, so I was extremely interested to hear what the New York Post’s Ralph Peters was going to report back from Iraq on the situation on the ground. Here are some excerpts from his Sunday column.

I’m trying. I've been trying all week. The other day, I drove another 30 miles or so on the streets and alleys of Baghdad. I'm looking for the civil war that The New York Times declared. And I just can't find it.

Maybe actually being on the ground in Iraq prevents me from seeing it. Perhaps the view's clearer from Manhattan. It could be that my background as an intelligence officer didn't give me the right skills.
And riding around with the U.S. Army, looking at things first-hand, is certainly a technique to which The New York Times wouldn't stoop in such an hour of crisis.

Let me tell you what I saw anyway. Rolling with the "instant Infantry" gunners of the 1st Platoon of Bravo Battery, 4-320 Field Artillery, I saw children and teenagers in a Shia slum jumping up and down and cheering our troops as they drove by. Cheering our troops.

All day - and it was a long day - we drove through Shia and Sunni neighborhoods. Everywhere, the reception was warm. No violence. None.

And no hostility toward our troops. Iraqis went out of their way to tell us we were welcome.

I have always found Peters to be a straight-shooter and an honest broker of the facts. Maybe he is being played for a sucker by the U.S. military and those cheering Iraqis, but I doubt it.

And from his column today:

Among the many positive stories you aren't being told about Iraq, the media ignored another big one last week: In the wake of the terrorist bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, it was the Iraqi army that kept the peace in the streets.

It's routinely declared a failure by those who yearn for the new Iraq to fail. But an increasingly capable Iraqi military has been developing while reporters (who never really investigated the issue) wrote it off as hopeless.

* The Iraqi army deployed over 100,000 soldiers to maintain public order. U.S. Forces remained available as a backup, but Iraqi soldiers controlled the streets.

* Iraqi forces behaved with discipline and restraint - as the local sectarian outbreaks fizzled, not one civilian had been killed by an Iraqi soldier.

* Time and again, Iraqi military officers were able to defuse potential confrontations and frustrate terrorist hopes of igniting a religious war.

* Forty-seven battalions drawn from all 10 of Iraq's army divisions took part in an operation that, above all, aimed at reassuring the public. The effort worked - from the luxury districts to the slums, the Iraqis were proud of their army.

As a result of its nationwide success, the Iraqi army gained tremendously in confidence. Its morale soared. After all the lies and exaggerations splashed in your direction, the truth is that we're seeing a new, competent, patriotic military emerge. The media may cling to its image of earlier failures, but last week was a great Iraqi success…

As I head home after far too short a stay with our wonderful soldiers, I can only offer Post readers my honest assessment:

Serious problems remain. No question about it. We'll hear more bad news (some of it may even be true). But from my heart I believe that the odds are improving that, decades from now, we'll look back and see that our sacrifices were worth it. I found Baghdad a city of hope, its citizens determined not to be ruled by terrorists, fanatics, militias or thieves.

We are doing the right thing.

Nor do I say this lightly. I just learned that the son of an old friend was seriously wounded in Iraq and evacuated to a military hospital in Germany (the latest news I have is that the young man will make a complete recovery - let's pray that it's so).

This is a gigantic struggle for indescribably high stakes. We're trying to help a failing civilization rescue itself, to lift a vast region out of the grip of terror and fanaticism, and to make this troubled world safer for our own citizens. Don't let anyone tell you we're failing in Iraq.

I haven’t been to Iraq, though I regularly talk to people who have. My sixty-second analysis on the situation is that much of what you read in the mainstream press is spin and distortion from people and organizations hostile to President Bush and his Iraq policy. I suspect Peters' take is probably close to the mark. That said, I fear the Buckley and Will position that Iraq is simply not ready or capable for a democracy is a real possibility.

There is always a tendency to try and put an issue into a nice little box that we can understand, and at the end of the day Iraq is an extremely complicated and evolving situation that could tip in a multitude of different directions. I would just hope that all Americans are pulling for the good guys, and they have no doubt who the good guys are.

March 06, 2006

Gitmo Better Than Belgian Prisons

Well, well:

Inmates at Guantanamo Bay prison are treated better than in Belgian jails, an expert for Europe's biggest security organization said on Monday after a visit to the controversial U.S. detention center. [snip]

Grignard told a news conference that prisoners' right to practice their religion, food, clothes and medical care were better than in Belgian prisons.

"I know no Belgian prison where each inmate receives its Muslim kit," Grignard said.

This is certainly not the impression we get from any media accounts of Gitmo. On Friday Time Magazine made national headlines with the story that Mohammad al-Qahtani, the so-called "20th hijacker," was recanting all of his previous testimony, claiming he made everything up because he was being tortured.

Lost amid the sensational headlines is that Qahtani's reversal came after two recent visits with a newly appointed lawyer, Gitanjali S. Gutierrez, from the ultra-liberal Center For Constitutional Rights. Gutierrez is part of CCR's “Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative" designed to "expand CCR’s defense of human rights and the rule of law to combat abuses of Executive power by the U.S. throughout the world."

I sifted through the log of Qahtani's interrogation that accompanied Time's report and from what I read it seems as if he was treated perfectly within bounds. The full interrogation log (pdf) is here, so go read it and decide for yourself whether Qahtani was tortured or not.

Also last Friday the BBC ran a story headlined, "Guantanamo man tells of 'torture'." Here is an excerpt from the BBC's interview with Fawzi al-Odah, a Kuwaiti citizen currently being held at Gitmo:

Through his lawyer, Mr Odah described his treatment during his hunger strike.

"First they took my comfort items away from me. You know, my blanket, my towel, my long pants, then my shoes. I was put in isolation for 10 days.

"They came in and read out an order. It said if you refuse to eat, we will put you on the chair [for force feeding]."

Remember, these people are trying to starve themselves to death. Imagine the reaction of human rights organizations if the United States military stood by and allowed two dozen or more prisoners to die of starvation.

The idea that force feeding prisoners to keep them alive constitutes "torture" borders on the insane. These men are are being offered food and adequate care, but they are refusing. As a result the United States military is put in an impossible situation; force them to eat or let them die. The goal of critics, of course, is to make either of these choices such a public relations nightmare for the United States that the Pentagon is forced to go with the only other option: close Gitmo down altogether.

Impeach Bush? - By Jay Cost

Neal Boortz had an interesting blog entry today about a Bush impeachment. He thinks it will happen if the Democrats take over the House. Boortz is not the first to mention the specter of impeachment. Mort Kondracke has been talking about it as well.

As I have written time and again, the political landscape is not such that we can expect the Democrats to retake the House. The economy is too strong, there are too few open seats, and Bush is not sufficiently unpopular. Pundits on both sides tend to extrapolate from a given point in time under the assumption that things will stay as they are. So, any time Bush’s numbers go down, the talk instantly turns to a Democratic recapture of the House. Wait a month. Bush’s numbers will go back up, and then the talk will be about how the Democrats blew their chances. We have already been through one iteration of this inane process, and it looks like we’re in for another spin.

Mind you, all of this is despite the fact that seat changes in the House occur because of much more stable processes than the news cycle. God help us all if that were the case!

But this impeachment talk is interesting. I am beginning to sense the outline of the GOP’s campaign message to aggravated Republican elites. Republican elites are definitely frustrated by the Bush Administration and are probably a little less inclined to write a big check to the NRCC this year, but they will not hesitate to whip out their check books if they think John Conyers is going to get control of the Judiciary Committee.

Fear is an excellent motivator. But this tactic is more than fear, I think. The specter of impeachment is also a way to turn 2006 into 2004 – a referendum on what Bush has already accomplished. Donors might be down on Bush now, they might think he has little to offer in the next two years, but the thought of de-legitimizing what he has already accomplished will certainly inspire them.

This is not the kind of tactic that will work in campaign messages. Voters will not respond to this kind of talk – it would be impossible for the GOP to get the average voter to connect his member of Congress to the impeachment of the President. And rightly so, I might add. But this will get the people who cut the checks motivated.

My sense is also that it will help keep the would-be Republican retiree in a marginal district from retiring. I can imagine the conversation Tom Reynolds would have with a disgruntled member: “You really cannot stay on for two more years to protect what we have already accomplished?”

This kind of tactic has deep roots in American politics. If your base is only lukewarm about you, you can still count on the fact that they fear and loathe the other side. As Kerry learned in 2004, this is usually not sufficient for gaining ground. But it is fairly effective at holding ground.

IL Governor GOP Primary

For thos keeping score in the Illinois GOP Gubernatorial primary, its Judy Baar Topink 1 and Ron Gidwtiz 1.

Cold Warrior Against the Mullahs

More on Iran, this time from Sarah Baxter in the Sunday Times. Baxter reports on the U.S. State Department's efforts to promote regime change in Iran, an $85 million per year program led by "democracy czar" Elizabeth Cheney - also known as the daughter of the Vice President:

The war in Iraq is her father’s business but Elizabeth Cheney, the American vice-president’s daughter, has been given responsibility for bringing about a different type of regime change in Iran.

Cheney, a 39-year-old mother of four, is a senior official in the State Department, which has often been regarded as hostile territory by Dick Cheney’s White House team. Nonetheless father and daughter agree it would be better for the mullahs’ regime to collapse from within than to be ousted by force.

The question is whether democratic reform can be achieved before Iran becomes a nuclear power. That is the younger Cheney’s job. In the State Department she is referred to as the “freedom agenda co-ordinator” and the “democracy czar” for the broader Middle East. “She’s fantastic and dynamic,” said a colleague.

Baxter's final graph is also worth quoting:

Father and daughter will be on the same side if Ahmadinejad’s regime sees off its internal opposition and acquires nuclear weapons. “There’s no credibility gap over our willingness to use force,” a State Department official said, “but hopefully it won’t come to that.”

The Showdown With Iran

The world continues to inch closer toward a showdown wtih Iran over its nuclear program, and this week is perhaps the most crucial yet. The 35-member board of the IAEA is meeting this week in Vienna, and Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei said he expects to take up the issue of Iran on Tuesday or Wednesday, at which time the body will vote whether or not to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions.

ElBaradei says he remains "hopeful" that an agreement can be reached this week to avoid a referral, but since Iran has already rejected a deal with Russia (backed by the U.S. and Europe) that could have avoided a showdown, a last-minute deal doesn't seem too likely unless both the Russians and the Chinese (both hold veto power in the UNSC) bring serious pressure to bear on Iran - something neither has been willing to do so far.

Meanwhile, Iran's chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, threatened that Iran would resume full scale enrichment and retaliate economically if referred to the UNSC:

"If we are referred to the Security Council, problems might occur for others as well as us. We would not like to use our oil as a weapon. We would not like to make other countries suffer."

On Saturday, The Washington Post outlined the Bush administration's plan to push the UNSC to commit to issuing a 30-day deadline for Iran to halt its enrichment program before moving ahead with sanctions:

"The idea is to begin slowly, with a presidential statement, set timetables and then give Iran a certain deadline to respond," one senior U.S. official said. "After that we push harder with a resolution."

But the administration has also been issuing warnings of its own to Iran. In widely reported remarks this weeked at the AIPAC conference U.S. Ambassador John Bolton warned of "tangible and painful consequences" for Iran if it doesn't acquiesce to international demands. Today The Guardian reports that Bolton offered an even more frank assessment of the situation with Iran to a delegation of British MPs visiting Washington last week:

However the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, visiting Washington last week, encountered sharply different views within the Bush administration. The most hawkish came from Mr Bolton. According to Eric Illsley, a Labour committee member, the envoy told the MPs: "They must know everything is on the table and they must understand what that means. We can hit different points along the line. You only have to take out one part of their nuclear operation to take the whole thing down."

Bolton's remarks come on the heels of another interesting revelation: the Sunday Times reported yesterday that Israeli special forces are currently operating inside Iran - with the support of the U.S. - trying to pinpoint locations where uranium enrichment is taking place, suggesting that preparations for a military strike are well under way.

As difficult and inflammatory as a military strike against Iran would be, it is a very real option and, depending on what happens this week, could be one of the few remaining options left. As John Bolton said this weekend, "The longer we wait to confront the threat Iran poses, the harder and more intractable it will become to solve."

March 04, 2006

Ports & More

A round up of stories from around the country:

Tom DeFrank & Ken Baiznet report in the NY Daily News that the White House is pressuring DPW to "significantly restructure" the port deal and partner with a U.S. company to administer control of the ports. Of course, one of the only companies around who could handle such a deal would be....Halliburton.

Ian Bishop and Deborah Orin report that Chuck Schumer has enlisted the help of Rick Santorum to stop the port deal. In his spare time, of course, Schumer is working to oust Santorum from the Senate.

Speaking of the Pennsylvania Senate race, James O'Toole reports that uber-pro-choicer Kate Michelman options for a bid.

As primary day approaches in Texas, Ronnie Earl continues firing off baseless subpoenas in the Tom DeLay case. DeLay faces three challengers on Tuesday. Also, Dems in Texas will be choosing a challenger (either Chris Bell and Bob Gammage) to run against Governor Rick Perry. The race to watch on Tuesday, however, is the grudge match between Ciro Rodriguez and Henry Cuellar.

The most corrupt Congressman in history, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, was sentenced to eight years, four month in prison yesterday. Cunningham's exploits as a fighter pilot in Vietnam saved him from getting the maximum ten year sentence. Finlay Lewis and Dana Wilkie report on reactions from Washington D.C.

Charles R. Babcock reports that Katherine Harris is caught up in the Duke mess:

Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) has acknowledged that she requested last year that $10 million in federal funds be set aside for a Navy intelligence program in her district at the request of Washington contractor Mitchell J. Wade, who pleaded guilty last week to bribing another House member.

The Real Deal on the Ports Deal - by Larry Kudlow

Yesterday’s New York Sun ran a story examining the continuing rift between conservative pundits on the Dubai ports deal. The paper ran a big spread on some of the leading conservative voices whose conflicting positions on the deal run the gamut. Yours truly was featured in support of the deal, along with the always insightful and knowledgeable commentators Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks, as well as former Congressman Jack Kemp who remains a sharp-as-a-tack pro-growth, free-market supply-sider. I count myself in good company.

After the hurricane of controversy these past couple weeks—all the editorializing, the talk show tempests and political sound bites—I still have yet to see any real evidence that the Dubai ports deal compromises U.S. national security. I just don’t see it. Objections raised by the Coast Guard have been solved, and the fact stubbornly remains that along with the U.S. Customs and Homeland Security, it is the Coast Guard, not Dubai Ports World, that will ultimately run the show when it comes to protecting port terminal operations.

If someone were able to show me a clear, insurmountable security problem, then I will gladly change my mind and hop aboard the anti-ports deal train. But so far, nothing has materialized. (And let me add that building in additional safeguards where there may be questionable practices is an eminently doable proposition.)

A word or two for the conspiracy-theorist crowd projecting nefarious, clandestine motives upon the UAE—the folks who subscribe to some misguided notion that the UAE is in cahoots with terrorists—let me encourage them to reconsider such position. The Dubai ports deal is costing these guys around $7 billion dollars. If they truly had some sick, ulterior motive to harm innocent Americans, don’t you think they could accomplish these imagined goals with far less money? The point here is that the UAE and Dubai Ports World has a huge vested economic interest in this deal.

One of the leading critics of the ports deal is my old friend Bill Bennett. He wants President Bush to “kill the deal.” Writing on National Review’s website, Mr. Bennett recently wrote, "To defend this deal is to defend a $7 billion arrangement with a country that has never had a democratic party in its entire existence…What kind of a signal are we sending by making a public ally of a country that refuses democracy and does not recognize the existence of its most democratic neighbor because it is considered to be inhabited by members of the wrong religion?"

Well, with all due respect to Mr. Bennett, if the primary determinant of whether or not America does business with foreign nations rests upon their singular commitment to democracy, then Uncle Sam would have to draw the curtains and turn out the lights on a huge number of existing relationships with non-Democratic nations. For starters, where may I ask would our bustling American economy gather the necessary fuel to fire its economic engine? After all, roughly forty percent of our nation’s oil supply is derived from OPEC countries, a group which includes countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, where the torch of democracy is anything but burning bright at this point in history.

And as far as doing business with pure democracies, then I suppose Mr. Bennett and others would have us terminate all economic activity with communist China? Discontinue all further trade? Of course, I would argue that increased economic connectivity, supported by the free flow of trade investment and labor, makes for better political relations between the U.S. and other countries. Better yet, it also tends to open up and liberalize authoritarian political regimes in the direction of democratization.

When you scratch this debate among conservatives deep enough, what you are left with is a pretty clear demarcation between free-traders and protectionists. That’s really the cutting edge litmus test that divides the conservatives on this debate.

In my opinion, those conservatives who oppose the Dubai ports deal are lining up with the xenophobic protectionism of Pat Buchanan. The pessimistic Buchananites want to put a huge wall around America. They are isolationists. They have no global model of economic growth. On the other hand, conservatives in favor of the ports deal align themselves with the pro-growth, free-trade liberalizing tradition embodied by Jack Kemp. The Kemp adherents believe in breaking down global barriers in order to enhance prospects for prosperity and democratization everywhere. That’s what this thing is all about.

It’s the same dividing line litmus test on immigration. The Pat Buchanans, the Michelle Malkins and the Michael Savages of the world are all anti–immigration. Michelle Malkin recently wrote, “I must express bottomless disgust with those on the Right who have turned into mush-mouthed race card players to shift blame away from President Bush for his miserable mishandling of the situation.” Miss Malkin misses the mark. There is a race card here. Absolutely. Whether it’s anti-Arab xenophobia or anti-Mexican xenophobia, the fear-mongers in the conservative ranks are up to their old tricks. They do not really believe in economic opportunity. Nor do they believe in the Ronald Reagan “City on a Hill” vision of America to lead and transform the rest of the world toward the spirit and reality of free-market prosperity, political democratization and true equality of humankind.

At the end of the day, it’s really a question of competing visions. The Buchanan vision is one of pessimism, defeatism and fear. The Reagan-Bush vision brims with optimism, victory and success.

Yes, there is a rift in the conservative ranks; one that will hopefully mend itself sooner rather than later. But can there be any serious question that the resounding conservative Republican ascendancy and success of the past twenty-five years launched by Reagan and advanced by George W. Bush is built on optimism? I think not.

- Larry Kudlow, Host of CNBC's Kudlow & Co.

March 03, 2006

Quote of the Day

"It’s come to the point where the Arthur Sulzberger Jr./Gail Collins tandem at The New York Times has so degraded the daily with its intense hatred of every step George W. Bush takes that op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman is worth taking seriously." - the always-entertaining Russ Smith, writing in the New York Press.

BONUS: More good stuff from Smith on Balitmore Mayor Martin O'Malley's over the top reaction to the Dubai Ports World Deal:

As reported in the Feb. 21 Sun, O’Malley commented on President Bush’s support of the ports transaction: “Not so long as I’m mayor and not so long as I have breath in my body. . . . We are not going to turn over the port of Baltimore to a foreign government. It’s not going to happen.” Bush’s action, according to O’Malley, was “outrageous,” “reckless,” and “irresponsible.”

Not to be a stickler about facts, but I think it’s “outrageous” that O’Malley either doesn’t know or want to acknowledge that Britain isn’t part of the United States or that P&O held the contract to run Baltimore’s port for the last seven years. On O’Malley’s campaign web site, there’s a call for voters to sign the petition he drafted that urges Bush to reverse course, because “Handing over the Port of Baltimore to a company owned by any foreign government puts American lives at risk.”

Right now it’s unclear whether (mostly) opportunistic politicians will be able to kill the deal, but even if that happens it’s inevitable that P&O will sell its rights to U.S. ports to another foreign company. Will O’Malley stop breathing then? Will he chain himself to a fence at a loading dock? It’d be quite a spectacle and immensely entertaining.

Santorum Exposed! (And Attacked)

A great piece of satire by conservative radio talk show host Michael Smerconish in yesterday's Philadelphia Daily News (reg req'd) on the "scandal" surrounding Rick Santorum:

I Know Rick Santorum. I've often been in his company.

He appears regularly on my radio show. We've ridden the train to Washington together. He once gave me a ride in his Jeep. And, at a campaign rally, he introduced my son to the president.

Yes, you could say that Rick Santorum has been a friend of mine.

But now I'm second-guessing the relationship. What choice do I have, really, in light of last week's expose of his finances right here in the Daily News?

Frankly, until I read the DN, I didn't appreciate what rises to the level of political scandal these days. But if that which was covered in the reportage here meets the mark - and it must, given the word choice (unorthodox, unconventional, improper), then I must be sitting on a powder keg of information.

The cover story, headlined "Tricky Rick" with the senator's smug mug on the cover, included some shocking claims concerning his personal finances. Like many who read it, I was appalled to learn that Sen. Santorum owns a home, subject to some nefarious lending scheme called "a mortgage," which obligates him to repay borrowed money to a bank at a competitive interest rate. What skullduggery!

That wicked revelation would alone justify support for his electoral challenger, but for the Inquirer's cutting-edge follow-up, which revealed that Bob Casey Jr. also employs the same method to finance his home. In fact, both Casey and Santorum have been known to actually make an extra payment every so often as part of a clever means of reducing their outstanding principle. The chutzpah of these men!

In related news, Santorum is now under attack from pro-choice Republicans. David Holman writes in The American Spectator today that Republican Majority for Choice (RMC) has launched a print campaign in major Pennsylvania dailies displaying a mock "help wanted" ad seeking "Real Republican Candidates for Senate." And just to add a bit of insult to the attempted injury, guess who sits on the board of RMC? Santorum's Keystone State colleague: Senator Arlen Specter.

The Katrina Video Distortion Will Hurt Bush

The media hysteria over the Katrina video provides an insight into today’s media/news environment. The first I saw of the story was a huge breaking news caption (the type that used to be reserved for plane crashes) and Chris Matthews hyperventilating about this “confidential” new video exposing the President’s lies on Katrina. Obviously intrigued, I paid closer attention as he played the video of a hurricane weather guy briefing Bush on Katrina while down in Crawford. (Transcript)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (weather guy): So if the really strong winds clip Lake Pontchartrain, that's going to pile some of the water from Lake Pontchartrain over on the south side of the lake. I don't think anybody can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not, but it's obviously a very, very big concern.

Matthews thinking he’s got the goods on the President spews:

MATTHEWS: OK. There we saw it and I want to repeat something that I just read and I want to repeat it to you. Here's the president four days after Hurricane Katrina, its four days—actually five days after that briefing.

I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees, that's the president…. square those two facts.

Watching my TV I was immediately dumfounded by the intellectual dishonesty of Matthews’ question. It occurred to me maybe Chris should get a video camera and fill up his bathtub at home and watch the water run over the top. And then he should fill the tub almost to the top and then get a sledgehammer and bash a two foot hole in the side of the tub. And then he should sit down and watch both videos and imagine the tub being the size of Lake Pontchartrain and the hole being 300 ft wide, and he should focus on visualizing the difference between a levee being “topped” and a levee being “breached.”

Matthews of course was not alone in the media hysteria, the original AP story laid the groundwork for the press’ deceptive reporting. Kevin Aylward at Wizbang does a thorough job of deconstructing the AP’s dishonesty and also reports the interesting tidbit that writer Margaret Ebrahim also just happened to be a producer with CBS News’s 60 Minutes II.

Special Report with Brit Hume on FOX News did a good job of exposing the truth behind this mini-uproar, and in turn ridiculing their competition for hyping something out of nothing and distorting the facts of the story. And because of the blogosphere and FOX News, this story will not get the same kind of legs it would have years ago when the MSM had a monopoly on setting the agenda. But make no mistake about it; the Katrina video story has hurt Bush.

The vast majority of the public gets their information from snippets in the headlines and 20-30 second spots on the major networks. The damage to the White House is two-fold. First, it resurrects the Katrina story, where Bush rightly deserves some criticism, which is obviously unhelpful, and two, it creates the incorrect impression with many in the public that Bush was forewarned the levees might be breached and lied about it days later to cover his butt.

Partisans like Paul Krugman will continue to push this meme as he did today ($) in the New York Times:

Many people have now seen the video of the briefing Mr. Bush received before Hurricane Katrina struck. Much has been made of the revelation that Mr. Bush was dishonest when he claimed, a few days later, that nobody anticipated the breach of the levees.

Of course the only one being dishonest here is Paul Krugman and the New York Times, but that doesn’t matter. All of this noise about Bush and what he was briefed on will accumulate to scar the President’s image and hurt GOP chances this fall.

Coming on the heels on the Dubai Ports fiasco, alongside the fresh chaos in Iraq, don’t be surprised to see the President’s job approval continue to fall.

Killing Port Deal Doesn't Have To Humiliate UAE - by Mark Davis

When someone with the foreign policy experience of a Richard Klein weighs in on the ports deal, I am inclined to listen. But when the headline of his piece refers to the "humiliation" he says the UAE would endure if the deal were stopped, it is clear that his objectivity is shot.

No one needs to be "humiliated." Are these the only two options? A smiling transfer of our ports to UAE control, or a dose of abject shame as the deal is yanked from them? For God's sake, can someone step in with some nuance? The UAE, like every other Islamic nation, is in a state of turmoil as the polar opposite factions of Islam fight for the future of their religion. Some of that turmoil is healthy, indicating progress toward a more moderate Islam. But as those battles rage, we cannot permit the added security risk of smoothing the path any potential terrorist faction would have in accessing a weak spot in our seaports.

Denying the UAE this contract right now is not a slap; it is a reality check. In no way does it prevent us from genuine appreciation for the help they have offered us from the highest levels. It is an acknowledgment that below the ruling emirs there is spread a conflicted population, some of whom like us and some of whom wouldn't mind killing us.

Mr. Klein writes:

If we cannot do business with the UAE, the U.S. has no real hope for any success among Muslim nations.

Wrong. Hope springs eternal that Muslim nations will progress to the point that we can trust them as much as we do the other nations currently running some U.S. port operations. We're just not there yet. Of course it is vital to win the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab world. But that does not mean that we must lunge toward anything that may be desired by the Arab world or its apologists in America.

- Mark Davis
Host of The Mark Davis Radio Show

March 02, 2006

Two Views of the Battleground Poll

The new bipartisan Battleground Poll is out, and while it was taken too early (Feb 12-15) to give us any new information on the political ramifications of the Dubai Ports World deal, it does contain some interesting findings. Here are the topline numbers: Bush job approval 46%, Congressional Job Approval 37%, Generic Congressional Ballot Dems +5 (46% - 41%).

Here is the analysis from the point of view of Republican pollster Ed Goeas:

The bottom line is that the mood of the electorate is not an anti-incumbent mood, an anti- Democratic or anti-Republican mood, but an anti-Washington mood. When asked if voters wanted a member of Congress to possess “strength of values and convictions,” or “willingness to find practical, workable solutions” to the country’s problems, voters wanted to see practical, workable solutions by a twenty-point margin (58% to 38%). That is not, however, what the American electorate feels they are getting from Washington. When these same voters were asked if they felt lawmakers in Washington “put you first,” or “put partisan politics first,” only four percent (4%) felt that lawmakers put them first, and a whopping ninety-two percent (92%) felt lawmakers put partisan politics first. In other words, Washington is broken and needs to be fixed.

One only has to look at the image ratings of the leaders of both parties to see the effect of this cynical view held by voters. The image of both President George W. Bush (45% favorable/53% unfavorable) and Vice President Dick Cheney (42% favorable/51% unfavorable) are net negative. But equally negative are the image ratings of Democratic leaders like Democratic frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton (45% favorable/51% unfavorable) and Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean (31% favorable/45% unfavorable). Of all the Washington leaders, only Senator John McCain (65% favorable/18% unfavorable) has chiseled out a positive “bi-partisan” image with the American electorate.

Celinda Lake analyzes the number from the Democratic point of view:

As dissatisfaction with the President and Republican-led Congress grows, voters are poised to affect sweeping change. The “sixth year itch”, where voters turn out the party in power in large numbers, is by no means a new phenomenon; only Bill Clinton, in the history of modern campaigns, avoided his party losing seats in the mid-term elections of his second term. Today, Republicans’ failures, especially when they control all the branches of government, suggest the potential for a historical trend will continue in 2006. Importantly, independent and undecided voters are noticeably negative in their assessments of Bush and the direction of the country. [snip]

One of the most important fights in the 2006 elections will be for control of the agenda. Republicans clearly want to centralize this election around security because of their continued advantage on the issue though recent events have tarnished that. In order to make real gains Democrats must at least neutralize the issue. Democrats should put resources into establishing their credentials on security, while emphasizing Republican failures. To this end, the issue over port security should be the start of a frank dialogue on national and homeland security policy, not an isolated news story. This formula – capitalizing on the current political atmosphere, presenting a real alternative to the status quo of costly corruption, and neutralizing the security issue while harnessing their strengths on domestic issues – has the potential to give the Democrats big gains.

Two quick observations. First, the numbers on McCain are really interesting and deserve more discusssion, something I hope to tackle early next week. Second, the operative phrase from Lake's analysis is that Democrats have to "neutralize the issue" of national security. Democrats aren't going to outpoll Republicans on national security (despite that snap Rasmussen poll on the Dubai Ports World deal from last week), but they do need to find a way to close the gap with the GOP on the issue - and the current port controversy offers precisely that kind of opportunity.

More Port Controversy

Yesterday on the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, Rep Peter King (R-NY) said something interesting:

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I just did an interview with Republican Congressman Peter King. As you know he's already been a sharp critic of this port deal, he's from the port state of New York, of course. He's also the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the House.

He's now alleging to CNN that a couple weeks back when this story first broke, he spoke to the officials at the Departments of Treasury and Homeland Security, who were involved in this CFIUS process, and he asked them did you check out whether or not DP World, the company involved, had ties to al Qaeda, and he is telling CNN hew was told, quote, Congressman, you don't understand, we don't conduct a thorough investigation.

I pressed him on this, because this will obviously seem to contradict various administration claims that not only was there investigation, but that it was thorough, that it got to the heart of the security questions whether or not there were terrorist ties here. I pressed King on this point. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY: I'm saying there was no investigation, there was no real investigation conducted during that 30-day period. I'm hoping there will be a real one during this 45 days, but when I hear the administration say they're going to use the 45 days to educate the Congress and let us know exactly what happened, they should be educating themselves.

They should be doing the investigation they should have done during the first 30 days when there should have been an automatic 45- day investigation. I can't emphasize enough, there's been no investigation into terrorism whatsoever on this contract.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: King added that as a result of what he's learned from administration officials involved in the process, it would be, quote, shameful to move forward on this actual deal. The explosive new charges are coming as Democrats today on the third birthday of the Department of Homeland Security really pounded away and charged that this port deal shows that the administration has been negligent on the overall issue of homeland security.

Obviously, King has been a critic of the deal from the beginning, but if what he said is true then the White House is in even more trouble on the deal than originally thought.

Also, The Washington Times editorializes on the Bush administration's response to the recently reported concerns cited by the Coast Guard about "intelligence gaps" with the DPW deal:

According to both Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Stewart Baker, a "letter of assurance" from the United Arab Emirates firm was the reason. This letter would provide information on personnel, operations and foreign influence as the U.S. government requests it, they said -- and this was enough to satisfy the Coast Guard.

It turns out the letter in question doesn't even address the Coast Guard's concerns. It contains bland reassurances and mentions of previously disclosed participation in U.S. government security programs. Said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and Homeland Security Committee chairman, in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Tuesday: "[A] careful review of the 'assurances letter' reveals that DP World is not, in fact, bound to provide the U.S. government with the information it would need to close the intelligence gaps the Coast Guard identified...The language is weak... Indeed, the assurances appear to amount to little more than a restatement of what the FBI or other law enforcement agenc[ies] could gather anyway in the course of an investigation."

Finally, the New York Times reports on the heartburn the DPW deal is causing even the most loyal Republicans:

Senator Jon Kyl, a staunch supporter of President Bush who faces a potentially difficult re-election fight this year, is hearing a lot from constituents in Arizona about the plan to allow a Dubai company to operate shipping terminals at Eastern ports. Most think the deal should be stopped. [snip]

It is not clear what kind of staying power the deal has as an issue, but for now Republicans have little choice but to acknowledge the objections they are hearing from voters, distancing themselves from Mr. Bush on national security heading toward the midterm elections. [snip]

Many Republicans doubt that Mr. Bush will be able to contain the opposition, and Democrats agree, pointing to the unusual amount of bipartisan backing for legislative proposals that would give Congress the final say on the deal.

Most Republicans are not yet willing to draw a line in the sand, and the agreement for the new 45-day review bought the White House some time. But the reservations run deep, and the White House cause has not been helped by what Republicans on Capitol Hill viewed as a dismissive posture by the administration and a needlessly quick veto threat.

"Let's see what happens," said Mr. Kyl of Arizona. "We will do the right thing and let the politics take care of itself."

We'll see about that. The politics of this deal continue to remain negative, and seem to be growing more so as more reports surface about whether or not a satisfactory review of national security issues took place the first time around. If the 45-day review produces evidence national security was given short shrift, or if new evidence emerges casting doubt on the UAE's reliability as a post 9-11 ally in the war on terror, then the chance of the deal going through go from very slim to nil.

March 01, 2006

It's Gut Check Time on Port Deal

This week and next are going to spell the success or defeat of this horrible Dubai port deal. It is the gut check of the year for conservatives who believe it is insane to hand over operational control of major U.S. ports to a state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates. A perplexing mix of Saudi-style friendship and cooperation blended with old-school coziness with the Taliban and pockets of Muslim extremism make the UAE a dicey partner - which you'd think would be a deal-breaker for the President Bush we conservatives have looked to for leadership in the global war on terror for more than four years.

Our "alliance" with the UAE is a mirage if they would pull the plug on cooperating with us simply because we took a step to be safe.

Where is the diplomat who will go to the UAE and say, "Look, we are grateful for our close relationship as your country makes the tough journey toward Islamic moderation. Since we haven't exactly gotten there yet, there is no way we can let DPW operate our ports, and we appreciate you understanding that, just as I'm sure you appreciate the enormous restraint we show by speaking so well of you and largely overlooking the rank anti-Semitism you share with most of the rest of the Arab world."

Please let me be wrong, but I see Congress, talk show hosts and columnists all sipping the Kool-Aid of this deal, looking to escape the stress of a momentary conflict with President Bush and Rush Limbaugh.

The White House will maintain its energy and its message. The critics probably will not, and the deal will likely go through, even though it is against every shred of the post-9/11 war footing we have been instructed to adopt.

- Mark Davis
Host of The Mark Davis Radio Show

Laffer Curve Redux

The Wall Street Journal story “Tax Receipts For Capital Gains Were Strong in ’04” once again illustrates the validity of the Laffer Curve. And, early projections indicate the trend continued last year in ‘05.

At the new 15 percent reduced tax rate, taxpayers realized $479 billion in cap-gains in ‘04 compared with the $381 billion predicted by the Congressional Budget Office. Hence, government cap-gains receipts came in at $60 billion, compared with the $48 billion estimate. In 2005, the CBO preliminary guess is $75 billion in receipts, a big 25% increase over ’04.

As Art Laffer has taught us all, if you tax something less, you get more of it. This includes capital and labor. But the purest form of the Laffer Curve involves investment taxes, where economic behavior is incredibly responsive to changing tax rates. The new CBO report bears this out.

My guess is when the “official scorekeepers” get around to the dividend tax cut; that one will also pay for itself.

As Congress debates final passage of the investor tax cuts, legislators are nuts to assume static revenue loss when all the evidence shows a revenue gain.

But the good news is all indications are that the investor tax cuts will, in fact, be extended two more years in the budget reconciliation bill. This is undoubtedly a key reason why stocks have gotten off to their strongest first two months of the year since 1998, according to this morning’s WSJ.

- Larry Kudlow, Host of CNBC's Kudlow & Co.

At Each Other's Throats

On Monday I mentioned the strained relations between Bush and Republicans in Congress:

The biggest problem, however, doesn't seem to be that the White House is in denial or detached from reality but that it has such a troubled relationship with Republicans in Congress.

Charles Hurt has more on the animosity between the two stirred up by the DPW deal:

"I was offended," Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said of Mr. Bush's threat last week to veto legislation aimed at stopping the transfer of port operations to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates. He said Mr. Bush "threatened me before I even knew the details of what was involved or whether I was going to vote for the bill or not."

Mr. Lott said his immediate reaction was: "OK, big boy, I'll just vote to override your veto."

He called the White House, he said, to advise administration officials that they'd run afoul of some of their strongest allies in Congress.

"Don't threaten me like that again," said the former majority leader, recounting the conversation with an official he declined to name. "It doesn't make a difference if you're a Republican or a Democrat. Don't put your fist in my face. Where I'm from, we're willing to fight back."

There's obviously no love lost between Lott and the Bush White House, but from what I've seen and heard the sentiment is pretty widely shared. It looks like the White House is going to have to initiate a full blown rapproachement with the GOP Congressional caucus if it wants to turn its political fortunes around.

Another Heavyweight Reexamines Iraq

Some major intellectual heavyweights have been opining on Iraq in recent weeks. To recap: Francis Fukuyama led off last week in the New York Times Magazine, citing Iraq as evidence of the broader failure of neoconservatism and the idea of promoting democracy around the world. Bill Kristol responded that we are in a war not of our choosing, and one that could very well be lost if we don't continue to actively engage on behalf of the principles of "decent, civilized, liberal democracy." Kristol wrote:

To govern is to choose, and to accept responsibility for one's choices. To govern is not wishfully to await the end of history. To govern is not fatalistically to watch a clash of civilizations from the sidelines.

Last week William F. Buckley wrote that Iraq is lost. Today Victor Davis Hanson, fresh off a trip to Iraq, comes to an opposite conclusion in The Wall Street Journal:

In sum, after talking to our soldiers in Iraq and our planners in Washington, what seems to me most inexplicable is the war over the war--not the purported absence of a plan, but that the more we are winning in the field, the more we are losing it at home.

This morning I came across another reexamination of Iraq from one of my favorite authors, Gerard Baker. Yesterday Baker wrote in his blog at The Times:

As Iraq descends deeper into the mire, those of us who supported the war, especially those who supported it as vehemently as I did, and who made large claims for it in advance as I did, have an obligation to explain ourselves. Though our intellectual honour is of no significance in the unfolding misery of a nation, we still have a duty to truth to look honestly at the gap between what we forecast and what has happened and either to re-justify or to recant our belief in a project that has proved to be so tragically flawed.

First let me say what I won't say about this. I won't argue, as so many of the war's supporters now do, that what has gone wrong has all been because of poor execution by the Bush administration. This is a favourite trope: there was nothing wrong in principle with the decision to go to war, it goes. If it hadn't been screwed up by Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld, Iraq would now be fine. In all honesty, this just won't do.

Not that the administration's execution is blameless. Far from it. It was shockingly obvious early on that the US had little clue what it was going to do after the intitial phase of the war. Apart from blithe statements about how freedom would take root as if by osmosis or magic, there was criminally little preparation for the hard postwar task of mending a broken country. The US allowed to sweep into the post-Saddam vacuum - nothing.

Its fecklessness was only underlined by its insistent message when things started to go wrong. "We're sticking with it. It's working." has been essentially all the administration has had to say, despite mounting evidence that it was not working. And for the last couple of years US policy has actually been bent primarily to the objective of getting out as quickly as possible.

For all of these reasons the administration deserves to be roundly condemned.

But it's simply a cop-out, I think, for the war's supporters to say its conception was brilliant but its execution a failure.

It's a cop-out because of the uncomfortable fact that many of those who opposed the war said at the time that certain things would follow - a bloody insurgency, a lethal inter-ethnic struggle, broader damage to the US cause in the Middle East. I, certainly, and others, downplayed - all right, dismissed - these arguments.

And now? They were right and I was wrong, But I was wrong not just because Donald Rumsfeld didn't send in enough troops, or Paul Bremer didn't allow elections quickly enough, but because the risk of long-term violence and instability was always greater than I had believed; building stability in that ruined country was going to be a tall order.

Does this mean the war was wrong? Am I recanting?

I've already quoted too liberally from the post, you'll have to click through to read Baker's conclusion.

My own impression is that it's still to early to judge the ultimate outcome in Iraq. Clearly the bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque has created a watershed moment that history will most likely record as a turning point one way or the other. Either Iraq's nascent government can withstand the current crisis, thereby emerging stronger, or it will be destroyed by it. The answer will be played out in the coming weeks.