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January 31, 2007

Biden's Launch Pad Disaster

Senator Biden's official entrance into the 2008 contest is not getting off to an auspicious start. Matt Drudge smacked him hard with this brickbat:

SEN. BIDEN SHOCK INTERVIEW: 'I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy'...

But of more concern to Biden's hopes for success in the Democratic field are these comments from some of the most powerful bloggers on the left.

Josh Marshall:

At this point you have to say that Biden suffers from what one might with real generosity call chronic racial grandpaism. That is to say, the penchant for making comments that are not only racially offensive but also extremely silly and the sort of things that are sometimes excused or at least passed over from men, say, over 80 on the reasoning that they're from a different era and why get into it. Actually, the clock has probably even run out on that excuse when you figure that a man who is 80 today was forty in 1966. But however that may be, excuses that fly in the retirement community or family reunions just doesn't cut it in a man who aspires to the presidency......

Biden's mouth presents a clear and present danger to Democratic electoral prospects no matter what he meant. Ending his candidacy wouldn't be preemption, just legitimate self-defense.

Markos Moulitsas:

Really, if we live in a just world, this will be the end of Joe Biden's political career. On Barack Obama:

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," he said. "I mean, that's a storybook, man."

"Articulate". "Mainstream". "Bright and clean".

Duncan Black (Atrios):


Buh-Biden


Volumes could be written about all that was wrong with what Biden said about Obama, but I believe we've just witnessed the shortest presidential run in history.
history.

With Obama, Clinton and Edwards light years ahead of him Biden was an extremely long-shot at best. This will only hasten his campaign's demise.

Chris Dodd's even longer-shot bid just got a little boost.

Is the Terror Threat Overhyped?

On Sunday the Los Angeles Times ran a piece by John Hopkins professor and New Republic contributing editor David Bell. It has generated a fair amount of controversy these past few days:

Has the American reaction to the attacks in fact been a massive overreaction? Is the widespread belief that 9/11 plunged us into one of the deadliest struggles of our time simply wrong? If we did overreact, why did we do so? Does history provide any insight?

Certainly, if we look at nothing but our enemies' objectives, it is hard to see any indication of an overreaction. The people who attacked us in 2001 are indeed hate-filled fanatics who would like nothing better than to destroy this country. But desire is not the same thing as capacity, and although Islamist extremists can certainly do huge amounts of harm around the world, it is quite different to suggest that they can threaten the existence of the United States.

Yet a great many Americans, particularly on the right, have failed to make this distinction. For them, the "Islamo-fascist" enemy has inherited not just Adolf Hitler's implacable hatreds but his capacity to destroy.

Last night's roundtable on Brit Hume's Special Report discussed the article. Here are a few excerpts:

HUME: This is from two days ago, on Sunday, when one, David Bell, a history professor from Johns Hopkins University wrote a piece, basically asking the question: was 9/11 really was that bad? Meaning, yes it was a terribly hideous terrorist attack, an atrocity, to be sure, but did it really and does any likely future attack from the same type of people really threaten the existence of the United States? Is it indeed an existential threat? He argues that judged in historical terms against past wars and past threats it doesn't measure up. It's a serious argument.

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: David Bell acknowledges that these people are hate filled fanatic to would like nothing better than to destroy our country, but he says that they lack the capacity. Well one, if they got a hold of Iraq or Saudi Arabia they would have oil wealth and they could buy any weapon that they chose. Secondly, if they -- Pakistan is about one bullet away from supplying as Islamic fundamentalists with a fully blown nuclear arsenal, Pakistan has, and Iran is working on that.

HUME: You say "one bullet away," you mean the murder of...

KONDRACKE: Murder of Musharraf, yeah.

Who delivered Pakistan into the hands of extremists, who would...

KONDRACKE: Could -- he could, and then we have an existential threat and our allies...

HUME: But the argument is made -- that argument suggests that they could become an existential threat, but they're not now.

KONDRACKE: Well, but you want to fight threats in advance, you know, you don't want to wait until they develop.

LIASSON: I think what he's suggesting is that there might have been different ways to fight this threat than -- it's implied in his article that there might have been different ways...

HUME: But the core of the argument is we may be overreacting to the threat because it's not as serious as we've made it out to be...

LIASSON: I think that's the rhetoric -- some of the rhetoric -- to say it's an existential conflict, maybe the American people aren't buying that form the distraction, maybe that's one of the...

HUME: I know, but I'm talking about what he's saying. I mean, we can speculate all we want about what the American people may think about this. That argument has gone largely unchallenged, by the way, I mean, you don't here anybody saying...

LIASSON: No, but when he lays out the proportion of people killed versus the proportion of people killed in conflicts that were existential, he makes a valid point.

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: That's irrelevant, though. I mean, one nuclear weapon and you kill a lot more people than were killed in all those wars.

Look, this is an example of the polio fallacy. And that is that people don't get the vaccine anymore because, or a lot of people don't, because they say "well gee, nobody gets polio anymore. What do I need it for?" Well here we haven't had another serious terrorist attack, so people start saying, "well gee, maybe the threat's not that great. We don't have to do all these things like the Patriot Act and have eavesdropping and so on through wiretapping and things like that." I think this is an example of that.

But, both Mort and Mara are correct. There -- I mean, weapons of mass destruction, they exist, they're easily accessible. Saddam Hussein -- one reason we attacked Iraq and opposed him was because he had -- had them and might give them to terrorists.

LIASSON: Or so we thought.

BARNES: And he did...

HUME: Well we had had them.

BARNES: We know he had them, he used them in the past. So, I don't think it's been an overreaction. It's been a successful reaction and that's why people start to think, well maybe the threat's not that great.

The full transcript can be found here.

Obama on Iraq: All Glory and No Guts

Here's video of Senator Barack Obama on the Senate floor yesterday introducing the "Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007" which proposes to begin a "redeployment" of American troops out of Iraq starting in May and finishing by March of next year:

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold is going even further, calling for a cut-off of funding for the war and a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in six months. Feingold said:

Congress has the power to stop a war if it wants... If Congress doesn't stop the war, it's not because it doesn't have the power. It's because it doesn't have the will.

At least one of these guys has read the Constitution. Remember the old saying, "no guts, no glory?" Obama wants the glory of opposing Iraq without having the guts. Congress's war-making powers are clear, as is the President's role as Commander in Chief. There is, as Feingold notes, only one way to legislate and end to the war. If Obama is seriously interested in getting America out of Iraq, as opposed to just posturing with blatantly unconstitutional pieces of legislation to score political points, he should drop his bill and sign on with Feingold.

UPDATE: Lynn Sweet notes the "evolution" of Obama's position on setting a specific timetable for withdrawal - excuse me, "phased redeployment" - from Iraq.

The Daily Biden

Joe Biden will make his run for President official today. If you haven't read Biden's snarky take down of his major Presidential rivals over their plans for Iraq in the New York Observer, it's well worth the time. Though Biden is prone to shooting off his mouth, this wasn't some spontaneous or accidental piece of infighting. Biden has to make news, and belittling his colleagues' plans for dealing with Iraq also helps serve the purpose of trying to lift himself up as the only experienced adult in the room (contra Edwards and Obama) who also has a chance of winning (contra Hillary).

In an interview with Thomas Fitzgerald of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Biden discusses the race and lessons learned from his 1987 crash and burn (which he sums up very Confuscian-like by saying "words matter" and "to lose one's temper is not a good thing.")

If you listen to the raw audio of Fitzgerald's phone interview with Biden, the Senator also discusses whether governors have the edge in the race this time around or whether the "curse of the Senate" will finally be broken. Biden says Vilsack and Richardson (and Romney on the Republican side) are all decent fellows, but:

The drawback that they have, and it's almost not fair to them, is that the likelihood of the American voters deciding to turn to a one-term governor again while the world is in turmoil, without any demonstrable experience as to a clearly thought out foreign policy and dealing with issues of war and peace. It may happen, but let me put it this way: I think this is the one race probably in the last 75 years where you'd rather be a well-respected Senator than a well-respected governor.

Vilsack and Richardson would be quick to point out that they're both two term Governors (Romney is a one-termer) - but then again so was George W. Bush. Nevertheless, I think Biden might have a point about voters gravitating less toward a state executive than in the past because the country is so deeply fixated on external affairs, despite the fact that Senators are going to carry the burden of some very tough votes into the primary. But, ironically enough, if the 2008 race does come down to leadership and competence in conducting foreign affairs and the War on Terror, the person who might be most well positioned of all is neither a state executive or a vote-casting Senator: Rudolf Giuliani.

Finally, in what is either a stroke of bad luck or a terrible omen, on the same day Senator Biden is launching his bid for the White House, Bloomberg is reporting that his Washington-lobbyist son, R. Hunter Biden, has been slapped with a lawsuit by a former partner who says he was squeezed out of the purchase of a hedge-fund.

Not Dead Yet

castro.jpg
The Miami Herald is reporting that Hugo Chavez popped in for an unannounced visit with his good buddy, ailing octogenarian tyrant Fidel Castro. Cuban state television released video of the two men greeting each other, which the Herald described this way:

He [Castro] stood in most of the images, but at one point he seemed to be reclining on a high chair. He mumbled some of his words and seemed to gasp for air between sentences, and overall appeared frail and still ailing.

Looks like the party is going to have to wait.

Terror Raids in Britain

From the Daily Telegraph:

Eight people were arrested in dawn raids across Birmingham this morning by police investigating an alleged kidnap plot.

The Home Office said the raids were part of a "major" nationwide operation, and security sources said an imminent terror attack had been thwarted.

The alleged plotters were planning to kidnap a member of the public in an "Iraq-style" abduction, according to security sources. The attack, said to be in the later stages of planning, would have mirrored the kidnappings of British hostages Ken Bigley and Margaret Hassan by Iraqi insurgents, the sources said.

January 30, 2007

House Democrats' Unforced Error

The issue of voting rights in the House of Representatives for delegates from Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands and the Distinct of Columbia may seem like a small, unimportant issue -- and substantively it is -- but politically it is a sizable, unforced error on the part of the new Democratic majority in the House.

George Will eviscerated House Democrats in his Sunday column:

"The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states ...'' -- Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 2.

"What's the Constitution between friends?'' -- Rep. Timothy Campbell, a Tammany Democrat, to Democratic President Grover Cleveland after Cleveland said that a bill Campbell favored was unconstitutional.

WASHINGTON -- There they go again. House Democrats should at least provide variety in their venality. Last Wednesday, fresh from legislating new ethics regarding relations with lobbyists, they demonstrated that there are worse forms of corruption than those involving martinis and money.....

What part of the words "several states'' do House Democrats not understand? Their cynical assumption is that "the people of the several states'' will not notice this dilution of their representation in the House.....

The 58,000 Samoans pay no federal income taxes, but their delegate will be able to participate in raising the taxes of, say, Montanans. Samoa's delegate will have virtually the same power as Rep. Denny Rehberg, who represents all 944,000 Montanans. Obviously the Democrats' reverence for the principle "one person, one vote'' is, well, situational.

January 1993 was the last time Democrats engaged in this cynical political alchemy, transmuting delegates from four island jurisdictions, and one from the seat of the federal government, into the functional equivalents of representatives selected by people of "the several states.'' In January 1993, two months after they lost 10 House seats, they counterfeited half that many votes -- even though they had an 82-seat majority. One year later, such arrogance contributed to the Democrats' loss of their House majority.

This is simply political malpractice on the part of House Democrats. The 2006 campaign demonstrated extraordinary discipline on the part of Democrats, and their 12 years in the political wilderness led many to suspect, including myself, that they would be extremely cautious and measured with their new power. But this decision - which was utterly unnecessary and will be effectively demagogued by Republicans - might be an early sign that the new Democratic majority, now in control and with Bush's poll numbers in the cellar, may be hard pressed to maintain the same political discipline that proved so successful in acquiring power in 2006.

Ohio 2008 Numbers

Quinnipiac has new 2008 numbers out in Ohio. On balance they are good news for Senator Clinton.

Democratic Field
Clinton 38%
Obama 13%
Edwards 11%
Gore 6%
Biden 2%
Kucinich 2%
Richardson 1%
Dodd 0%

Republican Field
Giuliani 30%
McCain 22%
Gingrich 11%
Romney 4%
6 Candidates at 1% (Brownback, Thompson, Hagel, Huckabee, Pataki, Tancredo)

General Election
Clinton 46%
Giuliani 43%

Clinton 46%
McCain 42%

Clinton 52%
Romney 31%

Edwards 44%
McCain 41%

McCain 41%
Obama 38%

Ohio is very likely to be the critical swing state again in 2008 and given the relative stasis in the electoral map it is hard to see how Democrats get 270 electoral votes without carrying Ohio.

Clinton's 25-point lead in the Democratic field is impressive as well as her leads on both McCain and Giuliani in the head-to-head numbers. A silver lining for Republicans is I suspect the GOP "brand" is still in the toilet in Ohio after the '06 debacles in the Governor and Senate races. As we get further away from 2006 that should begin to improve and help the Republican nominee's polling numbers.

I spoke with Quinnipiac's Peter Brown yesterday who pointed out that Hillary is drawing 35% and 38% of the "White Born Again Evangelicals" against Giuliani and McCain. On the surface that seems high and probably speaks to the disillusionment with the Republican party in Ohio, but it may be a small warning sign for Republicans that perhaps the party's nominee can't rely on overwhelming evangelical support in the same way George W. Bush has, especially if the GOP nominee is McCain or Giuliani.

January 29, 2007

New Hampshire Numbers

New SurveyUSA poll on New Hampshire for WBZ-TV Boston:

Republicans
Giuliani 33
McCain 32
Romney 21
Other 11
Undecided 3

Democrats
Clinton 40
Obama 25
Edwards 23
Other 9
Undecided 3

At first glance, it's a good showing for Hillary in the wake of her announcement. But the bigger news is the surprisingly strong showing by Mitt Romney. He does significantly in this poll than either the Research 2000 or the ARG polls we saw in December.

Productivity, Goldilocks, and Inflation

The history of semiconductor manufacturing is peppered with one amazing story after another. The industry has overcome issue after issue to make chips smaller, faster and cheaper. Lately, insulation has become so thin that electricity leakage has been a real issue. But, once again, a solution is at hand.

Intel and IBM claim to be on the verge of manufacturing semiconductors with new metallic alloys. These new chips will have faster processors, but use less energy - an advancement that will allow cell phones (and other devices) to do more demanding tasks (e.g. play videos) with less battery drain.

This type of progress is symbolic of the entire New Era Economy. Productivity is booming. And rapid productivity growth explains why corporate profits, jobs and income growth have all accelerated at the same time.

Some forecasters have refused to accept this explanation and for the past few years have argued that rising oil prices, a housing slowdown, or some other calamity would bring the economy down very soon. These "fragile-economy" forecasters just can't shake their pessimism.

Others have called this a Goldilocks Economy, because productivity not only pushes growth up, but pulls inflation down. What could be better than high growth, low inflation and low interest rates?

But there is a third view, which argues that much like the story Goldilocks, the bears of inflation and higher interest rates are on their way home.

Despite rapid increases in productivity, the Cleveland Fed's weighted-median CPI (a measure which excludes the impact of big and small price increases) is up 3.7% during the year-ended December 2006. This is a sharp acceleration (a near doubling) from the 1.9% YOY growth rate in January 2004. While productivity helps contain prices, if monetary policy is too accommodative, inflation can still rise.

The fragile-economy crowd is too pessimistic on growth, while the Goldilocks crowd is blind to the inflation that is already here. The market, however, has recently pushed interest rates up sharply (the 10-year is up 44 basis points) and begun to price in greater odds of Fed rate hikes. The price of gold is back above $640/oz., and the dollar remains weak.

One last point: Inflation does not result from job creation, rising wages or strong growth, it's caused by "too much money chasing too few goods." Hiking interest rates a few more times to quell inflationary pressures will not hurt our high-productivity economy. Not hiking interest rates would be the real mistake and a very sad development when the Fed is on the verge of getting it just right.

Radical Islam By the Numbers

According to a new report by a UK think-tank, young British Muslims getting more radical:

> 37% of British Muslims aged 16-24 want to live under Sharia - compared to 28% overall and only 17% of those over 55.

> 36% of British Muslims aged 16-24 believe Muslims who convert to other religions should be punished by death - compared to 19% of those over 55.

> 74% of British Muslims aged 16-24 prefer Muslim women wear a veil - only 28% of those over 55 agree.

And the most concerning number of all:

> 13% of British Muslims aged 16-24 agree with the statement "I admire organizations al-Qaeda that are prepared to fight the West." Only 3% of those over 55 agreed with the same statement.

Here's a link to the full report by the Policy Exchange - a pdf that runs some 100 pages - which appears to be chock full of interesting insights.

Fiesta Time

They're getting ready to party in Miami - and not because of the Super Bowl:

One day, very possibly one day soon, ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro will die -- and a nascent committee sponsored by the city of Miami wants to be ready.

So it's planning a party.

The event, still in the very early planning stage, would be held in Little Havana's Orange Bowl stadium -- and might include commemorative T-shirts, a catchy slogan and bands that will make your hips shake.

Hillary's Top Ten

Daniel Finkelstein of the Times of London has put together a list of "ten bloggers who can make or break Hillary Clinton." See what you think.

White Americans Behaving Badly

As you might expect, I read a lot of opinion columns. Rarely have I ever seen a U.S. newspaper publish a race-based rant like the one by Lafe Tolliver in the Toledo Blade on Saturday.

Tolliver is incensed that the Supreme Court is set to review the Constitutionality of government-mandated race-based admissions guidelines (based on programs in Seattle and Louisville), which Tolliver sees as a direct assault on Brown v. Board:

So now we get Brown decided and here it is 50 years later and whites are still whining: "We want it all. We do not want to share with black folks. Let's go back to racial polarization." That would be the logical outcome of a cowardly Supreme Court decision if they were to eviscerate Brown and its progeny.

Don't worry. Justice Clarence Thomas will not save the court and pull this chestnut out of the fire. Justice Thomas, who was a direct benefactor of affirmative action, is so happy to be around the white justices that he will gladly carry their water and wood. He will not fight for minority rights. He is not a lion like Thurgood Marshall. I believe that he considers himself to be an honorary white person. In my opinion, he has a personal disdain for people of color. (See Frantz Fanon's work, "Black Skin ...White Mask.")

The ripple effect of overturning Brown would be tantamount to an economic and political tsumani (sic) in American society. Sympathetic laws, be they state or local, would be cannon fodder for a myriad of challenges by whites who never warmed up to the idea of someone not looking like them getting what they have taken as their inherited DNA white-skin privileges.

A reversal of Brown would broadcast the following thesis: "White people have had unchecked access to money and power and privileges for hundreds of years and we want it to stay that way. Blacks have had a smidgen of the same for about 50 years and that is too long. We want to go back and have it all... again."

What Tolliver obviously doesn't understand is that this type of screed only breeds resentment, division, and ultimately hurts the cause of racial justice and equality in America.

Double Speaker

It's tragic yet humorous that President Bush is constantly accused of being out of touch with reality when Nancy Pelosi can get away with saying things like this: "I believe redeployment of our troops is a step toward stability in the region.''

If Pelosi thinks we're losing the war or that it's not worth the sacrifice, fine. Say it loud and proud. But at least be honest about the consequences of what that means and stop pretending that the region is somehow going to be safer or more stable without American troops.

Demography is Destiny

In America Alone, Mark Steyn writes, "demography doesn't explain everything, but it accounts for a good 90 percent." Those who share Steyn's keen interest in demographics will appreciate this story about Steve Murdock, the Texas state demographer. Here is how Murdock sees demography changing the future of the Lone Star state:

Texas is changing. It is growing older and browner, with the elderly and Hispanic populations growing at an unprecedented rate. And as the populations increase, so will the challenges.

If current trends continue, Texas' work force will be less educated and less skilled. State services, already burdened, may be strained to a point never experienced before. The numbers provided by Murdock support the dire warnings:

Hispanics may represent 53 percent of the population by 2030, compared to 30.3 percent for Anglos and 9.2 percent for blacks.

More than half of Hispanics 25 and older had failed to finish high school in 2000; fewer than 20 percent had completed some college, and only about 10 percent had a college degree.

Hispanics could occupy 38 percent to 52 percent of the Texas work force by 2030.

By 2030, 16 percent to 20 percent of the population will be 65 or older, an increase of about 10 percent over 2000. Most will be Anglos. Of Texans older than 65 in 2000, 72.6 percent were Anglo, 16.7 percent Hispanic.

The aging population -- coupled with a segment that is less educated and, thus, earning less money -- will strain social services, including those for the elderly.

"An educated work force raises income levels, which generates businesses activity and increases the market for goods and services," Murdock said. "It also increases investments for new businesses, which in turn increases tax revenues. Higher education equals higher incomes."

Sen. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said education is perhaps the most important issue facing the state.

"This is really a wake-up call," he said. "The conclusion is that by the year 2025, if we keep doing what we're doing now, Texas will have the economy of a Third Word country. I have a son who will be 21 in 2025, and that's just not the kind of Texas I want to turn over to him."

If these demographic trends pose challenges, however, they also present opportunities.

"Growth is a double-edged sword," Murdock said. "With challenges come opportunities. The key is to have the opportunities be greater than the challenges."

Governor Rick Perry has taken some serious heat for defending a law giving tuition breaks to the children of undocumented immigrants attending state universities. But you can understand the difficult spot he's in as chief executive of the state: Unless you're going to round up all the illegal immigrants and deport them - which is not only impractical but would devastate the state's economy - you'd better try and find ways of educating them, or face the undesirable consequences of an aging, undereducated population.

January 26, 2007

Guess Who's Back?

Ralph Nader is back. He has to be one of the most hated men in Democratic politics - and he couldn't care less. John DeSio of the NY Press catches Nader venting his spleen on the 2008 race:

He will not say if he is planning a third straight run for the presidency in 2008, offering only that it is way too early for him to make that decision. Still, Nader is not shy when it comes to criticizing the Democratic Party's current frontrunners.

Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards is becoming more progressive and has a good agenda on poverty, but he prefers Ohio Congressman and 2004 fringe candidate Dennis Kucinich. Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the current media golden boy of all potential candidates, is far too new to the political arena to even be seriously evaluated as a contender. But Nader saves particular ire for New York's own Democratic candidate Senator Hillary Clinton, who made it official over the weekend that she would seek her party's nomination.

For Nader, Hillary Clinton is the problem, not the solution. "I think she'd be a step down from Bill, who is not very high to begin with," says Nader.

As disappointed as I was to see John Kerry give up the dream earlier this week, the prospect of the entertainment value created by a Ralph Nader candidacy would cheer me up quite a bit...

Hagel's Courage

Peggy Noonan begins her salute to Chuck Hagel's courage today by writing: "We all complain, and with justice, about the falseness of much that is said in Washington, and the cowardice that leaves a great deal unsaid."

I wonder if Noonan's feeling will change after she reads this interview with Hagel in GQ Magazine in which he calls the president and members of his administration liars:

GQ: And producing a National Intelligence Estimate that turned out to be doctored. Hagel: Oh yeah. All this stuff was doctored. Absolutely. But that's what we were presented with. And I'm not dismissing our responsibility to look into the thing, because there were senators who said, "I don't believe them." But I was told by the president--we all were--that he would exhaust every diplomatic effort.

GQ: You were told that personally?
Hagel: I remember specifically bringing it up with the president. I said, "This has to be like your father did it in 1991. We had every Middle East nation except one with us in 1991. The United Nations was with us."

GQ: Did he give you that assurance, that he would do the same thing as his father?
Hagel: Yep. He said, "That's what we're going to do." But the more I look back on this, the more I think that the administration knew there was some real hard question whether he really had any WMD. In January of 2003, if you recall, the inspectors at the IAEA, who knew more about what Saddam had than anybody, said, "Give us two more months before you go to war, because we don't think there's anything in there." They were the only ones in Iraq. We hadn't been in there. We didn't know what the hell was in there. And the president wouldn't do it! So to answer your question--Do I regret that vote? Yes, I do regret that vote.

GQ: And you feel like you were misled?
Hagel: I asked tough questions of Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld before the war: How are you going to govern? Who's going to govern? Where is the money coming from? What are you going to do with their army? How will you secure their borders? And I was assured every time I asked, "Senator, don't worry, we've got task forces on that, they've been working, they're coordinated," and so on.

GQ: Do you think they knew that was false?
Hagel: Oh, I eventually was sure they knew. Even before we actually invaded, I had a pretty clear sense of it--that this administration was hell-bent on going to war in Iraq.

GQ: Even if it meant deceiving Congress?
Hagel: That's right.

This is, quite frankly, almost indistinct from the antiwar left's "Bush Lied, Troops Died" cry we've heard for so long. Maybe this is really what Hagel believes. Fair enough.

But a bit later on in the interview Hagel says "I have never doubted the motives of those who wanted to go to war so badly." Come again? He just said the Bush administration "doctored" intelligence and lied to take us to war in Iraq knowing (or having a good idea, at least) that Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction. That sounds like "doubting the motives" of the President and his administration to me - not to mention impugning their character. Hagel appears to be trying to have it both ways, which isn't very honest, let alone "courageous."

January 25, 2007

Just Say No

To whatever Kevin Drum was on when he wrote this about 2008:

the Republican field is remarkably weak this cycle. Compared to Democrats, who have half a dozen genuinely strong contenders, John McCain is really the only high-profile candidate they've got, and even he's hardly setting the world on fire. It's pretty amazing, really. From being on top of the world a mere two years ago, Republicans are having trouble just treading water these days.

Rudy Giuliani either slipped Kevin's addled mind or isn't high profile enough. And on the Democratic side, there is Hillary, Obama, and Edwards. That's only half of a "half dozen." Who are the three other "genuinely strong contenders" for the nomination? Joe Biden? Christopher Dodd? Please. At best you could say Bill Richardson has the potential to become a "genuinely strong contender," but he certainly isn't one right now.

Assuming Al Gore doesn't jump in (a fairly safe assumption), Democrats have three top tier candidates. Republicans have two. And while Mitt Romney is currently well back of McCain and Giuliani he has the organization and the potential to become a top-tier candidate in fairly short order.

The Daily Gingrich

One of the most intriguing things about early '08 polling at both the national and state level is the strength of Newt Gingrich. It is a testament to his skill as an innovative policy leader and also an indicator of the lack of a consensus conservative candidate in the Republican field.

Last night Gingrich urged Congress to enact legislation making English the country's official language:

American civilization eventually will collapse if government doesn't do a better job assimilating immigrants into society, possible GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Wednesday as he urged Congress to enshrine English as the nation's official language.

The former House speaker said political correctness and multiculturalism are clouding the debate about language.

"If you are pro-immigration to America, you should be pro-assimilation into English as the common language because in fact your children and grandchildren will have a dramatically better future if they are part of the common commercial civilization," Gingrich said.

Nina Easton has an excellent piece on Gingrich in the latest issue of Fortune, in which she writes:

While Gingrich has plenty to say on national security and social issues, the core of his resurrection and unusual race for President are his ideas on health costs - a national migraine that has driven the likes of General Motors toward bankruptcy, put insurance out of reach for 46 million Americans, and now threatens to strangle the economy by ballooning entitlement costs.

John Russell has more on Gingrich's vision for transforming healthcare through information technology.

Lastly, responding to news earlier this week that Gingrich jump started his new political group American Solutions for Winning the Future with a $1 million check from a casino executive, former Gingrich associate Matt Towery pleads for Newt to give back the money.

Fleeing Paradise

Here is your stat of the day from the Miami Herald:

Number of Venezuelans seeking asylum in the United States in 1997, the year before Hugo Chavez came to power? 9

Number of Venezuelans seeking asylum in the United States in 2004 and 2005? More than 2,000.

Obama-mania in Arizona

For some reason, Barack Obama doesn't seem to suffer from a lack of name ID in Arizona. A new Cronkite/Eight Poll asked the following open-ended question: "Next year we will elect a new president. Is there a candidate you would like to see become the next president of the United States ? If so, who?" Fifty-one percent didn't offer an opinion, but here are the results from the 49 percent who did:

McCain 28
Obama 20
Clinton 18
Edwards 5
Giuliani 5
Romney 4

Given his impressive results on that question, it's no surprise Obama finished at the top of a subsequent question asking Arizona Democrats for preferences among four main challengers for the party nomination:

Obama 29
Clinton 23
Edwards 15
Gore 12
No opinion 21

On the Republican side, McCain beat out the following named candidates with 54% of the vote: Gingrich (14%), Romney (9%), Hunter (2%), No Opinion (21). Rudy Giuliani was not included on the list.

Two more items of interest. Fifty two percent (52%) of those surveyed oppose President Bush's plan to surge troops in Iraq. Also, when asked what "ONE issue or problem you would like to see the Arizona legislature try to do something about IN 2007?" illegal immigration topped the list with 33%. Education was the next closes issue at 20%.

A Bit of Kerry Dirt

Ken Bazinet and Helen Kennedy in the NY Daily News:

Kerry, who could no longer run on electability, would have faced a crowded field that includes Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and ex-running mate John Edwards.His decision frees up Boston's rich donors, core primary state supporters and several talented staff members.

"His fund-raisers will likely go to Obama. If he had any Clinton fund-raisers, they would have for sure already switched to her by now," said a Kerry 2004 strategist. "They will not go to Edwards. Many were not left with a good feeling about Edwards."

Bad News Bears

Bad news for Chicago: the outcome of the Superbowl has been simulated more than 10,000 times by a computer using various game conditions and the Bears lose to the Colts by an average of 3.5 points.

Then again, that's why they play the game.

New Jersey Numbers

A new Quinnipiac poll of '08 preferences in the state of New Jersey:

Democrats
Clinton 30
Obama 16
Gore 11
Edwards 8
Kerry 6
Biden 6
Undecided 17

Republicans
Giuliani 39
McCain 21
Gingrich 11
Romney 5
Undecided 13

Head to head match ups:

Clinton 41 - Giuliani 48
Clinton 43 - McCain 44
Clinton 53 - Romney 29

Obama 39 - McCain 42
Edwards 39 - McCain 45

Favorable/unfavorable ratings:

Democrats
Clinton 53/38
Obama 41/9
Edwards 44/23

Repbulicans
McCain 52/24
Giuliani 63/24
Romney 11/12

Some thoughts: Giuliani's strength in New Jersey is obvious, McCain's less so. McCain seems to be enjoying some residual "maverick" magic from the 2000 campaign: he beats Clinton among Independents by 12 points in the head to head match up (48 to 36) and his fav/unfav rating with Independents is a hefty 60/19.

But those numbers are unlikely to hold up when you consider 1) that the media (and the NY Times in particular) hasn't begun to savage McCain in a systematic way as they most certainly will do in a general election and 2) how NJ voters feel about the war. President Bush's job approval in NJ is 26% (23% among I's), Bush's handling of the war in Iraq is at 23% (19% among I's), 63% of NJ voters are now against having gone to war in the first place (66% of I's) and 69% oppose the President's idea of surging troops (68% of I's).

Put those two things together and you can see why so much hinges on what happens in Iraq over the next few months.

New Jersey 2008: Giuliani, Clinton & McCain

Leaving aside the debate over whether Rudy Giuliani or John McCain can win the Republican nomination, these (very early) polling numbers from Quinnipiac confirm why the Democrats would much rather see Republicans go another direction with their nominee. Giuliani leads Hillary Clinton 48% - 41% and McCain leads by one point, 44%- 43%. While these polls are ludicrously early it is safe to say Giuliani would clearly put New Jersey's 15 electoral votes in play, a loss Clinton would be hard pressed to easily offset.

Barring a sizable third party candidate Clinton is not going to carry a single southern state. So from the GOP's standpoint the ability to put blue states in play fundamentally alters the generic landscape of the general election. McCain would lock down the red states in the Southwest that are trending Democratic (Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada) which combine for 29 electoral votes. Giuliani would seriously put in play the 36 blue electoral votes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And both McCain and Giuliani would complicate Democratic efforts to hold on to the upper Midwest trio of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa that have been slowly trending toward the GOP.

Clinton and Giuliani have a significant home-court advantage in New Jersey, so their big leads in the respective Dem and GOP fields are easily discounted. But they are on equal footing when they go head-to-head and the numbers underscore the broad Democratic concerns that Hillary is simply too polarizing to win in the general. Quinnipiac's Clay Richards accentuates this point in his analysis:

Looking more deeply into the numbers, Sen. Clinton is losing Democratic voters to GOP rivals and she trails among the state's large bloc of independent voters. While it's very early, one has to wonder how Sen. Clinton will play in the rest of the country when she has these numbers right next door.

Clinton leads Romney by a whopping 24 points, 53 - 29 and while much of that is simply name ID, or Romney's lack of it, it underscores Clinton's vulnerabilities in the general against either McCain or Giuliani.

Ironically, Clinton's shot at the White House may depend less on Obama or Edwards and more on the Republican party rejecting their two-front runners as too moderate or independent and opting for a "more conservative" candidate.

January 24, 2007

Gerson Reviews Webb

As the former chief speechwriter for President Bush, Michael Gerson crafted some of the most brilliant, most important speeches in recent political history. So while he may still have a bias towards his old boss, he also has the kind of speechwriting chops that few can match - which is what makes his review of Jim Webb's speech last night that much more devastating:

The Democratic response by Virginia Sen. James Webb was also memorable, in a different way. Whenever a politician puts out to the media that he has thrown away the speechwriters' draft and written the remarks himself (as Webb did), it is often a sign of approaching mediocrity. This was worse. Senator Webb made liberal use of clichés: the middle class is "the backbone" of the country, which is losing its "place at the table." I am not even sure there is a literary term for a mixed metaphor that crosses two clichés. And Senator Webb's logic was as incoherent as his language (the two are often related). No "precipitous withdrawal"--but retreat "in short order." Fight the war on terror vigorously--except where the terrorists have chosen to fight it. It is, perhaps, a good thing that James Webb earned a job as senator. As a speechwriter he would starve.

Mega-ouch.

Nifong Hit Again

Good news. The NC State Bar has slapped Durham DA Mike Nifong with another set of ethics charges, this time for withholding DNA evidence and misleading the court.

Kerry Is Out

So says Rick Klein of the Boston Globe:

Senator John F. Kerry plans to announce today that he is bowing out of the 2008 presidential race, and will instead remain in Congress and seek reelection to his Senate seat next year, according to senior Democratic officials. [snip]

Kerry, the party's 2004 presidential nominee, has been acting like a 2008 candidate virtually since he lost to President Bush -- traveling the country, spreading money to other Democratic candidates, and keeping in place a campaign infrastructure that was ready for another presidential bid.

But according to Kerry associates, the senator's plans changed dramatically in the fallout of his election-eve ``botched joke" about the education levels of US troops. The harsh reaction to that incident -- from many Democrats as well as Republicans -- displayed to Kerry the extreme skepticism within his own party about whether he should mount another run.

More later....

Hillary's Money Machine

Jason Horowitz has a great piece in the NY Observer on the depth, breadth, and sheer efficiency of Hillary Clinton's money machine. Horowitz writes, "The sheer scale of what Mrs. Clinton is trying to do, if she can do it, will leave little room for her rivals to profit from the traditional Democratic money network."

Another key graf comes on page two:

"It is hard for other candidates," added Mr. Nemazee, who was mentioned around the time of Mrs. Clinton's announcement as one of a number of unattached bundlers being courted by Mr. Obama's campaign. "There is just so much oxygen available. There are only so many people out there who know how to do this and are willing to do this."

To provide a bit of context to the kind of ruthless discipline with which Hillary's camp approaches fundraising, check out this anecdote leading off Joel Connelly's column in the Seattle PI today:

After filling Maria Cantwell's coffers at a downtown lunch last February, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton slipped away to a private, flawlessly organized reception at a North Seattle home to collect more than $100,000 for her own campaign.

The host couple, the Campions, "maxed out," giving $2,100 apiece, the individual limit set by federal law for each 2006 campaign.

Imagine their surprise, then, when called a few days later by collectors of the Clinton war chest. They were told the donation counted only in New York's Senate primary, and were asked to give another $2,100 apiece to the general election campaign.

"We wavered between being impressed, flattered or insulted by her fundraising machine," said Sonya Campion. "I heard from others at our event that her campaign also called them to let them know the remaining 'balance' they had in order to max out to Hillary."

Two quick points. Clearly, as we learned last time around with Howard Dean, money isn't everything. Furthermore, there is enough wealth floating around in Democratic circles to support at least a few other candidates and keep them in well in the game. But money is a serious advantage and, as you can see, Hillary's camp is dead serious in the way they go about raising it.

A New Partnership

We have a bit of news to announce this morning:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 /PRNewswire/ -- washingtonpost.com, the award-winning news and information Web site synonymous with the world of politics, today announced a partnership with RealClearPolitics, a leading Web site for intelligent political opinion, news, polls and analysis.

Under the terms of the agreement, RealClearPolitics will provide washingtonpost.com with a daily feed of its "Best of the Web" series, including top recommended news articles and opinion pieces, to be featured in washingtonpost.com's "Politics News & Analysis" e-mail newsletter and on the front page of the site's well-regarded "Politics" section.

"We remain dedicated to finding new ways in which to engage our readers and provide them with the quality journalism they expect," said Jim Brady, executive editor and vice president, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. "By collaborating with RealClearPolitics, we are ensuring that our readers' political information needs are met with the most insightful and thorough content available on the Web. As we expand our relationship in the coming months, readers will continue to reap the benefits of unmatched coverage."

washingtonpost.com recently announced the first in a series of improvements to the site's "Politics" section, including new blogs by highly-regarded political commentators, more high-quality multimedia and interactive features, more breaking news online, and bigger and better databases on candidates, campaigns and records.

"With the 2008 election already underway, it's imperative that Americans have easy access to trusted political news, commentary and analysis when they want it," said John McIntyre, President, RealClearPolitics. "We are proactively addressing this through our partnership with washingtonpost.com to increase both the quantity and quality of information available to the public."

Democratic 2008 Campaign Underway in the Senate

Senators Biden and Dodd are fighting out the battle for the #2 slot on the 2008 Democratic ticket right now (live video) in the Senate Foreign relations committee.

About Last Night

My brief two cents is that Bush was better than expected - though that might be because I had such exceedingly low expectations to begin with. I also think the White House purposefully undersold the foreign policy aspect of the speech. It was longer and much more robust and detailed than we were led to believe. That being said, despite the gracious touch toward Nancy Pelosi in the beginning and the rhetorical flourishes outlining the stakes in the war on terror and the consequences of failure in Iraq, Bush's speech doesn't change anything about the facts on the ground, it won't patch up any relations in Congress, nor will it build much support with him among the public.

I thought Senator Webb did a very good job in offering the Democrats' response. I wouldn't go quite so far to gush like Jay Carney that it was the best response ever, but Senator Webb's rebuttal was well-structured, concise, and clear.

And then, of course, there were the goings on the in chamber which always provide ample fodder. This year Dennis Kucinich stood out by proving he's more of a media whore than anyone ever imagined. At least Sheila Jackson Lee can use the excuse that she's from Texas.

The subtle reactions were often the most interesting: John McCain's wink and smile at Bush's mention of earmark reform, Tom Tancredo's ever-so-subtle frown and shake of the head at Bush' s call for comprehensive immigration reform.

My favorite, however, was the not so subtle gesticulations of Chuck Grassley who popped out of his seat with a huge grin and began pounding his hands together at Bush's mention in support of ethanol. Grassley looked like a five year old who'd been told he gets to spend the entire day at Chuck E. Cheese's.

More than any SOTU in recent memory, last night was a display of the pomp, circumstance, and ritual that we've come to expect of the event, but it was noticeably devoid of any real political significance. President Bush's low approval ratings, the split within his own party on Iraq, and the Democrats' control of both chambers of Congress inevitably made his speech seem lacking in force and substance. It was a decent speech on an historic night with Speaker Pelosi behind his shoulder, but today it's back to the slog.

Axis of Evil Update

Con Coughlin of the Daily Telegraph reports that two members of the Axis of Evil are busy collaborating:

North Korea is helping Iran to prepare an underground nuclear test similar to the one Pyongyang carried out last year.

Under the terms of a new understanding between the two countries, the North Koreans have agreed to share all the data and information they received from their successful test last October with Teheran's nuclear scientists.

North Korea provoked an international outcry when it successfully fired a bomb at a secret underground location and Western intelligence officials are convinced that Iran is working on its own weapons programme.

A senior European defence official told The Daily Telegraph that North Korea had invited a team of Iranian nuclear scientists to study the results of last October's underground test to assist Teheran's preparations to conduct its own -- possibly by the end of this year.

New Iowa Poll

Here are the results from a new 2008 Iowa Poll by Strategic Vision:

Republicans
Rudy Giuliani 25%
John McCain 21%
Newt Gingrich 13%
Mitt Romney 8%
Chuck Hagel 7%
Tommy Thompson 2%
Tom Tancredo 2%
Sam Brownback 2%
Mike Huckabee 1%
George Pataki 1%
Jim Gilmore 1%
Duncan Hunter 1%
Undecided 16%

Democrats
John Edwards 25%
Barack Obama 17%
Tom Vilsack 16%
Hillary Clinton 15%
Joe Biden 4%
John Kerry 3%
Wesley Clark 2%
Bill Richardson 1%
Chris Dodd 1%
Dennis Kucinich 1%
Undecided 15%

January 23, 2007

Telling It Like It Is

I can't resist pointing out this inadvertent gem that escaped White House Press Secretary Tony Snow on a conference call a few minutes ago previewing the details of President Bush's State of the Union.

Asked whether Bush's new healthcare proposal is the same type of sacred cow issue that will go the way of the President's 2005 plan to overhaul Social Security, Snow responded: "The Republican leadership made the decision not to bring up Social Security. We don't have that problem anymore."

Excerpts From the SOTU

Here they are, as prepared for delivery:

"Some in this Chamber are new to the House and Senate - and I congratulate the Democratic majority. Congress has changed, but our responsibilities have not...We are not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and achieve big things for the American people."

"Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on - as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done. Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, and help them to build a future of hope and opportunity - and this is the business before us tonight."

On the economy:

"A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy - and that is what we have...Unemployment is low, inflation is low, and wages are rising. This economy is on the move - and our job is to keep it that way, not with more government but with more enterprise."

On education:

"Five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act...And because we acted, students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap."

"Now the task is to build on this success, without watering down standards ... without taking control from local communities ... and without backsliding and calling it reform...And we can make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future, and our country is more competitive, by strengthening math and science skills."

On healthcare:

"[I]n all we do, we must remember that the best healthcare decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors."

On comprehensive immigration reform:

"Extending hope and opportunity in our country requires an immigration system worthy of America - with laws that are fair and borders that are secure. When laws and borders are routinely violated, this harms the interests of our country... Yet...we cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border - and that requires a temporary worker program."

On energy policy:

"Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America's economy running and America's environment clean. For too long our Nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists - who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments ... raise the price of oil ... and do great harm to our economy. It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply - and the way forward is through technology."

On the war on terror:

"For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger...[T]o win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy. From the start, America and our allies have protected our people by staying on the offense. The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free flowing communications are long over. For the terrorists, life since Nine-Eleven has never been the same."

"[O]ur military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options. We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq - because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far reaching."

"The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others. That is why it is important to work together so our Nation can see this great effort through."

"Both parties and both branches should work in close consultation. And this is why I propose to establish a special advisory council on the war on terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties. We will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us. And we will show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory."

On foreign policy:

"American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger, poverty, and disease - and that is precisely what America is doing. We must continue to fight HIV/AIDS, especially on the continent of Africa."

Wild Card Bill

Ed Morrissey says New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson could be the most dangerous Democrat in the race. Very true. He's got a great political profile: tons of experience, Latino, from the Southwest, etc. The addition of Nevada to the primary calendar and the selection of Denver as the site of the 2008 convention help Richardson on the margin as well.

Morrissey suggests there are other reasons Richardson should worry front runner Hillary Clinton:

Richardson should worry Hillary Clinton based on his extensive experience. However, his experience with the Clintons also might give Hillary Clinton a different set of vulnerabilities, depending on whether the former baseball player will go hardball in the primary race.

Even the fact of his candidacy makes a case for his readiness to dish on Hillary Clinton. He's just young enough at age 60 to have waited for 2012 or 2016 to avoid going against Hillary Clinton, and yet he chose to run against his former boss' spouse. That indicates that Richardson doesn't feel especially loyal to either Clinton on the national stage and hints that some fireworks may await us on the primary trail.

Will he start telling stories out of school about first lady Hillary Clinton and her actions during those years? Richardson isn't known as a hardball politician despite his prowess on the baseball field in his youth, but he has to know that running against Hillary Clinton will require such a mindset.

So far, Richardson is the only member of the Clinton cabinet now running for president, and the only one with the motivation to go negative about Hillary Clinton's work during her husband's two terms in the White House.

Pure speculation, of course, but interesting. However, it also looks like Richardson may have an an issue of his own that could end up getting dished in a game of presidential primary hardball - and one not dissimilar to the problem that plagued the aforementioned frontrunner's husband.

Another possibility that Morrissey doesn't address is that Richardson isn't out to get Hillary so much as he's angling to be her (or someone else's) vice presidential pick.

And here I thought I had watched the end of Richardson's career back in June of 200 when Senator Robert Byrd dressed down the then Secretary of Energy over the loss of two computer disks containing nuclear secrets at the Los Alamos lab. (The discs were subsequently found by the FBI behind a copy machine.) At the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing called to investigate the security blunder, Senator Byrd said to Richardson:

I have to say, I am not calling for your resignation at this moment, but you have shown a supreme, a supreme contempt of the committees of this Congress. When you decided that you would go-- if the newspaper stories are correct-- when you decided that you would go before the Intelligence Committee when you were ready... you weren't ready yet...that was a supreme act of callous arrogance, and I resent it. I think it's a rather sad story that you had a bright and brilliant career that you had never, that you would never again receive the support of the Senate of the United States for any office to which you might be appointed. It's beyond... you have squandered your treasure, and I am sorry.

F. Scott Fitzgerald may have been right in saying "there are no second acts in American lives," but there sure are in politics. And what a remarkable final act it would be for Richardson to cap his career by either scoring a huge upset to take the nomination or by winning himself a number two slot on the '08 Democratic ticket.

The Other Surge

This one is in Texas:


Gov. Rick Perry said Monday he will send a dozen armed security platoons from the Texas Army National Guard to help law enforcement officers secure the border.

The 604 newly activated troops are to be part of Operation Wrangler -- an interagency law enforcement effort aimed at reducing crime and increasing security across the state.

The troops will stay active for an undisclosed period of time in areas across Texas. A spokeswoman for the governor said she could not elaborate "on the timing or places, but the surge operation will be on a statewide level."

Predictable Oscar

The two biggest non-stories of the newly released list of Oscar nominations? Mel Gibson isn't on it, and Al Gore is.

Castro Dead?

Rumors are rife that Castro is dead. The Tallahassee Democrat is reporting that Florida Governor Charlie Crist is meeting with Coast Guars Rear Admiral David Kunkel today at 11:30am to discuss "emergency planning"

The Coast Guard is a key partner with Florida in planning for another flood of refugees should Castro's regime, which began in 1958, topple.

Castro, 80, hasn't been seen publicly since July 26, the day before he underwent intestinal surgery. Published reports say he has had multiple operations and that his health if failing.

The Castro is dead rumors have come and gone with some frequency the last year, but these of the last few days seem to be particularly intense. Crist's meeting with Kunkel may be long-planned, or it may be a sign that Castro's reign is very close to over.

The local CBS affiliate in Miami has this from Prensa Latina, Cuba's official state news agency:

Prensa Latina reports that Vice President Jose Ramon Fernandez indicates the leader is recovering and adds that the nation is functioning with normality.

The Politics of Filibustering Iraq Resolutions

On the Special Report roundtable last night, Brit Hume asked an interesting question on the politics of whether the Republicans should filibuster the various Iraq resolutions that may come up for a vote in the Senate:

Is it better for the Republicans to allow the vote to happen, with whatever embarrassment it may cause the president, and put these Democrats and others on record, including some of their own on record, resisting the president on this, or is it better not to have it?

The reaction from the panelists (or at least Mara Liasson) was that it was wiser for the GOP to allow a vote rather than filibuster. I don't know that I agree. Assuming these resolutions can be filibustered and assuming McConnell has the votes to sustain a filibuster, I think Republicans would be in a position to win politically from not allowing a toothless vote that, they could argue quite persuasively, would damage the morale of our troops and embolden the enemy.

The idea that Republicans gain from having the Democrats on record against the President's plan is silly. If the U.S.'s surge in Iraq is successful it will help President Bush and the GOP and hurt Democrats. If it isn't, the opposite will be true. These votes will not change that reality one iota.

Given these resolutions have no real power and are for show, it seems to me it would be hard for Democrats to make the case that somehow a filibuster was jeopardizing the nation. Republicans could defend the move by saying they would only allow at this time Iraq votes on actual measures that have real-life consequences, as opposed to show votes advanced to pursue political objectives that could damage troop morale in the process.

However, given the tone of Senator McConnell's article in The Hill today "Addressing U.S. priorities with a bipartisan spirit" this does not appear to the time that Senate Republicans want to ratchet up the political warfare.

January 22, 2007

McCain Has No Doubt

Asked by David M. Brown and Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about his intention to run for President, Senator John McCain doesn't beat around the bush (so to speak):

"There's no doubt," McCain told the Trib. "But, right now, the Iraq issue ... is taking a lot of my attention and effort away, and I think that's appropriate. I'm still a United States senator. I've got to perform my duties."

The Good Dr. Takes His Medicine

Since I've commented a couple of times (here and here) on the brouhaha involving Rep. Steve Kagen (aka Dr. Multimillionaire), it's worth noting that he has finally taken his medicine and apologized for the incident in a letter to his constituents that also ran in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Sunday:

I have officially been the congressman from the 8th district for almost three weeks now. In this short time, I am even more struck than I was when I first decided to run by the enormity of the challenges we face - in Iraq, in our nation's health care system, along our borders, in our public schools and universities, in our jobs and in the record debt we risk leaving for our children and grandchildren.

Yet you have probably heard more about my appearance at last year's White House reception for new lawmakers than you have about the issues my colleagues and I are grappling with today on your behalf. And that's a shame because you deserve better.

I apologize for handling this situation as I did. I allowed this distraction to get out of hand and divert our attention from the critically important work we are doing. My mishandled attempt at humor wasn't delivered or received well. It won't happen again.

I am completely committed to bipartisan efforts to confront the issues I was sent here to address...

Seems the brash Dr. Multimillionaire has suddenly - if belatedly - discovered the virtues of bipartisanship.

The Daily Clinton

A quick tour through the crushing coverage of Hillary Clinton's announcement:

Glenn Thrush of Newsday reports on Clinton pollster Mark Penn's salvo against her primary opponents. Penn's memo, released on Saturday in conjunction with Hillary's announcement, can be read in full here.

The New York Daily News conducted a poll of NYC voters and found her beating Obama 49% to 23% among registered Democrats, handily winning among blacks, Latinos, and women. Opposite the relatively positive news is another story in the Daily News (reporting on the aforementioned Penn memo) titled "Tough Road Ahead for Hillary."

Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post writes that Clinton's appearance yesterday gives a "glimpse" of how she'll cast herself as a Preidential candidate: "the mother of a daughter, as a serious student of policy and as a two-term senator from New York." Patrick Healy covers the same beat in the New York Times.

Tom Baldwin of the Times of London: "Clinton aims to show she is tough and a bit tender."

Jill Lawrence of USA Today revisits the issue of Clinton's electability - or lack thereof - calling the former First Lady a "complicated package." That's probably an understatement.

If you care what the British left thinks, the Guardian editorializes about Hillary's odds of winning before concluding: "There is little doubt that if she prevails Hillary Clinton will be a worthy winner with the potential to be the worthy president that the United States so badly needs after the catastrophe of the present incumbent."

If you can stomach any more coverage, read Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times and Linda Feldmann of the Christian Science Monitor.

Obama's Record

In his 2004 race for Senate, any real scrutiny of Barack Obama's record as an Illinois state legislator was lost amid the spectacular flame out of Republican Jack Ryan and the ensuing pyrotechnics of the Alan Keyes campaign. That is sure to change this time around.

Kurt Erickson and Ed Tibbetts of the Southern Illinosian take an early look Obama's record in Springfield and write that , as with his short time in the United States Senate, it's been solidly liberal:

As a member of the Illinois Senate, Obama supported a single-payer health care plan run by the state and voted for an increase in the minimum wage. He also endorsed embryonic stem cell research and, in 2003, co-sponsored legislation that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

He voted against allowing people to claim self-defense if they used a gun in their home. The measure would have affected only residents of towns where local handgun bans were in effect.

But he also voted in favor of allowing retired police officers to carry concealed weapons. Gibbs said that would be his only exception to a prohibition against the right to carry a concealed weapon.

On abortion, Obama voted against a measure designed to protect what supporters termed live babies born during abortion procedures.

Senate opponent Alan Keyes criticized Obama for the vote during their 2004 campaign. Gibbs said the legislation, which was defeated, defined a fetus as a person and "would have criminalized every abortion."

In 1998, when Democrats were in the minority in the state Senate, he made headlines as the co-sponsor of a bipartisan-backed package of legislation that overhauled state ethics laws.

His dealings with lawmakers on that ethics bill helped him build his image as someone who can work effectively on both sides of the political aisle.

State Sen. Gary Forby, a Democrat from the coal fields of Southern Illinois whose constituency includes a lot of Reagan Democrats, said Obama is a person who has wide appeal.

"Barack Obama is a person who will sit down and talk with you," Forby said.

State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, a Republican from Okawville, also had high marks for Obama's gifts as a communicator but said he shouldn't be confused as a centrist.

"He is what he is - a liberal Democrat," Luechtefeld said. "I'm not saying that's all bad. It's just what he is."

In 1992, Bill Clinton used his considerable political skill and personal charm to sell the American people on the idea he was a "new Democrat" with a centrist policy agenda. Fifteen years later, Barack Obama, should he win the nomination, will employ a variation of that strategy: using the same exceptional skill set to sell himself to the public as a centrist on process, even though he's well to the left of the country on many issues as a matter of policy.

Cartoon of the Day

A classic from Mike Lukovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

lukovich.jpg

The Biggest Anti-Bush?

Pop quiz: which member of Congress has voted against President Bush more than any other? The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who cast 54.4% of his votes against the President.

Bush's Immigration Reform Push

Billy House of the Arizona Republic says the push for comprehensive immigration reform will be a "main theme" in President Bush's SOTU on Tuesday, but passing a bill is still far from a slam dunk:

"Everybody, no matter who they are, is sick of the illegality and porous borders," said Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, who has written extensively as an advocate for immigration reform. [snip]

"Latinos want to see their friends and family able to work with dignity. And soccer moms and dads want to see Congress solve something," Jacoby said.

But both she and others, including Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., said that just because Congress is now controlled by Democrats, there are no assurances that immigration reform will be easy

"This is still going to have to be a bipartisan, practical, centrist, up-the-middle, in fact, tough immigration bill," Jacoby said.

"We're still going to need 20 Republicans in the Senate and probably 40 Republicans in the House."

Shadegg said that predictions that Democrats will help to see such a plan move through smoothly may underestimate the pressure they will receive from their organized labor constituencies who may oppose such things as a guest-worker plan.

"It's not a lay-down that Bush can get what he wants just because Democrats are now in charge," Shadegg said of immigration reform.

January 21, 2007

'08 National Polls

In the new ABC News/Washington Post poll (the full details of which will be released later today), Hillary leads Obama comfortably, 41% to 17%, and Giuliani leads McCain by seven points, 34% to 27%

Newsweek's new poll shows the following hypothetical head to head matchups:

Clinton 48, McCain 47
Clinton 47, Giuliani 48

Obama 46, McCain 44
Obama 45, Giuliani 47

Edwards 48, McCain 43
Edwards 48, Giuliani 45

Patrick Ruffini notes the RV sample on the Newsweek poll is R 26%, D 37%, and I 33%. When adjusted to reflect the composition of the electorate in the 2006 midterms, Ruffini comes up with the following totals:

Clinton 45.2%, McCain 50.5%
Clinton 44.6%, Giuliani 51.8%

Obama 42.5%, Giuliani 50.6%
Obama 44.4%, McCain 47.4%

Edwards 45.2%, Giuliani 49.3%
Edwards 45.9%, McCain 47.2%

Grading Congress

David Brooks grades the performance of the new Democratic Congress. The short version:

Ethics reform: A-
Energy policy: A-
Stem cells: B
Minimum wage: B-
Studen loans: C-
9/11 Recommendations: C-
Prescription Drugs: D

Brooks concludes:

In conclusion, if a wonky Mr. Chips were to step back and render a judgment on the new Congress so far, he'd note that it's not a terribly ambitious student. It hasn't tried anything big. It has a weakness for showy symbolism and middle-class subsidies. Still, at least it hasn't humiliated the nation the way the last Congress did, and it looks set to do some modest good.

Good Onya

In Australia, Morris Iemma, the Premier of New South Wales, has challenged radical Islamic cleric Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali - who made news not so long ago for referring to Aussie women in bathing suits as "uncovered meat" - to stop running his mouth and stand for office:

He's made it clear where he stands - he doesn't like Australia, he doesn't like Australians.

So, if he wants a challenge with those values, I say bring it on."

Iemma added that a run by the Sheik would be "an opportunity for decent, right-thinking people of that community to reject the lunacy that he's put up."

PJM Straw Poll

This week Pajamas Media is launching a rolling 2008 straw poll. You can vote for one Democrat and one Republican per week. It should be interesting to watch the numbers change over time. You can get a sneak peak at the poll - and a chance to cast your first vote - by clicking here.

January 20, 2007

Hillary Takes the Plunge

Even though it's been assumed as a certainty for some time, it still counts as news:

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will embark on a widely anticipated campaign for the White House Saturday, a former first lady intent on becoming the nation's first female president.

Like Obama, Hillary did a video announcement on her web site which you can view here.

January 19, 2007

A Sign of Progress?

The new Secretary General of the United Nations orders "an urgent, system-wide and external inquiry into all activities done around the globe by the U.N. funds and programs."

Bill Richardson is In

Another Dem hops into the fray: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

The Missing Duke Outrage

This story from the Hartford Courant caught my attention:

Woman Who Lied About Rapist Faces Arrest January 19 2007

A Superior Court judge gave Hartford police the go-ahead Thursday to arrest a woman who sparked outrage in the city's black community when she admitted she made up a story about being raped by a heavyset black man in Bushnell Park, police and court officials said.

The woman filed the rapes charges in November.

Meanwhile, the woman at the center of the Duke case made her rape allegations in March. Even after changing her story a number of times, the charge wasn't dropped until late December when the woman admitted she was "no longer certain" that a rape had occurred. (We also learned that exculpatory evidence was withheld by the prosecutor). Yet the boys in the Duke case still remain on trial for serious offenses related to the woman's initial accusation.

Yet instead of outrage, if you look around all you see is revisionism. Take 88 members of the Duke faculty who had the gall to sign a letter earlier this week that blithely skipped over the outrageous particulars of the railroading of these three boys to defiantly reaffirm their view of the case as symptomatic of deep and ongoing problems with racism and sexual violence. (The estimable KC Johnson thoroughly debunks the letter here).

And the North Carolina NAACP is doing some revisionism of its own:

Despite being the author of a list of 82 "Crimes and Torts committed by Duke Lacrosse Team Players" on the state NAACP's news Web site, [NAACP Counsel Al] McSurely said he and the organization he represents have always advocated for the fair treatment of "both sides. "

Again, KC Johnson does the honors in pointing out the rank hypocrisy of that claim.

If you were searching for one infinitesimal silver lining in this entire God awful mess, it would be that the folks who were so eager to pass judgment in this case and so hopeful of exploiting the tragedy to advance their own narrow agendas have seen their credibility evaporate along with Mr. Nifong's.

'08 Poll Dump

ARG has just dumped '08 polling from eight different states. Here's the ultra-condensed version:

Michigan
Dems: Clinton 30, Obama 30, Edwards 17
GOP: Giuliani 34, McCain 24, Romney 10

Missouri
Dems: Clinton 30, Obama 18, Edwards 17
GOP: McCain 31, Giuliani 18, Gingrich 14

Florida
Dems: Hillary 30, Obama 15, Edwards 14
GOP: Giuliani 30, Gingrich 16, McCain 15

Pennsylvania
Dems: Clinton 32, Obama 13, Edwards 12
GOP: Giuliani 35, McCain 25, Gingrich 10

Illinois
Dems: Obama 36, Clinton 30, Edwards 5
GOP: Giuliani 33, McCain 24, Romney 12

New Mexico
Dems: Richardson 28, Clinton 22, Obama 17, Edwards 12
GOP: Giuliani 38, McCain 20, Gingrich 9

California
Dems: Clinton 36, Obama 33, Edwards 6
GOP: Giuliani 33, Gingrich 19, McCain 18

North Carolina
Dems: Edwards 30, Clinton 26, Obama 19
GOP: Giuliani 34, McCain 26, Gingrich 11

Did Someone Say Personal Savings Accounts?

Fed chief Ben Bernanke strolled up to Capitol Hill yesterday and scared the pants off Congress and the American public. His message? An over hyped, doom and gloom forecast about an entitlement bankruptcy tidal wave slamming American shores.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bernanke and all the other pessimists are using low-ball economic estimates to make their alarmist case.

As far as Social Security is concerned, a set of optimistic (yet eminently reasonable and realistic) economic assumptions exist which lead to no bankruptcy and no trust fund exhaustion.

This scenario--one rarely discussed by most--includes slightly less than 3 percent real economic growth, and 2 percent productivity per year. Over the next seventy-five years, this solid growth forecast keeps the Social Security funds alive and well.

(Bear in mind, real GDP growth over the last fifty years has averaged 3.3 percent annually. Why would people assume the future will be the worse than the past?)

Bernanke's gloomy bankruptcy assumptions--where the trust fund is expected to exhaust in 2040--rely on a rather uninspiring economic outlook of around 2 percent growth. This is rubbish. With low tax rates, high productivity and low inflation, our technology based economy is poised for a long cycle of prosperity.

These doom and gloom Social Security scenarios aren't worth the paper they're printed on.

The real problem with Social Security is not bankruptcy. It's the dreadful investment return (barely 1 percent) that future retirees have to look forward to.

If Americans had the chance to purchase S&P 500 SPDR contracts, and were able to hold them for fifty years, they would receive a real return of at least 7 percent compounded annually based on the history of the stock market. That's a lot of Benjamins. Heck, even if workers were given a lousy bank deposit option, federally insured by Uncle Sam, they could still count on squeezing out at least 3 percent compound returns.

The real reason we need to reform Social Security is to give American workers a far better retirement nest egg than the current system is capable of providing--not because of some phony bankruptcy driven deficit scenario.

Did someone say personal savings accounts?

Let's remember that more savings means more investment. This in turn leads to productivity-fueled growth. The end result is we have more revenues to pay off Social Security liabilities over the next seventy-five years and vastly more wealth for retirees.

Think of it.

Obama's Religion

Barack Obama calls himself a Christian, but does he consider himself an "evangelical?" That question was posed to him recently by Cathleen Falsani, the religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. Here is Obama's reponse:

"Gosh, I'm not sure if labels are helpful here because the definition of an evangelical is so loose and subject to so many different interpretations. I came to Christianity through the black church tradition where the line between evangelical and non-evangelical is completely blurred. Nobody knows exactly what it means.

"Does it mean that you feel you've got a personal relationship with Christ the savior? Then that's directly part of the black church experience. Does it mean you're born-again in a classic sense, with all the accoutrements that go along with that, as it's understood by some other tradition? I'm not sure."

He continued his answer: "My faith is complicated by the fact that I didn't grow up in a particular religious tradition. And so what that means is when you come at it as an adult, your brain mediates a lot, and you ask a lot of questions.

"There are aspects of Christian tradition that I'm comfortable with and aspects that I'm not. There are passages of the Bible that make perfect sense to me and others that I go, 'Ya know, I'm not sure about that,'" he said, shrugging and stammering slightly.

Obama's response doesn't bother me at all, and probably won't probably bother most people. But some on the right have already made some repugnant insinuations about his religious beliefs and how they may affect his "loyalties," and I suspect his comments about not growing up in a particular religious tradition and not being comfortable with certain "aspects" of the Christian tradition will, unfortnately, only serve to keep those dark innuendos circulating.

More on Dr. Multimillionaire

Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more on Wisconsin Democrat Rep. Steven Kagen, aka Dr. Multimllionaire, including this quote from the publisher of the paper that originally reported Kagen's kick-ass comments:

"I feel bad for Kagen, I do," said Jim Moran, publisher of The Scene, which reports on arts and culture and covers political issues from a liberal point of view. Moran also owns a hunting and fishing publication and the Chilton Times-Journal.

Moran said the reporter who wrote the story, Jim Lundstrom, taped Kagen's comments. The tape is "not flattering" to the congressman, said Moran, who said Kagen "sounds kind of cocky," apparently unaware a reporter was present.

"He's trying to get a reaction from the audience. You couldn't tell if (the encounters) really happened or didn't, but you're thinking, 'If it did, boy this guy's got balls, because who could do that?' " Moran said.

"Everybody wants the tape," Moran said, but Lundstrom doesn't plan to release it because "our goal isn't to bring Kagen down any further than we've already done."

Wrong. Kagen brought himself down by making those comments, and he's lucky the only reporter in the room at the time was from a left-wing alternative paper who is now willing to protect him by not making the tape public.

The China Threat

While the U.S. military and diplomatic resources remain disproportionally focused on the Middle East (for obvious reasons), China continues to methodically move forward with its long-term objectives. From the front page of the Washington Post this morning:

The Chinese military used a ground-based missile to hit and destroy one of its aging satellites orbiting more than 500 miles in space last week -- a high-stakes test demonstrating China's ability to target regions of space that are home to U.S. spy satellites and space-based missile defense systems. The test of anti-satellite technology is believed to be the first of its kind in two decades by any nation and raised concerns about the vulnerability of U.S. satellites and a possible arms race in space......

The U.S. military is especially dependent on satellites for navigation, communications and missile guidance, while the American economy could also be broadly damaged by disruptions of communications, weather and other satellites. Some in the administration believe that this has left the nation especially vulnerable to attack and have proposed efforts to develop ways to defend its assets in space...

"In my view, the Chinese are sending a strong signal here," said Jeffrey Kueter, president of the George C. Marshall Institute, a nonprofit space and defense think tank in Washington. "They're saying they can hold our space-based, war-fighting capability at risk, and are putting into doubt our ability to challenge them. They're a rising space competitor."

There is no question that China is a competitor of the United States. The real question is how the China-U.S. relationship will mature as China's strength -- both economic and military -- continues to expand. Will the relationship remain more or less friendly or at least a peaceful competition among what will soon be the world's two super powers or will it deteriorate into a more confrontational/adversarial state of affairs?

The growing military threat posed by China is clearly the primary geo-strategic impetus behind the U.S. outreach to India, and to a lesser degree Japan; both of which have been very good, long-term strategic moves by the Bush administration.

Jockeying for Position

In New Hampshire, two Democrats are already vying for position to unseat Senator John Sununu. Democratic activist Katrina Swett (who challenged Republican Charlie Bass in '02) has already filed papers for a run, and Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand will follow suit shortly.

Both candidates are keeping an eye on the 800-lb gorilla currently standing on the sideline: Jeanne Shaheen. The popular three-term Governor who lost to Sununu in a close race six years ago hasn't officially ruled out a rematch. A run by Shaheen would most likely clear the Dem field and make for an exceedingly difficult reelection battle for Sununu.

Out in Colorado, Dems are already jockeying for position to replace Rep. Mark Udall in the 2nd Congressional district who is making noise about a 2008 Senate run. Prospective candidates include State Senate President Joan Fitz- Gerald and millionaire philanthropist Jared Polis.

Obama Leads in NH, Edwards in Iowa

Results from a just released Zogby poll on New Hampshire:

Democrats
Obama 23%
Clinton 19%
Edwards 19%
Kerry 5%
Other (Clark 3% Kucinich 1%, Richardson 1%, Vilsack 1%)

Republicans
McCain 26%
Giuliani 20%
Romney 13%
Rice 7%
Gingrich 6%
Hagel 3%
Other (Tancredo 2%, Hunter 1%, Pataki 1%)

Zogby also released a 2008 poll on Iowa yesterday. The results were as follows:

Democrats
Edwards 27%
Obama 17%
Vilsack 16%
Clinton 16%
Biden 3%
Kerry 3%
Other (Richardson 1%, Kucinich 1%)

Republicans
Giuliani 19%
McCain 17%
Gingrich 13%
Rice 9%
Romney 5%
Other (Tancredo 2%, Hagel 2%, Brownback 1%, T. Thompson 1%, Huckabee 1%, Pataki 1%)

Obama & The Vision Thing

My Sun-Times column this morning.

January 18, 2007

Frist Looks to White House in 2016, 2020

Just two short years ago Bill Frist was clearly in the mix of contenders to become the Republican nominee for president in 2008. However, as President Bush's popularity fell and frustrations mounted with the Republican Congress throughout 2005 and 2006, Mr. Frist's position as Senate Majority Leader became much more of a liability than an asset to his presidential aspirations.

Mr. Frist recognized his weakened position and instead of forging ahead with an embarrassing and anemic White House run, he wisely pulled the plug. However, recent reports in such newspapers as The Tennessean and The Hill suggest Mr. Frist has turned his eyes to the Tennessee governorship in 2010 -- an office that would provide a considerably more attractive and effective platform from which to launch a run for the White House in 2016 or 2020.

Mr. Frist, whose life story points to a man who is intensely driven and focused, appears to be taking a disciplined approach in his quest for the biggest prize in politics. His name ID and personal wealth would make him a near-lock for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010 and would place him in a very strong position to win the general election and replace term-limited Democrat Phil Bredesen. Even given the increasingly earlier start time for modern-day presidential campaigns, 2012 might be too soon for a White House run by Mr. Frist, but 2016 or 2020 would work very well.

And the governorship would be better suited to Mr. Frist's political strengths: It's easier to be the chief executive of a state than to manage the competing influences and egos in the U.S. Senate. The move would also give Mr. Frist time to distance himself from the Bush administration and the recent Republican Congressional Majority. Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Frist would be 65 years old in 2016 and conceivably might have more appeal on the campaign trail as an older Southern gentleman as opposed to a handsome and maybe too ambitious pol. With 12 years in the Senate (including four as Majority Leader) and two terms as governor of a growing and increasingly important state, Governor Frist might see a path to the White House that a Senator Frist never could.

McCain 'Tanking' in NH?

Brett Arends of the Boston Herald has the scoop on an ARG poll to be released later this week:

For seven years, conventional wisdom has said that the state's pivotal independent voters would line up behind maverick Sen. John McCain, as they did so famously in the 2000 GOP primary. But new polling data, to be released later this week, will suggest that might no longer be the case.

Manchester, N.H.-based American Research Group finds that McCain's popularity among New Hampshire's independent voters has collapsed.

"John McCain is tanking," says ARG president Dick Bennett. "That's the big thing [we're finding]. In New Hampshire a year ago he got 49 percent among independent voters. That number's way down, to 29 percent now."

Arends reports Bennett is finding similar trends in other states which he says is attributable to McCain's strong ties to President Bush and his support for the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.

Dr. Multimillionaire's Bad Karma

You've probably heard of Congressman Steve Kagen. The newly elected Democrat from Wisconsin's 8th district made news last week when he told an alternative newspaper in Green Bay a story about his chance meeting with Karl Rove in a bathroom on his first visit to the White House ("My name's Dr. Multimillionaire and I kicked your ass") and also bragged about insulting First Lady Laura Bush by purposefully calling her 'Barbara'. Kagen told the paper, "I did that because I learned on the campaign that the meanest thing you can say to another gentlemen is, 'he's a fine fellow,' and you then refer to his spouse by a different name."

Kagen denied the reports (as did the White House, by the way) refusing to answer any questions beyond telling reporters that he had a "very playful experience" in the White House.

Needless to say, Kagen's antics and subsequent obfuscations have brought him an avalanche of bad press. On Wednesday the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ran an editorial telling Kagen to "grow up" and saying the episode "calls into question both Kagen's judgment and maturity." The left-leaning Green Bay Press-Gazette editorial board also wrote an open letter to Kagen on Wednesday that read, in part:

At this point, we really don't know what to believe -- and we increasingly don't care. We recognize the truth may be somewhere in between "kicked your ass" and "social interaction." And we're not sure which is worse: being a boor or being a blowhard.

Columnist Stew Rieckman called it Kagen's "George Costanza moment." Letters on the subject have been even more harsh.

You'll remember this is the same Dr. Kagen who was embroiled in a last-minute gaffe during the campaign when he was caught on audio apologizing to a group of supporters for being late to an event by saying he was running on "Injun time."

Not a very auspicious beginning for Dr. Multimillionaire.

The big night for the Democrats last November inevitably swept in some very weak and - if the political atmostphere improves for Republicans in 2008, which is a big if - some potentially very vulnerable targets for the GOP in 2008. Kagen was probably already on that list, but with this latest gaffe he just moved himself up a few notches.

Wisconsin 8 is a Republican leaning district. It's Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) is R+4. Bush won the district by 11 points in 2004 and 9 points in 2000. Republican Mark Green, who vacated the seat to run (unsuccessfully) for Governor last year, won the seat in '98 with 55% of the vote and was reelected to three successive terms capturing 75, 73, and 70 percent of the vote. Kagen won by only 2% last November, and he spent two and half million of his own money to do it.

Dr. Multimillionaire had better start pleasing his constituents or get his checkbook out again for 2008, because the Republicans are going to be looking to do a little ass-kicking of their own in Wisconsin's eighth district.

Hiring Again

We're looking to fill a full-time technical position at RealClearPolitics. Past experience developing php solutions to support high-traffic websites and working with Movable Type is a necessity. Knowledge of PHP, HTML, CSS, Python, Perl as well as database design and deployment for dynamic DB driven sites using MySQL would be a plus. Interested individuals should send a short note and resume to job@realclearpolitics.com

January 17, 2007

Governor Frist?

The Hill reports that former Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist is eyeing a run for Tennessee governor:

"It's a done deal," said a source with knowledge of Frist's plans.

A Question That Answers Itself

Denver Post columnist Al Knight asks the question: Tancredo for president in 2008? Well, why not?. My response: How much time do we have?

Knight goes on to write the following about Tancredo:

His critics (and he has plenty both in Colorado and elsewhere) have tried for years to picture him as a kind of nut, obsessed with one topic to the exclusion of all others. That hasn't worked, primarily because he has demonstrated the ability to thoughtfully articulate his views.

Are we talking about the same man who suggested during a July 2005 radio interview that we should "take out" the holiest city in Islam in response to possible nuke attacks on the United States by terrorists? Or the one who recently made news by referring to Miami as a "third world country?" Whatever you think of the merits of either of those views, "thoughtfully articulate" is not a phrase that springs to mind to describe them.

Colorado Dirt

Peter Blake of the Rocky Mountain News has some good ground-level detail on the race to replace Republican Senator Wayne Allard.

Rocky's Raging Bull

Here's a shortened version of the droning 22-page State of the City address delivered by Salt Lake City's ultra "progressive" Mayor Rocky Anderson yesterday: "Americans are worse off everywhere - except in my city."

Bloomberg's Cut

Rumors of a Michael Bloomberg run for the White House have percolated for months, though usually at a fairly low level. But if Bloomberg is planning to further explore the possibility of tossing his hat in the ring as a moderate, business savvy problem solver who has done an effective job of managing a city with a population equivalent to the 11th largest state in America, then announcing a $1 billion tax cut is probably a pretty good idea.

The Daily Obama

Unless you've been passed out or living under a rock for the last 22 hours or so, you know that Barack Obama announced his intention to "explore" a bid for the Presidency. The media is, quite naturally, in a frenzy. Here's a taste:

Judy Keen of USA Today focuses on the big question: Is Obama experienced enough to be President? The answer, given the overall tone of Keen's piece, is 'yes.'

Local coverage, analysis, and an editorial from the Chicago Tribune.

The run is good news for Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet and her seemingly insatiable appetite for all things Obama. She's written more column inches on him than anyone in the country, and she cranks out another piece today on his announcement. The Sun-Times also runs a brief and noticeably tepid editorial.

National coverage by Shailagh Murray and Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post and by Jeff Zeleny in the New York Times.

The Post also carries an analysis of the '08 Dem field by Dan Balz who writes:

Democrats moved a step closer yesterday to what shapes up as one of the most historic and compelling contests ever for their party's presidential nomination, a study in contrasting styles and candidacies in which race and gender play central roles in the competition.[snip]

But initially, the electricity will be generated by the Clinton and Obama candidacies. The news media will find the story line irresistible, and Democrats around the country are eagerly anticipating the competition. "Senator Obama's got the magic, but Hillary Clinton's got the muscle," said Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist who is neutral in the nomination campaign. "This is going to be a titanic fight between energy and charisma on one hand and money and organization on the other."

And in the Los Angeles Times, Janet Hook and Michael Finnegan look at the high-stakes fundraising battle that is now fully underway in California. Hillary's allies are wary of Obama, but not necessarily worried about him:

"[Obama is] going to have an effect on our fundraising -- no question about it," said Sim Farar, a major Clinton fundraiser in Los Angeles. "But at the end of the day, we will raise enough money for Hillary's campaign."

Of course, John Edwards is still hunkered down out there somewhere, waiting for the Obama storm to blow over and also bracing for the inevitable arrival of Hurricane Hillary, hoping that he doesn't have to wait too long before he can get to the business of bringing these two political luminaries back down to earth.

Tancredo's Pull

David Yepsen writes in yesterday's Des Moines Register that a White House run by Rep. Tom Tancredo could pull the GOP field to the right in Iowa:

Tancredo also said he has signed up conservative Iowa GOP activist Bill Salier to chair his campaign in Iowa.

Salier energized Iowa Republican conservatives in his unsuccessful 2002 primary bid for the U.S. Senate against Greg Ganske. Salier got an impressive 41 percent of the vote.

While Tancredo has to be ranked as the longest of presidential long shots, he has the potential to pull the Republican field of candidates to the right, particularly on his signature issue of curbing illegal immigration.

He had said earlier he wouldn't run for president if the other leading GOP contenders took a hard-line stance against illegal immigration.

They aren't, so he's in. "Unfortunately, no one in the top tier conveys a concern about this issue," he said. He was especially critical of U.S. Sen. John McCain for co-sponsoring guest-worker legislation with Sen. Ted Kennedy. "It's the McKennedy bill," Tancredo said.

Again, McCain gets singled out for his position, but Giuliani is every bit as pro-immigration. Mitt Romney has his own particular problems with the issue. Even second-tier candidates like Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback favor comprehensive reform.

The only other declared candidate is Duncan Hunter who shares many similarities with Tancredo: he's a hardliner on illegal immigration, he's from the House of Representatives, and he has no chance of winning. But together Tancredo and Hunter will hold the other candidates' feet to the fire on the issue of immigration as Yepsen suggests.

January 16, 2007

Don't Worry About the Inverted Yield Curve

For almost four years, a pessimistic pall has generated forecasts and press reports suggesting that the economy is due for a substantial slowdown, perhaps even a recession. Some of these forecasts finger the "housing bubble," oil prices, or debt loads as the catalyst. But, lately, the number one crutch of the pessimists is an "inverted yield curve" - the fact that short-term interest rates are higher than long-term rates.

On one point, the pessimists are right: the yield curve has inverted before every recession in the past 40 years. But a closer look at past episodes of inversion and recession suggests that today's economy is different. Our models indicate very low odds of a recession and continue to point to strong economic activity throughout 2007.

The current inversion is different because it has occurred with low short-term interest rates. Our measuring stick is nominal GDP growth (real GDP growth plus inflation). Whether short-term interest rates are above long-term interest rates is not as important as whether short-term rates are above the trend growth rate of nominal GDP. Think of nominal GDP growth as the ability of the economy to repay its loans. If interest rates are lower than the growth of the ability to repay, that's okay; if interest rates are higher, that constrains future living standards.

Simply comparing short-term rates and long-term rates does not answer the question of whether short-term rates are high or long-term rates are low. And that question has to be answered because the economic effects of high short rates and low long rates are not the same. High short-term rates represent tight money, which leads to slower economic growth. Low long-term rates do not harm the economy. If the yield curve is inverted because long-term rates are low, then that's just another way for consumers and businesses to borrow without hurting their future standard of living.

Past inversions of the yield curve occurred when monetary policy was very tight and short-term rates were high. There have been six recessions since 1961, and prior to each of them the yield curve inverted when the federal funds rate rose at least one full percentage point above nominal GDP growth, and 4.5 percentage points above the inflation rate.

Today, the federal funds rate is well below these trigger points. Nominal GDP growth has been 6.26% in the past two years, a full percentage point above the current 5.25% federal funds rate. Meanwhile, the federal funds rate is just 3 percentage points above "core" inflation. By either measure - nominal GDP growth or inflation - short-term interest rates are not too high. The driving force behind the inverted yield curve is low long-term rates, which are not something to worry about.

This helps explain why the economy remains strong. ShopperTrak RCT - a Chicago-based company that monitors foot-traffic and sales at retail outlets across the country - calculates that Christmas-season sales were up 5.1% versus 2005. This healthy gain is not statistically different from last year's 5.4% increase when the yield curve was normally sloped. It's hard to find any signs that the economy is anywhere near crumbling under the weight of excessively high interest rates.

Obama Takes the First Step

Today he has officially announced forming a presidential exploratory committee with a final announcement on a White House run slated for February 10th in Illinois. From his statement:

As many of you know, over the last few months I have been thinking hard about my plans for 2008. Running for the presidency is a profound decision - a decision no one should make on the basis of media hype or personal ambition alone - and so before I committed myself and my family to this race, I wanted to be sure that this was right for us and, more importantly, right for the country.

I certainly didn't expect to find myself in this position a year ago. But as I've spoken to many of you in my travels across the states these past months; as I've read your emails and read your letters; I've been struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics.

So I've spent some time thinking about how I could best advance the cause of change and progress that we so desperately need.

The decisions that have been made in Washington these past six years, and the problems that have been ignored, have put our country in a precarious place. Our economy is changing rapidly, and that means profound changes for working people. Many of you have shared with me your stories about skyrocketing health care bills, the pensions you've lost and your struggles to pay for college for your kids. Our continued dependence on oil has put our security and our very planet at risk. And we're still mired in a tragic and costly war that should have never been waged........

You can watch the video here.

Obama Announcing?

The Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet is reporting that Obama will have a conference call with supporters at 11am Chicago time to announce plans for a 2008 run for the White House.

Supporters of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) are being told this morning there will be an 11 a.m. Chicago time conference call. Expected to be discussed is Obama filing papers to officially launch his 2008 White House run. Obama is expected to hit the road to travel to early primary states in the coming days.

The call is being organized by Nate Tamarin, who was the political director for Obama's Washington D.C. based political action committee the Hope Fund. He now works with Pete Giangreco, the founder of the Strategy Group in Evanston, expected to handle Obama's direct mail in the 2008 campaign.

The Chicago Tribune's Mike Dorning suggests a public announcement may come Wednesday on Oprah:

Speculation has been building that an announcement on Obama's presidential intentions in imminent.

Speaking to reporters outside St. Mark Cathedral in Harvey on Monday, Obama said an announcement was coming "very soon."

Oprah Winfrey's web site also is curiously silent on the subject of her show this Wednesday. Obama has previously indicated he may make an announcement on a presidential campaign on her highly rated television talk show.

Dems Propose Withdrawal

From The Hill:

Congressional Progressive Caucus chairwomen Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Out of Iraq Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) will tout their legislation tomorrow calling for a withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq within six months.

The bill will also prohibit permanent military bases in Iraq. Fair enough. At least some Democrats have finally stepped up and officially proposed what the overwhelming majority of their caucus wants - even if the bill is little more than window dressing.

But Democrats still haven't honestly addressed the consequences of pulling U.S. troops out in six months. What will happen in Iraq, in the broader Middle East, and what impact, if any, will such a move have on U.S. credibility and our long-term security? These aren't insignificant questions, and the Democrats should be willing to address them instead of just holding symbolic votes intended to try and win political points with their base.

Waiting For Obama

Speculation is rampant that Barack Obama will announce this week. Lynn Sweet of the Sun-Times and Mike Dorning of the Tribune both report that Obama will hold a conference call with supporters this morning to discuss the Senator's intention - at this point all but assumed - to form an exploratory committee and begin his quest for the Presidency.

Cartoon of the Day

Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle:

anderson.gif

Compassion in Action

To the extent President Bush has any legacy beyond Iraq, it may very well be the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (FBCI). Originally established by Executive Order in late January 2001, the FBCI overcame initial critics and slowly but quietly has gone about the business of expanding its influence in government over the last six years. There are now about 70 employees across a number of federal agencies who work with the FBCI to coordinate and execute programs - a group that Jay Hein, the new Director of FBCI, refers to as the "tip of the compassionate arrow."

I spoke with Hein on the phone yesterday morning about the FBCI's newest initiative: a series of roundtable discussions his office is calling "Compassion in Action." Every month the FBCI plans to bring together a group of people across a wide spectrum (from activists to think tankers to private philanthropists) to focus on a particular issue. The first roundtable convenes this morning in Washington D.C. to discuss "Grassroots Solutions for Reducing Youth Violence." Robert Woodson, founder of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, will give the keynote address and talk about his organization's Violence Free Zone Initiative in cities across the country.

Next month's roundtable will cover the topic of combating malaria in Africa. Last June President Bush announced a $1.2 billion initiative to fight the disease, and Hein says the FBCI is looking to match that amount in private contributions and to continue building a high level public-private partnership.

In March, the Compassion in Action roundtable will tackle the issue of reintegrating prisoners into society and decreasing recidivism. Hein noted that 700,000 prisoners are released every year (primarily into 65 major metros across the country) so the issue is of great concern at the local, state and federal level. The roundtable will include the release of results from a three-year "demonstration project" covering 4,500 prisoners in eleven cities. Hein said the project was a good example of how the government can work as a type of "venture capitalist" by locating and expanding successful, innovative community-based programs in cooperation with the help of foundations and the private sector.

As the interview came to an end, I asked Hein what he thought was the FBCI's greatest accomplishment over the last six years. He said that the office's biggest successes have been mostly behind the scenes in changing the way the government works: sixteen federal rules and regulations have been revised over the last six years to create a "more level playing field" for faith-based organizations to compete for federal funding. The result, according to Hein, is a "healthier marketplace" with more innovation and a more robust working relationship between the public and private sectors.

January 15, 2007

Allard Out for '08 in Colorado

Colorado Republican Senator Wayne Allard is calling it quits. Names that are currently being floated as possible replacements are former U.S. Reps. Scott McInnis and Bob Schaffer , the recently departed Governor Bill Owens, Attorney General John Suthers, and a couple of wildcards like Rep. Tom Tancredo and hall of fame quarterback John Elway.

On the Dem side, Rep. Mark Uduall has already said he will seek the seat, and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has been mentioned as a possible contender as well.

The Colorado seat was already widely acknowledged as probably the most vulnerable Republican seat in the country, and the NRSC wasted no time in releasing a statement saying farewell to Allard and drawing a new line in the sand for 2008:

"Republicans will retain the seat currently held by Sen. Allard and the NRSC will do everything in its power to ensure the principles of fiscal responsibility and limited effective government returns to the people of Colorado in November 2008. The voters of Colorado supported Pres. Bush over Al Gore in 2000 and again over Senator John Kerry in 2004 and Republican statewide registration is 36% compared to 30% for Democrats - ensuring Republicans a strong advantage in 2008. Retention of this seat is now a top priority for the NRSC."

JOHN ADDS: This is probably good news for GOP hopes of holding on to this seat, as Allard would have faced an uphill battle against the likely Democratic nominee Rep. Mark Udall. If former two-term Governor Bill Owens were to throw his hat in the ring, Republicans would probably be favored to hold the seat. The other prominent names mentioned on the GOP side at this early stage would likely be considered slight underdogs against Udall.

Along with the seat in Colorado, Gordon Smith in Oregon, Susan Collins in Maine, Norm Coleman in Minnesota, John Sununu in New Hampshire and Pete Domenici's seat in New Mexico (if he chooses not to run) are serious vulnerabilities for Republicans in 2008.

Allard Retires

Colorado Republican Senator Wayne Allard is calling it quits. Names that are currently being floated as possible replacements are former U.S. Reps. Scott McInnis and Bob Schaffer , the recently departed Governor Bill Owens, Attorney General John Suthers, and a couple of wildcards like Rep. Tom Tancredo and hall of fame quarterback John Elway.

On the Dem side, Rep. Mark Uduall has already said he will seek the seat, and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has been mentioned as a possible contender as well.

The Colorado seat was already widely acknowledged as probably the most vulnerable Republican seat in the country, and the NRSC wasted no time in releasing a statement saying farewell to Allard and drawing a new line in the sand for 2008:

"Republicans will retain the seat currently held by Sen. Allard and the NRSC will do everything in its power to ensure the principles of fiscal responsibility and limited effective government returns to the people of Colorado in November 2008. The voters of Colorado supported Pres. Bush over Al Gore in 2000 and again over Senator John Kerry in 2004 and Republican statewide registration is 36% compared to 30% for Democrats - ensuring Republicans a strong advantage in 2008. Retention of this seat is now a top priority for the NRSC."

Trying to Right Nifong's Wrong

nifong.gifAs far as compelling television goes, Bush's interview with Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes pales in comparison to Leslie Stahl's sit down with the families of the Duke lacrosse players who were falsely accused of rape but remain in the legal crosshairs thanks to the outrageous and unforgiveable behavior of Durham DA Mike Nifong. The interview is available on CBSNews.com in two parts (Part I and Part II).

As a parent, it's impossible to watch the interview without sharing the rage these folks feel over the way their children have been persecuted. And as a son, it's also impossible not to empathize with how the accused boys must feel seeing their parents' anguish, and watching them fight at great personal cost to try and right the horrible wrong done to them by Nifong.

On a related note, Joseph Neff of the Charlotte Observer reports that the NC State Bar has their hands on a March 30, 2005 letter from defense attorney Joseph B. Cheshire V warning Nifong about making prejudicial statements to the media. Two days after Nifong began his media binge of more than 70 interviews, Cheshire tried to set up a meeting with Nifong to talk. Nifong flatly refused. The following day Cheshire wrote:

"I do not understand why you will reportedly speak to the media in such certain, condemning terms before all the evidence is in, but you will not have the courtesy to meet or even speak with a representative of someone you have publicly condemned, despite your knowledge of the presumption of innocence and your position as an officer of the court bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct related to pre-trial publicity."

Cheshire railed further against Nifong's conduct:

"You and I have known each other for a long time, and I do not mind telling you I was amazed at that response. In 33 years, I have never seen such a request denied by a prosecutor, nor in such a manner. Your responsive comments, reported to Ms. Bitzenhofer by Ms. Eason verbatim, seemed to suggest I should call the Durham Police Department and have my client charged with a crime before you would have a conversation with me on a topic you have demonstrated no reluctance to discuss with myriad local and national news reporters over the last several days." [snip]

"In addition to being patently false, your comments about the failure of anyone under suspicion to speak to law enforcement represent the type of negative comments on the exercise of Fifth Amendment rights that you would never be able to get away with in a courtroom."

It's looking more and more like disbarment and further disgrace await this District Attorney. In that sense, it seems like justice may finally be done in this case, but not before a whole lot of lives and reputations have been ruined in the process.

"Stay the Course, Which Everybody Agrees is Not Working"

While "stay the course" was a message which, on balance, worked to the President's benefit during the 2004 campaign, that message turned decisively against the Republican party in 2006. And even though the President tried to move away from that language in the second half of last year, Democrats were very effective at pinning the President's policy as "stay the course" and theirs as "change." The public clearly wanted change and voted for such in November.

From a public relations standpoint if the President's new policy has any hope of generating increased support he has to convince the public that his new Iraq plan is indeed a change from what we have been doing the last 18 months. Last week on FOX News Sunday, the new Majority leader in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer, made it clear that the Democrats were going to characterize the President plan as more of the same.

We don't see this as a new policy....if the administration's policy remains the same, then we're going to have the same-old-same-old.

Yesterday on Meet the Press National security Advisor Stephen Hadley made it clear the from the administration's standpoint the new plan is not a continuation of Stay the Course.

One of the things that's different, I think, from, from that time is that we do have this unity government. This unity government's been in, in office about seven months. They are getting enormous pressure from their people to get the violence down, and that means, really, sectarian violence centered in Baghdad. They're responding to that pressure. They've come forward with a plan. They have made clear that they're going to increase their forces. They're committed to success, but they need our help to succeed. And it's important we do that because the alternatives, really, are the continued--the existing strategy, the stay the course, which everybody agrees is not working--that's failure slow--or simply turning it over to the Iraqis now and withdrawing, redeploying, whatever you call it, and that simply is not going to work because everybody agrees the Iraqis are not up to it. This is the, the--a strategy that offers the prospect of success as an alternative to either failing slow or failing fast. And the Americans--one thing we know about the American people, they're unhappy with this war, they want a new direction--so does the president--but they want to succeed, they don't want to fail. (emphasis added)

The administration and President Bush would be wise to repeat this line over and over again. First, it helps earn back credibility with the public by acknowledging the truth that the President's approach in 2006 was failing. Second, the political reality is if the President's new plan is perceived as more of the same or a continuation of "stay the course" the American people are not going to support it. And more importantly Republicans in Congress will not support it over time. The administration needs to understand, that not only do they have to show demonstrable progress on the ground in Iraq, but they have to build and sustain support among the American people.

The best way the President can generate that support and convince the American people that this new policy in Iraq is indeed different, is to make sure that the difference going forward is going to be much more that just 20,000 more troops. That means a significant switch to offensive-minded rules of engagement and a willingessness to confront and "deal with" Sadr, Iran, Syria and anyone else who is deliberately undermining our objectives.

Despite the polls and the pronouncements of some among the beltway establishment, my sense is that the American people are still willing to get behind an effort to win in Iraq, but they need to see more dramatic action and get a gut feeling that this plan is really different - and they need to see this soon.

January 12, 2007

Dershowitz vs. Da Bears

Apropos nothing, longtime reader NW forwards a humorous Friday afternoon email:

The unspoken assumption in any possible debate between Alan Dershowitz and Jimmy Carter is that Dershowitz would crush Carter. It's most likely true. Carter is 82, and even in his prime, would not have been a match for Dershowitz. To be fair, there are not many people who would even consider debating with Dershowitz on any subject. For example, Dennis Prager recently challenged the entire editorial board of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune to a debate, which Prager would have won, and Prager would be clearly outmatched by Dershowitz. How about Dershowitz v. Batman? Batman must be respected because at one time, he fought Superman, and, using his brains, more than held his own. However, Spiderman (of all the super-heroes) was arguably the smartest, and still, I can't see Tobey Maguire, even with the spidey-sense, being able to debate Dershowitz. Rocky Balboa v. Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz finished first in his class at Yale Law School, became a Harvard Law Professor at 28 and publishes a book a year. Rocky, on the other hand, won't have Mickey Goldmill or even Apollo Creed: he doesn't stand a chance. Dershowitz v. Da Bears. That's pretty even, but let's make it interesting. Da Bears will be coached by Mike Ditka. Ditka can pick his quarterback. Game at Soldier Field. The Refrigerettes and the Super Fans tailgate together and eat an entire roast ox stuffed with suckling piglets and goose liver. For dessert: four fried chickens and a coke. Weather conditions: sleet, snow and a wind chill of minus 50. I like Da Bears.

Awash in Contradictions

Hugh treads a mighty fine line in this statement saying that GOP Senators opposing Bush's plan to surge troops have "joined" with "the appeasement party in the U.S." I doubt Norm Coleman or Sam Brownback will take very kindly to Hugh's construction.

We've really come to a point where Iraq is such a conundrum that contradictions abound on all sides. John Derbyshire (via Sullivan) succinctly pointed out the contradictions in Bush's plan. And Democrats clearly face contradictions as well trying to argue that we're stuck in the middle of a civil war in Iraq but that the situation will somehow improve without the presence of U.S. trooops. And even those who understand the stakes of the war but don't support the surge, like Senator Coleman, face a contradiction in arguing that staying the course is going to improve the situation.

Editor's Note

This morning we ran a column by Dr. Douglas Schoen, former adviser to President Clinton and founding partner of the polling firm Penn, Schoen, and Berland, on the results of some recent polling on Medicare Care Part D and the proposed government negotiation of drug prices. After a question was raised about the sponsorship of some of the polling cited we contacted Penn, Schoen, and Berland for a response. This is what we received:

The article that Doug wrote was based on 6 months of work that included some studies funded by the pharmaceutical industry and his comprehensive review of other publicly available data from Pew, Kaiser, Harris Interactive, and Dutko and other.

The attached documents speak to those studies which found similar results and led them to reach similar conclusions.

Doug wants to make clear that this article wholly represents his point of view and that he was told by no one what to say.

The attached documents cited in the email may be found here and here.

Helping Barack

The Chicago Tribune endorses the idea of moving up the date of the Illinois primary to help Barack Obama.

Joe's Iraq-mentum

To say many Democrats across the country cringed when they heard Bush say on Wednesday night that he was "acting on the good advice of Senator Joe Lieberman.." is probably an understatement.

David Lightman of the Hartford Courant has more on the tense relationship between Lieberman and the Democratic caucus over Iraq.

The Dems Go West

I was out most of yesterday, so I missed the news that the Democrats picked Denver to host their 2008 convention, despite concerns about the city's ability to raise the requisite funds for the event. Smart move, I think.

The Denver Post reports that Gary Hart's 2005 white-paper on the need for Democrats to focus heavily on the West and Southwest played a large part in convincing Howard Dean to select Denver.

In the paper (which you can read here in pdf format) Hart lists 10 "issues of particular concern" to Westernerns that Dems need to focus on. They are:

1) The sanctity of property
2) Resources and conservation
3) Energy and the environment
4) Public lands
5) Recreation
6) Growth and economy
7) Technology
8) Mediation and arbitration
9) National security
10) Principles or values

Hart's last point is particularly interesting. He writes:

Westerners are individualists who do not like the beliefs of others imposed on us. We are people who believe in principles: integrity, honor, courage, accountability. The religious right preaches values. Democrats, regionally and nationally, should espouse principles, for ourselves and for our country. "Values" have religious overtones. Principles are humanistic and secular. Our domestic and foreign policies should always be based on the nation's highest principles.

Hart finishes by writing:

The national Democratic Party should look Westward. The South will return to the Democratic Party only when economic downturn requires it. Meanwhile, the West provides the Democratic Party's greatest opportunity and represents its greatest future. National Party leaders must develop a plan to win the West in the early twenty-first century or risk settling into minority status for many years to come.

All in all Hart outlines a very libertarian strategy, one which strikes me as holding some valuable lessons not only for Democrats but for Republicans as well.

Crossing the Line

There's been a lot of nasty stuff written about the President of the United States in the last few years, but columnist Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette crosses the line today:

If former Sen. Rick Santorum is serious about tracking down "America's enemies" for the think tank that just hired him, he need look no further than the office of the President of the United States.

Norman is not some loony diarist from Daily Kos but a staff columnist for a paper with the 30th largest circulation in America.

Quote of the Day

"If the campaign can be focused on fighting terrorism and having leadership then Rudy's in good shape. Rudy may not be a strong candidate if the world was at peace and everyone loved each other." - Republican Rep. Peter King, assessing Rudy Giuliani's '08 bid in the NY Daily News.

McCain's Challenge

Ryan Sager has numbers from a recent Club For Growth survey of its members, and they aren't pretty for McCain:

* Club members' top choice for 2008 GOP nominee for president: McCain received 5%

* Club members' least favorite choice: McCain received 43% (first place)

* McCain's favorable/unfavorable rating with Club members: Favorable 16% / Unfavorable 76% [snip}

Asked to comment, Club For Growth President Pat Toomey offered a rather bleak assessment of McCain's chances at wooing fiscal conservatives in the GOP primary.

"This is a real reflection of a serious challenge McCain has with free-market conservatives and with limited-government conservatives," Toomey said. "He very prominently spoke out against the Bush tax cuts ... He spouted class-warfare rhetoric usually voiced by the Democrats."

What's more, Toomey said it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of McCain's role in bringing campaign-finance reform to American politics with his McCain-Feingold bill. "Frankly, our members, almost by definition, are concerned with weighing in on issues and having a voice in American politics," Toomey said. "His willingness to diminish the First Amendment is a matter of great concern."

I don't think there's anything new here at all, the base's issues with McCain are well known. What's noteworthy is that despite his best efforts of mending fences and trying to work his way back into the good graces of conservatives, it appears he's made little to no progress.

This may or may not preclude him from winning the nomination. If Rudy is derailed by social issues and Romney continues to trail Democrats in general election matchups, conservatives interested in maintaining control of the White House may find themselves pulling the lever for McCain - though there won't be an ounce of love in it.

In Maliki We Trust?

That's the headline from a New York Daily News article by Richard Sisk that begins: "The U.S. is betting its last-ditch effort in Iraq on an Iraqi prime minister who thwarted the last two drives on Baghdad, dissed President Bush and blocked the rescue attempt of a kidnapped G.I."

Sisk also quotes Secretary of State Condi Rice addressing the issue of Maliki's trustworthiness before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday:

"I understand the skepticism that people have that they will follow through" on the commitment to team up with U.S. troops to go after the militias and death squads, Rice said.

"I think the fact that they didn't act properly in the past does not mean that they won't act properly in the future," she added.

But John Burns and Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times conclude their dispatch from Baghdad with this:

A Shiite political leader who has worked closely with the Americans in the past said the Bush benchmarks appeared to have been drawn up in the expectation that Mr. Maliki would not meet them. "He cannot deliver the disarming of the militias," the politician said, asking that he not be named because he did not want to be seen as publicly criticizing the prime minister. "He cannot deliver a good program for the economy and reconstruction. He cannot deliver on services. This is a matter of fact. There is a common understanding on the American side and the Iraqi side."

Views such as these -- increasingly common among the political class in Baghdad -- are often accompanied by predictions that Mr. Maliki will be forced out as the crisis over the militias builds. The Shiite politician who described him as incapable of disarming militias suggested he might resign; others have pointed to an American effort in recent weeks to line up a "moderate front" of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political leaders outside the government, and said that the front might be a vehicle for mounting a parliamentary coup against Mr. Maliki, with behind-the-scenes American support.

This is speculation, of course, though to the extent there is any truth to the claim it is deeply discomforting: we've drawn up plans knowing Maliki can't or won't meet his obligations, either to try and oust him from office or to set conditions for a withdrawal in a few months.

I hope that's not the case and that Maliki will indeed hold up his end of the bargain. Still, it demonstrates what a mess Iraq has become that our last ditch effort hinges almost completely on trusting this man.

January 11, 2007

Al Gore, Inconvenienced

There's a lot of grist in this story from today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporting that a complaint from a parent has prompted a school in Federal Way to restrict the showing of Al Gore's movie on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. Here's part of the text of the email complaint:

"Condoms don't belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He's not a schoolteacher," said Frosty Hardison, a parent of seven who also said that he believes the Earth is 14,000 years old. "The information that's being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. ... The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD."

It seems like Hardison's email might have edited to make that last statement look as foolish as possible, but nevertheless it's the kind of statement that leaves you speechless.

But on the other extreme, check out the response of Laurie David (the co-producer of the movie) to news the school board has decided to treat global warming as a "controversial subject" thus requiring teachers who want to show Gore's film in class to also show or present an alternative view of the subject to students:

"I am shocked that a school district would come to this decision," David said in a prepared statement. "There is no opposing view to science, which is fact, and the facts are clear that global warming is here, now."

I happen to think there is merit to the argument of global warming, not only because of the science but also because a beneficial by-product of the global warming issue is to provide additional, compelling reasons for America to speed the switch to alternative fuel sources as quickly as possible, which I consider a vital component of long-term U.S. national security.

Nevertheless, for Ms. David to arrogantly assert "there is no opposing view to science" when she knows there is legitimate disagreement about the science behind the claim of global warming itself is nearly as bad as the guy who claims the world is only 14,000 years old.

Flake Out

Republican Rep. Jeff Flake says he was booted from his seat on the House Judiciary committee because of his stand on comprehensive immigration reform:

"The Judiciary Committee hasn't exactly been the friendliest place for those who favor comprehensive reform. And leadership was not happy that I was not happy with their strategy -- which was to do nothing," Flake told the San Antonio Express-News.

Flake also said Minority Leader Boehner told him that "the party did not want to reward bad behavior - and 'bad behavior' is having a different opinion on immigration, for one." Flake told the Arizona Republic: "They know a comprehensive immigration package is coming with my name on it."

Flake has been reassigned to seats on the Foreign Affairs and Resources committees.

Edwards, Giuliani Lead in NC

For what it's worth, here are results from a new poll by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh:

Democrats
Edwards 29%
Clinton 16%
Obama 15%
Other 40%

Republicans
Giuliani 30%
Gingrich 29%
McCain 22%
Romney 6%
Other 13%

January 10, 2007

Excerpts From Bush's Speech

Here are some excerpts from Bush's speech later tonight laying out a "new way forward" in Iraq:

On the new strategy:

Tonight in Iraq, the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged in a struggle that will determine the direction of the global war on terror - and our safety here at home. The new strategy I outline tonight will change America's course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror.

On the role of the Iraqis:

Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.

On securing Baghdad:

Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have. Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work...and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.

On what Iraq must do:

I have made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people - and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act. The Prime Minister understands this.

On the economic component:

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

On protecting the American people:

The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time...In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy - by advancing liberty across a troubled region.

On what victory in Iraq will look like:

The changes I have outlined tonight are aimed at ensuring the survival of a young democracy that is fighting for its life in a part of the world of enormous importance to American security...The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will...Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship...A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them - and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and grandchildren.

On bringing our troops home:


[To]step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government...Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.

Off the Fence

Mayors from eleven Texas border towns to give Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff an earful on the fence in a meeting scheduled for next week.

Who's Right About the Left?

From Janet Hook's article in the Los Angeles Times on the pressure Dems are feeling from the antiwar left:

Some moderate Democrats worry that the pressure being applied by the antiwar left is misguided, arguing that voters want a change of course in Iraq but not a rapid withdrawal.

"Conventional wisdom says that presidential candidates who want to be responsible on this are going to hurt themselves with the angry, impassioned activist left," said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist Democratic think tank. "But the activist left is out of sync with the American public. Americans don't want to concede this is a total debacle."

Meanwhile, from Glenn Thrush's piece today on Hillary's Iraq paradox:

Clinton's strategy may turn out to be canny, but she's increasingly cornered on the Iraq political chessboard. If she moves too far left, she runs the risk of being labeled a cut-and-runner by a Republican opponent in 2008. But she's angered her party's liberal base, which dominates early presidential primaries. They want action on Iraq and want Clinton to pay for her 2002 "yes" vote. [snip]

"When she voted for the war her party and the country were a lot closer to Joe Lieberman's position than Jack Murtha's," added Korb, referring to the pro-war Connecticut senator and the anti-war Pennsylvania congressman. "The country's a lot closer now to Murtha than Lieberman."

So who has it more right? Is Will Marshall right in saying the "activist left is out of sync with the American public" or is Lawrence Korb more correct in saying "the country's a lot closer now to Murtha than Lieberman?" I suppose if you don't think Murtha is part of the activist left you could argue they're both right....

Bush's Last Chance

This is it. Tonight President Bush will call for a surge of 20,000 troops to Iraq in a last-ditch effort to salvage some sort of victory there. It's fair to say tonight's speech will be one of the most important of his presidency, and as he goes before the nation to deliver such a momentous message he's never been more alone politically.

Democrats vow to oppose Bush's plan, though they're unable to muster the courage of their convictions to do the one thing within their Constitutional power that would effectively cripple or even prevent it:

Despite polls showing Americans overwhelmingly opposed to the war, despite the mounting American military casualties, and despite the obvious ineffectiveness of the entire enterprise until now to bring stability to Iraq, Democrats at the very heart of the party's anti-war wing still think the political costs would simply be too high.

Instead, Democrats plan to hold a series of hearings and cast "symbolic votes" against the proposal which, despite being politically pusillanimous, is the only way they can square their opposition to the war without suffering the consequences of voting to defund it.

On the other side, Republicans aren't exactly coming off as models of political courage either. In particular, outside of John McCain, there's been a conspicuous silence on the subject of a troop surge by those who aspire to be the next Commander in Chief, including Rudy Giuliani, whose entire candidacy rests on the mantle of leadership and the ability to make sound judgments in times of crisis.

To refuse to answer the question about surging troops in Iraq by saying "I'm just a Governor" as Mitt Romney did the other week, or by deflecting the question until after the President speaks as Giuliani's camp did yesterday is, quite frankly, pathetic.

If you believe that it's still imperative that we win in Iraq, as both Romney and Giuliani have said publicly for months, then there's absolutely no reason, other than an unwillingness to take political heat, for either to have remained silent on the matter for so long. We are not talking about "preempting" the President, or even undermining him if you happen to disagree with his decision, but rather weighing in on the most important question facing the country right now: what do we do about the situation in Iraq? Will more troops help? If not why? What other changes need to be made?

Say what you want about John McCain, but at least he had the fortitude to stand up and be counted and to say that the political consequences of his opinion "pale in comparison to what I think is most important to our nation's security." He may be wrong, but at least he's leading.

After all, as Tony Blankley writes today, "when we are talking about war and peace, about life and death of our young citizen warriors, we owe them (and ourselves) as much honest talk as we can muster." I would add that we owe them more than an honest debate, we owe the troops action that will give them the best possible chance of successfully completing their mission.

Gilmore Explores & More

Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore yesterday: "I filed the papers necessary to explore a candidacy for president because I believe that this nation needs conservative leadership."

Will Giuliani's business dealings hurt his bid? The Associated Press analyzes.

After yesterday's endorsment of Mitt Romney by SC Senator Jim DeMint, The Hill says Romney and McCain are battling over support in the House.

Meanwhile, a group of social conservatives circulated a letter touting Romney's "pro-family" record in yet another attempt to ease doubts about his bona fides on social issues.

In a new book, former Arizona Democratic Senator Dennis DeConcini recounts the trials and tribulations of the Keating Five and has some unflattering things to say about his colleague, John McCain.

January 09, 2007

Reid On The Edge

One thing I haven't seen mentioned in all the chatter over Todd Purdum's profile of John McCain in Vanity Fair was this tidbit on Harry Reid:

On another flight, later that day, McCain reacts to the news that Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, has used campaign money to contribute to the employees' Christmas bonuses at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, where Reid and his wife, Landra, own a condominium. In legal terms Reid's move was dodgy at best. "Who knew he lived at the Ritz?," McCain says. "Not bad for a boy from Searchlight, Nevada." Then McCain--a former amateur boxer and inveterate gambler, whose wife is the wealthy heir to a beer-distributing franchise in Phoenix--goes on to recount how the McCains and the Reids once ran into one another in Las Vegas and went to a boxing match. It turned out that the Reids took free tickets, while the McCains paid.

"I wouldn't say this publicly," McCain tells the crowd at the private Thune fund-raiser, speaking of Reid, "but I came to the House with him in 1982 and he's always been ... " Here McCain pauses--as if suddenly realizing that what he's saying he is indeed saying publicly--and then goes on to finish the thought anyway: " ... a little on the edge."

Sounds to me like McCain is being quite collegial in his description of Senator Reid. In addition to the two ethical hiccups McCain mentions, there was also the Abramoff connection and the lucrative land deal. And this was just in 2006.

No wonder Reid was voted the 2nd most "ethically challenged" member of the Senate by those who work on the Hill - finishing right behind the now former Senator from Montana, Conrad Burns.

By the way, did I mention that Majority Leader Reid is leading the Senate in taking up "ethics reform" today?

Hillary Slams Bill (Gates)

Desperate to compete with Barack Obama before a black audience in Harlem yesterday, Hillary came up with a doozy: "It is not rich people who made this country great," she said. "It is hardworking Americans who have worked hard to lift themselves and their children up."

Who knew "hardworking Americans...have worked hard." I jest about Hillary's redundant delivery, but her comment (as it's presented to us by the Post) is humorless - a rhetorically ham-handed play at class warfare. There is a distinction to be made between those who inherit great wealth and those who create it, but Hillary's so eager to toss the crowd red meat she doesn't make it. Is she really saying a guy like Bill Gates hasn't made this country greater, or that once he achieved a certain level of wealth - like the good Senator herself - that he somehow became less valuable or less important than the average "hardworking American?"

Clinton's sloppy statement flies in the face of some vital economic realities, not the least of which are that rich people do in fact pay the lions share of taxes in America, and the wealthy also happen to be among the most productive in terms of innovation, capital investment, and job creation.

So many rich people did, in fact, help make this country great (not to mention the most philanthropic in the world), every bit as much, if not more, than many of us working stiffs. If Hillary wants to engage in class warfare she should tighten up her rhetorical salvos and aim them at low hanging fruit like the astronomic salaries and bonuses of certain corporate executives.

Regaining the Offensive is Key

Steny Hoyer on FOX New Sunday speaking on President Bush's proposal to "surge" troops into Iraq:

HOYER: First of all, we see this simply as an escalation and not a change. Essentially, we've gone up and down on troop levels before. We did so just recently. And when we sent troops into Baghdad, we sort of had community-by-community success but a general escalation, both in violence, sectarian confrontation, and loss of life.

So we don't see this as a new policy, and I think it's going to be greeted with great skepticism.

HUME: You don't see it as a change, but, on the other hand, adding troops, changing -- the command is changing. Abizaid has moved out. Casey has moved out. General Petraeus, generally pretty highly regarded, will be the main man there. Vice Admiral Fallon will be the new CENTCOM commander. And yet you say no change here?

HOYER: Let me except (ph) the fact that these are all good people, but the fact that we have a new secretary of defense or the fact that we have a new CENTCOM commander or Petraeus on the ground in Iraq, if the administration's policy remains the same, then we're going to have the same-old-same-old.

Hoyer is correct that the "same-old-same-old" in Iraq led by new names and more troops isn't going to get the job done from either a military or a strategic standpoint. And from a political standpoint, a surge of troops without a significant change in tactics is simply a ratcheting up of a policy that is working strongly for Democrats.
The number of troops in Iraq is secondary as long as our military remains in a defensive posture. Given the current political environment and the evisceration of the Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party, the U.S. public does not have the tolerance or the patience for the continuation of a defensive military posture in Iraq.

If the President wants to regain the support of the American people for his policy in Iraq he has to let the U.S. military go on the offensive. And if regaining an offensive footing is impossible due to political correctness, a fear of the media, or simply the reality on the ground then the focus needs to turn to how we can best manage a tactical retreat in Iraq.

Of course this retreat won't bring an end to the war - a point that is lost on the anti-war left and the "Fortress America" right - as Iraq is simply one front in the larger war against Islamic Jihadism. But a well-managed retreat would be preferable to a continuation of the status-quo policy of the last 18 months, dressed up under new commanders and 20,000 more troops.

Given the multiplicity of factors and the looming 2008 election cycle, the best move President Bush may have is a surge of troops, a massive offensive, and a hand-off to the Iraqi government followed by an orderly but prompt withdrawal of most U.S. troops.

January 08, 2007

The Bronco Nation

When Chris Petersen, head football coach of the Boise State University Broncos held up the Fiesta Bowl trophy after his team's amazing victory over The University of Oklahoma last week, he said, "This is for the Bronco Nation."

That was understatement. The Boise State Broncos had just done what many people thought impossible. And they did it in a way that electrified the entire nation, not just Boise fans.

It was quintessential Americana. Call me weird, but I could not help thinking about the Revolutionary War. The British Army believed gentlemen fought in lines, on wide-open ground, 50 or so yards apart, slowly loading and firing muskets at each other. While the regular army participated in many of these types of battles, the irregulars and militia fought more of a guerilla-style campaign - attacking supply lines and ships.

Likewise, Boise State's very solid team augmented its offense with guerilla tactics, including an impossibly perfect hook and ladder pass play to tie the score, a quarterback in motion and an absolutely stunning Statue of Liberty running play (for 2 pts.) which sealed the victory, and a 13-0 record.

Bob Stoops, the head coach of Oklahoma stood shaking his head on the sidelines after every one of these plays, much like British General Charles Cornwallis must have done after being defeated at Cowpens by General Nathanael Greene, and before surrendering to the upstart Americans at Yorktown.

Old line football stalwarts, like Nebraska, Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame, and Michigan rarely try trick plays - for two reasons. First, they don't believe it's necessary because their system and recruiting should make victory a high probability. And, second, they are risk averse (Notre Dame tried a fake punt in its bowl game last week and failed, most likely angering and embarrassing many alumni).

But risk-taking made America what it is today - the largest and most dynamic economy on the face of the earth. Young, upstart, entrepreneurial companies - the underdogs - typically drive the process. Yesterday's GM, Ford and IBM are today's Google, Apple and Microsoft.

This does not mean that old-line companies don't create wealth and provide a solid base for the American economy. They do. But risk-taking entrepreneurs provide the real vibrancy because they don't need to be defensive. The free market encourages innovation and creativity and every day there is a playoff in the marketplace.

There are certainly institutions and laws in place that protect the status quo and make it harder to compete against established companies. In much of continental Europe these protections are widespread and stifling. But in American business, anything can still happen, just like on the football field. It's called freedom and it works.

That's why a playoff to find the Division I College football champion should take place. If Florida beats Ohio State tonight, in a football match-up decided on by committee, not by head-to-head competition, the Boise State Broncos will be the only undefeated team in the nation. If Ohio State wins, then there will be two undefeated teams. Either way, the Broncos will never get a shot. For the "Bronco Nation," for the entire nation, the NCAA should institute a playoff for Division I college football as soon as possible. It's the American way and it's the only way to name a true champion.

Obama's Green Light

I forgot to mention this report from the local NBC station here in Chicago on Saturday:

There's a new sign that Sen. Barack Obama is going to run for president.

Crain's Chicago Business is reporting that the senator has been calling some of Chicago's biggest Democratic fundraisers to line up support. [snip]

According to the man who ran Obama's 2004 campaign, "all signals appear to be go at this point."

January 07, 2007

Edwards Flashback

John Edwards on CNN, February 24, 2002:

I mean, we have three different countries [North Korea, Iran, and Iraq] that, while they all present serious problems for the United States -- they're dictatorships, they're involved in the development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- you know, the most imminent, clear and present threat to our country is not the same from those three countries. I think Iraq is the most serious and imminent threat to our country.

And I think they -- as a result, we have to, as we go forward and as we develop policies about how we're going to deal with each of these countries and what action, if any, we're going to take with respect to them, I think each of them have to be dealt with on their own merits.

And they do, in my judgment, present different threats. And I think Iraq and Saddam Hussein present the most serious and most imminent threat.

This was months before he voted for the war, a vote he recanted in a Washington Post op-ed in November of '05.

Lee Bandy of The State has more on Edwards' left turn heading into 2008.

The Huntsman Split

Jon Huntsman Sr. is one of nine heavy-hitters on Mitt Romney's finance team that will help him raise the gazillion dollars he'll need to be competitive in 2008. Huntsman's son, the Governor of Utah, is backing John McCain.

January 06, 2007

Israel's Strike Plans

Sarah Baxter and Uzi Mahnaimi have the scoop in the Sunday Times:

ISRAEL has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran's uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.

Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear "bunker-busters", according to several Israeli military sources.

The attack would be the first with nuclear weapons since 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Israeli weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-fifteenth of the Hiroshima bomb.

Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open "tunnels" into the targets. "Mini-nukes" would then immediately be fired into a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.

"As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished," said one of the sources.

Read the rest.

CBS News '08 Poll

The poll doesn't provide any horserace numbers or head to head match ups, only the favorable/unfavorable ratings of both Republican and Democratic hopefuls. Here are the results:

Democrats (Favorable/Unfavorable/Don't Know Enough About to Have an Opinion)
Clinton 43/38/19
Edwards 34/21/44
Gore 32/46/21
Obama 28/10/61
Kerry 22/48/29
Biden 9/14/77
Richardson 7/8/85
Dodd 4/9/86
Kucinich 4/11/85
Vilsack 4/4/92

Republicans (Favorable/Unfavorable/Don't Know Enough About to Have an Opinion)
Giuliani 41/22/36
McCain 39/20/41
Romney 5/10/85
Hagel 4/5/91
Brownback 3/6/90
Hunter 1/5/94

The only thing that jumps out at me is on the Republican side: I can't recall when I've seen McCain that close to Giuliani in the fav/unfav category. In the Washington Post poll from December, Giuliani's rating was 17 points higher than McCain (67 to 50). CBS breaks down each candidates favorability ratings by party. They are as follows:

Giuliani (Favorable/Unfavorable/Don't Know Enough About to Have an Opinion)
Republicans 63/9/28
Democrats 21/33/46
Independents 45/20/35

McCain (Favorable/Unfavorable/Don't Know Enough About to Have an Opinion)
Republicans 48/10/42
Democrats 25/29/46
Independents 46/19/36

As we've seen in the past, Rudy runs much better with Republicans than McCain. I think you can also get a sense of how the entire sample of the CBS skews when you see that Rudy beats McCain by 15 points among R's (63-48), trails by 4 points among Ds (21-24) and only 1 point among I's (45-46), but leads McCain by only 2 points overall (41-39).

January 05, 2007

Dirty Laundry

I don't get it. Drudge massively hypes this yawner of a story by Adam Nagourney on Hillary Clinton's rather bland observation about Obama, but he devotes precious few pixels to the tasty, behind-the-scenes tidbits contained in this Associated Press story on Terry McAuliffe's soon to be released tell all book::

McAuliffe said Kerry's camp was so afraid of offending swing voters that it didn't defend his record or criticize Bush. He said he was muzzled by Kerry's aides from assailing Bush's military record.

He said the campaign also ordered speeches at the Democratic National Convention to be scrubbed of any mention of Bush's name or his record -- although McAuliffe privately encouraged firebrand Al Sharpton to go ahead with his attacks on the president in his crowd-pleasing speech.

"I thought the decision of the Kerry campaign to back off any real criticism of Bush was one of the biggest acts of political malpractice in the history of American politics," he said.

Meanwhile, Republicans went on a sharp tirade against Kerry at their convention. But when Bush said in an interview on the first day that he didn't think the U.S. could win the war on terror, Kerry did not respond. The Massachusetts senator was windsurfing off Nantucket, unaware of the president's comments.

McAuliffe said Kerry later told him that was one of the biggest mistakes of his campaign. "I should have gotten off the island," McAuliffe quotes Kerry as saying.

McAuliffe said he was "flabbergasted" to learn after the election that Kerry had $15 million left that he could have spent in the final push. "It was gross incompetence to hoard that money when the race was bound to be so close," McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe said Republicans told him they were shocked that Kerry just took the attacks on his military record, but also were overjoyed. He said Bush called President Clinton while he was recovering from his heart attack in September 2004 and said, "The Kerry campaign is the most inept group I have ever seen in politics. Don't let them ruin your reputation."

He said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., asked him why Kerry wasn't fighting back more. "My guy (Bush) is no great shakes, but your guy (Kerry) looks like a wimp," McAuliffe quotes McCain as saying.

Kerry's former running mate, John Edwards, also was frustrated with the campaign, according to McAuliffe. McAuliffe said Edwards was angered that the campaign wouldn't let him go after Bush, but Kerry disputed Edwards' claim and said he was frustrated his vice presidential pick wasn't campaigning harder.

McCain slapping Bush, Kerry slamming Edwards. Now that's some buzz for the watercooler.

Deval's Frustration

Jules Crittenden has some observations on Deval Patrick's inauguration, along with a prediction: "I suspect this whole governor thing will soon become a great frustration."

On a related noted, Harvard Constitutional Law Prof Charles Fried was deeply unimpressed with Patrick's handling of the gay marriage issue:

Yet Deval Patrick, our new chief magistrate, instead of showing principled leadership by urging the Legislature to vote, but to vote the proposal down, or, failing that, urging the people to reject it, has resorted to ambiguous but lawless sloganeering, urging the legislators to defeat the petition by all "appropriate" means. And if you thought that meant voting against it, Patrick goes on to say that a civil right should not be subject to a referendum, and more amazing that the question of civil rights outweighs the provisions of the Constitution providing for citizens' petitions to amend the Constitution. [snip]

I wonder whether Deval Patrick had his fingers crossed yesterday when he took the oath to uphold the Constitution.

Ouch. Not the best of beginnings.

Job Growth Continues

The number is out: another 167,000 payroll jobs created in December.

CBS News Poll

New CBS News poll pegs Bush's approval at 30%. Iraq is the dominant issue:

45% of respondents say Iraq should be the top priority of the new Congress
35% say Democrats will try and decrease troops
Another 36% say Democrats will try and remove all troops
20% say Bush has a clear plan for Iraq
Only 8% say Democrats have a clear plan for Iraq
23% approve of Bush's handling of Iraq (approval by party: R 51, D 6, I 18)
72% disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq

RELATED: More commentary on the CBS News poll via Buzztracker.

Going Wide at The Corner

Yesterday we carried a piece by Robert Tracinski advocating a military strike against Iran:

But these leaders have so far avoided advocating the use of military force against Iran. No one is willing to follow the implications of the big picture to the only rational conclusion: we are already in a regional war with Iran, and we need to start fighting it as a regional war. And the most effective place to fight that war is at its center, by targeting the Islamist regime in Tehran.

Tracinski goes on to cite an article by Michael Rubin that appeared in the NY Daily News on Wednesday:

Instead, our current policy is a bizarre, irrational holdover from the Cold War. In a New York Daily News op-ed, for example, Michael Rubin assures us that confronting Iran "need not mean military action." Instead, he advocates a policy of stronger words, from beefed up Radio Free Europe-style broadcasts to rhetoric such as the "Axis of Evil." His most telling recommendation is this one: "Just as Ronald Reagan championed striking shipyard workers in Poland in 1981, so too should Bush support independent Iranian trade unions."

Rubin is advocating a strategy I have called Cold War II: fighting Iran the way we fought the Soviet Union, through indirect battles against insurgent proxies (the real parallel between Iraq and Vietnam) and through moral support for Iranian dissidents. But this is brinksmanship without a brink. The reason we had to fight the Soviets indirectly was because they had thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at us. There is no reason to fear such an escalation in a battle against Iran. In fact, the gruesome irony of today is that Iran may soon be able to threaten us with nuclear weapons--but only if we continue to act as if they already possessed a nuclear deterrent.

Tracinski's column set off an interesting discussion over at The Corner, first with Michael Ledeen saying that Tracinski "gets it," followed by Rich Lowry questioning whether Ledeen's comment is implicit support of a military effort to depose the Iranian regime. Ledeen replies here. Lowry again here. Finally, Michael Rubin chimes in here.

All in all a very interesting discussion - to which I'll add my voice (for what it's worth) a bit later.

Whom Does Obama Really Help?

Lost among all the hype over Barack Obama is the reality that his candidacy for President, if it were to fully materialize, would only serve to reinforce Hillary Clinton's grip on the Democratic nomination.

With Virginia Governor Mark Warner dropping out last October and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh's withdrawal before Christmas, Ms. Clinton's vulnerability on her right has all but disappeared. While the Obama boomlet certainly speaks to the desire among the press and many in the Democratic Party for someone other than Senator Clinton, what an Obama run would do is suck a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm away from Hillary Clinton's No. 1 threat to the nomination -- John Edwards.

There are five names that continually poll above five percent among Democratic voters: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Al Gore, John Edwards and John Kerry. Though Mr. Kerry still enjoys a high level of name ID from the '04 campaign, whatever slim hope he had of a repeat was destroyed by his pre-election gaffe on the troops in Iraq. Assuming Mr. Gore is a "no go," that leaves the trio of Clinton, Obama and Edwards.

While Mr. Edwards ranks between second and fourth place in national polls, he leads in the most recent Iowa polls and is poised to do well in the early contests in Nevada and South Carolina. His announcement from New Orleans and all his activities since 2004 make it clear he intends to run a strongly progressive campaign aimed at capturing support among the newly energized left of the Democratic Party. The problem is this is exactly the same constituency an Obama run would invigorate. Which means in the end Mr. Obama would simply split the progressive, "anybody-but-Clinton" vote between him and Mr. Edwards, further strengthening Mrs. Clinton's odds of capturing the nomination.

For Mrs. Clinton, this scenario would have the added benefit of allowing the perception to form throughout the primary campaign that she was the "centrist" or "moderate" choice of Democratic voters -- a perception that would serve her well as she transitions to the general election campaign in the spring of '08.

It is ironic that some of the strongest promoters of an Obama candidacy are motivated by a dislike of Senator Clinton, but are unwittingly helping her secure control of the Democratic Party by pushing the young and untested Mr. Obama.

Walking the Tightrope

On his blog, Dick Polman of the Philly Inquirer takes a sharp look at the Dems' "trouble on the left flank:"

The Democrats on Capitol Hill clearly face a difficult challenge. The liberal activists within their ranks are anxious to advance what they see as the moral rightness of their positions, notably a de-funding of the Iraq war. As Sheehan said yesterday, "These are not requests. These are demands." And as Deborah Sweet, who runs a pro-impeachment group, said the other day, "We've been told for many years, 12 years now, 'Wait until we get in power. Then you'll see things change.' We'll give them a couple of months or a few weeks to see what they come up with, but if they don't do something very decisive around the war and these other issues, I think there will be trouble." [snip]

The Democrats broadened their tent in the '06 elections; they captured 59 percent of all independent swing voters. Whether they can hold those voters over the next two years, while satisfying the shouters on their left flank, is another issue entirely. They probably can't snag the White House in '08 unless they find a way.

Sounds about right to me.

Durbin Rises

As Democrats take control of the Senate few, if any, have it better than Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. In addition to being number two in the leadership behind Harry Reid in Washington, Durbin is surrounded by powerful allies at home and thanks to the utter and complete futility of the Illinois Republican Party, he's unlikely to face more than a mere annoyance on his way to reelection in 2008.

Yesterday Mark Kirk of the 10th Congressional district, seen by many as the Republicans' best hope of offering Durbin a challenge in 2008, made it clear he's not gonna run. The GOP bench in Illinois is so weak there's not a single person who comes to mind (with the possible exception of Jim Edgar, who won't run) who can put up a legitimate challenge to Durbin.

So Durbin can settle in comfortably through 2014 and work to preserve a Dem majority. The only way it could get better for him, of course, is to get a Democratic President in 2008 - especially one that hails from Illinois.

Mexico's Bright Idea

This is something. The Mexican government is studying the feasability of manufacturing and handing out free GPS tracking devices to citizens wanting to sneak into the United States illegally. The idea is that the illegal immigrants could activate the devices if they get in trouble crossing the desert, and their locations could be forwarded to U.S. Border Patrol agents who could then easily track down and rescue them. A spokesman for the Mexican government denied that such a program would encourage illegal immigration.

The Casey Era Begins

The Bob Casey, Jr. era began yesterday for Pennsylvanians. Of all the Democrats elected to the Senate this year, Casey seemed to me by far to be the least impressive. In addition to being positively soporific, Casey ran a campaign that had all the same attributes as a Seinfeld episode: it was a show about "nothing." The best thing one can say about Casey is that he was disciplined enough to stay out of sight long enough to let voters to toss Rick Santorum out of office.

If you remember his nationally televised debate on Meet the Press, Casey's strategy seemed to be born to a large degree out of necessity. He struggled to put two coherent thoughts together and didn't seem to have much of a command over any issue beyond boilerplate talking points. In particular, his response to Tim Russert's question of what to do about Social Security was striking for its complete vacuity.

A week or so after the election I was doing a wrap up show on the radio and the host asked me to name someone who lost in November that I'd miss seeing in Congress. The first person who came to mind was Rick Santorum - not because I'm necessarily the biggest fan of his, but because he was a passionate and eloquent defender of many of his party's values. The Senate needs more people like Santorum, not less, and in my opinion the chamber will be a less interesting place without him in the same way I think the Senate (and the public debate in general) misses the fiery passion of a character like Paul Wellstone.

That's not to say we need 100 firebrands in the Senate. It takes all types. Perhaps Casey will turn out to be a decent Senator in his own bland, low-wattage way - though I doubt that's where the smart money is. We'll have to watch him over time and see how he does - assuming that when he's on C-Span we can stay awake long enough to form an opinion.

January 04, 2007

A Quarter Century of Growth and the Risks Ahead

Brian Wesbury, the chief economist with First Trust Advisors, has a great column in today's Wall Street Journal on the American economy the last quarter of a century.

You. In 1982, Time magazine's Person of the Year was a machine--the personal computer. Twenty-four years later, after being empowered by the computer, the 2006 Person of the year is-- "You." Time's cover sports a small mirror so we can contemplate ourselves--the controller of the information age--and think about all our blogs, pages on MySpace or Facebook and videos on YouTube.

The most interesting thing about this progression is that it did not result from consumer demand. Demand does not create wealth. Consumers were not marching in the streets 30 years ago complaining about the fact that there was no way to share their daily activities and innermost thoughts with thousands of their closest friends. People were not begging for personal computers, email, broadband, the Web, or blogs. Entrepreneurs, futurists, scientists and the very early adopters birthed this technology: Today's average consumer was either clueless or still in diapers.....

In the early 1980s, tax rates were cut, government interference in the economy was reduced, and the Fed followed a tight money policy. As stagflation was cured, entrepreneurs got to work. In garages, basements and cinderblock buildings, today's technology promptly came to life even before its full usefulness was understood. It took more than a decade for the Internet and email to become real consumer products. It was the supply of this technology that fueled its growth, not the demand for it.....

If France had chosen to cut tax rates, regulation and the size of its government in the early 1980s while the U.S. continued on its path towards a social welfare state, it would be the French who would be complaining about excess corporate profits and the income gap. Americans, on the other hand, would fret about a 10% unemployment rate and march in the streets demanding job guarantees and shorter workweeks.

While Iraq has dominated the political headlines and was certainly the driving force behind the Democratic takeover of Congress in November, the current good economy won't continue uninterrupted forever. The reality is at some point the U.S. will face another recession (perhaps sooner than we think) and there is an increased risk from a political standpoint that the rise of populism and the increase in Dobbsian rhetoric has the potential to undo many of the pro-growth economic policies of the last 25 years that have provided the foundation for America's economic success the last quarter of century. The danger becomes a normal run of the mill recession provides the political fodder for a step backward toward economic polices that sound good to the public in 30 second sound bites but lead to stagnation, high unemployment and ironically worse living standard for the lower and middle class workers the polices are supposedly intended to help.

Obama's Drug Use

How big of a deal is Obama's past drug use? Lynn Sweet asks that question in a blog item after Lois Romano's front pager on the subject in the Washington Post yesterday.

Most of the commenters on Lynn's blog (who by and large seem of the liberal persuasion) said Obama's drug use is no big deal. Some even say the admission will be a plus for him. My favorite comment, though, was this: "Mr.Obama admitted to past drug use which makes him honest and human; Our current president is neither."

I don't think Obama's past drug use will play at all the in the Dem primary, should he choose to run, and it probably won't be much of a factor in the general, either. The folks who would be inclined to vote against him over such a thing in all likelihood wouldn't be voting for him in the first place, and Obama seems skilled enough to defuse the issue with independents in the same way Bush did in 2000 by saying "When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish."

Trusting the Millennium Bomber

Interesting story in today's Seattle Times. Ahmed Ressam, aka "The Millennium Bomber", has written the judge in his case recanting part of his confession that implicated his friend Hassan Zemiri in the plot.

Ressam told authorities that Zemiri gave him $3,500 cash and a video recorder to help him "look like a tourist." Ressam testified that while he didn't provide exact details of the terrorist plot to his friend, Zemiri was aware that Ressam intended to pull off some sort of terrorist "job" in America.

Zemiri and his wife fled to Afghanistan in May 2001 after word came out that Ressam was cooperating with authorities. He was picked up a few months later near the caves of Tora Bora by U.S. forces and has spent the last five years at Guantanamo Bay.

Ressam now claims that his initial account about Zemiri was distorted by the trauma of his conviction. "When I dealt with the Prosecutor at the beginning," Ressam wrote the judge, "I was in shock and had a severe psychological disorder as I (sic) result of the court results, I was not sure about m (sic) statements."

Ressam goes on to clarify his statement on Zemiri:

Mr. Hassan Zamiry is innocent and has no relation or connection to the operation I was about to carry out. He also did not know anything about it and he did not assist me in anything. It is true that I have borrowed some money and a camera from him, but this was only a personal loan between me and him. It has nothing to do with my case "or support as the Prosecutor has alleged."

Sympathy for jihadists isn't a crime, but providing material support to them is, and this case illustrates what a murky mess it is to sort out the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorists and those abet them. Certainly, we have an obligation to try and find that line through a legal process that is just and fair, but the stakes are high and the consequences of allowing someone like Zemiri to go free based on the word of a convicted terrorist like Ressam could be potentially disastrous.

Sour Grapes

Though I agree with much of the sentiment expressed in today's Wall Street Journal editorial on the newly arriving Demoocratic Congress, I can't help but detect a note of sour grapes in the last graf:

The country spoke loud and clear on behalf of Democrats last November, but we doubt this means it voted for everything on the party's partisan wish list. Attempting to shove these measures through the House without allowing votes on amendments or alternatives isn't the way a confident majority behaves. We guess this is why the Founders created the Senate.

Apparently the Republican House majority under Tom DeLay wasn't very confident either.....

Do As Obama Says...

Barack Obama on ethics reform in today's Washington Post:

We must stop any and all practices that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a public servant has become indebted to a lobbyist.

Presumably this would include doing curious joint real estate deals with sleazy, corrupt political operatives that result in a publicly elected official getting a multi-million dollar house at $300,000 below the asking price.

January 03, 2007

Depressing Factoid of the Day

Courtesy of Drew Griffin at CNN:

According to the Taxpayers Union research, 20 lawmakers over the last 25 years have been found guilty of serious crimes while in office. All 20 received, or are still receiving, congressional retirement benefits.

The focus of Griffin's post is Chicago's own Dan Rostenkowski, convicted on charges of corruption stemming from the 1994 House post office scandal and subsequently pardoned by Bill Clinton after serving more than a year in the pen. Rosty is still collecting a cool $126,000 per year pension, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

RealClearPolitics is Hiring

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This Just In...

Mitt Romney is running for President. Question: which will be the bigger problem, his religion or his former support of gay rights?

2 Duke Lacrosse Players Allowed to Return

Duke President Richard H. Brodhead in a statement issued today:

"In response to your question about what is appropriate regarding the status of Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, after consulting with Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Robert Thompson and Provost Peter Lange, I recommend that these students should now be allowed to return to Duke and continue their education. While the legal situation they face is not yet resolved and the students still face serious charges, the totality of circumstances has changed in a way that makes it appropriate for us to remove the barriers to their returning and resuming their student careers.

"In the practice of Duke and many other universities, students are typically separated from the university when they are charged with behaviors involving violence. This interim suspension is imposed in recognition of the risks to the community and to the students themselves if they were allowed to remain. Interim suspension is not a disciplinary measure or judgment of guilt. Rather, it is a way to deal with the interim before such charges are resolved.

"Our two students were placed on interim suspension when they were indicted last spring. In late summer, Duke modified the suspension to an administrative leave, which allowed the students to continue to make academic progress while not present at the university. Both have completed their coursework from last spring and are currently in good academic standing.

"Our measures to date have attempted to fit a wise and prudent general policy to the facts of an extraordinary case. As circumstances have evolved, we have attempted to balance recognition of the gravity of legal charges with the presumption of innocence, and concern for the well-being of the community with the students' needs to continue their education. As we approach a new term, I believe that the circumstances warrant that we strike this balance at a different point.

"As you noted in your statement on December 22, circumstances have clearly changed. At this point, further extension of the students' leaves would do unwarranted harm to their educational progress. For this reason, I recommend that the administrative leave be lifted and they be allowed to re-enroll for the spring term.

"Needless to say, the students would remain subject to further disciplinary action should they be found criminally responsible for any of the charges pending.

McCaskill Wants Exemption

Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill hasn't even been sworn in yet, but she's already creating controversy by seeking an exemption from federal contribution limits to take advantage of a new Missouri state law that would help her more easily recoup the $1.6 million she loaned her 2004 gubernatorial campaign.

The new Missouri law, which is being challenged in court, lifted contribution limits altogether effective January 1, 2007, so McCaskill would be able to raise the entire $1.6 million - which would go straight back into her pocket - in a few large chunks or even in one very "generous" contribution from an individual or a political action committee. Federal law restricts contributions to McCaskill to $2,100 from individuals and $5,000 from PACs.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri law gives candidates 18 months to repay campaign loans, and since this one is already nearly three years old McCaskill has gotten creative to keep it on the books, thus giving her a chance of getting the money back someday. In 2005 she transferred the $1.6 million loan from her gubernatorial committee to her State Auditor committee, which restarted the 18 month clock. Last month she restructured her State Auditor committee into a "debt service" committee, resetting the clock again.

The FEC can take up to 60 days to decide whether or not to grant Senator-elect McCaskill the exemption.

Eminent Domain Insanity Provides a Chance to Review Kelo

A private citizen wants to develop on his own property but because part of it is inside a "redevelopment zone", the land owner must either pay extortion money to a developer or have his city take the land. If that doesn't sound un-American enough, a Federal Court then ruled that the citizen has no recourse.

It used to be that buying in a neighborhood which wasn't so great but which had potential to improve provided a real, if risky, investment opportunity. The risk was like that of any other investment: the situation might not improve as expected and the asset would therefore not increase in value. Following Kelo, we now have a much more insidious risk: The better the likelihood that the neighborhood will improve, the greater the chances the government will steal your land.

This is the insane situation that the unconscionable Kelo decision has put all Americans in, and we can only hope that the Supreme Court will use the opportunity in the case of Bart Didden versus Port Chester, NY to clarify what they said in Kelo. By "clarify" I mean we must hope that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the clear villain on the Court in that case, reconsiders his prior disastrous vote with the Courts "liberals". It simply can not be that a man's home is his castle unless a government can make more money by giving it to someone else.

Goldie Lives!

The ISM manufacturing index beat the street rising to 51.4 percent in December, up from 49.5 percent in November.

This is very good news. Economists were expecting the index to remain below 50 percent at 49.5 percent. (Anything north of 50 signals expansion.)

Production and new orders both increased, while prices fell.

What used to be called the Purchasing Manager's Index is now called the Institute of Supply Management. It's one of the best real-time economic stats out there--not from the government, mind you, but from private manufacturing businesses.

On another note, President Bush's op-ed today in the Wall Street Journal argues that his tax cuts fueled economic growth while simultaneously spurring record tax revenues. The bottom line? The budget deficit has plunged while the economy has soared.

Think of it as the Bush Boom--think of it as another "W" in the win column for supply-side economics and the Laffer Curve.

At lower tax rates, economic behavior responds with more work and greater investment. Our expanding economic pie throws off more tax revenues, even at these lower tax rates.

In his op-ed, Mr. Bush also pledged to clamp down on budget spending and corrupt earmarks. He's aiming for a balanced budget plan by 2012. (I think it could happen sooner). He asks the Democratic Congress for bipartisan cooperation but if not, he clearly threatens to use his veto pen.

Good plan, President Bush.

Friedman: Time To Get Out of the Way

Tom Friedman in today's New York Times:

Saddam deserved to die 100 deaths. But imagine if Iraq's Shiite leaders had surprised everyone, declared that there had been enough killing in Iraq and commuted Saddam's sentence to life in prison -- sparing his life in hopes of uniting the country rather than executing him and dividing it further. I don't know if it would have helped, but I do know Iraqis have rarely surprised us with gestures of reconciliation -- only with new ways to kill each other.

Now President Bush wants a "surge" of more U.S. troops to Baghdad, in one last attempt to bring order. Whenever I hear this surge idea, I think of a couple who recently got married but the marriage was never very solid. Then one day they say to each other, "Hey, let's have a baby, that will bring us together." It never works.

If the underlying union is not there, adding a baby won't help. And if the underlying willingness to share power and resources is not present among the major communities in Iraq, adding more U.S. troops won't help either. Adding more troops makes sense only if it's to buy more time for positive trends that have already begun to appear on the horizon. I don't see them.

As Saddam's hanging underscored, Iraqis are doing things their way. So maybe it's time to get out of their way.

Bubble Head

Maureen Dowd's bubble was empty.

January 02, 2007

Iraq: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

David Sanger, Michael Gordon, and John Burns collaborate on a lengthy piece in today's New York Times summarizing the difficult and deteriorating situation in Iraq during 2006. It was a brutal year, no question about it.

Also worth reading is this piece from David Wood of the Baltimore Sun reporting from Ramadi on the situation in the western province of Anbar where U.S. Marines are locked in a "standoff" with al-Qaeda in Iraq:

After three years of fighting that has killed 143 American troops in Anbar province, the U.S. military has been unable to quash a vicious insurgency that shows no sign of abating.

Senior U.S. commanders, grappling with Islamist fighters through the Euphrates River towns and the dusty, wind- swept expanse of this province west of Baghdad, describe the insurgents of al-Qaida in Iraq as well-financed, well-led and elusive.

In interviews at heavily bunkered American outposts in Ramadi, Fallujah, Haditha Dam and elsewhere, the officers described the fight as a frustrating uphill battle that will require a steady commitment over many years to win. [snip]

"The issue isn't whether we can hang on," said Brig. Gen. Robert G. Neller, operations chief for Multinational Force-West, the military command for Anbar province. "The issue is whether the American people are willing to accept a long-term commitment in Iraq."

In direct firefights with insurgents, the Marines and soldiers here always prevailed. But there's no straight line from winning battles to winning the war.

"If killing people would win this, we'd have won a long time ago," said Col. William Crowe, commander of Regimental Combat Team 7, the main combat force in Anbar, where about 1,400 insurgents have been killed since June.

Working the back alleys and neighborhoods where there is no constant U.S. presence, the Sunni insurgents are waging a campaign of murder and intimidation to demonstrate that neither the Iraqi government nor U.S. forces can protect people.

"Kill one, scare one thousand," said an intelligence officer. "Anyone cooperating with us becomes a target for AQI assassination."

In Haditha, several relatives of the police chief were killed and their heads impaled on stakes for public display. A woman detonated a vest bomb at the entrance to a local university. The provincial council has fled from the capital, Ramadi, to the relative safety of Baghdad.

Other details of the article are equally grim: the Iraqi Army is underperforming, reconstruction money from the central government is being siphoned off to al-Qaeda in Iraq, etc.

If you read through to the end of the article, however, Wood finally gets around to noting some positive news as well. The Marines interviewed for the article said there are no simple answers to confronting the terrorist insurgency, but they do believe they'll prevail if given enough time. Gen. James T. Conway told Wood:

"There are two timelines: what it will take to get the job done, and what a democratic society will allow us to do the job. Our troops feel that if given a little more time, this thing will sort itself out and we'll walk out with our heads held high."

It's hard to look at a quote like that from one of our courageous and dedicated servicemen and say "no, we're not going to give you the time you need to complete the mission." On the other hand, as General Conway well knows, the public's willingness to allow more time to complete the mission is greatly effected by the perception of progress in Iraq. To the extent we aren't demonstrating that we're making progress in Iraq, or have a reasonable expectation of making progress in the near future, it becomes extremely unlikely the public, and subsequently its representatives in Congress, will grant our troops the time they need to complete the mission in Iraq - however long that might be.

RELATED: Buzztracker on NY Times Iraq story.

Quote of the Day

"These are really hard problems, and it's nobody's fault that we're not getting them all resolved. One of the biggest problems of all, and there is fault here - I blame the president, I blame leaders like myself, I blame opposition to the president, which likes to muddy the waters - I think there has been a failure to honestly convey to the American people the true, big picture.

If you view Iraq as a stand-alone problem, we should not be there today. I think it's wrong to view it that way. You have to view it as part of an overall war . . .

I don't think we will ever make wise decisions about any of these things, including the Iran piece of it, or Afghanistan, unless there is a better understanding of a real challenge the West generally faces from radical Islam, from the terrorists who are spawned by radical Islam, and the other circumstances that arise in other countries around the world." - Senator Jon Kyl in an interview with the Arizona Republic editorial board.

The Nifong Nightmare Continues

It is hard to look back on 2006 without concluding that Durham DA Mike Nifong is one the least honorable characters of the year, so it's doubly ironic that we start 2007 with news of his swearing in for a new term:

Reporters weren't allowed to see the 8 a.m. ceremony for District Attorney Mike Nifong and were barred from the building until it opened at 8:30 a.m. Durham County Sheriff Worth Hill confirmed the ceremony had taken place.

After the building opened to the public, Nifong said he scheduled the ceremony early so his assistants could attend and it wouldn't interfere with the work day.

"The whole point of this was this was not a media event," Nifong said. "This was an event that was required of us so we could get back to work and do our jobs. The message we tried to send was this: This is 2007. We're here to do our jobs. We're not here to basically help you guys sell newspapers or press coverage."

If only Nifong had worried about doing his job from the beginning. Instead he went out and did 70+ media interviews in the immediate aftermath of the rape accusation, ignored protocol in the identification process, and then sat on exculpatory DNA evidence to give the case legs.

Thomas Sowell argues that this case has always been about one thing and one thing only: Nifong's re-election. Sowell concludes:

Now that so many of his misdeeds have been so widely publicized, Nifong's agenda has to include keeping his job and avoiding disbarment or even being prosecuted himself.

And Susan Estrich makes an interesting argument, blaming Nifong for helping to create a fourth victim in the case: the accuser. Estrich writes:

I'm no fan of punishing lawyers for what they say to the media, even when it's the prosecutor overstepping. What troubles me about Nifong's comments is less that he said them to the media than that he believed them himself.

He had no reason ever to be certain of her story, given what we now know. There were obvious questions about her condition that night; obvious issues about her credibility; and an utter failure to corroborate the key element of her story with DNA tests. And that doesn't even begin to address the problems with her identification of the defendants, who didn't match her initial descriptions and were selected from an array composed only of team members, protecting her against making the mistake of choosing someone who wasn't there.

Not to mention the alibis of the boys she did select. This was a train wreck waiting to happen from the get-go.

Who did he think he was helping by ignoring the obvious?

Just exactly who did Mike Nifong think he was doing a favor by pushing forward a case with an alleged victim who, the minute she spoke, would inevitably be massacred as a lying slut?

Her? Her family? Her community? So that later there would be pressure to charge her for lying? Did he really think he was doing her any favors?

It's the prosecutor's job to avoid this kind of mess, not make it. Maybe all Mike Nifong ever cared about was getting elected, no matter how many victims he created. For all his claims to be standing up for the woman in this case, he in fact was doing just the opposite.

If he felt sorry for her, he should have gotten help for her, not given her the one-way ticket to hell which this prosecution is certain to be. With friends like Mike Nifong, who needs enemies?

I don't fully buy Estrich's argument - the accuser is responsible for whatever consequences flow from any lies she told and she could have recanted at any point - but there certainly is some merit to the claim that Nifong's behavior in this case (whether driven by naked ambition, poor judgment, or a combination of the two) has made things infinitely worse than they otherwise would have been. He is the central figure in this almost year-long tragedy and it's hard to see how he doesn't deserve all the skepticism and scorn that's continues to be heaped upon him.

The Dems' Moment Arrives

Did anyone really believe the Democrats would usher in a kindler, gentler era of "bipartisanship?" What a farce. It's equally naive to think Republicans will respond to being in the minority with some new found magnanimity after watching Democrats fight tooth and nail for the last few years to derail their agenda - and still be rewarded handsomely at the polls.

That being said, the new Congress presents unique challenges and opportunities for both parties, particularly with a lame duck Republican President serving as a backdrop. Democrats face fissures between new-comers and old-timers, as well as between the hardcore liberals and moderates and conservatives in the caucus. For example, take Melissa Bean, the Democrat from Illinois' conservative 8th District, who will now have to navigate an entirely different landscape:

Serving in the majority means there will be a lot more pressure on Bean to stay on the Democratic reservation -- it's a lot easier to buck your party knowing you weren't going to prevail on the issue anyway. And it's more difficult to disagree with party leadership when they've spent millions to win and defend your seat.

"I think there's always going to be those who feel others of their party affiliation should vote with them. There are others who will say I'm independent and I'm going to represent my district," Bean said.

So what happens when push comes to shove at voting time?

"I'm going to go hang out with my Blue Dog buddies," said Bean, referencing a group of House Democrats known for being more conservative on tax and spending issues. "They're like my blockers. I don't even hang out on the aisle seats."

It's probably smart for Democrats to start by playing "small ball," tackling modest but relatively popular proposals that will minimize their own divisions and at the same time be difficult for most Republicans to oppose.

But a small-bore approach to policy is unlikely to pacify for very long a Democratic base that wants results on big-time issues like the war, repealing tax cuts, and universal healthcare. That's when Nancy Pelosi will have to earn her stripes as a leader.

Rudy's Plans

Ben Smith of the New York Daily News gets his hands on the goods:

It's clearly laid out in 140 pages of printed text, handwriting and spreadsheets: The top-secret plan for Rudy Giuliani's bid for the White House.

The remarkably detailed dossier sets out the budgets, schedules and fund-raising plans that will underpin the former New York mayor's presidential campaign - as well as his aides' worries that personal and political baggage could scuttle his run. [snip]

The loss of the battle plan is a remarkable breach in the high-stakes game of presidential politics and a potentially disastrous blunder for Giuliani in the early stages of his campaign.

The document was obtained by the Daily News from a source sympathetic to one of Giuliani's rivals for the White House. The source said it was left behind in one of the cities Giuliani visited as he campaigned for dozens of Republican candidates in the weeks leading up to the November 2006 elections.

The document is a bit of an embarrassment for Giuliani, but Smith overhypes it by characterizing it as a "potentially disastrous blunder." After all, the four issues cited in the memo as potential problem points for Rudy's candidacy (his private business, his relationship with Bernie Kerik, his third-wife, and his liberal positions on "social issues") are hardly surprising. Whether those issues end up scuttling his bid is anyone's guess, but it's not like the document revealed some crippling secret.

An Instant Classic

Congratulations to the Boise State Broncos for defeating the Oklahoma Sooners 43-42 in the Fiesta Bowl . I stayed up well past my bedtime watching the game last night, and thank goodness I did, because the final two minutes of the game and the overtime were among the most exciting and remarkable moments in college bowl history.