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December 29, 2006

The Latest on the Duke Case

K.C. Johnson runs down the latest reaction to the ethics investigation against Durham DA Mike Nifong, including a link to this cartoon by Kevin Siers in today's Charlotte Observer:

siers.jpg

The Hunter Juggernaut

Duncan Hunter's '08 Presidential juggernaut picked up a key endorsement yesterday: Arizona Rep. Trent Franks:

One of Arizona's most conservative U.S. House members is endorsing a California congressman over Sen. John McCain for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, saying it is "what's right for America." [snip]

Franks said he knows that his early backing of the lesser-known Hunter will raise eyebrows, given that his own state's senior senator is considering a run for the White House.

But without criticizing McCain directly, Franks described Hunter as a candidate who "is an unequivocal social conservative and fiscal conservative and has a consistent conservative voting record." [snip]

Franks described Hunter as "a bold, Valley Forge, Ronald Reagan Republican who holds the temperament and philosophical foundations to lead this country to its greatest heights yet."

A Valley Forge Republican? That's a new one. I"m afraid Franks has a long way to go to get people to buy into the comparison of Duncan Hunter to Ronald Reagan. Franks says his 'dis of McCain is "nothing personal." I'm sure McCain will say the same thing to Franks when the time comes...

The Donald's IQ Meter

What do Rosie O'Donnell and George W. Bush have in common? They're both stupid, according to Donald Trump.

Trump on Rosie to the Associated Press: "I've exposed Rosie for what she is: a very dumb human being. She's got no intelligence, but I've known that for a long time."

Trump on Bush to Maureen Dowd: "Bush will go down as the worst and by far the dumbest president in history."

December 27, 2006

The Ford Legacy

Gerald Ford was a good and gracious man.

He was a dedicated and honest public servant--well liked by all who knew him personally. And I think his controversial pardon of Richard Nixon was a good idea--good in the sense that it got it off the table so the country could move on.

However, President Ford was one of a long line of American executives who presided over the decline of the U.S. in both national security and economic terms. This began under LBJ and stretched out through Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.

In national security terms, Mr. Ford was a détentist who accommodated the Soviet Union in a number of ways, including unverifiable arms control deals that Ronald Reagan put an end to when the Gipper assumed the presidency in the 1980's.

The U.S.'s Vietnam retreat from the rooftop of our embassy in Saigon was one of the low points in the history of American foreign policy--a disgraceful action. Reagan, of course, changed all this in the 1980's with his many actions to overturn and defeat Soviet communism.

In economic policy, Mr. Ford was a traditional Republican budget balancer who had no pro-growth policies. Arthur Laffer tried to persuade Ford of the merits of supply side economics to reduce marginal tax rates and grow the American economy--but Ford, acting on advice of top economic advisor Alan Greenspan, rejected this.

June Wanniski called this root canal economics and Newt Gingrich described Ford's futile obsession with the budget deficit as simply the tax collector for the welfare state.

The combination of high inflation interacting with high marginal tax rates led to stagflation and the continued decline of the American economy. And the infamous "whip inflation now" program was nothing more than price controls and state planning.

Again, it took Ronald Reagan to reverse all this by adopting the incentive-minded growth model which slashed tax rates and reignited the U.S. economy in the 1980's - an economy whose fire still burns brightly a quarter of a century later.

At the end of the day, Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter, who was just as baffled about stagflation and Soviet hegemony as Ford was.

Mr. Ford attempted one last play on the national political stage at the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit. Reagan had soundly trounced Papa Bush in the primaries to capture the nomination. But the Papa Bush forces--led by James Baker--attempted a bizarre co-presidency that would have made Ford the vice president and divided up all the executive branch responsibilities.

Reagan himself squashed this, chose Papa Bush instead, crushed Carter in the election, and went on to become one of the greatest presidents in United States history.

Thank God for Ronald Reagan.

December 24, 2006

New '08 Poll: More Problems For Hillary in New Hampshire

On the heels of the new poll in Iowa earlier this week showing Barack Obama tied with John Edwards atop the Dem field and Hillary plummeting to fourth place with 10%, Research 2000 has another 2008 poll out this morning for New Hampshire, conducted for the Concord Monitor from December 18 through December 20, 2006.

On the Dem side, Obama has leapt into a statistical dead heat with Hillary. For the GOP, Giuliani and McCain are neck and neck:

Democrats
Hillary Clinton 22%
Barack Obama 21%
John Edwards 16%
Al Gore 10%
John Kerry 7%
Wesley Clark 4%
Dennis Kucinich 4%
Joe Biden 2%
Tom Vilsack 2%
Evan Bayh2%
Bill Richardson 2%
Undecided 8%

Republicans
Rudy Giuliani 26%
John McCain 25%
Mitt Romney 10%
Newt Gingrich 8%
Condi Rice 6%
George Pataki 3%
Jeb Bush 1%
George Allen 1%
Sam Brownback 1%
Rick Santorum 1%
Duncan Hunter 0%
Undecided 18%

At first blush the horserace numbers don't look too terrible for Hillary - and certainly much better than they did in Iowa. I suppose Hillary's numbers could have been worse, especially if you remember the Boston Herald story from early August reporting on the animostiy New Hampshire Dems had toward Hillary,calling her names like a "shrew" and an "evil, power-mad witch."

But, as in Iowa, the real problem for Clinton in the New Hampshire poll is in the hypothetical head to head matchups. Here they are:

Obama 47, McCain 43
Obama 46, Giuliani 39
Obama 48, Romney 29

Edwards 44, McCain 44
Edwards 41, Giuliani 40
Edwards 46, Romney 30

Giuliani 42, Clinton 38
Giuliani 39, Kerry 37
Giuliani 40, Gore 37

McCain 46, Clinton 43
McCain 45, Kerry 40
McCain 46, Gore 39

Clinton 45, Romney 31
Kerry 40, Romney 32
Gore 38, Romney 32

Just like in Iowa, Hillary loses to Rudy and McCain but beats Romney. And just like in Iowa, Obama beats them all. Edwards doesn't run as strong in New Hampshire as in Iowa - no surprise there - but he still manages a dead heat against McCain and Giuliani and handily beats Romney. So even though Hillary is clinging to a lead at the top of the field, she's once again giving off the "unelectable" vibe in comparison to her two most serious primary challengers.

December 23, 2006

The Trib Plays Gotcha With Obama

After the Chicago Tribune broke the story about Barack Obama's curious land deal with indicted political bagman Tony Rezko, Obama told the Tribune editorial board in a subsequent meeting it was a "boneheaded" move on his part but that he'd never done "done favors for [Rezko] of any sort."

Today, the Tribune runs what purports to be a "gotcha" story on Obama's claim, though the fare is pretty darn weak:

Obama intern had ties to Rezko Senator's spokesman denies any favoritism By David Jackson and Ray Gibson Tribune staff reporters Published December 24, 2006

Political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko made a modest pitch to Sen. Barack Obama last year.

Rezko recommended a 20-year-old student from Glenview for one of the coveted summer internships in Obama's Capitol Hill office.

The student got the job and spent five weeks in Washington, answering Obama's front office phone and logging constituent mail. The student was paid an $804 stipend--about $160 a week--for a position valued mostly for the experience it provides.

But now that otherwise unremarkable internship--one of nearly 100 Obama's office awarded in 2005--raises new questions for the senator, who says he has never done any favors for Rezko.

Please. If we went and made a federal case about every Congressional internship that's been doled out over the years to the child of a friend or political contributor we'd run out of trees and ink by next Thursday.

The full context of Obama's remark about doing "favors" for Rezko - which the Trib, to its credit, included later in the article - was this:

Most of the time, I've never been in a position to do favors for him. I don't control jobs. I don't control contracts. There were no bills that he was pushing when I was in the state legislature that I know of or that he talked to me about. And there were no bills in federal legislation that he was concerned about, so there was no sense of the betrayal of the public trust here."

Parsing that statement over one of 98 five-week internships given out by Obama's office borders on being a joke. On Wednesday, Connor Clarke wrote in The New Republic that Obama's real-estate deal with Rezko was a "non-scandal" and that the new Senator was being held to a different standard than the rest.

I had planned on slamming Clarke for the simple reason that Obama's association with a shady dealer like Rezko is a reflection of Obama's judgment and character and is totally fair game, in the same way that Rudy Giuliani's association with Bernie Kerik will undoubtedly be used against him - as it was the other day by Charlie Rangel . I still believe that. But the Trib's over the top treatment of this internship has wondering if there isn't more to Clarke's argument than I originally thought.

The Eyes Have It

From Reuters:

Jakarta's busy international airport introduced an iris scanner system aimed at business travellers willing to pay around $US200 ($A255) per year to avoid long immigration lines.

Under the ''Saphire'' program, frequent flyers register with the immigration authorities, pay the annual fee, and submit to scans of their left and right eyes, which authorities say are as individual as prints of the fingers or palm.

On arrival, users scan one eye and are cleared for entry, a process expected to take about 10 seconds.

December 22, 2006

New 2008 Iowa Poll

Check out the results of the new Iowa poll, conducted by Research 2000 for for KCCI-TV from December 18 through December 20:

Democrats
John Edwards 22%
Barack Obama 22%
Tom Vilsack 12%
Hillary Clinton 10%
Al Gore 7%
John Kerry 5%
Wesley Clark 4%
Dennis Kucinich 4%
Joe Biden 1%
Evan Bayh 1%
Bill Richardson 1%
Undecided 11%

Republicans
John McCain 27%
Rudy Giuliani 26%
Mitt Romney 9%
Newt Gingrich 7%
Condi Rice 4%
George Pataki 1%
Jeb Bush 1%
George Allen 1%
Sam Brownback 1%
Rick Santorum 1%
Duncan Hunter 0%
Undecided 22%

In individual hypothetical matchups among all respondents:

Obama 42, McCain 39
Obama 43, Giuliani 38
Obama 43, Romney 28

Edwards 42, McCain 38
Edwards 42, Giuliani 38
Edwards 41, Romney 29

McCain 43, Clinton 37
McCain 43, Kerry 38
McCain 41, Gore 39

Giuliani 39, Clinton 35
Giuliani 38, Kerry 34
Giuliani 36, Gore 34

Vilsack 41, McCain 35
Vilsack 42, Giuliani 35
Vilsack 45, Romney 28

Clinton 40, Romney 36
Kerry 33, Romney 30
Gore 34, Romney 28

Summarizing these results: Obama, Edwards and Vilsack beat every Republican. Hillary loses to every Republican but Romney. Romney loses to every Democrat. McCain runs slightly better than Giuliani matching up against most of the Dem field.

The Daily Rudy

Ralph Z. Hallow of the Washington Times on Rudy:

Social conservatives -- contrary to conventional wisdom -- will seriously consider supporting the Republican presidential aspirations of Rudolph W. Giuliani even though he's a pro-choice, anti-gun New Yorker, political analysts and operatives say.

That sounds vaguely familiar.

Hallow includes quotes from a number of GOP activists, including an utterly predictable slam from conservative Richard Viguerie:

"If Rudy Giuliani -- who is wrong on all of the social issues as well as the Second Amendment and is a blank slate on most other important issues such as judges, taxes and size of government -- is the Republican presidential nominee, I would expect a mass exit of most conservatives from the Republican Party in 2008," warns Richard A. Viguerie, a prominent conservative-movement fundraiser and author.

Viguerie is whistling past the graveyard. The only way Rudy can win the nomination is by convincing enough conservatives that he's acceptable, and if he'is able to do that, then by definition there won't be a "mass exodus" of conservatives in 2008.

Moreover, any support Rudy might lose from conservatives in the general election will be more than offset by his appeal among Independents, moderates, and even some Democrats (depending on who their nominee is). So while Viguerie is trying to bully and exert influence over the process, what he's really doing is threatening to marginalize himself and other hardcore conservatives.

Again, I want to make clear I'm not saying Rudy is going to win the nomination, or even that it's probable at this point.
But it is possible - as even Michael Barone agrees.

The MSM & The Blogosphere

You'll want to read Rich Miller's column in the Sun-Times this morning. Miller takes on critics of the blogosphere (Rago, et al) and concludes:

This phenomenon is not going away, no matter how much it is dismissed or chastised. The Internet has been seized on as a democratizing tool by millions of perpetually democracy-hungry Americans. Bloggers should definitely be open to criticism by the mainstream media. That's America. But lumping everyone together with the crackpots is neither fair nor honest. And the fact that so many reporters and pundits can't seem to get the story right just proves the bloggers' point that too many of them don't know what they're talking about on everything else.

Terrorist Leader Goes Free

Abu Bakar Bashir, spiritual leader of the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah, has been cleared by the Indonesian Supreme Court of any involvement in the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 people.

Australians are rightly outraged over the verdict and, interestingly, the head of Labor Party is attacking Prime Minister John Howard and suggesting some of the blame lay at the feet of the U.S. Government:

Labor leader Kevin Rudd questioned why Indonesian authorities were not given access to Bali bombing mastermind Hambali as part of their investigations.

He said Hambali, now being held by the US in Guantanamo Bay, could have provided vital evidence to convict Bashir.

Mr Rudd asked what Mr Howard had done to have Hambali found accountable.

"What representation did Australians make to the Americans to enable the Indonesians to get access to Hambali and why were those representations rejected?"

December 21, 2006

This Just In...

More good news from Iran.

California Slidin'

The Golden State's population growth rate has declined for the sixth consecutive year.

The Mailbag: Rudy vs. McCain

Once again, discussion of whether conservatives will vote for Giuliani over McCain generated a flood of email responses, mostly in Giuliani's favor:

I, along with an overwhelming majority of my friends plan on supporting Rudy in the primaries. I am a staunch conservative, and disagree with Rudy on several key issues (you hit the main ones in your blog yesterday). But the reasoning is two-fold: 1) Rudy solves problems, and is viewed in that light by many conservatives. We don't see a great deal of grandstanding or foaming at the mouth about "how bad these problems are" and "what we need to do", blah, blah, blah as we see with McCain and most other blowhard senators - regardless of party afiliation. 2) McCain, while professing to be conservative, caves on everything from taxes, to the judiciary, and wastes precious government time delving into less important issues, i.e. the sports-related investigations. I'd rather admit my losses up front where the judiciary is concerned, and let Rudy solve a few problems. It is a much more desirable alternative than McCain's holier-than-thou bloviating, and backstabbing, where nothing gets done in the end.

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I consider myself a "religious right" person, and am nonetheless enthused about Rudy and antagonistic to McCain. Your analysis is pretty on key, I think. There's something about McCain that doesn't ring conservative (opportunisitic, maybe) And there's quite a difference between agreeing with McCain-Feingold post facto, and having your name on it. And nothing any national politician has done will ever top the refusal of the check from the Saudis. That shows who Rudy is, what he believes and what he'll put up with, and won't. There's no candidate for president on our side whose views match mine 100%, and I wish Rudy was more pro-life. But he'd be a great president, and on the right side of the aisle.

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As a "Jesse Helms Conservative" in South Carolina, I would vote for Rudy in a hearbeat if he could provide assurances that social issues were, for him, legislative rather than judicial issues, and would be appointing people to the court based on a philosophy of judicial restraint and sound, constitutional jurisprudence, that included commerce in the mix.

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I would like to add my 2 cents worth to why I am STRONGLY supporting Rudy over McCain, and I am a conservative. The reasons you state about his likeability factor are very true. But it is more than that. He has run a large city; he dealt with the bureaucracy, and all the various elements that make up NYC very successfully. To me that is why I think there hasn't been a president since JFK who didn't have more governmental and/or managerial experience than simply running a Senate staff. Beyond that, I lived in NYC during the 90s and what a difference that man made. I am much more interested in a man (or woman) with a vision and true leadership skills which I think Rudy showed us before and on 9/11. I only worry about his more liberal social issue views in that they might hurt him from getting the nomination. In spite of disagreeing with him on some of those issues, I believe he would be the best man to lead us during the next certain to be troubled four years after 2008.

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As a lower case "c" conservative I disagree with Giuliani on some issues, but can live with honest disagreements having tremendous respect for his character and judgment on other issues. Giuliani was an agressive prosecutor, and he ran NYC which is no small task. Giuliani in my mind has the sine qua non of any man or woman who seeks to take on an executive position such as the Presidency. He acts. Of Teddy Roosevelt it was said he was pure act; and Giuliani seems cut from the same cloth.

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TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

YES, southern, Christian, conservatives will vote for Rudy. ANYBODY but McCain.

By the way, that last email was signed, "Grandmother from the rural South."

A couple of self-identified single issue national security voters pronounced both candidates acceptable, and a few said neither would get their vote.

Some also found it ironic that the man critics used to refer to as "Adolf Giuliani" and the "Mussolini of Manhattan" is now cloaked in the mantle of likeability:

Rudolph Giuliani's controlled pugnacity may seem refreshing now to heartland conservatives, but I predict that feeling won't last out a long campaign. Do you like arrogance, vendettas, barely concealed disdain for citizens and adversaries treated as enemies? You don't know him the way New Yorkers do -- but if he runs for President, you will. I voted for him twice for mayor, and I assure you there wasn't an ounce of affection in it. The city needed him. Can the same now be said for the country? As president he will be non-ideological and yet polarizing.

Then again, stories of McCain's temper are legion - and legendary. Here's one from a reader who says he is a former Hill staffer for one of the most conservative Members of Congress:

I staffed a couple of House-Senate conference committees and McCain is a nightmare. He was brusque with the other Members and in one meeting berated a staff person in front of everyone for a rather minor transgression. At one point I thought his head was going to explode he got so red in the face. It was apparent that the other members of the conference committee were uncomfortable with his behavior. He struck me as petty, self-righteous and tyrannical. When he has taken his "maverick" positions, they appear highly calculated to get maximum exposure for him in the media and designed to put a thumb in the eye of either the Senate leadership or the Bush Administration or both. The press, of course, eats it up when a Republican criticizes his own party. He is a fool to think the major media will continue its flirtation with him as soon as there is a real Democrat in the race against him. He is only useful to the press when he is bashing his own party. Giuliani on the other hand has never, to my knowledge, spent much time attacking his fellow Republicans as easy as that would have been for him in deep blue NYC. Most of us are politically mature enough to know that there is virtually no candidate with whom we will agree on every issue and even where we may not see eye-to-eye with Giuliani, we don't feel insulted by him.....

Ultimately, most presidents have little real say about gay rights or gun control other than to sign or veto laws regarding the same after Congress hashes it all out. In the case of abortion, the political branches long ago ceded that issue to the courts. On gun control, abortion and gay rights, I suspect that Giuliani will be respectful to all comers on those issues; McCain has proven he won't. Giuliani has his baggage but so does McCain. On the whole, Giuliani has plenty of issues that the base can love and a raft of personal characteristics that would make him a fine candidate.

One late email from a liberal friend makes a worthwhile point:

key internal of one poll I saw last week--can't remember which one--was that 75% of those surveyed did not know Rudy's positions on social issues--again, don't remember whether that was Republican voters or entire electorate. That's obviously key threshold for him--at this stage, you just can't underestimate how LITTLE people know about most of these people. Look at Obama--for us, we feel like he's practically living in our homes, we're already sick of him!!! Yet even 45% of Dems don't have a clue about the guy (which does make his polling results pretty impressive, i.e. most people who do know about him have a very favorable impression, and his upside is much higher than, say, Hillary).

I tend to think that Republican activists (i.e. the kind of people who will vote in primaries) are fairly well informed about Giuliani even at this early stage and do have at least some level of understanding about his position on social issues. I may be wrong - and certainly issues surrounding Giuliani that might perceived as being somewhat benign right now may look very, very different after sharp-shooters from rival campaigns get done framing them for conservative primary voters.

The Latest Gallup on 2008

Here are the results of the latest Gallup poll on 2008, with last month's results in parentheses:

Republicans
McCain 28 (26)
Giuliani 28 (28)
Rice 12 (13)
Gingrich 8 (7)
Romney 4 (5)
No Opinion 7 (7)

Seven other candidates scored 2% or less.

Democrats

Clinton 33 (31)
Obama 20 (19)
Gore 12 (9)
Edwards 8 (10)
Kerry 6 (7)
No Opinion 5 (6)

Seven other candidates scored 3% or less.

Interestingly, despite the massive media publicity Barack Obama has received over the last month or so, nearly half the Democrats taking part in the survey (47%) responded "no opinion" when asked to provide a favorable/unfavorable rating. More specifically, 33% of Democrats said they have never heard of Obama, and another 14% said the name sounded familiar but they didn't know enough to form an opinion.

On the other side, 69% of Republicans had "no opinion" of Mitt Romney.

In overall favorability, Rudy topped all '08 hopefuls at 77%. More importantly, and circling back to my post the other day about Rudy vs. McCain and the "likeability" factor, Giuliani scored a 92% favorable rating among Republicans. McCain favorable rating with Republicans is 63%.

Hillary's favorables are also worth a mention. She does well among Democrats (86%), but significantly less well with Independents (48%) and she gets the lowest rating of any Democrat in registering a crossover favorable rating from self-described Republicans (13%). Even John "Botched Joke" Kerry gets a 16% favorable rating among Republicans in this poll, and Al Gore gets 19%.

Gregoire's Good Times

This is yesterday's news - literally - but it's worth a comment. Here's how Washington Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire announced $4 billion worth of spending increases in the state budget over the next two years:

"These are good times, these are exciting times. Now is the time to make the investments in the future," Gregoire said. "If we fail to make the investments ... then the future can say, 'Shame on us.' We had the opportunity and passed it up."

It's hard to imagine a comment more illustrative of the difference between liberals and conservatives with regard to fiscal policy. Gregoire's attitude is that if there's any extra money laying around, it must be spent - I'm sorry, "invested" - by the government. Not returned to the people who own it. Not used to pay off debt. The ranking Republican on the Budget Committee said he couldn't find a single instance - not one - in which the governor reduced spending on any program in the entire state.

More from the Seattle Times story:

Gregoire's 2007-09 general-fund budget of nearly $30 billion would add nearly 3,800 new state jobs; spend about $1 billion on pay raises for teachers and state workers, $343 million for public schools and $110 million for health-care programs; and put millions more into state parks, higher education and early learning.

It also would burn through most of a projected $1.9 billion budget surplus and possibly set the state up for a shortfall of more than $600 million when lawmakers have to put together a new budget in 2009. [snip]

Gregoire brushed aside concerns about how much money she wants to spend. "I think the fact that we're headed to that size of the budget is simply an indication that we put people to work and the economy is booming," she said.

"I love my budget."

I bet. Gregoire's giddiness over engaging in a spending spree with taxpayer money should be a helpful reminder to the GOP about the importance of fiscal austerity - a concept that seems to have escaped quite a few members of the Republican party at the state and federal level in recent years.

Headline of the Day

If you're not from Chicago this headline from today's Sun-Times may not make sense until after you read the article:

Cubs woo Dave Matthews despite poo

December 20, 2006

Answer Questions Before We 'Surge'

The president said yesterday that he's asking new Defense Secretary Gates to tell him how many more troops should be sent to Iraq. Gates is in Iraq now, meeting with senior commanders and, presumably, going out in the field to see things for himself. In the wind is a three to six-month "surge" of troops to Iraq. A few key questions need to be asked before we send anyone more to Iraq.

First is what will they do when they get there? Some pundits think we're going to "take the gloves off", destroy the militias and somehow - by house to house fighting if no other way - rout the insurgents of all stripes to give the Iraqi government breathing room in which to accomplish their political compromises and sing a chorus or two of "Kumbaya." None of this is remotely possible.

First, if we are temporarily deploying more forces we are necessarily telling the insurgents to fade away, take their money, weapons and key people underground, and wait us out. They can evade us and wait us out. It's almost as bad as announcing a firm date for withdrawal of all Americans. We are in a very tough spot because some military leaders have said publicly - in Congressional hearings and elsewhere - that we lack the forces to support a sustained effort in Iraq much longer. The enemies watch those hearings more closely than Americans do.

Second, the Maliki government is to terribly weak, and so dependent on the support of thugs such as Moqtada al-Sadr, that it will not permit us to do what should be done to destroy the Shia militias and the Sunni insurgents. If we choose to operate regardless of Maliki's limitations, his government and the Iraqi constitution would be nullities. We'd be back where we were in 2003. Which may not be entirely a bad thing. If Maliki fell without taking the Iraqi constitution with him, a stronger coalition government has a chance to arise. Now, one does not.

Third, without a clear military mission for the increased forces, we may - by default - start ordering them to perform routine street patrols that had been patrolled recently by Iraqis. They will be little more than moving targets for snipers and IEDs. The success of such local patrols depends on time on the streets: the more you have, the more the people learn to trust you, not fear you, and the more success you have in learning who is the good guy and who isn't. Our soldiers aren't policemen. And to train them to be police, we untrain them for their primary combat role. They can't be both.

We can "send a message" by sending more troops temporarily. But it's not the message that we are determined to win this war. Mission and strategy are what troops are to perform. Not nation-building or sending diplomatic signals.

December 19, 2006

Will Conservatives Vote For Rudy?

Michael Powell and Chris Cillizza's article on Rudy Giuliani in the Washington Post today doesn't cover much new ground. Mostly it just recycles the obvious question surrounding Rudy's potential '08 candidacy: will his liberal-leaning positions on social issues be a deal breaker with conservative primary voters and caucusgoers? The conventional wisdom has been and remains "yes," but there continues to be anecdotal evidence beyond polls suggesting the conventional wisdom may turn out to be wrong.

Last August I wrote two columns, one critical of McCain and one critical of Giuliani. The former column argued that while McCain is pitch-perfect with the base on certain key issues like spending and national security, he's utterly tone deaf on others like immigration and the First Amendment.

The latter column argued that even if you set aside the obvious baggage Giuliani carries on social issues and with respect to his personal life, the Mayor takes all the same positions as McCain on those key issues which McCain is constantly vilified by the conservative base. For example, Rudy is very much in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, and he publicly supported McCain-Feingold in 2000 when he was flirting with a Senate run against Hillary.

Rudy hasn't paid much of a price for those views so far - certainly not in the same way McCain has. The question is whether he will begin paying a price for them once the campaign gets seriously under way and voters start comparing the two candidates and asking: why would I vote for Rudy when he holds all the same views I don't like about McCain and he's also much more liberal on issues like abortion and gay marriage?

The answer to that question may turn out to be as simple as this: Rudy is just more likeable. Last August I asked conservatives to explain why they would be willing to vote for Giuliani over McCain, and among the flood of email responses I received Rudy's likeability and sense of party loyalty stood out as a key factor:

Despite the argument that it's McCain's turn because he's "paid his dues," many just don't see him as a loyal party man - for obvious reasons. But the problem is deeper than McCain's willingness to go against Republicans on key issues, there is a real sense of dislike toward McCain among some for his self-aggrandizing chumminess with the media. In other words, it's not just that McCain disagrees with Republicans on some issues but the way in which he does the disagreeing that irks them. Rudy doesn't seem to engender any of those same feelings - just the opposite, in fact.

Likeability with base voters is important, and intangible. McCain doesn't have it. Rudy does. Romney does too. This will help them to some degree in getting past a few respective hurdles to winning the nomination, but not all.

One thing Rudy and McCain both have right now that Romney doesn't is a sense of electability. It's early and that could certainly change over time, but Republicans will want to keep the White House and to the extent the race gets further along and Romney continues to trail in general election matchups against prospective Democratic opponents, it will begin to become an issue for him and a bigger advantage for Giuliani and McCain.

Zucker's ISG Slam

David Zucker takes on the Iraq Study Group:

The Uppity Slur

Yesterday Georgia Republican State Rep. Len Walker offered a resolution to strip Cynthia McKinney's name off a highway in DeKalb County saying that Ms. McKinney's tenure in Congress was "marked by controversies and rhetoric that has brought embarrassment to the state of Georgia." Walker added, ""Where I come from, we don't name roads for people like Cynthia McKinney."

You may or may not find this idea silly. Fine. McKinney's behavior did cause a lot of attention, and it certainly caused sufficient embarrassment and/or disgust among voters in her district to toss her out of office in November. But she wasn't convicted of a crime or get caught in some other egregious act (a la Mark Foley), which is the sort of disgrace that normally precedes something like this.

Regardless of what you think of Walker's resolution, listen to the way McKinney's former campaign manager responded:

And as for Walker's claim that McKinney has caused embarrassment to Georgia, [John] Evans said: "He must be talking about white folks or uppity black folks."[emphasis added]

So if you're an African-American who thinks McKinney's behavior was embarrassing you're "uppity?" That's the sort of vicious slander some blacks use against members of their own community to keep them in line, whether that line is supporting someone like Cynthia McKinney or opposing other African-Americans like Michael Steele. It's an effective but truly shameful tactic.

Santorum Soldiers On

Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review lands an exclusive interview with outgoing Republican Senator Rick Santorum. Here's a bit:

During the preceding months of his re-election bid, he never wavered in his support for Rumsfeld or the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, even as both plummeted in public-opinion polls.

He chose to "run with my convictions rather than run away from them, even if they were unpopular and even though they may have cost me my seat," he said, "... because that is how important I believe that they were and still are."

He said he was unimpressed by the Iraq Study Group's report after reading a summary of its 79 recommendations, dismissing it as "not worth reading ... a bunch of contradictory suggestions, with no clear plan other than the fact that we have to get out, and that means to surrender."

He criticized news coverage of the war in Iraq, declaring: "I have always said that if World War II was covered like this war, I really, very seriously, doubt that we would have ever won that war. ... The bottom line is, the media -- and I am not saying that they are intending to do this -- but simply by what they are doing, without question, it is aiding the terrorists and their objective."

Read the whole thing.

Show Me The Money

The Arizona Republic has compiled a list of contributions to McCain, Giuliani, and Romney broken out by region and state.

Nancy's Circle

Zachary Coile of the San Francisco Chronicle runs down a list of Speaker Pelosi's closest friends and confidants.

No real surprises on the shortlist of Congressional members (George Miller, Anna Eshoo, John Murtha, John Spratt, Rahm Emanuel, David Obey, Ike Skelton, and Charlie Rangel in the House. Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, Dick Durbin, and Chuck Schumer in the Senate), but the list of ex-members of Congress is interesting:

Ex-members of Congress -- a.k.a. the lobbyists

Tom Downey: former Long Island lawmaker and now powerful Democratic lobbyist knows Pelosi well enough that his kids call her "Aunt Nancy."

Marty Russo: a former House member from Illinois was part of Pelosi's Tuesday night dinner club; he's now CEO of Cassidy & Associates, one of D.C.'s top firms for securing earmarks.

George Crawford: Pelosi's former chief of staff, now a lobbyist at King & Spalding; he's raised eyebrows for taking two new clients, ExxonMobil and pharmaceutical giant Amgen, who will face tough scrutiny under a Pelosi-run House.

So among the small group of friends and advisers the SF Chronicle says "will be whispering in her [Pelosi's] ear as she leads a new Democratic Congress" are the CEO of a top D.C. earmarking firm and a former Chief of Staff now lobbying for ExxonMobil and Amgen.

Don't worry, though, Pelosi's going to start "draining the swamp" in DC - right after she gets done with a "4-day fete" celebrating her election as speaker that will culminate on January 5 with a big concert. Tickets? For PACs, a cool $15,000 will get you two.

December 18, 2006

Iran and the Bomb

The head of the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, says Iran will acquire a nuke "within three or four years if its nuclear weapons programme continues to develop at the current pace."

'08 Notes

Quick hits on 2008:

Despite the recent brouhaha with FOX News over whether he's running or not, Bill Richardson is still testing the waters.

Clinton pollster Mark Penn looks (or spins, if you prefer) the results of the latest '08 poll and finds proof Hillary can win. Penn also made a mark about John McCain that elicited a smack back from John Weaver:

"There are very few people who want to send more troops right now. He certainly is going out on a limb suggesting that is the right thing to do right now," Penn said.

Asked about the comment, McCain aide John Weaver responded sharply, "It must be so alien for them - the Clinton advisers - to actually observe someone say and do what they believe to be right and good for the country without polling on it first."

Rudy Giuliani is set to address the California GOP at the state party convention in February. His first '08 fundraiser will take place tomorrow night in New York City.

Joe Biden told a crowd of 100 people in Southern New Hampshire that "we are tilting at windmills" in Iraq. Biden also said, ""I'm afraid the President, and others who support the troop surge, have it completely backwards."

Newt appeared on Meet the Press yesterday and said he's content to wait and see what happens:

MR. RUSSERT: You said you won't announce your presidential plans until September.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: Isn't that too late? Won't the other candidates be so well financed, so well organized?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: You are a great student of this business. When we were young, I think you were younger than me, but when we were young, John F. Kennedy announced on January 2nd, 1960, the year of the election. In 1975 and again in 1979, Ronald Reagan announced in November, OK? My view's this. If--and you--and you put up the numbers. Romney's had a good year. He's emerging as a serious player. Giuliani is wildly popular for national security reasons. John McCain has built a base for years of hard work. If one them seals it off by Labor Day, my announcing now wouldn't make any difference anyway. If none of the three having from now to Labor Day can seal it off, the first real vote is in 2008. And there's plenty of time in the age of television and e-mail between Labor Day and 2008.

Paul Bedard of US News & World Report writes that the Dems think Republican Mike Huckabee is well positioned as the GOP darkhorse.

John Fund thinks the current frenzy over Barack Obama looks a lot like Powell mania.

Michael Barone wonders about Obama's lack of experience.

Scott Shepard of the Washington Times takes note of the diversity of the '08 field.

Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press looks at the new role Nevada will play in the Dems' nominating process.

And Eli Lake of the New York Sun writes that Dems want to make sure we've started the process of getting out of Iraq before the 2008 political season gets into full swing.

Pelosi's Priority?

Nancy Pelosi's spokesperson told the San Antonio Express-News that immigration is "absolutely a top priority" for the new Speaker of the House - even though it's not on her list of things to do when Democrats take control next month.

The conundrum for Pelosi, of course, is that while immigration reform legislation is an opportunity to divide Republicans, it also presents a risk to some members of the new majority. More from the article:

Though rarely ever nodding in unison, immigrant advocates and restrictionists concurred that the election proved Democrats had to move to the right in order to win.

But advocates remain optimistic that last year's gridlock won't be repeated and chances have improved for reform.

"Most disagreements are on the edges now, such as on working out acceptable numbers of visas and guest workers allowed," said Michelle Waslin, spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza.

Opponents of illegal immigration lamented losing some big-name supporters of their cause in the election but remained hopeful that newly elected Democrats will keep their campaign promises to focus first or solely on enforcement.

A bit further down there's this:

Rep. Charlie González, D-San Antonio, said the incoming group of tough-sounding first-termers soon will learn the art of having to break campaign promises to keep their political careers alive.

Iran Speaks

Good news from Iran:

Iranians have dealt a blow to President Ahmadinejad's hardline Government, by thwarting his allies in municipal and clerical elections.

According to early results, Mr Ahmadinejad's fundamentalist mentor who espouses cultural isolation from the West, was trailing sixth in the Tehran vote for the Assembly of Experts, Iran's all-powerful clerical council. Reformists were also expected to seize a handful of seats on Tehran city council, signalling a comeback after three electoral defeats in the past three years.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Iranian student activists who protested President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently have gone into hiding and are being hunted by "vigilantes from the militant Ansar-e Hezbollah group." Here is how one protester described the scene of Ahmadinejad's visit to the university:

"We were chanting, 'Get lost Ahmadinejad!' and 'Ahmadinejad - element of discrimination and corruption.' You could see from his face that he was really shocked. He wasn't flashing his usual smile, and at one stage I thought he was going to cry. He told his supporters to respond with a religious chant hailing Ahmadinejad, but he was so shaken he was actually chanting it himself."

Another student said: "He was trying to keep control of himself, but you could see he was angry and upset."

December 16, 2006

Krauthammer vs. Dowd on Rumsfeld

Charles Krauthammer on Rumsfeld's legacy from last night roundtable on Special Report with Brit Hume:


The person who had the stature and experience to go after the entrenched bureaucracy of the military and to want to change it to be more light and adaptable, and that is a process that will be remembered as a very big positive.

Secondly, he's the man who gave us these amazingly swift victories to defeat and destroy enemy regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq with an economy and a swiftness nobody would ever have expected.

Remember also, we've gone five years without a terrorist attack. And all of this is his legacy. Of course, obviously, is the stalemate in Iraq, the decisions that were made early on, that were hard decisions, some of them in retrospect were not right. But Iraq is still in play and those who say his legacy is written on Iraq, I think are wrong. I think we're going to see how it turns out.

Maureen Dowd in today's New York Times.

James Baker ran after W. with a butterfly net for a while, but it is now clear that the inmates are still running the asylum.

The Defiant Ones came striding from the Pentagon yesterday, the troika of wayward warriors marching abreast in their dark suits and power ties. W., Rummy and Dick Cheney were so full of quick-draw confidence that they might have been sauntering down the main drag of Deadwood.

Far from being run out of town, the defense czar who rivals Robert McNamara for deadly incompetence..... the septuagenarian who arrogantly dismissed initial advice to send more troops to secure Iraq.

Just imagine the send-off a defense secretary would have gotten who hadn't sabotaged the Army, Iraq, global security, our chance to get Osama, our moral credibility, the deficit and American military confidence.

Let's just say I suspect the history books 50 years from now will find Krauthammer closer to the truth.

December 15, 2006

The Daily Obama

We could probably fill an entire page every day just tracking media coverage of Barack Obama. Today's offerings include Peggy Noonan and Rosa Brooks, and also this lengthy report by Chicago Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson on his interview with Obama yesterday.

In the piece, Obama says that a potential match up against John McCain would be portrayed as "War hero against snot-nosed rookie." Obama also commented on his now widely noted real estate deal with the sleazy, indicted Tony Rezko:

Obama acknowledged "it was stupid" of him to get involved in the purchase almost one year ago of a strip of property adjoining his $1.65 million home from Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who owned a vacant lot next door. Rezko, a political insider and fundraiser, was indicted in October on charges of trying to extort campaign donations and kickbacks from firms seeking state business. Rezko has pleaded not guilty.

"I am the first one to acknowledge that it was a boneheaded move for me to purchase this 10-foot strip from Rezko, given that he was already under a cloud of concern," Obama said. "I will also acknowledge that from his perspective, he no doubt believed that by buying the piece of property next to me that he would, if not be doing me a favor, it would help strengthen our relationship."

On the same day that Obama and his wife closed on their home, Rezko's wife, Rita, closed on the $625,000 vacant lot next door. Both lots had been part of the same estate, but the owner listed them as separate parcels.

Obama said he has known Rezko for 20 years and "he had never asked me for anything. I've never done any favors for him."

"There was no sense of betrayal of the public trust here," Obama said.

That'll be for the voters to decide.

John Dickersonwent over the details on the Obama-Rezko real estate deal and concluded that "there's nothing here so far that seems politically life threatening." He then adds:

The Rezko business is also not likely to hurt him, because his principal rival will probably be Hillary Clinton, and she's not going to bring up the topic of questionable land deals.

That may be true, so far as the primary goes, but not necessarily for the general election.

Oak vs. Willow

My column in the Chicago Sun-Times today: Abigail Adams describes George W. Bush.

Granholm's Secret

Did Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm hide the details of state budget overruns until after the election was over?

Duke Update

A key hearing today in the Duke Lacrosse case:

The motion, filed in Durham County Superior Court, also asks the judge to throw out the photographic lineup procedure that was the basis for the state's case. And it followed a defense motion Wednesday that attacked the handling of DNA evidence.

If the motions succeed, the attorneys for three indicted former lacrosse players would undermine the foundation of District Attorney Mike Nifong's case. The motions attack the key weaknesses the defense has raised about Nifong's case -- a questionable lineup, the lack of physical evidence and whether the accuser is a reliable witness.

Yesterday we learned that DNA from "several males" was found "in the accuser's body and her underwear" - none of which matched any player from the Duke lacrosse team. Today the news is that the accuser is pregnant and "due to give birth any day."

A Fight We Can Still Win

Retired Colonel Ken Allard points out an overlooked news conference last Friday by Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who has been the commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq during the last 12 months:

But don't miss the significance of what Chiarelli was telling us after a year of commanding our forces in Iraq -- assuming weary American voters choose to notice at all. His bottom-line assessment: Our troops are fighting the good fight with heroism, innovative tactics and interservice teamwork. Even more startling: This is a fight we can still win, assuming the Pentagon isn't left to fight on its own.

Allard has been a frequent critic of the administration's handling of the war and of Secretary Rumsfeld, and the fact he's "startled" at the idea we can still win in Iraq I take as a good thing. Read the whole column.

Don't Forget About Edwards

With so much recent talk about a 2008 showdown between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, one Democratic presidential hopeful has been getting short shrift: John Edwards.

Consider the results of the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll of 2008 preferences among Democrats. Mrs. Clinton is well out in front with 39%, followed by Barack Obama with 17%. John Edwards finishes third in the Post poll at 12%.

But national polls underplay Mr. Edwards's strength in key early states. In Iowa, for example, the Des Moines Register reports today on the details of an October poll of potential Democratic caucusgoers. The poll, conducted by Harstad Research for an environmental advocacy group, showed Mr. Edwards with a 20-point lead over Mrs. Clinton, 36% to 16%. Barack Obama finished third in the poll with 13%.

It should be noted the poll was taken in mid-October (the 12th through the 19th), right at the very beginning of Mr. Obama's book-selling media blitz, which began with an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show on October 18. But even if Mr. Obama has improved his standing among Iowa Democrats over the last two months, the same cannot be said of Mrs. Clinton. In fact, the Harstad poll is similar to the results of an Iowa poll in June showing Mr. Edwards ahead of Mrs. Clinton by four points -- the first time any candidate had beaten Mrs. Clinton in a 2008 poll at the national or state level.

Despite some speculation to the contrary, Mrs. Clinton will not be able to use Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack's entry into the race as an excuse to write off Iowa. With Nevada (a state with very strong labor union influence) and South Carolina (where John Edwards was born) now looming large on the Democrats' new primary schedule, a win by Mr. Edwards in Iowa could set the stage for a legitimate run at the nomination.

Denver Slips

From the Rocky Mountain News:

Denver's chances of winning the 2008 Democratic National Convention looked less promising Thursday, with U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar saying he was "concerned" that Denver might lose to New York City after a conversation with DNC chairman Howard Dean.

Salazar and Dean spoke for more than 30 minutes Thursday morning, and it ended with the senator putting the odds of Denver winning the convention at "50-50" - a less optimistic assessment than previously, said Salazar spokesman Cody Wertz.

Salazar said he thinks Dean wants to hold the convention in Denver but is worried the city will have trouble raising the $80 million needed to pull it off.

December 14, 2006

Rue, Britannia

A few weeks ago, I wrote that the Saudis were threatening the UK with cancellation of a contract potentially worth almost $80 billion to purchase the Typhoon (aka "Eurofighter") aircraft if British prosecutors continued to pursue allegations that a slush fund amounting to more than $100 million was established by BAE Systems (a British company and the primary builder of the Eurofighter in the UK) to benefit members of the Saudi royal family. Today - in an action worthy of France -- the British apparently caved in to Saudi blackmail.

According to this BBC report, the British Attorney General, "...Lord Goldsmith told the House of Lords he thought that a prosecution 'could not be brought.' He said the decision had been made in the wider public interest, which had to be balanced against the rule of law. Lord Goldsmith also told [the House of Commons] that Prime Minister Tony Blair had agreed that the continuation of the investigation would cause 'serious damage' to relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia."

In the early 19th Century, the European Powers - Britain, France and Spain - paid tribute to Tripolitan Beys to protect their shipping from pirate attacks. The paradigm established then seems to hold to this day: pay to play. At least the pirates of today are often better mannered than those of the 19th Century.

Sheriff Harry Lee and Rep. William "Cold Cash" Jefferson

Here is an interesting email commenting on Rep. William Jefferson's victory in the runoff for Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District.

William Jefferson's victory is a bit more complicated than you may know. It involves Hurricane Katrina and the longtime Jefferson Parish Sheriff. Bear with me - this is the type of stuff that only happens in Louisiana.

While his district is largely comprised of New Orleans (predominantly black voters), a portion of Dollar Bill's district includes neighboring Jefferson Parish. As you may know, Jefferson Parish is one of the metropolitan parishes which received most of the "white flight" from Orleans Parish following the 1960's. Today, Jefferson Parish is mostly white, though all socio-economic classes are well represented.

What put Dollar Bill over the top was Jefferson Parish voters! How could this be? During Katrina, a group of (mostly black) people from New Orleans attempted to walk across the downtown Mississippi River Bridge into a town in Jefferson Parish known as Gretna. Jefferson Parish deputies allegedly fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd, as Gretna was evacuated and the deputies left behind were unable/unwilling to handle refugees from New Orleans. Dollar Bill's opponent in this race, Karen Carter, has been claiming racism on the part of Jefferson Parish deputies since that time. Accordingly, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee came out against Carter the week before the runoff, asking the rhetorical question, "Does she think I'm crazy?" (He also stated that he was not supporting Dollar Bill.)

You may recall, Harry Lee has made headlines over his several decades-long career, for attempting to stop black pedestrians in certain Jefferson Parish neighborhoods to ask what business brings them to such addresses. Recently, he has been very vocal in discussing black-on-black crime, and has drawn the ire of the NAACP on several occasions. Regardless of how one views his policies, Jefferson Parish voters generally like Harry Lee for his blunt, no holds barred honesty and his efforts to hold back the worst elements from "the City." So it seems many Jefferson Parish voters heeded his call to refrain from voting for Carter.

As this is Louisiana, the tale is even stranger than these facts would indicate. Harry Lee is: (1) a life long Democrat who continues to be re-elected in the most Republican parish in Louisiana: (2) an old hunting buddy of former Democratic Governor, now convict, Edwin Edwards; and (3) fancies himself a cowboy, despite his Chinese heritage.

NPR's All Things Considered had a good write up on Sheriff Lee the other day that lends support to the idea that Henry Lee may have enough clout in Jefferson Parrish to have made a difference in last weekend's runoff:

There's nobody quite like Harry Lee. He's the flamboyant and outspoken sheriff of Louisiana's Jefferson Parish, a sprawling suburb that borders New Orleans. The Chinese-American lawman, now in his seventh term in office, has a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth, but it only seems to increase his popularity. The 74-year-old, 300-pound sheriff -- down from 400 pounds, he proudly points out -- sits at his desk surrounded by his large gun collection.

"I'm still as full of piss and vinegar as I was 20 years ago," he says.

For 26 years, Lee has been the top cop and chief taxing authority of the booming jurisdiction of nearly half a million people, and because of peculiar state law, there's little oversight.

"The sheriff of [Jefferson Parish] is the closest thing there is to being a king in the U.S. I have no unions, I don't have civil service, I hire and fire at will. I don't have to go to council and propose a budget. I approve the budget. I'm the head of the law-enforcement district, and the law-enforcement district only has one vote, which is me," he says.
"We know where the problem areas are. If we see some black guys on the corner milling around, we would confront them," he said.

The president of the regional NAACP, Donatus King, wasn't buying it.

"Confronting a group of black people on the street corner merely because they're black and milling around is a form of racial profiling. The NAACP opposes that tactic," King said.

Under pressure, the sheriff said his deputies would not be indiscriminately frisking African-American males.
A few days later, the Times-Picayune ran an unscientific poll. The phone calls ran 22 for the NAACP, 789 for Harry Lee.

Jefferson Parrish elected David Duke its state representative in 1989.

December 13, 2006

Senator Johnson

A brief report from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader :

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., was hospitalized today, according to his Washington office.

He was taken to George Washington Medical Center.

He suffered from a possible stroke.

As this stage, he is undergoing a comprehensive evaluation by the stroke team.

Further details will be forthcoming when more is known.

The Wrong End of the Cow

In his post on global warming earlier today pointing out that greenhouse gases emitted by livestock represent a larger share than those generated by automobiles, Ross Kaminsky blamed "good old fashioned cow farts." It turns out Ross had the wrong end of the cow.

Steve Kelton, the editor of Livestock Weekly, emailed to point out that in reality the culprit is good old fashioned cow burps:

Actually, it's not the farts -- it's the belches. Cattle, sheep, goats, deer, water buffaloes, camels, yaks, etc. are all ruminents, meaning they have predigestive organs in which microbes ferment the otherwise indigestible forage these animals eat. In fact, it's mostly the microbes and their waste products that nourish ruminents; the largely cellulose diets they consume serve to feed the bugs. When they belch, they expel the gas created by fermentation. It can be vile, though sometimes with a playfully fruity bouquet.

When I hear of scientific geniuses "discovering" this contribution to "greenhouse gas" I have to wonder what obvious secret they will uncover next. By way of context, we have roughly 100 million head of cattle in this country today, which is perhaps half the number of bison that grazed just the central Plains a little more than a century ago; USDA wasn't around to take a census then, of course, so the count is uncertain, but that estimate is based on railroad bills of lading for hides shipped back East during the final slaughter years.

It is yet another non-problem just crying out to be solved by experts in desperate need of a lifetime government job.

Dennis Jumps

Dennis Kucinich has announced he's running for President again. Thank goodness, I was being to worry he was falling behind the rest of the field.

Sorry girls, there won't be a win a date with Dennis contest this time. He's married now.

Full Nelson

Not exactly what you'd call a team player:

In a direct affront to the Bush administration, a Democratic senator spent an hour Wednesday with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, emerging from the meeting to say Assad was willing to help control the Iraq-Syrian border.

Global Warming Alarmism and Cows

Straight from the homeland of global warming alarmism and it's worrier-in-chief, Tony Blair, come two interesting pieces of information about climate change...both of which are likely to be ignored by mainstream media in America because they do not jibe with the media's existing bias toward accepting junk science which causes fear and raises ratings or newspaper sales.

According to an article in the UK's Telegraph newspaper, the upcoming report from the IPCC (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) will reduce its estimate of the human effect on climate change by 25% and cut in half their estimate of the maximum rise in sea levels which climate change could cause.

The changes are in part due to a re-thinking of the way the climate is working, i.e. the effect of aerosol sprays in keeping temperatures from rising, as well as using newer and better data since the last report was completed five years ago.

It would be amusing, were it not so dangerous for policy considerations, that articles like that linked above have headlines pointing toward at least a slight retreat in global warming alarmism but then fill the article itself with the most scare-mongering fact-free text one could imagine outside the National Enquirer. (I take that back...it's an insult to the National Enquirer.)

Some quote snippets from the Telegraph article:

"People are very worried..." "...paints a bleak picture..." "...expect more storms of similar ferocity..." "...we are storing up problems for ourselves in the future."

It's enough to make you put your head in the oven.

Following the news about the IPCC report comes an incredible study entitled "Livestock's long shadow" by the LEAD (Livestock, Environment and Development) Initiative, which is supported by the World Bank, the EU, various government ministries and departments in Europe and the US, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.

Let me get right to the heart of the issue, quoting from their report:

The livestock sector is...responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than transport.

The emphasis on the last sentence is mine. What this says is that between deforestation to create pastures, the emissions of greenhouse gasses in the process of making cow feed, and mostly from good old fashioned cow farts, cows are responsible for more of the pollution that people fear is causing global warming than cars, airplanes, trains, ships, snowmobiles, and motorized rickshaws combined.

While this does seem like quite a funny bit of news, it is yet another reason that we must be incredibly skeptical of dangerous and expensive policy suggestions like the Kyoto Protocols, which aim to possibly alter climate change by a fraction of a degree over decades at the cost of billions of dollars of economic output. And, if "economic output" sounds a bit theoretical to you, think of it as the likelihood that your and your children will be able to find a job.

I'll never look at a cow the same way again. Maybe the world needs to spend a billion dollars on very large corks....

But at least we have one politician who has the sense and courage to stand up against so much hype based on junk science. He is the often-derided Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). Inhofe's reaction to the story is summarized nicely by this quote (by him): "We are all skeptics now. It appears that the UN is now acknowledging what an increasing number of scientists who study the climate have come to realize: Predictions of manmade catastrophic global warming are simply unsustainable."

There is an ongoing battle for the "hearts and minds" of people in all industrialized countries, in which liberal anti-capitalists or else well-intentioned but poorly informed environmentalists suggest policy choices which would be devastating to the world's economy and which would have benefits that are limited at best. However, their side is winning the rhetorical war, in large part due to Tony Blair and the so-called Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. When you hear people like them say "the debate is over", don't believe it for a minute. Nevertheless, you should hold on to your wallet because your taxes and cost of living are likely to increase when their fears translate into new laws. And for heaven's sake, stay away from the business end of a cow.

December 12, 2006

The Latest Iraq Polls

A few interesting points on the trio of Iraq polls out today from ABC/WP, CBS and USA Today/Gallup.

They all seem to confirm the idea that the election was a repudiation of Bush's leadership on Iraq. In the CBS poll, 93% support either ending our involvement or a change in tactics. The country appears pretty evenly divided between the "keep fighting" option (47%) and the "start ending involvement" option (50%). The CBS sample appears to be the most anti-Bush and presumably negative on Iraq of the three, as Bush's job approval in the CBS poll is 31% compared to 36% and 38% in the ABC/AP and Gallup surveys.

Seven out of 10 Americans in the ABC/WP poll disapprove of the President's handling of Iraq and 48% in the USA Today/Gallup poll have not much confidence or none at all that President Bush will "recommend the right thing for the U.S." Interestingly from that same question in the Gallup poll 18% have a "great deal" of trust in the President to do the right thing as compared to only 14% for Democratic leaders. However, when you combine the "great deal of trust" and "fair amount of trust" responses President Bush is the only option out of the military, the ISG, John McCain, Democratic leaders and the state department who doesn't poll over 50%. The military and defense department clearly has the most confidence among the public as 81% trust them to recommend the right thing.

The fact that Senator McCain (who has been pushing for more troops) outpolls Democratic leaders in Congress by 5 points coupled with the overwhelmingly strong support for the military and defense department is moderately encouraging results for Republicans and tends to confirm the thesis that the election results were more of a repudiation of Bush's Iraq policy rather than a broad embrace of Democratic leadership.

Politics and Racism in America

William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson handily won his run-off for Louisiana's Second Congressional District, beating State Representative Karen Carter who had taken a lot of political heat for her views on social issues.

It is one of the few times you'll see the candidate with a huge fund-raising advantage lose the race: According to published reports, Carter raised 5 times as much money as Jefferson (presumably mostly from whites despite the fact that Carter is black.)

Much has already been made of the comparison between the behavior of the Democrats (and particularly the Congressional Black Caucus) and Republicans when faced with scandal. Mark Foley was disgraced and resigned following his inappropriate (but apparently legal) communications with House pages. When Gerry Studs (a man), a Massachusetts Democrat, actually had sex with a (male) page, he not only refused to accept any censure by his Party, but he ran for re-election and won.

Jefferson is the financial version of Studs: He was caught with $90,000 of literally cold cash in his freezer, believed to be part of up to $400,000 in bribes received from a technology company who wanted Jefferson's help based on his position on the Ways and Means Committee (which is the single most powerful committee in government when it comes to government spending.)

As the newspapers note, Jefferson's victory could pose an ethics bind for the Democrats. What will be most interesting is how Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders deal with the Congressional Black Caucus ("CBC").

This is the group that supported Alcee Hastings to take over the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee despite Hastings having been impeached by the House when he was a judge. This is the group that opposed removing Jefferson from the Ways and Means committee when the bribery came to light. And I expect them to try to get Pelosi to return Jefferson to the Ways and Means Committee. I hope she does, as it would immediately destroy her claims of cleaning up the "culture of corruption" in DC.

The Congressional Black Caucus cares nothing for ethics or even the good of their Party, much less the good of the country. They care only about their own power and being able to say that they are keeping blacks in positions of influence. (It is an issue for another day, but I also believe they consistently take positions (i.e. attacking Wal-Mart, opposing Social Security reform, and opposing school choice) which are directly antithetical to the interests of Americans in general and black Americans in particular.

Jefferson's re-election reminds me most of all of is the O.J. Simpson verdict. Two guys clearly guilty of a crime, one of whom gets re-elected and the other acquitted solely because blacks believe that the system is dominated by whites and biased against blacks. It is similar to recent poll results which show that blacks distrust election results more than any other group.

The idea that a criminal should be returned to office or a murderer should go free as some sort of message against the presumably white-dominated institutions investigating or prosecuting them represents a fundamental problem in America: Blacks feel not only as if they have not achieved as much as whites but also that the game is rigged against them. What is worse black leaders, elected like CBC members or self-appointed like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, maintain their power and fund-raising ability by feeding this fear. They keep telling their constituents that without giving them money and without voting for the black guy regardless of his flaws they will lose what little ability they still have to succeed in America. And since, like it or not, most of the inner-city blacks to whom these messages are directed are less politically attuned, less affluent, and less educated on average than the average American, they are particularly susceptible to what is, in its own way, simply hate speech.

America has clearly had its racial problems, and they still exist in many places. But as black leaders and ordinary black citizens alike use them as an excuse to reward bad behavior and to equate the success of a particular black person (regardless of his crimes) to a victory for blacks as a group shows me that race relations in this country are not as good as most whites like me would believe. That said, I also do not believe they are as bad as the Cynthia McKinneys and Al Sharptons of the world want us to think.

The best thing that could happen for Congress and for the country is for the CBC or at least some prominent black leaders (and I don't mean Thomas Sowell or Ward Connerly) to say that William Jefferson does not represent them, that his re-election was not a good thing, and that he should not be returned to the Ways and Means Committee. I'm not holding my breath, and to the extent that there's a bright side in Jefferson's re-election, it is the prospect of seeing Pelosi twisting in the wind trying to decide what to do. For the record, my guess is that she will refuse to return Jefferson to the Committee.

Lower Than Bush

From the USA Today/Gallup poll on Iraq:

Most predict the administration won't implement the bipartisan commission's proposals, however. And fewer than 1 in 5 have "a great deal" of trust in Bush to "recommend the right thing" for the United States to do in Iraq.

Confidence in Democratic congressional leaders to chart the proper course is even lower, at 14%.[emphasis added]

2008 Notes - The Dem Edition

Notes from the parlor game people can't seem to stop playing:

Ted Kennedy puts John Kerry on the clock and says, declare soon or I'm going to support someone else - like Osama-Obama.

Despite the fact Obama seems to have lit a bit of a fire under her, Hillary says she won't declare until after the New Year.

Meanwhile, Iowa Dems tell Hillary she needs to stop being such a "control freak." Also this from the same story:

Asked whether red-hot potential rival Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) would be a good President, Clinton responded with

a chuckle, which has become her trademark style of ducking questions.

Dan Wasserman of the Boston Globe nails Hillary's mood here.

E.J. Dionne says a showdown with Obama would be good for Hillary: "A Clinton-Obama contest would require Clinton to shed some of her caution. It would create enormous popular interest in the Democratic Party. And if she were to beat Obama -- this assumes, as I expect, that Obama will look just as formidable a year from now as he does today -- Clinton would prove her mettle, which might finally put the doubts to rest."

John Podhoretz labels Obama " The Rorschach Candidate" in the New York Post.

Al Gore, still hanging around: "I am not planning to run for president again," Gore said last week, arguing that his focus is raising public awareness about global warming and its dire effects. Then, he added: "I haven't completely ruled it out."

December 11, 2006

Tis the Season

I forgot to highlight this piece of satire from John Kass last Friday running down his list of this season's best selling stocking stuffer toys. Here are a few of my favorites:

Escape from Iraq. Pry the blue ink-stained fingers of Iraqi action figures clinging to the last American helicopter leaving Baghdad in this thrilling action-packed toy for all political skill levels. "Democrats" and "Republicans" blame opponents for the falling Iraqis, and extra points are awarded for not accepting any responsibility.

White House Press Secretary. Players are leading "journalists" in this game, which begins with a spin of the "bottle" pointing directly at the behinds of various presidential candidates, including Sens. Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton and others. Once the behinds are selected, each journalist must protect the candidates' behinds from attack by other players. Hint: Repeatedly use the words "centrist," "Kennedy" and "gravitas" in stories protecting Obama's behind, and become White House press secretary.

Barack Obama's Monster Mansion. Be the first to help the senator from Illinois purchase a mansion for $300,000 less than the listing price. You do this by grabbing the lot next door for more than it's worth. But don't get indicted! [snip]

Denny the Builder. Soak him in water and watch the metamorphosis, from obscure wrestling coach to U.S. speaker of the house to Republican real estate baron. Includes "highway proposal bills" and plastic "offramps" to increase the value of Denny's estate.

Senator Loafer Mouth. Based on the classic game "Operation." Liberal bloggers in their pajamas in their moms' basements must try to remove the loafer from Democratic Sen. John Kerry's mouth with his foot still in it. But keep your hands steady. Touch his teeth, and you'll have to clean up another "bad joke."

Pinochet's Legacy

Anthony Daniels has the best write up I have seen on why the left detested Pinochet so virulently:

The reason Augusto Pinochet was universally hated by leftists and many academics worldwide was not because he was so brutal or killed so many people (he hardly figured among the 20th century's most prolific political killers, admittedly a difficult company to get into) but because he was so successful. There is no doubt that there was indeed much brutality and hardship in the wake of his coup, but unlike the much less reviled military dictators of Argentina and Uruguay, he actually achieved something worthwhile, namely the prosperity of his country.

Worse still, he did so by adopting the very reverse of the policies for so long advocated by third worldists and academic development economists, who were certain that the cause of the third world's poverty was the first world's wealth, and that everything would have to change before anything could change. His demonstration that a country could draw itself up by its bootstraps, by embracing trade, was most unwelcome. It forced a change of world outlook, never welcome to those who live by ideas.

That a hick general from a humble background should so obviously have done much more for his country than a suave, educated, aristocratic Marxist was a terrible blow to the self-esteem of the Left in every Western country. As for holding a referendum on own his rule and abiding by the result when he lost, that was quite unforgivable, setting as it did a shocking precedent for left-wing dictators.

I lived in Santiago for a time in the early '90's in the early years after Pinochet lost a 1988 referendum to stay in power (he stepped down in 1990), but while he was still the head of the Chilean military. His legacy is far more complicated than what you might think reading much of the mainstream press. Forbes' Rich Karlgaard takes on the New York Times' front page story:

Pinochet was a rough guy, a bad guy, and yet another thief at the public till, as it turned out. There is no doubt about this. Relatives of the victims of Pinochet's murderous repression will never forgive him, nor should they.

I only suggest that today's NYT story, in its tone and lopsided balance, tries to tie Pinochet with the 20th century's worst dictators: Hitler, Stalin and the rest. This simply won't do....

Pinochet is roasting in hell now. But the fruits of his time on earth aren't all bad. He wasn't one of the 20th century's worst dictators. Not even close.

Otto Reich who served President Bush from 2001 to 2004, as assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere and later at the NSC has it right:

Today, thanks to the KGB files smuggled out of Russia by Vasily Mitrokhin, we know that Allende was receiving payments from the KGB. There is no doubt that if he had succeeded in his plans, Chile today would be an impoverished Communist prison like Cuba, instead of a shining example of democracy and prosperity. With some compassion and self-discipline, Pinochet could have been remembered as a liberator and not a despot. He was both.

Weakness in Housing and Autos Not Bad News

The overall economic growth rate did not suffer greatly from 9/11 - consumer spending was higher in October 2001 than it was before the attacks. Nonetheless, an increase in perceived risks caused a series of long-playing and somewhat dramatic developments to unfold over the past five years.

On the very micro-level, cucumber sorbet was out, while pecan pie and bread pudding were in. A little bit up the food chain, so to speak, airline travel and hotel stays plummeted in the wake of 9/11, but consumers spent more on their homes and motor vehicles - comfort food types of investment. Even further along the pipeline of economic activity, business insurance costs soared, which led to a dip in investment and non-residential construction. This dip occurred despite the Fed's decision to drop interest rates even more sharply in the aftermath of the attacks.

Now, more than five years later, the economy is still reeling from many of these decisions. After gorging on houses and autos when interest rates were low and the appetite for risk was suppressed, these markets are now satiated. While we reject the idea of bubbles, it is clear that absurdly low interest rates (1% federal funds rate and 0% auto-financing) turbocharged these markets and stole future growth from these sectors.

Moreover, the risk aversion induced by terrorism also pulled equity prices into undervalued territory and pushed bonds (which many view as less-risky investments) into overvalued territory.

But now, comfort food is giving way to what many might call more risky fare. Housing is clearly in decline and autos are struggling, but the stock market is climbing steadily. At the same time, airline travel is at new record highs and there is a shortage of hotel rooms in many markets.

While no investment is truly risk free, aversion to risk has allowed corporate profits to more than double over the past five years without a commensurate increase in stock prices. And despite recent strength, the S&P 500 remains 25% to 30% undervalued.

Weakness in housing and autos is not bad news for equity investors because weakness in these comfort food markets is not a result of a squeeze in liquidity. The Fed is not tight, it is just less loose. Interest rates are still low, liquidity is plentiful and the results will be tasty.

The Messiah Cometh to New Hampshire

The media coverage of Barack Obama, as the Senator himself often notes, is insane. That insanity reached a new high yesterday as Obama made his way through New Hampshire yesterday with more than 150 members of the media in tow.

Susan Milligan of the Boston Globe described Obama as delivering "an uncomplicated message" of hope and promise, which I assume she meant as a compliment. Ditto Seth Gitell in the New York Sun, who writes that Obama's candidacy is "is shaping up as the perfected form of the campaign Senator Bradley of New Jersey attempted to run in 2000 and Governor Dean attempted with more success in 2004."

Here's more flavor of the coverage from Adam Nagourney of the New York Times:

Whatever the reason, Democrats long acquainted with New Hampshire politics were stunned to walk into a ballroom at the Center of New Hampshire here and see signs proclaiming the event sold out. "I've never seen anything like this before this early," said Mike Ballantine, a computer programmer from Nashua, as across the room Mr. Obama was surrounded by more than 100 people, many holding up his book and hoping for an autograph. "I mean it's amazing. Really amazing."

And the reality of Mr. Obama -- as opposed to what people had read or seen in weeks of extraordinarily favorable coverage -- struck a chord with some. "I was very impressed with the fact that he wants to bring people together," said Betsy Shultis, a former state representative. "I was very taken with him."

Elizabeth Fairchild, 37, of Rye, N.H., said: "I thought he was fantastic. He exceeded my expectations."

Another swooning Democrat told Dan Balz of the Washington Post , "I do hope he runs. I haven't been so excited by someone since JFK, when he was campaigning when I was 10 years old."

And if likening Obama to Dem icon JFK isn't high enough praise, a 64 year-old artist in Portsmouth went a step further, saying of Obama to reporter Paul West of the Baltimore Sun, "I see him as very messianic."

Let me know when he starts walking on water.

The reality, of course, is that Obama has a long way to go. Glenn Thrush of Newsday reports that Hillary's folks have alreaady started the whispering campaign against Obama:

Clinton aides claim she hasn't been flustered by Obama's flirtation with a run, but some supporters have privately taken to slipping some salt into the sugar when it comes to the freshman Illinois senator.

"Do you know what his middle name is?" one booster asked recently. (Answer: "Hussein!")

And here's some good news for '08 wannabe John Edwards: Obama's wife, Michelle, earns $45K a year sitting on the corporate board of Treehouse (formerly Dean) Foods, whose biggest customer is - you guessed it - Wal-Mart. Not to mention that Treehouse appears to have a bit of an executive compensation issue.

According to the article by Greg Hinz of Crain's Chicago, the CEO of Treehouse earned $26.2 million in salary and stock options last year, making him the second highest paid exec in the state, ahead of the CEO's of corporate giants Motorola and Abbot Labs. And three other execs at Treehouse made over $10 million last year, all working for a company with only $700 million in revenues.

All of this stuff, and much more, will come into play should Obama throw his hat in the ring. When it comes to running for president, you can only float above the shark tank for so long before you have to get down in the water, get bloody, and start mixing it up. As much as there is something to be said for being a new, fresh face, there's something to be said for being battle tested as well.

Protesting Jimmy

From the Arizona Republic:

Fallout from former President Carter's latest book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, will reach the Valley when Carter visits Tempe on a book-signing tour Tuesday.

The Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix will protest Carter's engagement at Changing Hands Bookstore, denouncing his recent book as irresponsible and insulting to Israelis.

December 08, 2006

A Greatness of Mind: Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, RIP

Yesterday, former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick passed away at the age of eighty. Working on my UN book a few years ago, I asked for an interview and her ever-protective staff warned me that I could only stay for thirty minutes. When I sat down in her AEI office, I tried to rush a lot of questions into those thirty minutes, but she immediately put me at ease. What resulted was one of the most informative conversations I've ever enjoyed with one of the smartest, incisive and charming people I've ever had the good fortune to meet. I learned a lot about the UN and about her in the hour we spent together.

We spoke about all aspects of the UN, its motley membership, how the staff is chosen disproportionately to American and Western influence, how corruption can be dealt with and why the Secretary General's influence on the UN's agenda is not at all what the founders envisioned. (The SG was supposed to be an administrative officer, not a political power. Under Boutros-Boutros Ghali and the Clinton administration, the SG position began to evolve, and the process accelerated under Kofi Annan to where the SG is now thought of as what one-time SG Kurt Waldheim semi-jokingly said was "president of the world.") Most importantly, she was very firm about the fact that the UN should play no role in the decision of American presidents to employ military force. Amb. Kirkpatrick said, "There is no ground in the UN Charter or in precedent to support the position that the Security Council is the only source of legitimacy for the use of force...The importance of American sovereignty over American action is of the utmost importance." She explained that, "We must never agree that the US needs permission of the Security Council or any non-American entity to take action to protect our security. That is an irreducible responsibility of our government, which of course is responsible to the Congress and the American people as specified in our Constitution." That sort of clarity - of mind, principle and purpose - is all too rare among our leadership.

One of my best friends worked for Nixon, Reagan and Kirkpatrick. He was a Ph.D. student of hers at Georgetown University. He told me that of the three, she was the greatest intellect.

I never knew Margaret Thatcher. But sitting and talking with Jeane Kirkpatrick, and many times since, I couldn't help thinking that if Republicans were a lot smarter, she'd have been a great president of the United States. All of us should feel the loss of this powerful, clear mind.

Political Vanes & Vanities

I see Michelle Malkin has already commented on the apparent hypocrisy of Arianna Huffington's slam on Hillary Clinton in the LA Times yesterday for being "the quintessential political weather vane." I say "apparent hypocrisy" because despite Michelle pointing out the obvious fact that Arianna used to be considered "conservative," Huffington's column really doesn't represent much of a contradiction.

Arianna simply hates moderation. She's gone from one extreme to the other and, as strange and schizonphrenic as it might seem to most of us to have such a dramatic change in our world view, Arianna is now a fully reconstructed, fully committed "progressive" in the same way former leftist David Horowitz is now a fully committed right-wing flame thrower.

What makes Arianna different is the nagging sense that her politics has always been more about calculation than conviction. Remember, this is a woman Republican strategist Ed Rollins (who managed Michael Huffington's '94 campaign for California Senate) once called "a domineering Greek Rasputin" and said was "the most ruthless, unscrupulous, and ambitious person I'd met in thirty years in national politics."

And that was when she was a conservative, six or so years before she became a liberal, nine years before she made a vanity run for Governor of California, and ten years before she became the doyenne of a progressive political web site.

Morning in Hillary's America

Senator Hillary Clinton has long been the Democratic favorite in 2008, though the seeming inevitability of her nomination had begun to fade over the past year. Of all the major candidates thought to be running for President, Ms. Clinton's position has been most strengthened by the Democrats' success in November.

First, the public's clear repudiation of the status quo policy in Iraq provides Ms. Clinton with the cover to adjust her position on Iraq. She will be able to get more in line with the base of her party without creating too much damage among voters in the middle, whom she will need in the general election.

Furthermore, while capturing Congress severely handicaps the Democrats' ability to run on the powerful theme of "change" in the general election, it's also likely to produce a moderating effect as Democrats assume the responsibility of governing. This will help insulate Ms. Clinton in the primaries against the inevitable challenge from the left since Democratic primary voters will be more willing to back a centrist nominee having recaptured Congress two years earlier and tasted a return to power.

But the biggest boost for Senator Clinton is the drubbing the GOP took at the polls. The Democrats' greatest fear has always been that Ms. Clinton is simply too polarizing a candidate to defeat a Republican with broad appeal to independents and moderates, such as John McCain or Rudy Giuliani. The '06 election results and the crumbling of the Republican majority over Iraq have changed that analysis. Six months or a year ago, it was hard to envision how Ms. Clinton could beat a united GOP behind Sen. McCain or Mr. Giuliani. That isn't true today.

In fact, the Democrats' strong performance this year in Senate and Governor's races in swing states that will be key in 2008 (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, and Colorado, to name a few) may help Hillary get over the biggest hurdle she faces in getting the nomination: the belief among some Democrats that she can't win.

The Victory Option

As much as I admire Shelby Steele and agree with him about the nature of the global threat of Islamic radicalism, his column today in the Wall Street Journal about victory in Iraq is about as helpful, practically speaking, as the ISG report- which is to say "not very." Steele writes:

Historically victory in foreign war has always meant hegemony: You win, you take over. We not only occupied Germany and Japan militarily after World War II, we also--and without a whit of self doubt--imposed our democratic way of life on them. We took our victory as a moral mandate as well as a military achievement, and felt commanded to morally transform these defeated societies by the terms of our democracy. In this effort we brooked no resistance whatsoever and we achieved great success.

But today, as Nancy Pelosi recently put it, "You can define victory any way you want." And war, she said, was only "a situation to be resolved." If this sort of glibness makes the current war seem a directionless postmodern adventure, it is only because those who call us to war have themselves left the definition of victory wide open. And now, as if to confirm that this is a "relativistic" war meaning everything and nothing, there are at least three national commissions--the White House, the Pentagon and the Baker committee--tasked to create the meaning that will give us a dignified exit. Of course America is now quite beyond any possibility of dignity in this situation save the one option all these commissions have or will likely dismiss: complete military victory.

As appealing as Steele's talk of victory may sound to those frustrated with the pace of the war (which is just about everyone these days), let's be realistic about what his approach would look like - assuming we could even achieve "hegemony" in Iraq. We'd need hundreds of thousands of more troops, not only to get control of Baghdad but to seal the borders with Syria and Iran. We'd also have to kill Moqtada al-Sadr - an elected member of the new Iraqi government who controls at least three ministries - and imprison or execute most of the 60,000 members of his Mahdi army.

The problem, of course, is that we can't pretend Iraq is Germany or Japan circa 1945, and we can't simply reduce Baghdad to rubble in order to impose our will. The chance to establish the kind of hegemony in Iraq Steele is talking about, if there ever was one, was three and a half years ago.

Does that mean victory in Iraq is out of the question? No. Furthermore, it may be that we need to "surge" US troops in Iraq in the short term to try and reestablish control and, hopefully, give the Iraqi government some room to operate. But success in Iraq is going to have a political element to it, and it will also require Iraqis to manage their own security situation. Perhaps Steele finds that plan a bit of wishful thinking, but it's more realistic than the one he offered today in the Wall Street Journal.

Mental Mel

When you get drunk and go off on a vicious anti-Semitic rant after getting pulled over by the cops, I suppose it's only natural that film critics start factoring that sort of behavior into their reviews:

In any discussion of "Apocalypto," which deals with the twilight of Mayan civilization, a delicate distinction must be made. It would be inappropriate and probably inaccurate for any critic to pronounce on the mental health of a filmmaker based on his movie. Yet no description of "Apocalypto" can even begin, much less be complete, without noting -- say, in a colloquial, nonclinical, anecdotal sort of way -- that it seems like something made by a crazy person. It's unrelenting, a succession of blood-soaked disaster, an artfully designed parade of cruelty that would make the Marquis de Sade get up and say, "Enough already."

December 07, 2006

They Are Not Poor Because We Are Rich

On Tuesday, the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER) released a study called "The World Distribution of Household Wealth".

The study's headline, from their press release, begins "the richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth". The next two paragraphs of the press release read as follows:

The most comprehensive study of personal wealth ever undertaken also reports that the richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. In contrast, the bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth.

The research finds that assets of $2,200 per adult placed a household in the top half of the world wealth distribution in the year 2000. To be among the richest 10% of adults in the world required $61,000 in assets, and more than $500,000 was needed to belong to the richest 1%, a group which -- with 37 million members worldwide -- is far from an exclusive club."

Much further down in the document is a discussion of the "Gini value", a measure of income or wealth inequality, in which the authors say "The study estimates that the global wealth Gini for adults is 89%. The same degree of inequality would be obtained if one person in a group of ten takes 99% of the total pie and the other nine share the remaining 1%."

Although researchers at institutions like the UN have done a much better than usual job of avoiding obvious political bias in this study, the same can not be said for the media. A typical example comes from Reuters (a story which was picked up on web sites from the UK to Australia), in which the reporter's story line goes roughly like this:

• 2% of adults own more than half of global wealth
• wealth distribution is "even more skewed" than income
• the "pie share" story, i.e. one person in a group of 10 having a dollar and the other 9 having $99 dollars
• Then she picks up this quote: "The super-rich are even more grotesquely rich than 50 years ago."

As if her bias against wealth were not already obvious, she then takes the information showing that it is not hard (by western standards) to be in the top percentiles of wealth by doubling the $500,000 threshold in the press release and saying "a couple in 2000 needed $1 million in capital to number among the richest 37 million people in the world, the top 1 percent." (And of course she leaves out what even the study's authors noted: that is "far from an exclusive club."

It is only two-thirds of the way through the Reuters article that the writer points out that wealth of $2,200 gets you into the top half of the world's population. The only good thing I can say about the Reuters reporter is that at least she is not the India's Economic Times editor who branded those people in the top percentiles of the world's asset holders as "the filthy rich".

What writers like the Reuters reporter are doing (intentionally, I believe) is trying to get readers to infer massive wealth differentials within their own countries whereas this study is about the differences among countries.

But let's dig into this study a little more.

The United States has 25% of the world's wealthiest 10%. Japan has 20%. Germany, Italy, the UK, and France have 8%, 7%, 6%, and 4% respectively.

In terms of population as a percentage of world population, here are the numbers: USA 4.57%, Japan 1.95%, Germany 1.26%, Italy 0.89%, and the UK and France both at 0.93%.

In other words, when asking what percent of these industrialized nations' populations are in the top 10% of wealth, the results look like this: USA 18%, Japan 10%, Germany 16%, Italy 13%, the UK 16%, and France 23%.

(Keep in mind that the wealth statistics are for adults only and the population numbers include children, so differences in reproduction and immigration in years preceding the study data make the relative values above slightly different given that Japan has a low rate of reproduction, the US a fairly high rate, and most of western Europe in between.)

[Because of exchange rate issues, the Japan number is smaller than I would have expected given the study's finding that "Average wealth amounted to $144,000 per person in the USA in year 2000, and $181,000 in Japan." In any case, the percentage of Americans who are in the top 10% is in-line with western Europeans.]

Let me be clear about my opinion, in case it isn't obvious from my writing: Being in the top 1% or top 10% of the world's wealthiest people is not something to be ashamed of. The fact that western democracies in general have higher levels of wealth than third-world dictatorships is something that should be celebrated. It means we are doing something right.

It is not the rich who are "filthy". It is the governments of those countries who are at the bottom of this survey's results...places like the Congo and Ethiopia...who embezzle not only their country's economic product, however meager, but also a huge percentage of aid given by the UN and the West. There are many reasons why a country might be poor, but in my view the single biggest reason left in the 21st century is bad government, and the refusal of the West to realize that we simply prolong the poverty and suffering of the world's poorest by continuing to give aid the way we primarily do, i.e. by government (or NGO) to government transfer.

The study notes that net assets of $61,000 get one into the richest 10% of the world's adults. While the relationship between disposable income and net worth varies with government policies such as taxation and welfare benefits, a net worth of $61,000 seems to correlate roughly to disposable income of $12,000. Assuming that a "household" includes two adults, the most recent US Census Department statistics show that roughly 82% of American households are likely to be in the richest 10% of the world by wealth. (Given that many households have fewer than 2 adults, the real number is likely to be higher.) I repeat, the fact that even poor Americans are rich by world standards is a badge of honor we should wear proudly.

The BBC news story on the study properly notes that "the report is not about policy recommendations" although one of the authors does stress the "importance of enhancing banking systems".

That is the real import of this study: What the West is doing, in terms of property rights, government, and stable private and public institutions, is making us wealthy. Instead of feeling guilty about it as the mainstream media would like us to, what we need to take away from this report is that by enabling corrupt governments though direct-to-government aid we are keeping poor people poor. To the extent that one considers income or wealth inequality a problem (which I certainly don't in America but do in third world kleptocracies) the answer is not to just send them more of our money. They are not poor because we are rich.

ISG Collides with Reality

The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report issued yesterday brings to mind William F. Buckley Jr.'s statement long ago that he'd rather be governed by the first one hundred people listed in the Cambridge, Massachusetts telephone directory than by the Harvard faculty. Buckley's comment comes to mind because the ISG report has all the attributes -- and all of the failings -- of an academic study. It is both theoretically sound and thoroughly inapplicable outside the laboratories of the schools of diplomacy.

First and most importantly, the ISG recommends establishment of an "...international support structure intended to stabilize Iraq and ease tensions in other countries in the region. This support structure should include every country that has an interest in averting a chaotic Iraq, including all of Iraq's neighbors - Iran and Syria among them." It recommends that we negotiate Iraq's future with these nations without regard for the fact that neither is willing to see Iraq able to govern, sustain and defend itself.

What the ISG appears unwilling to see is the fact that Iran and Syria have, since before April 2003, working tenaciously to destabilize Iraq and prevent democracy from taking root there. When I visited Iraq in December of last year, I was briefed by all of our top military commanders, as well as Amb. Khalilzad. With the exception of Khalilzad, all the leaders emphasized that Syria and Iran were infiltrating weapons, money and fighters into Iraq. If Syria were at all interested in a stable Iraq, why has its government refused to take any action to prevent the flow of foreign fighters, weapons and insurgent funding into Iraq, a process which continues to this day? If Iran wished for a stable Iraq, why would it be manufacturing and smuggling into Iraq the deadliest weapon our troops face, the "explosively-formed projectile" IED? And why would it be funding and controlling the activities of Moqtada al-Sadr, the murderous radical Shiite imam whose Mahdi Militia is a powerful anti-democratic force?

The ISG's recommendation to negotiate a positive role for Syria and Iran is willfully ignorant of the goals of Iran and Syria. Their interest is in American withdrawal from the region, not a stable Iraq. They do not wish stability on terms we can possibly accept. Iran has been at war with the United States since 1979. The "stability" Iran seeks in the Middle East is one that precludes any further American interference in its nuclear weapons program and in which America accepts Iran as the regional superpower. Iran is well on the way to achieving that status, which would threaten US security by asserting control of about two-thirds of the world's oil reserves and - within a few years - result in the destruction of Israel.

There will be many more aspects of the ISG that I will write about in the coming weeks. In debating its recommendations, we should remember that the theories of international diplomacy are no more than that: theories. When they collide with reality, they are usually disproved at the cost of many lives. Before we commence adopting the ISG's recommendations, they have to be tested against the facts on the ground. These recommendations - like the 9-11 Commission's - are not delivered to us from Mt. Sinai on marble tablets. They are, in sum, an academic map of the road to defeat in the global war against Islamofascism.

The Post Strikes Again

As usual, the New York Post has gone over the top for effect:

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Pearl Harbor at 65

No one knows how just many Pearl Harbor survivors are still left among us, but there aren't many. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, of the 70,000 sailors and soldiers stationed at Pearl Harbor only 5,000 remain alive.

On the USS Arizona alone, only 334 sailors survived the attack, and as of this year the association that coordinates reunions for the Arizona survivors can only account for 34. Nine of those men and their families will attend ceremonies today in Hawaii.

The survivors of Pearl Harbor are now in their late 80's and early 90's, but most all remember that "day of infamy" sixty-five years ago as if it were yesterday. In an interview with World War II Magazine, Donald Stratton, one of the survivors aboard the Arizona who was badly injured, describes the scene on December 7, 1941 as he and his fellow sailors realized they were under attack and scrambled to man their battle stations.

Stratton: It was all happening very quickly and I didn't have much time to think. We were firing. There were only 50 rounds of ammunition in the ready box behind each gun, and I could see that some of the crews had to break the locks off the boxes to load their guns. We were firing at the planes -- more or less at the high altitude bombers. We knew that the torpedo bombers and the dive bombers would be covered by the .50-caliber machine guns. We worried about the high altitude bombers, [but] we couldn't reach them. Our shells were bursting before they ever reached their altitude.

WWII Magazine: At approximately 8:10 a.m., Arizona was hit by an 800-kg armor-piercing bomb just forward of No. 2 turret. The bomb penetrated the ship's deck and went off a few seconds later in the forward powder magazine. The subsequent blast gutted the ship, and the foremast and forward superstructure began to collapse. What do you remember of this blast?

Stratton: We were hit once before -- aft on top of No. 3 turret -- and it bounced over the side. One went through the afterdeck and didn't explode. Then one hit up above on the starboard side -- it was big. It shook the ship like an earthquake. Then all at once there was a big explosion, which just raised the ship pretty near clear up out of the water and then back down. There was a ball of flame that went about 500 to 600 feet in the air, and it just engulfed the whole foremast up there where we were and the whole bow of the ship.

WWII Magazine: What happened inside the director at this point?

Stratton: It just rattled us around like we were inside of a tube or something. As soon as I came to my senses, I tried to hide under some of the equipment to keep away from the blaze, but I still got burned. The fire came right into the director.

WWII Magazine: Did you or anyone else try to escape the fire by going outside onto the platform?

Stratton: No, we stayed in there for a little protection. A couple of the people in the director jumped out and I never did see them again.

WWII Magazine: How long was it before you went onto the platform?

Stratton: When the fire kind of squelched down a little bit. There was a little sea breeze that blew the smoke away. The fire control director and I got out on the platform. All the deck...inside of the charthouse and the ready boxes: Everything was red-hot. We couldn't lay or sit down.

WWII Magazine: From your director, you were one of only two survivors of the blast. Were you injured?

Stratton: Yes. I knew I had been burned and was in terrible pain. My legs were burnt from my thighs clear to my ankles. My T-shirt had caught on fire, and my back, both my arms and left side were burned pretty bad -- so was my face. All the hair on my head was burned off, and part of an ear was gone.

WWII Magazine: Could you see what was happening below you on the rest of the ship?

Stratton: [Pause.] I'm not going to say anything. That was so terrible I don't even want to say anything about it.

Take a moment today and honor the men who survived to tell the tale of Pearl Harbor, as well as those who did not. It's the very least we can do. And if you happen to be someone lucky enough to know one of these remarkable heroes, please give their hand an extra shake today and deliver a four word message to them from those of us who wish we could do it in person: we won't ever forget.

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More stories from around the country on Pearl Harbor:

The Baltimore Sun reports on a ceremony for survivors that will take place in Annapolis dedicating a bridge at the Severn River as the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge. Eighty-eight year old Eugene H. "Dutch" Albert told the paper: ""It will be one of the greatest things in my life, really. I'm one of those people who hope that Pearl Harbor will never be forgotten."

The Miami Herald interviewed 85 year-old Mervyn Ames who experienced the attack from the deck of the USS Allen.

The Deseret News: "Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Emmett Smith Davis, 22, was sound asleep shortly before 8 a.m. in an officers' club 12 miles from Hawaii's Pearl Harbor 65 years ago when a lieutenant shook him and yelled that the Japanese were attacking."

The San Antonio Express-News runs excerpts from the diary of the wife of a soldier stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7.

The New York Times has a special section on the salvaging of Pearl Harbor.

The Washington Post has an article about how scientists are trying to prevent some 500,000 gallons of fuel still trapped inside the sunken USS Arizona from spilling out and contaminating the harbor.

December 06, 2006

Jackson Time?

The burning question: will Andy Dick call Jesse Jackson to apologize?

Speaking of the Good Reverend, he's at it again today in the Chicago Sun-Times arguing that President Bush should be impeached:

Whether we're Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, we all should support defending our Constitution. We need a careful consideration of whether the Constitution can or should be changed in the light of the threats we now face. If it is to be changed, then surely it should be changed by amendment, not by the unilateral acts of a president. If changes are not needed, then Bush's claims must be clearly rejected.

This is the same Jesse Jackson, mind you, who just last week argued we should shred the First Amendment and start criminalizing certain types of offensive speech. Thus, Jackson's "carefully considered" view of the Constitution supports tossing the President of the United States out of office during a time of war for defending the country against a global terrorist threat and throwing Andy Dick and Michael Richards in jail for using the n-word.

Bad Idea of the Day

Trying to type on your Blackberry while driving on the expressway.

'The Mother of Them All'

That's what James Carville is calling the 2008 Presidential race. Finally, I agree with him on something.

Hillary has been dialing up New Hampshire Dems, as if we needed any more signs that she's going to throw her hat in the ring.

Meanwhile, Obama was in Hillary's backyard on Tuesday, and he's headed up to New Hampshire in the very near future.

Wes Clark is gearing up for a run. Even Al Gore is still makes noises like he might enter the fray, which would make things really interesting.

On the Republican side, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback announced on Tuesday he's forming an exploratory committee, saying, ""There is a real need in our country to rebuild the family and renew our culture. There is a need for genuine conservatism and real compassion in the national discussion."

I saw Brownback speak at the SRLC in Memphis back in April. Frankly, I was shocked at the tepid response from the crowd of conservative delegates. He gave a rambling, uninspired, and mostly forgettable speech about reclaiming the mantle of Ronald Reagan. Brownback has the physical appearance of a potential president, but he was significantly less polished than Governor Mike Huckabee who has a folksy stump speech that was well received by the crowd and also Mitt Romney who gave one of the best appearances of the entire weekend.

Lastly, Rudy Giuliani, scored a big "get" yesterday and announced he'll host a presidential fundraiser, making it very likely that he's going to be in the "mother of them all" as well.

Is Diversity Dead?

In today's Seattle Times Lynne Varner writes, "Diversity, as a tool of public education, is dead as a doornail." Varner continues:

The death of the racial tiebreaker will not be the end of the world. It was a diversity tool less than artfully applied. Students could self-identify their race, opening a loophole large enough for hordes of crafty parents to pass through over the years. A smart, perceptive School Board ought to be able to find other ways to compel diversity in neighborhood schools that are growing less diverse.

However, if the court turns Brown on its head by prohibiting any consideration of race in public education, narrowly tailored or not, we're in trouble. It would be an almost perverse interpretation of the 14th Amendment's equal-rights clause. Instead of recognizing the necessary use of racial groups, particularly when ensuring equal opportunity in education, the court could well adopt a colorblind mentality.

God forbid we should ever adopt a colorblind mentality in this country. Apparently we're still a long way from Martin Luther King's dream about the "content of character."

And would prohibiting racial quotas in public education really be turning Brown "on its head," or rather the logical conclusion of equal access? As George Will wrote earlier this week, "the Supreme Court has held that public secondary education 'must be available to all on equal terms.''"

In his column on the Seattle School District's law suit, Will continued:

Until June, the school district's Web site declared that "cultural racism'' includes "emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology,'' "having a future time orientation'' (planning ahead) and "defining one form of English as standard.'' The site also asserted that only whites can be racists, and disparaged assimilation as the "giving up'' of one's culture. After this propaganda provoked outrage, the district, saying it needed to "provide more context to readers'' about "institutional racism,'' put up a page saying that the district's intention is to avoid "unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality.''

There's that word again. It's bad enough that some people want to compel predetermined levels of "diversity" in schools via racial quotas, but the problem is compounded by those people eschewing assimilation and suggesting that "colorblindness" is somehow undesirable. In fact, "colorblind" students are exactly what we want, and it's not going to be made any easier by folks who want to balkanize schools into mini-ethnic groups.

The Bamiyan Buddhas

NYT_buddhas.jpg
The New York Times has a front page story on the Bamiyan Buddhas that the Taliban destroyed in the spring of 2001. At the time, I remember posting stories on this travesty, but the story never really seemed to generate the appropriate response that such an affront to civilization should have provoked. The giant Buddhas, constructed around 500-550AD, had stood for over 1,500 years before the Islamic fanatics had them blown to pieces, citing on an edict to destroy the "gods of infidels." Obviously, with hindsight, this was as clear a warning as any that the world was dealing with a level of religious fanaticism that was utterly incompatible with a civilized world.

Will It Be the Economy in '08?

The economy was not a major factor in the last couple of elections, but that very well may change in 2008. Today's Washington Post asks "Where is the Economy Headed?"

The U.S. economy can't seem to make up its mind.

It keeps showing strength and weakness, with fresh data yesterday providing still more mixed signals -- and fueling a debate over whether the housing slump is dragging the nation into a recession.

The conflicting data could be a sign that the economy is turning, with what was at first a mild growth slowdown about to give way to a harsher downturn, some analysts said. But others echoed the Federal Reserve, countering that the worst news is still coming from businesses involved in housing and automobile production while the rest of the economy is holding up.

In the 2004 campaign the stock market and the general economy turned around sharply in the spring/summer of 2003 well ahead of the fall 2004 election. Also, not unimportantly, housing prices remained very strong throughout 2003 and 2004. In 2006 with four years of solid 3%+ GDP growth, the DOW at all time highs and unemployment between 4.4 and 4.8% all year it was hard to make the "bad economy" a real salient issue, though high gas prices through the first half of the year did substantially reduce the Republicans ability to exploit the good economy to their advantage. The turndown in housing prices came too close to the election to have a substantive impact one way or the other.

This could be very different for the 2008 cycle. It is not what the economy is doing the three months before election day, but rather the 18 months before an election and more importantly the trend of the economy in the 18 months before election day (March 2007 - October 2008) that really matters. In today's political world, it is not just the unemployment rate or GDP that is important to monitor but also housing and equity prices. The new investor class and voter has a tremendous proportion of their wealth tied into housing and the stock market and these gauges are as important and probably more important to the '08 election than the unemployment rate. Certainly if we are talking about fluctuations in the unemployment rate between 4.5% and 6.5% which has been the range the last ten years.

A sustained recession in housing that led to a general recession starting in 2007 that carried over into 2008 would become a major campaign issue both in the primaries and general election campaigns. If this were to play out the Republicans may be very happy to have turned the Congress over to the Democrats this cycle taking away the ability for Democrats to blame Republican government and also providing the opportunity for the GOP to run against the Democratic Congress.

The Post article punts on taking a position as to which way the economy is heading quoting analysts on each side of the debate. Interestingly Forbes' publisher Rich Karlgaard reported yesterday that Ken Fisher who runs the $35 billion Fisher Investments is extremely optimistic heading into 2007:

Ken Fisher spoke Sunday and today. Ken, of course, is the longtime Forbes columnist (22 years) who by day runs Fisher Investments. Some of his thoughts:

-- Markets are discounters of all known information.

-- The S&P earnings yield is 6.8%. The 10-year U.S. Treasury bond is 4.45%. The gap will close. It always closes over time. If the gap closed simply by lowering the S&P earnings yield to match the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond, the market would go up 47%.

-- Third-year presidential terms are usually big-growth years for the market. We haven't had a negative third-year presidency since 1939.

-- Around the world, companies are buying back their stock. We are globally destroying the supply of equities at a rate of 5% a year. This is mind-boggling.

-- I am wildly optimistic about 2007.

I don't have a firm opinion on what the market or economy may do the next two years, though I do think the inverted yield curve is certainly a reason for caution, as well as the increased instability in the geopolitical landscape. Politically, if we were to see a substantial fall in housing along with a general recession, the new minority status for Republicans in Congress will work well for the GOP in 2008. The Democrats will be in much stronger shape if Ken Fisher's scenario materializes.

December 05, 2006

McCain Stands Tall

"I understand the polls show only 18 percent of the American people support my position. But I have to do what's right, what I believe is right and what my experience and knowledge and background tells me is the right thing to do in order to save this situation in Iraq... In war, my dear friends, there's no such thing as compromise. You either win or you lose." - Sen. John McCain

In the midst of all the latest doubt, pessimism and arguing over our direction in Iraq, along comes John McCain, digging his heels in the sand and standing up for what is right. John McCain is fighting the tide.

The tide is defeatist.

The tide is asking us to throw our arms into the air and allow iniquity to win the day.

The tide is asking us to allow ruthless and evil totalitarians in Iran and Syria to seize victory.

The tide is asking us to blow American credibility for fifty years.

Fortunately, in the middle of all this, in the middle of James Baker's wishful thinking Iraq Study Group fog, along comes John McCain, reminding Americans we have two choices: win or lose.

That's called courage. That's called principle. That's called leadership.

Now I may not agree with McCain on every single issue, but I am completely behind him on national security. This includes a much bigger Pentagon budget, as well as a beef up in the troop volume for the American Army and Marine Corps.

The New York Times reported this morning that retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni--who originally opposed the Iraq war--now agrees with McCain on the need for more troops in Iraq. Zinni believes it would be a catastrophic mistake for American foreign policy if we bail out now. He said, "This is not Vietnam or Somalia or those places where you can walk away. If we just pull out, we will find ourselves back in short order."

Tradesports has McCain leading the field of 2008 GOP presidential nominees with 48.5 percent. His closest competitors--Gov. Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani--both come in around 14.5 percent. Sen. McCain also leads the actual Presidential vote with 28 percent to Hillary Clinton's 26 percent.

My guess is that Americans trust McCain.

He's standing tall.

Big Brother Comes to a Restaurant Near You

NY City has just passed a ban on the use of trans-fats in restaurants and food preparation in the city.

By July 2007, no trans-fats will be allowed in "normal" frying and shortening, and by July 2008 trans-fats must be gone from baking and deep-frying.

The junk science behind the trans-fat scare is at least as bad as that behind the global warming hype.

Here's a page which describes a perfect example of the abuse of "scientific" studies to support a position that the study's authors clearly had in advance of their results.

And another article.

And an interesting piece with links to some of the history of trans-fats in terms of why they're so prevalent now. (Hint: The people who are fighting them now were largely responsible for their introduction on a large scale.)

As it is, McDonalds and KFC have already announced they were moving away from trans-fats just because they believed it was a good marketing position. And I'm sure it is, as the public is unaware of the junk science behind this (and many other) food and medicine scares. So, doing something that makes the food seem healthier is probably a good business decision.

But the key is that it is, and should be, their decision, not the decision of some know-nothing bureaucrats who think they know what's best for us all.

Regardless of your view on trans-fats, the idea that a city council takes it upon itself to ban a non-toxic food ingredient, with no solid science behind them and no consideration of the potential risks to the tens of thousands of businesses (in just one city) they are affecting is truly appalling.

Just as we're moving away from political correctness in conversation, we're moving towards it in our menus.

An Opportunity for the President Comes From Bolton's Departure

John Bolton's coming departure from the UN creates a real gap in President Bush's diplomatic team. There are few, if any, diplomats who are as hard-nosed as Bolton about the UN's incapacity for action, corruption and underlying anti-Americanism. And there is probably no such diplomat who could be confirmed by a Democratically-controlled Senate that is very UN-minded. Those facts combine to create an unusual political opportunity for President Bush.

The diplomatic community - centered in the UN -- has been unable to either act effectively through the UN or even use the UN as a bully pulpit to help solve international crises. In Iraq, in Darfur and in so many other crises the UN has failed to act. In effect, by simultaneously cornering the market on diplomacy and rendering it ineffective, the UN has become an agent of instability and war. The UN's chaotic conduct of its own affairs - the Oil for Food scandal, the waste of one-third of donated aid monies in the December 2004 southeast Asian tsunami relief on UN "overhead" and on and on - is best characterized by the actions of Iqbal Riza, Kofi Annan's chief of staff: personally shredding two years of "Oil for Food" papers kept in Annan's office. But as a great man once said (it was either Franz Kafka or Boris Badenov), "in chaos there is opportunity."

What if the president decided to keep the pressure on the UN? What if he wanted to push the UN to take action on the Iranian nuclear program, to reform its financial systems to reduce corruption, to push the new Secretary General, South Korea's Ban Kai Moon, to act as an agent of democracies, not an obstacle as his predecessor is. The president could do what he did with John Bolton: send a representative to the UN who will rock the boat. And to do that, he would have to choose someone who, like Bolton, would be impossible to have confirmed by the Senate.

The president should choose someone who is like our great UN ambassadors of the past: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jeane Kirkpatrick and - yes -- John Bolton. To find someone like that, the president will have to pick someone from outside the diplomatic community, someone who speaks clearly and resolutely, and supports the independence of US action without UN approval. George Mitchell cannot do that. Zalmay Khalilzad, an advocate of negotiations with Iran, also cannot. Someone such as Jeane Kirkpatrick's former UN deputy, Amb. Jose Sorzano, could. For that matter, so could Mark Steyn.

A New York Times editorial today says, "The United Nations doesn't need any further proof of how little the Bush administration thinks of it. And the Bush administration doesn't need to insult the world at a time when it is becoming increasingly clear how much help the United States needs to stabilize Afghanistan, extricate itself from Iraq, and curb the nuclear appetites of North Korea and Iran." That is comprehensively wrong. Anyone who believes that the UN will help us in any of those instances hasn't paid much attention to it in the past thirty years. If the UN's value is to be reconstructed, it will have to be by someone who can pick up precisely where John Bolton leaves off.

The Dems Bag Bolton

So Bolton is out. What a nice parting gift Republican Lincoln Chafee gave the White House, after it had gone to the mat for him in the Republican primary.

Democrats are ecstatic over taking Bolton's scalp, especially Senator Christopher Dodd, who has been on a personal jihad against Bolton from the beginning. Joseph Cirincione, from the liberal Center For American Progress, said Bolton's resignation marked "the collapse of the neoconservative policy that has guided this administration since 9/11."

I guess that's one way of looking at it. Another would be to see it from the perspective of Republican Senator George Voinovich, who originally opposed Bolton's nomination in May but came to support him a few months later after watching Bolton work. Voinovich wrote in the Washington Post in July:

I cannot imagine a worse message to send to the terrorists -- and to other nations deciding whether to engage in this effort -- than to drag out a possible renomination process or even replace the person our president has entrusted to lead our nation at the United Nations at a time when we are working on these historic objectives.

That's exactly what the Dems did for months prior to the election, despite the fact that the world didn't end when Bolton went to the UN. To the contrary, he scored a number of successes during his short tenure and did an admirable job of aggressively representing America's interests as well as defending the administration's work at Turtle Bay to conservatives who were generally much more skeptical about (and hostile towards) the UN - a point for which Bolton often gets no credit.

Predictably, the Dems and members of the liberal media are callling for President Bush to chart a more "multilateral" course with Bolton's replacement:

Majority Leader Harry Reid: Hopefully this change marks a shift from the failed go-it-alone strategies that have left America less safe. President Bush should now nominate a UN Ambassador who is ready and willing to work with our allies around the world, and who understands the pressing need to change course in Iraq."

John Kerry: 'With the Middle East on the verge of chaos and the nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea increasing, we need a United Nations ambassador who has the full support of Congress and can help rally the international community to tackle the serious threats we face."'

The NY Times editorial board: The Bush administration doesn't need to insult the world at a time when it is becoming increasingly clear how much help the United States needs to stabilize Afghanistan, extricate itself from Iraq, and curb the nuclear appetites of North Korea and Iran. Mr. Bolton's withdrawal gives the president a chance to improve his relationship with both the U.N. and Congress. There are plenty of experienced, internationalist Republicans who could get near-unanimous support in the Senate and send a signal to the world that Mr. Bush understands that the United States is not the only nation on the planet whose opinion matters.

Think about how fantastic these statements are. The UN is going to help us get out of Iraq? The virulently anti-Semitic member organizations in the UN are going to solve the Middle East crisis? An "internationalist" Republican is going to be more effective than a hard-nosed negotiator like Bolton at getting Russia and China on board with sanctions against Iran?

If you believe any of these things you might as well believe in the the tooth fairy. And here I thought "realism" was the buzzword of the day with the Democrats.

The UN, as an institution, is inherently dysfunctional and has become systemically corrupt. Yet at the same time, the UN still maintains an aura of credibility around the world and, to a lesser degree, in the eyes of the American public. So it's unrealistic, and potentially damaging, for America to talk about withdrawing or defunding the UN. There's been some talk of the United States trying to establish a new organization composed of nations who share the same values (i.e. democracy, human rights, and the rule of law). But even that idea, which seems to a me a good one in theory, is a bit unrealistic at the moment.

As a result, the best we can make of our current situation is to push the UN to reform as much as possible and to work through the current system to aggressively defend our interests and those of our allies - which is exactly what John Bolton had been doing. And he'd been doing it pretty well, too.

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More Editorials on Bolton: NY Daily News | NY Post | Philadelphia Inquirer | Newsday | NY Sun | Baltimore Sun | Rocky Mountain News

No Sorry For You!

Joel Stein offers an amusing hook to his LA Times column today:

Eventually, I'm going to write something horribly offensive. And when I do, it might be several tense hours before I can get Jesse Jackson on the phone in order to apologize to him. So I figured I'd call him now and pre-apologize.

After a back and forth with Reverend Jackson on the phone, Stein concludes, "I am the first person in history to have an apology turned down by Jesse Jackson." Read the whole thing.

This Just In...

There's been a military a coup in Fiji.

December 04, 2006

The Economic Benefit of High-Skill Immigrants

As I've argued in these pages, it is a disaster for the United States that we have so few H-1B visas available for high-skill foreign workers who want to become part of the American economy. We spend years educating foreigners, especially in technical fields, and then refuse their requests to work here. Instead we say "No, go back to Bangalore or Taipei and compete against us with what you've learned here."

It is truly insane from an economic point of view. America was made great by immigrants. The current nativist trends within both political parties, but especially the GOP, represents the worst of American narrow-mindedness and a complete lack of an understanding of history.

Most Americans understand the benefits of immigration as common sense and part of the American dream. Still, it is good to see some actual data on the economic benefit to our country of immigrants, in particular immigrant entrepreneurs.

In Sunday's Denver Post, there is a must-read article by Al Lewis called "Capitalism thrives with Immigration".

Lewis refers to a November (2006) study by the National Venture Capital Association called "Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs". Click for the FULL STUDY or the PRESS RELEASE.

Here is the first paragraph of the press release...it is worth reading more than once:

Immigrant entrepreneurs have had a profound impact on company creation, innovation and market value in the United States, according to a first-of-its-kind study, "American Made: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Professionals on U.S. Competitiveness." The study found that over the past 15 years, immigrants have started 1 in 4 (25 percent) U.S. public companies that were venture-backed, representing a market capitalization of more than $500 billion. Moreover, a survey of today's private, venture-backed start-up companies in the U.S. estimated that 47 percent have immigrant founders. However, the study also found that two-thirds of the immigrant founders surveyed believe that current U.S. immigration policy hinders the ability of future foreign-born entrepreneurs to start American companies today.

The press release also has some pointed commentary about the visa issue that I've discussed:

Two-thirds of the private companies surveyed who use H-1B visas (temporary visa to hire skilled foreign nationals) say that current immigration laws harm U.S. competitiveness. Forty percent stated that current immigration policies have negatively impacted their companies when competing against other firms globally. One-third of the private companies said that the lack of visas had influenced their company's decision to place more personnel in facilities abroad. "The current quota on H-1B visas of 65,000 has not been sufficient to meet the demand for highly skilled professionals," said Chad Waite, general partner at OVP Venture Partners in Seattle and NVCA Board member. "In nine of the past 11 years, employers have exhausted the entire quota of H-1B's prior to the end of the fiscal year. In the past three years, the quota was used up prior to the start of the fiscal year.

Perhaps equally troubling, the wait in skilled green card (permanent residence) categories is five years or more, sending a signal to current and future outstanding professionals and researchers that America may not be the place to make a career and raise your family."

Though I'm no fan of President Bush in the area of immigration I believe he has been closer to the right answer than any other politician whose position I have heard. Yes, we need to enforce our borders and clamp down on illegal immigration, but it must be simultaneous with massively increasing the quantity of work visas available (at all skill levels) as well as reducing the time it takes to get these visas...especially for high-skill workers whom we would rather see working for the benefit of our nation than competing against us.

These immigrants love the United States. In the full study, the NVCA notes that "Immigrant-founded venture-backed public companies today employ an estimated 220,000 people in the United States" and that "Nearly all the immigrant founders in private companies (95 percent) would still start their companies in the United States if given the choice today."

Only the most isolationist, nativist, know-nothings would want to change these immigrant sentiments and risk the great benefit they provide to our country. Luckily, as demonstrated in the last election, many of the "just close the borders" politicians (including notably the long-time incumbent J.D. Hayworth of Arizona) were defeated at the polls. Americans dislike crime and free-rider costs imposed by certain groups of illegal immigrants. But we are smart enough to distinguish between those issues and the overall benefits of immigration which have been proven repeatedly for over 200 years despite there always being some politicians afraid of the newest group of immigration. It is good to see some of what we all know in our guts to be quantified in such dramatic terms by the NVCA study.

The Shrinking Dollar

In the past seven weeks, the dollar has fallen 6.6% against the Euro (down 12.7% this year) and 3.5% against the Japanese yen (down 2.1% for the year). The Chinese yuan has reached a new high (5.7% higher than in July 2005) and the British pound is at a 14-year high against the dollar.

For many, this decline in the dollar is long overdue. For at least the past 20 years, conventional wisdom has argued that a large US trade deficit would force the dollar to decline. In the past three years, fears of a slowdown in US growth have caused many analysts to become permanent dollars bears.

But focusing on the trade deficit, the amount of Treasury bonds held by foreign investors, the budget deficit, or the savings rate, is a mistake. Like any commodity, the value of the dollar is a function of supply and demand. And because the Federal Reserve has sole control over the supply of dollars, any analysis that does not discuss the Fed would be wrong.

When the Fed is easy; look for a weak dollar. When the Fed is tight; the dollar will be strong. Of course, other central banks could also be tight or easy, and it is the relative policy stances of the central banks that matter. But, in the end, if the Fed wants to stabilize the dollar it can do so easily.

The Euro first began trading in January 1999. Its initial exchange rate against the dollar was $1.18/€. From its inception it tanked, falling to a low of $0.83/€ in October 2000. After bouncing around for the next nine months, it traded again below 85 cents in July 2001, but then immediately started to move higher - peaking at $1.36/€ in December 2004. The dollar strengthened in the first nine months of 2005, but has been very weak again lately.

Interestingly, Fed policy was very tight in 1999 and 2000 - eventually causing fears of deflation. The dollar soared. The Fed reacted to deflation by making monetary policy excessively loose and the dollar fell. Now, with the Fed on pause and policy not yet tight enough to drain the excess liquidity added the last several years, it should not be a surprise that the dollar has weakened again. Add to this the fact that fiscal policy appears to be shifting as a result of the recent change in Congressional leadership. Tax hikes and protectionism, regulation and growth of government, when combined with easy money are a perfect recipe for inflation and dollar weakness. Until these policy stances of loose money and activist government change, a shrinking dollar is highly likely.

Illinois Boosts Minimum Wage

One of the centerpieces of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's reelection campaign this year was a promise to raise the state's minimum wage. Last week the Democratic-led Illinois Senate delivered for the Governor, voting 40-17 to boost the state's minimum wage by a dollar an hour to $7.50. The hike goes into effect next July and will be followed by annual increases of twenty-five cents, eventually reaching $8.25 per hour in 2010.

The move catapults Illinois into one of highest minimum wage paying states in the country - and that has many people concerned about its potential drag on the state's economy.

According to a study by the AFL-CIO, Washington tops the nation with a state-mandated minimum wage of $7.63 per hour. Oregon is currently at $7.50 per hour, and Massachusetts will go to $7.50 per hour at the beginning of the year.

But in the Midwest, both Iowa and Indiana pay the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, and Wisconsin is at a slightly higher rate of $5.70

Governor Blagojevich heralded the rate hike, but he's now left hoping Democrats in Congress can deliver on their own pledge to boost the federal minimum wage early next year. Otherwise, Illinois is going to be left at a distinct competitive disadvantage to its neighbors.

It's the Neocons Fault

Neil Clark wins the "blame it on the neocons" award for suggesting in today's column that the left shouldn't be too critical of the Putin government over the recent executions of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko and journalist Anna Politkovskaya because it plays into the hands of the neocons:

"Those on the centre-left who have joined the current wave of Putin-bashing ought to consider whose cause they are serving. Long before the deaths of Litvinenko and the campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Russophobes in the US and their allies in Britain were doing all they could to discredit Putin's administration. These rightwing hawks are gunning for Putin not because of concern for human rights but because an independent Russia stands in the way of their plans for global hegemony. The neoconservative grand strategy was recorded in the leaked Wolfowitz memorandum, a secret 1990s Pentagon document that targeted Russia as the biggest future threat to US geostrategic ambitions and projected a US-Russian confrontation over Nato expansion. [snip]

In the absence of genuine evidence of Russian state involvement in the killings of Litvinenko and Politkovskaya, we should be wary about jumping on a bandwagon orchestrated by the people who bought death and destruction to the streets of Baghdad, and whose aim is to neuter any counterweight to the most powerful empire ever seen.

Bayh's Experience

Evan Bayh told George Stephanopoulos yesterday that the most important reason people should vote for him for President (potentially, of course) is that he's finally come to an understanding after 8 years in the Senate that he's part of the problem:

"As the people get to know me, I think we'll do very well. I've been a successful two-term governor with a record of delivering results. I now have national security experience from my presence in the Senate," Bayh said.

"But most importantly," he told moderator George Stephanopoulos of "This Week" on ABC, "I have a deep appreciation for how broken this city is, how desperately we need someone who will unite the American people for the common purpose of building this country.

Ironically, Bayh would be in a much better position if his career were reversed and he'd spent two terms in the Senate before being twice-elected Governor of Indiana, instead of vice-versa.

Nevertheless, with so many Senators lining up to run, expect to see a lot of this type of phony "insider turned outsider" positioning.

December 01, 2006

Krugman's Recession

Paul Krugman is pessimistic about the economy.

Citing our friend Nouriel Roubini--NYU economics professor and head of his own forecasting firm--who has been predicting a housing led recession, Mr. Krugman points to the bond market and the fact that interest rates on long term bonds have fallen below rates on short term paper--in other words, an inverted yield curve.

Believe it or not, I actually agree with Mr. Krugman--insofar as the inverted Treasury curve suggests the Federal Reserve is too tight. Presently, the central bank's benchmark rate is 5.25 percent. Bernanke & Co. should lower their target rate to around 4.75 percent or even 4.5 percent. The curve is predicting continued economic softness, as is the current decline in the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar.

However, I disagree with Krugman on the record-breaking stock market. He believes stocks are "a notoriously bad indicator of the economy's direction" and cites Nobelist Paul Samuelson, who once quipped that the stock market had predicted 9 of the last 5 recessions.

But, as we discussed on last night's Kudlow and Company, the strong, across the board, 5-month rally in stocks cannot possibly be predicting a recession. While the stock market can sometimes emit false positives on recessions, rarely does it give off false negatives. In fact, I think it is predicting a Goldilocks soft landing for the economy.

A glaring omission from Krugman's analysis is the staggering rise in corporate profits. These are the tax return profits recorded for the IRS--rest assured that no CFO overestimates them. Corporations' pre-tax profits are up a remarkable 31 percent through the third quarter--25 percent after tax. These are serious numbers and are the mother's milk of business and the economy.

A question for Mr. Krugman: when in the history of humankind have we had a recession when business profits are rising by 30 percent?

Profitable U.S. businesses clearly have the resources to grow their operations and continue hiring new workers. This, in turn, is the biggest factor sustaining the historically low 4.4 percent unemployment rate, as well as the strong gains in employment and consumer incomes.

Over the past three months corporate payrolls have increase by an average of 157,000. The number of individuals employed as measured by the household survey has grown by an average of 319,000 during the period. It's no surprise that these jobs gains have significantly increased personal incomes. It has pushed real consumer spending roughly 3 percent at an annual rate above the 3rd quarter average. This also suggests a decent 4th quarter GDP growth rate may be in store.

Meanwhile, inflation readings continue to ease as the overall consumer price index has dropped to 1.3 percent over the past year, following tighter Fed money and the plunge in energy prices. This gives consumers even more purchasing power in the malls and on the Internet for the holiday shopping season. What's more, the big rally in homebuilders stocks suggests that the economic drag from housing is starting to peter out.

Markets are better forecasters than economic pundits or economic models.

Helped by lower energy prices, spectacular profits, and rock bottom tax rates on capital, the message from rising stocks is a soft landing growth scenario for next year's economy. The message from lower bond rates is lower inflation and an easier Fed next year.

So, I'm still betting on Goldilocks.

Obama's Moment (Cont.)

I've received a couple of emails suggesting my earlier post was an attack on Obama. Not so. I'm ambivalent about an Obama run. If anything I'm favor of him running because it'll be good for business. My intent was simply to point out 1) how uncritical the media has been of Obama and 2) that many people really don't have much of a clue about what the guy stands for.

Indeed, this last point is the reason what little criticism and scrutiny Obama has faced thus far has come from the progressive left. David Sirota illustrates the point again today at the Huffington Post with an entry titled, "The Ridiculousness & Danger That Is Obama '08." Sirota writes:

The national media is swooning over Obama, begging him to run for president. Yet, at the same time, they are implicitly acknowledging that he has actually not "developed significant legislative initiatives." In other words, we are to simply accept that the the Obama for President wave has absolutely nothing to do with anything that the man HAS DONE and further, that whenever he does decide to use his enormous political capital to do something, it is all in pursuit of the White House - not any actual sense of DOING SOMETHING for the people who elected him to the Senate.

I don't blame Obama for not having accomplished much - he's been in the Senate for two years. As I wrote in the Nation, the main concern about him is that he doesn't actually seem to ASPIRE to anything outside of the Washington power structure (other than maybe running for another higher office), and doesn't seem to be interested in challenging the status quo in any fundamental way. Using his senate career as a guide, it suggests that any presidential run by him is about him, his speaking ability and his fawned over talent for "connecting" (whatever the hell that means).

For progressives, this situation is perilous indeed. Obama is a candidate who has kept his record deliberately thin, who has risked almost nothing for the bigger movement, and in fact who has sometimes gone out of his way to reinforce dishonest stereotypes about the left.

Ezra Klein made a similar argument, calling Obama "a cipher" in a Los Angeles Times column back in early October. "Obama is that oddest of all creatures" Klein wrote, "a leader who's never led."

That might be overstating it a bit, but the core of the point stands: despite his popularity and current "rock star" aura, if Obama decides to run it's unlikely he'll just waltz to the nomination. Obama will be tested in a way he hasn't been yet in his career, and he still has a lot of questions to answer and a lot of convincing left to do.

One thing is for sure, thanks to the media hype surrounding his rise, expectations for Obama have been set incredibly (and probably unrealistically) high. Those expectations may turn out to be a very tough burden to bear.

Number of the Day

$40 million. Keep that number in mind when you think about who's a viable prospect for 2008 - because in the estimation of Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, that's the amount of money a candidate will have to raise in the next twelve months to be in the ballgame.

Snow Day

snowday.jpgWe got whacked pretty good. It started last night around 10:30 as freezing rain. By four thirty in the morning it looked like we had at least three inches (though I'm pretty bad at estimathing this sort of thing), and I thought that was going to be the end of it. But it started up again around six thirty and dumped another few inches before stopping about an hour ago.

Much to my son's chagrin the schools in our area stayed open, and the mile and a half journey turned out to be an adventure since, quite surprisingly, not a single street in the neighborhood had been plowed. Upon returning home my three year old daughter - bundled from head to toe in pink snow gear - eagerly assisted with shoveling duties using the miniature red snow shovel Santa brought her last year.

The snow is thick, wet, and heavy - the kind that forms perfectly to the glove and makes the impulse to throw it simply irresistable. So after shoveling my daughter got her first lesson in the fine art of snowball making. She's now ready to be on "Dad's team" for the action that will undoutedly ensue when her brother gets home from school later this afternoon.