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April 28, 2006

VDH Recounts Emergency Surgery in Libya

We found out earlier this week that our friend Victor Davis Hanson suffered a ruptured appendix in Libya and had to have emergency surgery in a Red Crescent clinic. Hugh Hewitt interviewed Victor yesterday on his experience.



Hewitt:
Professor Hanson, I understand you had a close run thing in Libya last week, and we're awfully glad that you're back in the States.

VDH: Yeah, I did. I had a ruptured appendix, and emergency surgery, and eight days later, somehow I made it back to the States, and very lucky.

Hewitt: Well, you're going to have to give us a first-hand report about Libyan health care.

VDH: Well, you know it's very interesting. I started having some problems, about 24 hours, and then because the country has just been opened up to Americans. There's nobody really there. There's no Embassy, and nobody has any experience with it, Qaddafi's Libya. But I got a government person to escort me, and they found a Red Crescent clinic at Two in the morning. They found a doctor who was trained in Cairo, and he basically gave me an excellent diagnosis, and said I had about ten hours to either fish or cut bait. And he operated, took out the mess, and gave me some pretty strong antibiotics for peritonitis. They don't give you opiates there, or any post-operative pain killers, because...

Hewitt: What, no drugs???

VDH: No drugs in Qaddafi's utopia. But the funny thing was that oddly enough, even though it was a bad experience, there on my back, I got a lot of people from the Libyan government that came to talk to me. And it was very amazing what they said. I mean, the country has just been opened up to cell phones, internet, satellite dishes, and it's a very small country. Very large territorially, but only five, six million people. But they're very, very pro-American. They really want better relations with the United States, as much as they can talk freely in that state.

RadioBlogger has the full transcript, which goes in to more detail about his experience in Libya as well as VDH's take on the state of play on Iran and in the war.

We wish Victor all the best with his recovery.

Chicago Ain't No Foie Gras Kinda Town

Aldermen in that toddlin' town, Chicago, have banned the sale of foie gras, the goose- and duck-liver delicacy. Or as one anti-fatty-liver blog puts it, the "delicacy of despair."

Foie gras now joins smokin' in public places, handguns and nuclear weapons as verboten in Chicago.

What's next, a ban on not just the sale, but also the possession of foie gras? Carrying concealed foie gras? Second-hand foie gras?

Won't the ban simply push the sale of foie gras into the suburbs? Just like Chicago's decision to be a nuclear-free zone decade ago turned suburban Cicero into a nuclear zone?

At least Chicago's aldermen will be able to boast: "Ain't no foie on us."

Battle for the House: WA-8

Voters in Washington state's 8th district have never elected a Democrat. So why is WA-8 on the DCCC's list of targets this November? Good question. One reason is that the district went slightly in favor of John Kerry in 2004 (51-48) and Al Gore in 2000 (49-47). Another is that Democrats think they have found a credible challenger to first-term Republican Dave Reichert in former Microsoft project manager Darcy Burner. One final bright spot is that with help from the DCCC and the Internet left, Ms. Burner out raised Mr. Reichert in the first quarter of this year, $334,000 to $268,000.

But that's about where the good news ends. In 2004, Mr. Reichert ran 4 points better than Mr. Bush in the district, retaining an open GOP seat by beating popular radio talk show host Dave Ross 52-47 in a race many thought would be closer. Mr. Reichert is also dominating the money race: he raised more than a $1.1 million last year, causing his campaign manager to declare in January, "A war chest of this size will put this race out of reach." Mr. Reichert holds 2-1 cash on hand advantage over Ms. Burner, notwithstanding her Q1 performance.

Ms. Burner and the DCCC want to portray Mr. Reichert as too conservative for the district and a rubber stamp for President Bush who is extremely unpopular in Washington. But that will also be a tall order: Mr. Reichert has demonstrated an independent streak during his freshman term, voting against his party on the Terri Schiavo resolution and drilling in ANWR, the latter being an issue voters in the Evergreen State are unlikely to hold against him no matter how high gas prices might climb this summer.

For his part, Mr. Reichert wants to exploit the "stature gap" with Ms. Burner. He is a 30-year law enforcement veteran who rose to prominence by helping capture the Green River Killer in 2001. Mr. Reichert is also the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security, making him one of only six members in the history of the House to head a subcommittee in their freshman term. Republicans are eager to contrast their candidate with the 35-year old Burner, whom they describe as a political neophyte and "part time liberal activist" who should be running for city council, not Congress.

The reality is that despite all the rhetoric, Washington 8 is not a top tier pick up opportunity for the Democrats. This is a seat that will only flip if they have a big night in November, and even though that is where some Democrats hope they are headed, right now it remains little more than a possibility.

April 27, 2006

NBC/WSJ: Bad News for Bush, Good News for GOP?

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has President Bush's job approval sinking to a new low of 36%. Coupled with a 3-point drop in Rasmussen's daily tracking poll (which is a big one-day move for the Rasmussen poll) Bush's job approval in the RealClearPolitics Poll Average dropped below 35% for the first time ever, at 34.8%.

As I wrote last week when the FOX News poll showed the President's approval at 33%, this might be the beginning of a more serious deterioration in Bush's poll numbers. CNN's poll this week registering 32% is hard to gauge given it is a new polling firm and it is their first poll. All in all, below 35% in the RCP Average is a problem for the President and indicates loss of core Republican support.

One ray of good news for Republicans in the NBC/WSJ poll is while Bush's support ticked down 1-point to a new low, the generic ballot for Congress (the way Peter Hart and Bill McIntuff ask it) registered a 7-point bounce towards congressional Republicans. In their previous poll (taken Mar 10 - 13) Democrats held a 13-point edge in who the public wanted to control Congress, compared to only a 6-point lead today (45-39). Given that Democrats always poll a little more favorably in this question, that result is bad news for Democrats dreaming of taking over the House.

But before Republicans jump for joy they should remember that this is one isolated poll and all of the other generic polls continue to show Democrats more solidly ahead. The RCP average has Democrats leading by 10.8%.

It will be interesting to see what the new round of major polls coming out soon will indicate on the generic ballot. It's possible that Republicans in Congress have picked up overall support from the immigration issue, where the President has not, because he has been closer to the McCain/Kennedy approach and out of step with many in the GOP.

Immigration Issue Could Lead to 3rd Party Candidate - by Scott Rasmussen

Over the past generation, Republicans and Democrats have battled to a draw on issues ranging from taxes to abortion. Both sides have poll-tested, focus-grouped, nuanced answers for these issues and supporters have lined up with the party of their choice.

Even the War on Iraq takes place against a political backdrop that all participants in the process understand--Democrats need to oppose the War while fighting a perception that they are weak on national security. Republicans want to focus on the global threat of terrorism rather than specifics in Iraq.

Immigration is entirely different.

It's not the most important issue to voters (except in a few Southwestern States) but it could shake up the nation's political equilibrium more than the economy, Iraq, or any other contemporary issue. Our latest polling shows that a pro-enforcement third party candidate could attract more support than a generic Republican presidential candidate in 2008 (and also be tied with the Democrats). Conservatives divide equally between Republicans and the third party candidate. Moderates divide equally between Democrats and the third party candidate. (This should be taken as an indication of the issue's power rather than a literal projection of election outcomes).

The issue has power because politicians from both parties have ignored it for a long time and haven't begun to figure out the nuances or context of the debate.

Most current discussion by elected officials starts with a focus on illegal aliens. For most voters, that's letting the tail wag the dog.

The best place to start is with the bigger picture where most Americans agree. We've been polling state-by-state on this issue all month and consistently find agreement on a few key points.

1. Most Americans in all states want a welcoming national immigration policy that lets our nation assimilate new people into the national melting pot. Our polls have consistently found strong support for a policy goal that welcomes everybody except criminals, national security, threats, and those who want to live off our welfare system.

2. Just as important, most Americans also want a policy that emphasizes enforcement first. They want the nation to gain control of its borders and enforce existing laws before other reforms are considered.

3. As a pragmatic step to support the first two points, most Americans want to build a barrier along the Mexican border.

These goals are not at all contradictory. In fact, they flow naturally from the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, a nation of laws, and a nation of pragmatic problem solvers.

Where does this leave the 11 million or so illegal immigrants living and working in the USA? Unfortunately, they are the pawns in the current debate, but not the central issue.

Let's hope there's a leader out there ready to focus on the bigger picture of the immigration debate... a picture that is welcoming, enforceable, and enforced.

If that person doesn't step forward, it's easy to envision an outcome that only a political junkie could love. Imagine that the nation remains bitterly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Then, a 3rd party candidate campaigns on immigration, picks up a few Southwestern states, and prevents either party's Presidential nominee from winning a majority of the Electoral College. Not a pretty picture.

April 26, 2006

Free Markets Work - by Larry Kudlow

The greatest story never told? It's still the booming American economy--spurred by lower tax rates, accommodative money, huge profits, big productivity, plentiful jobs and a general free-market capitalist resiliency.

Some folks are bellyaching and gnashing their teeth about oil and housing; but you know what? Housing is softer but is holding up just fine. Today's Wall Street Journal says its time to buy a home in Houston, Dallas and Atlanta, rather than the east and west coast. Good point. As for gas at the pump, it averaged about $2.40 in March and about $64 for crude oil. But this was not an economic impediment. Production, retail sales, and employment were all very strong in March. Very strong indeed.

Today's durable goods report was off the charts strong. Airplanes, transportation, metals, industrial machinery, computers, even motor vehicles and car parts. But wait. The key point: business investment in capital goods was unbelievable. New orders for core cap-ex, (ex defense and aircraft) have grown 9 percent at an annual rate and 12 percent over the past year. That is a leading indicator of future business spending.

And there's more. Backlogs of unfilled orders increased over 12 percent at an annual rate in the first quarter--the best in two years. This key measure is a leading indicator of the new orders leading indicator, a very important forecasting tool for business economists. With this kind of real world corporate activity in the pipeline, it shows that highly profitable businesses will be doing a lot of hiring in the months ahead in order to expand plant and equipment capacity. Just what the doctor ordered.

At these lower tax rates, capital is still relatively inexpensive and investment returns are unusually high. What's more, President Bush's mid course correction on energy policy is going to stabilize, or even reduce, upwards pressures on the price of oil and retail gasoline.

Regrettably, Mr. Bush included a lot of liberal-left greenie gobbledygook about price gouging inspections and oil company investments. But he may have included that to stop a windfall profits tax from coming out of Congress.

All this oil addiction stuff smacks of Jimmy Carter's malaise. But, according to Washington analyst James K. Glassman, over the past decade, big oil has invested roughly equal to their profits. In fact, according to Mr. Glassman, between 1991-2005, ExxonMobil's total investment totaled $210 billion (actually exceeding the company's earnings). So government should stop beating up on XOM and their brethren.

Confiscating Lee Raymond's bank account will not produce more energy. Nor will breaking up oil companies as per Sen. Chuck Schumer's goofy idea. And a windfall profits tax will only lower energy exploration and investment.

The point is free markets work. Rising prices from the global economic boom will lead to more conservation, less consumption, and more production. That is, if government steps out of the way, deregulates sufficiently, and finally allows drilling in ANWR, the Outer Continental Shelf, sets up LNG terminals, and creates nuclear power facilities. Just look at the deregulated boom in Canadian oil sands production.

On the positive side, Mr. Bush did suspend the ethanol tax mandate forcing gasoline distributors to participate in one of the great energy policy bungles of all time. Neither ethanol refiners nor transporters were anywhere near ready to implement this misguided policy mandate. Lee Raymond and other industry leaders warned Energy Secretary Sam Bodman about this. Bodman deserves a "F" for terrible execution and management.

No one's even sure if ethanol is worth the candle. Many believe the energy used in the production of corn based ethanol gasoline is actually greater than the energy produced by this stuff. This ethanol tax snafu is responsible for at least the last 50-cent increase in gas pump prices. Too bad Mr. Bush didn't abolish the ethanol tax altogether, rather than just suspending it for the driving season.

However, Bush's decision to finally stop the crude oil fill rate for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is another good measure that will relieve upward pressure on oil prices. Missing though, is a total repeal of the 54-cent ethanol import tariff aimed largely at Brazil. This is the energy equivalent of the mistaken steel tariff a couple of years ago that protected producers at the expense of consumers. It's bad policy and it flies in the face of Mr. Bush's own stated principles of avoiding isolationism and protectionism. But at least some good in relieving the ethanol tax and the SPR fill rate will help economic growth.

All of which lead to some important fiscal policy decisions now confronting the White House:

First, it is essential that the tax cut extensions on job creating low tax rate dividends and cap gains be passed in the weeks ahead. This is a must. It will bolster and prolong the business capital investment boom that requires long lead times for planning purposes.

Second, the president must veto the budget busting emergency supplemental appropriations bill that is now before Congress. The Senate is overspending by $15 billion, including a $700 million Railroad to Nowhere in Mississippi. With new Bush White House staff, and a new budget director, now is the time for new toughness and resolve on spending. This kind of move will raise economic confidence and electrify a moribund Republican base.

As the Federal Reserve moves toward additional steps to remove excess money creation and bolster the dollar value relative to foreign currencies and commodities, inflation fighting money policy should be combined with lower tax rate incentives to promote long-term economic growth. This was the Reagan economic model twenty-five years ago, and it will work as well today as it did back then when it launched the long prosperity boom we continue to enjoy today.

To simplify matters, why not just repeal the ethanol tax, repeal the ethanol tariff, repeal the multiple taxation of dividends and cap gains, and get rid of the death tax while you're at it? Now there's a program of long run economic growth.

The Coordinated Attack on Scalia

As Ronald Cass wrote three weeks ago on RealClearPolitics, expect to hear the call for Justice Scalia to recuse himself to continue as liberals try and find ways to silence the conservative justice:

The game now is to find a way of making it seem that Scalia's personal life and conduct commit him to positions on important legal issues in a way that interferes with his ability to decide matters impartially - not because Scalia has in fact done so and not because his accusers care about impartiality. Instead, the game matters because Scalia is the leading voice for a set of legal propositions that run counter to the political, social, and constitutional agenda of the dominant voices in almost every major element of America's Speaking elites.

That is why Justice Scalia's comings and goings, his associations, his speeches, all have become the focus of media attention. It is not simply his Catholicism that is an issue. It is anything he says and does that can be grist for a demand that he step aside from a case where his participation would matter.....

It reflects a dedicated effort to make him a news item in hopes of disqualifying him from deciding, or limiting his influence on, those very issues.

Today New York Times editorial board member Adam Cohen chips in his little part to keep the liberal tap-tap-tap against Scalia going:

Justice Antonin Scalia has gone too far -- and he keeps on doing it.

He made national headlines recently for making a gesture that may or may not be obscene. If it wasn't obscene, it was certainly coarse and undignified.

He recently called those who disagree with his unconventional views of the Constitution "idiots."

His public statements often make him sound more like a political partisan than a judge. He is particularly bad on the subject of Bush v. Gore, the decision that put President Bush in the White House, a low point in the Supreme Court's history that Justice Scalia should not be pulling down any lower.

Worst of all, Justice Scalia refuses to abide by the basic principles of recusal, the law that forbids judges from hearing cases in which they are not impartial, or will not be viewed as impartial. A few weeks ago, he took part in a case involving the rights of detainees after making inflammatory statements that seriously called his fairness into question.

As Cass says, these are not one-off comments, but part of an overall liberal strategy to diminish Scalia's influence and ratchet up public pressure for him to recuse himself from cases where they fear Scalia's conservative vote. Cohen continues with his screed against Scalia, which at its core is all about Scalia's conservative judicial philosophy and not his out of court "actions." Does one really believe that if Scalia held the same judicial philosophy as William Brennan or Ruth Bader Ginsburg we would be hearing these complaints from Cohen? I don't think so.

Cohen stoops even lower with a veiled hint that Scalia is suffering some sort of aging related mental infirmity when he writes:

The rate of Justice Scalia's disturbing words and deeds is increasing -- now, it seems, he can be counted on to embarrass the court publicly roughly every few weeks. There is debate among court-watchers about why this is happening.

A little later Cohen suggests that some of the motivation for Scalia's "actions" that he finds so offensive might be in response to not getting the Chief Justice nod or a changing PR strategy, but I still read the earlier paragraph as laying the seeds for a "Scalia is Losing It" attack.

Finally, Cohen proposes a new recusal process where "an alternating panel of three justices" would vote on recusal motions. It is interesting how in the last 50 years while the Supreme Court has had a liberal or split bench, the recusal issue never came up. But now that judicial conservatives are close to a majority on the court, suddenly we get ideas about how three justices should be able to vote certain justices off cases.

Expect the liberal attacks on Scalia to continue. This is not an isolated article, it is a deliberate strategy by the left.

Britain's Labour Party Woes

The GOP isn't the only political party that has it bad at the moment. Yesterday an ICM poll showed support for Tony Blair's Labour party sinking to a 19-year low in advance of local elections next week. The Tories garned 34% (flat versus last poll), Labour 32% (-5 vs. last poll) and the Lib Dems were at 24% (+3 vs. last poll). The Guardian characterized the Lib Dem showing as "a remarkable improvement for a party mired in scandal at the start of its own leadership election two months ago."

Labour has suffered from, among other things, umseemly revelations involving "cash for peerages" and has been unable to mount an effective attack against new Tory leader David Cameron. In yesterday's Telegraph, Rachel Sylvester panned Labour's most recent round of ads attacking Cameron saying, "Labour's latest campaign shows how little the governing party understands how to take on the new-look Opposition."

Adding to Labour's woes is news that between 1999 and 2006 the government lost track of more than a thousand convicted foriegn criminals (including 3 murderers, 9 rapists and 5 child molesters) who were released from prison and should have been deported but weren't. Labour Home Secretary Charles Clarke tendered his resignation for the second time over the blunder yesterday afternoon and Tony Blair again rejected it.

(Clarke also has drawn fire for this column he penned in The Guardian on Tuesday slamming the press for its "lazy and deceitful" characterizations of the Blair government's efforts to improve national security. The Guardian responds with its own scathing editorial today).

All in all, it's been a very rough go for Blair, Brown and Labour recently - and there don't seem to be indications things will be getting better any time soon.

Snow Is In But Is Snow Out?

According to Howard Kurtz, Tony Snow is in as the new White House Press Secretary:

Fox News commentator Tony Snow agreed last night to become White House press secretary after top officials assured him that he would be not just a spokesman but an active participant in administration policy debates, people familiar with the discussions said. [snip]

Snow, 50, is particularly interested in economic and immigration issues. He intends to insist on greater access for White House reporters, said sources familiar with his plans. He has described the press corps as a beast that must be constantly fed. In a December 2000 column in the Washington Times, he referred to "Democrats and journalists (but I repeat myself)."

Of course the left will slam this move as further proof of the theory that FOX News is just an extension of the Bush administration, but it makes sense to put an accomplished professional (both as a broadcaster and as a debater/pundit for conservative ideas) with a genial attitude like Snow behind the podium. He should be a big improvement for the White House.

On to the other Snow. Taegan Goddard speculated on Monday that Secretary of the Treasury John Snow might be resigning this week after cancelling a guest lecture at Harvard scheduled for Friday. Talk of Snow's departure has been swirling for a while and former Kellogg CEO and current Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez is rumored to be among the top replacements.

Quote of the Day

"Nothing kills a political honeymoon faster than the word taxes." - Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, explaining why New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine's negatives shot up to 42% in the lastest Qpoll after registering at only 14% in January.

April 25, 2006

Oil Update - by Larry Kudlow

President Bush did himself some good by suspending the ethanol tax--at least for the duration of the driving season. He also did some good by stopping the fill rate for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Gas prices slipped lower today, as did crude oil.

The biggest factor in rising energy prices is still the world economic boom. And of course, various political saber rattling from inside nuclear ambitious/anti-Israel Iran and leftist President Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. But around the edges, the president's mid-course correction for energy policy will at least stabilize the situation as everyone then waits for the upcoming hurricane season.

One action President Bush should have taken (and could still take) is to end the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol (which basically means Brazilian ethanol.) Why the U.S. government should protect the already heavily subsidized ethanol industry at the expense of American consumers is hard to fathom.

Energy Secretary Sam Bodman actually defended the tariff earlier this month saying it was necessary so that foreign producers "can have no advantage over American companies." Holy smokes, this is the energy version of steel tariffs and it's just as bad an idea.

But all this talk of price gouging is nothing more than the usual political pabulum.

The Desert One Debacle

The new Atlantic has a great article by Mark Bowden on the failed attempt to rescue the American hostages from Tehran in 1980. The online editors have set up a special page that has photos, videos, and maps along with Bowdon's cover story "The Desert One Debacle."

It is fascinating to read in light of the very real potential for some kind of special forces action against Iran in the next three years. The "debacle" of that failed Delta Force mission 26 years ago stands in stark contrast to the attitude and competence of the U.S. military today. Reading the article you can viscerally feel the difference in morale from circa spring 1980 versus morale today (notwithstanding a few disgruntled generals.)

This is something our nation's leaders should keep in mind as the country continues to debate the wisdom of what U.S. troops are doing in Iraq. The United States turned its back on the military in the 1970's and you can feel the consequence of that reading Bowden's article. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of our current action in Iraq right now, we should never again turn our back on the men and women who defend the freedom we so often take for granted.

The War in Ohio

Walter Shapiro reports on his recent sit down with Senator Mike DeWine:

During our interview, I asked DeWine whether he intended to campaign with the president. DeWine gave a little laugh and said, "Time will tell. We'll see." And then the senator retreated to his boilerplate formulation that "this campaign is between Mike DeWine and Sherrod Brown." A few minutes later, as we were exchanging farewell handshakes, DeWine said, "It's going to be a fun race." And then the Republican senator, with an engaging penchant for honesty, paused and added two nervous hedge words, "I guess."

DeWine's race may or may not be fun, but it's almost certainly going to be close. Rasmussen is out with a new poll today showing DeWine narrowly leading Sherrod Brown, 43 -41, which is about where this race has been since Paul Hackett dropped out in mid-February - and probably where we can expect it to stay for some time barring some big event. According to SurveyUSA's tracking poll, after a glitch in February DeWine's approval rating has rebounded modestly to 48% (disapproval 41%) which is more or less where it's been for the last seven months.

In the Governor's race, Rasmussen has a new poll showing Democratic Congressman Ted Strickland extending his lead over Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell to 17-points, 52% to 35%.

Tech CEO Won't Be Running for Gov.

Founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, T.J. Rodgers, doesn't seem to have a very high regard for politicians. From an interview in the EETimes Online (Hat Tip: Tom Elia at The New Editor)

EETimes: If you ran for office--say, governor of California--what would be your first piece of legislation?

Rodgers: Let me reject the premise of your question. I have a real job, I create real wealth, real people work for our company. I would never, ever swap my job for a job where I make my living taking money from other people. I would rather be unemployed, literally.

What's Wrong With These People?

Lynn Sweet rips the lid off of what looks to be yet another example of malfeasance by a member of Congress, this time a questionable deal between Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush and communications giant SBC (now AT&T):

An Englewood community center founded by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a key player on telecommunications legislation, received a $1 million grant from the charitable arm of SBC/AT&T, one of the nation's largest phone companies.

The chief of a congressional watchdog group says Rush's ongoing association with the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corporation and his role in shaping telecommunications law as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee is a conflict of interest. Using charitable giving as a backdoor way to curry favor with lawmakers is coming under increasing scrutiny, figuring in controversies associated with former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who was forced to temporarily step aside as the ranking Democrat on the Ethics panel.

On Wednesday, the energy and commerce panel on which Rush sits is set to vote on a controversial rewrite of telecommunications law co-sponsored by Rush and backed by major phone companies eager to compete with cable television companies.

Rush says he supports the bill because it encourages competition and will benefit low income areas in districts like his by driving down prices. Though that claim is disputed by some, it's certainly a reasonable position to hold and the bill was approved by a subcommittee vote of 24-7 with the support from 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats. The merit of the legislation, however, is beside the point.

Even if there isn't a quid-pro quo - and no one is alleging any such thing - what on earth would allow Rush to think it's acceptable for him to take a million dollars in charitable contributions from a company whose business he directly oversees from his perch on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet? Spare me the soliloquies about good intentions or what a difference the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corporation is making in the community, this should be a no-brainer conflict of interest. Let's not forget to throw in the fact that Rush's son works for the Rebirth of Englewood CDC and is, presumably, drawing a salary.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress seem to have taken leave of their senses about what is and is not acceptable behavior for elected officials. As we've seen, Democratic cries of a "culture of corruption" are blatantly hypocritical, and Republicans are offering up a band-aid for a wound that requires a tourniquet.

Mary McCarthy's Betrayal

Our friend Peter Brookes sent us these comments on the CIA leak case. Peter is a senior fellow with the Heritage Foundation on national security affairs and was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for Asian and Pacific Affairs earlier in the Bush Administration.

The allegations against CIA officer Mary McCarthy over leaking sensitive operational intelligence information to the press are deadly serious. Some Democrats, left-wing pundits, the MSM and other assorted Bush-bashers are looking to make this case a cause celebre using political spin, inaccurate analogies and a heavy dose of relativism to justify the accused's actions. Here's what you need to know:
1. The release of intelligence after being declassified by an authorized authority (e.g., the Iraq National Intelligence Estimate by the White House) directly to the public--or via the press--is not a "leak," and is, therefore, legal. The unauthorized release of classified information to the public (e.g., the allegations against Mary McCarthy) is a "leak," and against the law.

2. If an intelligence official is concerned about conduct they consider to be inappropriate/illegal, measures exist to make competent authority aware of the situation. An agency's Inspector General is a good option. Failing that avenue, an intelligence official can always turn to appropriately cleared congressional oversight committees such as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence or the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Resigning in protest is also an option; running to the press isn't.

3. The fact that McCarthy is accused of leaking operational (as opposed to analytical intelligence such as that which was contained in the Iraq NIE) is especially egregious. Most serious: the disclosure of operational information (e.g., intelligence sources and methods) can put American operatives as well as our foreign agents in danger. The bad guys read the press, especially the American press, which--unfortunately-- is rife with sensitive information. Moreover, since operational information is so sensitive, its disclosure makes friendly foreign intelligence partners reluctant to share information with the U.S. That can really hurt with the war on terror and the Iranian nuclear program still on the boil.

4. The accused undoubtedly signed a federal government secrecy oath, saying that she understands that she will be entrusted with highly-sensitive information which can cause harm to U.S. national security, and that if she discloses intelligence to individuals not authorized to receive it, she may be prosecuted. The accused is NOT a hero as some would suggest. She not only broke the law, but she violated the special trust she was given to her by being granted a security clearance and access to sensitive intelligence.

5. While U.S. government employees are allowed to have political views, they shouldn't be mixing them with their work. Let's just say her political career is interesting: Clinton NSC staff, moved off by the incoming Bush administration, sizeable cash donations to the DNC, and $2,000 contribution to the Kerry campaign in 2004. It's not clear her actions were politically motivated at this point, but you do the math...

CIA Director Porter Goss is right to hunt down leakers. In some instances, leaks do irreparable damage to U.S. national security in the same way espionage by an American citizen does. It provides sensitive national security information to an unauthorized audience. Leaking to the press, regrettably, ensures the widest dissemination of our nation's secrets. We can only hope that this case will deter others from taking such a reckless course with America's well-being.


April 24, 2006

Oil, the Economy, and Inflation - Brian Wesbury

During the seventeen years between 1986 and 2002, the price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil averaged $20.53/bbl. In 2003, the average price for oil reached $31.14/bbl., in 2004 it was $41.44/bbl., in 2005 it was $56.47/bbl., and during the first three months of 2006 the price has averaged $63.35/bbl. On Friday, the price rose above $75/bbl., an all-time high in nominal terms.

Most commentary about these price increases have focused on specific issues of supply and demand in the energy markets. In fact, most commentary about any commodity price movements focuses on specific, market-oriented issues, such as Chinese demand, production problems, or weather.

This focus on microeconomic issues misses the impact of monetary policy. In the 1970s, oil and other commodity prices moved up as Fed policy was inflationary. During the 1980s and most of the 1990s, monetary policy was focused on bringing inflation down. It became a widely followed maxim during that period that investors should shy away from "stuff" and focus on value-creating "ideas." This trend accelerated in 1997 when Fed policy became deflationary.

With prices low, investment in commodity production was deterred. As a result, once the Fed started fighting deflation, commodity prices, including gold, silver, copper, and energy products started rising again. Yes, other factors, such geopolitical instability and capacity issues, have played a role. But, the underlying monetary policy environment is still the fundamental driving force beneath these movements.

After adjusting for inflation, the price of oil is still below its peak of $85/bbl. in the second quarter of 1980. Yes, energy prices are rising rapidly, and consumers are spending $244 billion more on energy per year today than they did in 2001. However, total after-tax incomes are running $1.7 trillion higher. In other words, consumers have $1.48 trillion more to spend today - even after subtracting energy costs - than they did in 2001.

When we jump in a bathtub the water level rises significantly. The ocean is another story. The more liquidity in an economy, the easier it is to absorb rising prices. This is why record-high energy price have not caused the economic damage that many expected. Inflation is both a cause of rising prices and a cushion against them.

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

The Email Mutiny

My cousin is a member of Carrier Air Wing Fourteen (CVW-14) currently on board the USS Ronald Reagan. Our family gets brief updates from him about every three weeks or so, and he ended his last dispatch with a wry bit of humor on the email situation aboard the Reagan:

"I am on the mightiest warship in the world and we have only two computers that have email. This comes as a pain when there are 19 of us that need to get on. Our email server went down for 10 days just before we pulled in. The ship almost had a mutiny. 21st century and we almost went back to 2 cans and a string. That's the government for you."

Rumsfeld's History

In today's Boston Globe, Bryan Bender has a look at Rumsfeld's battle within the Pentagon. Key quote:

''People say he is a hawk, that him and [Vice President Dick] Cheney run everything. He is not some ideological nut," said a former top Rumsfeld aide, who asked not to be named. ''You can have a reasonable discussion with this guy. But this is also a guy who for five years has been tipping the applecart, canceling big orders for the Army, and a lot of people are [angry]."

That brings to mind this passage from Midge Decter's 2003 biography of Rumsfeld where she discusses the enormous fight Rumsfeld set off by trying to cancel the Army's Crusader program. Decter writes:

For a while Crusader became a great cause celebre in Washington. Bets were made, and a number of pundits confidently predicted that Crusader would turn out to be Rumsfeld's Waterloo. They could not, a number of Washington insiders told interviewers, believe that he could succeed in killing the program. For in addition to the Oklahomans, the army - most notably in the persons of Secretary of the Army Thomas White and Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki - rushed to Capitol Hill, and there the secretary of defense and his associates indeed enountered a pitched battle. "It was," Rumsfeld said of the experience, "as if I has shot a little old lady in the grocery store." In the end, Crusader and its supporters lost, and the program was dropped. Later Rumsfeld would observe that the battle over Crusader had been "more important not to lose than it was to win."

RELATED: The Anger at Rumsfeld

Hot Air

Michelle Malkin has launched a new conservative internet video site called Hot Air. Seeing as how I've become maddeningly addicted to bloggingheads.tv, I will most certainly give it a try. You should as well.

RCP ReaderArticles: Shutting Down Alzheimer's

For those interested in Alzheimer's there is a great article on the RCP ReaderArticles page submitted by Adam. It is from the May issue of Scientific American "Shutting Down Alzheimer's"

If you haven't checked out RCP's new ReadersArticles feature, scroll down the front page to see the top stories as voted on by RCP readers. Or you can click directly to the full ReaderArticles page from the black and white Nav bar at the top of every page. Once there you can look at all the articles submitted, articles with the most votes. Check it out.

John Kerry: The New Winter Soldier

kerry.jpg John Kerry is back. Enough with the flip-flopping, "I voted for the war before I voted against it" politician we saw in 2004. On Saturday before a "wildly enthusiastic" crowd at Boston's Faneuil Hall, Kerry took the opportunity to celebrate the 35th anniversary of his testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations by reestablishing himself as the solidly anti-war, ""How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" protest leader we first came to know in 1971.

Needless to say, the left couldn't be happier to have their winter soldier back. Bob Herbert (Times $elect) called Kerry's speech "important and moving," saying Kerry "gave the impression of a man who had found a voice he'd been seeking through trial and error for a long time, perhaps since that springtime day in Richard Nixon's Washington in 1971."

CBS News' Dotty Lynch cooed that "Kerry stood tall and proud and came to terms with what seemed so right in the 1970s and so wrong in 2004." Lynch continued:

Kerry disappointed many Democrats in 2002 by voting to give the President the authority to go to war and kept frustrating them during his campaign with tortured answers on what the policy should be. But Saturday, he knocked it out of the ballpark as he brought his life and the two wars which define him into sync.

Kerry has the opportunity to lead a movement once again - not by using this as a campaign jumpoff, but by rallying a very angry public to force a change in policy. Richard Nixon worried about Kerry's potential as a leader back in the 70s; maybe the new Kerry will finally prove him right.

So is this is a turning point moment for Kerry, and does it pave the way to redemption in 2008? Hardly.

In an op-ed in the Boston Globe on Saturday arguing the importance of dissent in wartime, Kerry wrote about his testimony thirty-five years ago that "Many people did not understand or agree with my act of public dissent. To them, supporting the troops meant continuing to support the war, or at least keeping my mouth shut."

Not exactly. What many people found offensive in 1971, and in the thirty-five years since, wasn't necessarily Kerry voicing objections to the policy in Vietnam but his willingness to publicly condemn the entire U.S. military for heinous crimes like rape and murder which he testified were "committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command." Furthermore, Kerry made those charges based on the testimony of veterans which some have found to be less than credible.

People were offended by his association with a group (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) that met and actually discussed assassinating members of Congress who supported the war. People were offended that Kerry went to Paris and held private meetings with representatives from the North Vietnamese government without U.S. approval and while a member of the Naval reserve. People were offended that Kerry made such a public display of throwing his medals (or someone else's, depending on which story you believe) over the White House fence in 1971 saying they had no value, and he compounded the offense by proclaiming how proud he was of his medals every time an election came rolling around.

Obviously, dissent comes in many forms. Kerry didn't have to do any of these things to voice objection to the war in Vietnam, but he did. His actions thirty-five years ago have proved to have longstanding, and mostly negative consequences which probably aren't going to change no matter how he tries to recast himself.

How We Would Get Tax Reform

Great suggestion from a reader.


Here's an idea that Treasury should consider in any tax reform. Two rules:

1. All representatives and senators shall do their own taxes; and

2. All representatives and senators shall have their returns audited.

You'd see how fast the tax code would get simplified.


April 22, 2006

The Saudi Ambassador, Optimism on Iraq, Pessimism on Iran

On Thursday Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S., gave a luncheon speech put on by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the Economic Club of Chicago. I didn't find anything he said on Wahhabism or Islamic extremism new or revealing, as the proof is always more in the actions in the region as opposed to what is said to non-Muslim audiences in Chicago or London. However, Prince Turki did make two remarks that I found interesting.

The first was on the issue of Iran and nukes. Turki reiterated Saudi Arabia's position that the entire region should be free of nuclear weapons, going out of his way to include Israel. This was met with strong applause from approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of the audience of roughly 400 people. The issue of Israel's nuclear capability is going to become a big issue as the effort to prevent a nuclear Iran continues to move down the tracks. Israel is never going to give up their nukes, which gives people who are not serious about stopping a nuclear Iran the argument of "Well, why can Israel have nukes but not Iran?" Of course there is an argument against this logic (for starters, Israel's Prime Minister is not talking about wiping out or eliminating other countries), but to many otherwise reasonable people this is seen as a fair question and a legitimate point.

Al-Faisal's other interesting comment - which I found quite encouraging, as opposed to his position on Iran - was about Iraq. The ambassador went out of his way to say that "the political process has been growing steadily since the removal of Saddam Hussein" and that the government being put together in Baghdad is "truly legitimate and representative of the Iraqi people." I found this to be an unexpected boost of support for the U.S. effort in Iraq, and coupled with the news that the stalemate over the new Iraqi PM may be over, perhaps there is reason for some guarded optimism about the eventual acceptance of a unified Iraqi government.

Of course, I'm aware that the Prince and Saudi Arabia may have their own selfish reasons for wanting to see a stable and functioning Iraq. The last thing the House of Saud wants is Shiite Iran essentially take over a Lebanonized Iraq. But regardless of Prince Turki's motivations, the more governments, institutions and people who see the new Iraqi government as truly "legitimate and representative," the higher the U.S. odds of success.

April 21, 2006

The Anger At Rumsfeld

In a characteristically good column today, Charles Krauthammer argues there are three possible complaints retired generals could have against Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. After rebutting the first two, Krauthammer hits on the third:

What's left of the general's revolt? A third complaint: He didn't listen to me. So what? Lincoln didn't listen to McClellan, and fired him. Truman had enough of listening to MacArthur and fired him too. In our system of government, civilians fire generals, not the other way around.

Krauthammer is obviously correct. Ironically enough, however, some of the animosity directed at Rumsfeld by the retired generals may have to do with the fact that Rumsfeld is himself a retired officer. Rumsfeld attained the rank of Captain while in the Navy (an O-6 which is equivalent to the rank of Colonel in the Army, Air Force or Marines) and that, according to an Army officer who emailed me on the subject recently, has been a tough pill for some to swallow:

Some flag officers however, have a difficult time taking orders from someone that is in their mind their "junior." They can not separate the civilian status from the retired military status. That has ALWAYS been a problem in DOD when former/retired military are appointed to civilian leadership positions.

Additionally, having already done a tour of duty as SecDef, Rumsfeld knows how the "system" at the Pentagon works. The result, according to my correspondent, is that while some other Secretaries of Defense could be "led" by flag officers at the DoD, with Rumsfeld it's been the other way around.

The 2006 Milblog Conference

A quick note: our good friend Austin Bay will be hosting the 2006 Milblog Conference tomorrow at the AED Conference Center in Washington, D.C. Here's a look at the agenda for the day. Attend if you can, it promises to be a most interesting and informative event.

Another U.N. Failure

In my post on Iran yesterday I forgot to mention the rather stunning news that despite the fact Iran is under the threat of sanctions by the UN Security Council for refusing to cooperate on its nuclear program, last week it was elected to a vice-chair position on the U.N. Disarmament Commission. Michael Barone notes an additional touch of irony in the press release. Senator Bill Frist, who has been a leader in pushing for serious reform of the UN Human Rights Commission, writes on his VOLPAC blog that this should be the last straw:

The United Nations needs far-reaching reform and it needs it now. The Bush Administration has pushed for reform, but it has fallen on deaf years in New York. Too many countries like things the way they are: fat salaries for large staffs; little or no oversight of UN activities and programs; a complicated and opaque bureaucracy that prevents accountability; committee memberships that allow countries to block criticism of their own actions; indecision or consensus-based measures that amount to little; and so on.

Worse yet, the United States pays the largest share of UN dues (22%), followed by a handful of other industrialized democracies that all together provide the bulk of the UN's funding. Meanwhile, US proposals are routinely blocked by those opposed to who or what America stands for, while a host of corrupt or rogue regimes use the UN as a forum to advance their own nefarious interests---underwritten by US taxpayers no less.

One step in the right direction would be to deprive the soon-to-be-formed United Nations Human Rights Council of any American support. Despite superficial "reforms," this new body is all too susceptible to being compromised by the world's worst offenders of human rights. The U.S. has rightly decided - at my urging - not to participate in this body. Now the United States should refuse to provide it any funding.

We should adopt the same approach to the UN Disarmament Commission.

The U.N. seems oblivious to the fact that it continues to shred its credibility (what's left of it, anyway) with such behavior.

Maryland Governor: Ehrlich vs. O'Malley

Following up on my post from earlier this morning, Scott Rasmussen has a new poll out today on the Maryland governor's race. The poll gives Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley a 9-point lead over Governor Bob Ehrlich. Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan has only a two-point lead. This tends to confirm my point that Ehrlich would definitely prefer Duncan as the eventual Democrat nominee. However, I don't think Ehrlich is going to be that fortunate; O'Malley is likely to win the September 12th Democratic primary.

So at this stage in the contest we have two recent polls showing Ehrlich trailing O'Malley (a Gonzales poll from earlier in the week had O'Malley ahead by 5 pts). In a state where Democrats enjoy almost a 2-1 advantage in voter registration and where the Republican Governor has been publicly feuding with the Democratic Assembly for years, I don't take it as bad news for Ehrlich that he is trailing in some polls in April. If it is indeed an Ehrlich-O'Malley match-up, this race will be very, very close.

Katherine Harris' Campaign Collapsing

Last Friday Rasmussen came out with a poll in the Florida Senate race showing Katherine Harris trailing Bill Nelson by 30-points (57-27). Yesterday, Quinnipiac came out with a new poll showing the same thing: Harris trails Nelson 56-27. In the QPoll, Harris' support among Republicans has sunk to only 57% and her unfavorable rating jumped to 37% from 27% recorded in the last poll two months ago.

The Florida Republican party has exactly three weeks left to recruit someone else to get into this race and try to make it competitive again. That job is made harder if Harris continues to insist she's going to stick around for a nasty and expensive primary fight. If the GOP can't find a viable candidate to meet the May 12 filing deadline, this race is hasta la vista.

RELATED:
Katherine Harris' Journey Continues
Harris Bets It All

Where Is China Going?

During a discussion on the Special Report with Brit Hume roundtable last night, Mort Kondracke said the path of China is one of the big unknowns of the future of the world. Will China continue to open up, becoming more liberal economically and politically, or will it remain a corporatist, repressive police state with (perhaps) imperial ambitions? Fred Barnes responded:

We know where China is going. They're not going to be a bitter adversary, a country that is conspiring to overtake the United States and conquer the United States and so on.

But we know they're not going to help us. They're not helping with Iran. They should be the people -- they could get the North Koreans, they could snap their fingers and the North Koreans would get rid of their nuclear weapons but they don't do that. They're just not going to help us anywhere and meanwhile the Indians, the Japanese, the Australians and many others in Asia want the U.S. to be there to help check Chinese power and we're doing it.

I'm not quite as confident about China's future relationship with the U.S. The issue of Taiwan strikes me as one that can and probably will blossom into a crisis that could poison U.S.-China relations, moving them from the realm of being an unhelpful "strategic" adversary into being a full blown "bitter" one. Whether that happens in five years or fifty years, it's impossible to say.

RealClearPolitics ReaderArticles

If you have an article or blog post that you feel is particularly noteworthy or interesting I'd encourage you to post it on RCP's ReaderArticles page. The top submissions that receive 5 or more votes from RCP readers will appear on the front page in the ReadersArticles section.

Can Ehrlich Keep the Maryland Governor's Mansion Red?

Before 2002, Maryland hadn't elected a Republican Governor since Spiro Agnew in 1966. In the fours years since beating the hapless Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in that race, Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich has been battling it out with a Democratically controlled state legislature in one of the bluest states in America. Maryland was John Kerry's 5th best state in 2004 and Al Gore's 4th best in 2000.

A newly released poll by Gonzales Research indicates Mr. Ehrlich is going to be in a dog fight to win a second term. His likely Democratic opponent will be Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley or Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan. Mr. O'Malley leads Mr. Duncan by nine points (44% - 35%) among Democratic voters. The primary is September 12.

Given Mr. Ehrlich's power base in the Baltimore suburbs, the Governor would much prefer a match-up against the D.C.-associated Mr. Duncan. However, barring a major surprise, Mr. O'Malley looks to be the likely nominee.

The recent poll is a mixed bag for Mr. Ehrlich: the good news is that even with President Bush's job approval at an all time low in the state at (29%), Mr. Ehrlich remains relatively popular with a 50% job approval. The bad news, however, is that because Democrats have such a huge registration advantage over Republicans in Maryland (55% to 30%), even with a 50% job approval Mr. Ehrlich trails Mr. O'Malley by 5 points (46%-41%) and Mr. Duncan by 2 pts (44%-42%).

One factor working in Mr. Ehrlich's favor is Baltimore Gas & Electric's upcoming rate hikes which have the potential to become a significant political issue as 75% of voters described themselves as "very concerned" about the impending increase. By nearly a 3-1 margin, voters blame the Democratic General Assembly 34% versus only 12% who blame the Republican Governor.

Ehrlich understands that as the first Republican Governor in the last 35 years, in a Democratic state and facing a very hostile media in the form of the Baltimore Sun his administration has to find creative ways to get their message out to the voting public. Governor Ehrlich has been very aggressive about taking advantage of local talk radio and traveling the state which should help to cut into the registration and media advantages for Democratic nominee.

Mayor O'Malley is a very charismatic candidate and his home base in Baltimore will strike at Mr. Ehrlich's strength in the Baltimore suburbs and will make this an extremely close race. If Mr. Ehrlich can win a second-term, however, it may lead to the national stage: as a twice-elected, conservative Governor, of a solidly blue-state he suddenly will become a very attractive candidate for the Republican VP slot in 2008.

April 20, 2006

Bush Approval Starts to Near Danger Level

The new FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll has President Bush's Approval down to 33%. This is 3 points lower than any previous poll FOX News has released, and needless to say it is not good news for the White House. Among Republicans his approval has dropped to 66% and therein lies his major problem and the answer to how he can bounce back.

The President has got to get his Republican base back in the fold. If he can do that his approval ratings will stabilize in the high 30's and low 40's and he will be in a position to mount a comeback this fall. Bush could take sliding approval ratings into the high 30's in the RCP Average, but deterioration below 35% - it's not there yet, but the FOX poll could be a troubling leading indicator for the White House - starts to indicate loss of core support in his Republican base and that can become a very slippery slope which could effectively kill his presidency. He's got to pick a fight with the Democrats on something and get his base reenergized. Compromising with Ted Kennedy on immigration is not the answer to his political problems.

Duke Bombshell?

Obviously, if the news that a Durham taxi cab driver is corroborating Reade Seligmann's alibi holds up, it is a potentially devastating development for the prosecution in this case. If true, it would indeed seem that DA Mike Nifong rushed ahead with indictments without conducting a very thorough investigation.

Scott McClellan & the White House 'Shake-Up'

Some quick hits from the blogosphere today:

NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen has a must-read take on Scott McClellan's stint as White House Press Secretary:

McClellan's specialty was non-communication; what's remarkable about him as a choice for press secretary is that he had no special talent for explaining Bush's policies to the world. In fact, he usually made things less clear by talking about them. We have to assume that this is the way the President wanted it; and if we do assume that it forces us to ask: why use a bad explainer and a rotten communicator as your spokesman before the entire world? Isn't that just dumb-- and bad politics? Wouldn't it be suicidal in a media-driven age with its 24-hour news cycle?

Rosen's critique on the Bush administration and the press--while a bit harsh--is worth reading in full.

Neal Boortz dismisses the "circus" created out of the latest White House changes:

If you watched the coverage, you might get the impression Scott McClellan was the first press secretary to quit or be fired in the history of the republic.

But this is all standard operating procedure. Bill Clinton had three press secretaries over 8 years. George W. Bush will now be on his third. Big deal. But the press tells us all this turmoil is unique! First the White House chief of staff steps down, and now this. But it's all happened before. Every last bit of it.

Matt Stoller calls it the "fake shake-up" and says a real "shake-up can happen, but it won't happen until November, 2006."

And Hugh Hewitt takes issue with a Washington Post analysis that warns of doom and gloom if Bush does not revitalize his presidency. Hewitt counters:

When Bush-Rove wins -- again, for the sixth straight time if we add in the two Texas governor races-- will the Beltway elite finally admit they misunderestimated Bush all along?

For more blogosphere opinion on this and other topics, check out the RealClearPolitics Blog Coverage page.

Iran's Nuclear 'Emancipation'

When George Bush says that "all options are on the table" regarding Iran, the world convulses like an MIT feminist listening to Larry Summers discussing gender differences. Jacques Chirac openly threatens nuclear retaliation against any state that launches terrorist attacks against France (i.e. Iran) and the world yawns. I thought Chirac's warmongering was endearing - in a Vichy sort of way - and wish more leaders would get more serious about saber-rattling with respect to Iran.

I say this only as a segue to news that Mssr. Chirac has again acted properly by telling Al-Ahram (the state-owned paper in Egypt) that Iran's leaders "must understand that, for the international community, the prospect of a militarily nuclearized Iran is unacceptable." Chirac has previously recognized Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear energy program, but he also told the paper that ""The IAEA found that its [Iran's] nuclear activities had been carried out in an underhand way" and also that "Iran is pursuing a worrying missile program."

Let me add one more piece to the puzzle. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not only a dangerous religious fanatic, he is a shrewd demagogue whose exploitation of the nuclear issue among the Iranian people goes beyond calls to national pride or declarations of Iranian sovereignty and taps into the deep-seated culture of victimhood and oppression in the Muslim Middle East. As such, the struggle for a nuclear energy program (and probably shortly thereafter a nuclear weapon) is portrayed as a struggle for "emancipation" from the West, as Mohammad Sadek al-Husseini explained in the pages of Dar Al Hayat yesterday:

Seven countries, before Iran, have acquired Uranium enrichment technology, four of which have monopolized and still insist on monopolizing 'nuclear fuel technology', chiefly the US only because it wants to control the courses of this advanced alternative energy in the world.

This monopoly was and still is in practice with the principle that 'victory' is for the strongest (party) that only trusts the partners that emerged victorious from World War II. They founded the UN and the set of laws and 'standards' which today, against the will of the majority whose rights are violated by the victorious minority, they call the 'international community standards'. [snip]

The recipient citizen in our poor and downtrodden countries, which are dominated by the World War II victorious countries, is that this advanced technology has become necessary, essential and indispensable in more than 200-300 science, industry, field, structure, modern information technology or highly advanced technology, and the equally important state-of-the-art industries that have been giving countries the ability to monopolize 'nuclear fuel', manufactured by enriching uranium, the upper hand in all vital spheres for the contemporary man.

Has it not become clear from the aforementioned why it is not acceptable for Egypt, Saudi, Libya, Iraq, Iran, or any Arab or Islamic country to acquire this advanced technology?

In other words, the issue isn't that the West feels it necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring potentially catastrophic power that could be derived from a uranium enrichment program because the regime gives every indication that it cannot and should not be entrusted with such power. Instead it is a vast global conspiracy to keep Iran - and the rest of the Islamic world - poor and in the technological Dark Ages. It behooves us to recognize and understand just how warped this view is and how the psychology of victimhood plays in this debate.

Once again, our hope lies with the reformers in Iran who seem unswayed by the regime's bogus claims of the need for nuclear energy and who understand that the West has nothing against the Iranian people and wants nothing more than peaceful co-existence.

FOX News' Brit Hume

If you missed Howard Kurtz's profile on FOX News' Brit Hume yesterday, it is well worth a read. Kurtz gives a very fair and balanced overview of Hume's journalistic career and the rise of Hume's signature program Special Report With Brit Hume. Here in Chicago Special Report competes directly against the three major evening new programs and for some time I have felt that Hume has had the best evening newscast in America. RealClearPolitics will have transcripts from Special Report's roundtable available every morning accessible from RCP's front page in the left column or directly in the RCP Resource Center.

April 19, 2006

Bad Options at Duke

You don't have to be clairvoyant to know this Duke thing is going to end badly. If you think about the potential outcomes there are only four:

Option 1: the woman is telling the truth and the players are convicted of rape and sent to prison
Option 2a: the woman is telling the truth and the players get off
Option 2b: the woman is lying and the players are exonerated
Option 3: the woman is lying and the players are convicted of rape and sent to prison

Option 1 is the "best" (and believe me I use that term in the most relative possible way) possible outcome in that the accuser is telling the truth and the justice system works properly. In Option 2a, the justice system fails a truthful accuser, doing her serious harm. With Option 2b, the justice system works (kind of) in that the players are exonerated, but not before an untruthful accusation has done their lives and reputations serious harm. And, clearly, Option 3 is the nightmare scenario where the accuser is lying and the justice sytems fails and the players are wrongly convicted and sent to prison for a crime they did not commit.

RELATED: Kathleen Parker on myth versus fact. Drudge has linked to photos from the night in question which defense lawyers says will help prove their clients' innocence.

Re-Fighting the Decision to go to War

Three emails on my post that much of the Rumsfeld furor is re-fighting the election and the decision to go to war.

I totally agree with your article. It is so tedious to listen to the same shop worn arguments year after year. But I've noticed that political partisans really believe that if you repeat the same lies often enough people will begin to believe that they are the truth. The MSM is certainly determined to repeat Tet and Watergate, and from the current poll numbers I can see that they are making progress. Maybe they will break the will of the American people and hand the victory to the terrorists. Bush needs to succeed before he leaves office since his successor is unlikely to campaign on a promise of more-of-the-same.

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As a 'critic' of nearly everything Bush has done, I find it necessary to point out a few important errors in your article. You state "the public through their elected representatives in Congress overwhelmingly supported President Bush's decision to go to war." Did we really? That is total BS. Bush lied (and continues to lie) through his teeth to get the war his neocons have had wet dreams about for the last 20 years. So it's is neither fair, nor accurate to say America "overwhelmingly" supported Bush. Let me say it again: HE LIED. Do you get it now? That means the 'approval' you refer to was nothing of the sort.

Second, whatever you might think or say, Bush is not now, nor has he ever been "President". He stole the election in 2000 and 2004 and he and his blood thirsty cabal are as illegitimate as it is possible to be. I hope to live to see the day when this information works its way to the surface, as such fecal material almost always eventually does.

Wake up. This isn't about Republicans and Democrats. Open your eyes before it's too late, unless it already is.

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Your contention that the 2004 Presidential election is an everlasting referendum on the Iraq War decision is faulty. As any political consultant will attest, elected leaders cannot rule autocratically once voted into office. To garner influence, they must part of a "permanent campaign" to win public approval for their ideas and their leadership qualities. Although electoral outcomes decide which people win public office, they do not ascertain power.

Consider President Bush's legislative fortunes as of late. Whether the issue be Harriet Miers, Dubai Ports or immigration reform, the chief executive has shown little clout as his pleas fall on Congress' def ears. Certainly with a higher approval rating, the President would be powerful enough to shape the agenda of Washington as he had during his first term with tax matters and education reform. In his current weakened state, however, the President's latest pitch for private accounts in government health care made hardly a whisper.

The same principle applies with Iraq. Assuming the small margin of victory in the 2004 election was decided by voter preference for regime change in Iraq (and not by personal "leadership" characteristics or public attitudes toward terrorism in general as many experts contend); the electoral outcome still does insulate the commander-in-chief today from criticism toward his policy. Public opinion is not static. In 2004, half of America supported the decision to go to war with Iraq.

Today, the number still in support is a minority. In 2004, exit polls showed the voting public entrusted the GOP to handle matters of terrorism and security by a wide margin, yet this is the case no longer. As the President's job approval has declined, so to has his political immunity toward criticism of his Iraq policy.


Savaging Scott McClellan

You really have to read Michael Wolff's savaging of White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan in the lastest issue of Vanity Fair to believe it. Wolff calls McClellan a "knucklehead Socrates," "low-wattage," a "pawn", "not the brightest bulb," a "helpless and irresistible target," "strikingly out of his depth," derides him for "verbal haplessness," "ham-handedness" and "lack of verbal acumen," and compares him to Squealer from Animal Farm and Piggy from the Lord of the Flies.

Wolff tries to sugarcoat his viciousness by portraying McClellan as a likeable but slow-witted foot soldier in the Bush machine. But I thought this passage, in particular, perfectly summed up the elitist arrogance with which Wolff approached his subject:

After months of repeated requests, I all of a sudden got a call to come to the West Wing and have a chat with McClellan. This is a reach-out. He's a man on the ropes. He needs to explain himself. It's personal--it's got to be. Even McClellan, whose singular talent is to stand there and take it, has feelings.

But there remains the same intractable problem: he's as inexpressive one-on-one as he is in the briefing room.

He makes the problem worse: while I intentionally have not brought a tape recorder, hoping to hear McClellan talk without the self-consciousness of preserved words, he, ever defensive and bureaucratic, has his own recorder on the table, and, what's more, an official stenographer sitting in on our conversation (the "steno," as McClellan calls him, has a tape, too--and a big funnel microphone which he points at me and at McClellan--from which he makes the transcription).

Of course, Wolff is upset that McClellan wouldn't give him what he wanted. But given the hostility and contempt with which the press so often treats this White House, why on earth wouldn't McClellan want to have a record of what was said in the interview? It turns out McClellan's suspicions were fully justified - though if he knew just what a hatchet job Wolff already had in mind I'm sure he never would have agreed to sit down with him at all.

Nevertheless, the writing for McClellan appears to be on the wall. FOX News is reporting this morning that Tony Snow is under consideration to replace McClellan. Former DoD Press Secretary Victoria Clark and former Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman in Iraq Dan Senor are reportedly also under consideration.

(UPDATE: White House Press Secretary McClellan Resigns)

Duke Lacrosse Case More Complex Than It Looks

Good, straight-up article from Sports Illustrated's Lestor Munson on what to look for in the Duke-Rape case.

Based on my experience analyzing material after rape charges were filed against Mike Tyson, Marv Albert, Mark Chmura, Kobe Bryant and others, the six factors to scrutinize are the injury to the victim, the brevity of the encounter, the brutality of the alleged sex, the stories of outcry witnesses, any previous predatory conduct of the accused, and the skill and dexterity of the prosecutor. All six are critical factors in the prosecutor's decision to file charges. And they become the outline for the evidence presented to the jury in the trial that will begin in Durham, N.C., in several months.

He goes through the six factors in detail here. (Hat tip Nealz Nuze)

April 18, 2006

Bob Shrum - Political Guru Extraordinaire

This morning on The Today show, Bob Shrum offered some advice to help President Bush rebound from his slump in the polls. If Shrum was trying to be serious, he continues to demonstrate he still has no idea why his candidate lost the 2004 election. If he was being mischievous in the hope Bush might go crazy and listen to him, he laid out a perfect plan for Bush to destroy his presidency.

Shrum's first suggestion was for Bush to fire Rumsfeld and force Cheney to resign. John Podhoretz responds to the idea of firing Rumsfeld in his column today:

What's the dumbest thing George W. Bush could possibly do right at this moment - the action that would, more than any other, suggest his presidency was and is all but finished?

The answer: Fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Either a forced resignation or a dismissal would effectively bring the Bush presidency to an end.

Read the whole column, as Podhoretz explains why firing Rumsfeld would be a debacle for U.S. hopes in Iraq and an unmitigated disaster for the administration.

But back to Shum's "suggestions" to help Bush fix his poll problems. Shrum's last piece of advice was the brilliant idea that Bush should publicly announce that he wouldn't campaign for Republicans this fall. Shrum must be repressing the reality that with Bush leading the way Republicans have picked up seats in both the House and the Senate in each of the last two elections.

Obviously, Bush's slide in the polls is going to impact his effectiveness in races this fall and in particular contests there will be some candidates who will keep their distance. But the surest way the GOP could guarantee a depressed Republican turnout would be to turn away and abandon the President. That tactic would almost guarantee a Democratic Congress. Fortunately for Republicans Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman are providing the political leadership, not Bob Shrum and Howard Dean.

Larry Kudlow: Bush's New OMB Director

I may have been too hard on Rob Portman, according to supply-side House member Paul Ryan. Paul served on the Ways and Means Committee with Portman, who favored supply-side tax cutting and was tough on spending. Though soft-spoken, Portman was always an ally of the conservative Republican Study Committee, but not a member because of his leadership position in the GOP caucus.

Mr. Portman favors personal savings accounts for Social Security reform and lower tax rates on cap gains and dividends. He also favors budget earmark reform; and in general, wants to stop the Appropriations Committee people like Chairman Jerry Lewis from running away with pork.

Portman is described as non-confrontational and never really on the front lines of conservative activism such as folks like Mike Pence, Jeff Flake, John Shadegg and other RSC members. Unlike them, Portman did vote in favor of the Medicare prescription drug bill, the No Child Left Behind education bill and the restrictive McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation. However, he is a free trader (he voted for CAFTA and NAFTA) and he did vote against the big farm subsidies bill.

Essentially, it appears that Rob Portman is an establishment Republican with good tax and budget instincts who was close to the Republican Study Committee movement.

The problem in the White House, however, is that during the Andy Card regime, key policies were developed in the West Wing and then sent over to OMB on spending and to Treasury on taxes. This robbed those two important agencies of any real creativity to launch strong policy initiatives and then fight for them in the White House.

During the Reagan years, OMB under David Stockman sent over hundreds of budget cutting ideas to the White House, many of which were adopted as policy and subsequently implemented legislatively. Most of this occurred in 1981-82, but later on Jim Miller pushed for Gramm-Rudman as a spending limitation developed in OMB. That was subsequently adopted.

So the question is whether really tough budget cutting ideas can begin with Portman's OMB and then sent over to the White House for a far more aggressive budget cutting strategy. My suspicion is that John Snow in Treasury would have pushed for full-fledged tax reform, but the White House had no interest and therefore stopped this process. Whether the Josh Bolten West Wing operation gives greater latitude to Treasury and OMB remains to be seen.

Today's Buzz

Howie Kurtz and the Post's four Pulitzers tops the charts on this morning's RCP Opinion Buzztracker. See what people are saying about Kurtz's column (and many others) around the blogosphere with Buzztracker.

Re-Fighting the Election

Critics of President Bush's policy in Iraq conveniently forget that the public through their elected representatives in Congress overwhelmingly supported President Bush's decision to go to war. Then two years later, despite all of the news about no WMD and the start of the insurgency in Iraq, the public voted to retain President Bush as Commander in Chief. And it wasn't as if Iraq was a non-issue in the 2004 campaign. We had a free, open and spirited election and the opponents of the President's policy in Iraq made their arguments......and lost.

Retired Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold who set off the recent firestorm against Rumsfeld, and in turn President Bush, wrote in Time Magazine:

I was a witness and therefore a party to the actions that led us to the invasion of Iraq--an unnecessary war. Inside the military family, I made no secret of my view that the zealots' rationale for war made no sense. And I think I was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. But I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat--al-Qaeda.

That's a perfectly fine opinion and I'm sure it is shared by millions of Americans. But generals (whether retired or active) don't set policy in the United States. This is not Venezuela or Pakistan. It is one thing for retired officers to question the execution of the President's policy and whether that was (and is) being carried out competently or effectively by his Secretary of Defense. But Newbold is quite clearly attacking the policy itself. His use of the word "zealot" to describe the President's rationale for war is a clear attempt to characterize the President as out of the mainstream.

Newbold and his supporters in the press should be reminded that President Bush's "rationale" for war was mainstream enough for 51% of American voters in 2004.

If critics of the President's policy wanted to be more constructive, they would suggest how we can better execute in Iraq, rather than continue to fight a policy they never liked or supported. There have been mistakes (as there always are in war) and there are plenty of opportunities to second-guess decisions by Rumsfeld, but proponents of adjusting our Iraq policy would find more support if they stopped trying to re-fight the decision to go to war and the last election. We had the policy debate in 2004 and the opponents of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld lost.

April 17, 2006

Has the Illinois GOP Finally Bottomed Out?

With former Republican Governor George Ryan having been found guilty earlier today on 18 counts of racketeering, mail fraud, false statements and tax violations, the Party of Lincoln in the Land of Lincoln may have finally put its recent woes behind them. The low point certainly had to be two years ago with the national embarrassment of Alan Keyes running against Barack Obama. Keyes' joke of a campaign couldn't even manage 30% of the vote in a presidential election year.

With George Ryan heading to jail and the Keyes fiasco yesterday's news, Republicans in Illinois may actually be in a position to win a few big races this November. After emerging victorious in the Republican primary last month, three-term State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka is running strong against the ethically-challenged Rod Blagojevich. Two recent polls have shown her with small 2-3 point leads over the Democratic governor.

In the fight for the House of Representatives, in contrast to the national landscape where Republicans are more on the defensive, Democrats are defending seats in 2 out of the 3 contested races. The retirement of Democrat Lane Evans has created an open seat in the 18th district and, while it is a Democratic leaning seat, it is trending Republican. Bush lost the district by only 3 pts in 2004 compared to 10 pts in 2000. In Illinois-8, Democrat Melissa Bean is going to have a battle on her hands to repeat her surprise win in 2004 and hold on to her job in a district where George Bush pulled in 56% of the vote in both 2000 and 2004. The one Republican seat in play (Illinois-6) has taken on a huge national profile with the candidacy of Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth. However, looking beyond all of the hoopla surrounding her candidacy, Duckworth barely won the Democratic primary causing Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg to remark that her weak showing can't be seen as "anything but a mild embarrassment" for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Duckworth's chances to win are at best 50/50 in a district that has elected the conservative Henry Hyde for the last 32 years.

Just like 2004 when Illinois was one of the few bright spots for Democrats in an otherwise bad year (Barack Obama won 70% and the sole Republican House member was defeated), the state may be one of the positives in an other wise tough 2006 for Republicans. With the bad news finally out and George Ryan in jail, the GOP has a shot to pick up the governor's mansion in Springfield and net two Congressional seats. Depending on how the rest on the national landscape shakes out on election night, those two seats may be very important in determining who controls the House of Representatives.

Duke Update - Indictments or Not?

UPDATE: Now NBC is reporting the grand jury did return indictments against two Duke lacrosse players today but the judge sealed them.

UPDATE II: ABC News exclusive: guard who saw alleged victim on the night/morning of March 13/14 says there were no signs or mentions of rape.

The AP via the Durham Herald Sun reports:

A grand jury adjourned Monday without returning any public indictments against Duke University lacrosse team players, but a defense attorney said the panel did consider the rape allegations against them.

Eighty-one indictments were returned by the panel. It was unclear whether possible indictments in the Duke case may have been under seal or among the 24 cases "carried forward" to be heard at a later date. The grand jury did not reject any indictments on Monday.

And here's the report from the Raleigh News Observer:

A Durham grand jury issued a list of indictments this afternoon that did not include members of the Duke University lacrosse team.

But Superior Court Judge Ronald Stephens at 3:30 p.m. filed a court paper stating that he had sealed an indictment, after the grand jury had left for the day and issued its list. Stephens cited a law that allows judges to seal an indictment until a defendant is arrested or appears before the court.

We'll have to wait and see exactly what this means. For more, see my post from earlier this morning.

Ryan Guilty

A jury has found former Illinois Governor George Ryan guilty on charges of racketeering and fraud. Ryan faces up to 20 years in prison.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry, But Don't Sue

The Indianapolis Star has a good editorial on the need for legislation to shield food and beverage companies from frivolous lawsuits:

Tony the Tiger, Ronald McDonald and even Virginia dairy farmers have been targeted by lawsuits filed by people who blame their obesity on eating Frosted Flakes, Big Macs and milk. Who's next? Grandma in the kitchen making cherry pies and chocolate chip cookies?

Not if Congress has the sense to pass the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act -- better known as "the cheeseburger bill." It would prohibit lawsuits claiming that a food manufacturer or fast-food outlet is responsible for an individual's weight gain......

The real responsibility for obesity needs to be placed where it belongs -- on the consumer who makes choices about what to eat and how much to ingest.

The victimhood culture in America helps propagate these insane lawsuits which serve to line the pockets of trial lawyers at the expense of Joe and Jane public who has the cost of defending against this litigation passed on to them in the form of higher prices and fewer jobs.

D-Day in Durham

A grand jury convenes in Durham today and there is speculation that District Attorney Mike Nifong will put evidence before it seeking the indictment of two Duke lacrosse players for the alleged rape of the stripper from the now infamous party that took place on March 13-14.

As with all grand juries, the proceedings will be secret and the defense will not be present. The prosecution will lay out its evidence and ask the grand jury to hand down an indictment(s). Odds say they will get what they ask for. The players in question would be arrested and the case would then proceed to trial where they would face a minimum of sixteen years in prison, if convicted.

We are, to put it bluntly, at a critical juncture in the case.

As things stand, there are no indications Nifong has anything other than the alleged victims' visual identification of her supposed attackers (which, according to news reports, came via photograph and possibly a week or more after the alleged incident) and the results of a medical examination conducted at Duke Hospital on the night of the alleged attack saying the woman had signs of genital trauma consistent with what she said had occurred.

That medical report, however, is offset by the fact that DNA tests concluded that no genetic material from any of the 46 players tested was found anywhere on the woman or her belongings - not even under her fingernails despite she claims to have tried to fend off the attackers by scratching them.

Meanwhile, the defense has time-stamped photos and a statement from a neighbor which seem to contradict the alleged victim's account of events, and the AP reported on Thursday that police found the accuser "passed out drunk" and "not in distress" after responding to a call.

Taken as a whole this case seems questionable, and given all the implications surrounding it Nifong shouldn't go ahead and ask for indictments just because he can probably get them. One thing that does seem clear, based on reports from the 911 call of the other stripper present that night and the statement of the neighbor, is that some of the lacrosse players became angry after the women cut their performance short and began hurling racial slurs and epithets at them as they left the house. That is shameful behavior that doesn't reflect well on those players at all, and they should be punished accordingly for conduct unbecoming both the team and the University. But it isn't the same as rape, and so long as there are still serious questions about whether a rape even occurred, it would be a mistake for Nifong to seek indictments and arrests in this case today. He should ignore pressure, ignore politics, and continue the investigation to try to find out what really happened that night.

April 15, 2006

An Officer Responds To David Ignatius

A Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army sent the following email in response to David Ignatius' assertion in the Washington Post yesterday that 75%+ of senior military officers want to see Rumsfeld gone:

I would beg to differ with that assessment by Mr. Ignatius. I am a combat arms officer, a combat veteran of the Global War on Terror, currently serving on the faculty of one of the Staff Colleges.

My assessment from extensive and continuous contact with young field grade officers, most of which are combat arms branch, combat veterans, is that Secretary Rumsfeld is considered the finest Secretary of Defense of the last forty years. This is in addition to my "peer group", of which many of us maintain contact with each each other regardless if we are in CONUS or SW Asia.

Maybe Mr. Ignatius has limited his conversations to Officers assigned in the Beltway. Yes, "beltway types" unfortunatly also exist in the military.

However, I can tell you that beyond the Beltway in dusty and dirty places like Ft. Benning, Ft. Stewart, Ft. Hood, Ft. Campbell and Ft. Bragg, where officers wear BDUs instead of Class Bs that there are tens of thousands of Officers, Commissioned/Warrant/Non-Commissioned, that would go to hell and back for this Secretary.

He pushes us to what we "think" is our limit, then shows us we have another ten percent to give. Secretary Rumsfelds nickname among many is the "110% Secretary." Former Secretary Cohen, a good man whom I respected, would have been considered the "90% Secretary" as he never was able to get us to give "all."

It's only one email, of course, but it does provide a perspective on how Rumsfeld is viewed by the officers' corps that stands in stark contrast to the one Ignatius gave yesterday. My hunch is that it's also a lot closer to the truth.

April 14, 2006

What To Do On Iran

As if the world needed any more reminders about just what a threat a nuclear-armed regime in Iran would pose to the world in general, and to Israel in particular, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again made it clear at a conference today in support of the Palestinians: "Like it or not, the Zionist regime is heading toward annihilation. The Zionist regime is a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm." Ahmadinejad also told the crowd that "Palestine will be freed soon" and that Israel represents a "permanent threat" that has "harmed the dignity of Islamic nations."

It is not a stretch in the slightest to say that Ahmadinejad is the greatest threat the world has seen since Hitler. Debates about his mental stability or whether he may or may not be purely full of bluster are somewhat beside the point: the world has no choice but to take his threats at face value.

Yesterday's report in the New York Times that Iran is years away from having the capacity to make a nuclear bomb offers some comfort - though not much. As we learned in places like Pakistan, North Korea, and Iraq, it is extremely difficult to get a solid idea of what is happening inside closed, authoritarian regimes where clandestine operations are the norm. It's possible Iran may be much closer to a nuclear weapon than we think, and the bizarre public celebration over a tiny amount of enriched uranium the other day may have been specifically designed to give the world the impression that Iran is further away from acquiring the capacity to build a nuke than is truly the case. The point is that while we can (and should) make our best guess about Iran's potential nuclear capabilities, we can't be sure - and the costs of guessing wrong could be severe.

So what to do? Yesterday in The Australian Brent Scowcroft suggested the following:

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council should be prepared to make the following offer to Iran. Acknowledging that Tehran has every right to exploit nuclear energy for civilian use, Iran should be guaranteed an adequate supply of nuclear fuel for its reactors in return for abiding by all International Atomic Energy Agency regulations. This, in turn, should serve as the basis for a new international fuel-cycle regime that applies to all countries. Any approach to stemming nuclear proliferation that singles out specific countries - such as the Bush administration is doing with Iran - is not likely to succeed.

Today in the International Herald Tribune, Dr. Henry Kissinger discusses America's policy of preemptive force in the context of nuclear proliferation and comes to the following conclusions:

The analysis underlying the Strategic Doctrine document is correct in emphasizing that the changes in the international environment create a propensity toward some forms of preventive strategy.

But stating the theory is only a first step. The concept must be applied to specific, concrete contingencies; courses of action need to be analyzed not only in terms of threats but of outcomes and consequences.

Finally, a policy that allows for preventive force can sustain the international system only if solitary American enterprises are the rare exception, not the basic rule of American strategy.

The other major nations have a similar responsibility to take the new challenges seriously and to treat them as something beyond the sole responsibility of America. The major nations are all dependent on the global economic system. They are all threatened if ideology and weapons run out of control.

The challenge is to build a viable international order without the impetus of having survived catastrophe.

Obviously, Kissinger's last conclusion is key: that other nations take threats like Iran seriously and bear their share of the burden and responsibility for dealing with them. But as Gerard Baker wrote yesterday at RealClearPolitics, the prospects for building a coalition to deal with Iran's nuclear belligerence seem depressingly bleak at the moment.

The Knives Are Out For Rummy

David Ignatius joins the chorus of folks calling for the head of Secretary Don Rumsfeld in today's Washington Post. Ignatius calls Rumsfeld a "spent force" and says that he's lost nearly all support from the officers' corps:

When I recently asked an Army officer with extensive Iraq combat experience how many of his colleagues wanted Rumsfeld out, he guessed 75 percent. Based on my own conversations with senior officers over the past three years, I suspect that figure may be low.

David Cloud and Eric Schmitt co-author a front page story in today's New York Times profiling the growing ranks of retired generals - currently numbering six - that have come forward to call for Rumsfeld's ouster. Well into the second page of the article, however, we get a dissenting opinion:

Some officers who have worked closely with Mr. Rumsfeld reject the idea that he is primarily to blame for the inability of American forces to defeat the insurgency in Iraq. One active-duty, four-star Army officer said he had not heard among his peers widespread criticism of Mr. Rumsfeld, and said he thought the criticism from his retired colleagues was off base. "They are entitled to their views, but I believe them to be wrong. And it is unfortunate they have allowed themselves to become in some respects, politicized."

Yesterday in a press briefing Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace offered a vigorous defense of Secretary Rumsfeld saying, "this country is exceptionally well-served by the man standing on my left." Pace also defended the process and the decision making of the prewar planning, saying he was very comfortable with the way it was done and pointing out that the invasion plan was approved by all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But Loren Thompson, a military analyst of the Lexington Institute, told the Christian Science Monitor that while some of the rancor towards Rumsfeld can be attributed to his well publicized efforts to transform the military, "much of the officer corps thinks he simply doesn't understand technology or operations in sufficient depth to grasp the consequences of his policies, and yet he routinely uses his position to quash dissent."

In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Charles Stevenson of The School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University agrees that Rumsfeld has "lost some important allies on [Capitol] Hill and in the senior military" but that he doesn't expect to see Rumsfeld leaving any time soon:

"I don't see how the President would find it in his political interest to get rid of Rumsfeld unless he also wants to change policy and use Rumsfeld as kind of a scapegoat or whipping boy or whatever. But there doesn't seem to be any evidence that the President wants to blame anybody or change his mind."

This echoes the theme from my column two weeks ago, where I argued that Bush wouldn't replace Rumsfeld because doing so would "would be seen as a tacit admission of failure in Iraq - something that would give the Democrats a neatly-wrapped gift for the elections this November and, more importantly, would be interpreted as a sign of weakness by our enemies overseas and cast further doubt on our commitment and resolve to hang tough in Iraq."

Getting harangued by a few retired generals is one thing, losing support from 75%+ of senior level active duty military officers (as Ignatius suggests today) is another. Whether Ignatius is accurate, or whether he's passing along badly skewed anecdotal information, remains to be seen.

Good Friday Notes

A couple of notes to start Good Friday:

- Being Peter: Gerry Baker weaves recent revelations about Judas into a wonderful Easter column that ends with a piece of advice: "We know we can't really be like Jesus. We know too we can't really be like Judas. But in our simple, human hopelessness, and in our mysterious capacity for greatness, we can all aspire to be Peter."

- Hardcore Believers: Nine Filipinos were nailed to crosses in an annual crucifixion ritual that takes place in a small town eighty miles north of Manila.

- Risen: Twenty-five years ago Derly Cirlos was shot in the chest. His heart stopped on the operating table and he laid in a coma for three days before regaining consciousness and making a full recovery. He's playing the role of Jesus in the San Fernando Cathedral's annual Via Crucis.

April 13, 2006

Media Misfire on Iran

Consider the following two headlines appearing today:

"Analysts Say a Nuclear Iran Is Years Away" - New York Times

"Iran Could Produce Nuclear Bomb in 16 Days, U.S. Says" - Bloomberg

Obviously, somebody got it wrong. Turns out it's Bloomberg, which should be excoriated not only for running a factually false headline - Iran could not produce a nuclear bomb in sixteen days - but also for compounding the error with a grossly misleading report:

"Iran, defying United Nations Security Council demands to halt its nuclear program, may be capable of making a nuclear bomb within 16 days, a U.S. State Department official said.

Iran will move to ``industrial scale'' uranium enrichment involving 54,000 centrifuges at its Natanz plant, the Associated Press quoted deputy nuclear chief Mohammad Saeedi as telling state-run television today.

``Using those 50,000 centrifuges they could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in 16 days,'' Stephen Rademaker, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, told reporters today in Moscow.

So what's the problem? The problem is that Iran only has 164 centrifuges in operation today. Rademaker was responding to a question about how quickly Iran could produce a nuclear weapon once it reached industrial scale capacity. As we learn much later down in the Bloomberg piece, experts estimate it would take more than 13 years to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon using just those 164 centrifuges.

There is no mention of how long it would take for Iran to construct and bring online the 54,000 centrifuges needed to build a nuke in sixteen days, though Bloomberg does report that Iran "plans to construct 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz next year" (The NY Times differs by reporting that Iran will begin "operating the first of 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz by late 2006").

So Bloomberg built its news report around a highly sensational, but essentially theoretical, estimate of how quickly Iran could produce a nuclear weapon if it only had 53,836 more centrifuges in operation than it does today. That's sloppy journalism, and it does a great disservice to readers trying to get a better understanding of a most important issue.

Major Buzz

In the blogosphere over Thomas Ricks' story in the Washington Post this morning. See what people are saying about it, and much more, with the RCP Opinion Buzztracker.

Like Stupid To Stupid

Oliver Willis wins the award for most idiotic statement of the week:

Iran Not Near Nukes

So you're saying the Republican party is hyping up a threat without regarding the facts? That's all their capable of doing. They can't construct an honest argument or conduct meaningful diplomacy because their perverted ideology prevents them from being able to do it.

Like kryptonite to stupid? Hardly.

Duke Update

The story gets curiouser and curiouser. See my column today on how the case seems to be in the process of unraveling. Then go read John in Carolina who tries to sort out whether DA Mike Nifong did in fact say the alleged victim has ID'd one of the players.

Also, a reader emailed earlier today to say that Durham City councilman Eugene Brown just stated on the Mike Gallagher radio show that he had information from local FBI sources that not every member of the lacrosse team had been tested for DNA. Assuming he's not referring to the one black player on the team (who wasn't tested) this would be a bit of a revelation, given that news reports affirmed that all 46 players had been tested and no match was found. However, in a story from the Raleigh News & Observer this morning Nifong himself states that all 46 players had been tested:

"There are 46 members of that lacrosse team in Duke who gave DNA samples and there weren't 46 of them who did this crime," Nifong said.

Nifong did say the other day that more tests were "pending," though a spokesperson from the N.C. Department of Justice wasn't aware of any new tests, saying that, "all the results we had were delivered" to Nifong's office.

Now go back and read Nifong's quote again carefully to see why people are critical of his handling of the case: "there weren't 46 of them who did this crime." [emphasis added] No charges have been filed. What we have, at the moment, is an allegation of a crime, and Nifong should be smart enough to characterize it as such, even if he is sitting on some silver bullet piece of evidence, which seems unlikely. By making such public comments, Nifong continues to up his personal investment in prosecuting the case - which is never a good thing for a justice system that relies on dispassion and even-handedness.

Nifong may end up being right about a crime being committed, we'll have to wait and see what happens. Defense lawyers are convinced he will take the case to a grand jury on Monday, and we all know the saying about being able to indict a ham sandwich. This case, with all of its mysterious twists and turns, is far from over.

Name That Technophile

Who said the following?

"Because of technology and growing inter-connectedness, this change is happening at a dizzying rate.

Just what is changing? In a word: everything. The way we do business, the way we educate our children, the way we deliver health care, the way we protect our people -- and our very communities.

The pace of change is breathtaking. If you think the last few years have been remarkable, you ain't seen nothing yet."

Glenn Reynolds? No. Mark Warner.

The Dems' Long Odds to Take Back the House

The results from California's 50th district this week are putting a damper on the idea that Republicans are primed to lose the House this fall. As RCP's Jay Cost pointed out yesterday, CA-50 is the type of seat Democrats will have to win if they hope to take back the House.

In today's Washington Post, Jonathan Weisman has a front page story highlighting the hurdles Democrats will face this fall. Wesiman points to eight races in the "top tier" where Democrats have fielded solid challengers:

Patricia Madrid, to challenge their perennial target in Albuquerque, Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R); Ron Klein, a prominent, telegenic state senator, to challenge Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.); a law-and-order Indiana sheriff, Brad Ellsworth, to run against Rep. John N. Hostettler (R-Ind.); law professor Lois Murphy to run against Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.); and former Westport first selectwoman Diane Farrell to take on Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.). In other races, Harry Mitchell, a former Tempe mayor already honored with a statue in his district, is taking on Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.); Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy is challenging Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio); and Iraq war veteran Andrew Horne is attempting to unseat Rep. Anne M. Northup (R-Ky.), a perennially vulnerable incumbent.

Democrats do have some decent challengers and Wilson in New Mexico, Hostettler in Indiana, Gerlach in Pennsylvania and Shays in Connecticut may indeed go down this fall. But the problem is that after a handful of potential pickups, Democratic opportunities start to degrade rapidly. The fact that J.D. Hayworth, Deborah Pryce and Anne Northup are listed in the Democrats' top tier exposes just how much of a long-shot it is for them to take the House.

Hayworth is a popular 6-term incumbent, in a Republican district, who won in 2004 by 21 points. Pryce is chairman of the Republican Conference (the number four position in the Republican leadership) and has averaged 67% of the vote in her last six elections, winning in '04 by 20 points at the same time Kerry tied Bush in her district. And while Northup has been a Democrat target since winning a squeaker in 1996 and is in a district that voted for Gore and Kerry by a couple of points, she appears to have established herself, winning easily in '04 by 22 pts.

If Democrats can't win in California 50 with the Republican congressman in jail and the generic GOP ballot numbers and Bush job approval ratings in the toilet, how can they seriously argue they will beat incumbents like Hayworth, Pryce and Northup this fall? As bad as the media has made it out for Bush and the Republicans, the California results appear to indicate that the environment will have to continue to deteriorate for the GOP to give Democrats a realistic hope of retaking the House.

April 12, 2006

Larry Kudlow: The Huge Ball and Chain

Americans will work for 116 days this year--almost 1/3 of the entire year--just to earn enough money to pay their tax bill to the IRS.

To put that into perspective, Americans currently spend four months out of the year working at our jobs before we get out from underneath the government's tax stranglehold. So, socking away your dollars for your kid's college education, saving up for retirement or a new home, putting away your hard-earned money for a vacation, a new car or rainy day -- well that can all wait. Like it or not, Uncle Sam's got you by the neck for four months-what you choose to do with the other eight is up to you.

To compound matters even more, Tax Freedom Day - the day when your money finally goes into your bank account rather than the outstretched hands of politicians - comes three days later than last year and ten days later than 2004. And Democrats want to raise our taxes even higher.

Unbelievable...

This pillage and plundering of American wallets becomes an even tougher pill to swallow when we witness the extraordinary waste of our hard-earned money towards earmarked pork like the infamous $223 million Alaskan "bridge to nowhere."

The natives are growing restless. As The New York Sun points out today ("Real Bracket Creep") Americans are fed up with the current system and politicians better start paying attention. Citing the latest non-partisan Tax Foundation report that revealed an astonishing 80 percent of U.S. adults believe the current federal income tax is somewhat or very complex, the paper points out the following examples of voter disgust:

· Almost 60% said they thought the amount of federal income taxes they personally pay was too high.

· 40% of Americans said the federal tax system "needs major changes," while another 40% said it "should be completely overhauled."

· Just 2% described the federal tax system as "fine the way it is" and only 1% of those polled said the current federal income tax is "not complex at all," (Who are these people?)

· When asked to choose between a flat-rate income tax with no deductions, a national sales tax, or the current graduated income tax with deductions, 33% chose a flat tax, 20% favored a national sales tax, and 21% preferred the status quo.

Let's be clear here: The tax system is a huge ball & chain tied to the feet of hardworking American entrepreneurs and ordinary workers and savers. They can barely get to work or invest because of this enormous weight. But if you remove this ball & chain, you can bet your bottom dollar that we will witness another growth explosion--one that could raise our potential to grow by 5 percent a year and would generate tax revenue at a lower flat tax rate of around 20%.

Enough already.

Attacking Mom

I found myself sucked into this profile of Caitlin Flanagan by Gina Piccalo in the Los Angeles Times. Here's the hook:

Mention New Yorker writer Caitlin Flanagan to a certain class of woman -- liberal, educated, media-savvy, professional -- and vitriol will almost certainly follow. She's been called "a retrograde feminist-hater," "shrill, smug and condescending," "an Old World elitist of the most lip-curling kind" even "the most repellent person in the world."

That's because in the five or so years she has written on domestic life from her Los Angeles vantage point -- on its being "laughably child centered," on the "epidemic" of sexless marriages, on her belief that "when a mother works, something is lost" -- Flanagan has aimed her intellect and razor wit directly at upper-middle-class working mothers.

Wait until you get to the part about the dead gerbil. Read the whole thing.

A Thousand Words

No introduction necessary:

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One of the tens of thousands of Good Samaritans in the U.S. Military. More photos after the jump.

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Busby Finishes Under 50% in CA 50

Last night Democratic candidate Francine Busby failed to reach the 50% + 1 mark in her quest to take the seat formerly held by Republican Duke Cunningham. She finished in the low- to mid-40's.

Judging by the early reports on the election, the media is going to spin this as a good development for the Democrats in their quest to take the House. I could not disagree more.

The election will go to a June runoff, but this seems to me to have been the Democrats' only real chance at this seat. GOP candidates pulled in a majority of the vote -- and it is hard to imagine that not happening in June.

The Democrats had everything going for them in this election. They had a corrupt felon-incumbent, they had low turnout, they had a well-financed challenger, and they had a divided Republican field. They had a district that has, in the last 10 years, skewed Republican less and less. And they only managed to get about 8% more of the vote when they needed 14% more. In 2004, Busby pulled in 36%. This time around she won 43.9%.

This is roughly equal to how both Kerry and Gore did in the district in the last 6 years -- and roughly what you would expect a Republican-leaning district to do with an open seat election: stay Republican by a slightly smaller margin than when the incumbent is running.

There is no other way to understand this but as a loss for the Democrats.

As I mentioned in my previous post, this is the type of seat the Democrats need to capture to take the House. As a matter of fact, they will have to win tougher seats than CA 50. With a Democratic loss there, it will become harder to see a Democratic victory in open seats like IL 06, MN 06 and WI 08. These are similar in their partisan composition to CA 50 -- but, unlike CA 50, none of them have a Republican incumbent tarnished by scandal and none of them have 13 Republican candidates fighting among themselves. These open seats need to switch to the Democrats for a change in control. A Democratic takeover of the House with CA 50, IL 06, MN 06 and WI 08 off the table is unimaginable.

In actuality, then, it has been a pretty good week for the GOP. In the last seven days :

(1) Tom DeLay decided not to run for reelection, thus greatly increasing the chances that the GOP will hold TX 22.

(2) Bush's job approval seems to have hit its floor, despite (yet another) round of bad news for this embattled White House.

(3) The GOP appears poised to retain CA 50.

Just as they missed what a good week this was for the Republicans, the mainstream press will likely not see CA 50 as a major indicator of what will happen in November. But they will be wrong. It is. In my last column, I mentioned that a win in CA 50 is a necessary condition for the Democrats to retake the House: no win in CA 50, no Democratic takeover. I still hold that position.

The flip side of that is that it is a sufficient condition for the Republicans to hold the House. In other words, a Republican hold of CA 50 implies a Republican hold of the House.

April 11, 2006

Going Dutch on Immigration

From the foreign desk in yesterday's Chicago Tribune comes this report on the packet of material now being distributed by the Dutch government as part of a new citizenship test aimed at warning certain ethnic and religious groups about, how shall we say, the liberalness of Dutch society:

It features a DVD that illustrates various aspects of Dutch life, including, most notably, a topless woman frolicking in the surf and two men kissing warmly. The message couldn't be more explicit: This is who we are; if you don't accept it, don't come. [snip]

"It's like the warning label on the cigarette packs," said Marco Pastors, a Rotterdam city councilman whose Leefbaar Rotterdam Party has been labeled anti-Muslim for its support of strict immigration controls.

"It's not very subtle, but it prepares people for what they will find in this country," he said. "If you want to live here, you have to accept that girls are allowed to wear miniskirts and can stay out until 3 in the morning. You don't have to behave this way yourself, but you have to tolerate it." [snip]

In addition to the brief scenes of nudity and homosexuality, the 104-minute DVD warns prospective immigrants that the weather in the Netherlands is cold, housing is expensive and the country is flood-prone. It also informs them that honor killing, wife-beating and female circumcision are crimes.

How's that for a subtle hint? It's interesting to watch both Europe and the United States convulse over immigration. Everyone thought that globalization was going to be the dominant issue of the first decade of the 21st century - and it has indeed been near the top of the list along with terrorism. But immigration has proven to be much more of a global sticky wicket than many had imagined because of its deep impact on a country's culture and security as well as its economy.

What Are You Reading?

Have you seen a story somewhere that should be getting more attention? Maybe something not related to politics or perhaps off the beaten path? Submit it to our new RCP Reader Articles page where others can log in and cast votes for the articles they find most intriguing and/or interesting. Click here to submit a link or to browse and vote for articles submitted in the last seven days.

Iraq Is a Drag

"Just how much of a drag is Iraq politically for President Bush and Republicans?" That's the question I look at in my column today, but here's a clue: according to polling data from the Washington Post/ABC News, in October, 2002 Republicans held a 27-point advantage over Democrats (58-31) when voters were asked which party they trusted to do a better job on handling the situation in Iraq. Today the GOP is running a 7-point defecit to Democrats (42-49) on the issue.

Even worse for the GOP, over the same period of time a thirty-five point advantage on the issue of handling the war on terrorism has completely evaporated, leaving Republicans dead even with Democrats. Other polls show similar results on questions about "national security." This may or may not translate into GOP losses at the ballot box in November, but it is certainly ominous stuff.

Back in Iraq

Michael Totten is back in Iraq. Here are the first and second installments from his return visit.

Hillary In The Mail

I have to share a few great emails received in response to my post yesterday about Hillary's "electability." Longtime, left-leading reader RY argues that Hillary will fall short:

I haven't talked to one activist Democrat--not one!!--anywhere in America (and I'm pretty well connected and talk politics all the time) who thinks Hillary will win and will support her nomination. This is both pragmatic and ideological, but mostly the former. Liberal Dems will compromise, as you say, with a Warner or Bayh if they think those guys can win (they both have a lot of work to do to prove that) but NOBODY thinks Hillary can win no matter what she does. She just has too much baggage--so why lose with someone who is basically a centrist anyway because the country is convinced she's a liberal? (Beside the GOP will raise a half billion running against her and Bill--Lady Macbeth married to the AntiChrist).

Where Lehane is delusional is in his notion that interest groups will support her--not labor. She's a rich kid from the Illinois suburbs who was on the board of Walmart--she's never understood anything about class in America--except patronizingly toward the very poor, and, again, the same problem obtains: She can't win, so why help her get nominated? Some professional feminists will, of course, support her, but many shrewd rank and file feminists I know will not for the very same reason: She can't win. Bill might help her get a chunk of the African-American vote if she can last into the states with a large black voting%--but she lacks his charm and natural affinity with black audiences, so I don't think her hold on black voters will be as great as her husband.

Right now she's a money/hype machine, but I don't think she'll last past the end of March. Look for a name you haven't mentioned who will get strong labor and black support--as well as have a funding base--to give her and Warner a run from the left (but not the hopeless left, like Feingold): John Edwards.

Democrat BW agrees and also sings the praises of Edwards:

I agree for the most part that Hillary is unelectable in 2008. I also agree with the premise of your post that Democrats (like me) want someone who can win now more than ever. I think that you left out one red state Dem who needs to be remembered.

John Edwards would enter the Democratic primary with higher name recognition than the others that you mentioned (Bayh, Warner, or Vilsack). In addition, he has credibility with the Democratic base that Feingold doesn't have. He is probably to the left of Feingold on economic issues (especially when he talks about poverty). His problem in the Democratic primary will be the War in Iraq. He doesn't need to say that the war was a mistake, but if he can steal Joe Biden's talking points about how the post-invasion was mishandled, I think can win over most of the anti-war crowd. At the end of the day, the anti-war argument will be death to the Dems in the general.

Finally, on the other hand, conservative reader JJV says Hillary is unstoppable:

Given the way the Democrats run their primaries there is no way to stop Hillary for the nomination. She will begin as the frontrunner. She will have a tremendous organization in Iowa, but if Vilsak runs no one will expect her to win there and most candidates will abandon it. In New Hampshire she only has to match Kerry, not win. Thereafter, she will either 1) win outright or 2) come in second. The Democratic primaries are not winner take all. So in each state she will be amassing delegates. She will be the only woman in the race and can count on feminist support for that alone. She has Bill's connection to the mighty black constituency of the Democratic party. She will have at least some Labor. By the time the weeding process has knocked all but three out of the race she will be in the front of the pack and picking up at least 35% of the vote in every state. She will take New York in a landslide, Connecticut and New Jersey as well; and probably Illinois. Who is going to appeal to California more than she?

There is simply no way anyone can catch her after she wins a few big ones. The money and the men will not be there. Feingold can tap away at 10-15% of the hard left, Gore or Kerry (but not both) can garner similar numbers from the Left and Center, once one is weeded out. Warner and Bayh can dicker over the tiny moderate/conservative wing left in the party. Once one has been knocked out the other has 15% tops to play with. Again and again, the Lion's share will be Hillary's.

The super delegates will break her way. If she gets even half of them she wins. Amassing delegates is the name of this game. Given New York and its tri-state area as her base and mighty fortress geographically, the feminists and African-Americans demographically, and the fact that she is a celebrity as is her husband in an age that worships celebrity I would bet against Kim IL Jong II losing the next North Korean election before I would bet against Hillary losing the Democratic primary.

Political junkies all want it to be an interesting topsy-turvy primary but it won't be. Napoleon's dictum that God is on the side of the larger armies works in politics too. Hillary will lead her Grande Armee to victories uncounted, and find no Russia until McCain in the Fall.

Whether you agree with the analysis or not, that is a brilliant finish. If you've got thoughts on the matter, send 'em through.

Thoughts on California 50

I used to be a frequent moviegoer. I am not any more. For some reason, I still really enjoy keeping tabs on what movies come out, and the reviews they receive. The reviewer I read most is Roger Ebert - but not because I think he is the best. Ebert likes far too many movies. He is, after all, a movie buff - and buffs always tend to like the product of their preferred medium more than the average consumer. The great thing about Ebert is his reliability. Once you know that Ebert tends to like too many movies, you can confidently use him as a partial guide. If he says a movie is good, it might still stink. But, whenever he says a movie stinks, you can almost be certain that it does indeed stink. A positive Ebert review, then, is a necessary but insufficient condition for a good movie.

That is how I consider today's special election in CA 50. A win - either today or in June - is a necessary condition for the Democrats to retake the House. But it is not a sufficient condition.

First, the necessary side. The Democrats have to win CA 50 to take the House. If you look at the electoral map, the path to 15 is extremely narrow as it is. In actuality, the real target for the Democrats is probably 17 to 20. In a year when you see many seats switch hands, it is inevitable that the Democrats are going to lose a few. The GOP, for instance, lost 4 seats in 1994. The Democrats lost a few in 1982.

If the Democrats are going to net 15, they are going to have to do very well with the open seats. There are only about 7 of them, including CA 50, that are on the table for the Democrats. Unseating incumbents is a very difficult job these days. They will need to take all 7 of these open seats to take the House - thus, they will have to take CA 50. Losing CA 50 means that they will have to defeat 11 to 14 incumbent Republicans. That sounds easy, but putting together an 11- to 14-person list entitled "Republicans Who Will Definitely Lose" is very hard to do.

This is not to say, however, that CA 50 is a sufficient condition for the Democrats to capture the House. In other words, winning CA 50 is not a sign that the Republican majority is doomed, or even is in serious jeopardy.

CA 50 is Republican, for sure. However, it has become less Republican over the years. It is a district that has skewed Republican in presidential elections by, on average 6.67% in the last 10 years. But the skew has been in decline. It went for Dole by 10% more than the national average, for Bush in 2000 by 6% more than the national average, and for Bush in 2004 by only 4% more than the national average.

For the Democrats to retake the House, they will either have to win more conservative districts than CA 50 or defeat solidly entrenched incumbents. Think of it as a war metaphor. A victory in CA 50 is a victory on Republican ground. However, it is not far enough into Republican territory for a capture of the House. They will have to go deeper: either a victory in a redder open district or a victory against a very secure incumbent.

This is the first reason I do not see CA 50 as being a sign that the Democrats will take the House in the fall: even with a victory in CA 50, there are still harder contests that must be won.

A second, equally important, reason is that you cannot draw any reliable generalizations from a Democratic win in CA 50. The media is prepared to do this, of course. They are still really enjoying their "Democrats Can Take the House!" storyline. If the Democrats take a Republican district like CA 50, they will declare that the GOP majority has gone from "serious jeopardy" to "super-duper serious jeopardy".

The trouble is that CA 50 is not just any Republican district. It is a Republican district whose previous member is wearing an orange jump suit and playing prison softball with George Bluth. It is therefore quite peculiar. This relates to what social scientists call "external validity." To draw an inference about a population (in this case, the 232 Republican-controlled districts) from a sample, the sample must be sufficiently representative of that population. CA 50 is not representative in any sense of the word. It is a lousy proxy for the national political climate. CA 50 is, in statistical terms, an outlier. And you never generalize from the outlier.

Again, it all gets back to Duke. The first rule of thumb in evaluating congressional elections is that partisanship becomes a very poor gauge in districts where there have been or there might be indictments. If a solidly Democratic district like IL 05 could vote out one of the most powerful Democrats in the House in 1994, and TX 22 was well on its way to voting out one of the most effective House leaders in history, anything is possible in CA 50. If the Democrats win CA 50, it might be because the public is so anti-Republican that they will soon install the Democrats in the House. But it might also just be because CA 50's last representative was a Republican and a crook. In other words, from a Democratic victory alone, we could not be able to tell if it is a harbinger of GOP doom.

Personally, I think this district is much more vulnerable than most pundits appreciate. I would not be surprised by an outright Democratic win today. I think that is entirely consistent with a Democratic net of 8-9 seats. Races with indictments in the air are almost never happy occurrences for the incumbent party. Accordingly, I see TX 22, OH 18 and CA 50 as being the three most vulnerable GOP seats. I tend to see the GOP losing 2 of these.

April 10, 2006

What Republicans Can Learn From Phil Mickelson

Did you watch the final round of the Masters yesterday? It started out looking to be one of the most exciting in history with two past winners and five of the world's top golfers on the leaderboard. But slowly over the course of the day all the players vying to challenge Phil Mickelson fell victim to mistakes; poor shot execution, bad course management, lack of focus around the greens. In particular, Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, and Vijay Singh all putted themselves right out of contention. Mickelson won because he made the fewest mistakes, in fact he made hardly any mistakes at all shooting a final round 69 and winning by two strokes. By about the 16th hole there was hardly any suspense left in the tournament.

There's a lesson here for Republicans: execution matters. Right now, Republicans in Congress are compounding an already unfavorable election year atmosphere with a series of executional mistakes. John McIntyre points out the mess they've made trying to muddle through immigration reform, and John Fund notes they've equally bungled the budget and tax cuts. All three issues are vital to the GOP's core constituency. That doesn't mean they're easy to handle - especially an issue as complex as immigration - but that they do need to be handled with care. So far Republicans have done a poor job of executing on these issues to the benefit of the party.

Anyone who plays golf has heard the phrase, "drive for show but putt for dough." In other words, it doesn't matter how far you can hit the ball down the fairway, if you can't properly execute the task of putting the ball into the hole you're going to lose every time. In golf that means you'll end up losing money. In politics it means you'll end up losing elections.

Bush Leaks, Immigration Reform, and Congress

The interesting thing about the new RCP ReaderArticles page is that it puts you, the reader, in control. Here are just a few examples of articles selected by RCP readers in the last few days:

- "Zimman" links to a National Review piece on Bush's response to the leak investigation:

One hopes the president's team will seize the high ground on this issue. If he authorized the release of the information, he should come right out and say so. President Bush is at his best when he takes the offensive. And when a man is calling you a liar, you are never required to just sit there and take it.

- "Harold" links to a new (and somewhat controversial) idea for immigration reform that would have guest workers enroll first in the U.S. Military: "This military option would help the lag in military recruitment and it is an authentic route to citizenship and assimilation for those illegal immigrants that really want to be U.S. Citizens."

- "JDPendry" points out an old Teddy Roosevelt quotation on assimilation and immigration in the United States:

In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American. There can be no divided allegiance here.

- And "ZenPolitics" is fed up with Congress, specifically Reps. Tom DeLay and Cynthia McKinney, saying "It would do them all good to get a dose of what 'normal' really is...McKinney and Delay are just different sides of the same coin, and it is time we returned them to the world they want the rest of us to live in. Tom is heading there soon, and one can only hope that McKinney will be sent back to 'normal' in November, but don't hold your breath."

You can vote for any of these stories, or submit one of your own, by clicking through to the RCP Reader Articles page here.

Beyond the Front Page

Just a note to remind you to see what else you'll find on RCP today:

Looking for transcripts to all the Sunday shows? They're in the RCP Resource Center.

What to know what stories are hot in the blogosphere? Check out RCP Opinion Buzztracker.

Interested in news on the race to replace Randy Duke Cunningham in California's 50th district? The latest on tomorrow's vote and much more in RCP's Politics & Elections News section.

Do you want to see what stories RealClearPolitics readers find interesting, or do you want to submit a story or vote on a story yourself? Visit the new RCP ReaderArticles page.

Check out the RCP Average for President Bush's job approval rating, updated early this morning with new data from the Washington Post/ABC News and Rasmussen.

Finally, if you want to catch up on all the latest op-eds posted to RCP, you can scroll through recent archives of the RCP Morning Edition or Evening Edition.

These sections are constantly being updated, some multiple times per day. Bookmark them all and be sure to make them part of your daily RCP diet.

Quote of the Day

"I am going to go to every one of your states, and I am going to tell them what you have done. And I am sure that the senator from Washington will enjoy my visits to Washington because I am going to visit there often." - Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) quoted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

RELATED: Background on the Stevens-Cantwell grudge match here.

Hillary in '08: Can She Or Can't She?

Too bad the Atlanta Journal Constitution has such a cumbersome registration process, because this article from Scott Shephard probing the question of Hillary's "electability" is worth reading in full. Shephard pulls together a number of quotes expressing skepticism that Mrs. Clinton can get the job done:

- Marist pollster Lee Miringoff: "there's some concern in the party about her electability, especially in the red states."

- GOP pollster Frank Luntz: "As in 2004, Democrats want to win. Unlike 2004, they really want to win. No candidate will secure the nomination who they fear will lose to the Republican nominee."

- Carol Huxel, a New Hampshire Democrat: "people in Kansas are not going to vote for Hillary, no matter what. And the Democratic Party's leaders aren't realistic if they think they can run Hillary."

After giving a quick rundown of the three red-state Dems competing for the title of "most electable" (former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack), Shephard concludes with this:

Warner, Vilsack and Bayh are all polling in single digits so far, however. And while the next presidential election is still more than two years off, it's going to take somebody with double digits to become the non-Hillary candidate, said Chris Lehane, a senior aide to Gore during the 2000 campaign.

"Hillary is as strong as any non-incumbent candidate in modern history on the Democratic side, where she will have the three M's for a successful campaign -- money, mass support from the critical constituency groups and a message," said Lehane. Ironically, "for someone to become a true challenger [to Hillary Clinton], they must become an insurgent and run from the far left of the party."

Ignoring the silly remark about candidates needing double digits at this point in the race to be competitive, Lehane is saying Hillary is electable and that the opening will be on her left rather than her right. But if, as Luntz and other suggest, Dems are first and foremost concerned about winning, then it doesn't necessarily make sense that the party will coalesce around a retread who has moved to the left (like Al Gore or John Kerry) or a purebred progressive like Russ Feingold who, no matter how much the base may love him, is never going to be more than a long shot to win a general election.

I think Luntz has it right. My experience talking to active Democrats is that most are much more ideologically in tune with someone like Feingold, but they have no problem supporting someone like Warner or Bayh because winning the White House is their top concern. The problem for Hillary is that she's going to be a big fat target (metaphorically speaking) sitting right in the middle, getting challenged from the left and the right. At the moment her name recognition is a tremendous asset, but the more the race gets underway it will be a liability because she's such a known quantity and impressions of her are so hardened in the mind of the public, it's going to be impossible for her to overcome the knock that she's too polarizing to be electable.

'08 Dems Eyeing Illinois

Lynn Sweet has the scoop. Of course, Hillary is Illinois' favorite daughter.

April 08, 2006

Maybe the NY Times Figured We Wouldn't Notice - By Dennis Byrne

OK, I admit that when I saw a lengthy and prominently played New York Times story this morning about a congressman who "used his powerful perch on the House Appropriations Committee to funnel $250 million into five nonprofit organizations that he had set up," I assumed that the paper was going after another Republican.

True, that assumption was my own bias against a paper whose liberal bias is reaching legendary heights.

As I read the story, I didn't even notice that the story failed to identify the political affiliation of the congressman, Alan B. Mollohan of West Virginia, in the first paragraph. Nor in the second. Nor in the third.

By now, I noticed this omission, because standard journalistic practice calls for a politician's party to be identified, if not in the first paragraph, at least pretty damn quick.

I read on. Fourth graph, still nothing. Fifth, sixth and seventh. Nothing. The New York Times must figure that everyone knows who Mollohan is. Only us rubes wouldn't.

Finally in the eighth graph I find this:

The case has led several Republican leaders to call for Mr. Mollohan's removal from the House ethics committee, where he is the senior Democrat. [Emphasis added]

That's 315 words into the story. Before the first mention that Mollohan's a Democrat. And, it turns out, an important one.

Maybe someone has a logical explanation for why it took so long. The choices are:

• Incompetent and careless writer and editors.
• Biased writer and editors.

Or maybe the Times figured that political affiliation--this time--was of no consequence.

Actually, it is of significant consequence, as you might gather from the straight news story, which broke in the Wall Street Journal on April 7:

Congressman's 'Earmarks' Spur Federal Probe

By JOHN R. WILKE
April 7, 2006; Page A1

FAIRMONT, W.Va. -- On a mountaintop above old coal seams that once fueled West Virginia's economy, a gleaming steel-and-glass research center is taking shape, its winged design and 120-foot data tower visible for miles.

The $136 million building is being built with taxpayers' money for the Institute for Scientific Research, a nonprofit group launched by the local congressman, Democrat Alan Mollohan, and funded almost entirely through provisions he put into annual spending bills.

A 12-term congressman, Mr. Mollohan sits on the House Appropriations Committee, a panel that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff dubbed the "favor factory." Working with fellow West Virginian Sen. Robert Byrd, Mr. Mollohan has steered at least $178 million to nonprofit groups in his district over the past five years using "earmarks" -- special-interest provisions that are slipped into spending bills to direct money to pet projects.

The money has brought more than jobs and building projects to his district. It has formed and financed a tight-knit network of nonprofit institutions in West Virginia that are run by people who contribute regularly to Mr. Mollohan's campaigns, political-action committee and a family foundation. One of these people also invests in real estate alongside Mr. Mollohan and his wife. The network of contributors also includes private companies that get contracts through these nonprofits.

Such a pattern raises questions about whether the donations or deals might be a way beneficiaries of earmarks could influence the legislator's actions. Now, federal prosecutors have opened an investigation of Mr. Mollohan's finances and whether they were properly disclosed, according to people contacted in the inquiry. Mr. Mollohan hasn't been accused of wrongdoing. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, whose public-corruption unit is conducting the inquiry, declined to comment....

Here' how the UPI reported the story:

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- A Democratic congressman has fueled five non-profit groups in his West Virginia district with $250 million in earmark funding, The New York Times reports.

- Dennis Byrne is a Chicago-area writer and consultant who blogs at http://dennisbyrne.blogspot.com/. He may be reached via email at dennis@dennisbyrne.net.

Movement for Santorum?

Wednesday afternoon Rasmussen Reports released a poll on the Pennsylvania Senate race that raised a few eyebrows. The poll showed Senator Santorum trailing State Treasurer Bob Casey by nine points (50-41), representing the first time Santorum had closed the gap with Casey to single digits in the seven polls taken by Rasmussen dating back to July 20th of last year.

That was not the most notable result from the poll, however. After asking for initial preference, Rasmussen informed respondents that the National Organization for Women (NOW) is concerned about Casey's stance on abortion and is endorsing another candidate in the Democratic primary. When voters were asked again for preference after hearing this piece of information, Casey's support dropped significantly among Democrats and Independents while Santorum's support with Republicans rose. The result was a five point lead for Santorum over Mr. Casey, 46-41.

The results of a Quinnipiac University poll taken March 28 - April 3, however, appear to contradict Rasmussen's finding. According to Quinnipiac, only nine percent of Democrats who identified themselves as pro-choice and had expressed support for Casey indicated they would change their vote solely over the issue of abortion.

Nevertheless, both polls show overall movement toward Santorum: in the Quinnipiac poll he has closed the gap from a 15-point deficit six weeks ago to only eleven points today, 48-37. Rasmussen's latest indicated a 7-point tightening from a previous poll conducted in February.

Also worth noting is that Casey's favorable/unfavorable spread also continues to erode. In December, Casey enjoyed a +34% bulge in net favorability, compared to Santorum's modest +7% net favorable rating. Today Casey's net favorability rating is down to +23% (33 favorable - 10 unfavorable), while Santorum is now running at even (32 favorable - 32 unfavorable).

On the surface those favorability numbers might appear to be bad news for Santorum. But having been in office since 1994, Santorum is a known quantity to Pennsylvania voters. One would expect the favorability gap to continue to close as the race kicks in to high gear - a factor which could work to continue to shrink Casey's overall lead.

April 07, 2006

What He Said

As expected, Tom Maguire has a detailed, definitive rebuttal to the New York Times editorial team on the latest "Bush leaked" story. Read the whole thing.

Quote of the Day

"This bill is a dead horse, in my view," - Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) on the collapse of the immigration bill in the Senate today.

Alleged Duke Rape Victim's Brush With the Law and Disturbing Player Email

The alleged gang rape victim by three players on the Duke lacrosse team had a run in with the law in 2002;

According to a 2002 police report, the woman, currently a 27-year-old student at North Carolina Central University, gave a taxi driver a lap dance at a Durham strip club. Subsequently, according to the report, she stole the man's car and led deputies on a high-speed chase that ended in Wake County.

Apparently, the deputy thought the chase was over when the woman turned down a dead-end road near Brier Creek, but instead she tried to run over him, according to the police report.

Just another piece of information to go along with the email sent out by one of the lacrosse team members hours after the party, when the alleged rape occurred:

tommrow night, after tonights show ive decided to have some strippers over to edens2c [his dorm]. all are welcome.. however there will be no nudity I plan on killing the b- - ches as the[y] walk in and proceeding to cut their skin off while c----ing in my duke issue spandex.

(Update: Check out Dick Meyer's The Devils at Duke for more overview of the story.)

The Senate's Immigration "Compromise"

Now that the immigration bill has snagged, it is time to assess whether it deserves to pass. When I heard the word "compromise," I knew I would be uneasy about it. In no particular order, some thoughts about where this discussion will go next:

• In any compromise, it means somebody blinked. I didn't want my side to blink. My side wanted far tougher borders and serious consequences for those who have broken our laws to get here. Any bill that Ted Kennedy and Harry Reid can support simply does not do that. Sadly, the same might be said of the support expected from President Bush.

• Bill Frist energized the conservative base for a few days with a bill that focused first on tougher borders. This bill probably ends that, for now.

• Sometimes people don't want compromise. Sometimes they want the cleansing struggle of an honest fight. One side is right, the other wrong. One side wins, the other loses. We have hard questions to face about what fate should await the millions who have violated U.S. law to send wages back across the border. These Senators can blow congratulatory smoke at each other all day, but at the end of the day, this bill does not provide a satisfying solution. Our leaders remain paralyzed by the fear of alienating Hispanic voters, who in a sane world would be the harshest voices of all against illegal immigration.

• This bill perpetuates the myths of "jobs Americans won't do," and "labor we cannot do without."

• Ultimately, I smell elected officials who far preferred the happy air of a back-slapping news conference to the hard job of standing up for the unpleasant truth.

- Mark Davis
Host of The Mark Davis Radio Show

Horowitz vs. Churchill

As hard as it might be to believe, M.E. Sprengelmeyer of the Rocky Mountain News reports these two bomb-throwing firebrands "put on a genial display of good manners" in their debate last night. The harshest words said? Churchill responding to Horowitz: "It's like you're rowing with one oar, David."

I have to say this is unexpectedly pleasant news. Debates should be a cordial exchange of legitimate ideas, not some WWF cage match designed to spill rhetorical blood all over the stage.

GOP: "Scary" New Poll

GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio sums up the results of the new AP-Ipsos survey: "These numbers are scary. We've lost every advantage we've ever had. The good news is Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one."

Of particular interest in the AP poll is question number six, which mirrors something we saw a while back from Rasmussen:

6. Who do you trust to do a better job of protecting the country?
Democrats ........................................ 41
Republicans...................................... 41
Both equally (VOL) ........................... 4
Neither (VOL) ................................... 11

Here's the skinny on the rest of the results, along with the updated RCP averages for each data set:

Bush Job Approval: 36 approve, 62 disapprove
RCP Avg: 38 approve, 57 disapprove

Congress Job Approval: 30 approve, 67 disapprove
RCP Avg: 32 approve, 60.3 disapprove

Generic Congressional Vote: Democrats +16 (R 33, D49)
RCP Avg: Democrats +11.7 (R 38, D 49.7)

Direction of Country: Right Track 28, Wrong Track 69
RCP Avg: Right Track 30.5, Wrong Track 64.0

As always, the composition of respondents in the AP-Ipsos (based on self-identification) poll is worth noting: Republicans 26, Democrats 31, Independents 34. Sample: 1,003 adults, 844 registered voters, interviews conducted between April 3-5.

Another Blow For Bush

It seems clear from most of the reports I've read this morning that President Bush had full authority to declassify information from the NIE to rebut claims made by Joe Wilson. Here is a clip from Josh Gerstein's report in the New York Sun:

A Republican attorney and former prosecutor, Joseph DiGenova, blasted Democrats and the press for describing Mr. Bush's alleged actions as an instruction to "leak."

"This was not a leak. This was an authorized disclosure," the ex-prosecutor said.

Mr. DiGenova said the fact that Mr. Fitzgerald has not brought any charge in connection with the release of the intelligence estimate shows Mr. Bush and his subordinates acted legally.

"If Pat Fitzgerald, a guy who gloms onto every illegal and unethical thing he can, thought he could sink his teeth into this, he would have," Mr. DiGenova said.

Still, the former prosecutor said the White House made a "tactical error" by providing the information to Ms. Miller at a hotel.

"I never understood why they didn't bring the best possible person to the podium at the White House and just rip Joe Wilson to shreds," Mr. DiGenova said.

I couldn't agree more. Joe Wilson declared open war on the administration by publicly accusing the White House of lying. They had every right and every reason to respond. The problem, however, is the administration seems to have reacted quickly and defensively (a common and understandable impulse in most White Houses) using backchannels to get information out to try and defend itself instead of waiting and making a more full throated public defense - something they eventually did by officially declassifying parts of the NIE.

The result is that, once again, the administration has opened itself to attacks and is coming off looking badly, with Democrats and the press characterizing President Bush as "the leaker in chief" and citing yet more parallels (as unwarranted as they might be) to the Nixon administration. For a taste of what I'm talking about, here's a roundup to more Libby/Cheney/Bush stories from this morning's major papers:


David Johnston and David Sanger
in the New York Times

R. Jeffrey Smith in the Washington Post

David Jackson in USA Today

William Douglas in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Craig Gordon in Newsday

Michael Krainsh in the Boston Globe

This sort of coverage is bound to take its toll on a White House already struggling with low approval ratings.

April 06, 2006

Two Republican Takes on the Senate's Immigration Compromise

Senator Frist's post from his political action committee's blog:

We are one step closer to passing a landmark immigration bill in the Senate - one that includes all of the crucial border security, interior security and employer enforcement provisions that I called for at the outset of this debate last week.

Specifically, the latest bill proposes to:

Border Enforcement Specifics:

• Add nearly 15,000 additional border protection agents to augment the 20,000 Customs and Border Protection agents already on the job
• Specifically authorize 1,250 border agents and 1,250 port-of entry inspection agents
• Require Defense Department cooperation on the border, e.g. unmanned drones
• Begin the process of securing every inch of our 1,951 mile border with Mexico by building walls and fences in high traffic areas and using sensors to let our Customs and Border Patrol Agents see and hear those who try and cross through low traffic areas
• Require fingerprint database connectivity between FBI and Border Patrol

Interior Enforcement specifics:

• Increase alien smuggling penalties with a mandatory minimum of 5 years
• Add criminal penalties for various immigration-related document fraud
• Mandate the use of expedited removal for aliens apprehended within 100 miles of the border and 14 days of entry

Employer Enforcement specifics:

• Establish nationwide, mandatory verification program for hiring workers
• Limit the number of acceptable hiring documents with REAL ID standards
• Authorize 2,000 new worksite enforcement agents and 1,000 anti-fraud agents

Congressman J.D Hayworth from Arizona has a different take on the Senate's "compromise":

The Senate compromise is so convoluted, so complicated, and so unworkable that is surely must have been the work of Senators Rube and Goldberg.

This is déjà vu all over again. The 1986 amnesty law had a similar approach, and that was a catastrophe. It said if you could prove you did agricultural work for just 90 days a year for the previous three years, you would qualify for a green card. The number of those applying for this benefit was three times higher than expected, largely because of fraud, which was rampant. The Senate bill would likewise be vulnerable to fraud on a grand scale and be a nightmare to administer. It is amnesty wrapped in bureaucracy surrounded by fraud .

Coulter's Last Laugh

This bit from Lloyd Grove's column in the New York Daily News today is too good to pass up:

Will Hollywood Democrat Alec Baldwin ever crossbreed with right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter?

It can't be ruled out - but judging by their reactions to the possibility, it would sure be an angry coupling.

"Would you rather sleep with Ann Coulter or Dianne Feinstein?" Elle magazine asks the actor in a raunchy interview.

"I gotta go with Feinstein," Kim Basinger's ex answers. "With Coulter, we'd have sex and I'd have to jump out the window. I wouldn't even get dressed."

Yesterday, Coulter told Lowdown: "That's the only reason I can think of for wanting to have sex with Alec Baldwin."

Ouch. Coulter 1, Baldwin 0. Whatever you think of Coulter, she's quick on her feet and can be wickedly funny - especially when tweaking liberal elites in Hollywood and Manhattan. Like this line from her most recent column, for example:

To finally get some grand jury to hand up an indictment [against Tom DeLay], Earle had to empanel six grand juries in Austin, Texas, which is like the Upper West Side with more attractive people."

Read the whole thing.

McKinney Folds Her Hand

Here's the full text of Cynthia McKinney's statement today on the floor of the House:

Thank you Mr. Speaker,

I come before this body to personally express, again, my sincere regret about the encounter with the Capitol Hill Police. I appreciate my colleagues who are standing with me, who love this institution and who love this country. There should not have been any physical contact in this incident. I have always supported law enforcement, and will be voting for H. Res. 756 expressing my gratitude and appreciation to the professionalism and dedication of the men and women of the U.S. Capitol Police. I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all and I regret its escalation. And I apologize.

The problem for McKinney is that sincerity is dictated more by actions than words. So while she clearly said all the right things in her apology, the fact that it came days after the incident and also after her shameful attempt to smear a Capitol police officer as racist makes it impossible to accept that McKinney feels "sincere regret." She lost, plain and simple.

Going back to Steve Lubet's poker analogy from the Chicago Tribune yesterday, McKinney could see her high stakes bluff was about to be called so she laid down her hand. By the way, even though the game looks to be over, here's an interesting email I received from a reader this morning that discusses Lubet's analogy in more detail:

One observation about the poker analogy, which is morally neutral. It's morally neutral to bluff, because it is within the 'ethics of poker.' We all sit down, knowing that bluffing is legal, expected, fair, etc. Properly done, we never know if the bluffer was bluffing, lest he not be able to pull it off in the future. We even admire it, sometimes.

What if the bluffer in a limitless game suddenly said 'I am betting my firstborn against yours. You have to either see me or fold.' You would say 'you cannot make me bet that much, even in a limitless game!' That would exceed/bust the 'ethics of the game.' If the bluffer could somehow make you continue to play in that game, instead of picking up all your chips and going home, you would certainly fold. But the other player would never be allowed into another game with anyone who knew about it.

There's the problem. McKinney, by completely flouting what appear to be the facts/truth, and even worse, bringing race into it, has simply exceeded the ethics of the game. It's not even politics' ethics she's breaking. This isn't political - it's not about splitting up the pie among competing interests, immigration, social security, Iraq. It's about McKinney, and she's willing to introduce the most damaging divider left in American society, charges of racism, to protect herself against a momentary misjudgment on her part.

Tom Sowell's piece two days ago on a recent trend of completely ignoring facts/reality comes to mind here. Damn the truth if it gets in my way. I won't let the truth stop me or slow me down. I'm hoping the Capitol Hill police have the guts and unity to call her, make her show her cards.

It looks like that's exactly what happened.

Conference Committee to Extend Cap Gains and Dividend Tax Cuts to 2010

We are hearing from our sources on Capitol Hill that the House/Senate Conference Committee has reached a compromise that will extend the 15% maximum tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends through 2010. Currently, the lower rates are set to expire on December 31, 2008.

Sources tell us that this compromise should be made public tomorrow, and will include a two-year extension of the 15% maximum tax rates (through 2010), a one-year Alternative Minimum Tax hold harmless provision (through 2007), and incentives for small business investment.

Recent gains in US equity prices have likely been driven to some extent on the increasing likelihood of just such a compromise. An extension of the 2003 tax cuts should give them another boost. However, the real benefits will unfold through the end of the decade. When the tax cuts first became law in May 2003, business investment accelerated significantly. Low tax rates on investment encourage more entrepreneurial activity, which is an unqualified positive for the economy as a whole. We assess the likelihood of an extension at 80%.

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

NBC-NASCAR and the Romney Health Care Bill

Reading through BuzzTracker this morning a couple of stories that caught my eye. The first is from Michelle Malkin on NBC's attempt to goad NASCAR fans into attacking Muslims at races.

I spoke this afternoon with Ramsey Poston, managing director of corporate communications at NASCAR. He's on his way down to Texas for the NASCAR race this weekend, and he responded to NBC Dateline's undercover Muslim stings, which I first reported on yesterday morning.

"This is outrageous for a news organization with the reputation of NBC to stoop to the level of attempting to create news instead of reporting it. Any legitimate journalist should be ashamed."

Poston told me NASCAR contacted NBC, which confirmed they are doing the story (also reported here yesterday).
"It's hard to even call it journalism," Poston told me. I asked him why he thought NBC was targeting NASCAR fans for the racism sting. Poston vigorously defended the NASCAR fan base as "diverse, from every background in America."

Poston expressed dismay at NBC's "attempt to provoke a reaction from our fans" and said his organization was "confident they would not fall for it."

The mainstream media can't ignore NBC's news-staging anymore.

The other one was from Hugh Hewitt on the Romney health care bill just signed in Massachusetts.

The Boston Globe has a piece analyzing the politics of the Romney Health Care Plan.

It is an interesting piece that reveals, surprise; The Cato Institute and Grover don't like the fact that the plan imposes fees on employers not paying health insurance premiums for their employees.

This may or may not be an issue with some GOP primary voters, but there is a vast difference between seeking to correct the negative externalities of the uninsured upon all taxpayers via a fee that prompts insurance availability, and a broad-based tax to support Canadian style health care......
At the level of politics, the Romney Plan is a big win because it is an actual accomplishment as opposed to a promise. It is an experiment underway, as opposed to a hoped-for program innovation down the road. The Governor is trying something, not just talking about trying something.

Contrast that with the posts below that focus on the do-little-or-nothing Senate.

Katherine Harris' Journey Continues

When last we checked in on Katherine Harris she had just "set the controls of her campaign for the center of the sun" by pledging to spend $10 million of her own money to stay in the race. Looks like she's right on course.

On Friday afternoon the five remaining members of her Senate campaign staff walked out the door - including strategist Ed Rollins and campaign manager Jamie Miller - leaving her with an empty office and, according to one anonymous source, about $200,000 in the bank. "It's not a good day when the entire campaign staff leaves," said Republican fundraiser and lobbyist Justin Sayfie quoted in the Miami Herald, "That's not something I've ever heard of happening before. I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens in the coming days.''

True to form, Harris fired off an email Saturday evening saying that she had already lined up new personnel and that "We are stronger as a campaign today than we were yesterday." Riiiight.

Harris anounced the names of her new staff Tuesday. Yesterday the Miami Herald reported that she "quietly" deposited $3 million into her campaign account last week, which the Herald plays up as far short of her $10 million pledge. (Harris' new spokesperson said she'll meet the $10 million number by election day).

The money, the shake up, none of it is going to matter. Zogby is out with a new poll yesterday showing Harris trailing Nelson by 12 points. Strategic Vision released a poll last week (in the field at the same time as Zogby's) showing Harris down twenty-eight to Nelson (56-28) with an unfavorable rating of 52%. As USF political science professor Darryl Paulson said a couple of weeks ago when Harris anounced her pledge: "Her [Harris'] image is so chiseled in stone in such a negative way that even though she's pumping in $10 million of her own money, much of that is going to have to be used to create a positive image of her and $10 million isn't going to be enough."

If Harris had half the loyalty to the Republican party that Tom DeLay has, she'd bail out today and try to enlist the support of someone who could be competitive against a very beatable incumbent in Bill Nelson. Republicans can still hold out hope that someone will step up before the May 12 filing deadline to challenge Harris in the primary, but if Harris isn't willing to step aside then an expensive, bruising primary is going to leave someone like Rep. Mark Foley in a really bad position against Nelson even if he prevails against Harris. The dream scenario, of course, is that an 800-lb gorilla like Gov. Jeb Bush or Gen. Tommy Franks gets in and makes it totally hopeless for Harris to continue. At this point that looks unlikely, so Harris will continue her journey - much to the chagrin of many in the GOP.

April 05, 2006

Migrant Workers vs. Immigrants

The real problem we have today is not as simple as legal versus illegal immigration. It is instead confusing migrant labor with true immigration. Many of those coming here from Central America are overtly not coming to be immigrants; they have no intention of becoming Americans, of learning the language, of assimilating into society. They simply want a job.

I say OK, let (many of) them work here, but let the rules of the game and the perception of society reflect the fact that these are NOT immigrants. They are migrant workers. America might want to offer certain treatment or benefits to a person whose goal is truly to become an American that we might not want to offer to migrant workers. Access (not necessarily free access, however) to health care and education are obvious examples.

True immigrants want to stay here more or less forever, notwithstanding vacations, whereas migrant workers intend to return home. True immigrants take substantial steps, such as learning English, indicative of their desire to be Americans whereas migrant workers have no such interest. True immigrants want to be productive members of their new country whereas migrant workers intend a substantial part of their earnings beyond what they need to live on to be repatriated to another country.

I have no problem with either type of person. They both bring benefits to our society and our economy if their entrance into (and exit from) the country is properly structured. Our doors should be open to both, though maybe not open equally wide.

What I do have a big problem with, and what I think more and more Americans are coming to realize and disapprove of, is migrant workers who demand to be treated as well as or better than true immigrants or US-born citizens. There is simply no excuse for hospitals to be going out of business because of overuse by migrant workers. There is no excuse for migrant workers to receive any taxpayer-funded benefits. We are not "citizens of the world" with responsibility to buy TVs or even food for anyone who claims to need it.

So, what to do?

We should massively increase the number of work visas available at all skill levels so that there is no real excuse for someone to hire illegal immigrants. We should then implement substantial penalties on employers for hiring illegals. As a libertarian, I don't say that easily, but the tremendous burden put on taxpayers by the free-loading of illegals simply can not be allowed. Encouraging illegal immigration is encouraging the bankrupting of local governments and hospitals, raising the burden on taxpayers while sending much the economic benefit out of the country.

It is a situation of concentrated benefits (employer and illegal worker) and diffuse costs (taxpayers, health insurance payers, local government and law enforcement strains, etc). Normally this sort of public choice problem resolves by the sufferers of the diffuse costs just giving up, or never caring much to begin with. (Imagine 100 million Americans complaining about the 25 cent cost each for an unnecessary $25 million government program. It just doesn't happen.) This time is different. The diffuse costs are too widely spread to be ignored. They hit us all, and we are constantly reminded of them by everything from rising insurance costs to newspaper stories about 47 illegals being involved in 4 car crashes in one day.

But I digress....the key is not to get rid of "illegal immigrants" but to recognize that they are NOT immigrants. They are migrant labor...a useful tool in the economy...and no more. They are not Americans, never will be, mostly don't want to be. And that's fine. Let them be that way. It does not make them worse human beings. But let the rules of the game reflect the facts on the ground.

Our doors should be open to everyone who can contribute to our society and economy, but the door for true immigrants must lead to a very different path than the door for migrant workers.

Quote of the Day

"He could sort of be seen as a First Lady on steroids," Robert P. Watson, the editor of First Ladies of the United States: A Biographical Dictionary,referring to former President Bill Clinton.

The Case of Abdul Rahman

Here is something I had not heard. Back when the Islamic court presiding over the case of Abdul Rahman claimed he was mentally unfit to stand trial , everyone assumed this was a transparently false move to justify his beheading for apostasy. Apparently, however, Abdul Rahman sought asylum in Germany in 2000 and the contents of his asylum file allegedly shows evidence that he did have issues. Der Spiegel reports:

The German Rahman file, together with statements made by his brother, who has lived near Stuttgart since 1993, and a patient file from a clinic in Pakistan, tell a different story: that of the odyssey of a severely emotionally disturbed man who has been wandering aimlessly through the world for years, a man without a goal or a foothold. The file casts significant doubt on widely propagated theories that Rahman is a man driven by his faith and willingness to become a martyr. Instead, the file depicts a man driven by his psychoses and paranoia.

Obviously, this doesn't have any bearing on the core issue of Rahman's right to religious freedom, but it's interesting nonetheless.

McKinney's Gambit

This quote from U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer in today's Washington Times should go without saying:

"I want to make it really clear: If [officers] are not sure who's walking in that door, I expect them to challenge that person. And the person who is challenged has no right to strike an officer."

Unfortunately, thanks to the shameful racial antics of Cynthia McKinney, Chief Gainer felt the need to reiterate what would otherwise be taken as plain old common sense.

I can think of few things more cowardly or despicable than McKinney's decision to try and smear a Capitol Police officer as a racist than offer a simple, straightforward apology for what seems to have been an inappropriate outburst on McKinney's part that clearly crossed the line.

Steve Lubet has an interesting non-judgemental, World Series of Poker take on the subject in today's Chicago Tribune (read the piece and you'll see what I mean) and Michelle Malkin argues that Congressional Democrats' silence on the episode is almost as reprehensible as McKinney's actions.

Checking the Buzz

One of the most talked about stories on the web right now is, tragically, the one involving the deputy secretary of DHS who was caught trying to seduce what he thought was a 14 year-old Florida girl over the Internet. See what people are saying about this story, as well as many others by checking in with the RCP Opinion Buzztracker.

April 04, 2006

United 93 Movie and Hateful Wedding Wishes From the Left

Jim Geraghty has a great post on the new movie from Universal on United 93. You can watch the trailer here.

Also kudos to Salon for pointing out the hateful bilge from HuffPo readers on the Campbell Brown/Dan Senor wedding. Hat tip (Glenn)

A Clue to DeLay's Resignation: Rosty

Chris Matthews gets the creativity award in his assessment of DeLay's resignation. In his blog, he writes, "President Bush's relentless drop in voter approval is making it impossible for troubled candidacies like DeLay's and Senator Rick Santorum's to "reverse the trend" in their constituencies."

This is an interesting argument. The anti-Bush political climate is so strong in places like the rock solid conservative Houston suburbs that DeLay had no choice but to resign. In other words, if Bush's job approval was 10% higher, the indicted DeLay would have stood a chance.

For somebody who worked on the Hill for so many years, it is interesting that Matthews does not really understand how the American public staffs it. The fact of the matter is that DeLay's resignation is a sign of the limitations of partisanship and the limitations of Bush's power. Bush won TX 22 by 20% more than he won the popular vote in 2000. In 2004, he won it by 13% more than his popular vote percentage. Matthews might find it hard to believe, but TX 22 is still Bush country. If anything, Bush is an asset to DeLay.

DeLay resigned because House elections are not not not referenda on the state of the nation. They are a referenda on the incumbent politician, and, on this front, DeLay was shooting craps. If House elections were proxies for the national debate, DeLay would have been in much better shape.

The parallels between Tom DeLay's 2006 and Dan Rostenkowski's 1994 are very telling. Rosty was the powerful chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and the representative from IL 05 -- the North Side of Chicago congressional district (currently held by DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel and where yours truly resides). In 1992 Clinton won IL 05 by 8% more than he won the national popular vote. In 1994 Rosty had been indicted, and decided to run anyway. Rosty's opponent was a 31 year old nobody named Michael Patrick Flannagan. Rosty spent $2.5 million (12.5 times more than Flannagan) and still lost by 8%. Why? How could such a solidly Democratic district vote out one of the House's most important Democrats? The indictment, of course! Congressional elections where the incumbent is running are not referenda on the state of the nation. They are a referenda on the incumbent. So, just as IL 05 was willing to vote out Rostenkowski for the way-too-conservative-for-his-district Flannagan, so DeLay (correctly) surmised that Sugar Land was ready to do the same to him.

So why did DeLay resign? Why not just take his chances? My theory is the following. He senses, correctly or incorrectly (I honestly have no opinion), that he can beat Ronnie Earle's charges. This means he has a future in politics. He also senses that he would lose this election, or at least he senses that the possibility is very good. If he loses the election, his political future is put into jeopardy even with a courtroom win - political losers in this nation have a taint that is difficult to rub off. Resign now; beat the charges, live to fight another day. It is the smart move.

AZ Governor, Senate Races

Rasmussen is out with two new polls showing Democrat Governor Janet Napolitano and Republican Senator Jon Kyl cruising in their reelection bids this November.

On a related note, Billy House of the Arizona Republic reports on the white paper issued by the Republican Policy Committee (which Kyl heads) on "Why a Marriage Amendment Is Necessary."

Losing the Hollywood Base

Poor Hillary. Tina Daunt writes in today's Los Angeles Times: "Depending on whom you talk to in Hollywood these days, Hillary Clinton is either too conservative, too polarizing, too famous, too stiff or -- keep this to yourself! -- too sexy."

The Simmering Debate Over Illegals

Rossputin encapsulates the anger many are beginning to feel in regards to the debate over illegals.

Herbert Meyer touches on similar sentiments in "Why Americans Hate This 'Immigration' Debate":

The Two Hispanic Groups

But the millions of Hispanics who have come to our country in the last several decades - and it's the Hispanics we're talking about in this debate, not those from other cultures--are, in fact, two distinct groups. The first group is comprised of "immigrants" just like all the others, who have put the old country behind them and want only to be Americans. They aren't the problem. Indeed, most Americans welcome them among us, as we have welcomed so many other cultures.

The problem is the second group of Hispanics. They aren't immigrants - which is what neither the Democratic or Republican leadership seems to understand, or wants to acknowledge. They have come here solely for jobs, which isn't the same thing at all. (And many of them have come here illegally.) Whether they remain in the U.S. for one year, or ten years - or for the rest of their lives - they don't conduct themselves like immigrants.....

Today we have millions of foreigners among us who have come here to work, but not to immigrate. Our politicians tell us that we must accept this because - for the first time in our history--we've reached that point when we need "guest workers" who aren't immigrants to keep our economy growing. If this is true--and isn't it odd that no one has troubled to explain why it's true - then we must find some way to distinguish between "immigrants" and "guest workers" so that they aren't treated the same just because they both are here. And if it isn't true that our continued economic growth requires "guest workers" who aren't immigrants--then the entire concept of "guest workers" that lies at the core of virtually every proposal now before Congress, including amnesty for those who are here illegally, must be abandoned in favor of something that makes sense.

Until our elected officials come to grips with the real issue that's troubling ordinary Americans - not a growing population of foreigners among us, but rather a growing population of foreigners among us who aren't behaving like immigrants - public frustration will grow no matter what bill Congress passes in the coming weeks. It could lead to the kind of political explosion that none of us really wants.

I consider myself pro-immigration to the core. However, I have no sympathy for illegals who break the law to enter this country and then profess an allegiance to Mexico above the United States. Our doors should be open to people who want to come here to be Americans, not anyone just looking for a job.

DeLay's Retirement Good News for House GOP

DeLay's retirement is a hit to the Democrats chances of recapturing the House this fall. First, with Democrats needing 15 seats to win control and current estimates running at about a 7-11 seat pick-up for the Dems, every contested race matters and DeLay's announcement moves this contest back into more favorable Republican territory. President Bush won the 22nd district in Texas with 64% of the vote in 2004, and with DeLay gone the Democratic nominee, former Congressman Nick Lampson, is unlikely to overcome that structural GOP advantage.

Second, DeLay's retirement mutes the Democrats' ability to use him as a frontman to try and nationalize the election over the "culture of corruption" in Washington D.C. With House Republicans rejecting DeLay's hand-picked successor Roy Blunt in favor of Ohio's John Boehner for the Majority Leader's position at the beginning of the year, and now with Tom Delay out of Congress by summertime, it is going to be very hard for Democrats to make Tom DeLay a national issue in September and October.

Off the cuff, DeLay's move could be worth several seats to the Republicans and with control of the House coming down to every single seat, after all of the hullabaloo the next few days, the political take-away is this is good news for House Republicans.

April 03, 2006

More on Duke

From another reader:

I am a frequent reader and also a Duke law student. I'd like to expand the discussion on the DA, Mike Nifong. What none of the national papers are reporting is that Nifong is locked in a tight re-election battle in the Democratic Primary which is May 2nd.

The county is nearly 50/50 in terms of blacks and whites but Nifong (who is white) is running against a white female (Freda Black) and an African-American male (Keith Bishop). The thinking goes (as in all Southern politics) is that Black and Nifong will split the white vote thereby giving Bishop a lock on the black vote.

Further, Freda Black is far more popular than the recently appointed Nifong because she was the lead prosecutor on the Michael Peterson case. Nifong though because of this incident (and his decision to be on TV and in the newspapers virtually everyday) has won alot of support in the African-American community and has significantly raised his visbility. His decision to even to delay the release of the results until April 10th smacks of even more of a politicial motive.

While I do think these guys may well be guilty, I can recognize a political witchhunt when i see one. Nifong knows that in Durham County, the way to get tons of voters is to beat up on Duke. I may be new to Durham (only a second year law student) but I know for a fact that Durhamites (blacks and whites) hate Duke.


More '08: McCain, Bayh, and Warner

Teddy Davis at ABC News writes on McCain's rapprochement with Jerry Falwell. Paul Krugman takes on McCain (again) in his column today (Times $elect) and comes to the following conclusion:

As for Mr. McCain: his denunciation of Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson six years ago helped give him a reputation as a moderate on social issues. Now that he has made up with Mr. Falwell and endorsed South Dakota's ban on abortion even in the case of rape or incest, only two conclusions are possible: either he isn't a social moderate after all, or he's a cynical political opportunist.

I happen to think Krugman is on the mark here, though it's possible to argue McCain was being more of a political opportunist in 2000 trying to ride his maverick image to the nomination with his ill fated Sister-Souljah-type denunciation of the Christian right than he is this time around by making the rather banal acknowledgement that evangelicals are "active" and "have a right to be a part of our party." Still, to Krugman's point, either McCain was posturing then or he's posturing now; either way it does some damage to his "I'm a straight shooter" image.

On the other side, Chris Cillizza has an interview with Evan Bayh over at The Fix. Cillizza writes:

Never a charismatic politician, Bayh is hoping that voters see that serious times call for serious politicians -- a philosophy of bridge-building over bomb-throwing. "Leading this country has to be about something other than ideological division," Bayh said. "It's got to be about how we move this country forward in practical terms, not looking at issues as left or right or even center but instead do they make sense, will they matter in peoples' lives?"

This is, not surprisingly, almost identical to Mark Warner's pitch. Three weeks ago the former Governor of Virginia (who is a very charismatic politician, by the way) held a small private fundraiser in the suburbs north of Chicago where he told the crowd that his candidacy is about dropping ideological labels and reframing issues not in terms of left vs. right or liberal vs. conservative, but future versus past. Warner cited education and economic competition with India and China as two examples of issues in need of being recast, but the metaphor extends to a number of others as well.

There probably won't be enough resources available to accommodate two DLC candidates running to the right of Hillary for any extended length of time. At some point either Warner or Bayh is going graduate to becoming the sole anti-Hillary alternative. That point is still a long, long way off, but if I had to lay money down today it would be a no brainer: Warner's the man.

More on Duke's Culture of Rape

At the end of last week I wrote about the uproar that has engulfed the Men's lacrosse team at Duke over charges that three players had gang raped an exotic dancer at an off-campus team party. Here is a perspective on the incident from an undergraduate at Duke, that comports with other pieces of information we have received on this story.

I am a junior at Duke and read your site everyday, sometimes multiples times a day. I think you provide a great public resource. I just wanted to update you with some of the developments on the Duke men's lacrosse case. The entire situation is a surreal event, like something out of a Tom Wolfe novel. My fraternity brothers have started referring to it as "Bonfire of the Varsities". The District Attorney is white, unpopular, and up for re-election in May. He stated initially that he had "no doubt" that a rape occurred, but now will not publicly release the DNA test results from the state lab. Further, there was an article in the Friday Herald-Sun which raises doubts about the timeline of events that night.

Meanwhile, a Duke student was assaulted this weekend at a popular off-campus restaurant, and there was a threatened gang drive-by shooting of the lacrosse house on Buchanan. The residents had to leave and an email was sent to the entire campus to be on alert. The activists have continually tried to intimidate the administration, protesting outside the house of President Brodhead and Provost Lange. Most appalling, some professors have participated in the protests.

I have sensed a real mob mentality among the demonstrators, and I doubt many of them care about the truth or the victim. The fact is there are many people that desperately want this to be true, because it reinforces their preconceived notions. The statements about the "culture of rape" and others of that sort bear absolutely no resemblance to the Duke I know and love.

I would also like to relay a rumor that I have heard from a number of people who know members of the lacrosse team. I have no way of proving it, but it seems like a plausible possibility. A member of the team solicited sex from the alleged victim for $300. She agreed, but later backed out for some reason.
When the team member demanded his money back, she declined, and then requested $1500 or else she would claim she was raped. This would fit with the fact that she left the party, but was then convinced come back in the house.

I still think it is possible that the Lacrosse players are guilty, but, and I think I speak for the majority of Duke students in this regard, we just want justice to take its course without these guys being convicted in the media.
Every member of the team has had their life dramatically altered, and they deserve a fair trial, which I don't think they will be able to get in Durham due to the passions of the community and the excessive media attention.

OH Senate Race

New Zogby poll: Democrat Sherrod Brown leads incumbent Republican Mike DeWine by 9 points, 46% to 37%. That's quite a difference from the Rasmussen poll that came out a couple of days ago showing DeWine up 3 points on Brown, 45%-42%.

In the Gov race, Zogby has Democrat Ted Strickland leading both potential Republican challengers: he beats Secretary of State Ken Blackwell 47% to 41% and Attorney General James Petro 46% to 31%. Rasmussen had Strickland up double digits on both Republican hopefuls.

The Biggest Problem

The last two graphs of Tom Raum's highly critical piece on Bush for the Associated Press:

"There have been some mistakes, but every administration makes mistakes," said veteran GOP consultant Charles Black. "The biggest problem the White House has, 90 percent of their problem, is Iraq.

"People don't see the war going well. And the president's got to keep going out virtually every day, talking about it and putting it in context. Personnel changes won't affect that. He's got to do that himself," Black said.

It's the same thing I said in my column last week: Why Bush Can't 'Change Course'. This isn't a matter of bringing in a relief pitcher, the problem is that Iraq is the entire ballgame.

Frist Frets Over 2008

In the New York Times this morning Sheryl Gay Stolberg profiles Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and the difficulty he faces looking toward a 2008 White House run:

"History does not bode well for Bill Frist, and he knows it.

"Coming into this job, everybody said if you, in your future, ever want to consider running for president of the United States, people said, 'Do not do it,' " Mr. Frist, the Senate Republican leader, said in the stilted syntax for which he is known.

He did not listen and confesses he has paid a price."

Stolberg's article also includes this harsh assessment of Frist by political analyst Charlie Cook:

"The most classic case of the Peter Principle I've ever seen in American politics," Mr. Cook said, in an uncharacteristically brutal assessment. "In a business where eloquence and rhetoric is important, he is a man of no talent whatsoever."

Frist may not be a dynamic speaker, but given that in the last 10 years both parties have produced nominees including Bob Dole, Al Gore and John Kerry, Cook's assessment seems a bit of a dramatic overstatement.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago after meeting with him in Memphis, Frist comes across as a genuinely nice, extremely competent guy - exactly the sort of person you'd trust to crack open your chest. But as he proved the following day with a lackluster speech in front of a very favorable audience, he's not the type to set the room on fire. That doesn't mean he wouldn't make a great president - he might in fact turn out to be an excellent one - but it does mean he may never get the chance.

Two things to keep in mind with Frist. The first is how significant a role organization plays in the process - especially starting with the Iowa caucuses. As we saw most recently with Kerry in 2004, a good ground game will almost always outlast media hype in the end. Frist's team feels good about their organizational skills and with no clear frontrunner dominating the field, right now Frist has as good a chance of any to deliver a strong showing in Iowa in January 2008. Who knows what might happen after that.

Also, right now, with the possible exception of immigration, the issue mix generally seems to favor McCain, though I've written extensively about the work he continues to need to do mending fences with a conservative base that remains wary of him. However, there are two issues that could become advantages for Frist in the coming years: healthcare and avian flu. Frist's background gives him exceptional credibility on both subjects; he probably knows more about them than anyone else in Congress.

The avian flu issue, in particular, has the ability to transform the race. Should the U.S. suffer an outbreak of H5N1 in the next two years (I have no idea what the odds are but it certainly seems like a growing possibility) you'd have to assume Frist's prospects would improve dramatically. Clearly, you can't run a bid for the White House that relies on such a huge, unforeseeable event. Frist will have to make his candidacy competitive based on his personal appeal and the current issues of the day. All I'm suggesting, however, is that the history of the Presidency is a confluence of both the man and the moment, and we won't necessarily have a good idea of what the "2008 moment" is going to look like for quite some time.