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TAPPED
Continuous commentary from The American Prospect Online.
October 29, 2004
MORE SIGN STEALING? Spinsanity alum Brendan Nyhan posts this picture of what may or may not be a parody lawn sign from Durham, North Carolina, at his new blog. Check it out and stay for awhile -- there's lots of great stuff there, including the latest Nedra Pickler outrage and a link to political scientist Jim Stimson's very useful running average of public opinion polls.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 04:56 PM
LIFE WITH MIKEY. If John Kerry wins, he'll certainly have that massive and unprecedented liberal ground operation to thank for winning the GOTV war -- but Ryan Lizza tells us why he'll want to thank Mike McCurry for winning the press war. I was a bit of a young whippersnapper when McCurry was press secretary for Bill Clinton, but even I vividly remember how effective, witty, and likeable the guy seemed in what was, needless to say, a rather tough job. What I remember was distinctive about McCurry is exactly what Lizza says is winning the press over in Kerry's campaign bus: the guy has a way of seeming to acknowledge and transcend the b.s. rituals that define his job at the same time that he engages in them. No presidential spokesman since McCurry -- not Joe Lockhart, and certainly not Bush's egregious flacks -- has managed to pull that off.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 04:46 PM
OHIO TAKES A TURN FOR THE WHAT? Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell has taken no small share of abuse for what have seemed downright Floridian directives. After it became clear that pre–Election Day challenges would be disallowed in Ohio, he issued a directive that would enable some polling places to have three or four challengers per party, rather than the statutory single challenger.

So it's surprising to say the least that, about an hour ago, he issued a statement calling for the state attorney general to bar "all challengers of all parties ... from polling places throughout the state."

I just got off a conference call with the Moritz College election law team, and they're as thrown by this as anybody else. Unfortunately, it's not at all clear that Blackwell has the standing to issue this order, and neither the Ohio Republican Party nor Attorney General Jim Petro seem likely to view this as a satisfactory resolution. In Moritz's election law director Ed Foley's words, "There's a question about whether [Blackwell] has authority under state law to simply order the boards to, in essence, disobey §3505.20 of the Ohio Revised Code," which is the statute allowing challengers.

It's anybody's guess how this will play out, but if Blackwell's new directive holds then the Republican secretary of state of Ohio may have just delivered the state to John Kerry. Which makes me all the more suspicious: Is this just meant to delay the resolution of Spencer and Summit County, and keep those challengers there on Tuesday?

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 04:16 PM
SOMETHING UNEXPECTED? Al Jazeera is reporting "Breaking News: Aljazeera to air video tape of Usama bin Laden. More soon..." Those given to conspiracy theories have long anticipated bin Laden's capture immediately before the election. Myself, I've always thought that was giving the administration far too much credit -- because if the Bushies really were as incompetent in managing foreign affairs as their critics have charged, there'd be no way they could accomplish anything like that. The conspiracy theory, while perhaps an accurate reflection of Republican aspirations and Democratic fears, was completely undermined by the available evidence of administration incompetence, among other things. In any event, we may be hearing a lot about bin Laden over the weekend, it seems. No word yet on how recently the tape was made. But that will be an important question, given the timing of its release.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 04:10 PM
WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HAWAII? There appears to be no font of conventional wisdom about Hawaii presidential politics other than that the state always goes for the Democrats except in the most crushing of landslides, and that it's far too small and far away to be worth campaigning in. But this year everything is different; recent polls showing the state neck-and-neck are provoking visits by Dick Cheney and Al Gore. Hawaii papers seem to have a taste for awful photo selection and poor web design. They've also got some pretty unenlightening political analysis. Here's The Honolulu Advertiser's editorial page editor:
What is interesting about the Hawai'i Poll results reported yesterday is that a substantial number of voters appear determined not to change horses in midstream despite strong negative feelings about such things as the war in Iraq and their own personal economic security.

Think about it: A majority of those surveyed said they believe they were misled about the rationale for the war in Iraq. A strong majority believe we are less safe than we were before we invaded. A substantial majority believe the troops won't be brought home on schedule.

That is a weird result, but no one seems to know the explanation, and I can't get my hands on a copy of the full polling data so it's hard to even guess at what's driving this. One theory is that because the Bush-Cheney campaign has been making nationwide cable buys and the Kerry campaign hasn't, Hawaiians simply have extremely negative views of the challenger that are outweighing their negative impression of the incumbent. If that's right, the presence of a large number of undecided voters and Kerry's decision to hit the local airwaves should be able to turn the situation around pretty quickly. Still, the drain on resources can't be something Democrats are happy about.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:46 PM
SWING PAPERS WATCH: COLORADO. Both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News lead with the results of their newest polls on the Senate race between State Attorney General Ken Salazar and beer magnate Pete Coors. The Post poll pits the race as dead even, each candidate garnering 46 percent with 7 percent of Coloradans still undecided. In a bit of bad news for Salazar, the poll shows a sharp spike in unfavorable perceptions of Salazar, indicating that incessant Republican attack ads have stuck. Nevertheless, according to a Rocky Mountain News poll out today, Salazar enjoys a comfortable six-point lead over Coors -- a lead that is well out outside the poll’s margin of error.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 03:16 PM
IN OTHER NEWS... For those of you not obsessing over Ohio, there are two good pieces of press criticism out today. Prospect contributor Chris Mooney has a great article in the new Columbia Journalism Review explaining how the news media's "two sides to every story" approach tends to empower scientists with fringe or even discredited views. (He opens with a really depressing example drawn from the pages of the Los Angeles Times.) And over in the Chicago Reader, Michael Miner goes to town on an especially fact-deprived Mark Steyn column about Canadian health care, complete with an hilarious e-mail exchange between Miner and Steyn's assistant. (Steyn apparently didn't feel like defending his column himself.) Here's a good part:
Steyn, a Canadian who lives in New Hampshire, sneers with the best. "As for Canada, yes, under socialized health care, prescription drugs are cheaper, medical treatment's cheaper, life is cheaper," he went on. "After much stonewalling, the Province of Quebec's Health Department announced this week that in the last year some 600 Quebecers had died from C. difficile, a bacterium acquired in hospital. In other words, if, say, Bill Clinton had gone for his heart bypass to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, he would have had the surgery, woken up the next day swimming in diarrhea and then died. It's a bacterium caused by inattention to hygiene -- by unionized, unsackable cleaners who don't clean properly; by harassed overstretched hospital staff who don't bother washing their hands as often as they should. So 600 people have been killed by the filthy squalor of disease-ridden government hospitals. That's the official number. Unofficially, if you're over 65, the hospitals will save face and attribute your death at their hands to 'old age' or some such and then 'lose' the relevant medical records. Quebec's health system is a lot less healthy than, for example, Iraq's."

This interested me enormously. At the beginning of October I'd never heard of Clostridium difficile -- or "C diff," as nurses call it. But then my mother in Saint Louis contracted the infection -- in a clean, cheery Lutheran convalescent home far from the squalor of socialized medicine -- and died. My sister, who lives in in Vancouver and isn't an ardent foe of Canada's health system, arrived in Saint Louis with a packet of information on C. difficile, including an alarming article on the Quebec outbreak published just that morning, October 22, in Canada's National Post. Dr. John Marshall, a professor of surgery at the University of Toronto whose study of C. difficile was about to be released, told the Post that overuse of antibiotics was destroying the natural defenses elderly patients had against the infection. He predicted that his research could lead to what the Post called a "watershed change" in the use of antibiotics in intensive-care units. Nowhere in the article did Marshall or anyone else suggest that the rash of deadly C. difficile cases could be blamed on socialized medicine.

Moreover, a second article provided by my sister reported the claim of an infection-control specialist in Montreal that the "epidemic strain" of C. difficile plaguing his city had shown up earlier in the U.S. and probably originated there.

So was Steyn drawing on facts, intuition, or ideological shamelessness? I e-mailed him and got a prompt response from his representative, Tiffany Cole. "Why is there such a lack of hygiene in Quebec and Canadian hospitals?" Cole e-mailed me back. "Mark wrote on this once before in relation to the fact that Toronto was the only North American city to get a SARS outbreak. . . . Mark also adds, if you're gynecologically inclined, you may also wish to look into the women in Labrador who contracted chlamydia from their hospitals. Mark's contention is that basic hygiene becomes a problem in government run health systems."

I called Doctor Marshall and began reading Steyn's column to him.

"That's absolute hogwash!" he declared before I'd finished. "Canadian medical standards are on average every bit as high as American medical standards. It has nothing to do with the structures of the health-care system."

This reminds me of that bogus e-mail about how John Edwards caused the flu vaccine shortage. The difference, of course, is that Steyn gets paid for his malarkey.

UPDATE: Reader S.A. points out that Steyn's column actually has the Canadian health care system doing pretty good, by American standards. So they had 600 deaths from nosocomial infections this year? In 1995, according to this journal article, such infections contributed to the deaths of more than 88,000 people in American hospitals. I don't know if there are more recent figures for us, but it doesn't seem like our system is vastly superior to Canada's on this question.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 03:05 PM
BIG MO. One of many signs that John Kerry is in good shape heeading into Tuesday: He's pulled even with George W. Bush at tradesports.com. As of now, Kerry contracts are trading at 50.0 per share, Bush contracts at 50.4 per share. The two most recently traded contracts actually put Kerry ahead of Bush by a tenth of a point. Two weeks ago, Kerry was trading around 46; three weeks ago Bush was trading at 60.6. And this isn't the sort of single-event swing that will necessarily end with a rebound, like during each debate; the candidates have each steadily moved about six points toward the mean over the past week.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 02:54 PM
SITES TO SEE. There are a number of Web sites that you'll want to look at if you're hoping to keep up on the many, many Election Day controversies. A few to note:
  • Election Law @ Moritz -- the Web site of the election law division of Mortiz College of Law at Ohio State. This site is simply indispensable for following the legal challenges around the country.
  • Election Protection's Election Incident Reporting System -- Election Protection is logging all complaints received by their call center; they've already registered more than 200 calls for Miami-Dade County alone, ranging from the innocuous ("Wants to know where to vote") to the troublesome ("She reported that Haitian immigrants had been intimidated by 'Republican' lawyers").
  • Equal Vote -- The blog of Dan Tokaji, one of the professors behind Election Law @ Moritz.
  • Election Law Blog -- The news-clipping blog of Rick Hasen, Loyola law professor and co-editor of Election Law Journal.
  • Vote Watch 2004 -- An ever-growing list of news clippings about vote suppression, voter fraud, voting irregularities, and the like.
I'm sure I missed a couple sites, so please email me if you know of any resources people might want to check out.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 01:48 PM
100,000 DEAD? The Lancet has just published a study conducted by public health professionals using statistical sampling that purports to show that 100,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the American invasion and occupation. Spencer Ackerman has conducted an interview with the lead author in which the methodology is spelled out. As with polling, there's a margin of error around this result and there's always the possibility that what we're looking at here is an outlier.

Still, the methods look pretty sound, and statistical sampling is regularly relied upon in a wide array of fields without undue criticism, so this is worth taking seriously despite the extent to which it's out of line with other estimates using different methods. I think there are legitimate questions one could raise, based on Spencer's interview, as to what proportion of the dead were civilians and what proportion were insurgents of one stripe or another (the battle with the Mahdi Army in Najaf was more or less a one-sided bloodbath, according to U.S. troops proud of their vastly superior military performance) and as to what proportion of the dead were really killed by Coalition forces, which is often something the relatives of the deceased are ill-positioned to know.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:33 PM
A NATIONAL SCANDAL. The coverage CNN just provided of the Pentagon's latest spin on Al Qaqaa should be a national scandal. Lawrence DiRita trotted out an Army Major who explained that he oversaw the carting off of 250 tons of stuff from the facility where the RDX, HMX, and PETN was supposed to have been looted from. Under questioning, the Major conceded that, no, he had no idea whether or not the stuff he carted off was, in fact, RDX, HMX, and PETN. Now in light of the fact that there's totally unambiguous video evidence that the RDX, HMX, and PETN was still at the facility days after the Major's visit, it's perfecly clear that he didn't cart it away. After all -- it was still there after he left!

Nevertheless, in the post-game spin, not only did Fox News treat this as absolute vindication of the administration, but CNN's Barbara Starr pronounced the dispute "confusing" and said the Pentagon was obviously trying very hard to "get to the bottom" of it. They even ran the ABC videotape of soldiers searching the facility over Starr's description of the Major's story, thus turning unimpeached evidence that the Pentagon is wrong into supporting evidence for the Pentagon's story. As The Los Angeles Times writes, the "Munitions Issue Cuts Both Ways." As they neglect to mention, it cuts both ways solely because the majority of the reporters covering the story are too stupid -- or, far more likely -- too craven to call bullshit on an administration that's come up with three or four different, totally implausible, accounts of their behavior all of which stand in opposition to the available evidence.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:20 PM
EYES ON OHIO. The two lawsuits filed in the past 24 hours in Ohio against Election Day challenges don't look likely to win, to my untrained eye, but they'll have a dramatic impact on the electoral landscape in Ohio (and perhaps elsewhere) if they do. The situation, in case you haven't followed it too closely, goes roughly like this: The state GOP filed challenges to 35,000 voters, ostensibly based on the return of registered mail that they sent to test that those voters were in fact living at their registered addresses. If successfully challenged, voters would be removed from the rolls but would still be able to cast provisional ballots pending a post-election check of eligibility. (This article is a must-read on the integrity of those challenges.) The state Democratic Party filed suit to stop the pre-election challenges; District Judge Susan Dlott issued a temporary restraining order against the challenges in six counties, pending a hearing today, on account of the Dems' suit's "strong likelihood of success on the merits." (Be advised: Most links in this post are PDFs.) This morning, the Sixth Circuit denied Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro's request for a stay of that restraining order, further indicating that the pre-election challenges will be blocked; in addition, the Ohio Dems put in a motion to extend the restraining order state-wide. (Confused yet? Just wait.)

So, assuming the current rulings hold, no voters will be knocked off the rolls until Election Day. On Election Day itself, as things currently stand, each candidate is entitled to place one challenger in each precinct in the state. Challenges will proceed according to this directive from Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. Basically, the challenger will call a challenge; the presiding judge (who comes from the party that received the most votes in that precinct in 2002's gubernatorial race) of a four-member panel will ask a defined series of questions as well as "such other questions ... as are necessary to test the person's qualifications"; if the person refuses to answer any questions or answers differently from his or her registration, or "if for any other reason a majority of the judges believes the person is not entitled to vote," the voter will not receive a ballot. A successful challenge is "final" -- implying that a provisional ballot will not be allowed.

Sounds like fun, huh? Sounds pretty defensible -- a representative of a political party can challenge any voter they please, with no cause required, and any irregularity will disqualify that voter. At least that'll keep provisional ballots from being a hassle! And while the presiding judge is interrogating the voter, the rest of the voters may just have to hang out for a few -- maybe, maybe not, but what's the harm in slowing down the voting? Blackwell did set out steps by which a presiding judge could remove a challenger if, for example, "a challenger challenges so many voters that his or her activities slow down the voting process or intimidate voters," but lord only knows how that would play out on a case-by-case basis. And the "judges" themselves, to top things off, are not what we commonly think of as judges but rather pollworkers appointed by the local election board. No mechanism is in place to monitor them.

That's what Tuesday will look like if the process is frozen in place as it is today. In the last 24 hours, though, two suits have been filed to block Election Day challenges. One, Spencer v. Blackwell et al., is a civil-rights class action, not brought by the Democratic Party (not even brought by Democrats but by Charterites), alleging that "African American voters will be blocked from exercising their right to vote." The other, Summit County Democratic Central and Executive Committee et al v. Blackwell et al., seeks to declare unconstitutional Blackwell's directive and the section of the Ohio Revised Code on which it is based. If either of these lawsuits succeeds in time for Tuesday, it could keep thousands of voters from being blocked at the polls. At the least, Summit County would seem to make plain the need to give voters some recourse against being thrown out of the polls; as the suit says:

The challenge provisions of §3502.20 of the Ohio Revised Code permits the potential voter to be denied his or her right to vote, without notice, an opportunity to be represented by counsel, to rebut evidence, to confront the challenger, to introduce evidence in his or her favor, or to otherwise participate in the process as anything other than an interrogated witness. If the potential voter is denied a ballot at the discretion of a majority of the judges, for any reaason, the voter has no opportunity to appeal, and is effectively denied his or her voting right.
How the courts will handle such suits this close to the election I can't imagine. They may well be dismissed altogether; that's what Blackwell requested in Spencer and will presumably request in Summit. But if they're heard...

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 12:50 PM
NEW REGISTRANTS = WELFARE RECIPIENTS! I had to sit through five or six excruciating minutes of this "Fox & Friends" airing to confirm that Chuck Booms, a conservative radio host out of Ohio, actually said what he said during a debate with Jerry Springer over new voters in that state. (Hat tip to reader K.B.) At first, I thought the biggest surprise was how sober and statesmanlike Springer was. But then I got to the part where Booms, in response to a question about voter intimidation, says this (exact quote drawn from the closed captioning):
"Intimidated? You've got to be kidding me. These are the same people, guys, who aren't very intimidated to go wait in the line for welfare and unemployment checks…That's who you're running to register.
Lovely. So, according to the GOP county chairman in Cuyahoga, new voters who lean Democratic are all "ringers." And according to Booms, they're all unemployed welfare recipients.

Sort of speaks for itself, doesn't it?

As a side note, one of the Fox hosts tried out what I expect to be a new line of attack emanating from the GOP and its surrogates: If someone is legally registered to vote, why should they worry about being challenged? Now, in fact, this is much in the vein of "if you haven't committed any crime, why would you object to having the police perform an anal cavity search on you?" I think most people of good common sense can understand why it can be intimidating to have an aggressive, official-looking person sitting behind a desk at the voting station claiming you're a fraud and committing an illicit act. (Especially if that person is challenging your right to vote because the GOP sent you a piece of registered mail and you, not wanting any GOP literature, refused to sign for it. See this important story out of Ohio for the details on that one.) But I expect to hear this line a lot come Election Day.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 12:45 PM
EXILES EVERYWHERE. Knight-Ridder's Jonathan Landay is excellent as usual on the Al Qaqaa story, bringing an interesting new angle to light:
But when the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command produced their own list of sites that a limited number of U.S. "exploitation teams" should search, priority was given to those identified by exiled Iraqi opposition groups, he said. Al Qaqaa wasn't one of them.

"The top of the list was dominated by nuclear facilities and places where we expected to find chemical and biological weapons," he said. "Iraqi exiles had a very heavy hand in determining which places got looked at first."

The extent to which almost everything that's gone wrong with America's Iraq policy has connections to the snow job pulled on us by Iraqi exile groups is truly astounding. The fact that after the extent of the damage they've done has become known, we went and put exile leader Iyad Allawi in charge of the Interim Government is incredible. And that we're now following that up with efforts to bring Ahmed Chalabi back into government as part of the consolidated party list scheme for the January elections is mind-boggling. Worse, due to the awkward timing of events, there's nothing a new administration will be able to do to de-exilify the Iraqi government he'll be honor bound to support.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 12:23 PM
GAY-BAITING IN KENTUCKY. With Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky.)'s campaign going down in flames, state Republicans have dipped deep into the gutter to defeat Democratic dark horse Dan Mongiardo. You have to read the whole article -- published in the Lexington Herald-Leader -- to get the full flavor, the deep currents of both bile and cowardice running through this move. Here's a long excerpt, with emphasis added:
A top state Republican called Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Dan Mongiardo "limp-wristed," and another GOP state legislator said she questions whether "the word 'man' applies to him" in speeches during Sen. Jim Bunning's campaign bus tour yesterday.

Both state Senate President David Williams of Burkesville and state Sen. Elizabeth Tori of Radcliff denied they intended to raise questions about Mongiardo's sexual orientation -- though Tori later said that if any listeners thought she was referring to his sexuality, "so be it."

...

Williams at least twice yesterday described Mongiardo, a 44-year-old Hazard physician, as "limp-wristed" -- once last night in Owensboro and earlier that day in Elizabethtown.

In an interview after the Owensboro rally, Williams denied he used the phrase to imply that Mongiardo is gay.

"'Limp-wristed' denotes weakness. It's not a sexual slur," Williams said. "I'm not going to have them limiting my choice of vocabulary, my freedom of speech," he said, referring to Bunning's opposition.

"Besides, I don't understand the Democrats on this one," Williams added. "I'm not saying anything about anyone's sexual orientation. But if I were -- are they saying that's pejorative, that it's bad to be homosexual? I don't think they would say that, but how can they have it both ways?"

Recently, Williams had criticized candidates in an Eastern Kentucky state Senate race for trying to play "the homosexual card" by raising questions about each other's sexual orientation.

At the Elizabethtown stop, Tori, the state Senate majority whip, said "I served with Dr. Dan -- let me tell you he is not a gentleman. I'm not even sure the word 'man' applies to him." The comment drew laughter and applause.

In a telephone interview last night, Tori repeated her comment and volunteered, "The remark is a little ambiguous, isn't it?"

Tori said that she doesn't consider Mongiardo "a man" because he "has never taken one step to help us on a major issue" in the state Senate. "All he does is whine."

She said that to many people, being a "man" means "being in control, being a leader."

"I don't know anything about his sex life," she said of Mongiardo, who is unmarried. "I didn't say it that way." But, Tori added, "It's up to the person who hears it to decide" what the remark means.

Lovely, isn't it? These folks don't even have the courage of their own bigotry.

One other thing: This fits Karl Rove's M.O. to a "T," don't it? Recall this passage from Josh Green's recent Atlantic profile, which describes a bit of ugly campaigning in 1994 involving two candidates for judicial office in Alabama, incumbent Democrat Mark Kennedy and his challenger, Republican Harold See:

Some of Kennedy's campaign commercials touted his volunteer work, including one that showed him holding hands with children. "We were trying to counter the positives from that ad," a former Rove staffer told me, explaining that some within the See camp initiated a whisper campaign that Kennedy was a pedophile. "It was our standard practice to use the University of Alabama Law School to disseminate whisper-campaign information," the staffer went on. "That was a major device we used for the transmission of this stuff. The students at the law school are from all over the state, and that's one of the ways that Karl got the information out—he knew the law students would take it back to their home towns and it would get out." This would create the impression that the lie was in fact common knowledge across the state. "What Rove does," says Joe Perkins, "is try to make something so bad for a family that the candidate will not subject the family to the hardship. Mark is not your typical Alabama macho, beer-drinkin', tobacco-chewin', pickup-drivin' kind of guy. He is a small, well-groomed, well-educated family man, and what they tried to do was make him look like a homosexual pedophile. That was really, really hard to take."
I guess the difference is that Rove is usually a lot more subtle than what we're seeing in Kentucky.

UPDATE: Blogger Publius at Legal Fiction says Mitch McConnell is the more likely culprit, since McConnell also has talent with the shiv and is responsible for coordinating Republican campaigning in Kentucky. McConnell's hometown paper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, agrees.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:43 AM
KERRY'S EXAGGERATIONS. Just to show that a Democrat can't get a break in this media climate, here comes The Washington Post with a story that should be devastating to George W. Bush, but instead gets spun as a hit on John Kerry:
U.S. military commanders estimated last fall that Iraqi military sites contained 650,000 to 1 million tons of explosives, artillery shells, aviation bombs and other ammunition. The Bush administration cited official figures this week showing about 400,000 tons destroyed or in the process of being eliminated. That leaves the whereabouts of more than 250,000 tons unknown.

Against that background, this week's assertions by Sen. John F. Kerry's campaign about the few hundred tons said to have vanished from Iraq's Qaqaa facility have struck some defense experts as exaggerated.

That's totally right. It's not as if the administration had some brilliantly conceived and brilliantly executed war plan that was all brought down by the failure to secure Al Qaqaa. Instead, they had a desperately ill-conceived and ill-executed war plan, filled with failures, most notably the failure to secure huge quantities of Iraqi weapons and former WMD sites. The point of all this focus on the Al Qaqaa story is that the press had rigorously refused to cover this issue over the past eighteen months and the frisson of scandal around the Al Qaqaa cover-up was finally able to pique their interest. So the Kerry campaign, which is trying to win an election and not write an academic text on the exact nature of the problems with Bush's approach to post-conflict reconstruction, has chosen to blow Al Qaqaa a bit out of proportion relative to the wider story of administration mismanagement.

And what do they get for their trouble? Now comes a story about how Al Qaqaa was more the rule than the exception, but not written as an example of how bad things are in Iraq (e.g., "Al Qaqaa Merely The Tip of the Iceberg") but as a story about how Kerry doesn't know what he's talking about. It's pathetic. Just pathetic.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:07 AM
IRAQIS FOR KERRY. Erstwhile Middle East expert Lee Smith's eccentric views aside, it's well-known that the president is detested throughout the Arab world. Less obvious is that even Iraqis aren't too hot on their would-be liberator, with just 16 percent saying they hope he wins re-election as opposed to 22.5 percent pulling for John Kerry. The big winner here, of course, is indifference, but the results should give pause to those who've been arguing that a Bush defeat would constitute some kind of betrayal of the expectations of the Iraqi people.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:57 AM
TURNABOUT'S FAIR PLAY? The Democrats have really been mercilessly pounding George W. Bush on the draft issue, even though it's highly unlikely -- at least in my opinion -- that Bush will ever reinstate one in his second term. Obviously it's been a hugely effective issue. So it was only a matter of time before the GOP tried to turn the tables.

I was e-mailed a PDF of the flyer below, sent out by the Iowa Republican Party to voters there:
draft flyer front

draft flyer back

What makes this a killer is that there really is a Democrat-sponsored bill in Congress to reinstate the draft -- or at least there was until recently. You'll recall that Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) introduced such a bill around the time the Iraq war was gearing up, the better to dramatize (he believed) the costs of going to war and the fact that poor and minority Americans make up a disproportionate share of the armed forces. The bill didn't go anywhere until earlier this month, when Republicans -- who were freaking out about the draft rumors, which were really hurting Bush -- yanked the bill out of the metaphorical dustbin and hurried it to a near-instantaneous vote, in effect calling Rangel's bluff. The bill failed by a vote of 402 to 2. Even Rangel voted against it.

So on its face, the flyer is false. Not to mention the fact that the bill specifically allows for young people to perform civilian service in lieu of military service, along the Charles Moskos/Paul Glastris model. (I happen to think this is a good idea on the merits.)

Like all good propaganda, this one has just enough true information to be totally misleading. Then again, I can't really say it's any more misleading than allegations that Bush has a secret plan to reinstate the draft.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 09:35 AM
October 28, 2004
THE BOSS SETS THE TONE. The Bush campaign is walking back from its aptly named new ad, "Whatever It Takes," which an eagle-eyed DailyKos.com reader discovered used a manipulated image, leading to half of day of negative press for the campaign. Bush media advisor Mark McKinnon has taken responsibility for the image-doctoring, making him one of the few people affiliated with the campaign willing to publicly take responsibility for any of its missteps.
President Bush's campaign acknowledged Thursday that it had doctored a photograph used in a television commercial and said the ad will be re-edited and reshipped to TV stations.

The photo of Bush addressing a group of soldiers was edited to take out a podium, aides said, and a group of soldiers in the crowd was electronically copied and used to fill where the podium had been.

"There was no need to do that," said Mark McKinnon, head of Bush's advertising team who shouldered the blame. "Everyone technically works for me so I accept the responsibility."

...

McKinnon said a video editor he declined to identify was told to edit the picture to focus on a young boy waving a flag. On his own initiative, the editor removed the podium and copied the faces, McKinnon said.

But the buck shouldn't be stopping with McKinnon -- it should be stopping with Bush. What McKinnon's editor did was only the visual equivalent of the verbal distortions used by the president every day. That's a tone that's set from the very top. The editor wouldn't have dared take liberties with the image he was using if he knew his supervisors frowned on playing fast and loose with the facts. Instead, in a clear reflection of his workplace values, he felt free to take the initiative to distort. Ultimately, the candidate sets the tone for the campaign. That went for Kerry in August and certainly goes for Bush now.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 05:42 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: THE GIULIANI MENTALITY. When George W. Bush's allies sink, they sink low. Today's exhibit: Rudy Giuliani's disgusting attempt to shift blame for the Al-Qaqaa scandal onto our troops. Giuliani has always had a habit of blaming the victim, notes Michael Tomasky, but this is simply despicable.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 05:22 PM
IT'LL GET WORSE. Two gloomy pieces in today’s Roll Call (subscription-only) make the crucial point that the vicious partisanship in American politics isn’t somehow going to melt away on November 3. There’s been this tendency among hand-wringing observers to lament the harshness and polarization of this presidential campaign as if they don’t spring from some pretty serious and historical sources. As AEI’s Norm Ornstein rightly stresses:
These tensions and the climate of anger and mistrust are not new and were not caused solely by the Florida debacle four years ago. The partisan and ideological divisions in Washington have been building steadily over the past two decades.
I quibble with the substance of Ornstein’s historical take that follows, but the general point is well-taken. And while I’m hardly the brow-furrowing extoller of moderate conservatism and accommodation that Ornstein is, I think his worries about the longstanding damage that is being done to American political institutions -- “the danger of breakdown,” he says, “is growing acute” -- are not completely baseless. Ornstein spreads the historical blame around evenly among the parties; I tend to agree with Paul Glastris that such evenhandedness doesn’t really jibe -- that the current climate is in fact largely the consequence of the modern GOP’s brand of politics and governance.

Meanwhile, this thorough report makes it clear that regardless of who wins the presidency on Tuesday, the 109th Congress is going to be more contentious and ugly than anything we’ve yet seen:

With a potential ethics war, a hard-fought 2006 election and controversial topics like Social Security and tax reform on the horizon, Republicans and Democrats alike agree that all the ingredients are present for open partisan warfare beginning in January.

“I think it’s going to be a very ugly 109th Congress,” predicted a senior House GOP leadership aide.

At this point, strategists in both parties do not expect the House to change hands in November, though the jury is still out on which side will pick up seats.

More important than the House ratio, Democratic aides said the degree of hostility in the chamber will rest on who wins the White House on Tuesday.

They suggested that if Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) prevails, Republicans will spend the next two years trying to undermine his influence and attack his character, just as they did when Bill Clinton was in office. They also anticipate the GOP will launch a series of investigations and charges against Kerry immediately upon him taking office.

Meanwhile, if President Bush and House Republicans remain in power, Democrats expect the GOP to run roughshod over them given the Republican president is a lame duck facing no political consequences. Democrats will be ever more angry that Bush survived the election despite what they perceive as a mess in Iraq, a poor economy and an ethically challenged Congress, several Democratic aides said.

“It will get worse, not better,” said one Democratic leadership aide.

“It will be a bruising 109th Congress,” predicted another top Democratic aide. “The bruising will come from the Republicans if they remain in power because there will be even less of a reason to work with the minority party.”

Democrats envision that they would have even fewer seats at the table under another two years of Republican control. The minority often has complained about being shut out of the debate, barred from offering amendments and participating in conference committees.

Regardless of who’s president, we can apparently expect, for one thing, retaliatory ethics charges to be filed against Democratic House leaders now that Chris Bell’s complaints against Tom DeLay has effectively ended “The Truce” that has kept both parties from using the process in the last several years. As one GOP aide puts it, “Democrats have opened a Pandora’s box.” Lovely.

For the reasons I said here, I think that the climate will be more poisonous if John Kerry is elected, regardless of the efforts he’s likely to make (under heavy pressure from hand-wringing D.C.–establishment folks) to extend olive branches and attempt to heal partisan divisions. Given the hand he’ll be dealt, Kerry would do best to take Paul Krugman’s advice and not be magnanimous in victory.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 05:14 PM
ADD THIS TO THE SCANDAL TALLY. Halliburton's no-bid contracts are now under FBI investigation. Courtesy of reader L.O., here's the wire story from the Associated Press:
The FBI has begun investigating whether the Pentagon improperly awarded no-bid contracts to Halliburton Co., seeking an interview with a top Army contracting officer and collecting documents from several government offices.

The line of inquiry expands an earlier FBI investigation into whether Halliburton overcharged taxpayers for fuel in Iraq, and it elevates to a criminal matter the election-year question of whether the Bush administration showed favoritism to Vice President Dick Cheney's former company.

FBI agents this week sought permission to interview Bunnatine Greenhouse, the Army Corps of Engineers' chief contracting officer who went public last weekend with allegations that her agency unfairly awarded a Halliburton subsidiary no-bid contracts worth billions of dollars in Iraq, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

It appears the FBI has now joined the anti-Bush conspiracy.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 04:58 PM
SHRILL LATELY? Richard Cohen, September 16, 2004:
I nevertheless cannot bring myself to hate Bush or, as someone here told me, to consider his possible reelection as a reason to leave the country. In fact, Bush haters go so far they wind up adding a dash of red to my blue, pushing me by revulsion into a color I otherwise would not have.
October 28, 2004:
I do not write the headlines for my columns. Someone else does. But if I were to write the headline for this one, it would be "Impeach George Bush."
May 7, 2003:
I mention Jackson right at the top because I feel that it will hardly matter if, as now seems possible, no large cache of weapons of mass destruction is found in Iraq and the war to disarm that country turns out to have been unnecessary. All that will matter is that the United States won a magnificent victory -- never mind why the war was fought in the first place. Everyone likes a winner, and Bush is a winner.
October 28, 2004:
Not since the Spanish-American War has the United States gone off to war so casually, so half-cocked and so ineptly. The sinking of the Maine, the casus belli for that dustup, has been replaced by missing weapons of mass destruction, and the Hearst and Pulitzer presses are now talk radio and Fox News Channel. Everything has changed. Nothing has changed. Still, though, we mourn the dead, look away from the wounded and maimed, and wonder what it was all about. We embarked, truly and regrettably, on a crusade.

Yet from Bush comes not a bleep of regret, not to mention apology. It is all "steady as she goes" -- although we have lost our bearings and we no longer know our destination. (Don't tell me it's a democratic Middle East.) If the man were commanding a ship, he would be relieved of command. If he were the CEO of some big company, the board would offer him a golden parachute -- and force him to jump. But in government, it's the people who make those decisions. We get our chance on Tuesday.

I guess it gets to everybody sooner or later. I also note that, weirdly, the Post refused to headline his column "Impeach Bush."

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 04:51 PM
EVEN PARANOIDS HAVE ENEMIES! From Congressional Quarterly, here's a little grist for those who are convinced that the Patriot Act is merely stage one of turning America into a police state:
Eight months before the White House appointed him the Homeland Security Department’s top intelligence official, retired U.S. Army Gen. Patrick M. Hughes told a public forum at Harvard last year that the government would have to “abridge individual rights” and take domestic security measures “not in accordance with our values and traditions” to prevent terrorist attacks in the United States.

“What I’m about to say is very arrogant — arrogant to a fault,” said Hughes, a former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), in previously unreported remarks at a March 2003 Harvard University forum on “Future Conditions: The Character and Conduct of War, 2010 and 2020.”

“Set aside what the mass of people think. Some things are so bad for them that you cannot allow them to have them. One of them is war in the context of terrorism in the United States,” Hughes said, according to a transcript obtained by CQ Homeland Security.

“Therefore, we have to abridge individual rights, change the societal conditions, and act in ways that heretofore were not in accordance with our values and traditions, like giving a police officer or security official the right to search you without a judicial finding of probable cause,” said Hughes.

“Things are changing, and this change is happening because things can be brought to us that we cannot afford to absorb. We can’t deal with them, so we’re going to reach out and do something ahead of time to preclude them.

“Is that going to change your lives?” Hughes asked rhetorically. “It already has.”

Neither the department nor Hughes would comment for the record on whether Hughes stood by his comments in the year he has held the senior DHS intelligence post.

At the time of his remarks, Hughes was a private consultant whose clients included the CIA, the FBI, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DIA, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Booz Allen Hamilton, Science Applications International Corp., SRI International, Anteon, Boeing, Rand Corp., and others, according to the Web site for his company, PMH Enterprises, LLC.

Fantastic!

I'd be curious to hear what the blogosphere's conservatarians, as Atrios rightly dubs them, think of this.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 03:26 PM
RDX AND THE PLOTS AGAINST US. Not only do the 377 tons of explosives that have gone missing in Iraq include the same deadly type of explosive, RDX, used in 1988 to take down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, but, I was reminded at a book talk by former-Washington Post investigative reporter Lorraine Adams last night, RDX figured prominently in the 1999 Al Qaeda plot to blow up the Los Angeles Airport (the so-called Millenium Plot). Adams' novel, Harbor, is based on her reporting in the immigrant communities that harbored the Algerians behind the plot.

According to this Jan. 1, 2000, CNN piece on the lead plotter:

[Ahmed] Ressam, 32, last week pleaded innocent to five federal counts related to his alleged attempt to smuggle bomb-making materials. He was arrested in Port Angeles, Washington, after crossing from Victoria Island, Canada, aboard a ferry. The trunk of his rented car contained timers, detonation material and highly explosive chemicals, officials have said.

According to court documents released Tuesday, Ressam was carrying the liquid chemical RDX, or cyclotrimethylene trinitramine, which is used by military forces around the world for demolition. No blasting caps or other possible detonators were found, the documents said. (emphasis added)

The main ingredient in the plastic explosive C-4 is RDX. This Seattle Times piece -- a long narrative detailing Ressam's capture with 135 pounds of bomb-making equipment in his car -- has pictures of his RDX and allied explosive timing devices, rigged from Casio watches.

C-4 plastic explosives have also been used in number of other foiled -- and successful -- terrorist plots against America in recent years.

  • In December 2001, according to CNN, British al-Qaeda shoe bomber Richard Reid tried to ignite shoes filled with "10 ounces of PETN-based material, a version of the plastic explosive C4 that is very sensitive to heat and friction" on American Airlines flight 63 from Paris, which is why you and I now have to remove our shoes for screening at American airports.
  • In October 2000, terrorists in Yemen attacked the U.S.S. Cole using C-4, killing 17 American servicemen and wounding 49.
  • In October 2001, "a third of a pound of C-4 was found in a suitcase inside a Philadelphia bus terminal. Police said that was enough explosive to level the building."
  • On June 25, 1996, "A truck, a truck used to clean out Port-A-Johns stuffed with at least a minimum of 5,000 pounds of C4 explosive pulled out, pulled to perimeter of a fence" at the Khobar Towers U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia, according to CNN, "and detonated a bomb there, killing 19 Americans, wounding hundreds of others." As for the bombers, "they thought that initially it might have been al Qaeda related, but later on the investigation revealed that it was a local Shia group that was Iranian backed and possibly, again, possibly funded by bin Laden."

The materials that have disappeared in Iraq are the building blocks of exactly the sort of weapons already used against us by terrorists. Arguing about when the explosives disappeared strikes me as beside the point right now, though the label Explosiv 1.1D, clearly visible on materials in the KSTP-TV video, is the label for the explosive category that includes RDX (scroll way down).

The explosives are gone and someone took them. It wasn't us and it wasn't the Russians. This is a disaster.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 03:17 PM
LOOKING DOWN THE PAPER TRAIL. When Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller mandated that "a voter verifiable receipt printer be included on all newly purchased DRE [Direct Recording Electronic] machines for the 2004 election," he probably didn't expect Nevada to be the only state to mandate a voter-verifiable receipt (VVR) for this cycle. The way election controversies are shaping up, DRE machines don't look to be the major battlefield that many expected; although it's too early to discount DRE malfunctions or malfeasance, I'd say that registration challenges, provisional ballots, and all the attendant controversies seem like more of a sure-thing disaster.

That said, it'll be interesting to see if Nevada has a significantly smoother election than states with heavy DRE usage that haven't made as much of an effort as Nevada has at getting it right. (I'm looking at you, Florida.) So far, the only DRE-related problem reported in Nevada's early voting is a brief paper jam.

Heller, from all indications, has done everything he can to make sure Nevada's election goes as its voters choose; I'll be very surprised if his names ends up howled in the same breath as Glenda Hood, J. Kenneth Blackwell, Chet Culver, or the various other Katherine Harrises du jour. The latest commendable sign: After Nye County Clerk Sam Merlino reassured voters that that 30-minute paper jam was inconsequential because the paper trail serves only as a back-up, Heller rushed out a statement renouncing that excuse as "ill informed and an affront to the voters of Nevada" and explained again how voters should handle any DRE problems at the polls. Heller seems genuinely committed to ensuring both the accuracy of the Nevada vote and the confidence of the Nevada voters, and that's not something you see in too many states. Now if they could just wrap up that Sproul investigation...

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 02:42 PM
WHY SO FEW TROOPS? Josh Marshall takes on the question of why the invasion of Iraq was so badly undermanned and comes up with an answer:
The biggest reason is that President Bush and his chief advisors knew that it would be much harder to get the country into Iraq if the electorate knew the full scope of the investment -- in dollars, deployments and casualties -- upfront. In other words, undermanning the operation was always part of the essential dishonesty and recklessness with which the president led the nation to war.
I don't doubt that political considerations like this played a role in the decision-making, but I think that explanation misses the fundamental point. The intellectual architects of the Iraq War are driven by some eccentric views about WMD proliferation, specifcally the centrality of regime type to the analysis of the situation. This leads them to believe that it's intolerable to allow certain kinds of states to acquire WMD, and also that it's pointless to use diplomatic agreements to dissuade these states from acquiring them. That doesn't quite require the U.S. military to overthrow a whole long succession of regimes (Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, etc.) but it does require us to be able to credibly threaten to invade.

This policy only makes sense if it's possible to conduct a regime-change operation with a smallish number of troops and, reasoning backwards, they therefore concluded that it was, in fact, possible to conduct them this way. So-called "experts" who said it would be harder than that were regarded as agenda-driven know-nothings whose belief in the need for a large deployment was driven by their desire to undermine neoconservative policy by making it appear impossible.

If you talk to the folks at a place like AEI today, they'll be happy to admit that the postwar situation has been mishandled and that Iraq is a mess. In a rather cunning illustration of the Quine-Duhem thesis (note: purchasing term papers online is not recommended), the conclusion they draw from this is not that there were too few troops, but too many. Barbara Lerner outlined this view in an article called "Rumsfeld's War, Powell's Occupation" back at the end of April, in case you're curious.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 02:38 PM
ET TU, VLADIMIR. The Washington Times' Bill Gertz has a bizarre story out today in which Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for International Technology Security (worst Web site ever, incidentally) John Shaw alleging that the Russian military moved the RDX, HMX, and PETN out of Al Qaqaa and into Syria before the war ever happened. This is totally at odds with every other story we've heard from the administration, and Bush's point man on the subject, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita "could not be reached for comment" on the story, which seems unlikely.

Shaw claims to have gotten this information from "two European intelligence services that have detailed knowledge of the Russian-Iraqi weapons collaboration." Since this whole story seems to be contradicted by all of the publicly available evidence, and, as Ryan Lizza reports, the White House has disavowed it, I think it's safe to discount it, but it sure would be nice to know which European intelligence services are saying this and why. Incidentally, while Googling around I noted that the Defense Department wants you to be very clear on the fact that any criminal investigations regarding Shaw that may or may not be taking place are being handled by the FBI and not, as some had it, by the DoD Inspector General.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 02:05 PM
TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECT. The nasty, state-wide RNC hate-mailings have spread across the country into local races. Take a look at this ad sent out on behalf of Republican Woody White, running in North Carolina for the State Senate. In it he accuses Democratic candidate (and out lesbian) Julia Boseman of running to push that ever-elusive "homosexual agenda." The ad, and others that accuse Boseman of being beholden to gay rights' groups, as this story makes clear, were paid for by the North Carolina Republican Executive Committee.

--Sarah Wildman

Posted at 02:04 PM
KERRY'S PLANS FOR IRAQ. One of the key issues hovering over this campaign is whether, given the mistakes that have already been made, a Kerry administration would actually be able to do anything better for Iraq. Writing in Mother Jones, Bradford Plumer makes the case that he could. It's a somewhat convincing argument but -- and it's a big "but" -- it neglects the fact that there's a very real possibility that the National Assembly that should take office at the beginning of February may ask the United States to set a departure date and beging drawing down our forces.

There are plenty of signs already of Iraqi leaders trying to distance themselves from the unpopular United States, and at a certain point parties who will dominate the Assembly may reach the conclusion that Shiite discontentment with life under occupation is a bigger threat to their power than is the Sunni insurgency, which for demographic reasons stands little chance of actually overthrowing the Iraqi government. One important factor here would be the attitude of the American president. A leader like George W. Bush who apparently has designs on a long-term basing arrangement in Iraq would put his thumb on the scales toward getting the Assembly not to make such a request, whereas John Kerry might well do the reverse.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:52 PM
THE SOX EFFECT? One joke going around Kerry campaign headquarters over the weekend was that if the Red Sox won the World Series, John Kerry could lose Massachusetts, because the entire state would be out celebrating at the Sox victory parade (then expected for Tuesday, November 2) and forget to go to the polls. Of course, we all know Massachusetts is no Tennessee, and the Sox win only jazzes up the MA Dems and others who see the Sox victory as proof that this is the year historical precedent goes out the window and Massachusetts dominates the field. From today's Cape Cod Times:
Massachusetts Democrats are dreaming of a double play this year.

Jane Lane, the communications director of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, has gathered her sleepy staff for Monday morning planning sessions full of politics and baseball talk. The rigor of a campaign season for the state Legislature and the White House - plus hours of late-night baseball viewing - has left them a little giddy, hoping it isn't stardust when the bats are put away.

"People are feeling really energized and very optimistic that there is this certain alignment of the stars and the moon and planets, (that) this is really going to happen," Lane said. "That, by God, Boston can win the World Series and John Kerry can win the presidency. It's a good time to be from Massachusetts. I think people are just optimistic, and we are not optimistic a lot ordinarily."

In Ohio this morning, Kerry reminded voters that a talk-radio caller a while back had said, "John Kerry won't be president until the Red Sox win the World Series." Kerry's response now is, "Well, we're on our way!"

Another, less tongue-in-cheek worry was that a Sox victory could have some effect around the margins on voting in neighboring New Hampshire, which is a swing state and is home to legions of Sox fans who will stream over the state line to Boston or out of their hometowns to Manchester for various victory celebrations. Fortunately, the Sox' clean sweep allows the victory parade to be held on Saturday, according to The Boston Globe, a day before the originally slated final game of the Series. Or maybe it'll be on Friday. Says the Globe in a different story: "The largest celebration in Boston's 374-year history is expected tomorrow when the team is honored with a parade and championship ceremony." In any event, the victory parade, according to this Boston Herald story, may then swing through southern New Hampshire some time over the weekend or early next week as part of a New England-wide celebration.

According to our spies, the Sox have plotted a party that will encompass all of New England and will take the World Series trophy on a six-state tour "like a rock 'n' roll band," said our spy.

"They envision this thing in concentric circles, starting in Boston and working its way out to Worcester, Providence, Springfield, Hartford, Manchester, all over New England," said Deep Dugout. All of which would be, of course, out of this World!

One thing's for sure: between still-jazzed Sox fans and either elated or angry Kerry supporters in Copley Square Tuesday night, where Kerry will hold his election-night rally, Boston is going to be one heck of a scene on November 2.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 01:50 PM
GOOD NEWS IN FLORIDA? The most recent Florida polls haven't been looking so hot for the Kerry campaign, but Miami Herald columnist Jim Defede points to some contrary trends based on the Herald's latest polling. Their poll shows John Kerry winning Dade County (where Miami is located) by almost 100,000 votes, which would be a massive improvement over Al Gore's 40,000-vote margin in Florida's largest county. Defede writes that such a big margin "would be hard for Bush to make up across the rest of the state." That's not self-evidently true in a state where 6 million ballots were cast in 2000 and where we can expect a larger turnout this time around, but it certainly is a problem for the Bush campaign.

Perhaps more interesting is what the polling shows about Democratic efforts -- led by the New Democrat Network -- to court the Hispanic vote in Florida. The poll suggests that messages targeted at non-Cubans have been very successful, as have efforts to register more of these voters. On the other hand, simultaneous efforts to court both the younger generation of Cuban-Americans (theoretically turned off by George W. Bush's hardline anti-Castro policies) and even the older exiles (theoretically open to the argument that they shouldn't be single-issue voters) haven't done much good. Over the long term, which is where NDN President Simon Rosenberg has repeatedly told me his efforts are aimed, that's good news for the Democrats since Cuban-Americans are an ever-shrinking share of the Florida demographic pie. Over the short term, while the numbers are encouraging, they're not as encouraging as many liberals (myself included) had hoped a little while ago, and for the next few days that's all anyone's going to care about.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:32 PM
WHAT IF ARAFAT DIES? Last night’s news that Yasser Arafat is not just sick with the flu, but actually slipped into unconsciousness (if briefly) and will finally leave his compound for the first time in two years for medical help, would be roiling the press if we weren’t days from the election. Arafat’s four-decade reign as self-designated leader of the Palestinian people has had one common trope throughout: He has long resisted appointing, grooming, or even indicating the possibility that someday he will need, a successor. This is, needless to say, a major problem. As the Gaza withdrawal draws closer, the Palestinians desperately need a credible leader: to rule over Gaza once it is “fully” Palestinian, to negotiate what the future will hold for the West Bank, and to represent the Palestinians to the world. While there are two men ostensibly closest to taking the helm in the event that Arafat dies or is too ill to govern (to the extent that he actually governs now) -- Ahmed Querei, the current prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, his predecessor -- the man the Palestinians say they want is Marwan Barghouti, who is currently in an Israeli jail serving a life-sentence for terror-related activities. There is a Free Mumia–like effort to free Barghouti and there have long been rumors that Israel has been grooming him to become the Palestinian leader. That’s because Barghouti (putting aside the nasty little terror conviction) has made some quasi-moderate speeches in the past few years, condemning suicide bombings and terror inside Israel. He was born in 1960 which means he is well into the next generation of Palestinian leaders. (Read this interview he gave to the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv in 2001.) He’s also fluent in Hebrew and in English, which makes him a very nice diplomat. In a 2002 interview on NPR, before Barghouti's conviction, then–Jerusalem Bureau chief of The New York Times told Terry Gross:
He was arrested in the last major offensive in Ramallah, and he is still in jail. And Israel says it is going to put him on trial, accusing him of being a terrorist; accusing him of basically working on Arafat's behalf carrying out direct orders from Arafat to kill Israelis. Marwan Barghouti is one of the more interesting Palestinian figures. He was a young leader in the first intifida in the late '80s. He was arrested, deported, came back and he came back ultimately as part of the Oslo peace process. He had many Israeli friends, like many of his generation, that actually grew up in the West Bank not in exile. He's a fluent speaker of Hebrew, which he learned in prison. He also speaks English. And he formed these friendships with Israeli parliamentarians and others during the Oslo peace process, which he repeatedly said he was a deep believer in and still says that he's a believer in a two-state solution.

Israel says that over the course of this conflict, he became one of the most dangerous terrorist leaders, Israel says, on the Palestinian side; a charge he denies. He insisted he's a political leader of Fatah, and that while he supports attacks on Israeli settlers and soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza, which he regards as legitimate struggle against occupation, he has always said he opposes attacks within Israel--that is pre-1967 Israel.

The various conspiracy theories, by the way, Terry, about Barghouti's imprisonment by the Israelis, at least on the Palestinian side--some Palestinians think that Israel is essentially trying to turn Marwan Barghouti into the Palestinian Nelson Mandela, exaggerating his credentials as a potential terrorist, removing him from the scene now as the Palestinian Authority is faced with so many difficult decisions so that he can return and possibly run for election, ultimately, and become the next Palestinian leader.

Look for these rumors to resurface in the coming weeks if Arafat does not fully recover.

--Sarah Wildman

Posted at 12:40 PM
CLAIM: JOHN EDWARDS CAUSED THE FLU VACCINE SHORTAGE. You may have gotten an e-mail forward recently alleging that a lawsuit waged by John Edwards back in his days as a trial lawyer is responsible for the flu vaccine shortage. Yeah, it is pretty stupid. (This reminds me a bit of that Simpsons episode where Krusty runs for Congress against a Democrat and debates him on the FOX News Channel, which runs crawls saying things like "Study: 92 percent of Democrats are gay" and "JFK Posthumously joins Republican Party.") But here's the relevant Snopes.com page, should it be needed.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 12:34 PM
WHERE'S MY SHARE? As much as George W. Bush touts his tax-cut package as a middle-class benefit, we all know that most of the cuts went to the wealthiest in this country. Not only did Bush fail to pay for the tax cuts, causing the deficit to balloon out of control, the cuts haven't done their job in aiding the economy. Wages are stagnating, family income is on the decline, jobs are being outsourced, and I have yet to see any benefits come tax day. Bush has the double privilege of being the first president since World War II to preside over a four-year rise in the deficit and the first president since the Great Depression to see a net loss in the number of jobs. Instead of surfing around for all the info you need to know, visit Moving Ideas, a project of The American Prospect, for one-stop shopping for all the latest numbers and research on the current state of jobs and the economy.

--Diane Greenhalgh, MovingIdeas.Org

Posted at 12:33 PM
THANK YOU SIR, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER? Here's an Animal House–inspired take on the Bush presidency. Surely there's a 527 out there that has some extra dough and wants to put this one on the air? I'm thinking Comedy Channel, right between Crank Yankers and The Daily Show.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:59 AM
SINGLETON PUTS ON THE SQUEEZE. Reader P.M. alerts me to yet another bizarre newspaper endorsement of George W. Bush that came out on Sunday, and the story behind it is likely the same as the one behind the Denver Post’s painful editorial. The Salt Lake Tribune in Utah hasn’t run endorsements in 32 years, but the paper was recently bought by the MediaNews Group chain, whose CEO is big-time Republican contributor William Dean Singleton. And so, on Sunday, the paper endorsed Bush through the editorial equivalent of painfully gritted teeth. Now wouldn't you know it, MediaNews also owns the Denver Post!

So far the chain is boasting a 16-2 record of Bush versus Kerry endorsements among its papers. And clearly, some of these papers’ editorialists have had a hell of a hard time writing these things. Some highlights from the Tribune’s less-than-ecstatic endorsement, replete with hallucinatory “recommendations” to Bush for an improved second term:

Tribune readers know that this newspaper has been consistently critical of a number of the president's policies, particularly his war in Iraq, his tax cuts for the rich and his abysmal environmental record.

It was his blinkered determination to topple Saddam Hussein that led him and the nation disastrously astray. The justifications for war - weapons of mass destruction and collaboration with al-Qaida - have been thoroughly discredited. Worse, the United States was militarily and strategically unprepared to enforce the peace in an occupied nation.

By the odd logic of war, however, Bush may be the leader most able to withdraw from Iraq. After January, if elections can be held, he could declare victory and begin to bring U.S. forces home. He would have to take care, however, not to remove American troops prematurely, which could cause Iraq to collapse into civil war.

With a second term, the president should focus on bringing the federal budget back toward balance, which means that he cannot make his tax cuts permanent. He has promised action on Social Security, but he must flesh out his plan, including costs. And he must take the complex health-care debate beyond the single issue of tort reform.

High on President Bush's to-do list should be removal of ideological extremists, particularly Attorney General John Ashcroft, from his Cabinet, in favor of Republican moderates like Mike Leavitt. Donald Rumsfeld and deputy Paul Wolfowitz should get the boot from the Pentagon because of their failed policies in Iraq.

It probably goes without saying that yesterday’s published sampling of letters to the editor in the Tribune was comparable to the Denver Post’s in the anger and incredulity expressed.

Obviously Utah is no swing state, and it’s unlikely that newspaper endorsements really make much of a difference in presidential races anyway. But it is quite a sight to behold when members of the reality-based community are forced by their paymasters to try to make a cogent case for another four years of George W. Bush. Personally, I prefer the more honest route taken by The Victoria Advocate of Texas in its Bush endorsement:

We have no consensus on which one, President George W. Bush or Sen. John Kerry, would be an abler, more effective president for the coming four years.

That said, the owners of this newspaper believe Bush is the better candidate.

We are proud that the Advocate's editorial board has diverse opinions. We do not always reach consensus. That is as it should be.

The ownership of this newspaper believes it is important for us to express our voice and will use its privilege to unequivocally endorse George W. Bush for a second-term as president of the United States.

Kinda says it all right there, doesn’t it?

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 11:38 AM
HOW NOT TO COVER A PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN. Today's New York Times features two stories about Al Qaqaa. One, campaign-oriented and written by two campaign reporters, reads like this:
President Bush broke his silence on Wednesday on the disappearance of 380 tons of explosives in Iraq, accusing Senator John Kerry of making "wild charges" about the missing explosives and of "denigrating the actions'' of troops in the field.

Mr. Kerry quickly responded that while "our troops are doing a heroic job, the president, the commander in chief, is not doing his job."

And on and on it goes, charge and countercharge, with no sense anywhere that someone in this dispute may be right and someone else may be wrong. Meanwhile, in the same edition of the very same newspaper is this story:
Looters stormed the weapons site at Al Qaqaa in the days after American troops swept through the area in early April 2003 on their way to Baghdad, gutting office buildings, carrying off munitions and even dismantling heavy machinery, three Iraqi witnesses and a regional security chief said Wednesday.
Now back to the campaign story:
The exact timing of the disappearance of the explosives is critical to the political arguments of each campaign. Mr. Kerry's contention that the administration did not adequately secure the country and was unprepared for the war's aftermath presumes that the explosives disappeared after the fall of Saddam Hussein on April 9, 2003, as officials of the interim Iraqi government say.

If the explosives disappeared before Mr. Hussein fell, as Mr. Bush now says is possible, that would undercut Mr. Kerry's argument and bolster Mr. Bush's contention that his opponent is making charges without all the facts.

"If this, if that" -- but as the other article makes clear, the truth about this controversy is hardly unknowable. On John Kerry's side are witnesses, television footage, and officials from the U.S. Army and Iraqi Interim Government. On George W. Bush's side are Bush, Bush's political appointees, and the press aides to Bush's political appointees. It doesn't take a psychic to figure out who's wrong and who's right here. And yet people reading campaign stories -- especially people out there in the swing states where their media is filled with wire copy -- aren't getting any sense of the facts. Instead, day after day, they're reading transcriptions of each campaign's best quips.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:32 AM
THE AL QAQAA VIDEOS: MUST SEE TV. Minneapolis/St. Paul ABC affiliate KSTP has put the video and pictures of the explosives cache their embeds saw on April 18, 2003, online. Click on "video" at the top for the news report. It's really devastating. You can see the American military cutting open the doors to explosives-containing facilities with bolt cutters, and then just leaving the doors open when they leave. There's even a shot of a couple of military guys jokingly posing with a big, dusty metal object, saying, "What do you think America? Is this a big bomb, or what?"

This is huge, for many reasons, but this late in the election season you've also got to wonder what kind of impact this new development in the story will have in Minnesota, where a group of local reporters have suddenly been thrust into the national spotlight at the forefront of a growing national scandal. George W. Bush will be campaigning in Minneapolis on Saturday. Minnesota went for Al Gore in 2000 by a very small margin; though John Kerry had had the lead in the state for most of the year, recent polls have shown the race in a dead heat. Given the local angles, you'd expect Minnesotans to be paying extra attention to this one.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 10:35 AM
SWING PAPERS WATCH: FLORIDA. The Sun-Sentinel from Fort Lauderdale reprints an LA Times article recapping their latest polling suggesting that Bush will win the Sunshine State while Kerry takes Ohio and Pennsylvania, leaving the election to be decided in the upper midwest, and reports that Broward County will resend the mysterious missing absentee ballots. The Jacksonville Times-Union reports that Bush has picked up the support of some local black ministers on the basis of his anti-abortion, anti-gay views.

The Miami Herald also covers the Broward County situation, focusing on Michael Moore's planned appearance at a protest rally. The Orlando Sentinel, like the St. Petersburg Times has no non-wire campaign coverage. In The Tampa Tribune, voting problems get another discussion and the Swift Boat Veterans for "Truth" launch their biggest ad buy yet in the state. The Palm Beach Post says there hasn't been much early voting after all, despite all the hype.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:30 AM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: THE NEW ANTI-WAR PROTESTORS. From Lila Lipscomb to Brooke Campbell, many military relatives have begun taking strong stands against George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. Prospect senior correspondent Joseph Rosenbloom spoke with some of the most active advocates and details their efforts to make their voices heard.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 10:27 AM
THE PROOF IS IN. It looks like the final blow to the official spin on Al Qaqaa will be dealt by KSTP, a local ABC affiliate out of Minneapolis, which via Laura Rozen has the explosives on tape. The station had a crew embedded with the 101st Airborne during their visit to Al Qaqaa:
There were what appeared to be fuses for bombs. They also found bags of material men from the 101st couldn't identify, but box after box was clearly marked "explosive."

In one bunker, there were boxes marked with the name "Al Qaqaa", the munitions plant where tons of explosives allegedly went missing.

Once the doors to the bunkers were opened, they weren't secured. They were left open when the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS crew and the military went back to their base.

"We weren't quite sure what were looking at, but we saw so much of it and it didn't appear that this was being secured in any way," said photojournalist Joe Caffrey. "It was several miles away from where military people were staying in their tents".

So that's that. And to be clear, the point here is not that the soldiers in the 101st Airborne didn't do their jobs properly -- they didn't know what they were looking at, and didn't have any orders to secure the facility. The higher-ups in the chain of command, on the other hand, new exactly what was in the facility and, had they used some common sense, would have ordered it secured. But they didn't.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:54 AM
THE BIG PICTURE. There's something a bit farcical about the "dispute" the White House and the compliant-as-ever media has managed to gin up about the precise timing of the Al Qaqaa looting. It's been known (though rigorously ignored by the White House, its friends in the conservative media, and the vast majority of the mainstream press) for some time that looting of Iraqi WMD sites was widespread and that negligence on the part of the U.S. government was responsible. In yesterday's Boston Globe, Peter Galbraith, an Iraq War supporter, reminded us of some of the highlights:
I also described [to Paul Wolfowitz] two particularly disturbing incidents -- one I had witnessed and the other I had heard about. On April 16, 2003, a mob attacked and looted the Iraqi equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control, taking live HIV and black fever virus among other potentially lethal materials. US troops were stationed across the street but did not intervene because they didn't know the building was important.

When he found out, the young American lieutenant was devastated. He shook his head and said, "I hope I am not responsible for Armageddon." About the same time, looters entered the warehouses at Iraq's sprawling nuclear facilities at Tuwaitha on Baghdad's outskirts. They took barrels of yellowcake (raw uranium), apparently dumping the uranium and using the barrels to hold water. US troops were at Tuwaitha but did not interfere.

There was nothing secret about the Disease Center or the Tuwaitha warehouses. Inspectors had repeatedly visited the center looking for evidence of a biological weapons program. The Tuwaitha warehouses included materials from Iraq's nuclear program, which had been dismantled after the 1991 Gulf War. The United Nations had sealed the materials, and they remained untouched until the US troops arrived.

These are, let us note, the same facilities whose existence The National Review was pointing to yesterday as evidence of the Bush administration's wisdom in launching the invasion when, in fact, the story illustrates the precise reverse. Al Qaqaa is just one more example, and though it's the one that's done the most harm so far (since RDX and HMX can be used in insurgent bombs), down the road the likely smuggling of this other material outside of Iraq is likely to prove to be a far more damaging mistake.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:46 AM
October 27, 2004
SUPPRESSING THE MINORITY VOTE: THE RATIONALE. Via Josh Marshall, this report from GOP pollsters Fabrizio McLaughlin Associates explains why a big minority turnout will be a big problem for President Bush:
[W]hen the data is weighted to reflect minority turnout based on the 2000 exit polls, Sen. Kerry leads by 3.5% and if minority turnout is weighted to census levels Sen. Kerry’s lead expands to 5.2%.
The wording here is a little unclear. But here's what I think it says. If minorities -- defined here as African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans -- turn out at roughly the same rate as non-minorities, Bush and John Kerry are neck and neck. If minorities turnout as well as they did in 2000 (which was pretty well), Kerry wins by 3.5 percent. And if you apply the actual 2000 turnout figures to the expanded minority population that exists today, you get Kerry winning decisively, by more than 5 percent.

(If I've gotten this wrong, I'd appreciate reader guidance at nconfessore-at-gmail.com.)

That's a big deal.

Of course, Republicans have been aware of this trendline for years. You may recall that in the spring 2001, Bush strategists were already sweating their percentage of the minority vote. His pollster, Matthew Dowd, calculated at the time that if minorities and whites, respectively, voted in the same percentages for each party in 2004 as they did in 2000, the Democrats would win by 3 million votes. Minority turnout was down in 2002, but the GOP didn't increase it's share among those groups. The president has since failed to do any better. (In part because his party's nativist wing has precluded any real outreach on amnesty issues, while the GOP's Cuban hardliner wing has so distorted the administration's policy towards that country that less-hardline Cubans are ditching the GOP.)

The solution? Shut down the swing-state minority vote as best you can, while pandering hard to white evangelicals.

UPDATE: Okay, Dwight Meredith of the invaluable Wampum blog has straightened me out on the numbers. They still prove basically the same point:

The sample that he actually drew from the battleground states was 89.5% white, 4.3% black, 1.9% Hispanic etc.

That sample had a 47%-47% tie.

Exit polling from 2000 showed that turnout in those states was actually 85.3% white, 7.5% black, 5.7% Hispanic etc.

When Fabrizio conformed his sample to those ratios (by using cross tabs), Kerry had a lead of 49.2% to 45.7%.

Since 2000, minority population has grown in the battleground states. To account for that change, Fabrizio combined the turnout ratios of 2000 with the current populaton mix as shown by the census figures, and with the cross tabs of his sample. Under those assumptions, Kerry leads 49.9% to 44.7%.

The bottom line is that if minority turnout comprises the same or a greater portion of the electorate this year as compared with 2000, Kerry is in good shape.

I should have noted in my original post that the pollsters were limiting themselves to battleground states. But I think Dwight's got the interpretation right. In any case: Even reasonably high minority turnout = really bad for the president.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 05:54 PM
TORA BORA VERSUS IRAQ, THE CALENDAR The folks over at BOPNews.com have put together a great visual representation of the overlapping chronology of the assault on Tora Bora and the start of planning for the Iraq War. We didn't just let Osama bin Laden get away and then move into Iraq; the planning for the Iraq intervention was ongoing at exactly the same time bin Laden was slipping through America's fingers.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 05:04 PM
GETTING OUR STORIES STRAIGHT. It's hard to know if this James Robbins column for NRO is motivated by malice or ignorance, but he's way off-base:
The opposition really needs to get its story straight. The president cannot be taken to task for inventing the Iraqi WMD threat, and simultaneously disparaged for not securing Saddam's dangerous WMD-related materials.

The cache at al Qaqaa was not the only WMD-related material in the news recently. Another IAEA report came out two weeks ago that did not get as much play. According to this account, dual-use equipment that could be used to make nuclear weapons was taken from various locations inside Iraq. The Duelfer Report speculated this equipment could have been taken during the chaos of the invasion. The equipment was "professionally looted" by another account, and may have gone to Iran or Syria. Isn't it significant that equipment that could be used to make nuclear weapons was there in the first place? Don't these constitute components of a WMD program?

As well, if CBS wants to recycle old news in an attempt to influence the election, how about this story: 1.77 metric tons of low-enriched uranium and other nuclear material at the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center (Saddam's main nuclear research and development center) was secured by the United States and flown out of the country last July. According to the Energy Department this material could have been used to make a radiological dispersion device (a.k.a. a dirty bomb) or "diverted to support a nuclear weapons program." The only thing we found in Iraq that was more hazardous than this haul was Saddam Hussein. The United States was able successfully to deny this dangerous material to terrorists, rogue states or anyone else. This good news story dropped like a stone when it came out. And unlike most of the hype of the last few days, this story has the benefit of being true.

Here's the thing -- all this stuff was under seal by the IAEA before the war. They were remnants of Iraq's pre-1991 WMD programs that had been seized by inspectors years ago. None of that stuff is relevant in any way to the administration's pre-war assertions about Iraqi WMD activities. More to the point, this is a proliferation threat that the war created rather than forestalled. The reason the IAEA lost control of these facilities is that the United States invaded. The reason the IAEA's loss of control became problematic is that the United States didn't act swiftly to destroy them. That's the reality-based community's story and it's perfectly straight. Unfortunately, NRO's readers will walk off today, as they so often do, with their heads full of misinformation.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 04:48 PM
STALEMATE. Looks like the Senate conferees have been holding their own against House hard-liners, meaning that an intelligence reform bill won't be ready for a full vote in Congress before the election. From Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer's office:
"Just days before millions of Americans go to the polls on Election Day, House Republicans are providing voters with a perfect example of why their leadership has failed the American people and why they should be replaced by a Democratic House Majority that is willing and capable of achieving consensus and responding to our nation's most-pressing needs.

"House Republican leaders are continuing to hold up major intelligence reform that is supported by all 10 members of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan Senate and the families of 9/11 victims. President Bush has even called Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and urged them to resolve the remaining differences.

"But still, House Republicans cling to the notion that they alone know best. They are fighting to maintain Pentagon budget authority over intelligence-collecting agencies and trying to insert controversial measures on immigration - provisions that are opposed by virtually every other major player in this debate. And in so doing, they are threatening to undermine the momentum for intelligence reform in this Congress.

"The truth is, this House Republican leadership seems constitutionally incapable of putting aside partisanship and at least trying to reach consensus on key issues. They have repeatedly tried to silence anyone who opposes them; that have held votes open until they achieve the desired result; and they have even locked Democrats out of meetings.

"Partisanship - first and always - is the exclusive tactic of House Republicans. And it explains why this 108th Congress has been an abject failure, and why America needs a House Democratic Majority. ...

Stalemate for now is, alas, a better alternative to whatever would come out of a rushed conference if the House Republicans got their way.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 04:13 PM
CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATES, TERRORISTS, WHATEVER. Tom Delay seems to be getting his intelligence on the Iraqi insurgency from a pretty unreliable source (Doug Feith?):
The Democrats are using the courts and the legal system to criminalize politics, for their political gain and character assassination," said DeLay via telephone.

DeLay supporters have pointed to a calendar listing on the Morrison Web site as a smoking gun linking Morrison to the LaRouchians. "LaRouche is a con felon and all I can tell you is that Mr. Morrison has supported and campaigned with LaRouche followers and Mr. Morrison also has taken money and is working with the Daily Kos, which is an organization that raises money for fighters against the U.S. in Iraq," said DeLay.

LaRouche certainly is a con man and a felon, but Daily Kos most certainly does not raise money for "fighters against the U.S. in Iraq" unless Delay means something more like "Democratic House candidates." This comes hot on the heels of Dennis Hastert's totally unsubstantiated charge that George Soros is funded by drug cartels. On one level, this kind of thing is funny, but Hastert and Delay are among the very highest officials of the United States government and for them to be trying to intimidate their critics with unsubstantiated criminal allegations is completely unacceptable.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:25 PM
TWO CHEERS FOR THE L.A. TIMES. They get two cheers for being what I think is the first major daily to front an in-depth story about Sproul & Associates's shenanigans across the country. The headline is "Signs of Voter Fraud Appear: Registrations that are faked or tossed out have emerged in key states struggling to comply with ballot reform and a flood of new signups." You can guess from the headline why they only get two cheers: The Times completely punts on its own evidence, which suggests that the preponderance of the fraud is on the GOP side. Instead, they go with the "interesting-but-neutral" storyline of, gee, all these outside groups on both sides are funding big voter-registration drives, and it's overwhelming the system, and some people say not everything is kosher. The sole concrete example presented of fraud on the Democratic side is presented by David Beckwith, an Ohio GOP spokesman, who alleges fraud by "Democratic front groups" without any supporting evidence beyond his own say-so. (As opposed to two Republican former employees of Sproul & Associates providing firsthand evidence of registrations being thrown away, and election officials in several states who have found the allegations credible enough to begin investigating.)

Beckwith may well be telling the truth. But the Times might have mentioned that the same Ohio GOP organization Beckwith works for just took aboard three Republican campaign operatives who have been charged with vote fraud by South Dakota officials for their work in that states. Shouldn't the Times reporters have asked Beckwith what his superiors are doing to keep their own house clean?

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 03:24 PM
DEPARTMENT OF IRONIC QUOTATIONS. Which presidential candidate took to the stump yesterday to explain that "a political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your commander in chief?" George W. Bush! Amusing as that is, the administration's spin on Al Qaqaa continues to aggravate:
Mr. Bush encouraged the idea today that the timing remains very uncertain. Accusing Mr. Kerry of making "wild charges," the president said American-led forces had seized or destroyed more than 400,000 tons of munitions in Iraq. "After repeatedly calling Iraq the 'wrong war' and a 'diversion,' Senator Kerry this week seemed shocked to learn that Iraq was a dangerous place full of dangerous weapons," Mr. Bush said.
I don't know if anyone is stupid enough to buy this, but just to be clear, if the United States were to invade, say, France we would discover that despite its "cheese-eating surrender monkey" reputation it is, in fact, a country filled with dangerous weapons -- high explosives and even nuclear missiles -- and, no doubt, people trying to kill our troops. Nevertheless such an invasion would be a distraction from the war on terrorism and the country does not, right now, pose a threat to the American people. All that notwithstanding, if the president were to embark on such an unwise invasion, it would still be incumbent upon him to do it properly and not just leave tons -- literally -- of dangerous weapons and materiel lying around all over the place.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:03 PM
GARDEN STATE BLUES. Over at The Gadflyer, Bart Acocella offers up the best explanation I've seen for the Democrats' relative weakness in New Jersey compared to the 2000 vote:
But all of this obscures the real reason that New Jersey is close in 2004 – it was always supposed to be. New Jersey, while Democratic-leaning, is not the party’s sixth strongest state, as the 2000 returns would lead you to believe. Gore’s 15.8% margin in 2000 was aberrational, inflated by a crackerjack GOTV operation underwritten by Jon Corzine, who was on the ballot that year. A kind of reverse coattails effect kicked in, with Corzine’s money helping Gore to overperform in the state. As recently as 1992, on the other hand, Clinton carried the state by a mere 2.4%.
I think that's right. New Jersey should probably compared to a state like Virginia that Bush is pretty clearly going to win (unless he experiences some kind of dramatic collapse over the next week) but by a non-enormous margin. If the Republicans wanted to launch a massive Virginia GOTV effort (or the Democrats a massive New Jersey GOTV effort) they could probably generate a blowout, but there's no good reason to do that this year, so it won't happen.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 02:54 PM
SWING PAPERS WATCH: OHIO. It’s Arnold vs. The Boss in the Buckeye State. Four days after the Cleveland Plain Dealer declined the opportunity to endorse either candidate, the Dealer leads with a hard-hitting story that lists the numerous celebrities that are descending upon Ohio in the final days of the campaign. Schwarzenegger will stump for George W. Bush and Springsteen will appear at a rally with John Kerry in Columbus tomorrow and one in Cleveland on Monday. Meanwhile, P. Diddy and his Vote or Die outfit hosted an event at Case-Western Reserve University, while the once-upon-a-time Family Ties parents (Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross) stumped for Kerry elsewhere in the state.

The Columbus Dispatch offers some favorable coverage of Democratic efforts to put an end to the Ohio Republican Party’s shameful efforts to purge newly registered voters from the rolls.

Democrats say the Ohio Republican Party is trying to "discourage and intimidate eligible voters" — many of whom would be expected to vote Democratic — by challenging them without adequate notice in violation of federal laws that dictate how voters can be removed from the voting rolls.

They cite examples such as Lisa Potts of Westerville, who was challenged on the basis she doesn’t live where she is registered. In fact, she is registered from her mother’s address while serving in the U.S. Marines, the lawsuit said.

"The Republican Party is trying to throw tens of thousands of legitimate Ohio voters off the voting rolls," said David Sullivan, Ohio coordinator of Democrats’ voter protection project.

The Democrats have filed a suit with U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott in Cincinnati, a Clinton appointee, and thousands of voters' eligibility depend on her decision.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 02:30 PM
SWING PAPERS WATCH: FLORIDA. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel out of Fort Lauderdale leads with reports that 60,000 Broward County absentee ballots that should have been delivered by mail have gone missing, causing the county Board of Elections' phone system to be overwhelmed by calls to complain. The Jacksonville Times-Union features an egregious look at a proposed ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage. The Miami Herald reports on long lines for early voting throughout South Florida.

The Orlando Sentinel features a he-said, she-said account of Al Qaqaa pegged to Dick Cheney's appearance in nearby Kissimee County. The St. Petersburg Times recounts each campaign's allegations against the other without analysis, and offers favorable coverage of Kerry surrogates stumping in the Tampa Bay area. More absentee ballot problems rear their head in The Palm Beach Post, while Kimberly Hefling's account of the Al Qaqaa dispute and the AP's generic campaign writeup both are featured in several papers.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:48 PM
SWING PAPERS WATCH: NEW MEXICO. Both of Albuquerque’s dailies lead today with big stories on John Kerry’s rally in the city’s Civic Plaza last night. The tone is generally positive, with lots of ink devoted to the inclusion onstage of the World War II-era Indian code talker who blessed the Red Sox earlier in the year and blessed Kerry last night. The Albuquerque Journal’s piece, mentioning Kerry’s remarks at the rally on the explosives story, gives substantial space to the Bush campaign’s response spin, which cites the (already debunked) Monday NBC report to argue that the explosives were taken prior to the U.S. invasion. (The Santa Fe Free New Mexican contains yesterday’s AP report confirming that the first American military unit to reach Al-Qaqaa after the U.S. invasion did not have orders to search for or secure explosives at the site.) Meanwhile, as its token of balance, the Albuquerque Tribune quotes critical remarks by Senator Pete Domenici prior to the Kerry rally and makes note of Kerry’s “less-than-smooth Spanish” in his speech. The Journal helpfully fronts a companion piece on an odorous sewer blockage near the Convention Center that was temporarily fixed in time for Kerry’s arrival. And it gives a front-page teaser to a page-two story on suspicious voter registration cards in the state, quoting a spokeswoman for Republican Victory 2004 as saying “it's absolute evidence of rampant illegal registration activity."

Meanwhile, the Sun-News, the daily paper of New Mexico’s second largest city, Las Cruces, fronts a brief note on the thousands of early and absentee votes being cast in the city.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 01:09 PM
MORE BALLOTS MISSING. This time it's in New Mexico, where the governor and the secretary of state are both Democrats. The Silver City Sun-News reports:
Several students and faculty at Western New Mexico University who registered earlier this year with a voter registration group were surprised to learn they can’t vote in the Nov. 2 election because their registrations were never filed with the county clerk.

...

[County Clerk Mary Ann] Sedillo said she never received the estimated 475 registrations that the New Voters Project turned over to the Secretary of State’s office. Sedillo said that, to date, she has only seen about 200 voter registrations and was told by the Secretary of State’s office that they never sent out 400.

“I am beside myself about this,” Sedillo said. “I have been trying to get everyone who can vote out to vote, but there is nothing I can do.” Moore said the New Voters Project is sure the registrations were given to the Secretary of State’s office and said he is unhappy to hear that some have disappeared.

Moore said the registrations were not submitted to the Grant County Clerk’s office in September because the office was closed when the volunteers left town and because turning them over to the Secretary of State’s office was supposed to be just as good.

...

[State Election Director Denise] Lamb said some of the registrations may have been lost in the mail, but that is doubtful. She said even registrations accidentally sent to the wrong counties should have been processed and the voter registered in the system. Lamb said this year the department was flooded with voter registrations, more than 160,000 in the past six months. Most election years only 20,000 to 30,000 registration cards go through the Secretary of State’s office, Lamb said, but even with the influx this year, the registrations should not have been lost.

...

“It is very unfortunate when it happens and it makes us sick at heart, but without the forms there is nothing we can do,” Lamb said.

Given that there doesn't seem to be any evidence or motive (so far!) for foul play here, I think this is worth considering as a cautionary tale. Elections and election governance are complicated, antiquated, beset by archaic rules and processes, and in general a model of how government is not supposed to work. A lot of mistakes are going to get made. It's good that the Florida fiasco, and the current close race, are focusing more attention on these kinds of issues that would have been the case before 2000. But the continuing chaos is a reminder of how backward the world's leading democracy is when it comes to running elections.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:40 AM
WON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN. The Orlando Sentinel reports that African Americans in Florida are voting early like the dickens:
Blacks are taking the greatest advantage of early voting in Orange County, according to turnout figures, heading to the polls at a higher clip than whites or Hispanics.

Lingering anger over the flawed 2000 election -- in which predominantly black precincts were overwhelmed with long lines and problems -- is spurring blacks to turn out early, voters and activists said.

More than 5,200, or 6 percent, of the county's black registered voters have cast early ballots, compared with about 5 percent of white voters and about 3 percent of Hispanic voters.

White turnout outpaced black turnout in Orange County by almost 5 percentage points during the 2000 presidential election.

Blacks already have mustered 15 percent of their total 2000 numbers in Orange County. If early voting by blacks continues at this pace through Monday, nearly a third of the 34,897 blacks who voted in the last presidential election will have cast ballots before polls open Tuesday.

"I wanted to make sure I got my vote in and that it counted," said Tara Seay, a 27-year-old nail technician who voted Tuesday evening at the Washington Park Branch Library. "Until now, people didn't understand how serious it was."

Black residents make up 14.7 percent of Orange County's registered voters. But they comprise 19.3 percent of the county's early-voting crowd, according to demographic data that reflect voting through Monday.

This is where President Bush's governing style (partisan and aggressive) and campaign strategy (turn out the hard-core conservative base) begins to provoke a backlash -- essentially, by motivating his opposition to turn out, hard.

Or maybe this is just a bunch of voter fraud. Right, Ed?

You can see why the GOP would be contemplating "blanket challenges" to black voters in Florida.

(It would be nice if, instead of broadly hinting that black people are not "real" voters but merely foot soldiers in a massive Democratic fraud-machine, Republicans could express some pleasure -- just for a second -- at the fact that the most historically disadvantaged and crapped-upon social group in America participates more avidly in our political life than just about anyone else. And the GOP wonders why they can't score a bigger chunk of the black vote.)

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:13 AM
THE RULE OF LAW. Via Laura Rozen two disturbing stories about Bush administration abuses of power relating to America's intelligence agencies. First, The New York Times follows up on earlier reporting by Robert Scheer on the inquiry into September 11 by the CIA Inspector General's office that two successive CIA chiefs have been covering up. Porter Goss has gone so far as to deny requests to release the report coming from the ranking Democrats on both congressional intelligence committees and the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. (Senate Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas is nowhere to be found.) The motivation here is transparently political, a desire not to release relevant information until after the election.

Even worse is this Washington Post account of secret memos written by lawyers in the White House and the Justice Department authorizing the CIA to "disappear" select suspects in a manner reminiscent of the Latin American dictatorships of yesterday. This is, needless to say, not only a moral outrage but plainly illegal to boot, as well. The president and his aides don't have the authority to selectively abrogate laws and treaties that have been duly passed by Congress. The Washington Monthly recently released a new article by Philip Carter that mentions the many, many other ways in which policies deliberately undertaken by this administration led straight to Abu Ghraib and other horrors. This is no way to spread freedom anywhere.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:18 AM
LIFE OR DEATH. Last June Ralph Nader held a heated exchange with members of the Congressional Black Caucus who had urged him to step out of the race. According to some news accounts, shouting voices could be heard from the hallway and a visibly shaken Nader tried to play down the rift in the meeting by saying: "We agree on the issues ... but we have differing strategies to defeat George W. Bush."

Apparently Nader's strategy now involves trying to shore up his share of the black vote amidst recent polls that indicate John Kerry's share of that vote may be smaller than most observers had predicted two months ago.

In a rally in Harlem today, Nader picked up the endorsement of New York's Independence Party, which is described on its Web site as "New York's third largest political party with over 250,000 members." Introducing him at the rally was one Lenora Fulani, chair of something called the People's Coalition of Nonpartisan Elections:

"Having compromised on fundamental issues of health care, of poverty, of the war in Iraq, of social justice and democracy itself, having compromised the things that black America needs most desperately - the Democratic Party comes to us with the message that we must vote for them because we have no other choice. This is the trap, this is the box that black people are locked in. This is the box from which we must escape, if we are to have political power."
It's perfectly valuable to be raising these issues (indeed, John Kerry probably should have better articulated his own urban agenda) but the facts speak for themselves: Nader's constituency is pathetically white. According to the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), in 2000, early predictions that Nader would capture a significant segment of the Black vote turned out not to be true; Nader captured only 1 percent of the Black vote nationally.

Ron Walters, a government professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, and frequent commentator on African American voting patterns, explains on the NCBCP Web site: "Generally we can say the Black voters did not turn out and vote for Ralph Nader, they were far more pragmatic than that - 99 percent of the Black vote went to the two major candidates."

To underscore Walters' assessment, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee chimed in after Nader's ruckus with the CBC:

"This is the most historic election of our lifetime, and it is a life or death matter for the vulnerable people we represent. For that reason, we can't sacrifice their vulnerability for the efforts being made by Mr. Nader."
I'd say that's about right. Four more years of uncompromising hostility toward the progressive urban agenda espoused by leaders in the CBC is too sad to fathom. Sure, Kerry has had trouble articulating an urban agenda, and it has often taken a back seat to national-security issues this campaign, but at least he has one.

Unlike Bush, if Kerry wins next week, it will be thanks to a large black turnout in places like Miami-Dade, Philadelphia, and Cleveland. He, unlike George Bush, or Ralph Nader for his part, will owe the African American community big-time. He knows this. Come January, Kerry will be ready to deliver.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 10:10 AM
October 26, 2004
DIRTY TRICKS WATCH: BROWARD COUNTY EDITION. A Miami-area television station reports that 58,000 absentee ballots that were supposed to be mailed out on October 7 and 8 have not yet arrived and could be missing. The details:
Local 10 has received many phone calls from viewers in Broward County who say they have not received the absentee ballots –- and the news from the elections office doesn't sound good.

Local 10 has learned that many as many as 58,000 ballots that were supposed to mailed out on Oct. 7 and 8 could be missing.

The Broward County Supervisor of Elections office is saying only that the situation is "unusual," and they are looking into it.

Gisela Salas, Broward Deputy Elections Supervisor, said, "I hate to say 'missing' at this time because that has not yet be substantiated. Some ballots are starting to arrive. But there is an extraordinary delay."

An elections office representative told Local 10 that the office has investigated with the U.S. Post Office what might have happened to the ballots, but so far, no one has been able to figure it out.

"It is unusual. It's a puzzle on the part of our office and the postal service," Salas said. "Our office did make the delivery and the post office assures us they were processed. What happened is in question."

The postal service told Local 10 late Tuesday that they don't have 58,000 ballots floating around. They did say that they have several employees assigned to deal only with ballots and they are being delivered in one to two days -- once they get them.

Since I've been complaining all day that the GOP are crying "voter fraud" when the term isn't deserved, I'm not going assume anything yet. (Hey, this post is called "Dirty Tricks Watch" for a reason!) This might well be a simple bureaucratic screwup. But a delay of two weeks does seem a little strange. Stay tuned.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 08:18 PM
LONG LINES SINK ELECTIONS. Just to add to Nick's post below, it's worth noting that the efficacy of issuing blanket challenges to the credentials of voters in predominantly African-American precincts isn't necessarily contingent on the challenger actually getting many voters disqualified. If you challenge enough people, you slow the voting process down, generating long lines at the polling places, which may dissuade people with a limited amount of time on their hands from sticking around and actually casting their ballots. That's closer to gamesmanship than cheating, but unless the Democrats are prepared to cope with it, it could prove very costly.

UPDATE: Ed Kilgore wonders whether the Young Republicans really want to spend all day pissing-off inner-city Cleveland as well as offering some substantive commentary on the issue.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 04:47 PM
SWING PAPERS WATCH: PENNSYLVANIA. The coverage of yesterday's double bill of Bill Clinton and John Kerry was almost universally positive, with the Philadelphia Daily News laying on the most effusive praise: "[I]f Bill Clinton was good at energizing the thousands of troops at the rally, John Kerry was -- incredibly -- better." (Then again, the Daily News was the first paper to endorse Kerry, over four months ago, so their enthusiasm is no surprise.) The Philadelphia Inquirer was similarly complimentary, putting together a multi-story package featuring Kerry's criticism of George W. Bush over the explosives story and even the conversion of an undecided voter. Across the state in Pittsburgh, the Post-Gazette combined the two stories into one front-page article, while also providing a little pre-mortem analysis suggesting that the suburbs of Philly, "once the GOP's surest stronghold," may have migrated Democratic for good.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 04:23 PM
UNSTABLE MUCH? Justin Logan excerpts an interesting article by former CIA official Philip Giraldi in the print edition of The American Conservative:
The undeclared warfare between the CIA and the Bush administration has continued despite the arrival of Porter goss as Director of Central Intelligence. On Sept. 28, at the Vice President's request, the Agency provided a special briefing on the subject of Jordanian terrorist Mu'sab al-Zarqawi. The CIA's Counter Terrorism Center (CTC) reviewed all of the available intelligence on the subject and based its briefing on a just completed comprehensive intelligence analysis. The CTC concluded that Saddam Hussein had not materially supported Zarqawi before the U.S.-led invasion and that Zarqawi's infrastructure in Iraw before the war was confined to the northern no-fly zones of Kurdistan, beyond Baghdad's reach. Cheney reacted with fury, screaming at the briefer that CIA was trying to get John Kerry elected by contradicting the president's stance that Saddam had supported terrorism and therefore needed to be overthrown. The hapless briefer was shaken by the vice president's outburst, and the incident was reported back to Goss, who indicated that he was reluctant to confront the vice president's staff regarding it. Goss was sent to CIA by the president with instructions to get the place under control and stop the leaking. The White House had earlier been upset by the leak of the most recent National Intelligence Estimate stating that things were not going well in Iraq. The choice of Goss as director was opposed by some of CIA's management, who claimed he was too political. As a result of the sniping, Goss will have to navigate carefully between protecting the integrity of the intelligence process and serving his boss, the president. Reform of the Agency, once seen as a hot-button issue, though only embraced tepidly by Goss, will be seen as a secondary consideration.
Knight-Ridder has already reported on Goss's plan for a "post-election purge" of the CIA and this is what he has in mind -- not efforts aimed at achieving some much-needed reform, but efforts aimed at eliminating independent voices inside the intelligence community and intimidating remaining officers into toeing the line. Spencer Ackerman and Frank Foer have described similar behavior from the Vice President before the Iraq War as playing a major role in the so-called "intelligence failures" that marked the pre-war debate, though it sounds like Cheney's grown more ill-tempered over time.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 04:21 PM
DENY AND DISCREDIT. You don't exactly have to squint to see the broader Republican rhetorical/political strategy for the states that get close in next week's election. By the Republican account, the multi-million-dollar voter registration campaigns run by Democratic-leaning 527s and liberal nonpartisan groups are nothing more than massive voter-fraud campaigns aimed at registering children and dead people. Check out this Reuters story:
Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie charged on Sunday that Democratic-backed groups had registered thousands of fraudulent voters.

In Ohio, he said there were "people with fictitious characters being registered to vote, Dick Tracy and Mary Poppins. In New Mexico, we've seen 13- and 15-year-olds get registration cards in the mail they didn't even ask for. In Nevada, we've had illegal immigrants being registered."

The Republicans have mobilized thousands of volunteers to challenge suspicious voters. But each Republican is likely to be matched by a Democratic volunteer holding a tape recorder.

The Republican Party of Ohio issued a statement on Sunday charging that the state had been a target of systematic and widespread voter registration fraud. "If any effort is made to vote illegally, it will be challenged at the voting location," it said.

Lichtman said Republicans had to be careful. They did not want news stories running through Election Day about attempts to intimidate voters that could persuade even more Democrats to turn out.

In several battleground states across the country, a consulting firm funded by the Republican National Committee has been accused of deceiving would-be voters and destroying Democratic voter registration cards.

If Reuters were an opinion magazine, here's how they'd spell out the strategy. First, the GOP, using what appear to qualify as illegal methods, has attempted to mislead thousands of Democratic-leaning voters in Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, into thinking they'd be registered but are not. (And Ed Gillespie, whose own outfit is funding these efforts via Sproul & Associates and God knows what other firms and consultants, is alleging Democratic fraud in precisely those states! Black is white. Up is down.) Consequently, those thousands of people are going to show up at polls and probably run into a lot of confusion and paperwork and problems. At the same time, Republican secretaries of state and election officials in Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere are pushing interpretations of election statutes that further muddy the waters for those who do get to vote.

Having done as much as possible to create the conditions for a confusing election, the GOP is getting ready to cast the inevitable results of that confusion -- people turning up in the wrong precincts, people who've moved from the neighborhood they originally registered and are trying to vote wherever they live now, and so forth -- as symptoms of outright election fraud. On Election Day, the GOP will challenge as many votes as they can at the polls, on whatever pretext is handy. They've already said they will. And then, if they're behind at the end of the day, GOP officials will start alleging massive voter fraud in Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere, whatever the facts on the ground are. That will give them a rhetorical advantage in the short-term -- if, say, John Kerry is far enough ahead that he declares victory, but there are still some votes to be counted or re-counted. And it's important for the long-term, too. If Kerry does win, but only narrowly, the GOP will allege that the Democrats stole the election, which will set the stage for later Republican efforts to shut down Kerry's ability to govern and deny him legitimacy.

Look, I don't want any illegitimate ballots counted. Elections should be free and fair; I'm glad we have rules and those rules should be followed. But it's worth noting that, at this point in our political history, one party has an institutional interest in keeping as many Americans as possible from voting. And that is an interest they appear determined to pursue by whatever methods they can get away with.

UPDATE: Don't forget media bias! James Wolcott notes another pre-spin, courtesy of Fox -- liberal media bias could swing the election against Bush by as much as five points. Five points!

I have a feeling there is almost no permutation of a close Kerry victory the GOP will be willing to accept as legitimate.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 03:27 PM
THEN AND NOW. "Powell Urges Attention To The Good News In Iraq, As Well As The Bad", an op-ed for Knight-Ridder newspapers that ran on October 31, 2003:
Newspaper headlines have borne much bad and frightening news lately: car bombs in Baghdad, missile fusillades launched at hotels, deadly attacks on U.S. soldiers, Iraqi police and governmental officials, and representatives of the international community. But there is plenty of good news, too, even though it doesn't as often make the papers. And that good news stems from a single irreversible and critical truth: the Iraqi people are free. . . . Real progress is being made on the ground that gives Iraqis hope that life will get steadily better. . . . We have renovated more than 1,500 schools.
Just about one year later, The Los Angeles Times brings us "Baghdad Schoolyard No Haven From Fear":
"After they leave here, they go straight home to their houses and stay there until school tomorrow," Mohammed said. "It's like they're in jail."

For the estimated 4.5 million Iraqi schoolchildren, the world outside their classrooms and homes has all but disappeared. A landscape littered with threats both targeted and general has left parents struggling to shelter their own — with some wondering if an education is worth the risk.

Meanwhile, Spencer Ackerman reports on America's support for plans to turn the January elections into a sham by having all the parties run on a consolidated list. The idea, apparently, is to forestall Iranian influence in Iraq by bringing Iranian spy Ahmed Chalabi back into government and build legitimacy for the political process among Sunni Arabs by excluding their leaders from the new regime. Somehow, I doubt it's going to work.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:21 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: LOVE PARK LOVE-IN. If you've read a single thing Adam Nagourney or Howard Fineman has written in the last year, you "know" that Kerry voters don't really care for John Kerry. Kerry's the boring, electable candidate, who doesn't get anybody's juices flowing, right? Wrong, says Garance Franke-Ruta, who spent yesterday with Kerry supporters at the Philadelphia rally. Among actual voters -- the people who don't get paid to maintain a dismissive cynicism -- Kerry is much more than "just another candidate."

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 02:57 PM
THE SPIN WARS: AL QAQAA EDITION. You have to love the brazenness of this bit of flim-flammery, courtesy of Karl Rove, in today's New York Times:
Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, also contended that The Times had chosen to run the article at the end of the campaign, though he argued that the explosives probably disappeared about 18 months ago. The Times article said it was based on a letter reporting the missing explosives dated two weeks ago, on Oct. 10, sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency by the Iraqi interim government. The Times and CBS confirmed the facts in the letter in an interview with the Iraqi minister of science and technology, Rashad M. Omar.
We already know from Chris Nelson's reporting that it was the Bush administration -- via the Pentagon and other elements in the administration helping with the Iraq occupation -- that was pressuring the Iraqis not to report the missing explosives to the International Atomic Energy Agency in the first place, as they normally would have done long ago, perhaps when the theft was first discovered. Eventually, after the transition to nominal self-rule was completed, the Iraqis finally decided to get in touch with the IAEA. From there, it was only a matter of time before the IAEA put out an official report on the theft, or before the information leaked out to the media.

To put it simply: The Bush administration was trying desparately to keep this cat in the bag through the election. And they almost succeeded. Now they're whining that the Times is out to get them by publishing a story on their own covered-up blunder. It goes without saying that if the Bush administration hadn't tried to keep this one under wraps, it would have come out months and months ago.

The rest of the Times article nicely illustrates -- without comment -- the changing spin that emerged over the course of yesterday. Pretty funny stuff, actually.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 02:34 PM
SWING PAPERS WATCH: FLORIDA. What are people reading today in the Sunshine State? The St. Petersburg Times leads with a story about a 3-year-old plane crash and offers favorable coverage of Bill Clinton's trip to Miami on behalf of John Kerry. The Miami Herald leads with the tale of a missing boy in Fort Lauterdale, but also waxes enthusiastic about Clinton's appearance while suggesting near the end that Floridians are suffering from campaign fatigue.

Other papers are relying on the wires for their campaign-relevant coverage, with Peter Yost's story about Dick Cheney and Ed Koch teaming up in West Palm Beach and a generic he-said, she-said account of Bush and Kerry by Mary Dalrymple and Calvin Woodward getting play in many local news outlets.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 02:33 PM
CHOOSING GAYS OVER GOD? You may have heard that over the weekend, George W. Bush told ABC's Charles Gibson that while he supports a constitutional marriage amendment he didn't agree with the Republican Party platform regarding civil unions, as the New York Times reports today. "I don't think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement," he said, "if that's what a state chooses to do so." For the record, the Republican Party platform reads:
...we believe that neither federal nor state judges nor bureaucrats should force states to recognize other living arrangements as equivalent to marriage. We believe, and the social science confirms, that the well-being of children is best accomplished in the environment of the home, nurtured by their mother and father anchored by the bonds of marriage. We further believe that legal recognition and the accompanying benefits afforded couples should be preserved for that unique and special union of one man and one woman which has historically been called marriage.
It made me wonder what his big supporters like Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council would have to say about that. On CWA's Web site today there is an article proving that Philadelphia, as a city, has chosen "gays over God." You can check their handy list also see if your state is one where "defending marriage" is on the ballot. But nothing on Bush's Good Morning America interview. On a conference call this morning, spokespeople for the Human Rights Campaign called the comment a last ditch flip-flop to pick up undecided voters. Bush's seeming switch may make him look a little softer, but it comes too late to impede the state-wide anti-gay marriage initiatives, many of which have included clauses banning civil unions. In Ohio, for example, a state that would ban both, an ABC news poll mid-month showed the ballot initiative polling at 48 percent for, 45 percent against.

--Sarah Wildman

Posted at 02:31 PM
OUR FRIEND GENEVA. As Yglesias explains below, when considering the merits and applicability of international humanitarian law, there are absolute moral standards to which the United States ought to abide. He further points out that there are other good reasons to adhere to international legal standards like the Geneva Conventions -- not least of which is using them as a way to protect America’s image abroad.

To this I would add that applying the Geneva Convention protocols to prisoners in the war on terror also makes for more effective prisoner interrogations and detainee policy.

The Bush administration’s ad hoc approach to the Geneva Conventions not only resulted in a detainee policy marred by shoddy intelligence gathering, but we also attracted significant pressure from our allies seeking to repatriate their countrymen holed up in Guantanamo. In Britain, for exmaple, the Bush administration's repeated claims that Gitmo detainees needn't be afforded POW status only fueled domestic outrage over the conditions at Guantanamo.

According to this New York Times piece, the pressure became so intense that Donald Rumsfeld even quipped, “I don’t want to be seen as the world’s jailer.” Sometime in October 2002, the Pentagon then began to repatriate detainees. However, as the Washington Post reported on Friday, some former Gitmo detainees rejoined their brethren on the battlefields of Chechnya and Afghanistan.

Over at Slate, Phillip Carter presents the definitive case that applying Geneva protections to prisoners in the GWOT is not only the legally appropriate thing to do, but makes for more sensible detainee policy:

The administration chose in January 2002 to shred the Geneva Conventions because it thought those old rules would constrain it in this new kind of war. But as Marine Lt. Col. William Lietzau, who worked on detainee issues in the Defense Department's office of general counsel, told the New York Times: "There were very good reasons not to designate the detainees as prisoners of war, but the claim that they couldn't be interrogated was not one of them." Geneva does put some constraints on the handling and adjudication of detainees, but they were meaningless restraints. The most important task—interrogation—could be accomplished equally well with Geneva in place as without it.
Yesterday, Lt. Col. William Lietzau elaborated on this point for me:
POWs are only "required" to give name rank and serial number. Terrorists, in fact, aren't under a treaty obligation to give anything. So from the outset, you have a reasonable expectation to get more information from a POW--at least three things. The name, rank, serial number requirement, however, by no means precludes other questions/interrogations; in fact, later in the same article (17) it talks about the "questioning of POWs." There are humanitarian restrictions on torture and coercion, but, despite some pre-abu Ghraib legal opinions to the contrary, which have been largely discredited, one could argue that such restrictions are largely redundant with humanitarian norms that would apply to terrorists as well.
So what about repatriating detainees? Carter explains:
The Geneva Conventions already contained the solution to the paroled detainee problem: Part IV of the convention spells out the exact rules for repatriating sick and infirm prisoners; Art. 118 of the treaty establishes the rule for repatriation at the end of hostilities. Had the administration followed Geneva all along, it could have simply invoked the provisions of this time-honored treaty to support its policy of holding the Gitmo detainees indefinitely, or at least until the insurgency abated in Afghanistan, from where the majority of the Gitmo detainees came. Had the administration done that, it would now be on solid legal and political ground, and U.S. soldiers would likely not be facing Mehsud on the Afghan battlefield.
Thankfully, last week John Kerry distinguished himself from President Bush by offering a clear and definitive statement indicating that his administration would apply the Geneva conventions to all battlefield combatants captured in the war on terror. To do so would be crucial to fighting a more effective war on terror.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 02:13 PM
DENVER RESPONDS. Reader A.S. alerts me to the incredible letters section in today's Denver Post, entirely dedicated to the paper's bizzaro-world endorsement of George W. Bush on Sunday. As the introduction to the section states, the Post received over 700 letters in response to the endorsement, and every single one was critical. The sampling of letters published is really worth reading in its entirety, but here's a sampling of the sampling to give you a sense of the general thrust of the criticism:
The Post's endorsement of George W. Bush is one of the best condemnations of his administration that I've seen. It's a grand litany of failures, all of which you acknowledge. Re- reading the article carefully, I found one positive word about Bush: "decisiveness."

Decisiveness? This man decided to invade Iraq, cut taxes, loosen environmental laws, suppress stem-cell research, etc., long before he became president, and never changed his mind nor admitted any mistake in face of manifest evidence, and never will. And in face of this stubbornness, you offer suggestions that he should do all things differently in his second term, expecting, I suppose, that he will, and therefore you endorse him.

Incomprehensible.

...

The Post's "endorsement" of President Bush is, on its face, self-contradictory. The editorial board lists the failures by Bush, domestically and internationally, the wrongness of his choices, the harm he has caused, enumerates necessary policy changes - but nonetheless endorses Bush because of his "dogged resolution" in pursuing those bad policies. Indeed, that's about the only thing The Post sees to admire about Bush. In other words, to The Post, it matters not that Bush chose the wrong route, but that he persists in driving over the cliff. The very reason The Post gives for endorsing Bush - that he is "dogged" - is the the reason Bush would never consider making any of the policy changes The Post deems necessary for him to make. That's some catch, that Catch-22.

...

To say I am disappointed in The Denver Post's endorsement of George W. Bush for president is an understatement. I am, in fact, flabbergasted at The Post's attempts to rationalize the president's record in reaching its conclusion. The Post repudiates his policies even while it endorses him for a second term.

The most revealing sentence in the endorsement is, "So the president has our endorsement for a second term, even as we call on him to steer a more moderate course that is in keeping with his campaign appearances, but not his first-term performance." In other words, since there is a large discrepancy between the president's election-year words and almost four years' worth of deeds, The Post chooses to put its faith in the words rather than in the deeds.

...

The Post's endorsement for president was entirely on the mark, except for one glaring error: the headline writer mistakenly wrote "George W. Bush" when the endorsement was obviously intended for John Kerry. Are the editors familiar with the phrase "Damning with faint praise"?

...

Congratulations to The Post for its outstanding spoof, the send-up on newspaper endorsements in Sunday's paper. What a brilliant idea, spending nearly an entire page listing the failures of George W. Bush, building a strong case for denying him a second term, then delivering the hilarious punch line, endorsing him for re-election. In serious and troubling times, such comic relief is a pleasant respite.

The endorsement really did come across as some kind of a prank, or a pomo stunt piece. If not for logic and integrity, I suppose the Post deserves some credit for its literary adventurousness.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 02:03 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: FINISH THE MISSION. Kenneth Baer has hit upon a simple way for George W. Bush to demonstrate his commitment to the forward strategy of freedom, even if he loses next week: become the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq. It's hard work, but, hey, somebody has to make sure freedom stays on the march.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 01:30 PM
TRACKING THE NOTHINGNESS. Just about everyone I know has taken to living and dying on the latest tracking poll results, but a little statistical analysis suggests that they're not actually showing anything. Mark Blumenthal points out that if you average all the tracking results, the aggregate indicators shows no change in the race whatsoever -- George W. Bush has a 48-46 lead, suggesting that John Kerry might win if the incumbent rule still holds or if the Democratic ground game is as good as it's sometimes said to be, and he'll lose otherwise.

Each individual poll moves around, but as Alan Abramowitz has shown the different polls show a negative correlation with each other, suggesting that the differences between the polls on any given day are statistical sampling error, and the day-to-day changes within an individual poll represent regression toward the mean rather than actual changes in public opinion.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:02 PM
AL QAQAA REVISIONISM. Do check out Josh Marshall's two posts debunking the NBC/Pentagon line on the Al Qaqaa story that these explosives were gone before the war, or at least before American troops first got on the scene.

Let me also add, though, that this controversy doesn't actually seem germane to the issue of whether or not the White House screwed up. This is a tactic we've seen before from the Republican PR operation -- when faced with a critical story, try to cast doubt on some, any, aspect of the story and then simply claim vindication. But the precise timing here is irrelevant. Before the war, this stuff was under IAEA seal. After the war -- and as a direct consequence of the war -- it was on the loose, some of it available for the construction of IEDs used against our troops, and some of it potentially in the hands of terrorists or rogue states using it to build an implosion-triggered nuclear bomb.

Al Qaqaa is neither the only arms cache nor the only WMD site that, though unthreatening to the United States before the war, became a threat as a consequence of the war. And all of this was a direct result of the major plank of the Bush national security strategy -- the use of regime change as the main tool of anti-proliferation policy. This only makes sense if wars can be fought on the cheap, and that was the motivation for moving in with a small, fast force rather than methodically securing or destroying locations that could create problems during the postwar period. And that, in turn, only made sense if you assumed -- as Bush did -- that there would be no postwar problems and that it wasn't even worth taking any preparations just in case rosy scenarios failed to materialize. And of course they didn't materialize, and U.S. troops and Iraqi citizens have been paying a steep price ever since for Bush's failure of imagination.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 12:53 PM
BORING WASHINGTON DINNER GUESTS. If David Brooks wrote more columns like this one, what would Maureen Dowd do with herself? Seriously, what we have here is a sophisticated exegesis of the pre-election dinner-party lion, a peculiar Washington breed:
While others quiver with pre-election anxiety, their mood rising and collapsing with the merest flicker of the polls, he alone radiates certainty. He alone can read the internals, cross-tabs and trends, can parse Gallup and Zogby and emerge with clear answers. He alone can captivate a gathering, while men hang eagerly on his words and women undress him with their eyes.
And more. There is, of course, a corollary type: Washington political/media types who, upon journeying out of the Beltway -- perhaps to see friends and family living in a normal part of the country, where they don't play with toggleable election maps and read Polling Report obsessively -- find themselves called upon to interpret and explain the coming election. "So, who's going to win?" you're asked. The trick is to explain as much as you can about undecided voter trends and October surprises before their eyes begin to glaze over.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 12:25 PM
SHAMELESS. We’ve grown accustomed to nasty campaigning, but of all the muck that’s been tossed this campaign season, a mailer sent to residents in Pennyslvania’s Eighth Congressional District by the Republican National Congressional Committee stands out for its shamelessness.

Stuart Rothenberg has called this race one of the country's most competitive, and the RNCC has poured millions into the Eighth CD to protect its embattled candidate, Mike Fitzpatrick, from losing the seat to “Ginny” Schrader, a 60-year-old grandmother and political novice.

The mailer declared her the candidate of "The Hate America crowd" because she criticized George W. Bush at a screening of Fahrenheit 9/11 that she sponsored back in the summer. After questioning her patriotism for, among other things, opposing the war in Iraq and questioning the wisdom of the national missile defense program, the flier somehow linked her opposition to the war in Iraq to the activities of Hezbollah. (And the Hezbollah allusions are particularly amazing given how much of her family is Jewish.)

This is the latest of a series of attacks the Republican leadership has been launching, questioning not just the patriotism but the very loyalty of Democrats who have expressed serious doubts about President Bush's foreign policies.

Ginny’s no pushover though. In an opening statement before a debate yesterday, she called on Fitzpatrick to denounce the mailer. When he refused, she walked out of the debate saying:

"I cannot continue to participate in a debate with an opponent who believes that anyone who does not agree with the policies of the current administration and the Republican leadership in Congress are America haters. By saying I'm the 'Hate America crowd's candidate,' Mr. Fitzpatrick is saying that Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, and the thousands of Pennsylvanians who support me hate America."
One wonders if the authors of the RNCC mailer would even know patriotism if they saw it.

Mark Goldberg

Posted at 12:19 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: CRY WOLF. There's a threat to our democracy that John Kerry doesn't want to talk about. The liberal media would like to sweep the issue under the rug. But the Bush-Cheney campaign has paid good money to show voters the truth: Wolves are coming to eat us. Not convinced? Neither is Matthew Yglesias, who thinks that the Bush camp misunderstands wolves, terrorism, and even Ronald Reagan.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 11:26 AM
GENEVA CONVENTIONS: OBJECTIVELY PRO-TERRORIST? Steve Clemons finds "the Bush administration's obsession with escaping from the norms of the Geneva Conventions" to be "bizarre" and inexplicable, citing Doug Jehl's latest scoop about new administration efforts to classify insurgents as not protected by the treaty. I find it odd myself, but as is so often the case, lurking behind strange behavior seems to be the mind of Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith. Back in 1985 he published an article in The National Interest entitled "Law in the Service of Terror-The Strange Case of the Additional Protocol."

Feith objects to these 1979 additions to the Geneva Conventions "relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts." William Kaminsky summarized Feith's arguments on this score in a blog post from May. Basically, Feith objects to extending prisoner-of-war status to irregular fighters on the grounds that there's a lack of reciprocity in such arrangements. This neglects the fact that, on the one hand, there are some absolute moral standards we might want to consider holding ourselves to, and that there are broader issues of America's image in the world (and in Iraq) at stake in these kinds of disputes. The point, for now, is that these efforts to wriggle out of the Geneva Conventions aren't an eccentric response to conditions in Iraq, they're part of a longstanding neoconservative skepticism about international humanitarian law in general, and the Geneva Conventions in particular.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:04 AM
October 25, 2004
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE... With John Kerry garnering the endorsements of at least 28 papers that went for George W. Bush four years ago, I was curious to read the editorial endorsements of the two -- count ’em, two -- papers that supported Al Gore in 2000 and have now come around to endorsing Bush’s reelection. The York Daily Record’s endorsement is no big shock -- I know nothing about the paper’s editorial board but the Pennsylvania congressional district that encompasses York is a solidly Republican area. The editorial itself is quite inane, and very simple: Terrorism trumps all other considerations this election and we shouldn’t switch horses in midstream (a phrase actually included in the text of the endorsement, alas).

That’s also the general thrust of the far more startling Bush endorsement appearing in yesterday’s Denver Post, but the editorial really has to be read to be believed. I know little about the Post’s recent editorial and ownership history (so I have no comment on the charges that the paper has moved sharply rightward in the last few years), but I’ve long thought of the paper as Denver’s liberal counterpart to the Rocky Mountain News; indeed, the Post has endorsed both Salazar brothers and several other Democrats running for office this year. Thus, the Bush endorsement is quite a surprise. It’s also one of the most confused and unenthusiastic editorials I’ve ever read. Consider a few highlights:

Typically, in the case of an incumbent, our endorsement calculation would begin this way: Are we, as Coloradans, better off today than we were four years ago?

In a word, no. Since 2001, Colorado has lost more jobs than we've gained, and the ones we've gained pay less than the ones we've lost. We pay less in taxes, but our household and medical expenses have skyrocketed. Ninety thousand of us have lost our health coverage. Washington is ringing up record deficits and sticking the next generation with the bill. In Iraq, Colorado-based military units and reserves are deployed in a hostile environment for questionable purpose and uncertain result.

Bush has labored erratically since his 2001 inauguration, and his first-term performance seems to have cheered and angered Coloradans in equal numbers. But decisiveness is a crucial characteristic in the showdown with the nation's elusive enemies. We believe he meets the test, and we aren't sure about John Kerry. So the president has our endorsement for a second term, even as we call on him to steer a more moderate course that is in keeping with his campaign appearances, but not his first-term performance.

It's no secret that we part company with the president over many issues. Two glaring sore spots are his obsession to cut taxes even while piling up record deficits, and his mishandling of all things Iraq. He squandered global good will by taking a "my way or the highway" approach to matters of global warming, international law, Iraq weapons inspections and ultimately the Iraq invasion. He bows to corporate preference in matters of energy and environment, and his education funding levels leave far too many children behind.

Kerry has infused the 2004 campaign with energy and gumption, offering fresh ideas on health care and sensible plans for our tax structure. His are the superior proposals on environmental protection, on stem-cell research and judicial nominations. Sure, we've seen Kerry bend to the political winds over his long career, but we wouldn't mind one bit if more Washington politicians would reconsider their past judgments and ideological certainties. Kerry's growth on the campaign trail gives a glimpse of his potential.

Still, his actions in Congress raise doubts regarding Kerry's ability to safeguard the national security. He has not demonstrated willingness to consider firm military options when American strength is being tested, nor the resolve to see a policy through a rough patch. Even in 1990, when the United States had such broad global support for the effort to oust Iraq from Kuwait, Sen. Kerry voted no. We believe Kerry when he says he would never seek a permission slip from the United Nations to defend America, but his emphasis on putting U.S. policy to a global test grants too much leverage to undependable partners like Russia, France or Germany.

The president sent U.S. forces into Iraq 18 months ago to oust Saddam Hussein, but with no plan to handle any subsequent resistance. Vice President Dick Cheney said Iraqis would greet the invasion force as liberators, quite a miscalculation, and there was no Plan B. Coalition forces have been unable to defend Iraqi oil assets from insurgent sabotage. It's hard to believe the United States could have done a worse job planning for a new Iraq.

Note that the paragraph that (inaccurately) invokes Kerry’s “global test” constitutes virtually the only piece of sustained text in the entire editorial devoted to criticizing Kerry. And this is, I remind you, an endorsement of Bush.

The piece lays out some criteria for a successful second Bush term that read as if the paper’s editorialists have not, in fact, been reading any newspapers at all for the last few years (perhaps in homage to the president!). The recommendations they make for the president include the following:

Our support for Bush is tempered by unease over the poor choices and results of his first term. To succeed in his second-term, Bush must begin by taking responsibility for U.S. failures in Iraq, admit his mistakes and adjust U.S. strategy.

The second key task of the next presidency will be to give up tax breaks for the wealthy and lead Washington back to fiscal responsibility.

In a second term, he should move GOP moderates and deficit hawks into positions of influence.

Does any of this even require comment? In all seriousness, parts of this editorial made me rub my eyes in disbelief and bewilderment. There has to be a story behind this endorsement.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 06:44 PM
HOW MUCH BANG FOR THE BUCK? Most people have probably never heard of RDX, HMX, and PETN, the types of explosives that were looted from al Qaqaa. (Neither did I until I started researching this recently.) Depending on how you ask, these are either the most powerful or among the most powerful conventional explosives that exist. So how much boom do you get for 380 tons of the stuff? My friend and fellow blogger Phillip Carter, a former Army captain, e-mails with an attempt at a back-of-the-envelope calculation, using a "how many Oklahoma City bombings" metric. Here's the result:
OK City = 5,000 pounds/2,300 kg of ammonium-nitrate and nitromethane.

This mix has a TNT equivalent ranging from 3%-10%, i.e. the OK City bomb is the equivalent of 150 - 500 pounds of TNT.

AQQ = 380 tons of RDX, HMX and PETN. RDX and PETN have a TNT equivalent value of 170%. Converted into TNT, the AQQ stockpile equals 646 tons or 1,292,000 pounds of explosives.

Convert this back into my OK City metric, and this means that the lost material at AQQ equals betwen 2,584 - 8613 OK City-size bombs. That's one hell of a lot of material to be on the street -- enough to fuel a car-bomb and IED-based insurgency for years, if not decades.

Chilling thought. Even if the order of magnitude is off by, say, two decimal places.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 05:01 PM
PEOPLE GET READY. This National Review editorial, which all but accuses the Democrats of preparing for systematic voting fraud on election day, gives you a good sense of the rhetorical strategies and tactics the GOP will use should any of John Kerry's margins in key states depend on so-called "provisional ballots." (It's not clear to me, by the way, that under federal law the provisional ballots mandated by the Help America Vote Act are "presumed unlawful unless demonstrated otherwise," as NR asserts. That seems to fly in the face of what I've read about election law, where the presumption is usually in favor of the voter. Any election lawyers out there care to offer an opinion on this? Nconfessore-at-gmail.com.)

Meanwhile, this New York Times piece, already widely discussed, gives you a preview of the GOP's strategy at the polls in Ohio and elsewhere: Presume that newly registered voters are merely "ringers" (in the words of one Republican county chairman) and organize a small army of paid workers to challenge as many votes as possible in Democratic-leaning precincts.

I think New Donkey has it right on the broader Republican attitude towards voting.

UPDATE: I thought I smelled something a little fishy. Two readers, lawyers both, advise me that NR's description of the HAVA law is misleading at best. J.R. writes:

Forgive me if this is the hundredth response you've gotten, but: Section 302(a)(3) of HAVA provides:
"An election official at the polling place shall transmit the [provisional] ballot ... to an appropriate State or local election official for prompt verification..."
Once the ballot gets to the appropriate official, Section 302(a)(4) says:
"If the appropriate State or local election official to whom the ballot or voter information is transmitted under paragraph (3) determines that the individual is eligible under State law to vote, the individual's provisional ballot shall be counted as a vote in that election in accordance with State law."
So the state has an obligation under federal law to collect all provisional ballots and to try to verify them.

Section 303 orders each state to create a unified computerized voter registration list with all registered voters on the list. If for some reason you're registered but you can't vote (e.g. you're a felon) you must be deleted from the list in advance of the election.

So all the state official has to do is look you up on the list. If you're there, your vote counts. If you're not, it doesn't.

In this sense NR is perhaps correct in a narrow sense when it says that "Provisional ballots are presumed unlawful unless demonstrated otherwise." However, the use of the passive voice ("demonstrated") hides the meaning of the law. There is no passive presumption that the ballot is invalid (NOT "unlawful," by the way - we're not talking about determining criminal activity, merely whether the vote will be counted.) To the contrary, the state official has an affirmative obligation to check the list promptly and to make a determination.

What happens if you're not on the list but you should be? The statute does say the state must tell you why your vote didn't count but it doesn't give you recourse. That, apparently, is left to existing state law.

I'll just note with interest that part of the conservative spin here is to spin as "illegal" -- i.e., sordid -- anything that results in a person's vote being deemed uncountable. In the real world, it's good that we have safeguards against votes that for whatever technical reason should not be counted, but one also has to recognize and make allowances for the fact that election rules and regulations are complicated, and some people are going to make honest mistakes.

Reader T.O., who -- full disclosure -- says he'll be volunteering on a DNC election monitoring crew next week, says the NR phrasing isn't even narrowly correct:

To say that provisional ballots are "presumed unlawful unless demonstrated otherwise" is a contemptuous way of describing the law. That's like saying provisional ballots are prima facie unlawful, which is wrong. In fact, election officials are required to inform people of their right to cast a provisional ballot.

Section 302 of the HAVA grants people who think they are registered and eligible to vote a right to cast a provisional ballot when they show up to vote only to find that they are not "on the official list of eligible voters for the polling place or an election official asserts that the individual is not eligible to vote." In that scenario, election officials are required to inform and permit these folks to cast a provisional ballot upon a written affirmation that the individual is in fact registered and eligible. If the information provided checks out, then the "individual's provisional ballot shall be counted as a vote in that election in accordance with State law." Thus, the law studiously presumes nothing about the legality of provisional ballots. Rather, it allows for the possibility that the official voting rolls are incomplete and provides a mechanism for filling in the gaps.

I'll post more interesting replies as I get them. Thanks for writing in, folks.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 03:29 PM
POSTMODERN PUNDITRY. The Bush-Cheney rapid-response operation seems to be misfiring, as CNN reports in re: al Qaqaa that "the Bush campaign accused Kerry of using the IAEA announcement to attack the president." Some accusation. This is nearly as underhanded as Bill Clinton's 1996 plot to use the strengthening economy for political advantage. What, exactly, is the opposition candidate supposed to do if not cite evidence of incumbent screwups as part of his campaign? Perhaps they'd prefer he take a page out of the Bush campaign playbook and just make things up instead of referencing factual accounts.

The National Review's Jim Geraghty does a bit better, making two points. First, he says, lots of other weapons and explosives were destroyed by American occupation forces. Fair enough, but I could point to many, many stockpiles and arms caches besides al Qaqaa that weren't destroyed either, thus providing the insurgency with the weapons to attack our troops. There's just no excuse for not safeguarding the country's largest stock of high explosives. More broadly, this brand of the "hard work" defense just doesn't make sense; invading Iraq was George W. Bush's idea. Lots of people said occupying the country would be an extraordinarily difficult task. That's why many of them thought it would be a good idea to deal with Saddam's WMD programs through methods other than war. Others supported the idea of war, but advocated an extremely large troop deployment so we'd be able to handle the difficult task ahead. Bush chose to ignore both groups of people and head in with a force that was too small to do the job. Thus, the fact that we were spread too thin to handle al Qaqaa isn't a defense of the administration -- it's part of the essence of the critique.

Second, Geraghty says maybe the explosives went missing during the war, not after. Well, maybe. I wasn't there and neither was he. But the time frame in question is rather narrow, since the IAEA was in-country just before the war (remember those alternatives to invasion?) and Iraqi forces collapsed quite quickly. More to the point, none of the experts in the IAEA or the Iraqi government seem to think this is what happened. Paul Bremer isn't trotting out this excuse; he's hiding somewhere refusing to answer questions. It's possible that Klingons showed up and took the whole thing away with their transporter, but the evidence points to postwar looting. This is postmodern punditry -- people sitting in their armchairs trying to devise theoretically possible exculpations in the face of damning evidence and expert testimony.

Besides which, the relevance of the timing isn't totally clear to me. One way or another, the administration knew they were going to be occupying Iraq and knew there were hundreds of tons of high explosives at al Qaqaa. They should have done what they needed to do to prevent the stuff from drifting all over the place. It was an element of the WMD programs (you use the stuff to build implosion-trigger nuclear bombs, among other things) we went into the country to destroy. So we should have destroyed it one way or the other. Either that, or let the IAEA do its work. Instead, some of the material is being used as ammunition in a war against us, and some may be being used in a nuclear program somewhere. There's no excusing that.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:26 PM
NICE TRY. Here's a round of spin the White House floated over CNN today on the Al Qaqaa story:
The senior administration official downplayed the importance of the missing explosives, describing them as dangerous material but "stuff you can buy anywhere." The official added that the administration did not see this necessarily as a "proliferation risk."

"In the grand scheme -- and on a grand scale -- there are hundreds of tons of weapons, munitions, artillery, explosives that are unaccounted for in Iraq," the official said. "And like the Pentagon has said, there is really no way the U.S. military could safeguard all of these weapons depots or find all of these missing materials."

You'll see this "hundreds of tons" -- or even "thousands of tons" -- line going out a lot today; apparently it was part of State's pre-spin even last night. The idea is to blur the outlines of what happened at Al Qaqaa. But I wonder if it'll work. I mean, let's leave aside the patently ridiculous idea that since it was impossible to secure all the weapons depots in Iraq, they can hardly be blamed for not securing one of the country's largest military-industrial complexes, at which it was known beforehand were stored hundreds of tons of WMD-related high explosives. The essence of the spin is that there are all kinds of munitions floating around Iraq. Isn't this kind of a feeble explanation? Doesn't it translate as "Sure, we screwed up Al Qaqaa -- but it's not a big deal, because Al Qaqaa is just part of a much bigger screw up."

Hard to imagine that'll stick.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 02:11 PM
THE MOTHER OF ALL EXPLOSIVE STOCKPILES. Reader A.P. emails in with some information regarding the missing explosives that should be of interest:
The media have done a terrible job of conveying the magnitude of the destructive power that was stolen. When talking about hundreds of tons of something, describing what a pound or two does (blow up a car) is not helpful. It should go something like this:

380 tons of RDX and HMX has the explosive charge of 0.6 kilotons of TNT. That's the equivalent of 65 MOABs, the Mother of all Bombs [formally, that's "Massive Ordinance Air Blast"] that are America's largest non-nuclear warheads.

By my calculations, that's probably a slight underestimate (RDX has 170 percent of TNT's explosive charge), depending on exactly how much material was lost. It's a lot of explosives. In usual fashion, the president shows no inclination to hold anyone accountable for this.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:43 PM
A POST-BUSH GOP. What if George W. Bush loses? That's the question put forward by Elisabeth Bumiller to a number of Republican sources, and she comes back with a fairly interesting and, I think, pretty accurate state of play on this question. It's worth reading this to see how the Republicans themselves are already explaining a possible Bush loss to themselves in ideological terms. Bottom line: In general, the GOP continues to trend in its current direction, perhaps leavened by a dose of skepticism for future military adventures and with a purge of the neocon architects of the Iraq war.

The capsule summary is provided by David Gergen:

"Generally it causes a great soul-searching within the party,'' said David R. Gergen, a professor of public service at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a veteran of the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton White Houses. "I don't think that is going to happen. Conservatives will argue that it's not because of our conservatism that we lost. They'll look for scapegoats on the national security team. They'll say the war was a good idea, it was just poorly executed.''

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would be blamed, Mr. Gergen said, although a victory on Nov. 2 would just as quickly make him a hero. "It's one of those things that you're only a bum if you lose,'' Mr. Gergen said. "Rather than blaming the ideas, they'll blame the people."

People, not ideas -- that's key. Bumiller seems to think that even Bush himself will be spared a retrospective Dukakification, although I think there's still a chance of that; many Republicans are tired of pretending the president is Winston Churchill reborn, and if anything an honest accounting of Bush's personal flaws as a leader would only further allow the GOP to get itself off the hook for a November loss.

As Tapped readers can imagine, I take a different view of the Republican Party's problems than the Republican Party itself does, which is that the problem is conservative ideas -- or, more broadly, the worldview to which conservatives have adapted themselves, in which ideology and dogma trump empiricism and practical results. Ron Suskind illustrated it nicely recently in his already justly famous New York Times article about Bush's faith-based presidency, in which an anonymous Bush official disdains people who reside within "the reality-based community." I think Suskind fails to show that Bush's problems with reality and evidence are connected to his religious faith; by all accounts it is a problem that conservative intellectuals and policymakers share quite widely. Another good explanation of the issue came with this article by Josh Marshall, which describes the Bush administration as "post-modern." Josh wrote:

poll after poll suggest that Bush's policy agenda is not particularly popular. What the public wants is its problems solved: terrorists thwarted, jobs created, prescription drugs made affordable, the environment protected. Almost all of Bush's deceptions have been deployed when he has tried to pass off his preexisting agenda items as solutions to particular problems with which, for the most part, they have no real connection. That's when the unverifiable assertion comes in handy. Many of the administration's policy arguments have amounted to predictions--tax cuts will promote job growth, Saddam is close to having nukes, Iraq can be occupied with a minimum of U.S. manpower--that most experts believed to be wrong, but which couldn't be definitely disproven until events played out in the future. In the midst of getting those policies passed, the administration's main obstacle has been the experts themselves--the economists who didn't trust the budget projections, the generals who didn't buy the troop estimates, intelligence analysts who questioned the existence of an active nuclear weapons program in Iraq. That has created a strong incentive to delegitimize the experts--a task that comes particularly easy to the revisionists who drive Bush administration policy. They tend to see experts as guardians of the status quo, who seek to block any and all change, no matter how necessary, and whose views are influenced and corrupted by the agendas and mindsets of their agencies. Like orthodox Marxists who pick apart mainstream economics and anthropology as the creations of 'bourgeois ideology' or Frenchified academic post-modernists who 'deconstruct' knowledge in a similar fashion, revisionist ideologues seek to expose "the facts" as nothing more than the spin of experts blinded by their own unacknowledged biases. The Bush administration's betes noir aren't patriarchy, racism, and homophobia, but establishmentarianism, big-government liberalism, and what they see as pervasive foreign policy namby-pambyism. For them, ignoring the experts and their 'facts' is not only necessary to advance their agenda, but a virtuous effort in the service of a higher cause.
To fiscal policy and Iraq, you can add a whole litany of self-delusions on any number of policies. Abstinence education works better than comprehensive sex ed. Global warming is a myth propagated by screechy environmentalists. Government health care is more expensive and less efficient than health care delivered by lumbering, bureaucratic semi-private-sector firms. No deregulation is ever a bad idea. And so forth.

Conservativism was always a movement of ideas, some of them right, some of them wrong. But Republicans have continued to stick with the wrong ones even as those ideas have failed, and they'll go to almost any length to avoid confronting the consequences of that wrongness. Like the Democratic Party of an earlier age, today's GOP has a set of policy means burned into its collective brain. They're insulated by power and by an overweening sense of their own righteousness -- much like the Democrats were until well after Ronald Reagan humiliated them in 1980. (My colleague Ben Wallace Wells limns this comparison at length in last month's Washington Monthly.) Millions of dollars in money from ideologically committed donors and business interests has been lavished on a conservative idea/P.R. machine to drive this agenda and keep it on the table; having conquered D.C., those interests are now branching out to state capitals around the country, hoping to export the Washington Republican establishment's mix of dogma and extreme partisanship to every state in the union. No such money exists to counter-fund a movement of moderate or, at any rate, more empirically-minded, good-governance-interested Republicans.

What would it take to change the direction of the Republican Party? Two big things.

First, the Republicanization of the South would have to reach full saturation -- which will take another couple of cycles -- while, simultaneously, countervailing trends in the rest of the country, detailed in John Judis and Ruy Teixeira's book The Emerging Democratic Majority, play out. Today's GOP is peculiarly tied to the particular political culture of the South in general and, increasingly, Texas in particular. Today, that gives them a strong regional foundation for national rule. Tomorrow, it will exert a centrifugal force dragging the party away from voters in the middle, especially as the country becomes less and less white and more and more tolerant on such issues as gay equality. (A prolonged recession through multiple Republican presidencies might also sour business leaders on GOP governance, and redirect funding to the Democrats in the hope of restoring some fiscal sanity, but again there's a lot of history there to overcome and I don't expect to see it happen.)

Second, the Republicans would have to lose, and lose big, several times in a row. It took the Democratic Party twelve years after Reagan to elect a president willing to challenge some of the party's more outdated and deadweight orthodoxies, and another decade went by before the Democrats' left and right wings reached the accomodation they now enjoy on many, though by no means all, major issues of policy. Even now, you have voices on the leftward end of the spectrum -- many represented in this forum in Boston Review -- calling for a wholesale rejection of Clinton-era politics. I don't think that would work for the Democrats, though I know some of my Prospect colleagues support the idea. But whatever you think of intra-Democratic politics, the point is this: Parties are very hard to move in one direction or another, and they respond most quickly to repeated losses at the polls. Given recent electoral history, Republicans can still tell themselves that Clinton's eight years were merely an unpleasantly prolonged interruption of the Reagan Revolution, which has since continued apace. It will take a few losses of the White House, and eventual loss of Congress, before the GOP changes its tune.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 01:35 PM
IS ANYBODY OUT THERE? Those of you who saw Ed Gillespie and Terry McAuliffe's appearance on Meet the Press yesterday will have noticed that, even in the course of a series of questions about possible voting shenanigans, Tim Russert never bothered to ask Gillespie a single direct question about Sproul & Associates; McAuliffe had to bring it up himself, and Russert never followed up with any further questioning on the matter.

This despite yet another new revelation of canvassing abuse -- this one targeted at students -- that was at least in part carried out by Sproul's outfits in Oregon and Pennsylvania, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday:

Scores of college students in Pennsylvania and Oregon have had their voting registrations switched by teams of canvassers circulating bogus petitions and, in some cases, partially concealed voter registration forms students were requested to sign.

The canvassers have visited campuses asking students to sign petitions advocating lower auto insurance rates, medical marijuana or stricter rape laws, according to elections officials.

After signing their names, the students were pressured into registering with the Republican Party by being told that their signatures otherwise would be invalid, or they were asked to fill out the signature and address portions of blank voter registration forms as proof of citizenship. In multiple instances, students already registered to vote have had their registrations changed without their consent, elections officials said yesterday.

Petition canvassers in Pennsylvania apparently did not identify themselves, although one told a University of Pittsburgh student that he was being paid by the Republican Party.

In another instance, the head of the Oregon Students Association said a canvasser at Portland State University told him he was with Project America Votes, a Republican-backed registration effort.

...

Project America Votes was a name used by canvassers for Sproul & Associates, an Arizona-based consultant under contract with the Republican National Committee.

Nathan Sproul, the firm's owner, yesterday denied that his workers had used petitions to bait students into party switches.

"This is clearly the Democratic plan to make these baseless allegations," said Heather Layman, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. Layman said she was speaking on behalf of Sproul. She said no Sproul workers were involved in such tactics in Oregon or Pennsylvania.

Sproul's role in ostensibly nonpartisan voter registration drives have triggered official investigations in several states, with canvassers alleging they had been told to refuse to register Democrats or to discard Democratic registration forms, leaving voters who thought they had registered off the rolls.

What will it take to get some comprehensive and focused coverage of this story, which places the RNC at the center of attention? This week we'll be seeing another, more serious test of the media's priorities and backbone in giving a profoundly important story the attention it deserves, sans easy campaign-season "he-said/she-said" balance. However they cover the Iraqi explosives scandal, the fact remains that the average citizen likely has no idea at this late date that one of the major political parties -- and not the other -- has funded systematic efforts to disenfranchise and scam voter registrants across the country.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 01:25 PM
LOOKING FOR LINCOLN. The Israeli Knesset yesterday approved Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to compensate Gaza settlers who relocate peaceably out of their contentious settlement homes. He’s facing opposition from the hard right of his own Likud Party, as well as from the ultra-religious. Oddly for Sharon, old hawk that he is, he finds himself in a position not so dissimilar from one his much more liberal predecessor Ehud Barak faced in 2000: As clear as the Gaza pullout seems to be for the thinking left and center both in Israel and abroad, does he have the mandate to make this decision? Today’s Ha’aretz has an editorial by Amir Oren that says the dilemma is “waiting for a Lincoln.”.
The opposition that Sharon's proposal has stirred up is threatening Israel with a civil war. This too is just a prelude to the inevitable: In the Middle East, both among the Israelis and among the Palestinians, anyone who wants peace must prepare for a civil war. This, as Sharon said in a different context, will be the most justified of all Israel's wars. It is not a Charles de Gaulle for whom Israel is waiting, but rather for an Abraham Lincoln, a leader who will know how to make it clear that the subject of the controversy is not some strip of land or other, but rather the authority to decide.
(The rest of the editorial is worth reading too, but it’s so clumsily translated it’s a little hard to get through.)

Floating just beyond the context of the messy mix of Gaza withdrawal, Sharon’s mandate, and the fear on the left that leaving Gaza means Sharon will become more entrenched in the West Bank rather than less so, is where American Jews find themselves addressing these issues on November 2. Ha’aretz reports that Condoleezza Rice will address AIPAC in Florida today (the Kerry campaign is sending Richard Holbrooke), though the Bushies are claiming Rice’s visit is “not” a campaign event.

--Sarah Wildman

Posted at 01:12 PM
HE FORGOT ABOUT ZARQAWI! From the annals of botched pre-war planning, by far the most devastating allegation that's been raised against the Bush administration is that it deliberately avoided striking Abu Musab al-Zarqawi before the war because doing so would undermine their deeply dishonest effort to use Zarqawi's presence in Kurdistan as a justification for war. NBC News filed a credible report alleging just that back in March to which the administration has never really issued a firm denial. Today via David Sirota I see that The Wall Street Journal has finally done some followup. The story's not online but here's the key bit:
The Pentagon drew up detailed plans in June 2002, giving the administration a series of options for a military strike on the camp Mr. Zarqawi was running then in remote northeastern Iraq, according to generals who were involved directly in planning the attack and several former White House staffers. They said the camp, near the town of Khurmal, was known to contain Mr. Zarqawi and his supporters as well as al Qaeda fighters, all of whom had fled from Afghanistan. Intelligence indicated the camp was training recruits and making poisons for attacks against the West.

Senior Pentagon officials who were involved in planning the attack said that even by spring 2002 Mr. Zarqawi had been identified as a significant terrorist target, based in part on intelligence that the camp he earlier ran in Afghanistan had been attempting to make chemical weapons, and because he was known as the head of a group that was plotting, and training for, attacks against the West. He already was identified as the ringleader in several failed terrorist plots against Israeli and European targets. In addition, by late 2002, while the White House still was deliberating over attacking the camp, Mr. Zarqawi was known to have been behind the October 2002 assassination of a senior American diplomat in Amman, Jordan.

But the raid on Mr. Zarqawi didn't take place. Months passed with no approval of the plan from the White House, until word came down just weeks before the March 19, 2003, start of the Iraq war that Mr. Bush had rejected any strike on the camp until after an official outbreak of hostilities with Iraq. Ultimately, the camp was hit just after the invasion of Iraq began.

The Journal can't say for sure why Bush made this call, though even if he made it for less-dishonorable reasons than those suggested above it's still incredibly damning. Even well-intentioned mistakes are hard to forgive when they lead to the deaths of hundreds of people and the undermining of our entire strategic project in the Middle East. But the Journal does report on the official explanation for why the camp wasn't hit: The White House and the Pentagon say they couldn't be sure Zarqawi was there. They also cite a number of former defense and intelligence officials who were working for the government at the time -- including General Tommy Franks -- as saying that the White House line isn't true.

Since Condi Rice is busy hitting the campaign trail for the president, hopefully someone will ask her a pointed question or two about this. And hopefully the Kerry campaign will get in the act as well since Bush's actions on this front dovetail nicely with the Tora Bora criticism we've been hearing for the past month or so. For an administration whose strategy is dominated by a misplaced emphasis on the high-value targets list to be so bad at nabbing the highest-value targets is really appalling. The inability to come clean about mistakes that have been made, moreover, does not exactly inspire confidence that a better job will be done in the future.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:24 AM
HALLIBURTON TROUBLE. I haven't put a huge amount of stock in allegations of impropriety surrounding the awarding of Iraq-related contracts to Halliburton, but apparently the person in charge of worrying about this stuff has been:
The top civilian contracting official for the Army Corps of Engineers, charging that the Army granted the Halliburton Company large contracts for work in Iraq and the Balkans without following rules designed to ensure competition and fair prices to the government, has called for a high-level investigation of what she described as threats to the "integrity of the federal contracting program."
Shows what I get for trying to give the administration the benefit of the doubt. Bunnatine Greenhouse -- who, by raising these questions, was doing her job -- wound up "excluded from major decisions to award money" and having her job status threatened. If the people in the White House spent half as much time worrying about how to root out corruption and defeat America's enemies as they seem to spend worrying about how to cover up allegations of misconduct and defeat their political adversaries at home, this country would be in much better shape. Frankly, the president's political standing would be in better shape, too.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:53 AM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: "EXPLOSIVE" REVELATIONS. The details of the looting at Al Qaqaa are almost mind-bogglingly damning. But will the Bush administration receive the blame it seems to deserve? Only if the media are willing to stick to this story like they used to, Michael Tomasky says. With one week left before the election, we're about to see what the press is made of.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 10:28 AM
MISCALCULATED OR JUST IGNORED? The closest the president has ever come to admitting he made a mistake was his confession to The New York Times that he'd "miscalculated" the strength of the Iraqi insurgency. Over the weekend, USA Today reported that this was less a case of miscalculation than yet another case of Bush ignoring information sitting in front of him:
Military and civilian intelligence agencies repeatedly warned prior to the invasion that Iraqi insurgent forces were preparing to fight and that their ranks would grow as other Iraqis came to resent the U.S. occupation and organize guerrilla attacks.

The war plan put together by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Army Gen. Tommy Franks discounted these warnings. Rumsfeld and Franks anticipated surrender by Iraqi ground forces and a warm welcome from civilians.

The insurgency began not after the end of major combat in May 2003 but at the beginning of the war, yet Pentagon officials were slow to identify the enemy and to grasp how serious a threat the guerrilla attacks posed.

It's important to note that Franks and Rumsfeld didn't just "discount" these warnings in the sense that they believed the warnings were unlikely to come true. They discounted them to such a degree that they didn't bother to do any backup planning in case their rosy scenarios didn't come true. Didn't think that, say, leaving hundreds of tons of high-density explosives lying around unguarded for months might facilitate the bomb-making process. Or that leaving ammo caches all over the country was going to lead to people getting shot.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:03 AM
THE BACKLASH BEGINS! A friend of mine and I were just chatting about when the Jon Stewart backlash would finally begin. My friend thought Stewart's recent Crossfire appearance -- in which Stewart breaks character and sort of takes up the journalism-professor role, berating the show's hosts for "hurting America" -- would be his jump the shark moment. She may be right. Here comes New York critic Ken Tucker to deliver the shiv, arguing that Stewart's "cult success on Comedy Central has become bloated and excessively esteemed." The problem? "Stewart has developed this bad habit of wanting it both ways: Hey, I just tell jokes! and You can't handle the truth!." Click here for the rest.

I'd agree that there's a point beyond which Stewart's out-of-character advocacy cannot go. (Although he's still pretty funny even when he's being semi-sincere.) But really, is it his job to fix the media? If producers and reporters for the country's major outlets took his running critique to heart, instead of dimissing it as light-hearted satire to which they needn't pay attention, we'd probably all be better served.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 09:52 AM
A VERY BAD DAY. Missing tons of high-powered explosives aside, conditions in Iraq have deteriorated to the point where a single Washington Post article becomes a repository for several unrelated stories, any of which might have been big news a year ago. Forty-nine recruits for Iraq's security forces were executed by insurgents and, in a non-encouraging sign, the Post's reporter found man-on-the-street quotes blaming the incident on "zionists." Edward Seitz, a State Department security officer, was killed by mortar fire inside a military base adjacent to the Baghdad airport. Two Iraqi police officers were killed in separate incidents in Baghdad. An assassin killed the chief of operations in the Erbil police department. Roadside bombs were detonated outside of police stations in Balad and Basra, and outside the Australian embassy in Baghdad. Three Iraqi National Guardsmen and a civilian driver were injured in Baquba by an explosives-laden flashlight.

Beyond U.S. and Iraqi government forces, a Bulgarian soldier was killed by a car bomb in Karbala. A Turkish driver was found dead in Baiji, and "the headless body of a man was fished out of a river in the northern city of Kirkuk." In Samarra -- which, as you'll recall, the U.S. military "retook" from insurgents a couple of weeks ago -- fighting broke out between American troops and the not-actually-defeated insurgents; two Iraqi kids, an 11-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl, got killed.

All this comes on a day without major military operations against an insurgent-held area and goes to show just how tenuous the control of the Iraqi Interim Government and the U.S. military is over the areas ostensibly under our command. The violence is systemic throughout the country and reaches into areas with all sorts of different ethnic configurations. If and when U.S. forces finish capturing Falluja and other Sunni Triangle cities, we can expect conditions in those places to be worse than those prevailing in the rest of the country -- where, as we see, Iraq's security forces can barely protect themselves, much less protect Iraq's citizens. It's no surprise, then, that last week's IRI poll showed a precipitous decline in public confidence in the Iraqi government and its institutions.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:52 AM
TUCKER ESKEW GETS A BLOG. Senior Bush advisor Tucker Eskew has started a blog. Here's how he describes himself:
Anyway, I’m a “senior advisor” to the President’s re-election. That means I give ‘em some strategic advice. And then they ask me to cinch up my tie and go on the tube to represent for the president. It’s fun – most of the time.
Nice to know Eskew is down with the peeps, yo. Intriguingly, Eskew also implies he'll be using the blog to get advice from the grassroots for George W. Bush, just like Joe Trippi once did for Howard Dean:
Lots of good substantive input on rebuttals to Kerry, too.
This suggests a heretofore unseen openess to outside ideas on the part of the Bush campaign -- or an acknowledgement that the internally generated ones are no longer enough. Why else would a senior advisor to the president's campaign start a high-profile personal project like this in the waning days of that campaign? And on a Friday, no less? The most obvious answer is that he's trying to parlay his current high visibility into online traffic while attention is still focused on the presidential race and Bush is still in office.

The venture strikes me as having a very hedging-your-bets quality to it. After all, if Bush were likely to win, starting such a blog a week and a half from now would be just as savvy a move as starting it today. But if Bush gets booted, it will be exceedingly difficult to build interest in a former Bush adviser's blog; all the media kingdom will be focused on John Kerry.

Eskew's got a few thoughts on the media as well, which shows a bit of Bill O'Reilly–esque flair:

I have a theory about going on Talk TV – it’s sometimes just a cheap date: Get tarted up, enjoy minor gratification but no real love, go home again, lather, rinse, repeat.
Again, this doesn't sound like the kind of thing someone confident his morally conservative candidate was going to win would write. It's too personally revealing a metaphor, and not carefully phrased in a way that's appealing to crucial women voters.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 08:39 AM
BETTER OUT OF POWER. Yesterday, after finishing Elisabeth Bumiller’s latest swoony paean to the power and the majesty of Karen Hughes, I moved directly to the reporter’s rather more sober-minded Week in Review assessment of the possible fate of the GOP following a George W. Bush loss next week.

The more or less unanimous consensus among the party bigwigs, activists, intellectuals, and analysts Bumiller talks to is that a Bush loss decidedly will not usher in an intra-party civil war or a period of profound introspection and party upheaval. The bankruptcy, corruption, and deepening internal contradictions of Republican conservatism as a political ideology after four years of Bush–Tom DeLay governance, which have been discussed at length by myriad liberal writers of late, are apparently not major concerns for those closer to the party itself. This strikes me as quite plausible, for a number of reasons. But first and foremost, it’s plausible for a simple reason that liberals seem to overlook when they write about the inevitable GOP civil war that will explode in the wake of a Bush loss: The modern GOP is much more effectively geared toward being an opposition party than a governing one.

The distinction Mark Schmitt has often made between old-line, relatively grown-up Republican conservatives and fanatical Club for Growth–style nihilists is an important one, but such distinctions will likely blur rather than sharpen when the party can easily unite in opposition to whatever a President John Kerry wants to do. Movement conservatism, even back when it was more ideologically coherent and unsullied by power’s corruptions, has always been fervently negative in orientation -- it was a movement built up on anti-government, anti-tax, anti–liberal establishment fervor. Though Ronald Reagan was its smiling icon, the Republicans’ modern conservative wing (led by Newt Gingrich beginning in the early 1980s) rose to power by perfecting the art of slashing partisan warfare and scandal-mongering, sullying the very institutions of government conservatives inhabited while seeking to obstruct as much as possible the basic work of governing and legislating. The much-ballyhooed conservative “noise machine” may be perfectly good at hagiography and GOP boosterism but, as we’ve seen, it’s even better at destroying Democrats and liberals through relentless attacks of still-unmatched sophistication and ferocity. Attacking, opposing, obstructing -- that’s what the modern Republican Party is geared to do. It’s what it’s good at.

Actually being the governing party, as we’ve seen, has been much more of a mixed bag for Republicans. They’ve indulged in ever-more corrosive and naked corruption, in the executive and particularly in Congress. In the Bush administration they’ve suffered, in the form of rank, blundering incompetence and inefficacy, the consequences of their own ideological zealotry, long-standing delegitimization of established expertise, and politicization of data and decision-making processes. And their own internal disagreements have more easily come to light and exerted debilitating effects than they do when a Democratic president is there to unite the party in opposition. A President Kerry would return the GOP to the grand old days of the Clinton years, only they would take on Kerry more effectively and more ruthlessly than they ever did Bill Clinton.

After all, you don’t need real alternatives, real expertise, or real empirical groundings for your ideas to wage an effective opposition. Nor do you need ideological coherence -- Republicans don’t all need to object to President Kerry’s plans for the same reasons, but virtually all will still very likely object to them. On an issue like Iraq, Republicans will oppose whatever direction Kerry takes us in. He’ll be cravenly retreating if he begins to withdraw; but if he decides to stay in and try to change things around, many Republicans will revert to the skeptical, anti–nation building, Kosovo-era mode and complain about the lack of mission clarity that is plaguing our engagement in Iraq under Kerry. The same would go for any issue you might name.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 01:07 AM
HE FORGET THE HIGH-POWERED EXPLOSIVES! How does the Iraqi insurgency manage to detonate so many bombs? Well, it seems they got their hands on some of the hundreds of tons of military-grade high explosives that, as The New York Times reports, the Bush administration forgot to secure despite knowing perfectly well that it was sitting right there. "Freedom is messy," I believe, was Don Rumsfeld's take on the wave of looting that broke out across the country while the U.S. Army was busy guarding the oil ministry.

According to Josh Marshall and The Nelson Report we're just hearing about this now because the White House has been leaning on the Iraqi government to keep quiet for domestic political purposes; based on George W. Bush's handling of, well, everything you have to regard that as extremely likely. This, though, is one of those cases where the crime is worse than the coverup.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 12:48 AM
October 24, 2004
WEEKEND UPDATE. Wolves steal your morning paper? Here's what you missed:

The Columnists

  • David Brooks. Liberals think it's important for the president to be smart, so they don't like the dimwitted incumbent; conservatives think it's important for the president to be tough, so they don't like the war hero challenger.
  • Nicholas Kristof. The Bible says all kinds of stuff! Why choose?
  • Thomas Friedman. Man, Arabs seem concerned about this whole Palestine thing.
  • Maureen Dowd. How many animals will John Kerry kill to win the election?
  • Jim Hoagland. If we're lucky, "the irrepressible Ahmed Chalabi" will ride to the rescue in Iraq.
  • Michael Kinsley. Shockingly, The Wall Street Journal editorial page turns out to be an unreliable source of information.
  • David Broder. For some reason, it's too bad the Democrats nominated a senator with experience in foreign policy issues rather than a governor.
  • George Will. Pay no attention to the RNC operatives throwing Democratic voter registration forms in the garbage.
The Op-Ed You Actually Need To Read

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:34 PM
October 22, 2004
THE SPIN WARS, PARTY COMPETITIVENESS EDITION. The Los Angeles Times' Ronald Brownstein doesn't need me to say what a great reporter he is. But I'm surprised at the credence he lends GOP spin in this story about John Kerry's decision not to spend lots of money campaigning in southern states. Brownstein writes:
When John Kerry arrives in Reno today for his sixth visit to Nevada this year, he will underscore a dramatic shift in the geography of the race for the White House.

Kerry, in a virtually unprecedented move for a Democrat, is relying more on the West than the South in his plan to reach the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.

Once the party of the "Solid South," Democrats this year are not actively contesting any state in the region except Florida in the presidential campaign. Instead, Kerry has shifted his attention west, mounting major efforts in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and, at one point, Arizona.

"In the 1980s and the 1990s, the Holy Grail was to make the Democratic Party competitive in the South again," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democratic Network, a political action committee that supports centrist party officials. "Now the Southwest is a vital, new part of the Democratic strategy."

This shift may reflect equal parts opportunity and weakness.

Democrats see opportunity across the Southwest in its growing Latino population and signs that the region's moderate suburbanites may be warming to the party's stances on social issues.

But Republicans see Kerry's emphasis on the Southwest — particularly the GOP-leaning states of Colorado and Arizona — as a measure of his limited options for reaching 270 electoral votes while writing off virtually every Southern state.

"They are focusing on it out of necessity," said Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for President Bush's reelection campaign. "Their map is shrinking."

This is interesting. Tell me -- why don't we ever read articles about how the GOP, once the party of the northeast, today can't compete in nearly the entire Northeast/mid-Atantic region? Or how those seats that the Republican presidential candidates do have a shot in -- Pennsylvania, New Hampshire -- appear to be trending more, not less Democratic?

Brownstein's article makes it seem like the Democrats are fundamentally weak because they can't win electoral votes in most of the old Confederate states. Now, its true that those southern states provide a nice foundation for Republican candidates, a large set of electoral votes they don't really have to compete for. Yet look at where the Democrats are making gains. Sometime over the next decade, Virginia looks to become a bona fide swing state. So does Colorado. Nevada and New Mexico already are. Arizona may follow.

The Democrats' map isn't shrinking -- it's expanding. Where the South is concerned, the GOP is simply strengthening its margins in a region they already had in the bag, a consequence of trends that began more than three decades ago and have gone about as far as they can. Meanwhile, in the Southwest, the demographic shifts that are turning those states towards the Democrats have only just begun.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 06:50 PM
SIGNIFICANT TRENDS. Kerry pollster Stanley Greenberg noted two recent trends in the Democracy Corps polls that are worth highlighting. From a Kerry campaign conference call today:
We've also now started showing a consistent, which we have not shown, over many months we have released our numbers which showed the Republicans with a higher favorability rating than the Democrats on our thermometer scores. That is no longer true, we now have found over about four polls with the Democrats now emerging with a higher thermometer score, now perceptibly higher we now have a generic, even though the party ID in this poll is only a 2+ party ID in this survey, we have the generic congressional at +5. So that the partisan environment seems to be improving somewhat and we also have a continuation of a significant majority of voters wanting to vote for change which is the backdrop for this race.

Let me highlight some things about this poll which you may find interesting. We don't know if this is a one time phenomenon but we see a drop in support for the President among white evangelicals. This is a week where Pat Robinson talked about the President saying no casualties in the war and the White House being forced to clamp down on him. We don't know if it is related to it but we will monitor what is happening there. It is obviously very important to his base.

Kerry has repaired much of his damage with women voters and, as Greenberg noted, looks to be generating an increasing amount of enthusiasm as partisans sense a win might actually be possible.

Meanwhile, if sustained, the downturn in white evangelical support for Bush could raise questions about the Republicans' obsessive focus on this one demographic group.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 06:36 PM
WHY BLUE-STATE STRENGTH MATTERS. Though the Bush-Cheney campaign's focus on traditionally Democratic states such as New Jersey late this election cycle is part of the Republicans' broader strategy of projecting strength, confidence, and momentum as the campaign comes down to the wire, back during the Republican National Convention, held in the royally blue state of New York, I heard a different and more prosaic explanation for this approach: George W. Bush, should he win, does not want to go down in history as the man who lost the popular vote twice. To that end, reducing the margins of victory for John Kerry in the populous blue states Kerry is sure to win, while simultaneously increasing Bush's margins in safe red territory, is critical.

During the month of September, that strategy appeared to be working. Kerry's margin of support in the bluest of the blue states plummeted from the levels Al Gore had received in 2000, according to the polls listed on the highly addictive poll-aggregating site 2.004k.com. But by mid-October, most of Kerry's weakness in Democratic strongholds seemed to have evaporated and the polling trends for the Democrat with his base were largely positive. Kerry had re-secured his base.

Take New York, a state Gore won by 25 percentage points. Polls showed Kerry with only a 5 to 8 point lead in the weeks following the RNC. (For the purposes of this blog item, I'm calling all numeric advantages, even inside the margin of error, "leads," because in some instances you have 15 polls showing these inside-the-MoE leads, all pointing in the same direction.) Such a narrow spread signalled the potential for a Republican blow-out, and had Kerry remained on his mid-September trajectory this would have been likely. But now, following three successful debates and with a revivified campaign, Kerry is back up to a healthy 23 percent margin in NY. Similarly, California went for Gore by 11 points, and Kerry was down to a 6 to 9 percent margin in September. But now Kerry is up by 18 percent over Bush and may well best Gore's performance.

The same phenomenon holds true even in the less populous blue states. Maryland went Gore by 16 percent, but was down to something between a flat tie and a 9 percent lead for Kerry in September. Now Kerry's up 15 percent. Maine, where Kerry has consistently led in polls this year, briefly flirted with backing Bush in September, but a recent poll now shows a 6 percent Kerry lead in the state, which Gore won by 5 percent. Michigan's latest has Kerry up by 7, as compared to Gore, who won by 5. (Worth noting: of the 36 Michigan polls listed on 2.004k.com since April, only three gave Bush the lead.) New Jersey remains a weak spot for Kerry. Gore won it by 16 percent, and today polls show a 4 to 8 percent lead for Kerry, with the trend toward Kerry getting stronger as October progresses.

Complicating the picture, though, Bush has also pumped up his support in some of the red states over what he received in 2000. For example, in Alabama in 2000, Bush won by 14 percentage points. Today, he's got a 24 percent advantage there -- but the trend here is going down, not up, from a 37 point advantage immediately following the RNC. In Louisiana, the latest polls had Bush up by 8, 15, and 18 percent, compared to his 8 percent win in 2000. In Tennessee, Bush is up by 22, having bested Gore by only 4 percent in Gore's home state in 2000.

Certainly, there seem to be a fair number of red states where support for Bush is at slightly below-2000 levels, Montana, Virginia, and North Carolina among them. So the overall picture, especially when you consider how many new voters have been registered since 2000 and may vote, is unclear.

But if ever there were a reason for blue-state voters to remember that their votes count, too, this is it. Democratic voters in blue states can still give their Congressional representatives a gift by turning out in droves and denying Bush the popular vote on November 2. Because if Bush wins the electoral college and the popular vote, things will be even worse for the Democrats than they are now. And if Kerry wins the electoral college but loses the popular vote, a possibility some Democratic strategists fear, it will be that much harder for him to govern and unite this highly divided country.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 05:51 PM
THE UNREALITY-BASED CAMPAIGN. Ryan Lizza has a terrific short piece (subscription-only) in the latest New Republic explaining Bush-Cheney 04’s odd reversal of the usual Bush family “above-the-fray-while-surrogates-smear” M.O. In the final stretch of this race George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are the ones lobbing the most nuclear attacks on John Kerry while their biggest 527 ally, Progress for America, runs a high-profile, fuzzy-wuzzy, feel-good pro-Bush campaign. What gives? As Lizza argues, the Bush campaign perceives that the sheer din of information in this race has reached such a level that only slashing attacks that come from the mouth of the president himself will carry sufficient heft to be highlighted and emphasized in the press.

The only problem is, Bush’s attacks are almost universally based on gigantic lies. And, with a press in full campaign-season fact-checking mode, that means his points aren’t being covered without qualification. They're hitting that damned “filter” the president hates so much. And that’s making Republicans cranky:

…The Bushies have become so frustrated by the fact-checking of the president's statements that a spokesman told The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, "The Bush campaign should be able to make an argument without having it reflexively dismissed as distorted or inaccurate by the biggest papers in the country."

In response to the media's new obsession with truth-squading the candidates, the Republican National Committee's opposition research department has started to do something remarkable: going negative on the press. "RNC Research Briefings," e-mailed to hundreds of reporters, now regularly target members of the media. On October 6, the RNC put "Hardball" host Chris Matthews, a former staffer for House Speaker Tip O'Neill, in its sights. "DEMOCRAT CHRIS MATTHEWS' SELECTIVE 'ANALYSIS,'" read the headline on a three-page press release that accused Matthews of erroneously claiming Cheney had contradicted himself during the debate when he denied tying September 11 to Saddam Hussein. Accompanying the release, the RNC posted a video online attacking Matthews. A few days later, Republicans took issue with The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller's accurate statement that, despite Bush's claims, Kerry "essentially voted for one large tax increase, the Clinton tax bill of 1993." "THE NEW YORK TIMES SHADES THE TRUTH," read the headline of a press release the RNC quickly put out. Next up was Ron Suskind, who wrote a critical piece in The New York Times Magazine. "LIBERAL DEMOCRAT SUSKIND HAS CREATIVITY BUT NOT FACTS," the RNC noted. A few days later Paul Krugman became the RNC's target. In Suskind's and Krugman's cases, the oppo was unusually personal and included unflattering pictures of the men, the kind that candidates dig up of their opponents, not of journalists.

Liberals have often complained about the press’s routine substitution of balance for objectivity, which ends up portraying Republicans' regular and bold-faced dishonesty as being matched by equivalent dishonesty on the Democrats part even when such equivalence doesn't actually exist. But there are differing levels of frustration here. We don’t like it when journalists' standards of balance render their fact-checking of Bush watered-down or under-emphasized. Republicans don’t like it when journalists' standards of truth and accuracy spur them to do any fact-checking of the president's statements. The RNC's attacks on Ron Suskind couldn’t be more perfect. This is exactly the contempt for truth and odd dismissiveness toward the notion of objective reality that Suskind documents as underlying this president’s approach to governance -- simply transferred to the campaign trail.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 04:43 PM
FAKE-OUT. As Mark says, it may seem like good news that General John D. Altenburg Jr., the Pentagon official overseeing the war crimes commissions system in Guantanamo Bay, has dismissed three officers from the military tribunal who displayed obvious conflicts of interest and/or gross ignorance about pertinent issues. (One was involved in apprehending these very people in Afghanistan and sending them to Gitmo, while another had cheerfully admitted both to referring to all Gitmo detainees as “terrorists” in the past and to not knowing what the Geneva Conventions were.) But, as today’s New York Times piece shows, the decision hardly constitutes progress, and more likely represents a sneaky step backward.

Altenburg, for one, declined to heed the requests of defense attorneys to dump Colonel Peter S. Brownback III, the panel’s presiding officer, who also just happens to be Altenburg’s longtime close friend. Evidently the general wasn’t persuaded to doubt his good pal’s word even after a spectacular confrontation at a hearing last August, in which Brownback first denied having ever said that there was no need for speedy trials at Guantanamo, then was blindsided by defense attorneys confronting him with taped recordings of a conversation in which he said exactly that. (Brownback, stunned, reportedly put his face in his hands and sat silently for 70 seconds, as everyone else in the hearing room waited for him to speak.) That was only the most dramatic of a series of bizarre antics during that first week of hearings that startled even hardened Bush administration critics with the incompetence on display.

More revealingly, Altenburg has decided not to replace the departing panelists for the trials that are already underway. As the Times shows, there’s likely little reason for that decision beyond a wish to game the entire process still further in the prosecution’s favor:

"Although it may seem like a partial victory for us, it really puts all of us in a worse position," said Joshua Dratel, a lawyer from New York who is defending David Hicks, 29, an Australian charged with being a soldier for the Taliban. Mr. Dratel said the decisions on Thursday seemed contrived or calculated to retain an advantage for the prosecution.

General Altenburg retained enough members for a trial to proceed, Mr. Dratel said, but made the defense's job more difficult. Because two-thirds of the panel is needed to convict a defendant, the prosecution now needs two members to win. With five members, they needed four.

To anyone who’s watched this pathetic kangaroo “process” unfold over the last few months -- an intrinsically flawed system carried out with rank incompetence -- it’s a genuine relief to know that John Kerry is on record opposing the commission system. One of the very first things a newly-elected President Kerry needs to do is scrap this entire disastrous process and start from scratch on something that meets at least some basic threshold of seriousness and legitimacy.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 02:26 PM
FOOD OR MEDICINE? The crisis in this country of skyrocketing health-care costs is making it difficult for Americans to access health care and pay medical bills. The percentage of family incomes going towards health care continues to rise. Many are foregoing necessary treatment and medications, and there is a growing number of people who are being forced to choose between paying for food, heat, and rent and paying their medical bills. Read more about the negative effects of rising health care costs on families as well as seniors, the chronically ill, government budgets, businesses, and the economy at the Moving Ideas Network, a project of The American Prospect.

--Diane Greenhalgh, MovingIdeas.Org

Posted at 02:24 PM
ADVENTURES IN REPUBLICAN GOVERNMENT. When I play with MyDD's addictive, toggleable electoral map, I keep coming to the 269-269 scenario. Here's how it works. George W. Bush pulls it out in both Florida and Ohio, while also winning Nevada and Arkansas -- seemingly dooming John Kerry to defeat. But wait! Kerry takes swing states Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Iowa, and also ekes out a super-narrow victory in West Virginia. Throw on all the non-swing states, and that makes it 269-269. The election gets thrown to the House, and Tom DeLay makes sure Bush gets his second term.

But what happens if a Republican or Democratic elector in one of these states -- in any state -- changes his or her mind? One of West Virginia's GOP electors has already indicated he might not vote for Bush, although under the scenario described above that wouldn't matter, since it has Kerry winning that state anyway. But let's say the electoral vote is a tie or a near-tie, within a vote or two. Of the ten previous occasions (according to the Associated Press) that an elector has gone against the popular vote in his or her state, has it been litigated? Technically, if I'm not mistaken, electors are not bound by the popular vote -- indeed, the Founding Fathers assumed they would not be. In the long run, that's just another reason to eliminate the electoral college entirely. But for our purposes, what's the precedent on this? I'd be grateful for any reader comments. Send 'em to nconfessore-at-gmail.com.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 01:41 PM
WHAT DID GEORGE TENET SAY? Yesterday, Anna Clark, a stringer for The Herald Palladium, a local paper in southwestern Michigan, reported on a rather major development:
[Former CIA Director George] Tenet called the war on Iraq "wrong" in a speech Wednesday night to 2,000 members of The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan at Lake Michigan College's Mendel Center. He did not elaborate.
The immediate response is, "Now he tells us?" But what did Tenet actually say? The paragraph in question didn't lead the story, as one might think such an important revelation would, and there's no further context given for the use of the word "wrong," such as the sentence in which it occurred. It seems at least possible that this is some kind of mistake, and what he really said was that the intelligence was wrong, which we've all known for some time. The more interesting political issue is whether Tenet thinks the war itself was wrong, and if he thinks that, in what sense he thinks it. Was it a bad idea based on what was known ex ante? Is he saying that the war has proceeded so badly that, ex post, it's impaired America's security?

I put in a call to the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan to see if they had a transcript of the speech or if someone else in attendance could clarify, but no one's picking up the phone there. Then I spoke to a Palladium-Herald editor who indicated I'm not the only one asking this question, but the editors don't know the answer. They're trying right now to get some clarification from Clark and from other people in attendance at the speech, but all he can say for sure is that the subject came up in a Q & A session that followed Tenet's prepared address. It strikes me as unlikely that Tenet would make such a public about-face in off-the-cuff remarks, but who knows. Maybe he buckled under the pressure. For now, though, it would seem wise to tread lightly on Clark's characterization of what happened -- the Palladium-Herald will likely clarify in the near future once they have a better sense of what happened.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:00 PM
MAKING A DIFFERENCE. In TAP’s current print issue, Bruce Ackerman, a law professor at Yale University and frequent TAP contributor, highlights some of the deficiencies of the military commission established to hear cases of prisoners detained in Guantanamo. Among the commission's litany of problems, the good professor writes:
Five officers have been appointed to serve on the military commission at Guantanamo, and three have obvious conflicts of interest: One served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan and Iraq; another helped transfer prisoners to Guantanamo; and the wife of a third was an employee of John Altenburg, the senior Pentagon official who is supposed to oversee the trials. During preliminary proceedings, the only legally trained officer on the panel has misrepresented his past pronouncements on a key legal issue, and was reduced to embarrassed silence upon learning that his prior comments had been taped. The problems have been so blatant that the senior military prosecutor has agreed that some members of the tribunal should consider disqualifying themselves.
It now seems that at least some of Ackerman’s concerns for the sanctity of the judicial process were met. The New York Times reports today that these three members of the military commission hearing the cases of detainees at Guantanamo have been removed because they "could not judge the cases impartially."

Now, if only they would decide to prosecute Gitmo detainees as war criminals in a real court that adheres to well established customary international law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice …

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 12:50 PM
WHEN WARS COLLIDE. A long Washington Post article given the nonsensical headline "Afghanistan, Iraq: Two Wars Collide" is, in fact, a damning indictment of the Bush administration's foreign policy. One of the more curious lines I've heard trotted out in recent months is that while George W. Bush's policy implementation may be bad, he has a good understanding of so-called "grand strategy," the big-picture issues, and John Kerry does not. The Post, by adopting the novel expedient of relying on the grand strategy that exists in the orders given to the people operationally responsible for conducting the war on terrorism rather than the grand strategy that exists in the orders given to the White House speechwriting staff, reveals that this is entirely wrong.

The president and those among his top aides whose advice he's elected to take have no understanding whatsoever of the approrpriate grand strategy to fight terrorism. Most notably, the Post breaks new ground in relying much less on anonymous sources or possibly jilted low-level personnel to paint the story with some newfound authority. There's lots of damning stuff in here, but the most devasting is the president's evident obsession with the high-value target list (HVTL) and the fact that he not only doesn't seem to care about al-Qaeda recruitment, he actually doesn't care. The sidelight about how instead of cooperating with Iran against al-Qaeda we're now drifting toward a conflict with Iran that will lead Tehran to work with al-Qaeda is also noteworthy. As is the fact that the administration is lying about the HVTL, which, according to their own wrongheaded understanding of the problem, is the only important element in the counterterrorism effort.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:40 AM
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE IRI? Robin Wright writes up the results of an International Republican Institute (IRI) poll of Iraqi opinion heading into the January elections. Administration officials are apparently shocked -- shocked -- to discover that the data indicates a free and fair election would return a government dominated by Shiite Islamists. I have no idea why they find this shocking since it was widely predicted for the war, is consistent with every other piece of polling that's been done on the question, and is even consistent with the actual behavior of occupation authorities over the past six months who seem perfectly aware that prominent Shiite clerics and not Iyad Allawi are the real tests of legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi public.

But the administration being clueless about Iraq and letting their plans be guided by wishful thinking rather than evidence is an old story. Stranger than this is the IRI's polling method itself which excludes Ibrahim Jafari, leader of the al-Dawa party and widely understood based on previous polls to be Iraq's most popular politician. Under the circumstances, the poll's result -- that Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq leader Abdel Aziz Hakim is the most popular Iraqi politician -- must be regarded as somewhat spurious since the two parties have somewhat overlapping bases of support. The exclusion of Ghazi Yawar, a prominent Sunni Arab tribal leader and, more to the point, the U.S.–appointed president of Iraq, is more baffling. My offhand guess is that this was done to artificially inflate the popularity of Allawi and other Shiite secularists who are, perhaps, more palatable to Sunni Arabs than are the Shiite Islamists. But who knows -- the IRI has a reputation inside the international democracy- and governance-promotion community as pretty inept relative to their main counterparts, so it could just be a screw-up.

Other fun poll developments reported by Spencer Ackerman include the fact that Muqtada al-Sadr is as popular as Allawi (whose numbers, as I've suggested, may be inflated thanks to the exclusion of Yawar) and Iraqis are more inclined to hold the United States responsible for terrrorist attacks than they are to blame the terrorists themselves. This is why when we inflict civilian casualties as part of our response to terrorist attacks we can expect to lose support and undermine our position rather than strengthen it -- we're simply not held in very high esteem. What's more, if we somehow pull off a democratic election, the upshot -- at great cost in U.S. blood and treasure -- will be a strategic victory for Iran. But at least freedom is on the march.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:06 AM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: STRIKE FORCE. Last winter's southern California grocery strike ended in a demoralizing defeat for the workers. The ongoing hotel strike up the road in San Francisco would seem on the surface to resemble that losing struggle -- but it has the potential to be the ungrocery strike, explains David Bacon. And if it spreads to Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. ...

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 10:56 AM
CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT: STILL DEAD. There's plenty of interesting facts in this new report from the minority staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee into bad intelligence on the al-Qaeda–Iraq relationship produced by Doug Feith and his staff. (Also check out Doug Jehl's New York Times writeup of the report.) The single most noteworthy thing about it, however, is that it was prepared by the SASC minority staff, rather than the committee staff as a whole.

It's hard to think of a more important security issue facing the country than our capacity to gather reliable intelligence about who is, and who is not, collaborating with al-Qaeda. Feith's operation has cut directly against this and, as the report documents, been used to mislead Congress about the state of American intelligence on the subject. Anyone with more than a passing regard for the national interest as opposed to partisan gain would want to get to the bottom of this. And yet, as an appendix to the report indicates, the administration time and again refused to provide key information to the SASC minority staff -- putting politics above America's national security. If a majority of the senators on the committee had gotten behind the inquiry it would have been possible to issue subpoenas and get this stuff out in the open.

But they didn't. This is especially notable, because the SASC membership includes a disproportionately large number of relatively un-hacking Republicans, from moderate Susan Collins to mavericks John McCain and Lindsey Graham to Chairman John Warner, who's an orthodox conservative but also to some extent a legislator of the old school. But even these erstwhile good guys sided with partisanship and the narrow interests of the administration over truth, the dignity of the Congress, and the best interests of the United States in helping facilitate the Pentagon's efforts at a cover up. It's hard to be genuinely shocked by Republican behavior at this point, but it really is quite shocking to see the U.S. Senate's transformation into a gang of yes-men for the White House.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:48 AM
THE OTHER DAUGHTER SPEAKS. Unlike vice-presidential daughter Mary Cheney, whom James Wolcott has described as America's most famous lesbian mute, veep daughter Liz Cheney is a vocal campaigner for her father's ticket. Today, she's going to host an online campaign chat, as per her role as a "senior adviser" to B-C '04. Just to make things clear, though, the campaign took pains to insure potential chatters know she's the straight daughter, not the gay one. The chat will be hosted by "Liz, a mother of four," the campaign assured supporters.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 09:52 AM
October 21, 2004
THAT'S NOT THE WAY THE WORLD REALLY WORKS ANYMORE. Mark Schmitt puzzles over the seemingly paradoxical Bush campaign strategy:
It's unarguable that the campaign has been pitched to the right, particularly the social conservatives. I heard a Republican pollster complain the other day that he kept pointing out to the White House that they already had 94% of the vote of groups such as white evangelicals -- there were no more votes to be gained there -- but that the White House kept coming back to that. As a cold-blooded political strategist, I think that's pretty crazy in and of itself.

But how much crazier is it to do all that and then have nothing to govern from? Bush's pitch to the base is entirely personality, his own resoluteness, faith, etc. plus a healthy dose of hate politics. He's not promising more tax cuts, just threatening that Kerry will take them away. He's not promising to shrink government. And the conservative things he does want to do, like reduce environmental protections and privatize Social Security, he actually has to deny. The things he doesn't deny, like a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, he's plainly not going to do.

I believe that all becomes clear if we revisit the source for the infamous "reality-based community" remark, who explained "That's not the way the world really works anymore." The clear domestic policy lesson of the past four years is that a combination of the Senate's built-in bias toward the red states, the House's highly gerrymandered districts, the right-wing media's willingness to parrot the White House line irrespective of minor details like reality and the content of conservative ideology, an overbearing congressional leadership, and the mainstream press' unwillingness to call a lie a lie have made the concept of a mandate obsolete. Bush can clearly get any old thing passed by Congress irrespective of how crazy it may be.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:15 PM
EDUCATE EARLY. Research consistently has shown that providing children with early childhood development and education is important to their long-term success. However, our country has yet to provide universal child care and pre-kindergarten to our nation’s children. Good programs are difficult to come by, and when they are available they take a large bite out of a family’s budget. The Moving Ideas Network, a project of The American Prospect, provides resources relating to these issues and more in our companion piece to the Prospect’s new special report, “STARTING YOUNG: The Case for Investment in America's Kids.”

--Diane Greenhalgh, MovingIdeas.Org

Posted at 02:30 PM
DELAY SUBPOENAED. Tom DeLay has another headache to deal with: Texas State Representative Lon Burnam, who's suing the state's Department of Public Safety for its role in hunting down fleeing Democratic lawmakers during last year's redistricting fight and then destroying documents related to its actions, has supboenaed the Hammer to testify on Monday in Houston. According to the piece excerpted by the DCCC's blog, The Stakeholder, DeLay acted with typical respect for the sanctity of the legal process when word first got out that he'd be subpoenaed:
Burnam claims DeLay continued a pattern of obstruction and abuse of power in avoiding service of the subpoena. Burnam had sought to subpoena DeLay at a major Republican fundraising event in Austin on the evening of October 1, 2004, but DeLay and his supporters secretly rescheduled the event to 7:00 a.m., thwarting Burnam's process server. Preventing execution of civil process is a misdemeanor under the Texas Penal Code. On Wednesday, DeLay's attorneys agreed to accept the subpoena for him to prevent service at the event.
Even more typical is the official DeLay line today, quoted in the AP piece:
"This is a cheap publicity stunt on something that has no connection to Tom DeLay," Jonathan Grella, a DeLay spokesman, said Thursday. "It's a frivolous matter that's already been rendered moot and everyone should consider the source."
Don't DeLay's spokesmen get bored after awhile repeating the same line everytime their guy gets in trouble? As for the claim that this matter has "already been rendered moot," recall both that the Supreme Court just this week ruled to keep alive a constitutional challenge to the Texas redistricting and that the House Ethics Committee devoted one of its recent DeLay admonishments to his shenanigans in this case.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 02:25 PM
TONY BLAIR: POODLE. The wires are reporting that British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon has authorized the redeployment of some 800 British troops from the relatively tranquil regions of southern Iraq to a more hostile city inside the Sunni Triangle. The troop movements came at the request of the United States, who wanted to free up some troops for their anticipated assault on Falluja.

Predictably, the Guardian's editorial page is none too pleased with this decision:

Mr Blair's response to the request for our troops to be redeployed into central Iraq shows he has learned nothing from the debacle of the last two years. MPs of all parties should demand their right to hold this latest plan to account. Let parliament decide on America's request - and let parliament decide to say no.
We’ve known for years now that Tony Blair is a true believer in George W. Bush’s plan for Iraq; nonetheless American liberals are somewhat comfortable with Blair because we have always assumed that he exists in our own “reality-based community.” Unlike Bush, we thought, Blair uses his intellect to analyze empirical data, reason if necessary, and make an informed decisions based on discernable reality.

Blair’s decision on the troop redeployment, (and without securing any noticeable concessions from the United States) seems to call into question our assumption about Blair. This is scary precisely because it suggests an endorsement of the Bush administration’s strategy for “winning the peace” in Iraq. Like Bush, Blair apparently thinks that there are a definite number of insurgents and an all-out assault on Falluja is an appropriate way to deal with the guerilla insurgency there.

Blair’s acquiescence to this newest manifestation of Bush’s hopeless strategy for Iraq should seriously question any lingering love for Blair among American liberals.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 11:50 AM
IRRESPONSIBILITY KNOCKS. I don't really know what to think about Pat Robertson's much discussed contention that George W. Bush told him there'd be no casualties in Iraq. Kevin Drum offers an exculpatory theory for the administration, though in light of the fact that the administration itself hasn't busted this theory out it's hard to know how much credit to give it. Certainly Robertson's statement is consistent with what he was saying at the time and it doesn't seem to have been contradicted then.

I think, though, that this is less interesting for what it says about Bush than for what it says about Robertson. Here's a guy who, according to his own story, had grave doubts about the president's signature policy initiative, the invasion of Iraq. And unlike the vast majority of folks who had doubts, he had the opportunity to discuss it personally with the president. According to Robertson, the president attempted to assuage his doubts by offering up something totally absurd. You would think that Robertson, as a semi-influential political and media figure (he hosts The 700 Club every night on the Christian Broadcast Network) would have gone out in the world and done everything he could to stop the war from happening. But instead we got -- essentially -- nothing.

This trend, a strong preference among prominent evangelical Protestant leaders for maintaining their role as partisan power brokers over acting as responsible leaders of their constituencies, is an important sidenote to Ayelish McGarvey's look at Bush's largely spurious Christian faith. The act only works because virtually no one with the standing to call the president out on his many, many failings has been willing to do so. There's a well-known phenomenon in countries that, unlike the United States, have established religions, where rather than politics becoming sanctified, religion becomes political and profane. The ultimate result is just a public loss of confidence in the religious leadership and an increasingly secular society. (You can see the end stage of this process in Scandinavia and its beginning phase in Iran.) I think something similar is going on here in the United States as the religious right has become less-and-less a real religious movement and more and more a simple adjunct of the Republican Party.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:27 AM
ROLL THEM OFF A CLIFF. Now that an exciting and quite righteous mobilization has gotten underway to take down Tom DeLay by putting the heat on both him and his GOP lawmaker-clients this November (check out the Campaign for America's Future's excellent new letter-writing database and Campaign Money Watch's new DeLay blog), it's important to remember that the Indian-lobbying scandal involving The Hammer's longtime ally Jack Abramoff and his former spokesman Michael Scanlon is still brewing. The story's tainted circle continues to expand, implicating more and more people, including not only Ralph Reed but also U.S. Senate candidate David Vitter of Louisiana and a number of partners in Abramoff's old lobbying firm, Greenber Traurig. Scanlon and Abramoff were engaging in flamboyantly crooked and egregious crimes here; this scandal isn't going away anytime soon.

Just as a reminder of Scanlon's close past relationship with DeLay, I direct you to a particularly memorable moment in Lou Dubose and Jan Reid's new book The Hammer. Scanlon was one of the heads of DeLay's operation in 1998 and 1999 to muster a vote in the House for Bill Clinton's impeachment, a campaign that involved coordinating daily talking points with right-wing media outlets while systematically threatening to fund primary opponents in the next election against any House Republicans wavering on the issue. After the House GOP's losses in the midterm elections in 1998, a movement to reach a compromise censure measure with the Democrats gained strength, until DeLay and his people put a stop to it. Here's an email that Scanlon wrote to another DeLay staffer commenting on the new interest in censure in early 1999:

"God Bless you Tony Rudy -- are we the only ones with political instincts -- This whole thing about not kicking someone when they are down is BS -- Not only do you kick him -- you kick him until he passes out -- then beat him over the head with the baseball bat -- then roll him up in an old rug -- and throw him off the cliff into the pounding surf."
As the authors put it, Scanlon's email "suggests a war room mentality that was as pathologically hostile as it was sophomoric." It also suggests that Scanlon is a major-league thug who's only now getting his comeuppance.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 10:07 AM
DRY RUN IN RAMADI. Time magazine's Phil Zabriskie, embedded with the U.S. military in Ramadi, has had a chance to witness firsthand the operations in that city, described by the Marines as "a dress rehearsal" for larger battles to come, presumably in Falluja. Early reports are not encouraging:
In Ramadi, Zabriskie asked U.S. soldiers if they’re in control of the city. “A roomful of grunts responds with phrases like: ‘Oh, f--- no!’).” On the Ramadi operation, launched at 4 a.m., Sgt. Jose L. Carillo of the 2/5’s Whiskey Company, tells TIME, “These guys (insurgents) fight when they want to fight, not when we want them to fight.” “They just keep on recruiting. And I don’t mind saying it: we don’t have enough people for what we’re doing.”

“All told, 13 IEDs were detonated in Ramadi Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning,” Zabriskie reports. “The explosions and the chase -- it’s not always clear who’s chasing whom -- continue into the next day. Two Echo company Marines are killed and one wounded by small arms fire and an RPG attack. By noon on Wednesday, things begin to settle. The Battalion has detained 15 people and seized a weapons cache. The Americans believe they killed 30 to 40 insurgents but can’t say for certain because the insurgents quickly remove their dead and wounded.”

No one likes a bore, but this is exactly what liberal critics of the Bush policy have been predicting forever and ever. The essential problem in the Sunni Arab areas of Iraq is political, not military. The U.S. Marines are more than capable of killing insurgents in battle, but all that means is that the insurgents try not to stand and fight, and need to recruit new fighters when their people get killed. The critical issue is cutting off the popular support that makes recruitment possible and gives insurgents the ability to run away and hide, only to reappear later at a time of their own choosing. The tactics we've adopted -- involving the use of heavy firepower and air strikes in urban areas -- are extraordinarily ill-suited to coping with this problem. But we don't have enough troops to conduct these operations properly. Under the circumstances, further conflict without political compromise is only going to mean war without end.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:00 AM
October 20, 2004
CONFERENCE CALL. The House-Senate conference on intelligence reform legislation began today, and both chambers’ sides behaved true to form, with House GOP conferees (including the conference chair and someone I praised earlier today, Pete Hoekstra) practicing ballsy brinksmanship and the Senate side advocating caution and compromise. As The Hill reports, the House leaders staked out a no-compromise position on procedural and scheduling matters in the last few days that has rather pissed everyone else off:
In meetings this week, House leaders have insisted that only the proposed immigration and criminal-law reforms be addressed in preliminary staff-level negotiations, according to two aides familiar with the negotiations. Many Democrats, Senate Republicans and Sept. 11 commission members have called those proposals extraneous.

“The House has insisted we discuss immigration reform before we discuss anything else. And we have had 14 hours worth of discussions on immigration reform, and zero substantive discussions on intelligence reform,” a Senate aide said.

Other sources said that the meetings have included aides to lawmakers who are not conferees and whose main concerns are issues only tangentially related to intelligence reform.

Hmm, not very promising preliminary signs. So how did the first official meeting go this afternoon? Well, as the subscription-only Congressional Quarterly reports, it just about met expectations:
After hours of speeches proclaiming bipartisanship, the initial House-Senate conference on an intelligence overhaul bill (S 2845) nearly came unglued Wednesday when Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the group, said he and House Republicans had prepared a counteroffer to the Senate bill.

Democratic conferees bristled, especially House members who had not seen the Republican proposal. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., noted acerbically that neither she nor other House Democratic conferees had been consulted on the draft. “We couldn’t possibly contemplate doing that on the Senate side,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., suggested the House come back with a series of amendments to the Senate bill, “so we can see where you have differences . . . take a vote, and move on to the next area.”

Hoekstra said, “We have not decided or agreed yet what will be the base bill in the conference.”

Notice that the line of conflict here is drawn neither between the chambers nor along the partisan divide -- rather, it is a conflict that consists of both parties in the Senate and the utterly marginalized House Democrats on one side and the House GOP leaders on the other. The real question, as it always is when the dynamic is set up like this in the GOP Congress, is whether the Senate Republicans can manage to stand their ground against their House counterparts’ demands. They usually don't. The White House published a letter yesterday, signed by Condoleezza Rice and Josh Bolten, that expresses support for the Senate bill on the issue of budget authority for the National Intelligence Director and opposition to the House’s nauseating extraordinary rendition provision; but the letter does back a whole host of other, gratuitous law enforcement and immigration components in the House’s bill. With the White House and the House GOP united in support of those measures, it’s doubtful that the Senate Republicans will be able or willing to strip them in conference.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 05:45 PM
DISTRACTED BY THE RIGHT? Back in the olden days when the conflict with insurgents in Falluja was new rather than ongoing and Washington was still abuzz about National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the 9-11 Commission, conservative columnists such as David Brooks tut-tuted about how making her testify before the Commission was a terrible distraction from fighting the war on terror. Wrote Brooks on April 27:
These are the crucial months in Iraq. The events in Najaf and Falluja will largely determine whether Iraq will move toward normalcy or slide into chaos.

So how is Washington responding during this pivotal time? Well, for about three weeks the political class was obsessed by Richard Clarke and the hearings of the 9/11 commission, and, therefore, events that occurred between 1992 and 2001. Najaf was exploding, and Condoleezza Rice had to spend the week preparing for testimony about what may or may not have taken place during the presidential transition.

But don't look for Brooks et al. to be similarly worried about the effects of Rice's recent travels to presidential campaign battleground states on her ability to do her job. Reports the Washington Post:

In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 election, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice has traveled across the country making speeches in key battleground states, including Oregon, Washington, North Carolina and Ohio. In the next five days, she also plans speeches in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida.

The frequency and location of her speeches differ sharply from those before this election year -- and appear to break with the long-standing precedent that the national security adviser try to avoid overt involvement in the presidential campaign. Her predecessors generally restricted themselves to an occasional speech, often in Washington, but counting next week's speeches, Rice will have made nine outside Washington since Labor Day....

Although she does not mention Democratic challenger John F. Kerry and avoids answering overtly political questions, the target of her speeches is not lost on local audiences. The Seattle Times, reporting on a Sept. 7 speech to the University of Washington, said, "Rice sounded at times like a candidate" as she received "rousing ovations" in defending the administration's handling of the war on terrorism.

Certainly, concern for Rice's ability to do her job remains as politically inflected as ever. But this time it's coming from the Kerry campaign: "America would be a lot better off if Dr. Rice spent more time worrying about Osama bin Laden's job security and less time worrying about her own," Kerry spokesman Mark Kitchens told the Post.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 05:44 PM
NOW ONLINE: WHAT WOULD JEFFERSON DO? George W. Bush has used the word "crusade" to describe America's battle against Islamic fundamentalists, but he and the leaders of the right have had curiously little to say about another crusade -- one taking place here in America. Robert Kuttner has quite a bit to say about it in "What Would Jefferson Do?", the cover story of our November print issue. Today's religious zealots, he writes, "would like to accomplish what the Founders explicitly disavowed: to entangle the state in the promotion of religion." Kuttner shows, by way of discussing Susan Jacoby's "brave" new book, Freethinkers, why this mission is dangerous not only for our democratic traditions, but for our national security and for religion itself. "If there is to be a clash of civilizations," Kuttner calls, "let it be our pluralism versus their dogmatism, not a clash of dogmas."

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 05:36 PM
EARN THE VOTE. Back in July, George W. Bush -- after turning his back on the NAACP -- asked a predominantly African-American audience if the Democratic Party had "take[n] African-American voters for granted." He went on to say: "It's a fair question. I know plenty of politicians assume they have your vote. But do they earn it, and do they deserve it?" Most progressives dismissed the question as what it was: a half-hearted attempt to scrape some conservative black voters off the margins of what is normally a solidly Democratic voting block. Yet this year, with a few conservative issues resonating with the more socially conservative parts of the black, church-going community (gay marriage, for example), the Republicans have, it seems, successfully exploited their inroads to the African-American community.

In today's Chicago Tribune the estimable Clarence Page points to new polling numbers that might send the Democrats scrambling old-school GOTV vans into black neighborhoods. (USA Today and The Washington Post are running similar stories as well.)

A New York Times poll released Tuesday showed that among likely voters, 47 percent support Bush, 45 percent are for Sen. John Kerry and 2 percent for Ralph Nader.

But in the race breakdown, the Bush-Cheney ticket is buoyed by an amazing 17 percent from African-Americans. (Kerry receives 76 percent of the black voters and Nader only 1 percent.)

Although 17 percent is still less than one in five, it is more than twice the tiny 8 percent turnout that the Bush-Cheney ticket received in the 2000 election.

Also on Tuesday, a poll with a much larger sample of black voters was released by the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a leading think tank on black-oriented issues. It showed a very similar African-American boost for the Bush-Cheney ticket: 18 percent versus 69 for Kerry and 2 percent for Nader.

Since the center's poll proved remarkably prescient in the 2000 presidential election, showing 9 percent black support for Bush (only 1 point short of what the ticket actually received), I wondered if a virtual black blowout for Bush was on the way.

Page goes on to say, rightly: “[T]he polling figures should be a loud wake-up call for those Democratic leaders inclined to take black voters for granted. No constituency is guaranteed to any party, not even in a year of extremely polarized politics.”

I couldn’t agree more. But this is very, very late in the game to be thinking about this. Where are the prominent black Dems on this campaign? And can Bill Clinton -- who is being brought in at this 11th hour -- help? You can be sure Dems are dreaming about sending Barack Obama everywhere.

--Sarah Wildman

Posted at 04:27 PM
CATASTROPHIC SUCCESS, PART II. I loved part one of Michael Gordon's "Catastrophic Success" series in The New York Times looking back on how we got to this messy point in Iraq, but I'm not quite sure I understand part two. The thesis, as stated in the piece, is that the intelligence community gave no warning that an insurgency might start up after the war. Over and over again, however, the text seems to indicate that such warnings were, in fact, given -- they simply weren't discussed at great length. That was a mistake, perhaps, but surely if someone in the White House, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, or the Office of the Vice President read something like "rogue ex-regime elements could forge an alliance with existing terrorist organizations or act independently to wage guerrilla warfare against a new government or coalition forces" (from the January 2003 National Intelligence Estimate on postwar Iraq) and had thought, "whoa, that sounds important, could you elaborate?", someone would have been willing to go into greater detail.

The reality, however, is that the White House and the Pentagon made it abundantly clear that they didn't want to hear about any dark clouds on the horizon of Middle East transformation while they were still busy selling their war to the public. The only point on which the intelligence community's analyses seem to have been genuinely off-base was on the state of Iraq's physical infrastructure, particularly the power network, which was in much worse state than was believed. The rest of the problems, however, seem to lie mostly with political appointees and the CENTCOM leadership, not with the underlying intelligence.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:52 PM
YOU GOT THE WRONG "AMERICA VOTES". Debunking Washington Times pieces is a kind of fish-in-a-barrel endeavor, but one line from today's big expose of America Votes and all the voter fraud the liberal umbrella outfit is perpetrating is too hilarious to pass up:
Hundreds of questionable voter-registration applications, such as duplicates, and accusations of workers shredding registrations in favor of one party are under review by local, state and federal law-enforcement and election authorities in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, West Virginia, Oregon, Ohio, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida. [emphasis added]
Now, unless I'm mistaken, the "shredding registrations" charge is a reference to the antics of GOP operative Nathan Sproul's outfit, Sproul & Associates, which have included pretending to be a part of America Votes in states like Nevada, Oregon, and Pennsylvania while trashing Democratic registration forms (in Nevada, at least).

Is anybody aware of any shredding accusations currently lodged against the real America Votes that might be what the Times is referring to here? The story's getting linked to by lots of indignant right-wing bloggers, but none of them seem to provide any such examples. The Times really just seems to be conflating Sproul's faux America Votes and its attendent abuses with the real organization, in an article that lists not one single specific example of voter fraud investigations connected with the real America Votes. That's some top-notch journalism!

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 03:17 PM
DIRTY TRICKS, SMOKING GUN EDITION. This is getting ridiculous. Now it turns out that Sproul & Associates -- the GOP political consulting firm accused of voter-registration–related malfeasance in several swing states -- has been at work in Pennsylvania, too. This article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the details. Once again, you have workers who say they were told only to register GOP leaners -- and who were stiffed on pay -- and a Republican National Committee spokesman spinning feebly against the evidence. Here's the important part:
Heather Layman, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, confirmed Sproul's role in the effort and said that complaints by 45 to 50 workers who had not been paid had been straightened out. Layman denied that the canvassers avoided registering Democrats and suggested that Democrats were orchestrating the charges.

"I do smell politics here if that's what they're saying," Layman said.

Much of the controversy yesterday centered on the registration drive in Crawford County, where canvassers claimed to be owed thousands of dollars after hunting out Bush supporters.

"If they were a Kerry voter, we were just supposed to walk away," said Michael Twilla, of Meadville, who said he has been paid for only eight of 72 hours he worked.

Twilla provided the Post-Gazette with a copy of the script he said he had been given.

It instructs the canvassers to hand unregistered Bush supporters a clipboard with a registration form, and to advise them the canvassers will personally deliver the forms to the local courthouse.

A lower portion of the form also advises the canvassers to ask undecided voters two questions: "Do you consider yourself pro-choice or pro life?" and "Are you worried about the Democrats raising taxes?" If voters say they are pro-life, the form says, "Ask if they are registered to vote. If they are pro-choice, say thank you and walk away."

The form also tells canvassers, "If anyone asks who you are working for, it's 'Project America Vote.' "

America Votes, whose name is similar, is a self-described nonpartisan voter registration organization sponsored by generally liberal-leaning groups.

What more evidence do we need? And why aren't the big newspapers covering this every single day?

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 02:39 PM
LET THE SPIN BEGIN. Matt Drudge is already pounding an allegedly offensive comment by Teresa Heinz Kerry -- surprise! -- regarding Laura Bush.

Here's the headline: "DESPERATE HOUSEWIFE? TERESA DOUBTS LAURA HAS HELD 'REAL JOB'?"

Gee, that's really offensive! It's just like when Hillary Clinton said that thing about staying home and baking cookies! (Which is how the right-wing press and the GOP will spin it.)

But let's go to the tape. Here's the USA Today interview that contains the quote. What's important to realize is what the conversation had been about. Shortly before Heinz Kerry was asked about Laura Bush, she was asked this:

Q: Our poll shows a lot of Americans don't think the spouse of the president should have a job in the private sector.

A: I'd love to see the wording in the poll, because I would have said, "If you had a woman president, and the husband was a brilliant neurosurgeon, (should) he give up being a neurosurgeon?" No! And I think what the American people really want is to make sure that the companion to the president -- a woman now -- supports him. And that's absolutely the No. 1 job for the country's sake, for his sake.

Beyond that, I think the book hasn't been written. You know, there are no clear answers. We have to create our own stories and do the best we can.

So far, so good, I think. Then, a little while later, we get this string of questions (allegedly offensive statement in bold):
Q: When you campaign for your husband, what does that tell people about him?

A: Well, I can only repeat to you what people say (to me): "If he's married to a woman who thinks and speaks her mind, he's a strong man, and we like him." That's what they say.

Q: Do you have a role model for first lady in mind?

A: The one thing I've learned from watching is that there really isn't a model, because every person coming in is different. Their experiences are different, and times have changed.

Q: You'd be different from Laura Bush?

A: Well, you know, I don't know Laura Bush. But she seems to be calm, and she has a sparkle in her eye, which is good. But I don't know that she's ever had a real job — I mean, since she's been grown up. So her experience and her validation comes from important things, but different things. And I'm older, and my validation of what I do and what I believe and my experience is a little bit bigger — because I'm older, and I've had different experiences. And it's not a criticism of her. It's just, you know, what life is about.

If you take a really narrow and jaundiced view here, you could read this as a slam on Bush. But it doesn't seem like what Heinz Kerry intended. True, she's not herself a traditional career woman (if that term makes sense); she's independently wealthy and her work revolves mostly around philanthopic activities of the kind rich people do when they don't need to punch hours at a law firm. But that's still a different kind of experience than that of Bush, who for most of her adult life has been what people still call a housewife or homemaker. Perhaps not surprisingly, she evidently embraces a so-called "traditional" first lady role. (That is, she doesn't get heavily involved in policy-making, as Hillary Clinton did.) I think a generous reading of Heinz Kerry's statement is simply that, since she's never played that role in her marriage or her professional life, she doesn't expect to play that role if she becomes first lady, either. But it's clear she wasn't intending to make light of Bush's choices.

That won't matter when the spin machine starts, of course.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 02:28 PM
STEWART: FUNNY. I actually think Crossfire is quite good as rat-a-tat-tat chat shows go, but Jon Stewart's recap of his appearance there is still pretty funny. Check it out here.

As a side note, I do think Stewart misdirects his ire. Personally, I'm less concerned with vapid cable chat shows -- which very few people watch and not many people take seriously -- than I am with vapid print and network news coverage, which many more people see and take seriously.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 12:51 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: TORTUROUS PASSAGE. Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay lost a battle two weeks ago when they had to drop a plan to legalize torture. But they may still win the war to make it easier, warns Katherine Hawkins. What's worse: It hasn't stopped us in the past. Hawkins relates the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen held for over a year and tortured in a Syrian prison -- and eventually found to be completely innocent.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 12:50 PM
WORKING THE REFS. Today in Salon, Eric Boehlert explores the Bush administration's growing attack against The New York Times linked to Ron Suskind's much-talked about magazine piece from Sunday. I don't think Boehlert quite spells out the politics of it. Here's what's happening. The Bush administration, having already succeeded in getting the corporate bosses at 60 Minutes to keep away from stories too critical of this White House, would like to cow another of the country's most effective and prestigious news organizations. They want everyone asking whether Suskind made up his quotes so that Times reporters won't go too hard on them before and, hopefully, after the election. There are not that many news organizations in the country capable of really deep, resource-intensive investigative reporting and reaching a national audience; shut down or make gun-shy 60 Minutes and the Times, and you've taken out two entities that might make your life difficult.

Luckily, Times editor Bill Keller -- from what he tells Boehlert -- doesn't seem like he's ready to back down. And I hope (and suspect) that 60 Minutes will regain its nerve in the near future, too.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 12:08 PM
THAT'S OUR PORTER. Boy, it really didn't take long for Porter Goss to confirm widespread fears that he'd be a partisan hack as CIA chief. The hiring of fellow GOP House partisans (one of whom moonlighted as a petty thief) was just a warm-up; now Goss is delivering the real goods.

As Matt just noted, an inspector general's report that names specific officials implicated in intelligence negligence leading up to September 11 is being withheld until after the election to protect the president from embarassment. The House Intelligence Committee's chairman (Goss' successor, Peter Hoekstra) and ranking member (Jane Harman) have cosigned a formal written request to see the report, but have heard nothing back yet from the CIA.

An intelligence official told Robert Scheer, who broke the story, that the agency wasn't releasing the report because it was incomplete, but Scheer's sources tell him the thing was finished in June. Since then:

... release of the report, which represents an exhaustive 17-month investigation by an 11-member team within the agency, has been "stalled." First by acting CIA Director John McLaughlin and now by Porter J. Goss, the former Republican House member (and chairman of the Intelligence Committee) who recently was appointed CIA chief by President Bush.

...

"The agency directorate is basically sitting on the report until after the election," the official continued. "No previous director of CIA has ever tried to stop the inspector general from releasing a report to the Congress, in this case a report requested by Congress."

This does not appear to be simply reflexive ass-covering on the part of the agency. Harman, Goss' erstwhile House Intelligence Committee colleague and not one who's prone to wild allegations, is blunt about her suspicions that the White House is applying pressure: "We believe that the CIA has been told not to distribute the report . . . We are very concerned."

Give Goss credit -- he sure knows that you've got to dance with them what brung you. One thing that Rush Holt, a Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee, told me during Goss' confirmation hearings was that he and the other Dems were cautiously hopeful about Hoekstra, who, while certainly a partisan Republican, had shown himself to be a more serious and hard-working panelist than his Republican colleagues, Goss included. By the looks of the efforts Hoekstra has made alongside Harman to get information his predecessor refuses to grant them, Holt may have been right.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 11:13 AM
9-11 REPORT COVERUP. Yesterday's Los Angeles Times contained a major newsbreak from Robert Scheer who reports that a completed CIA report into September 11 that's "more blunt and more specific than the earlier bipartisan reports produced by the Bush-appointed Sept. 11 commission and Congress" is being kept under wraps at the behest of political appointees. Members of Congress to whom the report should have been delivered are asking for it and not getting it. According to Scheer's intelligence source, who's read the report, "What all the other reports on 9/11 did not do is point the finger at individuals, and give the how and what of their responsibility. This report does that . . . [t]he report found very senior-level officials responsible."

This is outrageous, but sadly typical of what we've been seeing from this administration. We can expect things to get much worse over four more years as Porter Goss consolidates the wholesale politicization of the intelligence community.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:41 AM
WAXMAN HAS THE GOODS. Via Mark Kleiman I see that the office of Rep. Henry Waxman has put out another invaluable report (PDF), this time on the flu vaccine crisis. I count at least six specific steps that credible experts inside the government advised this administration to take since assuming office that would have prevented, or at least mitigated, the problem, and one thing they did to make things worse.

The flu issue is by no means the essence of the case against the Bush administration, but by presenting us with a relatively unideological topic it does illustrate most of the main planks. Inattention to detail, disregard for expert opinion, and unwillingness to act in the absence of a visible political payoff helped create the crisis. Once confronted with the problem, the administration prefers fibbing, buck-shifting, and efforts to promote an unrelated political agenda (in this case "tort reform") to efforts to provide a solution. It's reminiscent of summer 2003's blackout, the budget deficit, the Iraq War, and all the rest. And once again, people will die as a result of Bush's mismanagement of core government functions.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:28 AM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: JAMES CHACE, 1931-2004. James Chace, one of America's preeminent foreign-policy analysts, passed away earlier this month. Four of his friends and colleagues, including Sidney Blumenthal, Jane Mayer, Ted Widmer, and Michael Tomasky share their thoughts and memories on Chace's life and work.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 10:17 AM
COALITION OF THE INCREASINGLY UNWILLING. A friend points me to an item on the Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty Eastern Europe newsline:
Opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko has announced that immediately after becoming president he would sign a decree on pulling out the Ukrainian military contingent from Iraq, Interfax reported on 18 October. "Our servicemen will be withdrawn from Iraq in a quiet way, without rush," Yushchenko said. "They will be replaced by politicians, diplomats, and businessmen. Ukraine is ready to participate in the restoration of Iraq's economy." Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Yushchenko's main rival in the 31 October elections, said at a meeting with voters on 18 October that he foresees a gradual pullout of the Ukrainian troops from Iraq in 2005. Yushchenko stressed that the contingent cannot be withdrawn immediately as such a move would only add impetus to international terrorism.
The president and his surrogates are busy running around the country swearing that the United States military is facing no manpower crisis. Meanwhile, they're committed to an open-ended continuation of an unsustainable deployment in Iraq that's going to need to get bigger unless we change our strategy as more and more countries plan to withdraw their forces.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:09 AM
October 19, 2004
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: AS GOD IS HIS WITNESS. Most people assume George W. Bush's life, if not his presidency itself, is guided by a deep-seated Christianity. Not so, argues Ayelish McGarvey: His faith appears to be closer to evangelical agit-prop than it is to a guiding ideology.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 05:53 PM
BEG CANADA. It's been little remarked on in all the hubbub about the flu vaccine shortage, but it seems worth noting that the company whose vaccine hasn't been pulled from market for safety reasons is French. Aventis Pasteur is a unit of Aventis, whose international headquarters lies in Strasbourg, France. So to the extent that elderly Americans can now thank anyone for keeping them safe from influenza this coming winter, they can thank the French. It's the American company Chiron that whiffed and produced an inferior product, banned from market by the British.

Today, Aventis Pasteur, which produces 40 percent of the flu vaccine for the American market, announced it will produce 2.6 million more doses to help with the vaccine shortfall.

And who else is America turning to in its hour of need? The Canadians.

USA Today reported this morning:

Earlier Tuesday, another top health official said the FDA is in "active negotiations" with a Canadian manufacturer to obtain an extra 1.5 million doses of flu vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview "it's possible" the vaccine from ID Biomedical would make it to American consumers this flu season.

Given that the president blasts France at every turn and has questioned the safety of Canadian drugs, the geopolitical ironies of the present situation are priceless. After all, "When a drug comes in from Canada," George W. Bush explained in the October 8 presidential debate, defending his failure to make good on a 2000 campaign promise to allow import of less expensive Canadian medications, "I want to make sure it cures you and doesn't kill you."

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 04:11 PM
FREEDOM IS MARCHING IN CIRCLES. Via Abu Aaardvark, a worthwhile essay from Amy Hawthorne, editor of the Carnegie Endowment's Arab Reform Bulletin:
While a consensus is forming among the region’s political elite that reform is necessary, there is no shared understanding of what reform means. Reformers, however, are unanimous in their rejection of, or at best a very grudging attitude toward, the role of outsiders, especially the United States, in promoting reform. 

Most important, the lively, often quite far-reaching debates about reform are only palely reflected in the actual changes that have been introduced to date by Arab states. Arab regimes still control the agenda: they are willing to take measures that benefit their image abroad and buy them time domestically as long as such steps do not infringe on their own power. The future of political reform will be determined by the ability of liberal reformers to attract popular support, by the role of moderates in Islamist movements, and by the willingness of the United States and other Western countries to press for democratic reform.

If the future of political reform will be determined, in part, "by the willingness of the United States . . . to press for democratic reform" and, thanks to the gross unpopularity of the country's policies under George W. Bush, "Reformers . . . are unanimous in their rejection of, or at best a very grudging attitude toward . . . the United States," then we have a serious problem. Either the United States won't back reformers and nothing will happen, or else we will back reformers, thus associating them with our own unpopular policies and discrediting them. Either way, there's no opportunity for serious reform unless we can do something to break the poisonous atmosphere that Bush's policies have created in the region.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:32 PM
DRAFT INSANITY. Via Justin Logan I see that George W. Bush's panicky political advisors are pushing him toward ever more ridiculous claims about the draft:
In an interview Monday with the AP, Bush accused Kerry of scare tactics and insisted he would not bring back the military draft, even if there were a crisis with North Korea or Iran.

"I believe we've got the assets and manpower necessary to be able to deal with another theater should one arise," Bush said.

As Logan writes, "This is insane. Everybody -- right, left, neocon, libertarian, paleo, whatever -- acknowledges that we're stretched about as far as we can go." We might be able to raise the needed additional manpower without a draft -- no one really knows -- but we certainly would need more manpower. The alternative would have units finishing year-long tours in Iraq being shipped directly to the Korean peninsula for more combat. In the movie Deterrence the president responds to the manpower crisis posed by the need to fight simultaneous wars in Iraq and North Korea by issuing orders for a nuclear strike on Baghdad, so maybe that's what the president has in mind. More plausibly, and therefore more worryingly, this indicates that the president agrees with those in his administration that it will somehow be possible to win a quick war with Iran on the cheap.

The people who believe that are wrong, but they're the same people whose arguments carried the day in the Iraq debate, and in a second term we all just might get the chance to learn how wrong they are.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:02 PM
SPITING THE HAND THAT FUNDS YOU. Atrios has been hot on the trail of the whirlwind that Sinclair Broadcasting Group has reaped. Today's developments include a shareholder action underwritten by Media Matters, aggressive questioning from the New York State Common Retirement Fund (PDF), and accusations of insider trading led by one of the country's most prominent securities lawyers. While Sinclair and its co-conspirators are surely happy to draw attention away from actual campaign issues, this couldn't be the reaction they envisioned.

The success of this shareholder assault makes me wonder if the left has found a cudgel it wields better than the right. Compare the Sinclair effort against the recent boycott of Procter & Gamble, which seems to have had very little impact. (P&G's stock has dropped by a couple points since the boycott was announced, but no more than has the Dow.) The two initiatives aren't all that comparable, of course; still, the Sinclair offensive is vastly more aware of its target's pressure points, despite having none of the institutional experience that Focus on the Family and the American Family Association brought to the P&G boycott. If an ad hoc coalition can so quickly outduel a seemingly unaccountable partisan company, you may see this effort replicated elsewhere.

The left is far behind the right in most forms of working the refs, and has only recently started working to fight back in kind; as David Brock told me a few weeks ago, Accuracy in Media had a core of some 30,000 letter-writing activists in its prime, along with a strategy of getting well-known members of the Republican Party to pick up the phone and complain, and the conservatives' years of work has put liberals at a significant disadvantage on several media fronts. It's nice to see liberals getting such success from an underused activist strategy.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 02:47 PM
TO SAVE A VILLAGE. Steve Clemons proffers that the fight against the insurgency in Iraq may be beginning to morph into a body-count war. Citing an incendiary New York Times piece on the number of Iraqis killed in one week, Clemons writes:
As if Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were not enough, a calloused attitude towards the killing of innocents pretty much nails the coffin lid down on our 'hearts and minds battle' in Iraq and the Middle East writ large.
The evidence that we’ve already given up on winning the “hearts and minds” battle does seem to be mounting. The same Times article, for example, offers a stark example of these “calloused attitudes” towards a key principle in just-war theory.
Last Thursday, on the same day that American jets intensified their bombardment of Falluja…the United States military released a statement that read in part: "A top priority is to avoid harming civilians and causing damage. However, by operating and hiding among civilians, the terrorists endanger innocent civilians and are directly responsible for any harm to the women and children they hide behind."
To be sure, as a legal advisor to the prosecutor of the Yugoslav and Rwanda War Crimes Tribunals once told me, war is about killing people and breaking things. Sometimes it’s even persmissible to cause serious harm to non-combatants as a side effect of bringing about good ends. The doctrine of double effect reasons that foreseen harmful outcomes (such as the inevitable destruction of a school that neighbors a munitions factory) can be permitted in war so long as it is a means of bringing about some good end.

This principle, however, is conditioned upon the strictest efforts to minimize this foreseen harmful outsome, and the Pentagon’s statement doesn’t leave one with the impression of particularly strident efforts to do so. It attenuated the mandate to avoid civilian casualties by assigning external blame for the deaths of non-combatants. To me, this suggests that the military is not all that concerned that every precaution is taken to avoid the killing of innocents. In fact, this statement is so stunning because it reveals that the Pentagon has abdicated its responsibility to minimize civilian deaths to terrorists, who by definition don’t feel a particular need to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 02:46 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: WHERE FACT MEETS FICTION. George W. Bush states as fact that we won't have a draft while he's president. And with the combined power of the Republican National Committee, friendly press, and shameless self-confidence, he just might be able to convince Americans that that's the case. But in the "reality-based community," Matthew Yglesias objects, the facts aren't nearly so reassuring.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 12:18 PM
MORE SPROUL. This had already come out at the level of online discussion board chatter, but I believe this is the first time I've seen the story in a daily paper:
In Pittsburgh, Holly McCullough, an official with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, said that a couple of months ago the library was approached by representatives of a group calling itself America Votes seeking registration tables at branches.

She said that officials OK'd the planning -- believing that the group was a nonpartisan outfit by the same name. Only later, she said yesterday, did officials learn that Kelly temporary-agency workers had been hired by an Arizona company called Sproul and Associates -- and that the temps were asked to only sign up Bush voters.

"A Kelly worker said they were trained to ask people who they were voting for, and if they said Bush they'd give them a form," McCollough said.

And still we've heard nothing but evasion from the RNC about the status of its relationship with Sproul & Associates and its knowledge of legal violations perpetrated by Sproul & Associates while on the RNC payroll.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 11:30 AM
THE BUCK GOES ROUND AND ROUND. New York Times military correspondent Michael Gordon gets into the act with a long piece reviewing the many errors of planning and execution that have produced the current situation in Iraq. The basic outline, naturally enough, is similar to what Knight-Ridder reported on Sunday, but the most noteworthy thing about Gordon's piece is the responses he got from administration appointees.

In essence, no one will defend the policy and no one will take responsibility for it. Instead, you get lots of buck-passing, ass-covering, and finger-pointing. The reality is, however, that doubts about the administration's strategy (or lack thereof) were widely voiced both inside the government and in the press before the war and all the key decisions taken after the war were likewise controversial in the government, in the international community, and in the wider public debate. I doubt that anyone made the right call on all of these issues, but someone made the right call on each individual one. The president and his top aides just made the wrong choices over and over again.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:19 AM
BROOKS AT HIS HACKIEST. Here’s what Dick Cheney said on Thursday about John Kerry’s outing of his out gay daughter: "You saw a man who will do and say anything to get elected…”

Ken Mehlman on Sunday: “And I think what you saw when John Kerry -- when he brought that inappropriate point up in the debate, it was part of a larger pattern here, a pattern of someone who is literally willing to say anything -- anything -- in order to win.”

David Brooks today: “Over the past few days, he has underscored the feeling that he will say or do anything to further his career.”

Even leaving aside Brooks' rather egregious peddling of Bush-Cheney '04 talking points, this has to be one of the worst columns he's yet written for The New York Times. Point for point, his "debunkings" of Kerry's attacks are simply disgraceful in their dishonesty and/or illogic. His point on the draft is virtually identical to the Bush campaign's: The president and the GOP "don't want" a draft, so, end of discussion -- as if what Bush "wants" has anything to do with the issue. His takedown of Kerry's and John Edwards' comments on stem cells consists entirely of putting Bush's ban on research in scare quotes. One could go on, but what's the use? Brooks' columns alternate these days between painful, deer-in-the-headlights "I don't know what to write about!" vacuity and today's brand of hardened hackery. And it's only getting worse.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 09:52 AM
THE REALITY-BASED COMMUNITY, UP IN ARMS. Here's a very good piece in The New York Times examining the extraordinary outpouring of opposition to George W. Bush's re-election from among scientists. The piece's main flaw is that, after advancing the notion that scientists are heavily mobilizing against Bush in the political sphere, it gives the first four paragraphs of body to two guys who are out to debunk the idea that Bush has anything to apologize for: The White House science advisor, John Marburger, and Jesse Ausubel, a scientist at Rockefeller University. Let's deal with what they say before getting to the meat:
Administration officials see some of the criticism as partisan, and some perhaps a function of unrealistic expectations on the part of scientists about their role in policy debates. "This administration really does not like regulation and it believes in market processes in general," said Dr. John H. Marburger III, the president's science adviser, who is a Democrat.

"So there's always going to be a tilt in an administration like this one to a certain set of actions that you take to achieve some policy objective," he went on. "In general, science may give you some limits and tell you some boundary conditions on that set of actions, but it really doesn't tell you what to do."

Dr. Jesse H. Ausubel, an expert on energy and climate at Rockefeller University, said some of the bitterness expressed by other researchers could stem from their being excluded from policy circles that were open to them under previous administrations. "So these people who believe themselves important feel themselves belittled," he said.

It is rather extraordinary for Marburger to admit, in essence, that a broad policy of deregulation requires ignoring scientific know-how -- after all, usually the business community tries to tell us the opposite. But there it is. Asubel is a more interesting case, and the author of the Times piece, the estimable Andrew Revkin, should have explained who he is: A leading skeptic of climate change who is active in the Cooler Heads Coalition, an Astroturf group funded by industries opposed to regulation of CO2 emissions. Bush's policy on global warming rests in part on using skeptics like Ausubel to argue that, in fact, global warming ain't so bad, even if the vast majority of climate scientists are in agreement that it's a real problem. Under an administration that more or less respects scientific consensus and tries to base its policies to the greatest extent possible on empirical reality, someone like Asubel is a marginal figure. Under an administration like the current one, his dissenting views, subsidized by corporations hoping to evade further regulation, become very useful. So you can see why he'd cast his colleagues who are critical of Bush as merely jealous of their lost access.

But the rest of the article makes clear what's really going on. Read it and see.

UPDATE: A couple of readers say Ausubel is not, in fact, a climate change "skeptic" in the sense that I used it. Looking over at what I wrote and some of what he's written, it'd be more accurate to say he is among those scientists who recognize that global warming is both real and largely produced by human activity, but is more inclined to emphasize the uncertainty of the models used to predict the pace of warming. As someone with expertise in the field writes in:

To understand Ausubel, you must know that first and foremost he is a technologist. I don't believe Ausubel would deny the findings of the IPCC, namely that global average temperature has increased over the past century, that the increase is due to anthropogenic interference, and that models predict global average temperature increases up to 6 degrees C in 2100. Ausubel does however point out what the 2001 IPCC report concludes, that the uncertainty in the models that are used to predict future change has not decreased, although the sensitivity of the models has greatly increased. This is due to the peculiar fact that as the models get better, more variables are identified and added over time and while the uncertainty with older variables are decreased (such as with aerosols), the new uncertainties with the new variables keep the uncertainty of the whole model unchanged. Are the models better? Yes, however in a broad sense their predictive power is not improved. That is why he would claim that the future climate is "unknowable". It is perfectly accurate, however taken from its context by real skeptics, it can be a sword of ignorance against sound climate policy. In terms of climate policy itself, Ausubel does not betray his technologist convictions and firmly believes in technology and the capacity of technology to both mitigate climate change and adapt to climate effects, which is why he advocates for "decarbonization".
Fair enough. I think the broader point still stands, however. The Bush administration, when it isn't outright suppressing or banning information that contradicts its pre-determined policy choices, likes to cherry-pick those experts and bits of data that are least damaging to those policies, even when the experts and bits of data in question represent marginal or non-consensus views.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 09:39 AM
October 18, 2004
WHEN DID MICKEY KAUS BECOME AN EXPERT ON LESBIANS? Among the odder spectacles of this political season is how every middle-aged straight male pundit in America, from Bill Kristol to Mickey Kaus, is suddenly an expert on lesbians. Kaus, in particular, has led the way in raising questions about the propriety of John Kerry's reference to Mary Cheney's sexual identity during the third presidential debate. I find this deeply bizarre.

Now, I love reading Kausfiles, and Mickey's got some great advice to give on cars -- he was right on about the Scion X-B -- but if I'm looking for insight into lesbian imagery in public life, Mickey's not exactly the first person I'm going to turn to. The same holds for how such women view themselves, and wish to be discussed by others.

A more informed take on the whole flap was laid out by Hilary Rosen in the Washington Post on Saturday. Rosen's heartfelt outrage is shared by many gay-rights advocates who have, this election season, been increasingly upset to find their lives and decades-long struggle to live with dignity and without fear in this country turned into fodder for the nastiest, meanest, most hateful presidential campaign in decades. Wrote Rosen:

The response from the Cheneys and the Bush campaign has been blatantly political. In fact, it is they who are using Mary Cheney -- using her now to score points against Kerry and John Edwards over an issue on which they themselves are guilty of the wrongs that Kerry and Edwards are fighting against. Even after almost 30 years in Washington, I am surprised by the overwhelming hypocrisy and meanness of the Bush reelection campaign.

After the debate, the vice president said of John Kerry: "This is a man who will say anything and do anything to get elected." Many people thought the same thing about Dick Cheney and President Bush on Feb. 24. That was the day the president announced to the country that heterosexual marriages are in trouble because gay people might someday have such a right in a few states. The crisis was so dire that he implored Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to permanently take away any rights gay men and lesbians might have to equal access to government benefits of marriage.

The Republican leaderships in both houses of Congress brought this amendment to the floor. Anyone watching the debate would cringe at the dehumanizing and painful things said by Republican sponsors of the proposal about gay people.

All of the Cheneys have sat back as senators and members of Congress who stood up for their position against the constitutional amendment were attacked in campaigns across the country....

Where is the outrage of Dick and Lynne Cheney over this?

...we know that anti-gay messages are being promoted in many districts around the country to get out the evangelical vote for President Bush on Election Day. The silent but admirable Mary Cheney has remained a loyal daughter and foot soldier in this homophobic campaign.

I feel sorry for her -- sorry that she seems to now be a pawn in this race. But the perpetrator is not Kerry. This issue is in the campaign because Bush sought political advantage by using it all year. This week's outrage rings so false it makes my ears hurt.

Why Kerry brought up Mary Cheney is much less interesting than why the Cheneys and their myriad surrogates have been trying so hard to keep all of America talking about her lesbianism. Because if anyone missed picking up on it during the debate, they've sure heard about it by now.

One interesting theory I've heard is that some of this may be preemptive framing to soften the blow if certain members of the Bush administration or campaign find themselves outed in the weeks or months ahead. Mike Rogers has been very, very active with his outing campaign over the past few months, and who knows what he's going to do next. All in all, a terrible year for gay Republicans, for every possible reason.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 04:33 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: DON'T ASK? DO TELL! Which is worse: calling somebody's openly gay daughter a "lesbian," or calling that daughter a "selfish hedonist"? Lynne Cheney bristled at the former last week, but didn't seem to care when Alan Keyes insulted her daughter last month. The selective outrage is no surprise, writes Garance Franke-Ruta, because the Cheneys have a history of intermittently treating Mary Cheney's sexuality as a shameful secret to preserve their standing with the religious right.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 03:59 PM
IT ONLY GETS WORSE. Plenty of people have already offered comments on yesterday’s New York Times article about prisoner abuse in Guantanamo Bay. I strongly suggest reading this piece in conjunction with the largely unnoticed Financial Times article I mentioned from October 5, which quoted the second in command at Gitmo as saying that most prisoners there would eventually be released due to a lack of much evidence that they’d done anything wrong. (The piece is now blocked to non-subscribers, alas; the gist can be found here, and the subsequent damage control and recantations by the main source of the piece are here.)

To be sure, in Sunday’s New York Times report, sources say that the rough stuff was generally saved for a collection of supposedly high-value prisoners called the “Dirty 30,” men the U.S. presumably knew were closely connected to nefarious terrorist networks. But the fact remains that highly coercive interrogations, exceeding the standards spelled out in the Geneva Conventions, were very likely carried out with men at Guantanamo who had been guilty merely of being in the wrong place at the wrong time in Afghanistan when the U.S. began sweeping -- and soliciting -- for terror suspects to detain in the fall of 2001. The parallels to Abu Ghraib, where many innocent civilians found themselves swept up in raids and imprisoned in a hothouse of abuse, are obvious, and grim.

Uglier still is the explanation given by an unnamed military intelligence official for how the first four detainees charged with war crimes under the administration’s makeshift “commissions” process were chosen:

The official said the first four detainees now facing war crimes charges before a military tribunal at the base were specifically chosen because they had not been harshly treated and therefore would be less likely to make any embarrassing allegations.
It should be recalled that those four suspects consist of two men alleged to have fought with the Taliban and attended al-Qaeda camps, an accountant for al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden’s chauffeur. Bad guys, undoubtedly, but were these the strongest examples of war criminals the United States could come up with? Evidently, under the limitations imposed by American officials’ caution about the publicization of their own systematic abuse, they were.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 03:55 PM
DISGRUNTLEMENT WATCH, SWITCHING SIDES EDITION. We've seen a lot of conservative disgruntlement with the Bush administration, but precious few out-and-out calls to vote for the other guy. It's no surprise to see Scott McConnell of The American Conservative -- essentially a magazine founded in order to express disgruntlement with the president -- out on a limb on this front. McConnell offers what is, I think, the best rebuttal of the argument -- propagated mainly by disgruntled-but-still-loyal conservatives like Robert Novak, though comforting to liberals -- that a second Bush administration would see a "return to normalcy" and an end to the weirdness of the past three years:
The record, from published administration memoirs and in-depth reporting, is one of an administration with a very small group of six or eight real decision-makers, who were set on war from the beginning and who took great pains to shut out arguments from professionals in the CIA and State Department and the U.S. armed forces that contradicted their rosy scenarios about easy victory. Much has been written about the neoconservative hand guiding the Bush presidency—and it is peculiar that one who was fired from the National Security Council in the Reagan administration for suspicion of passing classified material to the Israeli embassy and another who has written position papers for an Israeli Likud Party leader have become key players in the making of American foreign policy.

But neoconservatism now encompasses much more than Israel-obsessed intellectuals and policy insiders. The Bush foreign policy also surfs on deep currents within the Christian Right, some of which see unqualified support of Israel as part of a godly plan to bring about Armageddon and the future kingdom of Christ. These two strands of Jewish and Christian extremism build on one another in the Bush presidency—and President Bush has given not the slightest indication he would restrain either in a second term. With Colin Powell’s departure from the State Department looming, Bush is more than ever the “neoconian candidate.” The only way Americans will have a presidency in which neoconservatives and the Christian Armageddon set are not holding the reins of power is if Kerry is elected.

I think that's about right. Four more years means four more years of the same, and no one should head into the election with any illusions about that. If Bush were to lose, I expect we'll see a robust intra-GOP debate about the party's future, but in politics, success breeds success and no one abandons a winning formula.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:06 PM
FUEL FOR THE... Mary Cheney is a lesbian? I hestitate to even add a comment to the still swirling faux-controversy over the Mary Cheney mention in the third debate. But William Safire's column today on the latest Bush camp smokescreen -- in which he calls John Kerry's mention of Cheney the "centerpiece of [his] answer" on gay life in America -- really deserves a response. First off, I think Mary Cheney should be left alone, although it's completely disingeneous to say, as Safire does, that "Until that moment, only political junkies knew that a member of the Cheney family serving on the campaign staff was homosexual." Ridiculous. In 2000, her lesbian identity -- as well as her former job as the Coors staffer who was tasked with outreach efforts to the gay and lesbian community -- was all over the press. I wish (as I'm sure the Kerry camp does now) that Kerry had used a nameless example. Or maybe Chrissy Gephardt. I think mentioning her was unnecessary and ham-handed. That said, what's really unfortunate here is that Kerry's answer that night (outside of the unfortunate Mary comment and the annoying and unnecessary, but politically expedient, reminder that a marriage is between a "man and a woman") was actually quite lovely.
I think if you talk to anybody, it's not choice. I've met people who struggled with this for years, people who were in a marriage because they were living a sort of convention, and they struggled with it.

And I've met wives who are supportive of their husbands or vice versa when they finally sort of broke out and allowed themselves to live who they were, who they felt God had made them.

I think we have to respect that.

The president and I share the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe that. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.

But I also believe that because we are the United States of America, we're a country with a great, unbelievable Constitution, with rights that we afford people, that you can't discriminate in the workplace. You can't discriminate in the rights that you afford people.

You can't disallow someone the right to visit their partner in a hospital. You have to allow people to transfer property, which is why I'm for partnership rights and so forth.

Now, with respect to DOMA and the marriage laws, the states have always been able to manage those laws. And they're proving today, every state, that they can manage them adequately.

Remember that the question was, "Is homosexuality a choice?" -- to which the president replied, smarmily, "I don't know," and went on to defend his decision to attempt to institutionalize discrimination in the Constitution.

--Sarah Wildman

Posted at 01:39 PM
FREEDOM IS ON THE RETREAT. George W. Bush was roundly criticized from a number of corners over his silence in the face of Vladimir Putin's progressive erosion of Russian democracy. The point wasn't that the critics thought Bush could just magically snap his fingers and fix everything, but that surely he could have done something to help civil society maintain its vitality. Worse, unlike in your average exercize of cynical realpolitik, Bush didn't seem to have gotten anything in return for his acquiescence. Russia wasn't -- and still isn't -- cooperating with us in Iraq, isn't cooperating with us in Iran, isn't cooperating with us in Sudan, and simply hasn't done America any favors. Until today, that is, when Putin offered Bush his endorsement for re-election.

Now, of course, technically speaking there's a distinction between running a foreign policy designed to advance America's national interest and running one designed to advance the interest of the Bush re-election campaign, but that's not a distinction the president seems big on.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:38 PM
STRANGE SOVEREIGNTY. Yesterday's Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed by F.J. Bing West, a Pentagon official from the Reagan administration, about Falluja that demonstrated a lot of what's gone wrong with the American mindset about Iraq:
Yawer has said he will not countenance unnecessary violence by the U.S. military -- "Each drop of Iraqi blood is dear to us." He has said that the city should not be "punished" for the transgressions of a few. This is like saying in 1943 that Berlin should not be "punished."

For the last five months, Allawi has insisted that he can woo former Baathists away from the insurgency. This has yet to happen.

A cynic might infer that the Iraqi interim government has calculated that it risks nothing by trying another "peace settlement."

This time, however, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld did not repeat the mistakes of April, when he left negotiations to the regular military and diplomatic chains of command.

Instead, on Tuesday he flew to Baghdad. Prime Minister Allawi then told the Fallouja delegation to hand over Zarqawi. Predictably, they refused. Rumsfeld and Allawi had called their bluff. That's when the Marines launched their heavy raid against Fallouja, despite Yawer's wearying complaints about the use of force.

The thing is that West's wearying complainer, Ghazi Ajil Yawer, is, in principle, the president of Iraq, which, in theory, is a country. What's more, his role in the Interim Government's leadership was precisely supposed to be that of a representative of Sunni Arab interests. And, in theory, our troops are in Iraq to help build a liberal democracy not, as in Berlin 1943, to pummel an adversary who attacked us. Insofar as there ever was a threat from Saddam Hussein that threat has already been removed. When you're at the point where the U.S. Secretary of Defense is browbeating Iraq's Shiite prime minister to get him to override the objections of Iraq's Sunni president and let the U.S. launch a massive strike on Sunni Arab population centers, someone has lost sight of the mission.

The problem was supposed to be that insurgent control of Falluja and other cities would make it impossible to organize elections which would undermine the legitimacy of the Iraqi government in the eyes of Sunni Arabs and make it impossible to undercut the insurgency's political support. That wasn't a bad analysis. But demolishing Sunni Arab cities against the advice of the main Sunni Arab figure within the Interim Government and then having people publish op-eds about what a good job Donald Rumsfeld has done twisting the arm of the "sovereign" Iraqi government doesn't accomplish anything if the problem was that the Interim Government lacked legitimacy in the eyes of Sunni Arabs. The moral of the story here is that any Sunni Arabs who stayed in the political process were suckers who got fancy job titles and zero influence over policy, even regarding topics of vital interest to the Sunni Arab community.

Sunnis fear that, as a numerical minority in the new Iraq, democracy will simply mean their marginalization at the hands of a Shiite-dominated central government, a strong Kurdistan, and a hostile United States. It's hard to say that they're wrong about this, so it's easy to see why so many have chosen to fight.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:01 PM
SUPPORT THE TROOPS. A disgruntled government official has leaked to The Washington Post a letter from General Ricardo Sanchez in which the Army's top commander in Iraq "complained to the Pentagon last winter that his supply situation was so poor that it threatened Army troops' ability to fight." This was as of December 2003, so while "senior Army officials" may say "that most of Sanchez's concerns have been addressed in recent months" one has to ask oneself why most of them weren't addressed a long time ago and how it is that some of them still haven't been addressed today. It would also be nice to know which concerns, exactly, are the ones they haven't gotten around to addressing.

In other news, Sunday's Los Angeles Times reported that due to overstretch in the Army the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, normally serving as the Opposition Force (OPFOR) at the National Training Center, is being redeployed for a year of combat duty in Iraq. The consequences of such a move, described by Phil Carter as "eating your seed corn," could be dire down the road. The OPFOR is the unit that other units fight against during training, so the maintainance of a high-quality outfit at the NTC is vital to the strength of the military down the road.

Also on Sunday, Knight-Ridder's Warren Strobel and John Walcott took a look at the administration's planning for postwar operations in Iraq and concluded that it was "nonexistent." In one emblematic episode, "in March 2003, days before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq," a lieutenant colonel giving a presentation about the war was a bit nervous about the end of his presentation dealing with post-conflict reconstruction because his slide read, "To Be Provided."

None of this is exactly brand new information, but it's becoming clearer and clearer that one's worst fears on these fronts were, if anything, underestimations of how badly screwed up the process surrounding the invasion was.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:53 AM
THE BATTLE MOVES TO THE BUSINESS PAGES. It looks like the burgeoning boycott of Sinclair Broadcasting is now meriting coverage in many papers' business pages -- a good sign for the firm's critics, because it means the boycott is having an effect, and because business reporters often cover political stories better than political reporters. (Go look up the big dailies' Enron coverage to see what I mean.) This New York Times piece is headlined "Risks Seen for TV Chain Showing Film About Kerry," and the article is significant on several levels. First, because it publishes the names of several national chains who advertise on Sinclair's local stations, which not only magnifies the effects of the boycott but also gives those companies the kind of bad press they'd rather avoid. Second, because the article throws down a couple more opinions from equities analysts and research firms that reflect a growing consensus from Wall Street that Sinclair's decision to force-feed anti-John Kerry propaganda to its affiliates wasn't such a smart business move. Why? By engaging in such a naked political play, Sinclair has ticked off Democrats and consumer advocates; Wall Street analysts now believe the company will find it difficult to obtain the deregulation policies -- i.e., relaxed ownership -- that it needs to be profitable in the long term. In other words, by doing their best to help re-elect a Republican president, Sinclair may have just shot itself in the foot:
A report issued by the firm Legg Mason last week cited the controversy over the film and asked the question, "Is this good for investors in terms of increasing the odds for favorable deregulation?" The conclusion: "We think not."

Blair Levin, the managing director of Legg Mason and a former F.C.C. official, added in a telephone interview, "Deregulation usually happens when you do it quietly."

Leland Westerfield, a media analyst for Harris Nesbitt Gerard who has followed Sinclair since 1998, had already listed the company as an "underperforming" stock. Now, he said, the company seems to be more at risk.

"The recoil from Democrats at the F.C.C., and frankly moderate Republicans alike, suggests that Sinclair might be harming itself short term in revenues and long term in deregulation tactics," he said. "If the company intends to curry favor with the Republican free marketers and swing the scales back toward the deregulation of media, Sinclair may have harmed its own cause by hardening the resolve of the consumer advocates."

With the documentary becoming a point of contention in the presidential race, Mr. Levin said, Sinclair could face a no-win situation. If Mr. Bush is re-elected, Sinclair has created a circumstance where the deregulation it wants would be widely interpreted as what the Legg Mason report called "the Sinclair payback provision." If Mr. Kerry wins, he might try to lead the F.C.C. to consider regulations that could hurt Sinclair's position.

It appears to have only reinforced the opinions of some F.C.C. commissioners. Michael J. Copps, a Democratic commissioner on the F.C.C., said last week that Sinclair's action was "an abuse of the public trust.''

The article goes on to note that Sinclair has always been an unusual operation that doesn't play by the normal rules. (Check out what the Times says about how Sinclair's centralized newsgathering operation also has the effect of forcing the affiliates to carry conservative commentaries from one of the firm's vice-presidents, along with the local weather and sports.) But that doesn't mean all of this won't have an effect. Check this out:
Barry Lucas, senior vice president for research at Gabelli & Company, a major Sinclair shareholder, summarized his philosophy as: "Make money, not news."

"My point of view is simple,'' he said. "I am apolitical on this, but I don't like to see media companies above the fold on Page 1."

Money has no courage, as the old saying goes. If citizen action can make this a bad business move for Sinclair, the rest will take care of itself.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 09:25 AM
October 17, 2004
WEEKEND UPDATE. Wasted the weekend rooting for a cursed baseball team? Here's what you missed:

The Columnists:

  • David Brooks. Debates are pointless, especially when Democrats do well in them.
  • Nicholas Kristof. Half-measures work surprisingly well.
  • Jim Hoagland. I'm undecided because I can't be bothered to go back and read a transcript when I forget the details of what someone said.
  • David Broder. We're doomed! Doomed! And all I can think to do about it is recommend that we alter the details of committee procedure.
  • Michael Kinsley. The media is terrible.
  • Maureen Dowd. I don't like bishops.
  • Thomas Friedman. Like so many columnists I dare to condemn politicians for not having the courage to dare to address the entitlement-funding crisis, but I don't actually have a proposed solution.
The Op-Ed You Actually Need To Read: --Matthew Yglesias
Posted at 06:53 PM
October 15, 2004
WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE? Two odd reports about Iraq from Reuters this afternoon. First off is the U.S. decision to freeze the assets of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group, Monotheism and Holy War, and give it official terrorist designation. Second, diplomats associated with the International Atomic Energy Agency say that the theft of Iraqi nuclear material in the aftermath of the war was a large, complicated undertaking:
"We're talking about dozens of sites being dismantled," a diplomat said on condition of anonymity. "Large numbers of buildings taken down, warehouses were emptied and removed. This would require heavy machinery, demolition equipment. This is not something that you'd do overnight."
The Zarqawi thing is inexplicable -- his alleged ties to Saddam Hussein and to Osama bin Laden were one of the key planks (albeit an extraordinarily tendentious plank) of the case for war. He replaced Saddam (who, in turn, replaced bin Laden) as Public Enemy Number One in the administration's statements months ago. And we only decide today that he's a terrorist and we're going to try and shut down his finances? Suddenly, the reports that the White House deliberately let him get away before the war for political purposes don't look so bad in comparison to the general atmosphere of bizarre behavior by the U.S. government.

And then there's the nuclear thing. It's hard to see how something like this could have gone on right under the nose of U.S. and British officials, but by the same token the occupying powers were hardly in need of material or expertise from the Iraqi nuclear program. Could anyone really be that sloppy? If they're just now getting around to going after Zarqawi, maybe so. Meanwhile, uranium yellowcake (a precursor of the highly enriched uranium you use to make a bomb) from Iraq's pre-1991 program has turned up in Rotterdam, with other suspcious nuclear materials floating around elsewhere in Europe. I doubt there's a secret Dutch bomb-making plot here, but Iran's been known to evade international controls by buying things on the European market through front companies.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:50 PM
PULLING OUT. This New York Daily News piece from Wednesday sent the Internet a-buzzin’ about how the Bush campaign was giving up on Pennsylvania, but then Karl Rove and co. launched a hardy pushback effort yesterday to dispel the rumor.

Today, The Hill’s Tipsheet cites its own source, and it looks like Bush really is conceding the state:

The Bush/Cheney campaign is pulling its resources from Pennsylvania, according to a source with close ties to the campaign, in order to focus on Florida and the upper Midwestern states, such as Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, where the Kerry campaign has been losing ground since the Republican Convention.
Do they really have much more of a chance in Michigan?

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 03:12 PM
SPEAKING OF INAPPROPRIATE. Atrios is absolutely right: Where are Dick Cheney, his wife, the Bush campaign and other recent converts to the cause of gay equality when Republican congressional candidate Marilyn Musgrave sends out fundraising letters like this one? And where was Lynne Cheney when Alan Keyes called Mary Cheney a "selfish hedonist?"

Andrew Sullivan (here and elsewhere) and his correspondent, Marshall Wittman (here), say what needs to be said about the GOP's odd treatment of Mary Cheney's sexual orientation as something to be ashamed of, and its hilarious offensive against John Kerry as an apparent homophobe.

Sullivan's site also has a wonderful run-down of all the conservatives who have suddenly become charter members, so to speak, of the Human Rights Campaign. It's obvious what's going on here: The only way to salvage a "win" out of Wednesday's debate is to recast it as an occasion where Kerry made a horrendous gaffe. And the Bush surrogates in the right-wing press are doing everything they can to make that happen.

Alas, they seem to be doing a very effective job of it. Not one reporter writing a story about this blow-up seems willing to ask the Bush campaign or the Cheneys why it's offensive of Kerry to describe Mary Cheney -- in a positive sense -- as a lesbian. At least Gary Bauer is honest enough to admit that it will hurt Bush among rural conservatives for them to know a member of the Republican ticket fathered a daughter who plays for the other team.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 02:44 PM
THE DIRTY TRICKS BEGIN. Steve Clemons posts on what looks to be, as Josh Marshall believes, a classic Karl Rove-style dirty trick. (The similarities to an incident described in Josh Green's recent Rove profile are pretty startling.)

The gist is that someone went into Tennessee congressional candidate Craig Fitzhugh's office and "found" a bunch of fliers with George W. Bush's head pasted onto the body of a competitor in the Special Olympics, with the tagline "Voting for Bush is Like Running in the Special Olympics -- Even if You Win, You're Still Retarded."

Why does this seem like a dirty trick? A couple of reasons.

For one thing, the timing stinks. Here's how the first AP story describes the chronology (forgive the long excerpt, but it really provides a lot of context):

The flier was the subject of denunciations by Fitzhugh's Republican challenger, Dave Dahl; TeamGOP, which featured the flier on the home page of its Web site and for whom Dahl is a member of the board of directors; conservative blogger Bill Hobbs; and the Traditional Values Coalition of Washington.

Fitzhugh insists the fliers were dropped off at the office by an unknown person and promptly thrown into a trash can outside the office by the two volunteers on duty that day.

Someone later came by and asked about the fliers and was told they had been tossed in the trash. That second person then got one out of the trash and threatened to call the local newspaper, according to Fitzhugh's account.

"I had absolutely nothing to do with it at all," Fitzhugh said. "I'll do whatever I can to counter this, but it's hard to undo something you haven't done."

Fitzhugh said he has called on Dahl and TeamGOP "to help me find out how this happened, and certainly to quit distributing these lies. It's harmful to the Special Olympics and to people with mental and physical challenges, not to mention my family. It's terrible. This has just gone too far."

Dahl said a candidate should "be responsible for anything that appears in your headquarters," and that Fitzhugh had given varying accounts of the history of the flier.

"They gave it out to more than one person, as far as we know," Dahl said. "There is one person who brought it to the GOP headquarters."

Dahl said that person was out of town and could not immediately be reached.

Fitzhugh's office put AP in touch with a woman named Katie Honey, who said she was one of the two volunteers in the office the day the fliers were delivered last week.

"Someone brought them in and they left. I looked at them and said, 'This is not something we need in here. This goes in the trash,' " she said. "Well, here comes a man up and raising Cain and Mr. (David) Reynolds (the other volunteer) told him they were out in the trash. He went and picked it out of the trash and said, 'Well, this is going in the paper.' "

She said the second man did not come back after picking the flier out of the trash.

"It really, really is strange. Who around town was putting out this stuff I'll never know," she said. "There had to be somebody printing them up, but who it would have been I don't know. I'm just so sorry this stuff happened I don't know what to do."

Hobbs, a GOP activist from Williamson County, about 180 miles east of Ripley, said the flier was e-mailed to him by a source he knows who told him it came from the Fitzhugh campaign office. He said he did not check whether anyone had actually taken one of the fliers out of the office.

The Traditional Values Coalition issued a statement Wednesday denouncing the flier, saying that Fitzhugh "has been distributing" it out of his office.

Contacted in Washington, Andrea Lafferty, the coalition's executive director, said her group "had conversations with individuals in Ripley, one who went in there (the campaign office) and got it."

Asked by The Associated Press to be put into contact with that person, she said she would attempt to do so. Two hours later, she called back to say the person was out of town, but that she hoped to contact them in the next 24 hours and ask them to call AP.

AP could not confirm whether she and Dahl were trying to locate the same person.

Can you say "set-up"? Clearly, what was supposed to happen was that one operative was going to come into the campaign office and leave the flyers on a table full of other campaign materials, so that a second operative could come in, "find" the documents, and start raising a fuss. But Fitzhugh's quick-witted and observant volunteer, Kate Honey, spotted the materials and had them thrown away. So then the second operative comes by, expecting to find the materials there, and starts complaining about them -- before realizing that they've already been thrown away. As a backup, he goes out and retrieves them from the trash. Instantly, Dave Dahl's campaign, local Republicans, conservative bloggers (including Drudge), and the local and national branches of the Traditional Values Coalition are posting the flyer online and making noise about how awful it is.

You'll note that, as this began happening, neither local GOP officials nor the TVC could identify who it was who had found the flyers. TVC says he was "out of town" and promises to get a name and number back to the press real soon. Then we have this update, which came out over the AP wire today. You'll see that, by yesterday, the TVC had decided that a local guy named James Mitchell could pin the flier on the Fitzhugh campaign. So the Associated Press calls Mitchell, and this is the result:

Andrea Lafferty with the Washington-based Traditional Values Coalition adamantly told The AP she knew the man who could implicate the Fitzhugh campaign with the flier. But James Mitchell of Ripley said he has no idea where it came from.

''This should not be a political thing. This is something making fun of special needs children,'' Mitchell said in a phone interview. ''I don't want it pinned on Fitzhugh, I want it pinned on the one who done it. Fitzhugh is a nice man.''

Mitchell said he didn't know who did it.

''I don't feel like talking anymore about this,'' he said.

Oops. But a sloppy dirty trick is still a dirty trick.

The other reason this obviously baloney? Think about the phrasing of the flyer. Who on earth is it supposed to convince? People who were planning to vote for Bush but, on reflection, decide they won't want anyone thinking they're a retard? Please. The point of the flyer is to tick off and motivate Bush supporters, while dismaying and demotivating Fitzhugh's supporters and also making it hard for him to win ticket-splitters.

Everything about this stinks to high heaven.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 02:13 PM
EXPANDING OUR OPTIONS IN DARFUR. Elsewhere on TAP Online, Richard Goldstone and John Heffernan rightly point out a possible role for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the ongoing genocide in Sudan.
The ICC was created to address genocide and crimes against humanity when there is no prospect of accountability within the country where the crimes occur. The threat of perpetrators being arrested and prosecuted by the ICC could pressure Khartoum to stop its genocidal policies. Sudan, which has not ratified the ICC, is a textbook case of a state committing mass abuses against its own citizens who have no means of seeking justice from their persecutors.
There are, in fact, three distinct ways in which the ICC may be permitted to investigate genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Sadly, none of them seem particularly likely to happen anytime soon.

The first two options are predicated upon Khartoum’s willingness to grant the ICC jurisdiction on its territory. This could occur either through Khartoum’s ratification of the Rome Statute, which created the court, or through the ad-hoc consent of Sudan. But in either case, Sudan would have to specify that the ICC could look into crimes already committed. If Sudan accepted the ICC without granting this consent, the ICC could only prosecute crimes committed after ratification.

Either case is, of course, highly unlikely; Sudan isn't about to invite the ICC to indict members of its own government. The only remaining hope for ICC intervention would be through a Security Council authorization. Given the Bush administration's hell-bent opposition to the ICC, however, this final option is unlikely to generate American support.

As Goldstone and Heffner rightly point out, looking to the ICC isn’t the only option here. Rather, Goldstone knows through his experience as a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda that the prospect of looming indictments can serve as deterrent to prevent future atrocities.

This deterrent effect, incidentally, seems to be working to some degree in northern Uganda, where a recently launched ICC investigation has coincided with a number of surrenders by outlaw military commanders.

It’s a sorry state of affaires when the Bush administration calls a genocide a genocide, yet still limits its own options for dealing with that crime.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 02:09 PM
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. Pointing to comments made yesterday by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, 9/11 Commission chairman Thomas Kean and members of the 9/11 Family Steering Committee are increasingly worried that intelligence reform legislation may get bogged down in conference for the remainder of the year. The Washington Post piece offers quotes like these:
"So much time and energy has been devoted to this and now they're pushing back the time frame," said Fetchet, a member of the 9/11 Family Steering Committee whose son, Brad, was killed in the attacks. "That horrifies me that there isn't a sense of urgency in moving this forward. . . . This is not about tax reform or something like that; this is about saving American lives."
I greatly sympathize with these people’s sense of urgency on the matter, but, frankly, the House version of this bill is so heinous and the situation is so ripe for a truly destructive and partisan conference report to be rushed out in time for the election that it may well be a good thing if the whole process deadlocks until after November 2. I’m similarly ambivalent about calls from Kean and the 9/11 relatives for George W. Bush to become more involved in the process and put more pressure on the conferees to produce a bill quickly. Too often in the past White House involvement has only ensured a strengthened hand for the hardball House leadership. For this bill, that’s a frankly dangerous proposition.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 01:47 PM
WHAT'S BUGGING SINCLAIR. Mark Schmitt is back! And he's got an interesting post featuring reader commentary on the financial incentives Sinclair Broadcasting has to keep a Republican in the White House. Hint: It has to do with the FCC.

I wonder when Wall Street will start shorting Sinclair's stock.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 12:34 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: SUDAN'S SOS. Over 100,000 people have died in Darfur since a ceasefire was called in April 2004. With Khartoum ignoring its own pledges and defying two UN Security Council resolutions, the time has come for the global community to step up and show its strength. Richard Goldstone, a former prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, and Physicians for Human Rights investigator John Heffernan detail what must be done to provide safety and justice to the people of Darfur.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 12:18 PM
SMARTER CHOICES ON IRAN. The Washington Institute on Near East Policy's Patrick Clawson offers some measures short of air strikes, invasion, or oil embargo that could be used to put pressure on Iran to try and dissuade it from going nuclear:
What America can do -- both on its own and with allies -- is to contain and deter Iran. Steps to this end could include increasing U.S. military presence around Iran; putting nuclear weapons on U.S. ships off Iran's coast; reinforcing the region's protection against missiles (including accelerating the planned improvement to the Arrow antimissile system in Israel); extending an explicit nuclear umbrella to those threatened by Iran; transferring more advanced weapons to states around Iran (from NATO ally Turkey to the new Iraqi forces to the more stable Arab Gulf states); and so on.

None of these measures is as dramatic as an air raid, but as a package they could show Tehran that Iranians will be less secure if it pursues nuclear weapons. Containment and deterrence can be used to press Iran to accept a diplomatic solution, and they also enhance the ability of the U.S. to apply military force later if need be.

I think that makes some sense, but a sound Iran policy needs to think seriously about carrots as well as sticks. Current U.S. policy -- as outlined in the "axis of evil" speech, the official National Security Strategy, and our lack of diplomatic relations with the regime in Tehran -- seems to indicate that we would like to overthrow the Iranian government, perhaps by force, and that only pragmatic considerations (lack of troops, lack of domestic support, etc.) are dissuading us. As long as that remains America's posture toward Iran, it's hard for me to see how officials in Tehran could come to the conclusion that anything would make them less secure than their continuing lack of nuclear weapons.

Americans aren't accustomed to trying to look at things through the eyes of the "bad guys" of the world, but it's worth doing. The easy assumption to make is that the primary purpose of the Iranian nuclear program is to put nuclear weapons to some kind of nefarious use. And it's quite true that, were Iran to get nukes, they might well be put to such uses. At the same time, I think that if you look at the evidence and think seriously about how U.S. foreign policy looks from an Iranian perspective, the reason they're so interested in robust WMD capacity is that they see it as the only way to make themselves safe from an American invasion. Unless there's a prospect of changing that underlying dynamic, it's hard to see any sticks short of regime change persuading Iran that it doesn't desperately need nukes to ensure its own security.

I would add that improved relations with Iran would bring benefits on its own. Like the USSR during World War II or China during the Cold War, distasteful though Iran and Iranian-aligned Shiite movements may be, we'd be better off having them on our side against al-Qaeda and other radical Sunni movements than having them working against us in partnership with more dangerous, more implacable foes.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 12:13 PM
IT DEPENDS ON WHAT YOU MEAN BY "EQUALLY." While I'm on the subject of calling bullshit, I couldn't help but notice this tidbit in the New York Times's front-page article on Ralph Nader today:
Polls also show Mr. Nader drawing some support from Mr. Bush, though at a much lower level than from Mr. Kerry, which explains why Republicans have been supporting and encouraging his efforts to get on ballots while Democrats have mounted an orchestrated effort to keep him off.

"Though he hurts Kerry more than Bush, there's a potential that he hurts Bush, too," said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who has examined Nader voters, although she said potential Nader voters were difficult to find and hard to track.

Mr. Nader maintained in the interview "there is no evidence" that he takes votes from Mr. Kerry. He said surveys by Zogby showed him pulling equally from Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry.

A spokeswoman for Zogby International, Shawnta Walcott, said that Zogby polls showed Mr. Nader drawing far more from Mr. Kerry. She said the polls, aggregated from March through last month, showed that if Mr. Nader was not an option, 41 percent of his supporters went to Mr. Kerry and 15 percent went to Mr. Bush. Thirty percent went elsewhere and 13 percent were undecided.

Oops. Another of Nader's self-serving deceptions goes down the drain.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:43 AM
THE TIMES ENTERS THE FRAY -- SORT OF. The New York Times has this story in today's paper, which unaccountably leads (and headlines) a ruling on provisional ballots by a judge in Ohio, and towards the end brings up a discussion of Nathan Sproul and his RNC-funded efforts to disenfranchise Democratic registrants. Let me just highlight this bit:
Meanwhile, the Oregon secretary of state's office said the state was conducting a criminal investigation into complaints that an Arizona company, Sproul & Associates, had pressured people to register as Republican. The company is owned by Nathan Sproul, the former director of the Arizona Republican Party.

Several libraries across Oregon also complained that Mr. Sproul had asked them in letters to set up voter registration drives on their premises under the name America Votes, which he described as a nonpartisan effort. That name is already claimed by another nonpartisan drive.

Mr. Sproul said in an interview that his company sought to register Republicans, but that his employees were instructed to submit forms from anyone who asked to be registered, and that his company had submitted registrations from Democrats and independents in other states. He said that the library letter was a misunderstanding, that he did not realize the name America Votes was already claimed and that he intended the effort to be nonpartisan.

I call bullshit. It is beyond belief that Sproul had never heard of America Votes, which is among the biggest of the Democratic-leaning 527s the Republican Party spent months and months trying to shut down.

(Incidentally, Paul Krugman, as is his wont, does a much better job of covering the stories of GOP voter suppression, which he writes up in today's column.)

How about the Washington Post? I have to confess I didn't see this piece in yesterday's edition, which deals with the issue, but only briefly, and limits the discussion to Nevada. I hope they stay on it and broaden the story to include the many other states in which this kind of thing is going on.

It's also good to see that USA Today is now reporting on allegations of voter suppression, although very bad to see that paper equate ungrounded speculation about Democratic voter fraud with prima facie evidence of Republican voter suppression.

Later in the day I'm going to try to do a round up of the various states in which some kind of suspicious activity is taking place. I'd appreciate email from readers pointing me toward articles and updates, especially those that haven't gotten as much attention from the blogging world.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:39 AM
HUH? Just what is the basis of this claim made by Katharine Seelye in her piece on the threat Ralph Nader is posing for John Kerry?
. . . Mr. Kerry has adjusted his stump speech in part to try to appeal to potential Nader voters, who tend to loathe corporate America and fiercely oppose the Iraq war.

Mr. Kerry now casts Mr. Bush as a tool of rich and powerful "special interests," and he has sharpened his critique of Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq.

Perhaps campaign sources really are telling her that. I’d never heard it before, and it sounds rather silly. Didn’t Kerry start sharpening his attack on Bush’s Iraq policy because he was trailing in the polls and it was obvious that his opacity on the issue was contributing to the Bush campaign’s flip-flop charge? And doesn’t Kerry cast the president as a tool of powerful special interests because the president’s a tool of powerful special interests?

At any rate, the rest of the article reconfirms what most liberals surely knew by now: Ralph Nader is doing a very bad thing this election. Very bad. You certainly can't say the RNC wastes its money.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 11:05 AM
DISGRUNTLEMENT WATCH, LAME RATIONALIZATIONS EDITION. New York Post editorial writer Robert George offers a solid, forthright condemnation of George W. Bush in The New Republic, speaking what I know many conservatives believe, but seem afraid to say.

Fear aside, Andrew Sullivan quotes Bob Kagan and Max Boot, two of the sharper neoconservative writers up there, trying their best to think of excuses to contemplate supporting John Kerry that don't involve confronting the awfulness of Bush. Kagan says, "It is important for the Democrats to own the war on terrorism and not simply be the opposition," while Boot writes that "It also would be good for the Democrats to buy into this long-term struggle, just as Republicans bought into the containment policy with Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1952 election."

Neither of those claims is exactly wrong, but if Bush's conduct of the war on terrorism was actually sound, it doesn't seem that it would make much sense to welcome his being booted from office just in order to try and widen the circle of people managing the terrorism problem. The reality being avoided here is that the smarter conservative national-security thinkers are contemplating the virtues of a Kerry administration precisely because Bush's approach hasn't been successful and there's no reason to think four more years of the same will achieve anything worthwhile.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:54 AM
EVERYBODY'S DOING IT! USA Today reports that "More than two weeks before the presidential election, Democrats and Republicans in key states are trading accusations of fraud and voter intimidation, foreshadowing an Election Day on which lawyers may be almost as important as voters." Oh, those wacky partisans. But if you read the article, you'll see that no such thing is going on. They have five major points, one of which discusses Sproul & Associates' documented, illegal acts of fraud in Nevada and mentions that they've been working in other states. A second discusses investigations of efforts to suppress the African-American vote in Florida. For point three, we see that Bush-supporting Wisconsin politicians are trying to prevent heavily Democratic Milwaukee from getting as many ballots as it will need.

So those are three indications of Republican wrongdoing, with points one and three indicating outright cheating, and point two merely unseemly gamesmanship. So why the balanced lede? What have the Democrats done?

Well, registration is way up in Denver, which Republican officials state, without evidence, may be evidence of fraud. And who knows -- it might be. But there's no evidence. The other anti-Democrat point refers to this document, which is being hyped up by Matt Drudge, leading to absurd outbursts from conservative bloggers. But what does the document say? Well, it's a DNC published guide for local leaders saying that if there are signs of voter suppression in your area you should call attention to that fact, and that if you haven't seen signs of voter suppression yet you should act to keep things that way by warning of the possibility that it will happen and citing historical precedents in the area.

What, exactly, is supposed to be wrong with that, I couldn't say. And on what universe it's somehow equivalent to taking RNC money to pose as a progressive group, register Democratic voters, and then illegally throw the forms in the trash I wish I couldn't say. But in the universe of the American media, where everything is balanced, and no matter what the underlying facts the story is always "both sides are bad," it's what you come to expect.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:22 AM
October 14, 2004
ROCK THE TAX STATUS. Young people have legendarily low turnout on election day. The causes of this are complicated, but most observers feel it related to the fact that such a large proportion of public-sector dollars are directed at senior citizens or children, leading to a perception among under-thirty eligible voters (most of whom are childless) that politics doesn't have a lot to do with their lives. Rock The Vote, trying to counter this perception, has taken to pointing out that in a time of war young people have particular reason to be concerned about the direction of national policy in light of the fact that, were a major military crisis to occur, they are the ones who could find themselves subjected to a draft in order to provide the necessary manpower.

I've learned that the RNC's response to this has been to draft a threatening letter to Rock The Vote, intimating that they'll lose their 501 (c)(3) tax status if they keep this up, though what the legal basis for doing this would be I couldn't say. Jehmu Green, Rock The Vote's president, has an entirely appropriate response:

The letter I received from you yesterday was quite a surprise. It struck us as just the sort of "malicious political deception" that is likely to increase voter cynicism and decrease the youth vote. In fact, it is a textbook case of attempted censorship, very much in line with those that triggered our organization's founding some fifteen years ago.  

I am stunned that you would say that the issue of the military draft as an "urban myth" that has been "thoroughly debunked by no less than the President of the United States."  

I have some news for you.  Just because President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary Rumsfeld, and for that matter Senator Kerry, say that there is not going to be a draft does not make it so.  Just because Congress holds a transparently phony vote against the draft does not mean there isn't going to be one.  Anyone who thinks that the youth of America are going to take a politician's word on this topic is living on another planet.    

By your logic, there should be no debate about anything that you disagree with.  There's a place for that kind of sentiment (and your threats), but its not here in our country.

As I said yesterday these "no draft no matter what" promises coming out of the White House are dishonest and irresponsible. The Selective Service System exists for a reason, and has existed for just that reason for over 20 years. No president is in a position to promise that no circumstance will arise under which he'll need to call for its activation.

And to reiterate the point I made here, the question on the table with regard to the Bush administration in particular is not the existence of "secret plans" but the wisdom and sustainability of their approach to foreign policy. We know that in Iraq we confronted a non-imminent threat that the president nonetheless saw fit to deal with by using military force on the grounds that it might, at some point in the future, pose a threat. We also know that operations there have put a far greater strain on our troops than Bush anticipated, and that Bush disregarded the advice of experts who predicted this before the war. We also know that the president, according to himself and all his key proxies, has no regrets about any of this.

No doubt Bush wouldn't deliberately put the country into a situation where the military became so badly overtaxed that he had to resort to conscription to keep it together, but in light of the record and the president's take on the record, is it so crazy to think it might happen anyway? It's no secret, after all, that this is an administration that's unusually eager to use force to solve problems, and it's no secret that we don't have some large quantity of soldiers sitting around in reserve somewhere.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 05:13 PM
MORE ON THE RNC'S PAYMENTS TO SPROUL. Over on Josh Marshall's blog, you can read about how the Republican National Committee has paid Sproul & Associates and Sproul and Associates, Inc., more than $600,000 during this cycle. The two firms are headed by former Christian Coalition field coordinator and Arizona GOP head Nathan Sproul (who is also, by the way, helping Ralph Nader get on the ballot in Arizona and elsewhere -- more on that below), and they've been linked to efforts in several states now to collect voter registration forms under false pretenses and, allegedly, throw out the ones where the voter registered as a Democrat.

Since I have a subscription to Political Money Line, an excellent, essential, and highly-recommended service that crunches FEC filings and puts them on the Web, I can provide a little more information.

Political Money Line lists five payments from the Republican National Committee to Sproul's firms. (Not to mention six from the Arizona GOP -- apparently Sproul is making out quite well as an outside consultant to the organization he used to head, which is a nice little racket if you can get it.) Four of those payments were made in August; one was made in July. All five were disclosed by the RNC as "non-candidate committee operating expenses" under the line item "political consulting." There was:

  • a payment of $20,000 on 7/14/04;
  • a payment of $181,905 on 8/4/04;
  • a payment of $99,135 on 8/11/04;
  • a payment of $27,917 on 8/13/04;
  • and a payment of $160,002 on 8/25/04.

In other words, the RNC dumped a pot of money on Sproul between the middle of July and the end of August -- right as the ground campaign began to heat up, and, if I'm not mistaken, around the time Nader began to face ballot deadlines in a number of key states.

It's obvious Sproul's firms have been involved in what looks to be an illegal effort to suppress the Democratic vote. But the timing of the payments, and his firm's involvement with Nader's efforts, also make me wonder if we're looking at the first clear evidence that national Republican leaders have been directing efforts to get Nader on the ballot in swing states. (This would be on top of the voluminous evidence that state GOP operatives and conservative activists associated with the Competitive Enterprise Institute have been working on Nader's behalf.)

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 03:35 PM
BUBBLE BOY. Nicholas Lemann offers a revealing account of both George W. Bush's rise to the top as well as his presidency's "Lost Year." Buried deep in this New Yorker piece is a stunning quote from Bush passed to Lehmann via Bob Woodward:
Bob Woodward told me that, during an interview he conducted with Bush in December, 2001, he asked the President whether he ever sought advice about the war on terror from distinguished figures outside his Administration, such as Brent Scowcroft, his father’s national-security adviser. Woodward told me that Bush said to him, “I have no outside advice. Anybody who says they’re an outside adviser of this Administration on this particular matter is not telling the truth. First of all, in the initial phase of this war, I never left the compound. Nor did anybody come in the compound. I was, you talk about one guy in a bubble.” Bush said, “The only true advice I receive is from our war council,” and he added, “I didn’t call around, asking, ‘What the heck do you think we ought to do?’”
So that explains it. Though this quote actually confirms most of what we’ve long suspected to be true, we never would have guessed that President Bush would actually admit to exclusively surrounding himself with yes-men. But at least he’s self-assured, right?

Another important question here is, why in the world would Bob Woodward decline to publish such a revealing nugget in either of his books?

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 03:16 PM
WHERE'S THE BEEF? I just ran a Google search for stories on the burgeoning GOP voter-suppression scandal in Las Vegas and elsewhere. I think this is going to get more and more interesting in the days ahead; Daily Kos is a good place to check for updates. What surprised me is that the coverage to this point is almost exclusively local. Take a look here. I see a lot of wire services and regional papers, plus NPR and the Web sites of a few local television stations, carrying stories. But nothing from The New York Times or the Washington Post. (The Los Angeles Times, to its credit, has a piece up today on Oregon's decision to launch a criminal investigation into the GOP-connected firm named in many of the earlier stories.)

What may be happening is that, as in so many cases where a big national story gets broken by a smaller paper or TV station, the big boys are out there looking for a way to jump in on the story with new information or perspective, rather than simply following what's been reported by their smaller competitors. I hope that's the case. Because what we have here is prima facie evidence of illegal voter fraud, paid for by the Republican National Committee, and perpetrated in several different closely-fought states.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 02:58 PM
INNOCULATE. At the very very beginning of the debate, Bob Schieffer asked about influenza and the flu vaccine shortage:
New question, Mr. President, to you. We're talking about protecting ourselves from the unexpected, but the flu season is suddenly upon us, flu kills thousands of people every year, suddenly we find ourselves with a severe shortage of flu vaccine. How did that happen?
The president's answer fobbed the problem off in several ways:
Bob, we relied upon a company out of England to provide about half of the flu vaccines for the United States citizens and it turned out that the vaccine they were producing was contaminated. And so we took the right action and didn't allow contaminated medicine into our country.

We're working with Canada to - hopefully they'll produce a - help us realize the vaccine necessary to make sure our citizens have got flu vaccinations during this upcoming season.

My call to our fellow Americans is if you're healthy, if you're younger, don't get a flu shot this year. Help us prioritize those who need to get the flu shot, the elderly and the young.

The C.D.C., responsible for health in the United States, is setting those priorities and is allocating the flu vaccine accordingly. I haven't gotten a flu shot and I don't intend to because I want to make sure that those who are most vulnerable get treated.

We have a problem with litigation in the United States of America. Vaccine manufacturers are worried about getting sued and so therefore they have backed off from providing this kind of vaccine. One of the reasons I'm such a strong believer in legal reform is so that people aren't afraid of producing a product that is necessary for the health of our citizens and then end up getting sued in a court of law.

A few noteworthy points about this answer. (Set aside, for a moment, the fact that it almost directly contradicts the president's statements last week about importing cheaper drugs from Canada. I guess vaccines aren't going to "kill" anyone.)

We've had a major problem with vaccine shortages of all kinds, including crucial childhood immunization vaccines, for several years. Back in 2002 -- under the current administration -- childhood vaccine schedules were revised because of shortages in eight of the 11 vaccines required by law for children: measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), varicella (chicken pox), and pneumococcal disease (meningitis).

Litigation against companies is only a very small piece of the problem. The bigger issue is that the system of vaccinations is privatized and there is no incentive for creating vaccines. People tend to get each vaccine only once, or in a short series, and companies lose money; there's no profit margin. Chiron was the only company making flu vaccine. Compare that to the flood of advertisements that have come out marketing all the alternatives to Vioxx since that drug was taken off the market -- full-page ads have run from the makers of Celebrex and Mobic, for example.

With vaccines there is no margin of error. There simply aren't multiple companies producing multiple copies of the same vaccine. Partly this is a result of the perpetual under-funding of the National Vaccine Program, which is supposed to serve as an air traffic controller between federal agencies and companies on the vaccine problem. The Bush administration simply hasn't made this a priority.

--Sarah Wildman

Posted at 01:58 PM
WHOSE LIFETIME? From the annals of bizarre ledes comes this from David Frum:
Kerry made the gaffe of a lifetime in his answer to Bob Schieffer's last question. "Well I guess all three of us are lucky men who married up." The second those words passed his lips, his face flushed and his face twisted into a self-horrified grimace.
I think most observers thought John Kerry's self-deprecating joke on this score was a strong, humanizing moment, but that aside -- in what universe is this the gaffe of a lifetime? You want a major gaffe you need to look at the president's lie about his feelings toward Osama bin Laden. The misstatement itself won't be all that devastating, but it's a great excuse to play this video of George W. Bush bragging about how little he worries about bin Laden, which should knock his "war president" standing down many, many notches. Frum doesn't even mention the incident, and all he can say on Bush's behalf is that "The president was ... OK." And so he was, except when talking about terrorism, jobs, health care, or Iraq (really, I thought his answers on God, abortion, gays, gun control, education, etc. were all fine) but those are, unfortunately, all the top issues in the campaign.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:02 PM
HOMELAND INSECURITY. Last night we heard the presidential candidates debate about whether or not we're doing everything we can to make our country secure and safe. Learn the real story about homeland security. Take a look at our in-depth analysis on homeland security failures -- from unprotected chemical plants to lack of research funding for energy alternatives -- at the Moving Ideas Network, a project of The American Prospect.

--Diane Greenhalgh, MovingIdeas.Org

Posted at 12:28 PM
YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A HEALTH-CARE PLAN. The president says that John Kerry's health-care plan amounts to "government-controlled health care" (or just "a litany of complaints" -- take your pick). That's not true -- but what is Kerry's plan? Prospect co-editor Paul Starr spelled it out in our October print issue, analyzing the components of Kerry's plan, their costs, and the likely consequences. His conclusion:
Ten years ago, opponents of reform were able to portray the Clinton health plan as a threat to Americans' existing coverage; Kerry's proposals, however, would unambiguously help Americans keep coverage that is otherwise slipping away from them. ... An executive of one insurance company told me recently that Kerry's plan, especially the stop-loss proposal, is "fantastic" for his firm, but not to expect the company to say so publicly. The ties between business and the Bush administration are too strong for Kerry's health proposals to make much difference in business support during the campaign. But if elected, Kerry may be able to build a broad coalition in support of his plan.
Starr's article is essential reading if you're interested in understanding Kerry's vision for the American health-care system. Covering an additional 27 million uninsured, and reducing the cost of most Americans' health insurance, for just $653 billion over 10 years? Sounds impossible, but Starr thinks Kerry's plan could pull it off.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 12:26 PM
THE HAMMER'S GRIP. Building off this hyperbolic Bob Novak column about Tom DeLay's likely ability to withstand the latest scandals besetting him, Charles Kuffner makes a cogent case for how this election could be the only real opportunity for Dems to dilute his power in a meaningful way. It's worth reading.

Then again, I'm still holding out for an actual indictment in Travis County. It could happen.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 12:19 PM
PROGRESS FOR WHOM? Well, someone's certainly making progress in Iraq, but unfortunately it's not the coalition. Instead, we've now got bombs going off inside the Green Zone, a reality that ought to puncture any illusions that our problems over there are limited to a handful of Sunni Triangle towns. It's important to recall that the insurgent movement (or at least some of its component elements) existed before the United States lost control of Falluja, Ramadi, etc., and will continue to exist even if we reassert formal control over the cities, mostly by melting away. Baghdad's not a "no go" zone and, in principle, the U.S. military is certainly in charge of the Green Zone, if nothing else. But we learn today just how illusory that sort of control can be under circumstances of widespread popular discontent where the enemy, for all our troops, could be anywhere.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:48 AM
CHEAP TRICK. Lynne Cheney feels that mention of the fact that her daughter's a lesbian is a "cheap and tawdry political trick". I agree that Kerry could have been a bit more deft in raising the point last night (more like John Edwards in his debate), but there's nothing cheap or tawdry about it. If you look at opinion polling about people's attitudes toward gay rights questions, it's clear that knowing gays or lesbians personally has a transformative impact on opinions about this subject. Naturally enough, the closer the acquaintance, the bigger the impact. Certainly it's had a transformative impact on Dick Cheney's understanding of the issue, as an otherwise rock-ribbed conservative and ardent supporter of the Bush agenda has picked the single issue of gay marriage to break with the administration over.

The fact that the president's position is essentially tenable only for people who live their lives without any personal involvement with gay or lesbian individuals is certainly a legitimate point to raise, and the Cheney family is an almost perfect illustration of that fact. The broader point that gays and lesbians are to be found everywhere, in all parts of the country, raised in all sorts of families is also an important one -- especially in the context of a question about whether homosexuality is a choice -- and again one that's well illustrated by the case of the Cheney family. The fact that it's a politically awkward point for the president vis-à-vis his base is icing on the cake from a campaign perspective, but it's not the essence of the point. The fact that Lynne regards it as some kind of smear says more about her -- or the social circles she travels in -- than about anything Kerry (or Edwards) has done wrong.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:37 AM
HE FORGOT ABOUT OSAMA! Kevin Drum ponders George W. Bush's weird gaffe last night about Osama bin Laden (text and video) and concludes that it's "a pretty good metaphor for Bush's biggest problem: his staff spoon feeds him a rosy view of the outside world and he honestly believes that this rosy world is the real world -- and that's why he makes so many disastrous decisions."

That's probably right, but it's also worth thinking about the original gaffe in which Bush proclaimed himself uninterested in Osama in the first place. That speaks to the fundamental flaw in Bush's national-security strategy, which is not the fact that he doesn't care about terrorism, but that he doesn't understand it. Bush and the Bush team just can't see the contemporary terrorism problem as something fundamentally distinct from traditional concerns with states and the balance of power. John Kerry does get it, which should be the takehome from Matt Bai's big piece on the Kerry national-security agenda.

The differences between these two understandings of the world -- one that tries to put transnational threats into the old, Cold War frame, and one that tries to understand them on their own terms -- has been the major underexplored disagreement of the 2004 campaign. Noam Scheiber wrote about it yesterday, as did Peter Beinart in an April column, and I wrote about it back in March. From within this state-centric worldview, bin Laden really wasn't worth worrying about once the Taliban was kicked out of Kabul. The only real problem would arise if he found a new state sponsor, hence the focus on the hypothetical threat from Iraq. This is deeply, deeply misguided, but it explains a lot about America's policies over the past couple of years.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:24 AM
BETTER VOTING THROUGH ELECTRICITY. Forget about the risk of hacking -- the simple unreliability of electronic voting machines is horrifying. We can now add to the long list of malfunctioning voting machines (PDF) this ironic mishap:
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- A computer crash that forced a pre-election test of electronic voting machines to be postponed was trumpeted by critics as proof of the balloting technology's unreliability.

...

Tuesday's public dry run had to be postponed until Friday because a computer server that tabulates data from the touch-screen machines crashed, said county elections supervisor Theresa LePore. Such "logic and accuracy" tests are required by law.

Lovely! They couldn't even hold the dry run that was supposed to prove that all would go smoothly on November 2. This is hardly surprising, given the lack of credible certification and the wanton disregard for accountability standards from the major electronic voting machine manufacturers themselves. With all the uproar over the many other ways the election could go wrong, it's easy forget that many of the machines just might not work. On the one hand, this could create several new layers of uncertainty and legal conflicts. On the other hand, we won't need a recount!

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 11:00 AM
TO PIVOT, OR NOT TO PIVOT? Looking through the internals of Democracy Corps' overnight polling (they haven't posted it online but Paul Waldman summarizes the data) it's clear that John Kerry did extremely well last night in ways the press, myself included, may have been slightly blind to. Ordinary people, among other things, simply don't share the media's obsession with short-term budget shortfalls or its belief that the president isn't really responsible for the general economic situation. What's more, it becomes clear when you look at the data that even though people who've been covering this campaign for months have probably heard all we can stomach about the Kerry health plan, most voters knew virtually nothing about his domestic agenda before last night's debate. Now that they've heard it, they like it, and it's helping boost his ratings on a lot of personal and characterological questions as well.

The lurking problem is that George W. Bush maintains a narrow lead on the question of handling Iraq, along with pretty substantial leads on terrorism and homeland security. This will, once again, lead some Democrats to advocate that the Kerry team try to focus the campaign on domestic issues, where he's stronger, and stop talking national security. I still think that would be a big mistake since it's easy enough for the incumbent to foment an atmosphere of crisis if he wants to. Kerry's done a good job so far of shoring up his weak points by actually addressing them -- time and again, his biggest problems seem to stem from a lack of public information about who the real Kerry, as opposed to the straw man Bush runs against on the trail, actually is.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:24 AM
THE SOCIAL SECURITY MYTH. I clicked over to the Washington Post editorial page this morning hoping to find the guardians of the conventional wisdom castigating John Kerry for his failure to address the looming "crisis" in financing it and I was not disappointed:
Mr. Bush, who never pressed for Social Security reform during his first term, said it would be a "vital issue in my second term." But when moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS asked how he would pay for the $1 trillion-plus cost of moving to the private accounts he sees as the solution, Mr. Bush had no reply. Mr. Kerry called the president's plan an "invitation to disaster," but his own solution amounted to repeating his unwise promise not to cut benefits and hoping that economic growth would somehow get him out of the fix. "I didn't hear any plan to fix Social Security," Mr. Bush said of his opponent, and he was right.
The moral equivalence here between the candidate who created the problem with his tax cuts in the first place and who proposes to make it much, much worse with a $2 trillion reform that's unrelated to the problem, and the candidate who proposes to do nothing, is absurd. In reality, very modest adjustments to the current system could solve the problem if and when it arises, provided that we don't embark on a new round of reckless tax cuts or engage in a costly privatization project. What's more, Kerry's optimistic scenario where faster economic growth just makes the problem go away isn't particularly unlikely. The current projections which serve as the basis for all this cavailing are based on the pessimistic assumption that productivity growth and immigration will both slow markedly in future decades.

That might happen, but the projectors don't offer any particular reason for thinking that it will. If present trends continue, the system will be in much better shape. If things improve somewhat, the problem simply vanishes. And more to the point, if the pessimistic assumptions do come true, especially about productivity growth, the problems thereby caused will be far broader than the stress on Social Security. To castigate politicians for not having a plan to cope with an unmotivated prediction of general economic weakness over a period of decades is a bit silly. One wonders what sort of leader would simply be complacent in the face of such projections rather than focusing on ways to ensure strong growth in the future.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:08 AM
BOTOX? Curiously, George W. Bush's trademark smirk was replaced by a half-frown tonight during the debate. If you looked closely, the right corner of Bush's mouth turned down, as though the muscles had gone slack. And I'm not the only one who noticed:
Yet even [Bush's] smile was askew for about half the debate, marred by a glistening light dot at the right corner of his mouth. Viewers could be forgiven for losing track of his answers and imagining Laura Bush in the front row in frantic semaphore, wiping furiously at the corner of her own mouth.

Mr. Bush's face slipped into a frown late in the debate, as he struggled with a question on why the nation was so divided under his leadership. He began thumping one hand flat onto his lectern, knitting his brows as he segued to a defense of his management of the Iraq war.

But, in answering the next question, he recovered his balance as he described advice he received from his family, advice that was clearly much on his mind: "To stand up straight and not scowl."

Could it be that the Prez got a hit of Botox to freeze his "sneer muscle" before the debate? Just curious.

After all, serious journalists the world over have covered this very important question. Count me in.

--Ayelish McGarvey

Posted at 01:54 AM
October 13, 2004
YET ANOTHER INSTA-POLL. This CNN/Gallup poll shows a clear win for Kerry, 52 percent to 39 percent, according to Politicalwire.com.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 11:56 PM
MSNBC: WORSE THAN FOX? Chris Matthews just asked Andrea Mitchell , NBC's news correspondent, for her reaction to tonight's debate. Mitchell made a few cursory remarks and then, struggling not to roll her eyes, said that John Kerry, "frankly, pandered on the issue of Social Security." Now of all issues, why on earth would Mitchell be so irked about Social Security, of all things? The passage in question:
SCHIEFFER: Let me just stay on Social Security with a new question for Senator Kerry, because, Senator Kerry, you have just said you will not cut benefits. Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, says there's no way that Social Security can pay retirees what we have promised them unless we recalibrate. 

SCHIEFFER: What he's suggesting, we're going to cut benefits or we're going to have to raise the retirement age. We may have to take some other reform. But if you've just said, you've promised no changes, does that mean you're just going to leave this as a problem, another problem for our children to solve?

KERRY: Not at all. Absolutely not, Bob. This is the same thing we heard -- remember, I appeared on "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert in 1990-something. We heard the same thing. We fixed it.

In fact, we put together a $5.6 trillion surplus in the '90s that was for the purpose of saving Social Security. If you take the tax cut that the president of the United States has given -- President Bush gave to Americans in the top 1 percent of America -- just that tax cut that went to the top 1 percent of America would have saved Social Security until the year 2075.

The president decided to give it to the wealthiest Americans in a tax cut. Now, Alan Greenspan, who I think has done a terrific job in monetary policy, supports the president's tax cut. I don't. I support it for the middle class, not that part of it that goes to people earning more than $200,000 a year.

KERRY: And when I roll it back and we invest in the things that I have talked about to move our economy, we're going to grow sufficiently, it would begin to cut the deficit in half, and we get back to where we were at the end of the 1990s when we balanced the budget and paid down the debt of this country.

Now, we can do that.

Aha! Turns out, Kerry's criticism of the Fed chairman hit a little too close to home for Mitchell. Alan Greenspan, of course, is Andrea Mitchell's husband. And in the interest of full disclosure, Mitchell and the other members of the panel said ... absolutely nothing at all.

No conflict of interest there, folks. Nope, none at all.

--Ayelish McGarvey

Posted at 11:52 PM
SO I'M DUMB, BUT NORMAL. In the context of describing the president's unpresidential demeanor, Josh Marshall spells out the meaning of his "news organizations" joke for the fools who, like me, didn't get it.
I don't doubt a few media bias obsessives (and probably a few CBS execs) understood that this was a dig at Scieffer's employer, CBS. But I suspect it went right over most people's heads. As well it should have. Not everyone lives in wingerville. And the president's habit of roughing people up with jocular derision doesn't work as well when the trappings of power aren't all around him.
As nice as it is to know it makes me a more normal American, I do really feel foolish for not making the Rathergate connection. At any rate, Marshall's larger point is a good one.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 11:49 PM
"OUT OF BOUNDS." The MSNBC panel is unanimously disgusted with John Kerry's explicit invocation of Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter in his answer to the question on homosexuality. (Lynn Cheney is blasting Kerry for the remark in a post-debate statement.) I will say that, whereas John Edwards was slick and effective in mentioning Cheney's daughter in the VP debate, bringing it up a second time was really pushing it. The gambit came across as forced and obvious, since there wasn't a real prompt from the question itself. Morality aside, sneaky stealth political jabs only work when they're sneaky.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 11:33 PM
YIKES. Good God, Chris Matthews sure can say some ridiculous things when he's riffing off the top of his head. This is rough and I'll want to see the transcript, but he just asked Tim Russert and Tom Brokaw about the homosexuality question, and framed it by saying that, whereas George W. Bush offered a more distant, "we have to be tolerant" answer, John Kerry offered a much more engaged response: "He talked about it almost in terms of a human drama, a human drama he almost could imagine going through himself, though obviously he hasn't."

What the hell?

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 11:20 PM
MORE INSTA-POLL RESULTS CBS showed John Kerry with a win, 39 percent to 25 percent, with another 36 percent saying it was a tie. The Kerry team is calling it "a threepeat" -- his third win.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 11:06 PM
FIRST INSTA-POLL RESULTS. From ABC News:
    42% Kerry
    41% Bush
    14% tie
I think a tie favors George W. Bush, who was as strong in this debate as he's likely capable of being. John Kerry was strong but could have pressed Bush a bit more aggressively. Ultimately, they just laid out very, very different visions of how America ought to organize itself, and very different roles for government.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 11:01 PM
OH, KAREN. George W. Bush’s denial of ever making the “I’m not concerned about Osama” statement is clearly going to be a big post-debate topic. All the networks are talking about it and rolling the footage of Bush -- lo and behold! -- making exactly that statement at a press conference. Karen Hughes is talking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN and helpfully offered the “full context” of the president’s past statement: He was talking about Osama being so darned marginalized, you see.

Incidentally, Hughes also said that John Kerry “has no real plans, just a litany of complaints,” and then immediately after that said that Kerry’s made a bunch of “promises he can’t pay for.” So does he have no plans or does he have promises?

It’s sort of akin to the basic “flip-flop/consistent liberal” dilemma central to the Bush campaign. It’s also akin to something Ezra Klein caught in the debate:

Bush just said "John Kerry has a strategy of retreat and defeat in Iraq". He's also called Kerry's plan "the Bush plan". So is Bush's plan one of retreat and defeat, or is he a flip-flopper?
It’s tough to keep this stuff straight.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 10:54 PM
LOOK AT MOTHER NATURE ON THE RUN. Not a single question about the environment. Not one mention of the Bush administration's decision to rescind the cap and trade restrictions on mercury; not one mention of Kyoto; not a single, solitary word spoken on the Orwellian Clear Skies Initiative or the chronic asthma that’s plaguing young black children in our cities; not one mention of global warming, MTBE in our water, or renewable resources.

But, thanks to Bob Schieffer, at least we know that George W. Bush loves his wife and John Kerry his mother.

Oh, mercy, mercy me.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 10:37 PM
WRAP-UP THOUGHTS. I've got to admit that I find domestic policy a bit dull compared to national-security issues, and the debate seems to have been free of any major gaffes that would seize one's attention. That said, it's easy for me to feel bored by these domestic-policy debates since I've got a job and I've got some decent health insurance. Despite a solid performance on the peripheral issues throughout this debate, the president really had nothing to say about these issues -- by far the two domestic issues with which the voters are most concerned. Instead, he tried to change the subject to attacking John Kerry or to how much he loves education. The "compassionate" pose from the 2000 campaign was basically gone, as the president didn't even really pretend to have anything to say to help adults feeling economic pain. George W. Bush didn't have much choice, since there's no compassion record to speak of, but I think he's going to pay the price on this. The Democrats, generically, have a big advantage on jobs and health care, which is exactly why Bush was at such pains last time around to define himself as a "different kind of Republican."

By 2004 the only thing different about Bush is that he's the kind of Republican who doesn't like to talk about these things. No one who's lost their job over the past four years -- or who's graduated from school and can't find a job, or who's seen his business suffer because so many of his neighbors can't find work -- is possibly going to believe that No Child Left Behind is a jobs bill or that their $500 dollar tax cut makes up for the decline in real income.

Heading into the foreign-policy debate, Kerry had a major national-security deficit to make up. And he made a lot of progress by hitting a clear home run. Bush came into the domestic-policy debate with a similar deficit on economic issues. To overcome it he had to say something clear and strong to overcome the perception that he doesn't have a real agenda on this front. He didn't do it. He didn't even really try. Instead he attacked Kerry and brought up irrelevancies. Anyone who's happy with the direction the country has taken over the past four years might find that convincing, but that's not anywhere near a majority of the voters.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:29 PM
NO LIVING WAGES FOR YOU. Unpacking what the president said about the minimum wage, he's making a really shocking assertion: that all those who make a minimum wage don't deserve to make a living wage unless they improve their skills. Now, it's certainly the case that American high schools need improvement -- you'll get no argument here on that. But the fact remains that most Americans don't attend or complete college, and that there has to be a way for such inviduals to make a living even without having gone beyond high school, or if they've already completed it.

Bush said: "But let me talk about what's really important for the worker you're referring to. And that's to make sure the education system works. It's to make sure we raise standards. Listen, the No Child Left Behind Act is really a jobs act when you think about it."

Educating people in the future is great, but does nothing for their parents and the millions who struggle at the lower end of the economy in the now.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 10:29 PM
WHITHER NATIONAL JOURNAL? I must say I'm quite surprised George W. Bush has yet to cite his favorite statistic on congressional votes, the one from National Journal that "proved" John Kerry is the most liberal senator in the country. Did he pick up a copy of the magazine itself and have a change of heart?

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 10:18 PM
MEETING WITH THE CBC. It looks to me like the president did, in fact, hold a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus on January 31, 2001, right after assuming office. He said at the time, "This will be the beginning of, hopefully, a lot of meetings.  I hope you come back, and I'll certainly be inviting." It seems that no further meetings were held.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:16 PM
FEARING THE BROWN FOLK Way to play the race card, Kerry, “The fact is, allegedly, that there are middle-eastern people coming across the border.” Does playing on white America’s fears of those scary middle-eastern types really worth whatever political point Kerry just scored? Would it have killed Kerry to stick to the substantive policy differences between his and Bush’s approach to illegal immigration?

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 10:03 PM
THINK HARDER. In what sense, exactly, is No Child Left Behind supposed to be a jobs program? To be sure, better elementary and secondary education will help today's children get better jobs but it does nothing at all for the people who don't have jobs today. What are they supposed to do while they're waiting for their super-educated kids to start earning enough money to support them? I don't think this is going to play well in Ohio.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:00 PM
GO SCHEIFFER! Wow, that was one friendly lead-in Bob Scheiffer gave John Kerry on the minimum-wage question. One suspects Tim Graham is duly apoplectic. (Natch, make that Jonathan Adler.)

Kerry made a good pitch for an increase. The president, on the other hand, was incredibly blatant in dodging the question.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 09:57 PM
AND THE WINNER IS... At last the president has topped his distortions about Iraq: "Most of the tax cuts went to lower- and middle-income Americans." I'm baffled as to what misleading statistic he even thinks that's supposed to be referring to.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:52 PM
KERRY'S PLAN. What in the world kind of joke about news organizations was George W. Bush aiming for but aborted midway? At any rate, "two leading news networks" really is a bit vague; John Kerry could have referred to these 74 leading health-care experts who don't think much about the president's attacks on Kerry's plan.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 09:45 PM
MID-POINT ASSESSMENT. George W. Bush is being extremely agressive in going after John Kerry, and while Kerry is not getting knocked off stride this alone is likely to have an impact on post-hoc assessments of this debate. Bush is blistering -- much more so than in the earlier debates.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 09:44 PM
NAME DROPPING. It's only 20 minutes into the debate and we’ve already seen quite a bit of name dropping, though to different effect. While John Kerry mentions John McCain to give himself a boost with the Arizona crowd, George W. Bush, twice, conjures up the old liberal goblin Ted Kennedy.

Meanwhile, said Kerry of Bush’s promised on job security “Kind of like Tony Soprano talking about law and order.” A nice quip, though I would have rather liked to hear, “Kind of like, Bill Bennett talking about Keno."

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 09:41 PM
"ACTIVIST JUDGES DEFINING THE DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE." Our president, busy protecting the protection of marriage from activist judges.

On a more serious note, John Kerry's decision to actually answer Bob Scheiffer's question about whether anyone is born gay, rather than say "I don't know" like George W. Bush, was courageous, though I think probably unwise.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 09:30 PM
SECONDING THAT. What Matt said. Even while I was growing up the threat against America was substantial -- nuclear annihilation. We had a brief period where we thought we were at peace after 1989, in which the threat of terrorism grew, and then we got hit on September 11 and realized we weren't. The world was much more dangerous when Bob Schieffer was young.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 09:28 PM
THE RED-TIE CHALLENGE. John Kerry's wearing his lucky red tie, but George W. Bush is coming right at him with a red-tie challenge, switching from his trademark blue. It even has spots, just like Kerry's! Twins!

As Cheney said earlier today, "loaded for bear."

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 09:16 PM
FLU CRISIS, TORT REFORM, WHATEVER. A highly caffeinated George W. Bush just pulled off a handy switcheroo in fielding a question about the flu vaccine shortfall by talking about tort reform.

Meanwhile, Bob Scheiffer is 0-for-2 in asking sensible questions. What in the world gets in to these moderators?

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 09:13 PM
NOT CONCERNED. Bush just denied he'd ever said he wasn't concerned about Osama bin Laden. Let me refer you to George W. Bush's statement regarding bin Laden in March, 2003:
Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And again, I don't know where he is. I--I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban. [Emphasis added]
After dishonestly denying that he'd ever said this, Bush accused John Kerry of being dishonest, saying Kerry's claim was "one of those exaggerations." (You've got to insert the sneer.) Apparently, Bush has forgotten which campaign he's running. Al Gore was the exaggerator, Kerry's a flip-flopper. Or a die-hard liberal. Or something.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:12 PM
REMEMBER THE USSR? I totally understand why John Kerry's not saying this, but the premise of Bob Schieffer's first question -- that his and Kerry's children are growing up in a less safe world than did Kerry and Schieffer -- is absurd. Terrorism is bad, very bad, and I don't want to minimize that. At the same time, Nazi Germany isn't on the march and the Soviet Union doesn't rule a vast swath of earth, locked into a conflict with the United States, and armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons aimed at our cities. We should do all we can to secure the country against terrorism, but it's important to keep things in perspective. We all get to go to bed every night confident that tomorrow won't bring a world-destroying conflict. That's not a luxury the previous two generations have had, and it's something we should keep in mind and remember.

Incidentally, what happened to domestic policy?

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:08 PM

RULE OF LAW, 1. Nader-booster and GOP hack Nathan Sproul may have been behind dirty trickery and voter-registration fraud in Arizona, Nevada, and elsewhere, but in at least one instance in Pennsylvania, the rule of law still holds:

A state court knocked Ralph Nader off Pennsylvania's presidential ballot on Wednesday, citing thousands of fradulent signatures including "Mickey Mouse" and "Fred Flintstone."

Describing the petitions as "rife with forgeries," Commonwealth Court President Judge James Gardner Colins said that fewer than 19,000 of the more than 51,000 signatures that Nader's supporters submitted were valid. Nader needed at least 25,697 to be listed on the ballot as an independent candidate.

"I am compelled to emphasize that this signature-gathering process was the most deceitful and fraudulent exercise ever perpetrated upon this court," Colins said in a 15-page ruling that followed a two-week review in multiple courtrooms across the state.

Nader remains on the ballot in 34 states, but every instance in which his signature-gathering attempts are condemned by the courts decreases the likelihood people in other states will vote for him. As it should.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 06:29 PM
THE SPROUL CONNECTION. This post from the blog TopDog2004 is absolute must-reading, replete with an amazing array of links cataloguing the antics of Nathan Sproul, former Arizona GOP executive and Christian Coalition field director. Sproul appears to be behind the emerging scandal of trashed Democratic registration forms in Nevada. In Oregon, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, as well as Nevada there have been reports for months now of Sproul & Associates paying for registration operations that claim to be affiliated with America Votes, the huge liberal umbrella organization for GOTV efforts this year. And reports are beginning to trickle out from all those states about Democratic registration forms being discarded, voters pressured into registering as Republicans, voters turned away once they say they're Democrats -- the list goes on.

Alert TAP-Online readers might recall that Max Blumenthal first broke the story of Sproul’s involvement in Ralph Nader’s Arizona petition effort here in June. Blumenthal’s piece was the first to highlight the link between Sproul and the private firm Voters Outreach of America, the organization accused of trashing Democratic registration forms in Nevada:

Nor has Nader denounced the covert assistance his Arizona ballot-qualification effort received from Sproul, who is currently running the No Taxpayer Money For Politicians" initiative, a right-wing effort to ban candidates from receiving public financing. According to several sources, two of the contractors Sproul hired to oversee petition gathering for No Taxpayer Money For Politicians -- Aaron "A.J." James, who directs Voters' Outreach of America, and Diane Burns -- were also paid by Sproul to get as many signatures as possible for Nader. [emphasis added]
That connection is now firmly established; as for the connection between Sproul’s efforts and the national GOP, well, here’s what Sproul himself says:
Sproul confirmed his firm [Voters Outreach of America] was contracted by the Republican National Committee to register voters.

The focus of Voters Outreach was "to register Republicans but we registered anyone who wanted to register," he said.

The RNC is paying for a systematic voting fraud operation in several battleground states. It’s as simple as that. This is an enormous scandal.

There’s much more to be found in the links here -- and, no doubt, there will be much more to come out about this in the next few days.

UPDATE: Plenty more here.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 06:03 PM
THE KNOCK ON THE DOOR. Lots of fun stuff in the sexual harassment complaint against Bill O'Reilly, but if the information on page 12 is to be believed, we'd better leave him alone. As O'Reilly says, "If you cross FOX News Channel, it's not just me, it's Roger Ailes who will go after you. ... Look at Al Franken, one day he is going to get a knock on his door and life as he's known it will change forever." Later in the conversation O'Reilly adds, "Ailes knows very powerful people and this goes all the way to the top." And then, noting that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are on the cover of Franken's book, he elaborates, "Just look who's on the cover of his book, they're watching him and will be for years." Normally I think liberals are a bit too quick to break out the word "fascist" when discussing the right, but if O'Reilly wants to start suggesting that Bush is building a police state, then I guess that's his business.

This is all idle boasting, I think, rather than a serious threat, but what kind of person says this stuff?

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 05:46 PM
IT'S GOOD TO BE CHAIRMAN. If that three-part Boston Globe series about Republican rule in the House wasn't enough for you, check this out: The Washington Post reports that the chairman of the House Resources Committee, Richard W. Pombo of California, has launched an aggressive mailing campaign -- at taxpayer expense -- to defend the environmental records of President Bush and some vulnerable Republican members of his committee. Some details:
The flurry of federally funded mailings, along with Pombo's recent decision to give his committee staff a month's paid vacation right before the election, has angered several House Democrats, who question whether he is misusing taxpayer funds.

"It's a dumb political move that only shows taxpayers how Republicans in the House use official resources to campaign for George Bush," said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), whose constituent, Lois Reis, a retiree, alerted her to the mailing last week. "It's another example of ignoring ethics," McCollum said.

Reis said in an interview it was "veiled campaign literature for George Bush." A registered independent, Reis said of Pombo, "I never heard of him. I thought, he can't be from Minnesota."

This is the best part:
[A] 338-word snowmobile flier mentions Bush five times, saying on its front, "The House Resources Committee is working with President Bush to ensure that snowmobilers have access to our National Parks and recreation areas. You can rest assured that the House Resources Committee and the Bush Administration are working together to protect your right to ride."

Pombo has requested more money for official postage than any other chairman, according to House records. He asked for $250,000 last year and this year, and received $50,000 each session. By contrast, before 2003 no committee spent more than $8,000 a year on postage.

And you thought the Democrats were bad when they were in power.

No limits. None at all.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 05:41 PM
PAGING THE FCC. The text of a new letter to Michael Powell signed by 85 Democratic representatives:
Dear Chairman Powell:

We write to express our concern regarding Sinclair Broadcasting Group, Inc.'s plan to preempt regular programming on its affiliates in order to air a 90-minute anti-Kerry attack before the November 2nd election.

We ask you to investigate the broadcasting of this anti-Kerry propaganda immediately before a presidential election by a company with a history of using public airwaves to broadcast its political positions and to determine if it is a proper use of public airwaves or if it violates current equal time policies.

Sinclair Broadcasting owns 62 Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, WB and UPN affiliates which reach 24 percent of U.S. households. Its decision to blatantly use public airwaves for political use, to attempt to cover-up that attack as "news programming," and to disingenuously invite Senator Kerry to a panel discussion to meet fairness requirements would seem to violate current law and regulation.

The American public, which owns the airwaves that Sinclair would use for its partisan political purposes, expects the FCC to uphold the basic principle of fairness which is at the root of our democracy.

If Sinclair Broadcasting is allowed to proceed with this broadcast it is difficult to understand how equal time policies will not have been violated.

We urge you to investigate this matter without delay, and would appreciate an immediate reply regarding your intentions to investigate these allegations.

Powell may be busy at the moment hunting down the elusive "Married by America" shaving cream lickers, but perhaps sometime soon he'll have a chance to look at this letter.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 05:14 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: HOUSE OF GAMES. There's nothing quite like the fall congressional session in an election year. The House went out in particularly irresponsible fashion, as Sam Rosenfeld recounts, neglecting intelligence reform in order to score point after political point, week after pointless week.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 05:10 PM
WHAT'S A FEW TRILLION BETWEEN FRIENDS? Rarely does a document have a more pernicious effect on campaign coverage than has a recent Concord Coalition report into the respective impacts of George W. Bush's and John Kerry's proposals on the budget deficit that forms the basis for this New York Times story and other media accounts. The take-home message of the Concord Coalition study is that the total fiscal impact of both campaign's promises are about the same at somewhere around $1 trillion.

It's not until way into the piece that the Times drops this little gem: "The coalition did not include the cost of Mr. Bush's plan to revamp Social Security by allowing younger workers to divert some payroll taxes into individual investment accounts." Since the cost of these Social Security proposals is somwhere between one and two trillion dollars, that's kind of a big deal. If you just leave out the cost of his health-care plan, which is quite a bit cheaper than Bush's Social Security quasi-plan, then Kerry's promises suddenly look way more affordable. There's no justification for this omission that I can discern except for the fact that the Concord Coalition likes Social Security privatization and doesn't want to penalize candidates who support it.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 04:15 PM
PAYBACK TIME. The Hill reports that Rep. Joel Hefley, the chairman of the House Ethics Committee, which recently rebuked Majority Leader Tom DeLay twice in one week, has received threats from his fellow Republicans. The article notes:
Legislators who criticized the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct said they were upset that it had given DeLay’s enemies so much political fodder less than a month before the election, particularly in response to an ethics complaint filed against DeLay by outgoing freshman Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas). Bell filed the complaint after he had lost his seat as a result of Republican efforts, spearheaded by DeLay, to redraw Democratic congressional districts in Texas. Many Republicans say Bell's complaint was motivated by partisan politics and a desire for revenge.

In response to Bell's complaint, which made several serious charges against DeLay, including bribery, the committee admonished DeLay last week for creating the improper appearance that he granted lobbyists for the energy industry special access during a golf fundraising event and for improperly using his office by contacting the Federal Aviation Administration to track down Democratic state officials embroiled in the Texas redistricting fight. The committee released its letter chastising DeLay and a 44-page report on its investigation to the public.

"There was a lot of excess verbiage," said Deborah Pryce (Ohio), chairwoman of the House GOP conference.

Keep in mind, this outrage is all in response to a pretty watered-down and weak rebuke of Tom DeLay, when the facts called for something much stronger. But the Republicans are more concerned with the political optics of the situation than with the fact that DeLay committed serious misdeeds, and possibly criminal ones, during the last few years.

You have to feel bad for Hefley. Traditionally, the House Ethics Committee is the one committee absolutely no one wants to sit on. It's a job without an upside, politically speaking. Hefley could have caved completely, but he didn't And now it'll probably be years before he gets the kind of plum committee assignments he really wants.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 03:48 PM
REASON TO HOPE. Over at MyDD, Jerome Armstrong perfectly captures the sense among Democratic Senate watchers of slowly blossoming optimism at the party’s prospects in three weeks:
The Democratic chances in the US Senate appear to be gaining rapidly. The assured takeaway of Obama in Illinois, the Coburn Mess in Oklahma, the Bunning meltdown in Kentucky, the pullout of the GOP & fadeaway of Nethercutt in Washington, the nepostism slide of Murkowski in Alaska, the rise of the Constitution candidate in Pennsylvania, the scandal of Thune's field campaign in South Dakota, the endorsement by the conservative Rocky Mountain News of Salazar over Coors in Colorado, DeMint's gaffes about single mothers and defending his plan to raise taxes in South Caroloina, Burr's non-traction in North Carolina.... Did I miss any of them?
I’ll just add that while Joe Hoeffel remains a long shot in Pennsylvania, the DSCC isn’t normally in the habit of ponying up half a million dollars for obvious lost causes. As for Colorado, the Rocky Mountain News' endorsement is the least of Ken Salazar’s good news. Last week’s Mason-Dixon poll gave Salazar only a two-point lead, but that firm’s had some seriously screwy, pro-Republican numbers in several polls this season -- and in that very same poll they give George W. Bush a 50-41 lead over Kerry, which is larger than what most others show. Meanwhile, the Gallup poll from last week gives Salazar an 11-point lead.

The point is that Democrats, and more specifically the DSCC under Jon Corzine, seem to have played their hand remarkably well this election. That's more than can be said for their Republican counterparts, who, seat-wise, were dealt a better hand in the first place.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 03:44 PM
A PROMISE TOO FAR. I just got an email from the Bush campaign saying, among other things:
John Kerry and liberal organizations are using lies and scare tactics to influence the votes of young Americans.  Supporters of the Kerry campaign are lying to students in a desperate attempt to convince students that the President will support the draft.  But President Bush has said NO WAY to the draft. 
It's always nice to be part of the problem, and I think my argument's a good one, promises aside. Another question that arises, however, is, what kind of a promise is this to make? "We're not going to have a draft so long as I am the president," Bush said at the second debate and re-iterated in today's email. Really? Not under any circumstances? If, so, then shouldn't we be shutting the Selective Service System down? After all, what's the point in keeping it if we're not going to have a draft no matter what happens?

The reason we don't do it is for the very same reason that Jimmy Carter restarted draft registration in 1980: It's important to retain the capacity to implement a draft because contingencies could arise that necessitate having one. What sort of a message does it send to a dangerous world for the president to be running around promising that no matter what happens, he won't take politically unpopular steps to secure the manpower the military needs? It's a completely irresponsible promise, and one the president obviously doesn't mean seriously. But foreign leaders who may not be attuned to the nuances of U.S. domestic politics may not realize that Bush is just engaging in some panicky electioneering rather than making solemn promises about the limits of American commitment to national security. Hardly the worst thing he's done in office, but something else to add to the list.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 02:47 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: BYRD'S-EYE VIEW. What does it take to make the most senior senator in America "ashamed" of the institution to which he's devoted his life? To Robert Byrd, the current absence of debate -- particularly with war in the balance -- may be the Senate's greatest shame of the last 50 years. Mary Lynn F. Jones spoke to Byrd about the failings of the "hurry-up-and-vote" Senate.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 02:04 PM
THE MOONIE CONNECTION. Sinclair's dirty dealings aside, what is one to make of the actual "documentary" they plan on forcing their affiliates to air, Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal? Well, we learned a lot over the summer about the ethics, motives, and reliability of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ("truth" being used loosely here), but as Rory O'Connor points out, the film is actually produced by Carlton Sherwood, a former reporter for The Washington Times. The very same Washington Times which has trouble keeping elementary facts straight and is owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church and occasional arms broker for North Korea.

Sherwood, indeed, is author of a leading apologia for Moon and his church. I doubt my sentiments will sway anyone in this heated political climate, but I think my friends on the right would do well to think harder about the extent to which their movement is in hock to the Moonies. The vast majority of conservatives, clearly, want nothing to do with Moon's bizarre, corrupt, insane agenda and yet there they are tied to him in any number of ways. Pat Buchanan has been essentially excommunicated from the movement, ostensibly for holding some views that are far less objectionable than Moon's. The real difference, it would seem, is that Buchanan has dared to speak ill of the Bush family while the Unification Church and its associates are happy to use their resources for strictly pro-Republican causes.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:47 PM
TRASHING NEW VOTERS. When a political party is trying to do a voter-registration drive, it faces the basic problem that it only wants to register people whose vote it will get. This is normally solved by setting up shop in a town or neighborhood whose demographic characteristics suggest that the population will overwhelmingly favor one party or another. An alternative approach, pioneered by a Republican firm in Nevada, Voters Outreach of America, is to just register whoever shows up and then throw the Democrats' forms in the garbage. This has some clear logistical advantages over doing demographic analysis, and it's even more efficient at weeding out Democratic new registrants. Even better, since the hapless Democrats will think they're already registered, they'll show up at the polls on election and not find out they can't vote until it's too late.

The only problem is that election fraud is illegal. That, however, doesn't seem to be such a big problem; the story's hardly getting any press coverage outside the local area and, apparently, no one is being arrested. The firm in question, meanwhile, has left town and is now busy plying it's trade in Oregon. KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, which broke the story, reports that "Similar complaints have been received in Reno where the registrar has asked the FBI to investigate."

--Matthew Yglesias 

Posted at 10:40 AM
AN IRAN FLIP-FLOP? Laura Rozen and Andrew Sullivan both see signs of an emerging George W. Bush flip-flop on Iran policy in this New York Times article asserting that "The Bush administration is holding talks with its European allies on a possible package of economic incentives for Iran, including access to imported nuclear fuel, in return for suspension of uranium enrichment activities that are suspected to be part of a nuclear arms program."

To my way of thinking, that would be a welcome development, but a close reading of the text suggests that this is more interagency infighting rather than a genuine policy shift. The article says a lot about "the Bush administration" doing this or that, but nothing about Bush changing his approach, or any of the administration's key Iran hawks (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, etc.) changing their minds either. What's more, it's sourced to "European and American diplomats," suggesting a State Department initiative rather than a new consensus. Last but by no means least is this:

European diplomats said that the administration was very squeamish about even discussing incentives, in part because it would represent a policy reversal that would provoke a vigorous internal debate, and in part because of the presidential campaign.
If they can't discuss it because doing so "would provoke a vigorous internal debate," then obviously the administration as a whole hasn't yet had any discussions about this. It seems that the pro-engagement people -- Colin Powell, Robert Blackwill, etc. -- are just testing the waters a bit. Under the circumstances, the key question is: What does the president believe? His recent statements on North Korea strongly suggest he accepts the neoconservative belief that arms-control agreements with dictators are essentially worthless, so my guess would be that in a second term the hawks will win this debate just as they have almost every other important dispute inside the administration so far.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:29 AM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: IT'S DRAFTY IN HERE. Will George W. Bush bring back the draft in a second term? Just because it's a rumor doesn't mean it's not true. Matthew Yglesias explains why Bush's policies and proclivities all but guarantee the need for a draft, whether he realizes it now or not.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 10:14 AM
THE EDUCATION NON-DEBATE. Eduwonk has some suggestions for education policy debate topics that "go beyond the scripted back and forth about funding for No Child Left Behind." Here's hoping. The funding debate is not only dull, but fairly pointless. In light of Kerry's tax and deficit commitments and his higher-priority spending proposals in health care, defense, and homeland security, it's rather unlikely that a Kerry administration would, in fact, substantially increase federal education spending on top of the large increases we've already seen in the Bush years. Realistically, in a time of war and deficits the far more important question for federal candidates has to do with what kind of education policy shifts they favor that don't require big changes in spending levels.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:44 AM
October 12, 2004
THE TROUBLE WITH TOM. The $140 billion tax bill that passed the Senate yesterday and is now set for the president’s signature is a pretty horrible amalgamation of disparate special interest tax breaks. Just because it’s kind of likable in its old-fashioned, log-rolled, pork-laden shamelessness doesn’t make it any less condemnable. It’s worth looking back at the development of the bill on the Senate side last spring, to see how it happened that a WTO-mandated termination of a $5 billion corporate subsidy turned into a multi-billion-dollar lobbyist feeding frenzy, which one participant even had to admit had “risen to a new level of sleaze."

One drama that unfolded over the weekend was a vain attempt by a bipartisan coalition of senators led by Ted Kennedy and Mike DeWine to use procedural tactics to hold up progress on the bill until a provision mandating FDA regulation of the tobacco industry could be resuscitated. (The provision had been included in the original Senate bill but was, in typical fashion in this Congress, stripped out of the conference bill by the House GOP conferees, with White House backing.) That effort eventually fizzled out because, in the words of an American Lung Association official, advocates couldn’t demonstrate “a united front of all Democrats and one or more Republicans to prevent the [negotiators] from coming back without FDA regulation."

One of the Democratic Senate conferees was Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Daschle buckled early in supporting the conference bill without the FDA approval. Why? Because added to the conference bill was an array of ethanol tax breaks that he couldn’t afford to vote against, given the tight race he’s facing back home against John Thune. Thus, there was no Democratic unity in favor of pushing hard for the FDA regulation, and the effort unraveled. Was Daschle the key to dooming the FDA effort? Nobody is writing that (though Bob Novak comes close). But surely, given his leadership position, had Daschle been firmly committed to the FDA provision he could have mustered some party discipline to lend the fight, at the least, some better odds.

This isn’t Daschle’s fault -- the guy’s in a knock-down reelection struggle in a state that’s hugely Republican. But it underscores once again a serious problem that Democrats have voiced in hushed tones for years now: It is a huge liability to have a party leader in Congress (either chamber) whose seat is not safe. If Daschle wins next month, the problem will subside to the extent that the next reelection fight is a long time in the future -- but it won’t go away.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 06:33 PM
STRANGE DOINGS AT THE CAPITOL. Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton has closed his office in the Senate out of concern about a possible terrorist attack, and is pissed with Bill Frist for not being more alarmed about the situation. Here's Dayton's press statement, in part:
Recently, the Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, presented us with a top-secret Intelligence Report on our national security. Obviously, that document's top-secret classification prevents me from discussing its contents.

However, based upon that information, I have decided to close my office in the Russell Senate Office Building until after the upcoming election. I will move part of its operations to my office in the Fort Snelling Federal Building in Minnesota and other parts to Senate office space available off of Capitol Hill.

I do so out of extreme, but necessary, precaution to protect the lives and safety of my Senate staff and my Minnesota constituents, who might otherwise visit my office in the next few weeks. I feel compelled to do so, because I will not be here in Washington to share in what I consider to be an unacceptably greater risk to their safety.

I have made this decision after careful review of all available documents, after discussions with other Senators and other officers of the Senate, and after long and serious consideration. On three occasions, I have spoken personally with the Majority Leader and asked him to convene a meeting of all Senators to discuss this situation. I am dismayed, and perplexed, by his unwillingness to meet with us further about the information, which he initially brought to our attention. In the absence of that further discussion, I have made my own decision about my office, as is my responsibility.

None of us can predict the future. I hope and pray that the precautions I have taken will prove unnecessary. If so, I will accept the inevitable judgments made with perfect hindsight. However, the consequences of my taking this action and being wrong pale in comparison with the consequences of taking this action and being wrong. I cannot leave Washington for the relative safety of Minnesota and leave the people I employ exposed to risks of which I have been made aware. ...

Roll Call reports Frist's spokeswoman as saying that "no new information had been received since the Capitol went to a higher security alert in August and that the Majority Leader felt no need to close down his office." (This is Roll Call's paraphrase, not a direct quote.)

From what I've heard the consensus among other senators is that this was a pretty massive overreaction on Dayton's part. Still, worth passing along . . .

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 05:14 PM
STILL DESERVED, DESPITE WACKINESS. I won't temper my strong praise of the new Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai of Kenya, despite her fairly cockamamie theorizing on AIDS, which I'm only now learning of. (More here.) For one thing, it doesn't exactly take an enormous leap of imagination to understand why Africans might harbor suspicions about the origins of this virus. For another -- and this is key -- Maathai won the Nobel prize for peace, not medicine. Crucial distinction.

(Thanks to reader S.M.)

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 04:58 PM
FREEDOM'S MARCH SLOWED. Back in his November 2003 speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, the president explained that the war in Iraq was having a transformative effect throughout the greater Middle East. "The Saudi government is taking first steps toward reform, including a plan for gradual introduction of elections," he said. What he didn't note was that the elections would be for municipal councils only, and that a majority of the councillors would still be appointed by the regime. Today we learn that on top of all that, women won't be allowed to vote. But "freedom is on the march," so I wouldn't worry about any of this.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 04:18 PM
NEVER GONE FOR VERY LONG. Of the many, many characters deserving of serious investigative scrutiny for the various bad acts and scandals peppering the Bush administration’s years in power, few are more clearly guilty of misdeed (if not, perhaps, of an actual federal crime) than Mike Scully, the former top Medicare administrator who threatened the livelihood of chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster if he told Congress the truth about the cost of the president’s prescription drug bill. That is, he browbeat a government official into lying to Congress. What could be more clear-cut than that?

Those waiting for jury selection to begin for the guy's trial will have to hold their breath a good while longer. As Roll Call (subscription only) reports, buried down at the bottom of its article, Scully’s coming back on board the Bush train:

In perhaps the ultimate sign of Scully’s resurrection, President Bush’s re-election campaign has tapped him to be its chief surrogate on Medicare policy.

Scully is billed as the keynote speaker for a major industry breakfast Oct. 19, where experts aligned with the Bush and Kerry campaigns will lay out “competing visions” on the future of the health care entitlement.

The piece gives you an idea of how a man like this could resuscitate his reputation among lawmakers and administration officials -- to the degree that it had even suffered much in the first place.

The scandals weren't limited to his initimidation of the actuary. Scully, now a top-dog lobbyist, had been openly looking for work at various firms while still working on Medicare legislation that directly affected those firms -- all under the auspices of a lovely ethics waiver granted to him by Health and Human Services director Tommy Thompson. The whole thing stank to high heaven back then, and it’s no different now. Notice (amid all the backslapping sleaziness) the whining self-pity and martyrdom complex Scully seems to share with Tom DeLay:

Embattled former Bush administration Medicare chief Thomas Scully says he is deeply dismayed by ongoing Congressional attacks on his role in last year’s Medicare reform debate and suggested the entire controversy has been ginned up by those seeking to discredit the new prescription drug benefit during an election year.

“In a political year, people will look for any nugget they can find, and I’m that nugget,” Scully said in an interview Friday. “And it’s been very painful for me personally.”

Scully said that even his own mother — on the basis of news reports — has wondered whether he did something wrong and should do penance for it.

“It has not been fun,” Scully said, adding that he has sought to cultivate a reputation for honesty over the years and prides himself on his “bluntness” and forthrightness.

Though beset by controversy and stalked by Congressional critics, Scully has nonetheless thrived since his return to K Street — a development that admirers chalk up to what they consider a nearly unrivaled expertise in the complex Medicare program.

“He’s forgotten more about Medicare than I’ll ever know,” said Fred Graefe, a Democratic health care lobbyist who considers Scully a close friend.

Such is Scully’s level of expertise and access, lobbyists say, that some organizations will likely put him on retainer simply to avoid the risk that Scully might sign up with a competitor.

“He’s one of only a very, very select few in Washington who can get [Ways and Means Committee chairman] Bill Thomas [R-Calif.] to do what he asks,” one GOP health care lobbyist said. This access, combined with Scully’s Medicare expertise, can be “intimidating,” the lobbyist added.

Some doors won’t be open, however.

“I would not let him in my office,” said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee. “The truth is not in him.”

Such animus notwithstanding, insiders say Scully has continued to maintain strong ties with key Democrats in the Senate, including Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.).

How wonderful.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 03:44 PM
A TRUTH AND SOME LIES. The Associated Press gives us a pretty good look at what kind of attacks we can expect George W. Bush to level against John Kerry at tomorrow's debate. Interestingly enough, one of the president's charges is true -- it really is hard to see how Kerry could pay for all of his spending promises while also balancing the budget and avoiding tax increases on the middle class. Bush's charge that this means there's a middle-class tax hike in the works, however, is unsupported. Kerry has been clear that if he can't raise sufficient revenue on top of his rollback of Bush's tax cuts for the $200,000-and-over crowd through loophole-closing and enhanced enforcement (which seems likely) he'll meet his deficit targets by scaling back his spending initiatives. That's a sensible approach, since given likely GOP control of one or both houses of Congress and the certain presence of a large enough bloc of Senate Republicans to filibuster Kerry's plans, it's highly unrealistic to think he'll be able to pass all his domestic spending proposals anyway.

Bush's other line, interpreting the Kerry health plan as embodying a secret desire to put millions of people into a "government program" is just flat-out wrong. The only people who'd wind up in a government program under Kerry's plan are the people who have no health insurance under the current situation, hardly a change they're likely to complain about. The rest of Kerry's plan is aimed at using some government money to create more efficient risk-pooling to lower the cost of private-sector health insurance. Again, not something the voters would mind if they had the choice put to them squarely. Which, of course, is why Bush won't put the choice like that.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 02:25 PM
BISHOPS, PART II. I should have added to my post from this morning an aside about the leader of conservative Catholics in America, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. The New York Times describes Chaput talking to Catholics in Colorado about voting with the Church. Here's what the National Catholic Reporter had to say, upon Chaput's appointment in February 1997:
The appointment of Bishop Charles J. Chaput of Rapid City, S.D., to lead the Denver archdiocese is regarded as a sure sign that Denver Catholics eager for more progressive leadership are unlikely to get it -- at least not anytime soon....Chaput's supporters regard him as a staunch champion of orthodoxy; his critics as a relentless nitpicker who often bogs down conference discussions in minutiae.
In a 1999 article in the same paper, Chaput is cited as one of the founding supporters of the staunchly conservative Catholic Family Radio. The article calls the station "an echo chamber for the Republican party."

--Sarah Wildman

Posted at 02:14 PM
MORE TAX MONEY FOR SINCLAIR. Another Sinclair Ventures company, VisionAIR, seems to have gotten into the federal contracting business recently. And, conveniently enough, when the Justice Department issued some new rules for contractors in August, VisionAIR was able to happily announce that they were already compliant with the new standards, so it's nothing but less competition for them. Not as fortunate as unexpected free publicity, perhaps, but lucky just the same.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:59 PM
THE CAMPAIGN THAT'S KILLING SOLDIERS. Is it me or is the Bush administration more blatantly putting off the planned Falluja offensive for purely political reasons than one would expect from even this crowd? From the tail end of a Brent Sadler report on Newsnight with Aaron Brown last night:
SADLER: Now, if the Sadr City accord succeeds, it could help stimulate government negotiations to reach a settlement with some insurgent groups in that rebel stronghold west of the Iraqi capital. But unlike Sadr City, Fallujah is a melting pot of disparate groups, including, it's suspected, some of the most ruthless foreign fighters in Iraq, Aaron.

BROWN: Everyone expects at some point soon an attack in Fallujah. We expect it before Ramadan, during Ramadan, after Ramadan? When do we expect it?

SADLER: According to what we're hearing from commanders on the ground and from the Pentagon in the United States, expect it after the U.S. presidential elections, but well before Iraq's own national elections at the end of January.

BROWN: Brent, thank you. Brent Sadler in Baghdad. [Emphasis added]

Aaron Brown was obviously under time constraints and needed to wrap up the segment, but didn’t Sadler’s comment call for a bit of, um, follow-up from the anchor, to determine exactly what U.S. officials’ reasoning might be for putting off the incursion until after the election besides the president’s reelection campaign needs? Isn’t this all a bit, I dunno, outrageous?

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 01:06 PM
WHAT WAS THAT AGAIN? Today's Washington Times editorial page condemns "Kerry's revisionism on Korea," noting, among other things, that "In August 1998 North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that hit Alaska." You remember that, don't you? The time when the United States was hit with a North Korean ICBM and the Clinton administration did nothing in response? No? Perhaps you don't remember because it never happened. The August 1998 developments in DPRK rocketry were rather different:
On 31 August 1998, North Korea attempted to place a small satellite into orbit. The satellite was carried on board a Taep'o-dong rocket. The first stage of the Taep'o-dong splashed down in the Sea of Japan roughly 115km southeast of Vladivostok, Russia. The second stage is reported to have flown over the main Japanese island of Honshu and landed roughly 330km away from the Japanese port city of Hachinohe after flying for approximately 1,320km. A solid fuel third stage is believed to have carried a small satellite and was probably destroyed before reaching orbit.
That's not the same at all, is it? Now I wish I could say there was a reasonable explanation for this mix-up -- maybe someone got taken in by a forgery or something -- but the Times seems to have invented this missile strike on Alaska out of thin air. This is certainly a step up from the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's escapades in helping North Korea acquire ballistic missiles, though, so I suppose there's a silver lining.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 12:41 PM
WHAT'S IN IT FOR THEM? You wouldn't know it from the name "Sinclair Broadcast Group," but it turns out that through their wholly owned subsidiary Sinclair Ventures, Inc., SBC is a major investor in a company called Jadoo Power Systems which has won some major military contracts during the Bush years. Defense contracts aside, as Fortune has reported, "Jadoo's biggest coup came after President George W. Bush touted hydrogen as an alternative to foreign oil in his State of the Union speech last January . . . The startup got some unexpected free publicity when Bush held a TV camera using one of Jadoo's lightweight fuel cells on his shoulder as media photographers captured the moment. Jadoo plans to begin selling such batteries to the broadcast market early next year."

Bush gives "unexpected free publicity" to a Sinclair subsidiary, Sinclair gives a little unexpected free publicity to John Kerry's opponents. One hand washes the other.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 12:29 PM
THE BISHOPS ARE BACK. Today's New York Times article on bishops opposing John Kerry represents the latest and most aggressive efforts by the most conservative bishops in America to sway election year-politics. The thing is (as I wrote for the Prospect last year at this time exactly), when bishops speak out against Democratic politicians it tends to help the pol, rather than the Church. Historically, focusing on specific issues and telling Catholics that there are "non-negotiable" doctrinal issues has backfired. This graf in today's piece speaks to a method that, historically, has not worked:
Many bishops are using a document the bishops developed last year, "Faithful Citizenship." It tells Catholic voters to consider a range of issues and vote their consciences. Other parishes are instead using a guide from a conservative Web site, Catholic Answers, at www.catholic.com. The guide says it is a sin to vote for a candidate who supports any one of five "non-negotiable issues," abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and homosexual marriage.
The majority of Catholics feel mixed about a variety of doctrinal issues -- contraception being the first that jumps to mind -- and weigh other teachings of the Church on welfare and social justice as high as or higher than abortion. They also don't like to be told who is a "good" Catholic and who is not. As Catholic University's Mark Rozell told me last year:
Questioning people's piety or adopting religious labels or saying someone is not sufficiently religious or sufficiently Catholic [are] appeals that don't play well with Americans....If Republicans play some of these issues too hard, there is the possibility they could alienate a significant segment of Catholic voters, who are closer to the Republican position on abortion but are uncomfortable with heavy-handed rhetoric on calling themselves Catholics -- or have an open enough view on alternative interpretations, even if they themselves disagree.
Some of the most important grafs in today's NYT piece highlight the efforts to counter the lopsided Catholic position that only highlights abortion and stem cell research:
... there is resistance from a sizable wing of the church that argues that voting solely on abortion slights Catholic teaching on a range of other issues, including war, poverty, the environment and immigration.

Liberal Catholics contend that the church has traditionally left weighing the issues to the individual conscience. Late in the campaign, these Catholics have begun to mount a counterattack, belatedly and with far fewer resources.

In diocesan newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, they are buying advertisements with the slogan "Life Does Not End at Birth." Organizers of the campaign say it is supported by 200 Catholic organizations, among them orders of nuns and brothers.

It would behoove Kerry to craft some of his answers toward this crowd tomorrow night. One of his big problems with religious voters has been, as this excellent piece by Jeff Diamant points out, that he has an almost European-like reticence about talking about his faith. If Kerry had been recognized as someone who grappled more with religion, would he have been given more latitude with those who would criticize his position on abortion and stem cells? It's hard to know. Either way, tomorrow night's debate will surely raise again the question of abortion and stem cell research. Let's hope Kerry is ready to exploit George W. Bush's ambiguous moral positions on these issues.

--Sarah Wildman

Posted at 11:02 AM
TOO MANY WEAPONS? The Washington Post's David Ignatius has an interesting op-ed about trimming the fat from the defense budget, specifically procurement of new weapons systems. I'm not sure Ignatius realizes, however, that while some of the plans he criticizes (early deployment of missile defense, the Osprey helicopter, redundant nuclear weapons systems) really are, as he suggests, the result of pork barrel politics, others are firmly grounded in the Bush administration's vision of foreign policy. As the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance document composed by Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and others who've gone from being a minority voice in the first Bush administration to the main voice in the second administration explained, "[o]ur first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival" thus turning today's unipolar moment into a perpetual unipolar era.

Ignatius criticizes the F-22 Raptor and the Virginia-class attack submarine as unnecessary because the government already has at its disposal other, cheaper systems, that are currently superior to anything a rival could put in the field. The president alluded to the thinking behind these systems in his 2002 West Point speech that "America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge thereby, making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace." The idea is that if we wait to upgrade our technology until China, Russia, Brazil, India, or some other large state is getting close to equaling us, then we'll be in a perpetual arms race with some or all of those countries, still the top power for the foreseeable future, but constantly faced with what are at least plausible rivals within specific regions.

The Bush alternative is to take advantage of the fact that these countries are poor, continental Europe is uninterested in enhanced military spending, and Britian is closely aligned with us, to build up an enormous lead in defense technology. The idea is that if we can sprint far enough ahead in the short term, then other countries will decide it's not worth even trying to keep up. Then we can slow down our pace, while still pulling ever-further ahead of the pack. It's an expensive policy, especially over the short term, but unlike much of Bush's thinking on national security, I don't think it's crazy or easily dismissable. The problem is not with the weapons systems, but with other elements of the strategy.

If you want to maintain this sort of hegemonic power, you need to use it in a way world opinion regards as basically benevolent. If, instead, you do what Bush has done and deploy it in a way world opinion regards (rightly) as capricious, ill-considered, erratic, and grounded in a narrow conception of American self-interest then other countries won't submit to this kind of regime. The result is increasing interest in WMD as a means of countering American conventional supremacy "on the cheap." America responds with a somewhat paranoid approach to WMD development, assuming that every nuclear program is aimed at the destruction of Manhattan rather than at safeguarding other countries from a threatening United States, which results in policies like the invasion of Iraq that further undermine perceptions of American hegemony as benign.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:42 AM
PRIORITIES. Now, who among us does not sigh in relief to know that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken up the pressing issue of “lascivious banter among … contestants and a segment that involved contestants licking whipped cream off each other's bodies” in an April 2003 episode of “Married by America,” and is, in fact, preparing to levy a $1 million fine against Fox for the offense? I for one am happy to see my tax money spent on such an investigation. But now that that issue is all but settled, mightn’t the FCC find the time to address another, rather more pressing matter? Does the word of its former chairman carry much weight in Michael Powell’s FCC? How about the word of a sitting FCC commissioner who happens to be a Democrat? Just asking.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 10:30 AM
SAFER YET? From Reuters, yet another example of how the invasion of Iraq has made you safer:
Satellite imagery shows that entire buildings in Iraq have been dismantled. They once housed high-precision equipment that could help a government or terror group make nuclear bombs, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report to the U.N. Security Council.

Equipment and materials helpful in making bombs also have been removed from open storage areas in Iraq and disappeared without a trace, according to the satellite pictures, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said.

While some military goods that disappeared from Iraq after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion, including missile engines, later turned up in scrap yards in the Middle East and Europe, none of the equipment or material known to the IAEA as potentially useful in making nuclear bombs has turned up yet, ElBaradei said.

And just to be clear, none of this material constituted a threat before the war:
The equipment -- including high-precision milling and turning machines and electron-beam welders -- and materials -- such as high-strength aluminum -- were tagged by the IAEA years ago, as part of the watchdog agency's shutdown of Iraq's nuclear program. U.N. inspectors then monitored the sites until their evacuation from Iraq just before the war.

The United States barred the inspectors' return after the war, preventing the IAEA from keeping tabs on the equipment and materials up to the present day.

In summary: Before the war Iraq's nuclear program was years away from bearing a usable weapon and, thanks to the sanctions regime, getting further away. Then, thanks to diplomacy and threats of force, IAEA inspectors returned to the country. These inspectors informed the U.S. government that its pre-war assessments of Iraq's nuclear program were off-base and that the threat was nowhere near as imminent as the administration had maintained. Nevertheless, the United States invaded, thus precipitating the evacuation of IAEA inspectors who'd been safeguarding the most advanced elements of the Iraqi nuclear program. After the war, the administration failed to provide enough manpower to secure the sites and, displaying its typical disdain for international institutions, wouldn't let the inspectors come back.

As a result, instead of being under lock-and-key, bits and pieces of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program are now off God knows where. The war has totally undermined the security of Iraq's borders, has caused individuals with links to international terrorism to enter Iraq, and has led the individuals in question to acquire some supporters among the local population. In other words, the risk that Iraqi nuclear materials will make their way into the hands of members of a global terrorist network has been enhanced rather than reduced by the invasion that's cost tens of millions of dollars and over 1,000 American lives. Shockingly, America's academic national security experts think we need something more sensible than this farce of a policy.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:54 AM
October 09, 2004
ASTROTURF GROWS FAST. Watching C-SPAN founder and CEO Brian Lamb on C-SPAN's Washington Journal this morning, I was surprised to see the veteran newscaster slapping Bush campaign astroturf up on the screen. Reading letters from viewers, he put up a missive from one Don Jones -- which included the word-for-word spin from a letter Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman sent to supporters last night urging them to "Make sure your friends and neighbors get the truth about last night's debate" and "Write letters to the editors of your local papers" and other news outlets to help win the post-debate spin war.

This kind of thing is getting to be so frequent an occurence that for the duration of the election, I'd say that political reporters have an obligation to forward these kind of Bush and Kerry campaign e-mails to their letters departments so that those who edit the letters sections can do a better job of screening out the blatant cut-and-paste jobs.

And anywhere you see this statement, you'll know that hasn't happened:

President Bush won a decisive victory last night. The President dominated the debate with impassioned, thoughtful and concise arguments that left Kerry looking petty and defensive as he sputtered out tired, false political rhetoric and distortions that shattered his credibility and contradicted the Senator's 20-year record of being on the wrong side of history on national security and domestic policy.

The key word here is "dominated." That's the Bush spin I heard in spin alley last night from Karen Hughes, Ken Mehlman, Matt Dowd and the rest of the Bush team. It's not the kind of thing members of the citizenry are coming up with on their own.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 10:13 AM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: HELLO, GENDER GAP. What will be the most important consequence of this second debate? Michael Tomasky has a compelling theory: George W. Bush just lost the women's vote. The first 30 minutes may have been all he needed.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 12:18 AM
October 08, 2004
MISTAKES. I think George W. Bush's dodge on the mistakes question is even more revealing, and unflattering, than at first glance. Think about the only thing he pointed to as a mistake: appointments. That is to say, the only mistake he made is some other folks screwing up their jobs. Even his single mistake is someone else's fault. And then, the way he tried to tell the audience member that he knew the real reason she was asking her question -- that he knew the insinuation she was trying to make: "When people ask that question, they're really talking about Iraq". Who the hell is he to explain to an ordinary citizen what she meant by her own question? (And let's remember, the lady went out of her way to say explicitly to Bush that "you've made thousands of decisions as president that have affected millions of people," and then ask out of all those thousands of decisions what are three that were mistakes; how was that obviously a question about Iraq?) Bush's arrogance, his defensiveness, the insularity, the delusions -- it's all nicely encapsulated in that one answer.

I think Kerry missed a big opportunity in his follow-up by actually taking up the question itself and rehashing all the mistakes the president actually has made over the war. He should have simply stood up, pointed to the president, and said "Look at that. You asked him directly, and he answered sincerely, he doesn't think he's made a single mistake." His failure to hammer that point home seemed evident in the immediate post-debate wrap-up on CNN when that robotic talking point regurgitator John King actually said that "Bush admitted to mistakes" in this debate, referring to that question.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 11:39 PM
BEAR MARKET. I've been keeping my eye on www.tradesports.com all night, and it's shown nothing but bad news for George W. Bush. The site is an online futures market that trades, among other things, bets on the presidential election. Let's just say that investors' confidence in Bush is not so high. Bush's bidding price closed last night at 60.6 per share; as of 10:57 p.m., he's going at 52.0 per share. That's even down from the end of the debate, when he was trading at around 55 per share. It'll rebound a bit before closing, I'm sure, but it's indisputable that a significant proportion of the people who have put money on this election think Bush's evening was disastrous.

Incidentally, the biggest single drop that I caught was after the bizarre "need some wood?" moment. People seem to think that looked bad for Bush.

UPDATE: Bush has already rebounded to 53.8. Now that the spin has started, people are remembering that public perception won't necessarily depend on how the debaters actually performed...

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 11:03 PM
NOT ALL MISSTATEMENTS ARE CREATED EQUAL. Bill Schneider just did a little fact-check segment. It turns out that George W. Bush totally misportrayed Kerry's health care plan, and misled the public about how many al-Qaeda operatives have been killed. John Kerry, meanwhile, said Bush "retired" Eric Shinseki early when, in fact, all Bush really did was make Shinseki a de facto lame duck ahead of time. Wolf Blitzer's response, to speculate when Kerry would stop repeating this "so-called fact." Now, Kerry probably should rephrase his point, but did Wolf miss the part where Bush's entire worldview on two major issues was completely bogus?

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:54 PM
NO MISTAKES. Once again, the president won't admit to having made any mistakes (besides, perhaps, hiring Paul O'Neill). It's simply an absurd point of view -- even if you think the decision to invade Iraq wasn't a mistake, it's simply impossible to believe that the execution has been flawless. This is the mentality of a deeply, deeply deluded person who's going to make mistake after mistake after mistake if given more time in office. And the really crazy thing is that he won't even realize it.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:48 PM
BOTTOM LINE. George W. Bush's performance was less ridiculously bad than his last one. Instead of goofy smirks, we just got the blank stares. And once we turned to domestic policy, he got the "demented madman" factor under control.

At the same time, he didn't achieve what he needed to achieve. The problem for Bush right now is with the real world. Iraq is a mess. The deficit has never been higher. The job market is terrible. The facts speak for themselves. Bush's challenge is to somehow try and make John Kerry so unacceptable that they vote for his re-election despite his miserable record. But in order to get his temper under control by the end, Bush found himself largely abstaining from attacks on Kerry. The result was a worthy, if dull, exchange on domestic policy that does nothing to change public perceptions of Kerry and nothing to change the problems in the external world.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:37 PM
THE PROSECUTOR'S TRICK. For the first half hour of the debate it seemed, at least from the pool feed we're getting here in Missouri, that George W. Bush was talking to the audience while John Kerry was talking to Bush. It may just be the camera angles we're seeing, but it really does seem that Kerry was doing his level best in the first third of the debate to agitate Bush, then moved into a very smooth series of one-liners and policy descriptions. Bush, for his part, has been trying with visible effort to keep his face a pleasant blank during Kerry's speeches, though Bush's rapid blinking and occasional twitching still gave away the game of his emotions at times.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 10:04 PM
WHAT ABOUT ANTHRAX? There was just a question about how there have been no further terrorist attacks since September 11. But what about the anthrax attacks of fall 2001? Have we forgotten all about them? No one talks about them any more. But they happened, happened in America, and if they weren't a terrorist attack, I don't know what is. Problem is, we're even less clear on how to catch their perpetrator than we are Osama bin Laden. So no one talks about them any more.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 09:46 PM
WORKING OVERTIME? I appreciate the president's desire to avoid the "hard work" talking point this time around, but are America's counterterrorism officials really working overtime? Shouldn't we try to hire enough people so they can work in shifts and save overtime for particularly acute emergencies?

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:39 PM
HE REMEMBERED POLAND! George W. Bush mixing words up again: Isn't it Poland telling us we'll be going it alone?

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 09:36 PM
FIRST GAFFE OF DEBATE NIGHT. George W. Bush: "I hear there's rumors on the Internets." Big laugh in the press room -- How many Internets does he think are out there?.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 09:34 PM
HE FORGOT ABOUT SILVIO! That's Silvio Berlusconi, Mr. President, not Sergio.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:33 PM
"DIDN'T HONOR THE AGREEMENT." Here we go again misrepresenting what happened in North Korea. I refer readers once again to Fred Kaplan's definitive article on the subject.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:28 PM
REAGAN'S POPULARITY. It's true that, in some sense, Ronald Reagan was unpopular in Europe during the Cold War. At the same time, Reagan's more confrontational policies were strongly supported by the major European governments. Perhaps more to the point, Reagan was (and is) extremely popular in Eastern Europe, the countries he was trying to liberate. Contrast that with the view of George W. Bush held not only by Western European governments, but by average Arabs. Is it really possible to bring a "democratic revolution" to the Middle East by methods that are widely despised by the populations who are supposed to be enjoying their newfound freedoms?

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:22 PM
TRAINING DAY. As long as the president's talking about his grand ambitions for training Iraqi troops, let me refer you to my post on the subject from earlier today about what a pathetic failure our efforts on this front have been so far. Let me also note that the president's stated goal of 125,000 total security forces is way below the target goals reported by his own State Department. They say Iraq needs 135,000 people for the police alone (so far, we have 39,041), to say nothing of the Army, the Border Patrol, etc.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:19 PM
FIRST GIMMICK OF DEBATE NIGHT. The Kerry campaign passed out little rose-tinted paper glasses, like people used to wear to 3-D movies back in the 50s, to go along with their Bush vs. Rality debate night pre-buttal (PDF), "Bush's Rose Colored Glasses." This differs from their first debate night pre-buttal in that it is funny and visual, rather than a dense dry tome -- an improvement, given that most reporters spend the hours right before debate schmoozing and talking to spinmeisters, not boning up on policy.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 09:04 PM
FIRST LIE OF DEBATE NIGHT. ST. LOUIS, MO. -- The Bush campaign has been passing out little notecards the exact size of reporter's notebooks on "John Kerry's Record of Higher Taxes And More Spending." Item No. 1 on the back of the card:
According To The Non-Partisan American Enterprise Institute (AEI), The Kerry Health Care Plan Would Cost $1.5 Trillion. (emphasis added; idiosyncratic capitalization in the original.)

Do they really think reporters are that dumb?

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 08:51 PM
A WORD ON THE AFGHAN ELECTIONS. I can only assume that tomorrow's presidential elections in Afghanistan will come up in the debate, in the context of the president bragging about his humanitarian splendor. The most obvious response is to simply point to Human Rights Watch's report about the extensive fraud, violence, and intimidation that will mar the vote.

I spoke earlier this week to a recently-returned administrator for a USAID subcontractor in Afghanistan and he emphasized to me that, these problems notwithstanding, the vote is likely to be a success. The reason, in brief, is that Hamid Karzai enjoys such overwhelming support in the country (in part because of his genuine popularity and in part because, thanks to the dire security situation, none of his opponents have been able to campaign nationwide and gain name recognition) that fraud notwithstanding, the people's choice will win, and his administration will be seen as legitimate. The real question is whether these problems can be significantly ameliorated before the parliamentary elections, where fraud and intimidation really could queer the result and produce a government that lacks the confidence of the people.

And then there's the question of credit. U.S. military action against the Taliban, clearly, was the necessary precursor for this weekend's events. But the action in question was utterly uncontroversial in American politics. The main line of Democratic criticism of the Bush Afghan policy has been that he hasn't done enough to commit to the security and economic development of Afghanistan. The president's defenders can point out that, as I said above, things aren't so bad in Afghanistan as to derail the elections. Nevertheless, the realistic alternative to the Bush Afghan policy was a situation in which tomorrows vote would be easier, not harder, to secure. The ultimate success of Bush's half-hearted approach to Afghanistan won't really be known until some years after the parliamentary elections are held. It might work Bush's way, but why take the risk when the alternative would almost certainly have worked better?

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 06:44 PM
WHAT IF BUSH WINS? Over on Donkey Rising, consultant John Belisarius outlines some interesting and, I would say, salutary ideas about how the different factions of Democrats should move forward if the party suffers a defeat this November.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 05:50 PM
UPWARD REVISIONS. Sometimes what Dick Cheney says is worse if you agree with him than if you disagree:
We were deeply moved by a comment by Richard Cheney to John Edwards during the recent debate concerning the relative contributions made by members of the "coalition." Cheney said that Edwards "won't count the sacrifice and the contribution of Iraqi allies. It's their country. They're in the fight. They're increasingly the ones out there putting their necks on the line to take back their country from the terrorists and the old regime elements that are still left. . . You suggested. . . somehow they shouldn't count, because you want to be able to say that the Americans are taking 90 percent of the sacrifice. You cannot succeed in this effort if you're not willing to recognize the enormous contribution the Iraqis are increasingly making to their own future."

We agree that not only has Edwards been deficient in this regard but so have we. We shall henceforth operate on the Cheney principle and count not just the casualties of America and its invading allies , but those of the Iraqi people, both military and civilian, as well. We trust other media will follow suit and that readers, out of respect towards the vice president, will urge them to do so.

The current count is as follows, using the lower estimates in case of conflicting calculations:

AMERICAN COALITION CASUALTIES

Deaths (military and civilian): 19,068

Wounded: 47,413

Thanks to Progressive Review for following rhetoric to its logical conclusion.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 04:39 PM
THE GOOD NEWS FROM IRAQ. Looking over the State Department's latest Iraq Weekly Report I see that the liberal appeasers have this all wrong. Things are progressing steadily in Iraq. For example, far more people have cell phones now than did before the war. Sure, electricity production is still below pre-war levels, so they probably have a hard time turning them on, but the point is that the president's decision to invade Iraq in order to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction deny al-Qaeda a state sponsor spark a pro-American renaissance in the Arab world bring the blessings of 21st-century telecommunications to the long-suffering Iraqi people is succeeding brilliantly.

The report also demonstrates that those who impugn the coalition of the willing are forgetting about Iraq's mighty security forces. For example, with 466 members, Iraq's Bureau of Dignitary Protection has almost reached its 500-man target strength. To be sure, the police with just 39,041 officers out of a "required" 135,000 aren't looking so good, but everyone knows you fight a war with soldiers, not cops. That's why you need to look at the army, where we've got 4,780 troops out of a target strength of 27,000. Okay, don't look at the army. Regular armies aren't very good at counterinsurgency; that's what special forces are for. And at 581 soldiers out of a required 1,967 (where did they get that number?) Iraq's Special Operations Forces are looking . . . pretty bad. But the real good news is that at Iyad Allawi's behest, we're creating an Intervention Force specially designed to tackle insurgent hotspots. And with 1,928 soldiers out of a required 6,584 it's, well, desperately undermanned as well.

So things are actually terrible, but you've got to understand that this is hard work, so you can't blame the president for doing such a bad job. It's also worth noting how tiny the proposed strength of the Iraqi Army is: 27,000 troops. Under those circumstances, Iraq is bound to be forever dependent on the United States for protection against a hostile Iran next door. Ordinary Iraqis have somehow gotten this crazy notion into their head that the Bush administration is less concerned about building an Iraqi democracy than in securing a permanent platform for American troops and a vantage point from which to dominate the Persian Gulf. I wonder where they came up with that.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 02:16 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: PURPLE PEOPLE WATCH. While all eyes are focused on the presidential race, there are eleven other executive contests underway around the country. We've profiled the six closest gubernatorial races, from the showdowns in Montana and Missouri to the blowouts in Vermont and West Virginia.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 02:10 PM
HARDBALL. If you want another example of the modern GOP’s legislating style in action, look no further than the absurdly bloated corporate tax bill that came out of conference on Wednesday, was passed by the House last night, and is likely to pass narrowly in the Senate today. Forget for a moment all the reasons why the bill is bad policy (hey, let’s take a $5 billion subsidy and turn it into $80 billion in tax breaks!), and just focus on the fate of two provisions that Democrats and some of the usual-suspect GOP moderates had included in the bill.

First, there’s the matter of FDA regulation of the tobacco industry. The tax bill has long included, at the behest of legislators from tobacco-growing states, a controversial $10 billion federal buyout for tobacco growers whose New Deal-era crop quotas are about to be lifted. The only way the bill was going to pass the Senate was if that buyout was coupled with a whole new array of FDA regulations and controls over the tobacco industry -- a compromise that was indeed forged and that allowed for a Senate bill to be passed this spring. The House, in typical fashion, managed to ram through a version of the bill this summer that included no such FDA provision. And, lo and behold, in conference that provision was one of the first things to come out. (To be fair, there was pressure coming from both parties to pass the bill without the FDA regs: North Carolina Senate candidate Erskine Bowles came to Washington on Wednesday to urge Democrats to vote for the bill even without the FDA provision, and the importance of the tobacco buyout to that crucially important Senate race wasn’t lost on anybody.)

The other casualty of the conference: a Tom Harkin-sponsored amendment to overturn the worst of the administration’s new rules regulating overtime pay. It’s not the first time an overtime rules provision has been stripped in a conference report at the behest of the White House, and, with House Democrats having succeeded in amending an appropriations bill with such a provision in September, it won’t be the last.

UPDATE: I should mention again that this was the same conference bill in which GOP leaders stripped some tax credits to movie studios as payback for the MPAA's recent hiring of a Democrat as president. All in all, the bill's a real collector's item of hard-ass Republican legislative tactics.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 02:05 PM
WHITHER THE DOMESTIC POLICY DEBATE? The domestic policy portion of the vice-presidential debate, where John Edwards horsewhipped an obviously bored Dick Cheney, didn't get much media play, in part because Gwen Ifill couldn't bring herself to ask any questions that made sense. It was a lucky thing for the Bush administration, not only because Cheney's so weak on the subject, but because it's hard to imagine what they're going to say. All the hidden communications devices in the world don't change the poor macroeconomic outlook or the worse fiscal picture.

And along with the jobs numbers, the Progressive Policy Institute has come out today with a timely analysis of "compassionate conservatism" that concludes that it hardly exists. We all appreciate that being president is hard work, but for an incumbent Republican president enjoying Republican majorities in Congress to have this little in the way of accomplishments to point to is rather pathetic.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:40 PM
MORE ON THE JOBS. In evaluating a president's economic record, you need to have some kind of benchmarks. Things look worst for the president if you adopt the simplest approach of comparing his term in office to other recent presidential terms. Do this and you'll see that the change in employment under George W. Bush (-0.6 percent) is the worst since Herbert Hoover's administration. In recent years, the number has ranged from 1.6 percent growth under the president's father to 11.8 percent in Jimmy Carter's much-maligned term. Looking at the private sector only, Bush's -1.5 percent is still worse than all other recent administrations. Real GDP growth makes Bush look better; his father did worse, as did the first Nixon administration and the Nixon-Ford administration from 1973-76. On real compensation, he's again the worst, although Bush likes to argue about real after-tax compensation, which makes him look better, especially if you're rich.

But in all of this the administration argues that we ought to ignore the inauguration-to-present measures. They give two reasons for this. One is that the economy was already losing steam when Bush took office, which is close to the truth, though often overstated by the White House. The other is that "September 11 changed everything" and we shouldn't hold the post-attack job losses against the president who did so little to defend the country against terrorism. But let's give Bush the benefit of the doubt and take a time-slice that he should take responsibility for.

As Job Watch reminds us, the administration committed to some rather specific numbers when they were pushing for their 2003 tax cuts. In particular, they said that if we did nothing, the economy would generate 228,000 jobs per month between July 2003 and December 2004. Then they said that if we did enact their tax cuts, things would be even better, and we would get 306,000 jobs per year. They got their tax cut, and we're now 2.7 million jobs short of where the administration promised we would be. For this time period, 9-11 can't be used as an excuse. One could argue that the worsening situation in Iraq has been an exogenous shock to the economy and that this explains the shortfall. In that case, however, Bush would be left explaining that it was his foreign policy screw-ups rather than his economic-policy ones that are to blame. Either way, there's no one else this can be pinned on. The president doesn't control the economy with a switch, but as the current Economic Report of the President puts it, "The Administration's policies have been a key force shaping recent economic developments."

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 12:58 PM
MORE ABU GHRAIB. Rolling Stone's Osha Gray Davidson gave the Center for Public Integrity classified annexes of the Taguba Report, which the center posted on its website today. While Davidson incorporated a great deal of this previously unreleased material in his July piece, some of the annexes are worth a read as our understanding of Abu Ghraib becomes more complete.

Consider the following excerpt of a November 30, 2003, memo from Col. Thomas Pappas to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez requesting an exception to the guidelines for interrogating prisoners. The detainee in question was a Syrian who had been arrested while trying to plant an improvised explosive device next to a military vehicle. Among other things, Pappas believed that this insurgent might be able to confirm information obtained from other prisoners about a safe house.

Upon arrival at the site, MP guards will take him into custody. MP working dogs will be present and barking during this phase. Detainee will be strip searched by guards with the empty sandbag over his head for the safety of himself, prison guards, interrogators and other prisoners. Interrogators will wait outside the room while detainee is strip searched. Interrogators will watch from a distance while detainee is placed in the segregation cell. Detainee will be put on the adjusted sleep schedule (attached) for 72 hours. Interrogations will be conducted continuously during this 72 hour period. The approaches which will be used during this phase will include, fear up harsh, pride and ego down, silence and loud music. Stress positions will also be used…in order to intensify the approach.
If approved, this request would have placed the detainee in a situation where he is naked with a bag over his head while menacing MP dogs bark at him. From there, it seems only a small step to the kind of abuses that we’ve now become accustomed to associating with Abu Ghraib.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 12:54 PM
PLAYING INTO THE HYPE. It's obvious that the latest set of terrorism warnings -- beware attacks on schools -- are not much more than a particularly sleazy kind of pre-election fear-mongering by the Bush administration. But does the press have to get rolled, too?

The headline of this CNN story reads "Disks found in Iraq show info on U.S. schools."

You read the story, and what you basically have is a lot of Department of Homeland Security officials -- all off the record -- kind of implying that, while they don't have any reason to suspect there's an actual Iraq-based terrorist threat to plan attacks on American schools, they couldn't really explain what those disks were doing in Iraq, so who really knows?

But the reader really shouldn't have to wait until the sixth paragraph to get the following information (emphasis added):

The Department of Homeland Security official said the material was associated with a person in Iraq, and it could not be established that this person had any ties to terrorism. He did have a connection to civic groups doing planning for schools in Iraq, the official said. [Emphasis added]
I dunno. Maybe, just maybe, this Iraqi official in American-occupied Iraq has plans of American schools because he is helping to build schools in Iraq?

So why all the hype?

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 12:44 PM
TOMORROW'S RECRIMINATIONS TODAY! Writing at Donkey Rising, John Belisarius pens a plea for Democrats to avoid the usual post-game recriminations between "centrist" and "populist" progressive forces after election day, with a special eye toward DLC guru Mark Penn's wrongheaded Washington Post op-ed from earlier this week.

I agree, although I think that's probably a lost cause. The interesting thing about Penn's op-ed, for my money, is that although he gives a definite New Dem gloss to his take -- the importance of swing voters, especially suburban white women, and lots of praise for Bill Clinton -- when you get down to his brass tacks recommendation for John Kerry -- less Iraq, more domestic policy -- his advice isn't any different from the criticisms I've been hearing from Stanley Greenberg, who's supposed to be Penn's ideological antagonist within the Democratic polling community. Penn doesn't try to argue that Kerry's main departure from New Democrat orthodoxy (the outsourcing-bashing) is the problem with his campaign, nor have I heard Greenberg's Democracy Corps arguing that Kerry's main point of adherence to New Democrat orthodoxy (balanced budgets) is his problem. Instead, both agree that he's talking too much about Iraq, and should talk more about the economy.

As I say, I think that's wrong. Ryan Lizza argues pretty convincingly that the Kerry campaign is, in fact, doing a good job of hitting the economy where it counts while feeding the elite media the national-security talk it craves. Nevertheless, it's important to see that this disagreement about tactics is really that -- a disagreement about campaign tactics -- not a grand ideological feud. There continues to be some substantive policy disagreements within the Democratic tent, but they cross-cut the tactical disputes rather than reinforcing them. If recriminations there must be -- and Democrats love recriminations -- they should be conducted honestly and with a recognition that the 2004 campaign really is different from the battles of the 1990s, complete with axes of disagreement that don't have much to do with the old disputes.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 12:35 PM
A LIBYAN CONNECTION. Via Abu Aardvark I see that Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem al Sha'alan is accusing Libya of providing aid and support to the Iraqi insurgency. Most likely this is overblown, as the Bush/Allawi administrations have systematically overstated foreign involvement in the insurgency. At the same time, there certainly has been some foreign involvement, so there may well be some truth to this. And if there is, then what's left of the tattered theory that the Bush Doctrine -- with Iraq as a demonstration project -- has intimidated malign Arab states into abandoning their rogueish ways? The trouble, of course, is that these sorts of model wars pour encourager les autres only work if they don't turn into bloody fiascos that reveal more about the limits of American power than anything else.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:46 AM
DESERVED. There's all sorts of sordid stuff in our domestic political scene to wallow in today, but I do recommend taking a moment to read a bit about Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan activist who just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai's not exactly a household name around these parts, and I'm no expert on her work. But it's certainly been my impression in the little studying of Africa I've done that her name inspires more awe, astonishment, and sheer, bewildered reverence among African specialists and observers than perhaps any other figure.

The movement she started -- a grassroots reforestation campaign that involved hundreds of thousands of Kenyan women -- was an extraordinary feat and a startling political gambit. Her activism can't easily be pigeonholed into our typical rote categories: environmentalist do-goodery, indigenous resistance, feminist movement work, etc. Its ultimate importance had (and has) more to do with lending her impoverished constituents a sense of serious political engagement -- of citizenship -- in a country that's generally typified African political maladies and disfunctions in the last few decades.

This Washington Post article offers a nice introduction to the woman. It's worth a look.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 11:39 AM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: "THAT GUY" IN CHIEF. More and more Americans may view George W. Bush as a bumbler, but hey -- they still want to have a beer with him, right? Charles P. Pierce just says no -- because who wants to hang out with the guy who picks a fight and then skips out on the tab?

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 11:38 AM
HUBRIS. You don't have to be the kind of person who sees messages from God in world events to see that the Bush administration has been getting a pretty clear lesson, in recent days, about the dangers of hubris. First George W. Bush praised Poland's role in Iraq during the Florida debate; five days later Poland announced it plans to withdraw its troops. Then the vice president tried to take credit for a decrease in terrorist attacks against Israel; three days later three bombs hit Israelis in the Sinai peninsula.

Dick Cheney, October 5:

In respect to Israel and Palestine, Gwen, the suicide bombers, in part, were generated by Saddam Hussein, who paid $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers. 

I personally think one of the reasons that we don't have as many suicide attacks today in Israel as we've had in the past is because Saddam is no longer in business.

The New York Times, October 8:
EILAT, Israel, Friday, Oct. 8 - Three explosions shook three Egyptian Sinai resorts popular with vacationing Israelis on Thursday night, killing at least 35 people and wounding at least 100, Israel Radio said.

Israeli officials said they believed the blasts were caused by terrorist bombs.

Janine Zacharia over at TNR Online has a more prosaic explanation for why attacks were down: The wall. The number of terrorist attempts on Israel hasn't actually gone down, she notes, but the wall Israel has built has stopped many of them. Writes Janine:
As just about any observer of the Middle East will tell you, it was not American actions that led to the decrease in terror attacks, but rather Israeli ones--namely Israel's construction of a network of fences and walls along the West Bank coupled with a major counterterrorism offensive that has spanned several years. If Cheney had been right, and the decrease in bombings were really the result of the drying up of financial incentives for terrorism, then one would expect many fewer attempted attacks as well as many fewer actual ones. In fact, that hasn't been the case. "The reality," says Dennis Ross, Washington's former special Middle East envoy, "is that the number of [attempted] attacks have not dropped significantly. The barrier and the siege have prevented the attacks from being successful. Even if Saddam was still encouraging them, the barrier and the siege would prevent them from being successful." What Cheney said Tuesday night, Ross added, "doesn't really relate to reality."

Indeed, the will to carry out attacks remains, even without Saddam's financial incentives. In 2002, the second year of the Palestinian intifada, 55 suicide bombings killed 203 people, according to the Associated Press; in the third year, 26 bombings claimed 140 lives; and in the past year, 14 bombings killed 76. But many more than 14 terrorists have tried to carry out attacks during the last nine months. Israeli forces have thwarted scores of bombings through arrests and military operations in the West Bank. According to Israeli military figures cited by The Washington Post on Tuesday, two of three bombers reached their targets in 2001, before Israel began construction of its security barrier. This year the fraction has fallen to one in nine.

Add the claim that getting rid of Hussein decreased terrorism against Israel to the long and growing list of false Cheney claims made during Tuesday's debate. Some have attributed Cheney's misstatements to malice, but I suspect pervasive sloppiness coupled with tremendous arrogance, resulting in a completely skewed understanding of the world, are likely more to blame. For example, I can't believe Cheney would have claimed he never met John Edwards if he'd actually remembered meeting him, but he was so confident of his memory that no one apparently bothered to vet his claim before he made it, and he wound up with egg all over his face. The same essential dynamic has been at work over and over with this administration. They've been incapable of governing effectively because they are incapable of accurately assessing what's going on, and are too arrogant to bother finding out the truth. They rely too much on what they already think they know, rather than what they can learn. In short, they're sloppy -- and, consequently, highly error-prone.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 11:10 AM
WAITING FOR THE DEATH PENALTY. I was remarking to a friend last night that I'm surprised the Bush campaign hasn't broken out the death penalty as a line of attack on John Kerry. Apparently Ramesh Ponnuru was thinking the same thing but actually got around to writing about it. If the Kerry campaign is smart, they're thinking about how they'll respond to this sort of thing, since otherwise it threatens to send them badly off message in the final weeks of the campaign.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:10 AM
DEFUND THE LEFT. Make no mistake: Republicans have a healthy fear of groups like MoveOn.org, which hold out the promise of a financially healthy Democratic Party funded in large measure by grassroots donors, as the GOP itself has been since the 1970s. Hence efforts by the likes of Rep. Jim Gerlach to paint the group as extreme and those candidates it supports (like Gerlach's opponent, Lois Murphy) as radical. Click here for details.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:05 AM
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. For expert analysis of this morning's jobs report, let me refer you to this post by Max Sawicky and these two from Kash at the Angry Bear site. Bottom line: This month's result -- 96,000 new jobs -- is not only below Wall Street expectations, it's below the amount needed to keep pace with population growth. Last month's numbers have also been revised downward to 128,000 -- from an initial estimate of 144,000 -- also below the population growth rate.

Thus, it appears that about 585,000 net jobs have been lost over the years of the Bush administration. That's not a huge quantity of job losses, but it's important to remember that the U.S. population has added well over 10 million new people during the relevant time frame. That means there are a lot of people not working who could be, and who would be in a healthier economy, the relatively low unemployment rate notwithstanding. It's also interesting to note that private sector job losses have been significantly higher than aggregate job losses, meaning that under erstwhile small government conservative George W. Bush the government share of the economy has increased substantially. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but if your employment policies are based on the idea of an ever-expanding public sector, then it's hardly sustainable to maintain a constant policy of tax cuts, tax cuts, and more tax cuts.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:21 AM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: THE CRUCIAL QUESTIONS. It's easy enough to ask the candidates what they would do about Sudan or Osama bin Laden. But what will they do to prevent the next Darfur, and what will they do to help secure international justice more broadly? Walter Cronkite, John B. Anderson, and Charles J. Brown pose three questions that both candidates should have to answer before tonight is over.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 10:08 AM
PAUL BREMER, COWARD. Well, there you have it. Paul Bremer, the former proconsul in Iraq who's long believed his job security is more important than the lives of our troops or Iraqi civilians, and who's been happy to peddle the Bush line on national television irrespective of its truth, has gone and issued an utterly implausible recantation of his earlier criticisms of the American force structure in Iraq. The main tactic here is to simply misrepresent his earlier remarks, and there should be no surprise.

Consistently for the past four years there have been hopes that someday, somehow, the grown-up Republicans in this country will band together and bring the madness to an end. Every once in a while, it kinda sorta looks like it's going to happen. And then who shows up at the Republican convention peddling the party-line smears but all the best-known moderate Republicans. Some folks like Robert Novak think it'll all get better in a second term. Mark Schmitt even speculates that continued total Republican dominance of the government might be consistent with a return to sanity. I wouldn't believe it. Some folks -- like Bremer, like Paul O'Neill, like John McCain -- are happy to go off the reservation for a day or a week, but when the pressure comes down they all got back on board. Electoral success will only confirm the trend -- politicians stick with what works.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:59 AM
K STREET PROJECT SLAYS HOLLYWOOD. It was momentarily surprising to hear, in the middle of a conference call on the House Ethics Committee’s admonishments of Tom DeLay, a question posed by a reporter from, of all places, Variety. But in fact the machinations of the majority leader have made themselves felt pretty directly in Tinsletown this week.

As Roll Call reported yesterday (subscription required), congressional conferees excised a bunch of movie studio tax credits this week from a gigantic, long-in-the-works international tax bill (it’s the same bill the Washington Post is so upset about, incidentally). Why’d they do it? Well, the Motion Picture Association of America really pissed off DeLay and the other administrators of the K Street Project (the long-term effort to shut Democrats out of top lobbying positions, detailed by Nick here) when they hired a Democrat to replace Jack Valenti as MPAA head earlier this summer.

Three months after Hollywood slapped the Republican Party by hiring Democrat Dan Glickman to head its Washington trade association, Congressional Republicans sliced more than $1 billion in tax credits for movie studios from a far-reaching international tax bill that the House and Senate plan to take up today.

Though the tax credits for Hollywood were included in a version of the bill approved by the Senate this summer, a Republican-dominated conference committee voted Tuesday evening to leave the provisions on the cutting-room floor.

Led by Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (Calif.) and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas), House GOPers on the conference committee voted as a bloc to oppose the tax breaks, calling them bad policy and too expensive to be included in the $140 billion bill.

But other lawmakers, Congressional aides and movie industry lobbyists said Republicans refused to fight for the Senate tax credits in order to punish Hollywood for hiring Glickman, a former House Member from Kansas and secretary of Agriculture under then-President Bill Clinton, to head the Motion Picture Association of America.

Two weeks after Glickman was hired, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) convened a meeting of top Republicans to discuss the move.

In the weeks leading up to the tax vote, Republicans continued to whisper about punishing the MPAA. As a result, Glickman has let it be known that he is looking to hire a big-name Republican lobbyist to join him at the MPAA after the November elections.

Notice the main players here: DeLay on the House side and Rick Santorum in the Senate, the two top K Street Project honchos. There’s almost no doubt what’s going on here.

What's important to remember is that it was precisely the manipulation of legislation to punish a lobby for daring to hire a Democrat as president that landed DeLay his first admonishment from the House Ethics Committee, in 1999. As recounted in The Hammer, that past incident pertained to the 1998 nomination of Democrat Dave McCurdy to head up Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA). DeLay held up the final passage of a conference bill on copyright laws that EIA had been pushing, all to send the lobby a message. A year later, the Ethics Committee, of its own accord and responding to no outside complaint, sent DeLay a private letter of admonishment for the gambit.

How, exactly, does the MPAA case differ from the EIA one? It doesn't immediately seem apparent to me. Perhaps the newly spunky Ethics Committee would like to take a closer look.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 09:53 AM
October 07, 2004
THE CASE AGAINST BUSH, IN UNDER A MINUTE. It's a shame that the occasional really effective speech delivered by a member of Congress on the House or Senate floor doesn't get that much coverage. But this clip of Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan is quite good. The occasion for Ryan's miniature stemwinder is to explain that the reason college students fear the draft despite White House assurances to the contrary is that nothing else the White House has said about the Iraq war is true -- so why should those students have any faith in the president when he says they won't be drafted?

What struck me most, though, was how much more passionate and convincing Ryan's rundown of the president's deceptions is than anything I've heard from John Kerry, who for most of this campaign has had an advanced case of senatitis. Ryan's speech is in simple, clear language, delivered with force and conviction. Nothing fancy. And it's devastating.

When will Kerry learn to speak that way?

(Via MyDD.)

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 05:42 PM
DON'T FORGET RONNIE. In a press teleconference this afternoon Rep. Chris Bell made a pretty intriguing point about the Ethics Committee’s decision to defer an inquiry into Tom DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC) shenanigans, pending further developments in Travis County DA Ronnie Earle’s criminal investigation. (The committee did respond to the other two charges in Bell’s complaint, pertaining to DeLay’s relationship with disgraced Kansas utility company Westar and his use of FAA and Justice Department resources and personnel to try to track down a plane with several fleeing Texas legislators during the redistricting fight.) According to Bell, this decision is the “strongest indication yet that Mr. DeLay himself is the target of an investigation by the Travis County grand jury in Austin. Mr. DeLay could face a felony indictment in the very near future.” I asked Bell to elaborate a bit:
The committee states in its memorandum that it has been following the investigation in Austin quite closely. Mr. DeLay has claimed that he’s not a target of the investigation, but if he’s not a target then there would be no reason for the Ethics Committee to defer action. They apparently seem to belief after following the case that there’s a strong possibility that he is a target and that an indictment will be forthcoming, and that’s a thought that I share. I think that Mr. Earle has made it quite clear that this is an ongoing investigation and that he is in no way, shape or form tried to lead anyone to believe that Mr. DeLay is off the hook. So I think by deferring action on that particular account, the ethics committee seems to believe that Mr. DeLay could very well be a target.
This makes a lot of sense, though it should be said that the text of the memo is pretty opaque in conveying the panel’s analysis of where Earle’s investigation is heading. All it says is that, “according to newspaper reports,” Travis County officials have made it clear the investigation is ongoing, and therefore the committee can punt on the subject for now.

At any rate, it’ll certainly be worth continuing to pay attention to the happenings down in Austin. After all, I can't fathom that DeLay's post hoc attempts to distance himself from TRMPAC convince Earle. This was a PAC that DeLay himself founded and then staffed with his own aides and his own daughter, all for the purpose of moving forward a redistricting project that he subsequently would be, as the commission itself acknowledges, deeply, deelply involved in, to the point of using his access to federal authority to try and wrangle fleeing Texas legislators as they tried to thwart his plan. In light of all that it seems really, really hard to believe that, in fact, DeLay just set up this political action committee one day and then moved on to other matters without ever giving its activities a second thought. I mean really hard (PDF).

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 05:05 PM
THE CAPABILITIES ARGUMENT. Astoundingly, as more and more information about Iraq's WMD capacities becomes known, the administration's statements on the subject are moving further from the truth:
"Based on all the information we have to date," Mr. Bush said at the White House, "I believe we were right to take action, and America is safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison. He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction, and he could have passed that knowledge on to our terrorist enemies."
That's not what the Duelfer Report says at all. On nuclear weapons, which is what was really at issue in the pre-war debates, it states: "Saddam Husayn ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program." In other words, no weapons and no means to produce them. Moreover, Iraq had no highly-enriched uranium (i.e., "the materials") nor did it have any capacity to acquire or produce it.

On biological weapons, it states: "In practical terms, with the destruction of the Al Hakam facility, Iraq abandoned its ambition to obtain advanced BW weapons quickly. ISG found no direct evidence that Iraq, after 1996, had plans for a new BW program or was conducting BW-specific work for military purposes." In other words, no weapons, no means, and no intent.

On chemical weapons, which are far less dangerous than biological or nuclear weapons, Iraq was significantly closer, having much of the knowledge base intact and "an effective system for the procurement of items that Iraq was not allowed to acquire due to sanctions." Nevertheless, "ISG found no evidence that this system was used to acquire precursor chemicals in bulk." Again, neither weapons nor capacity.

In other words, we invaded Iraq because Iraq maintained production facilities that could have produced chemical weapons in the future if it acquired some material it didn't have. But look at this list of nations that probably or certainly have chemical weapons programs right now. It includes China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Russia, and Syria. Are we going to invade all of those countries? Of course not. Chemical weapons, especially the ones that are relatively easy to produce, simply aren't especially deadly compared to conventional explosives. And, once again, Saddam's intention was only to try and resume production after sanctions were lifted, which no one was proposing in the spring of 2003, and the inspections process would have further degraded his capacity to build them in the future.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 04:29 PM
YES, BUT SEPTEMBER 11 CHANGED EVERYTHING! Via Digby, a very relevant set of flashbacks from blogger Just My 2. Remember when Al Gore mistakenly said he had visited Texas with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director James Lee Witt, when the truth was that he had visited Texas with other FEMA officials and accompanied Witt to other disaster sites? Among the many great quotes collated:
"Al Gore has described these presidential debates as a job interview with the American people," Cheney said. "I've learned over the years that when somebody embellishes their resume in a job interview, you don't hire them."
But this is a completely different situation, of course. When you catch somebody repeatedly lying on the job, you extend his contract. At least, that's what I learned in the Cheney School of Management.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 02:55 PM
CRIMES OF WAR? Andrew Buncombe of the Independent raises the possibility that a group of American pilots may have committed a war crime during the siege of Fallujah this past April.
The Pentagon said yesterday it was investigating cockpit video footage that shows American pilots attacking and killing a group of apparently unarmed Iraqi civilians.

The 30-second clip shows the pilot targeting the group of people in a street in the city of Fallujah and asking his mission controllers whether he should "take them out". He is told to do so and, shortly afterwards, the footage shows a huge explosion where the people were. A second voice can be heard on the clip saying: "Oh, dude."

The existence of the video, taken last April inside the cockpit of a US F-16 fighter has been known for some time, though last night's broadcast by Channel 4 News is believed to be the first time a mainstream broadcaster has shown the footage.

At no point during the exchange between the pilot and controllers does anyone ask whether the Iraqis are armed or posing a threat. Critics say it proves war crimes are being committed. [Emphasis added]

If confirmed, this bombing could, of course, be considered a clear breach of the principle of civilian immunity in international humanitarian law. Far more disturbing than a single violation of this particular principle, however, is the possibility that the mission controller’s directive to the pilot (“take them out”) might signal a re-emergence of Vietnam-era “free-fire zones” in which the rules prohibiting the engagement of civilian targets are severely diminished. If this, in fact, has become Pentagon policy for certain “no-go” areas like Fallujah, it raises the uncomfortable question that committing war crimes might be systemic to the way in which our forces engage certain hostile cities.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 02:50 PM
DEBATE BOUNCE. The latest AP/Ipsos poll shows John Kerry in the lead again, 50 percent to 46 percent, over George W. Bush. That movement seems to be directly attributable to Kerry's performance in the Sept. 30 debate, which was viewed by 62.5 million people in a country where only 105.6 million people voted in the last presidential election.

According to the Associated Press:

Nearly three-fourths of likely voters said they had watched or listened to the first presidential debate last week, according to the poll. Only 8 percent came away with a more favorable view of Bush while 39 percent said they felt better about Kerry.
The debate also seems to have had a significant impact in shoring up the base for Kerry in Florida, according to a poll of 800 likely voters conducted by Hamilton Beattie & Staff for America Coming Together; they found the race a toss-up with 49 percent for Kerry and 47 percent for Bush, Kerry's lead within the margin of error.

Significantly, however:

Leading up to Election Day, we are seeing a solidification of the Democratic base behind John Kerry. For the first time in this election, we are now seeing Kerry gain the same level of vote support from registered Democrats that George W. Bush receives from registered Republicans (85% of registered Democrats say they will vote for Kerry; 86% of registered Republicans say they will vote for Bush).

Kerry has not only solidified his base, he is appealing to the large number of Independent voters that make Florida a swing state. Among these registered Independents (a group that will account for roughly 15% of Election Day turnout), Kerry holds a very solid lead (55% Kerry; 35% Bush; 4% Nader; 7% Other/Undecided).

This shift is quite important because it means that pro-Kerry get-out-the-vote efforts will get a boost in Florida; it's a lot easier to get people to vote if they are enthusiastic about their candidate, rather than feeling like they're performing an unpleasant chore. This polling also gels with what I heard on the ground in Florida, where the debate was a major topic of discussion last Friday and three different people, unprompted, mimicked Bush's facial expressions in front of me while talking about the debate.

What Bush did during the debate was hard to describe in words, apparently, but easy for viewers to reproduced in coversation by saying, "He was like:" and then showing what he was like. One woman hunched her shoulders, made her face blank, and blinked her eyes rapidly to describe Bush's posture to a friend of hers over lunch. A man at the hotel where I was staying pursed his lips together and swished them back and forth with an annoyed look -- all he recalled from the five minutes of the debate he'd bothered to watch -- and another, who used to be in the military and said he was very blah on Kerry until the debate, which he watched in full, also scrunched up his face in a sour expression as a way of describing the odd faces the president made during the debate. He was quite impressed by Kerry, and newly enthusiastic about voting for him.

Bush made a dumb stylistic mistake in the first debate, but I doubt he's going to do it again tomorrow. Bush has already turned his face-making into a stump-speech punchline to a critique of Kerry, telling supporters yesterday, according to a transcript at the campaign's site:

He said terrorists are pouring across the Iraqi border, but also said that fighting those terrorists is a diversion from the war on terror.

(Laughter.) 

You hear all that and you can understand why somebody would make a face. 

(Laughter and applause.)

That's the Bush who's going to show up in St. Louis tomorrow, I suspect: jovial and joking, even at his own expense, while he shoves in the shiv.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 01:52 PM
NO CASH FOR YOU! The good people at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (a formerly conservative think tank driven ever-closer toward shrillness by Bushian mismanagement) Postconflict Reconstruction Project have a new analysis (PDF) out on where Iraqi reconstruction money goes and why so little of it seems to reach Iraqi hands. Congress has appropriated $18.4 billion in reconstruction money, of which about 95 percent is just sitting around unspent. Of the remaining $1 billion that actually has been spent, 30 percent goes to security, 15 percent to "corruption/fraud/mismanagement," 12 percent to "other" costs, 10 percent to CPA and U.S. embassy overhead, and 6 percent to profit for subcontractors. A mere 27 percent -- $270 million out of an $18.4 billion appropriation -- actually gets into Iraqi hands. And for some reason the whole "hearts and minds" thing isn't going so well. It's hard to imagine why.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 01:01 PM
HEAD IN THE SAND. To get a sense of what kind of leadership the Republican Party is offering the country, just consider the astounding fact that Tom DeLay still doesn't believe that Saddam Hussein didn't have WMD:
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said: "We didn't have to find plans or weapons to see what happened when Saddam Hussein used chemical and biological weapons on his own people. So just because we can't find them and Saddam Hussein had 12 years to hide them doesn't mean he didn't have them and didn't use them."
Having one branch of government led by a man this badly out of touch with reality is frightening. What's more, as a defense of administration policy, this is astoundingly weak. If, as appears to be the case, we invaded Iraq in order to disarm a country that had no arms, that would be a catastrophic waste of resources and a tragic loss of opportunities to tackle other problems. But if, as DeLay would have it, we invaded Iraq in order to disarm the country and over a year later we still haven't found the WMD then, presumably, they've been spirited off somewhere (remember those unsecure borders) and we're not only stuck fighting a losing counterinsurgency, but we've directly harmed the cause of nonproliferation. Fortunately, DeLay is wrong. Unfortunately, the country continues to be led by men who are totally blind to the facts.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 12:25 PM
THE ETHICIST. I admit that I was genuinely surprised that the ethics committee went ahead and issued a report on Chris Bell's ethics complaint against Tom DeLay before the election. The panel recommends no further investigation, and issued only an admonishment rather than a censure. But it's still a surprise, and most likely a testament to the effectiveness of media and citizen pressure in the last few weeks to move the process forward. There'll be lots to say later about the actual text of the committee's memo, which is at times very carefully worded. It's worth a read, as is Charles Kuffner's rundown.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 12:17 PM
BACK TO CAMERON FOR A MOMENT. I didn't know this about Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron, but check out the following exchange from the documentary Outfoxed, sent along by loyal reader D.W.:
[CARL CAMERON, Fox News Senior Political Correspondent prepares for an interview with candidate and then-Governor GEORGE W. BUSH.]

CAMERON: My wife has been hanging out with your sister.

BUSH: Yeah. Good. [Laughs]

CAMERON: ...been all over the state campaigning, and Pauline has been constantly with her.

BUSH: Yeah, [?] is a good person.

CAMERON: Oh, she's been terrific! To hear Pauline tell it, when she first started campaigning for you, she was a little bit nervous. But...

BUSH: Hitting her stride?

CAMERON: She doesn't need notes, she's going to crowds, and she's got the whole riff down.

BUSH: She's a good soul.

CAMERON: She's having fun, too.

BUSH: She's a really good soul.

NARRATOR: And in any other news organization, in fact in CNN that very summer, there was a producer whose husband was a lawyer for the Gore team. And this was a producer who would have naturally covered Gore, who was immediately told you're not to have anything to do with campaign coverage, either covering Bush or covering Gore because of the possible conflict of interest or the perception of a conflict at interest. At Fox, they didn't care. The fact that the senior political reporter whose wife was actually campaigning for the Bush campaign at a time when this guy's covering them, that didn't even register. It never would have occured.

CAMERON: All right, you guys ready? All right.

BUSH: [Laughing] That's great.

CAMERON: Here we go governor.

[BUSH laughs]

CAMERON: See? Little things that get disclosed.

BUSH: I like that.

CAMERON: [Serious voice] Thank you for joining us, sir.

BUSH: [Serious voice] Yes, sir. Thanks, Carl, it's good to see you.

CAMERON: Just a few days away from the convention, now...

NARRATOR: ...Through the act of having some sort of basic journalistic integrity that is just missing from that organization.

Methinks this narrator fella has a point. I hear MoveOn.org is pushing for Cameron to be fired, which is only fair considering he's been fabricating news stories about John Kerry.

UPDATE: Jim Gilliam, one of the co-producers of Outfoxed, e-mailed me this link to the video excerpt of which the above is a transcript. Watch it.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:59 AM
SOME RACKET. Reading on MediaNews about how Sean Hannity today bailed out of a scheduled tete-a-tete with Michael Moore, one comes across the tidbit that Hannity's usual fee for speaking gigs is $100,000. Man, that's some haul. I know this isn't an unusual amount of money for a guy of Hannity's stature (or infamy, as you prefer). But I'm of the James Fallows school on "buckraking." Given that this guy spends his days yapping about every issue under the sun, I think his listeners and viewers deserve to know which trade groups, professional associations, and corporations pay Hannity the big bucks for a plate of rubber chicken and his well-worn tale of how liberals are destroying the country.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:48 AM
THE BUCK GETS PASSED AROUND AND AROUND. Newsweek has an interesting Web story about Paul Bremer that really comes in two pieces. First, there's a brief story about his recent admission that the Iraq mission lacked troops, and then there's a look at the decision-making process that led to the disbanding of the Iraqi Army. Left missing in the discussion of the "still-unresolved dispute over who was mainly responsible" for this catastrophic choice is the obvious candidate: George W. Bush.

There are a few possibilities -- one is that Bush made the call himself. The other is that someone other than Bush (Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Bremer, whomever) made it without the president's approval. In the first case, it's Bush's fault. In the second case, Bush has dangerously weak management skills and catastrophically poor judgment in choosing subordinates. What's more, Bush never held any of his subordinates responsible for making this mistake (by, e.g., firing them) nor has he ever acknowledged that a mistake was made. It's his fault and his responsibility. Watching his henchmen squirm and point fingers at each other is fun, but basically irrelevant.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:23 AM
MORE TROUBLE WITH H.R. 10. Matt's very right to predict that intelligence reform will go the way of most major legislation in the last few years, following to a tee the time-tested GOP formula: a horrible House bill and a decent Senate bill brought together in conference to produce more or less the same horrible House version, with the entire process politicized to the hilt. Not only can we count on that, we can also confidently expect the White House and House leadership to do everything it can to maximize the political advantage that can be extracted from the process in the next few weeks.

Today The Hill offers further evidence for the rumor I mentioned last week: that the Republicans might arrange an election-eve vote on a conference bill as a way to box the Dems into opposing the legislation, just like they did two years ago on the Homeland Security bill. You should read the whole piece, but here's the gist:

House Republicans appear to have switched tactics from cooperation to confrontation with Democrats on intelligence reform, in a move that Democrats say reminds them of the GOP’s pre-election strategy in 2002.

The change in tone, and perhaps in substance, comes a week after the GOP made bipartisan overtures and Republicans on the House Select Committee on Intelligence accepted several Democratic amendments to their reform bill.

The tactic may mean House Republicans want to dare Democrats to vote against the legislation, just as they did so effectively with their bill creating the Homeland Security Department in 2002.

Capitol Hill sources said House and Senate leaders might direct staff to draft a bill and then take the extraordinary step of reconvening Congress on Nov. 1, the eve of the election, to vote on the legislation.

“That this is exactly what [White House adviser Karl] Rove and [Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken] Mehlman want. They want to replay the homeland-security fight of 2002,” said a Democratic aide, speaking on background.

In the past two days the House leadership has held two press conferences to vigorously promote its intelligence bill, and Democrats were not included in either. Instead, we heard ethics committee darling Tom DeLay and others offer some helpful advice to their colleagues across the aisle:
...At a second news conference in as many days that included no Democrats, House Republicans sternly challenged senators or other critics to explain why a single item in their bill should be changed.

"Democrats . . . are trying to rip out the provisions that would make Americans safe," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said.

The Dems should have seen this coming the moment Dennis Hastert and company unveiled their intelligence reform bill two weeks ago. And, to be fair, they probably did -- there's just not much they're able to do about this process. But if Senate Republican conferees capitulate to the House leadership yet again on a conference bill, what's their excuse? What's the point of going through weeks of serious, grueling, constructive bipartisan negotiation and compromise, only to throw it all away in the end?

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 11:22 AM
KNOWN UNKNOWNS. The Washington Post editorial page engages in some shameless spinning for the administration in the wake of the devastating Iraq Survey Group report into Saddam's WMD programs:
Because Mr. Bush chose to act, we know what capabilities Iraq did -- and did not -- possess, and we've learned how difficult it is to occupy and attempt to reconstruct that country. What can't be known is what would have happened had Mr. Bush chosen not to invade. Here the new report suggests some answers. Saddam Hussein, it says, was focused on ending international sanctions, which were crumbling before the crisis began. Had he succeeded, he would have resumed production of chemical weapons and probably a nuclear program as well. Mr. Kerry suggested recently that Saddam Hussein's regime would have collapsed under the inspectors' pressure. That is one possibility; another is that it would have reemerged as a significant power in the Middle East, and as a de facto or real ally of the Islamic extremist forces with which the United States is at war.
I guess it all depends on what you mean by "possibility." The report says that before the crisis of winter 2002–2003, Iraq was under pressure from the sanction regime and getting further away from developing a nuclear weapon. And by the time the war actually began, the sanctions regime had been strengthened and inspectors were back on the ground, further weakening the nuclear program. So it's hard to see how the Post's feared "possibility" could have arisen. What's more, this analysis utterly avoids examining what the administration actually said about Iraq, which was most emphatically not that it might "reemerge[] as a significant power in the Middle East" but rather that Saddam might attack the United States with a nuclear bomb -- something that, as the ISG report and every other analysis of the situation ever undertaken by credible people concluded, was utterly implausible under any assumption about the state of Iraqi WMD programs.

This editorial, like other defenses of George W. Bush and most accusations that John Kerry flip-flopped, seems to want us to ignore everything that happened between October 2002 and March 2003. It's fair to say that the president can't be held personally responsible for every flaw in U.S. intelligence as of the former date. But by the time the war actually began, we had inspectors on the ground who were already telling the U.S. government and the global public that there weren't finding any Iraqi WMD, that none of the tips they had gotten from the Bush administration were panning out, and that in their opinion war was unnecessary. The war party -- including the Washington Post editorial page -- responded to this with little more than an orgy of France-bashing and accusations of bad faith against war skeptics. But everything we've allegedly learned since the war is precisely in line with what Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei were saying before the war.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:04 AM
IN THE WORLD. Yesterday's New York Times ran a short AP story that most of us surely missed:
SIERRA LEONE: PROMINENT GAY ACTIVIST KILLED The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch urged the authorities in Sierra Leone to track down those responsible for the murder of a gay rights activist known across Africa. FannyAnn Eddy, 30, the founder of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association, was found dead on Sept. 29 in her office in Freetown. She had been raped and stabbed, and her neck was broken. In April, she testified before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, saying gays and lesbians in Sierra Leone faced constant harassment and violence.
A friend fowarded me the anxious emails sent between colleagues of FannyAnn Eddy. Human rights organizations are trying to raise money for her family. Human Rights Watch has a longer story on Eddy and her courageous work. It's the kind of tragic event that would be easy never to hear about but will have a ripple effect in Africa's NGO community -- not to mention huge repercussions in Sierra Leone and of course for Eddy, her 10-year-old son, and her partner.

--Sarah Wildman

Posted at 10:42 AM
THE TROUBLE WITH H.R. 10. Rep. Jim Turner, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking member of the House Government Reform Committee, have joined forces to produce a detailed analysis of the House Republican intelligence reform bill as compared to the 9-11 Commission's recommendations. The House bill fully implements only 11 of the Commission's 41 recommendations, while adding 50 extraneous provisions. The biggest difference comes on the subject of a national intelligence director, who, under the 9-11 Commission proposal, was supposed to have real authority over the budget.

The Senate bill is better, but this is a road we've gone down many times before. The House passes one highly partisan piece of legislation while the Senate passes a better, more bipartisan bill. Then the thing goes to conference where the Democrats get cut out of the negotiations, the Senate GOP leadership gives into the House Republicans on all the important points, and the de facto House bill gets rammed through Congress and signed by the president. One hopes things will be different this time, but there's hardly any reason to think they actually will be.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:33 AM
THE AL-QAEDA LEADERSHIP. A little while back Newsweek took a look at the White House's change in talking points from "nearly two thirds" of al-Qaeda's leadership has been killed or captured to "more than three quarters." Their conclusion:
White House and U.S. intelligence officials declined to provide any back-up data for how they developed the new number--or even to explain the methodology that was used, which they said was classified. The absence of any explanation, as well as the timing, prompted some counterterrorism experts to deride the figure as "meaningless" and predict the revision could fuel allegations that the administration is massaging terrorism data for political purposes. . . .

An official with the recently disbanded 9/11 commission  also dismissed the new number, noting that it was impossible to get a firm handle on precisely the number of Al Qaeda "leaders" that were in place at the time of the September 11 attacks--the definition that the CIA says it used as its baseline for the estimate.

Last weekend's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer gave us further reasons for doubt. Blitzer asked Condoleezza Rice, "Well, when you say 75 percent, of how many leaders are we talking -- 75 percent of a quantity of what? 30, 25?" Rice's reply, "Of its known leadership" didn't satisfy Blitzer, who asked again -- how many people? "I would suspect that that's in the tens to hundreds -- tens to 100." But how could the known leadership of al-Qaeda just be an estimate? If the intelligence community knows anything, it ought to know the number of al-Qaeda leaders it knows about.

To look at in another way, how can the administration know what percentage of leaders it has captured and killed if it doesn't know how many leaders there are in the first place? We know, presumably, how many people we've captured and how many we've killed -- yet we don't know what number that tally is 75 percent of? It just doesn't make any sense, making this figure look more and more like a piece of campaign propaganda and less and less like a bona fide measure of progress. An administration with a better track record might deserve benefit of the doubt on this issue, but we don't have an administration like that.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 10:00 AM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: ONLY A HEARTBEAT AWAY. Calm, cool, and demented. That's the vice president we saw Tuesday night, and it sure shook Matthew Yglesias. If Dick Cheney still believes his own misperceptions about Iraq, what possible chance do we have in North Korea and Iran?

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 09:59 AM
October 06, 2004
MORE PROGRESS. Andrew Sullivan posts the latest security advice from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to Americans working inside the Green Zone:
  • Limit non-essential movement within the International Zone, especially at night.
  • Travel in groups of two or more.
  • Carry several means of communication.
  • Avoid the Green Zone Café, the Chinese Restaurants, the Lone Star restaurant and Vendor Alley.
  • Conduct physical fitness training within a compound perimeter.
  • Notify office personnel or friends of your travel plans in the International Zone.
  • Conduct a thorough search of your vehicle prior to entering it.
This is, I repeat, inside the Green Zone, in response to a further deterioration of the security situation over the last two days. Think about the implications of that. If we keep staying this course for too much longer, soon enough no one will be able to safely exit the embassy building under any circumstances.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 05:30 PM
STORMING THE GATES. Unfortunately, it looks like some people on the left are engaging in something like the sort of anti-democratic and frankly thuggish behavior that we saw from supporters of George W. Bush both during the Florida recount and during the current presidential campaign. In Orlando, a group of anti-Bush protestors broke into the local Bush campaign office and ransacked it, according to local news reports. It looks like this was a part of a set of protests organized by the AFL-CIO against the GOP's rollback of overtime pay. From what I've read, the protests were planned to be peaceful but the Orlando one got out of hand. That doesn't make it right. They ought to know this does their cause no good.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 05:04 PM
"PROGRESS" IN IRAQ. Amusing as Dick Cheney's many little problems with the facts are, their importance pales in comparison to the administration's constant dissembling on Iraq. Over there, as you may recall, we're making progress, as seen most recently in Samarra, and the only threat to our success is John Kerry and his "mexed missages." But as Knight-Ridder reports, "Once reviled as the man who brought beheadings to Iraq, Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is gaining support among Iraqis who are outraged over the trail of razed neighborhoods and dead civilians left by the U.S. military's anti-insurgent offensives this month." This was, like the vast majority of the administration's other errors in Iraq, both predictable and, in fact, widely predicted by George W. Bush's critics.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 04:20 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: OATH OF OFFENSE. When the Bush administration subverts or ignores the Constitution, it usually at least has a reason, however tenuous. Not Donald Rumsfeld. The oath he's administered at Guantanamo is not just arbitrary and petty, it's unconstitutional and contrary to Congress' first statute, discovers Bruce Ackerman. Rumsfeld may not care -- but Ackerman knows four people who should.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 04:13 PM
AIDS AND THE MODERATOR'S PREROGATIVE. Following up on my comments from last night, I'd like to say kudos to Gwen Ifill for seizing the moderator's perogative to put an issue on the front burner that's not there but should be, in her question about AIDS in America:
"I want to talk to you about AIDS, and not about AIDS in China or Africa, but AIDS right here in this country, where black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their counterparts. What should the government's role be in helping to end the growth of this epidemic?"
Here in the nation's capital, a city that's about 60 percent black, we have the highest AIDS case rate of any major American city and one that's the same as in some African nations, with about one in 20 people infected with HIV. People forget about the AIDS epidemic as a domestic issue, and Dick Cheney is apparently so ignorant on the topic that he admitted this on national television: "I have not heard those numbers with respect to African-American women. I was not aware that it was -- that they're in epidemic there, because we have made progress in terms of the overall rate of AIDS infection."

Neither candidate intelligently discussed the topic of the domestic AIDS problem. John Edwards' response on this question was disappointing because he turned it from a question about a devastating and entrenched problem that disproportionately afflicts the poor and minorities in America into a two-part question on AIDS in Africa and the failure of the U.S. healthcare system to provide universal insurance. Said he:

"Well, first, with respect to what's happening in Africa and Russia and in other places around the world, the vice president spoke about the $15 billion for AIDS. John Kerry and I believe that needs to be doubled. And I might add, on the first year of their commitment, they came up significantly short of what they had promised."
But the situation with the international funding is far bleaker than that and really the sort of thing the administration ought to be held accountable for in the same sort of specific terms as for its failure to fully fund No Child Left Behind. Erika Casriel, in the August issue of the Prospect, got into detail about how few people the administration's $15 billion promise has reached:
Bush announced that program, known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), in his 2003 State of the Union address, when he promised a $15 billion, five-year mission to combat AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. In a May 2003 ceremony with African ambassadors at the U.S. State Department, Bush signed a bill authorizing $3 billion in spending for the first year; during his July 2003 trip to Africa, the president spoke of the coming “$15 billion.” His African audiences assumed that $3 billion would be sent in the first year, but the 2004 budget to fight global AIDS amounted to only $2 billion. With the price of AIDS drugs dropping, the billion-dollar shortfall translates into thousands of untreated AIDS patients.

The first round of PEPFAR funding wasn’t distributed until February of this year....In January 2003, Bush finally called the AIDS epidemic an emergency, but it would be 13 months until $350 million was released. “Four and a half million people have died since Bush’s announcement, and 10 million have died since he became president,” says Paul Zeitz. “And in that time the U.S. has gotten about 1,000 people on treatment.”

Nor is this underfunding and overhyping particularly recent news. I wrote about how Bush's AIDS program was basically a fakeout shortly after it was announced in 2003:

According to an analysis by the Open Society Institute (OSI), only $ 8.5 billion of the $ 15 billion pledge is actually "new money." The rest of the nearly $ 10 billion that Bush promised consists of funds previously committed by the administration in June for a multiyear program to prevent pregnant women from giving HIV to their babies, as well as continued funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria that the United States began financing two years ago.

More significantly, $ 6.8 billion of the new $ 8.5 billion is not slotted to come up for appropriation until the fiscal year 2006 -- 2008 period, according to the OSI. After that, says Dr. Paul Zeitz, the executive director of the Washington-based Global AIDS Alliance and a former United States Agency for International Development (USAID) worker in Zambia, it could take up to a year for the funds to wend their way from the halls of Congress into the hands and lives of Africans afflicted with HIV. That means about 80 percent of the new money Bush is proposing in his "Emergency Plan" will not reach African hands until around the 2007 -- 2009 period. By then, according to the United Nations Joint United Programme on HIV/AIDS, most of the 21 million Africans projected to contract HIV by 2010 will have already become infected.

Bush's AIDS program is even less of an accoplishment than his No Child Left Behind bill, and suffers from the same flaws in follow-through that afflict most high-profile administration programs. It's time someone called him on it.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 04:08 PM
WAS IT SOMETHING IN THE COFFEE? I’ve tended to find Chris Matthews’ political panel, featuring Ron Reagan and Joe Scarborough and a few other rotating members, to be more lively and interesting than the others this campaign season. But the little I caught of their post-debate wrap-up yesterday was simply disgusting in its unanimous, groveling veneration of Dick Cheney’s mountain-shaking gravitas. It’s almost as if they felt guilty about being hard on the president last week. Amy Sullivan and James Wolcott offer useful rundowns.

UPDATE: More from Eric Boehlart.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 02:38 PM
ANOTHER CHENEY FIB. According to this post on Daily Kos, when Dick Cheney said last night that he presides over the Senate "most Tuesdays when they're in session," he actually meant to say, "I'm almost never there, except for two occasions in the past four years." It's pretty brazen to lie about these things. But if a diarist on Kos can find it, where's the rest of the press? Are these things so hard to check?

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 02:34 PM
WORSE THAN A LIE? The vice president, clearly, was dissembling when he said he'd never tried to claim that Iraq was behind September 11. But was he lying when he made the initial claim, or was something more disturbing going on? Take a look at what he told Tim Russert when asked whether or not there was a connection:
We don't know. You and I talked about this two years ago. I can remember you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack. At the time I said no, we didn't have any evidence of that. Subsequent to that, we've learned a couple of things. . . .

We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing in '93 that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of '93. And we've learned subsequent to that, since we went into Baghdad and got into the intelligence files, that this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven.

Now, is there a connection between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center bombing in '93? We know, as I say, that one of the perpetrators of that act did, in fact, receive support from the Iraqi government after the fact.

Almost none of this is true. But it's not something Cheney just made up, either. It's all drawn from Laurie Mylroie's book, A Study in Revenge. Peter Bergen explains:
Ideas do not appear out of nowhere, so how is it that key members of the Bush administration believed that Iraq had been so deeply involved in terrorism directed at U.S. targets for many years? For that we must turn to Mylroie's Study of Revenge, which posits that Iraq was behind the first Trade Center attack, a theory that is risible as hundreds of national security and law enforcement professionals combed through the evidence of the '93 bombing, certainly looking, amongst other things, for such a connection, and found no evidence. But Mylroie claims to have discovered something that everyone else missed: the mastermind of the plot, a man generally known by one of his many aliases, "Ramzi Yousef," was an Iraqi intelligence agent who some time after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 assumed the identity of a Pakistani named Abdul Basit whose family lived there. This was a deduction which she reached following an examination of Basit's passport records and her discovery that Yousef and Basit were four inches different in height. On this wafer-thin foundation she builds her case that Yousef must have therefore been an Iraqi agent given access to Basit's passport following the Iraq occupation. However, U.S. investigators say that "Yousef" and Basit are in fact one and the same person, and that the man Mylroie describes as an Iraqi agent is in fact a Pakistani with ties to al Qaeda.
Since there was certainly al-Qaeda involvement in the '93 attack, the implication of the theory that Iraq was behind the bombing is that Saddam Hussein was, in fact, behind al-Qaeda all along, which is precisely what Mylroie believes. She also believes, as her later work Bush Versus The Beltway explains, that the president has been the victim of some kind of conspiracy inside the FBI, the CIA, and the rest of the intelligence community to cover this evidence up (a theory I've also heard James Woolsey endorse). And Mylroie isn't exactly a marginal figure in Washington:
She laid out her case in Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America, a book published by AEI in 2000 which makes it clear that Mylroie and the neocon hawks worked hand in glove to push her theory that Iraq was behind the '93 Trade Center bombing. Its acknowledgements fulsomely thanked John Bolton and the staff of AEI for their assistance, while Richard Perle glowingly blurbed the book as "splendid and wholly convincing." Lewis "Scooter" Libby, now Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, is thanked for his "generous and timely assistance." And it appears that Paul Wolfowitz himself was instrumental in the genesis of Study of Revenge: His then-wife is credited with having "fundamentally shaped the book," while of Wolfowitz, she says: "At critical times, he provided crucial support for a project that is inherently difficult."
These are important people, and they are precisely the same group of people who spent an enormous amount of time before the war putting pressure on the intelligence community to connect the dots between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Their belief that these dots exist is, it seems to me, every bit as sincere as it is wrong. It's a situation that's far more dangerous than having liars in high positions of government, because if our top national security officials are genuinely in the grips of a total misunderstanding of how al-Qaeda works and what it is they'll never be effective in combatting it.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 02:07 PM
DID SHE KNOW THERE’D BE A DOMESTIC PORTION TO PREPARE FOR? I agree with those who are saying that John Edwards was slightly off his game during the domestic portion of the debate, the part that presumably should have been a slam dunk for him. (He was better in this portion than Dick Cheney, whose disinterest in the subject matter and lack of worry for the pocketbook concerns of ordinary Americans was absolutely palpable, but that's not really my point). Generally, the second half of the debate was a bit flabby, slack, desultory, and rambling. And there’s probably a reason for that: Gwen Ifill’s questions were ridiculous.

Her first two domestic questions were adequate, if just barely: a totally general “what will you do to help struggling people” query to Cheney, then a challenge to Edwards to square the Kerry campaign's “no new taxes for the non-rich” pledge with their promise to halve the deficit in five years. (Though jeez, wouldn't it have made more sense to throw some of the confrontational fiscal policy questions in the direction of Dick "Deficits Don't Matter" Cheney?) She then moved on to gay marriage. Calling Cheney out on his disagreement with the president on this subject was good, but what the hell kind of question is this, posed to Edwards?

As the vice president mentioned, John Kerry comes from the state of Massachusetts, which has taken as big a step as any state in the union to legalize gay marriage. Yet both you and Senator Kerry say you oppose it.

Are you trying to have it both ways?

That’s absurd -- what influence at all did John Kerry have over the supreme court of Massachusetts’s decision on gay marriage, being one of the state's U.S. senators? And when has he ever tried to somehow tout his state’s policies on the subject as a way of claiming credit for them? Or changed his position one way or another in response to them? What in the world does this question even mean?

Next we got a pair of questions that touched on an issue, tort reform, that has featured prominently in the Bush-Cheney campaign and is something that should be discussed, but look at the inane way in which Ifill frames the subject:

IFILL: OK, then we'll move on to the next question. This one is for you, Mr. Vice President. President Bush has derided John Kerry for putting a trial lawyer on the ticket. You yourself have said that lawsuits are partly to blame for higher medical costs. Are you willing to say that John Edwards, sitting here, has been part of the problem?

IFILL: Senator Edwards, new question to you, same topic. Do you feel personally attacked when Vice President Cheney talks about liability reform and tort reform and the president talks about having a trial lawyer on the ticket?

Both candidates seemed a bit tongue-tied trying to respond directly to her question, and you couldn’t blame them. After an odd discursion into America’s domestic AIDS problem -- surely a worthy issue but hardly one that’s been addressed in this debate or that anyone would expect either candidate to have much valuable to say about -- Ifill returned to her issueless approach for the remainder of the debate. First she called Edwards on his lack of experience in politics and then made a goofy challenge for both candidates to talk about each other without mentioning their running mates’ respective names, a rule that tripped Edwards up a few times and had him apologizing to Ifill. Pure idiocy.

She really reached the nadir with the next question:

OK, we'll move on. This goes to Senator Edwards. Flip-flopping has become a recurring theme in this campaign, you may have noticed. Senator Kerry changed his mind about whether to vote to authorize the president to go to war. President Bush changed his mind about whether a homeland security department was a good idea or a 9/11 Commission was a good idea.

What's wrong with a little flip-flop every now and then?

Is that actually a question? What kind of answer was she looking for? It almost sounded like a joke -- but really, should odd, semi-rhetorical, jokey questions actually take up time from the single 90-minute VP debate we’ll be seeing this campaign?

Her last question was more vagueness about uniting the country. Poor Edwards, who going into the debate was obviously prepared with enough ammunition on domestic policies to wipe the floor with Cheney, was reduced to openly throwing aside the question itself and making a quick (and effective) pitch for Kerry’s health care plan.

And that was it. I was a critic of Jim Lehrer’s oddly factless and airy line of questioning on Iraq in last week’s debate, but those were paragons of meaty substance compared to Ifill’s domestic queries. Any grade schooler could have asked more straightforward and appropriate questions: What is your health care plan, and what’s wrong with theirs? What’s your plan to grow the economy, and what’s wrong with theirs? Environment, education, outsourcing, jobs, wages, immigration. The list of topics Ifill chose not to even bring up, let alone (God forbid!) examine in depth with reference to some statistics or to the candidates’ records, was astonishing. It made the whole second half of the debate a confused, rambling muddle, which was only bad news for Edwards.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 01:09 PM
SPEEDY REPORTING. The Wall Street Journal's Nicholas Zamiska and Carl Bialik have already solved the great factcheck.com mystery. The explanation:
In fact, FactCheck.com is owned by Name Administration Inc., a Cayman Islands company that engages in so-called "domain parking" -- it acquires discarded Web sites and monetizes the traffic with text advertising.

The site had been showing education-related ads, mostly for online-degree programs, when Mr. Cheney mentioned the site during the debate. Suddenly, Name Administration saw a surge in traffic -- about 50,000 unique visitors in the first hour -- which costs the company money for Internet bandwidth, according to John Berryhill, Name Administration's attorney.

"It's like 100,000 people showing up at your house uninvited for snacks," said Mr. Berryhill, who is based in Philadelphia.

So employees redirected traffic to the Soros site, not because of any request nor payment from Mr. Soros's organization or supporters, but based on their own political viewpoints, Mr. Berryhill said. "Individuals within the company are favorably disposed to George Soros's political point of view," said Mr. Berryhill.

Now that is some speedy sleuthing. It's a pity, though, that Zamiska and Bialik didn't note that Dick Cheney lied about the content of factcheck.org's Halliburton analysis. As I pointed out last night, the fine folks at factcheck didn't touch on any of the issues John Edwards brought up. They've now fact checked this assertion as well. So which side was "trying to throw up a smokescreen"?

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 01:07 PM
"SENATOR GONE"? I hadn't heard this chestnut before Dick Cheney threw it on the fire during last night's debate, telling John Edwards, "Your hometown newspaper has taken to calling you 'Senator Gone.'" (In several outlets today, Cheney's sound bite has been transmogrified into the plural, with multiple "North Carolina newspapers" calling Edwards "Senator Gone." Typical of how these games of spin-telephone work.) And since I hadn't heard it before, I was curious whether there was any truth to it. The phrase doesn't appear on Nexis except in the context of last night's debate. A quick Google search finds that the phrase mostly pops up in press releases and oppo sheets from the national and North Carolina Republican Party organizations, plus some message boards and in one article in the right-wing online rag FrontPage. I had to scrounge around for a few minutes until I found a GOP fact sheet that contained an actual citation for the "Senator Gone" line, here.

The "hometown newspaper" in question is The Pilot of Southern Pines, North Carolina. The Pilot is a community newspaper published three days a week; more than a year ago they ran an editorial gently nudging Edwards to show up for more floor votes than he had been during the primary campaign. That editorial has been reposted here, along with another one commenting on Cheney's use of the quote here. The editors themselves seem to think Cheney misused the line. They note, contra Cheney, that:

The Pilot hasn't "taken to calling him" anything. In fact, the vice president's obscure reference sent us scrambling to our library. And sure enough, we did publish an editorial 15 months ago, on June 25, 2003, headlined, "Edwards Should Do His Day Job." In it, we noted that Sen. Jesse Helms used to be called "Senator No." And we added: "Four and a half years into his first term, John Edwards is becoming known as Senator Gone."

The reference was to Edwards' frequent absences from the Senate floor as he traveled here and there (mostly there) pursuing his presidential ambitions.

But we also wrote: "Members of the senator's staff point out that Edwards' attendance record this year has been better than the three other Democratic senators who are campaigning for president -- Joe Lieberman, Richard Gephardt and Bob Graham. And the aides also say none of the votes Edwards missed was close, so his presence on the floor would not have changed the outcome."

It's a legitimate point to raise. But a few things jump out. One, The Pilot is entitled to its opinion, but there's hardly a chorus of editorial voices out there castigating Edwards for his missed votes. That would be silly. The guy was running for president. You miss some votes. That's how it works, and every political reporter and editorialist in the country knows it. Two, this was published over a year ago. Three, The Pilot is in no sense Edwards' "hometown" newspaper, because Edwards doesn't live in Southern Pines -- according to this bio, he was born in Seneca, S.C., and now lives in Raleigh, N.C. (The Raleigh News-Observer is also confused about Cheney's statement.) So Cheney still isn't being honest with the American people, as Edwards might say.

This is a relatively minor piece of spin, and I doubt it will become much of a talking point. But it's interesting to see how the assembly line works.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:58 AM
MEANWHILE, IN THE REAL WORLD. These days, it's getting hard to find any official government source outside the White House who is still prepared to defend the notion that Saddam Hussein posed any real threat to the United States at the time we invaded Iraq. According to the Washington Post, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, Charles Duelfer, has:
concluded that Hussein had the desire but not the means to produce unconventional weapons that could threaten his neighbors or the West. President Bush has continued to assert in his campaign stump speech that Iraq had posed "a gathering threat."

The officials said Duelfer, an experienced former United Nations weapons inspector, found that the state of Hussein's weapons-development programs and knowledge base was less advanced in 2003, when the war began, than it was in 1998, when international inspectors left Iraq.

"They have not found anything yet," said one U.S. official who had been briefed on the report.

The notion that Saddam Hussein had WMDs was always one pillar of the White House line that Iraq was a central front of the war on terror; since Saddam had WMDs, and consorted with terrorists, he might give WMDs to terrorists. It's now obvious that Saddam wasn't particularly close with al-Qaeda at any time, didn't have a working relationship with them around the time of September 11, and didn't have any nukes to give them anyway. Pressure from John Edwards last night forced Dick Cheney to back away from his previous claims that Saddam was linked to 9-11. But amazingly, Cheney is still arguing that Iraq was a potential source of WMDs for terrorists at the time we invaded. Reality has yet to intrude into the vice president's well-crafted fantasy world.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 10:24 AM
THOSE DARN REPORTS. The Bush campaign's biggest problem isn't the president's smirk or John Edwards' charm -- it's reality. Hence the White House can't be eager to receive the forthcoming report from Charles Duelfer, chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, which will conclude that Iraq had no WMD and posed little immediate threat. Unlike the CIA's work, it looks like the Bushies won't be dismissing this as "guessing"; instead they'll just pretend it's good news for them:
"The report will continue to show that he was a gathering threat that needed to be taken seriously, that it was a matter of time before he was going to begin pursuing those weapons of mass destruction," McClellan said.
That's not really very similar to what the administration was saying before the war. In the president's words, Iraq "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons." Except that it didn't, it didn't, and it wasn't. In August 2002 the vice president proclaimed that there "is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." But again, he didn't. Nothing new here, really, but it's interesting to see that the government keeps commissioning report after report after report into this subject only to see them all come back with the conclusion everyone has known to be true for over a year: The administration was wrong. It's enough to make you think they don't actually realize they were wrong. They think that maybe -- just maybe -- if they get one more report they'll be vindicated.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:59 AM
THE BEST THEY CAN DO, PART II. My inbox this morning features a missive from Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman informing me that "Vice President Cheney won the debate last night" and highlighting two Cheney zingers that "sum it up best." One, I've already dealt with, but what was Mehlman's very favorite moment?
I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session. The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight
That's some damning stuff, but as the blogosphere's known for hours it simply isn't true. The second-best line out of a debate Dick Cheney allegedly won is something he just made up. What does that say about the quality of leadership this country can look forward to if he's reelected?

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:45 AM
THE SPIN MACHINE AT WORK. Over at The New Republic, Ryan Lizza catches Rich Lowry and Bill Kristol mouthing the surrogates' spin put out by Bush-Cheney last night. For shame! Any readers out there find other conservative pundits explaining how Dick Cheney's line on standing up to Howard Dean was the best of the night?

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 09:38 AM
BUT BEFORE I DO, GWEN, LET ME ANSWER THIS... One of the notable misses last night was on Israel and Palestine. The question was:
Ms. Ifill:Senator Edwards, as we wrap up the foreign policy part of this I do want to talk to you about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Today a senior member of Islamic Jihad was killed in Gaza. There have been suicide bombings, targeted assassinations, mortar attacks, all of this continuing at a time when the United States seems absent in the peacemaking process. What would your administration do? First of all do you agree that the United States is absent? Maybe you don’t. But what would your administration do to try to resolve that conflict?
Gwen Ifill lobbed it to John Edwards, who gave a folksy response about the devastating effects of the horrific Sbarro bombing in 2001 -- a bombing he happened to be around the corner from. He then went on to affirm the right of Israel to protect itself. Dick Cheney, basically, avoided the question all together.

What's striking is that both teams seemed to think the subject of "peace" and "negotiations" was a no-win for either side. Ifill had asked if the United States was absent, or largely absent -- which was a space to be filled by how the United States might be present, obviously. Edwards missed an opening here: While he did say, "we’ve been largely absent, not entirely absent but largely absent, from the peacemaking process over the last four years," he didn't follow that up with what that's meant to the region and the process, such at it is. Absent, he could have noted, is not the same as fair or balanced, which is what they promised in 2000.

That said, Cheney took the time to return to Halliburton, and Iraq, shamelessly plugging the old "Saddam Hussein funded suicide bombers and now that he's gone Israel is safer" theory -- when, of course, if you're going to go that route, Iran is far more a culprit in suicide bombings than Iraq ever was. (Iran's substantial funding of Hezbollah comes quickly to mind.)

Overall, both answers were deeply unsatisfying. Both threw up their hands, saying that Yasser Arafat wasn't a partner for peace. But neither gave an option for change. Compare last night's exchange with a similar question-answer series lobbed by Bernard Shaw in 2000's VP debate. What's striking is that both sides promote a strongly interventionist position:

SHAW: Senator Lieberman, this question to you. Once again in the Middle East, peace talks on the one hand, deadly confrontations on the other, and the flash point, Jerusalem, and then there's Syria. Is United States policy what it should be?

LIEBERMAN: Yes, it is. It has truly pained me in the last week, Bernie, to watch the unrest and the death occurring in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So much work has been done by the people there with the support of this administration, so much progress has been made in the original Oslo Agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians adopted in 1993, in the peace between Israel and Jordan thereafter. I mean, America has a national strategic interest and a principled interest in peace in the Middle East.

LIEBERMAN: And Al Gore has played a critical role in advancing that process over the last eight years.

What pains me, as I watch the unrest in recent days between the Israelis and the Palestinians, is that these two peoples have come, in some senses, generations forward, centuries forward in the last seven years. They are so close to a final peace agreement. I hope and pray that the death and unrest in the last week will not create the kinds of scars that make it hard for them to go back to the peace table with American assistance and achieve what I'm convinced a great majority of the Israeli and Palestinian people want, indeed, people throughout the Middle East, which is peace.

Secretary Albright has been in Paris meeting with Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat. I hope and pray that her mission is successful, that there is a cease-fire, and the parties return to the peace table.

Now, we've been on a very constructive course in the Middle East, played an unusual, unique role, and I am convinced that Al Gore and I -- I commit that Al Gore and I will continue to do that. I hope I might, through my friendship in Israel and throughout the Arab world, play a unique role in bringing peace to this sacred region of the world.

CHENEY: Bernie, it's -- it has been a very, very difficult area to work in for a long time. Numerous administrations, going back certainly to World War II, have had to wrestle with the problem of what should happen in the Middle East.

We made significant breakthroughs, I think, at the end of the Bush administration because of the Gulf War.

CHENEY: In effect, we had joined together with Arab allies and done enormous damage to the Iraqi armed forces, and Iraq at the time was the biggest military threat to Israel.

By virtue of the end of the Cold War, the Soviets were no longer a factor. They used to fish in troubled waters whenever they had the opportunity in the Middle East. But with the end of the Soviet Union, the implosion, if you will, of the empire, that created a vacuum, if you will, and made it easier for us to operate there.

We were able to, I think, reassure both Arabs and Israelis that the United States would play a major role there, that we had the ability and the will to deploy forces to the region if we had to, to engage in military operations to support our friends and oppose our foes. And, of course, we were able to convene the Madrid Conference that, in effect, was the first time Arab and Israeli sat down face-to- face and began this process of trying to move the peace process forward.

I think also a lot of credit goes to some great men like Yitzhak Rabin. His tragic passing was of major consequence, a great tragedy for everybody who cares about peace in the Middle East. He was a man who had the military stature to be able to confidently persuade the Israelis, I think, to take some risk for peace. I think Prime Minister Barak has tried the same thing.

I hope that we can get this resolved as soon as possible. My guess is that the next administration is going to be the one that's going to have to come to grips with the current state of affairs there. I think it's very important that we have an administration where we have a president with firm leadership, who has the kind of track record of dealing straight with people, of keeping his word, so that friends and allies both respect us and our adversaries fear us.

Obviously the facts on the ground, so to speak, are very different. But the Bush administration has fallen down in the Middle East on more than just Iraq. Edwards could have nailed this one a bit more squarely I think, although he did come across better than his opponent.

--Sarah Wildman

Posted at 08:59 AM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: "WELL MATCHED" AND "THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE." Last Thursday, George W. Bush showed the American public just why it is that he values Dick Cheney so highly: Someone has to be competent to run the White House. So John Edwards had a simple but crucial challenge tonight. He had to hold his own. And he did, say Garance Franke-Ruta and Harold Meyerson. Edwards was a pit bull on Iraq and far more audible and memorable than Cheney.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 02:15 AM
MAYBE CHENEY IS FUNDED BY DRUG GROUPS, TOO. I noticed this during the debate, but wasn't able to check it out because the site had been slashdotted: Factcheck.com is decidedly not the site to which Dick Cheney wanted to direct the home-viewing audience. Factcheck.com redirects to GeorgeSoros.com, on which we can read how "President Bush is endangering our safety, hurting our vital interests, and undermining American values."

Cheney meant to say factcheck.org, which is an Annenberg Public Policy Center Web site. And he was, predictably, misrepresenting its content. Factcheck.org did just release a critique of a Kerry campaign ad claiming that Cheney still had a financial interest in Halliburton. But John Edwards said nothing of the sort -- he talked about Halliburton's "millions of dollars in fines," its "business with Libya and Iran," its being "under investigation for having bribed foreign officials," and its "$7.5 billion no-bid contract in Iraq." Not a word about Cheney's financial interest, the only thing factcheck.org mentions.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall speculates that the redirect to Soros' site might have been added after the fact, in a brilliant move on the part of the owner or a Soros associate. Seems doubtful, although in hindsight the site didn't quite seem like it had crashed due to traffic. The factcheck.com domain is registered to a proxy registrant, so it's hard to tell who owns it. (It even goes a step further -- it's a proxy registrant in the Cayman Islands! Someone really likes his or her secrecy.) Whoever the owner, would he or she really have been holding onto the domain for eight months, just waiting for the vice president or some public figure to slip up and reference the site, thus setting into effect this master plan? Seems a wee bit of a stretch, even for those who see Soros as a modern elder of Zion.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 01:03 AM
WHY IS GEORGE W. BUSH PRESIDENT? The whole issue of Dick Cheney saying things that aren't true (see, e.g., Cheney lying about whether or not he's ever met John Edwards) seems to have gone missing on CNN's post-debate coverage, but several guests they've had on have pushed the intriguing theory that the superiority of Cheney's performance to Bush's could wind up reflecting poorly on the president. Bush's basic lack of qualifications for office is a bit of a pet concern of mine, so I'm glad to hear the issue raised. Does anyone really think George W. Bush is the best man available for the job of president?

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 12:37 AM
A RETIRED ARGUMENT. Thanks to John Edwards’ aggressive, no-nonsense posturing early in the debate, it now seems that we can finally put the old “Saddam Hussein was connected to September 11” canard to rest. After accusing Dick Cheney of misleading the American people into thinking that there was some sort of connection between 9-11 and Saddam’s regime, a frustrated Cheney offered this flustered response:
“The Senator got his facts wrong. I never said that there was a connection between Iraq and 9-11…”
Well, in fact he has. In Cheney’s September 2003 appearance on Meet the Press he stated that “[Iraq is] the geographical base of the terrorists who had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9-11.”

Now he apparently disavows this -- and I’m glad for it. Although Laurie Mylroie, his erstwhile ally and "crackpot”-in-residence will likely cry herself to sleep tonight, the rest of us can with a degree of certitude assume that this argument will stay in the dustbin for the remainder of the campaign.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 12:31 AM
HOLDING THE LINE. There's little question that John Edwards won the domestic-policy portion of the debate hands down. It's obvious why the Kerry-Edwards campaign has so often been tempted to focus their efforts on domestic issues: They trample Bush-Cheney on specifics, on rhetoric, and on pure empathy. And while Edwards may have an unusual, shades-of-Bill Clinton talent for connecting on domestic issues, John Kerry's not so bad at it either -- something we'll probably be reminded of during the next two debates.

But that still leaves the question of whether or not the Kerry-Edwards ticket as a whole has passed the "threshold" on national security. They could beat Bush-Cheney 90-10 on domestic issues and still lose if Americans believed that John Kerry couldn't protect the homeland.

On this count, John Edwards did as well as he had to tonight. All the passionate liberals who wanted to see Cheney exposed as a force of evil had their sights set too high; Edwards just needed to maintain the gains Kerry made last Thursday. He did this quite effectively by hewing closely to Kerry's message and, whenever necessary, rebutting each Cheney attack with charges of distortion. Cheney fed into Edwards' strategy by starting most of his foreign-policy responses with claims of "inaccuracies" in Edwards' comments. I expect that the entire thing, for the casual voter, sounded like a he-said, she-said argument with no clear victor -- and thus none of Cheney's attacks reversed the gains Kerry made last week. If that was in fact Edwards' goal, it was a smart strategy.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 12:19 AM
October 05, 2004
MOVEON.DICK. The slickest attack of the night was probably the sneakiest: John Edwards' reminder that Dick Cheney has a gay daughter. Cheney emphatically did not want to address the issue of same-sex marriage. Look at the length of his two-minute responses and you'll find that nearly all of them hover around 350 words. But his answer to Gwen Ifill's request to describe "your administration's support for a constitutional ban on same-sex unions": 176 words. Cheney says as little as he possibly can, not even deploying the effective "activist judges" charge. Then Edwards gets his chance:
Now, as to this question, let me say first that I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And you can't have anything but respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It's a wonderful thing. And there are millions of parents like that who love their children, who want their children to be happy.

And I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and so does John Kerry.

I also believe that there should be partnership benefits for gay and lesbian couples in long-term, committed relationships.

Just like that, every social conservative watching was reminded that the vice president raised a gay daughter and that he refuses to condemn homosexuality. And just like that, Edwards staked out the reasonable position that committed gay couples should be able to visit each other in the hospital. Cheney, knowing that the best possible outcome would be for this to disappear into the ether of debate moments that nobody discusses, then punts:
IFILL: Mr. Vice President, you have 90 seconds.

CHENEY: Well, Gwen, let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much.

IFILL: That's it?

CHENEY: That's it.

It's sort of a shame that the debate rules didn't mandate that all blocks of time be used to their fullest. Another 80 seconds of Cheney highlighting his own untenable position on such a flash point would have been devastating.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 11:27 PM
CHENEY THE GAMBLER. I was playing poker earlier this evening, and based on his calculation of odds, I wish I'd had Dick Cheney at the table across from me. Speaking of Iraq's relationship with al-Qaeda he says that "the point is that [Iraq's] the place where you're most likely to see the terrorists come together with the weapons of mass destruction." Really? Iraq, as you'll recall, didn't have any weapons of mass destruction, so it's hard to see how this was going to happen. What's more, at one time Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction. At that time it had much closer ties to much more active terrorist groups than was the case by the early 21st century. And guess what? Saddam Hussein didn't hand the weapons over -- he didn't like to let such important assets slip out of his control.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is a sponsor of several regional terrorist groups, members of its intelligence services have been long-time sponsors of al-Qaeda, and it has actual nuclear weapons. George W. Bush's response: grant them Major Non-NATO Ally status. North Korea went nuclear under Bush's watch, is desperate for cash, and has a record of proliferating for money. Iran is working toward a nuclear weapon, has much closer tied to al-Qaeda than did Iraq, and has very close ties to Hezbollah. The Bush policy: dither and do nothing.

The revised Cheney position is subtler and more well-crafted than his earlier, crude efforts to suggest al-Qaeda was behind September 11, but it's every bit as dishonest.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:18 PM
THE BEST THEY CAN DO. Candy Crowley on CNN is describing Dick Cheney's best moment in the debate as "when he put John Kerry's votes on Iraq in a political perspective -- 'if you can't stand up to Howard Dean, how are you going to stand up to al-Qaeda?'" I'll grant that this is a clever joke, but what kind of sense does it make? The reference was to the $87 billion supplemental appropriation, which Kerry was willing to vote for as long as George W. Bush would pay for it by repealing some tax cuts for the rich rather than by borrowing from future generations. George Bush said he would veto that version of the bill. So if Bush can't stand up to his wealthy campaign contributors, how is he going to stand up to al-Qaeda?

Or more to the point, if the war on terrorism is really a long-term challenge then why does the president want to finance it entirely through debt?

UPDATE: It's not just Crowley. The Bush campaign itself proclaims this Cheney's key argument in a talking points memo that even specifically references Republican unwillingness to finance the war through non-debt methods (Joe Biden's alternate bill). Pretty weak stuff.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:11 PM
ALLAWI COMES SEMI-CLEAN. Apparently, things look a little bit different when Iyad Allawi doesn't have Republican flacks on hand to write his speeches for him:
Dr. Allawi, who has tried hard to cast himself as a tough and confident leader since taking office in late June, asserted that general elections would go ahead in January as planned, but acknowledged that there were significant obstacles standing in the way of security and reconstruction. The nascent police force is underequipped and lacks the respect needed from the public to quell the insurgency, he said, and foreign businessmen have told him they fear investing in Iraq because of the rampant violence here.

The tone of the speech was a sharp departure from the more optimistic assessment Dr. Allawi gave to the American public on his visit to the United States last month. At his stop in Washington, Dr. Allawi made several sweeping assertions about the security situation in Iraq, including that the only truly unsafe place in Iraq was the downtown area of Falluja, the largest insurgent stronghold in Iraq, and that only 3 of 18 provinces had "pockets of terrorists." Dr. Allawi did not directly contradict those statements in his appearance today, but his words reflected a darker evaluation of the state of the war.

General James Conway, Paul Bremer, and now Allawi. Somehow people's assessments of the state of affairs in Iraq seem to change pretty radically when they get out from under Karl Rove's thumb. Meanwhile, Gallup reports that 62 percent of Republicans think Iraq was behind September 11 and you've got to admit that, if that were true, the current difficulties over there would be a small price to pay for bringing Saddam Hussein to justice. Sadly, we live in the real world, where things look rather different.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 08:11 PM
HE WAS FOR STEM CELL FUNDING BEFORE HE WAS AGAINST IT. Via Steve Clemons, some bizarre dissembling from the Bush campaign on the subject of stem cells:
It is inaccurate to say the President "limited federal funding" of stem cell research, as such funding did not exist to limit. This language misleads voters to believe that the President put restrictions on existing federal funding.

The President did announce the first ever federal funding of stem cell research with ethical requirements on which stem cell lines are funded.

This is, in a sense, accurate (previous presidents didn't fund the research because it wasn't technologically feasible until very recently; this is like attacking James Madison for shortchanging NASA), but it simply serves to highlight how nonsensical George W. Bush's position on the issue is. Proponents of federal funding for stem cell research say it's a promising line of research into curing and treating several serious illnesses. As such, it's just the sort of thing the government should be financing. That view assumes, however, that there's nothing immoral about destroying embryos in order to harvest the cells. If you believe -- as the president claims to -- that such destruction is immoral because the cells in question are on an ethical par with living, breathing human beings then obviously the government shouldn't be funding the research. Indeed, the government should be banning it.

But Bush has neither banned embryonic stem cell research nor given it proper federal support. Instead, he's worked out a "compromise" that makes no sense, either morally or scientifically. If Bush really was in the grips of religious dogmatism that led him to ban stem cell research -- or at least ban federal funding of the research -- it would be simpler to make the case against him, but at least one could credit him with holding to principle in the face of some pretty strident opposition from sick people and their families. Instead, he's spent years trying to convince his base of hard-core pro-lifers that he shares their values when he doesn't really, and now he's pivoting and trying to convince pro-science voters that he shares their values. In reality, he's only made a mess of things. Most astoundingly, this is the only policy issue that the president has even pretended to have studied and considered in detail before making his decision.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 05:19 PM
THE PRESS FAILS. Twice in two days, we have Republican operatives or officials lying about matters for which the public record provides easily obtainable and incontrovertible proof. That is, any yahoo with a Nexis account or a passable grasp of that Google thing could fact check what they said. One is the Republican officials who, on background, claimed Paul Bremer never actually requested more troops on the ground in Iraq back when he was running it; the other is Frank Luntz lying to Howard Kurtz about his contract work for Republican candidates.

What strikes me is not so much that these gents were willing to lie to the reporters in question -- that's become par for the course, unfortunately -- but that they expected to get away with it. What strikes me even more is that they were right.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 04:36 PM
SWING VOTERS: YES. IGNORE IRAQ: NO. There's one extremely good point in Mark Penn's Washington Post op-ed: Whoever devised the theory that there are no swing voters anymore is obviously wrong, as recent swings in the polls show. After that, things take a turn for the worse:
After winning the Democratic primaries by knocking out the more liberally positioned Howard Dean, Sen. John Kerry had a large lead and emphasized his long-standing centrist views, pointing out that he voted for welfare reform and balanced budgets despite opposition within the Democratic Party. The image of the Democratic Party soared.

But after Bush changed his campaign tactics to tack back toward the center, Kerry believed his drop in the polls could be fixed by adding more "edge" to his message. He moved to make his opposition to Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq the centerpiece of his campaign message, a message with tremendous appeal to the Democratic base but whose appeal to swing voters is uncertain. Now there is a renewed opportunity to win back this group of voters who report that they have already definitely decided their vote, but who have repeatedly changed their minds this year. . . .

These modern moms work, have kids and live in the suburbs. They are not concerned about party labels, Vietnam service records or the National Guard.

I'd be interested to know what campaign Penn's been following, because it certainly isn't the 2004 presidential election. When did George W. Bush start running a centrist campaign? When was John Kerry emphasizing his views on welfare reform? That stuff never happened. Kerry got his lead thanks to a run of bad news out of Iraq. He lost his lead thanks to attacks on his Vietnam service record and thanks to the relentlessly negative -- and, apparently, effective -- Republican convention. He stopped his descent in the polls by adding "edge" to his message with his Iraq speech at New York University, started gaining ground as that new edge was reinforced by some judiciously timed leaks from the CIA, and closed the gap by attacking Bush's Iraq policy at Thursday night's debate. Penn's advice to Kerry, meanwhile, is bizarre:
We might all learn a lesson from Bill Clinton in 1992. He won by making the Persian Gulf War irrelevant to the election. He focused on swing voters, with plans for welfare reform and middle-class tax cuts, and he drove the economy, not the war, as the central defining issue. In 1996 he focused on a plan to balance the budget and cruised to a landslide victory.
Yes, but the Gulf War was over in 1992. It's a bit harder to make an ongoing war "irrelevant" to the election. And the economy was in much worse shape in 1992 than it is today, again facilitating an economy-centered campaign. In 1996, of course, Bill Clinton was an incumbent president watching over a robust economic recovery. And, again, he was able to ignore the war because there was no war. It's not very relevant to the 2004 race. Iraq is the best issue Kerry has. People who live in states that are still stuck in the economic doldrums know perfectly well that their local economies are doing poorly; that's hardly a point Kerry needs to drive home. The war, by contrast, has this odd habit of disappearing off the front pages unless someone keeps up the attack. That's how Kerry regained the ground he lost, and he needs to keep it up if he wants to win. This has nothing to do with appeasing the base, which will vote against Bush over the war no matter what Kerry says, it's just the basic reality that when there's a war on and it's going badly, a challenger needs to talk about it.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:01 PM
THE HAMMER AND DUBYA. One last note pertaining to the Boston Globe series, this time on the second piece, which details the formulation of the energy bill.

The Globe mentions very briefly that the bill's passage has been held up by a Senate filibuster. And a bit later it mentions that Senator Chuck Schumer opposes the bill because it "gives relief from liability to producers of a gasoline additive that has poisoned groundwater in New York and other states." The additive is called MTBE, and the provision protecting its manufacturer from lawsuits is the sole reason for the Senate filibuster that held the bill up; without that provision, the energy bill would pass.

As I was reminded in reading The Hammer, that provision was put in by Tom DeLay. When it became apparent that it would cause the failure of the entire bill and the White House and Senate came hollering and screaming, DeLay refused to budge. DeLay killed the energy bill. That, in and of itself, is an illustration of the extraordinary power the majority leader has amassed for himself.

As the The Hammer's authors Lou Dubose and Jan Reid write, it was "something that few believe that Speaker Hastert could have pulled off even if he had had the resolve to stand up to the president." Or, as The Left Coaster put it at the time, "When push comes to shove, Tom DeLay can apparently give the finger to Bush and Cheney."

That's part of why I have my doubts that DeLay's going down any time in the near future.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 02:25 PM
AT THE TROUGH. They've all been published now, so be sure to read all three installments of the Boston Globe's terrific report on the legislative process under the GOP's stewardship. Amazing stuff throughout.

For sheer ridiculousness, I don't think you can beat this part from the third installment's account of the log-rolling that went into the Medicare prescription-drug monstrosity:

Some of the most intense infighting focused on $900 million that was dropped into the bill in the final weeks of debate for hospitals that claim they are disadvantaged by regional wage differences -- the provision that helped the University of Vermont's hospital. Hospital executives in lower-paying areas wanted more money from Medicare, saying they needed the money to retain staff by paying better hourly wages.

The Bush administration used the broadly worded congressional guidelines accompanying the $900 million to write a complex set of specifications for hospitals to win a higher wage classification, using geography, population, and income data. When the dust settled and an obscure board in the Department of Health and Human Services issued the list of 121 recipients, many were hospitals in states and districts represented by key Republicans.

Among them were two hospitals in the Texas district of Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a member of the conference committee on the Medicare bill. Ten hospitals in Connecticut, home of US Representative Nancy Johnson, another Republican member of the conference committee, also benefited. Pennsylvania, represented by Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican who had crusaded for health care money, had 13 institutions in the victory column. Charles Robbins, a Specter spokesman, said Specter "is always interested in improving hospitals." Johnson's office and DeLay's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Also represented were hospitals in a handful of states represented by key Senate Democrats, including Max Baucus of Montana, ranking member on the Finance Committee, and Kent Conrad of North Dakota. Their support, along with that of Vermont's Jeffords, was key to the Medicare bill's passage. Nine Democrats and Jeffords gave the Medicare bill its 54 to 44 margin.

In New England, the regulations resulted in about $7.8 million a year for three years for the University of Vermont's Fletcher Allen Health Care medical center, in Burlington -- money the hospital says it can use to pay its workers better, a hospital spokesman said. To squeeze UVM under the umbrella for the benefits, Jeffords, the lone Senate independent and a key supporter of the Medicare legislation, fought to get Burlington, Vt. in the same wage district as Boston and Worcester, according to his staff. It was a renewal of an earlier Medicare provision that benefited the Burlington hospital but was due to expire, the staff said.

The name of the "independent board" that devised the formula for this subsidy was the Medicare Geographic Classification Review Board. Tommy Thompson's spokesman told the Globe that he did not get involved with the board's work in devising the criteria or awarding the money, saying, "We didn't know those decisions until they were released." Hey, his word's good enough for me!

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 02:18 PM
WHAT DID PAUL BREMER ASK FOR AND WHEN DID HE ASK FOR IT? Paul Bremer says he asked the administration for more troops. The administration says he's lying. It's enough to make you wonder why Bush keeps hiring so many liars -- there's Bremer, his predecessor Jay Garner, Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, Rand Beers -- more than enough for a good trend piece. But of course as Atrios points out, Bremer isn't lying at all; the administration is.

As I said before, though, I've got no sympathy for Bremer. As Spencer Ackerman writes, Bremer was more than willing to go on national television and say he had plenty of troops when that's what Bush asked him to do. Frankly, it only clouds the case that the force was undersized to rely on the testimony of a weasel like Bremer. The evidence was -- and always has been -- perfectly clear on this point, Bremer's lame effort to revive his reputation notwithstanding.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 02:15 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: DEFINE "FINE." You just can't spin George W. Bush's first debate into a success. You can't -- but pundits sure do try. The latest claim: that even if Bush flubbed the debate on style, he was "fine" on substance. Not so, argues Matthew Yglesias, no matter what criteria you set.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 12:41 PM
RUMSFELD LIES, PEOPLE DIE. Buried in MSNBC’s piece on Paul Bremer's recent troop level denunciations one finds this little nugget from Donald Rumsfeld.
During the war, concerns about troop strength expressed by retired generals also provoked angry denunciations by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld…In April 2003, for example, Rumsfeld commented, "People were saying that the plan was terrible and there weren't enough people and ... there were going to be, you know, tens of thousands of casualties, and it was going to take forever."
With over 17,000 casualties, 1,000 deaths, and no end in sight, it's time for some of the "people" who got it right to be put in charge.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 12:28 PM
WHAT'S TWO YEARS BETWEEN FRIENDS? Sometimes your jaw just drops at the way this administration overreaches in the name of fighting terrorism:
Most of the prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay, the US military base on Cuba, are expected to be released or transferred to their own countries, the deputy commander of the unit that runs the base has said.

The US military is currently holding 550 alleged al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters at the base.

Some 200 detainees have been released since the first prisoners arrived at the base in early 2002. But Brig Gen Martin Lucenti, deputy commander of the joint task force that controls the base- including its legal proceedings - has said he expects most will be freed or extradited.

"Of the 550 that we have, I would say most of them, the majority of them, will either be released or transferred to their own countries," he told the FT.

"Most of these guys weren't fighting. They were running. Even if somebody has been found to be an enemy combatant, many of them will be released because they will be of low intelligence value and low threat status.

These quotes from Brigadier General Martin Lucenti read on the page as seeming pretty casual given what he's saying. Does he not think it's a big deal that we've apparently kept several hundred people detained in an extralegal state on an island prison for the last two years for no good reason? I'd somehow be more comforted if he'd just lie like a normal official.

Someone needs to talk to Lucenti again and ask some more questions.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 11:47 AM
FLIP-FLOPPER OF DEFENSE. With all of Donald Rumsfeld's recent flip-flopping on the (lack of a) connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, it's nice to have someone take the time to lay out Rumsfeld's musings on the subject as the Guardian did here and here:
Rumsfeld on Saddam and al-Qaida

August 2002: Mr Rumsfeld claims "there are al-Qaida in Iraq", and accuses Saddam of "harbouring al-Qaida operatives who fled the US military dragnet in Afghanistan".

September 2002: "We do have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaida members, including some that have been in Baghdad," Mr Rumsfeld says. "We have what we consider to be very reliable reporting of senior-level contacts going back a decade, and of possible chemical and biological agent training."

October 2002: He tells a Pentagon briefing he had already been informed there is "solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaida members".

March 2003: Mr Rumsfeld says the US-led coalition has solid evidence that senior al-Qaida operatives had visited Baghdad in the past, and that Saddam had an "evolving" relationship with the terror network.

September 2004: The defence secretary confuses the jailed Saddam and the fugitive Bin Laden in a speech to the US National Press Club: "Saddam Hussein, if he's alive, is spending a whale of a lot of time trying to not get caught. And we've not seen him on a video since 2001." He corrects himself when asked for clarification.

As long as we're on the lefty British press, this Guardian article on letters to Michael Moore from U.S. Soldiers is worth a look as well. Count on the Brits to prod the wounds.

--Sarah Wildman

Posted at 11:46 AM
THE MOOSE IS LOOSE. Josh Marshall beat me to it, but I had been planning to link to Marshall Wittman's story in the Democratic Leadership Council's house organ, Blueprint. (Actually, it's more of a jeremiad against the GOP leadership. But I digress.) Josh does a good job of clueing readers into Wittman's ideological journey over the last few years, during which he has traversed from the Christian Coalition to John McCain's staff to, finally, his new post with the DLC. Wittman is an interesting thinker and writer, a self-described "Bull Moose Progressive" and probably the only theorist of "national greatness conservatism" who hasn't turned those ideas into a punch line.

What's most interesting to me in Wittman's article is this part:

When I was at the Christian Coalition, I witnessed first-hand the alliance of the deregulation, no-tax crowd with the religious conservatives. Ironically, the rank and file of the religious right are hardly the country club set. They are largely middle-class Americans who don't rely on trust funds or dividend checks for their livelihoods. But the leaders of the religious right have betrayed their constituents by failing to champion such economic issues as family leave or access to health insurance, which would relieve the stresses on many working families. The only things the religious conservatives get are largely symbolic votes on proposals guaranteed to fail, such as the gay marriage constitutional amendment. The religious right has consistently provided the ground troops, while the big-money men have gotten the goodies.

The realization that the religious right had essentially become a front for the money men of the Republican Party was a primary source of my disenchantment with that movement. And without a doubt, the GOP has merely become a vehicle for unbridled corporate power. Such a party cannot provide a home for a movement that strives for national greatness.

It's hard to overstate how important it is for the GOP's strength that the religious right remain in a perpetual state of delayed gratification. And it owes a lot to the efforts of people like Grover Norquist, who have in a sense co-opted the Beltway leadership of religious-right groups and turned them into lobbying engines for K Street agenda items like business tax cuts and ANWR drilling. That's quite a feat.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:24 AM
CHILDREN OF LIGHT, CHILDREN OF DARKNESS. From an e-mail making the rounds today:
How many members of the Bush Administration are needed to replace a lightbulb?

The Answer is TEN:

1. One to deny that a light bulb needs to be changed

2. One to attack the patriotism of anyone who says the light bulb needs to be changed

3. One to blame Clinton for burning out the light bulb

4. One to tell the nations of the world that they are either: "For changing the light bulb or for darkness"

5. One to give a billion dollar no-bid contract to Haliburton for the new light bulb

6. One to arrange a photograph of Bush, dressed as a janitor, standing on a stepladder under the banner "Light! Bulb Change Accomplished"

7. One administration insider to resign and write a book documenting in detail how Bush was literally "in the dark"

8. One to viciously smear #7

9. One surrogate to campaign on TV and at rallies on how George Bush has had a strong light bulb-changing policy all along

10. And finally one to confuse Americans about the difference between screwing a light bulb and screwing the country.

I don't usually go in for these shenanigans, but this one gave me a good chortle.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:09 AM
WHAT PUPPET? WHERE? David Brooks assures us that Iyad Allawi is no puppet. After all, Donald Rumsfeld told him so:
It was clear from our conversation (and from the way other administration officials talk about decision-making in Iraq) that the charge that Allawi is a puppet is just absurd. Allawi has the best feel for which Iraqi community or faction has to be catered to on any given day, and how best to reach over and get some Sunni support for the government. Moreover, Rumsfeld says the goal is to give Iraqis the room to make their own decisions: "The worst thing we can do is smother them."
Pay no attention to the Republican operatives and U.S. officials writing Allawi's speeches -- he's his own man. And who better than a secular Shiite exile to advise the American government on how best to win Sunni support? Well, maybe Iraq's president, Ghazi Ajil Yawer, an actual Sunni Arab and the person appointed to represent Sunni Arab interests in the interim government. The only problem is that he thinks our policies are terrible. Another choice might be to go to the Muslim Clerics Association, the closest thing to an authoritative body of Sunni Arab religious leaders. What does its spokesman have to say? "There won't be elections. Even if they are held, they will be a laughing-stock and not credible among Iraqis."

Sounds bad. We should probably ignore him, too, and stick to Allawi. If we ignore the fact that Allawi's words are written by George W. Bush's staff and that Allawi is not, in fact the person with the "best feel for . . . how best to reach over and get some Sunni support for the government" then his support of the president's policies is very reassuring. And you really don't want to compare today's Brooks column to his September 14 effort, which took a diametrically opposed position on the need for aggressive military action in the Sunni Triangle. Coincidentally enough, the Bush administration flip-flopped on this in the exact same time frame.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:33 AM
COWARDICE AT THE TOP. It's been obvious since roughly the dawn of time that the United States didn't have enough troops in Iraq. The administration's fatuous defense of its force structure policies has consistently been that the "commanders on the ground" weren't asking for more troops. But of course the commanders knew perfectly well what the Bush administration does to people who inconveniently ask for more troops -- just ask General Eric Shinseki. Today we learn that Paul Bremer, former proconsul in Iraq, and if not a "commander on the ground" per se certainly someone in a position to know, says there weren't enough troops.

I normally like to highlight conservative critics of George W. Bush's national security agenda, but in this instance I don't think there's anything to be said but "shame on Bremer." He was in that job for months and months, knew he was failing in his mission because he didn't have adequate resources, knew that his inability to complete the mission was getting hundreds of Americans, thousands of Iraqis, and dozens of other foreign nationals killed, and knew that the mess he was wading into was radically undermining America's strategic position around the world. But rather than speak up, he decided to be a good team player, a loyal soldier in an Operation Make-Believe designed to shelter the president from the political fallout of his failure by covering up policy problems rather than solving them.

It's nice that Bremer's coming clean now, but the time to act was back when it could have made a difference. To be blinded by ideology is bad, but to be blinded by opportunism and simple lack of will is another thing entirely. Bremer's failure on this score is emblematic of a pretty broad, systemic breakdown among conservative elites, many of whom know perfectly well that Bush is driving the country into a ditch but who are too constrained by self-interest and, frankly, cowardice to take any decisive action to stop it.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:15 AM
I VOTED FOR COMING CLEAN BEFORE I VOTED AGAINST IT. Via Steve Clemons I see that Donald Rumsfeld just pulled a nice one-day double flip-flop on a crucial national security matter. For years he, and the rest of the administration, have been maintaining that there was solid evidence of strong links between Iraq and al-Qaeda -- the invasion of Iraq was based on the "Bush doctrine" of attacking state sponsors of terrorism, and the nature of the threat from Iraq's (nonexistent) nuclear program was supposed to be that al-Qaeda could be used as a delivery mechanism.

Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, Rumsfeld referred to the new CIA report on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and proclaimed: "To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two." That's a bit at odds with everything he's been saying for the past three years, but it has the virtue of being true. But then, realizing the embarrassment he'd caused, Rumsfeld issued a press release taking it all back. If the administration is really confused about all this, you've got to ask yourself: What kind of idiots are running the government? It's a kind of important subject for the president's top defense policy adviser to have a handle on.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:08 AM
STOP ME BEFORE I LIE AGAIN! The CIA wants to emphasize one more time that the administration is lying about Iraq's ties to al-Qaeda. This time we learn that "there's no conclusive evidence that the regime harbored Osama bin Laden associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." Indeed, there isn't even conclusive evidence that Zarqawi is part of al-Qaeda -- most analysts think they're competitors. Someone had better tell the Republican Policy Committee where I'm sure they'll be very upset to learn they've been spreading disinformation. And someone had better tell Dick Cheney, too, before he embarrasses himself again in tonight's debate.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 08:15 AM
October 04, 2004
GOSS' THIEVING BUDDY BACKS DOWN. That didn't take long. After the disclosure of his criminal past, Michael V. Kostiw has announced he won't accept Porter Goss' nomination to the be the third man in command at Langley, but he will instead serve as Goss' "senior adviser."

Remember, two former CIA agents were the ones who leaked the story of Kostiw's old shoplifting charge to the Washington Post's Walter Pincus. It's not always fun to admit it, but it must be said: Robert Novak is probably on to something. The CIA really doesn't like George W. Bush -- and isn't much of a fan of Goss these days, either.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 05:50 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: HE'S THE BOSS. This November, we may get the answer to something I've wondered for years: Can Bruce Springsteen move votes? Kenneth Baer saw the Boss in action last Friday, and he believes in the promised land.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 04:43 PM
MIXED MESSAGES? The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelly digs up the transcript of a speech that then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney delivered to Seattle’s Discovery Institute in August 1992, 18 months after Operation Desert Storm. In the speech, Cheney aptly outlines his objections to invading Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and install a democratic government.
"I would guess if we had gone into Iraq I would still have forces in Baghdad today. We'd be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home.

And the final point that I think needs to be made is this question of casualties. I don't think you could have done all of that without significant additional U.S. casualties. And while everybody was tremendously impressed with the low cost of the (1991) conflict, for the 146 Americans who were killed in action and for their families, it wasn't a cheap war.

And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam (Hussein) worth? And the answer is not that damned many. So, I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq." [Emphasis added.]

A second Post-Intelligencer article has more:
“All of a sudden you've got a battle you're fighting in a major built-up city, a lot of civilians are around, significant limitations on our ability to use our most effective technologies and techniques," Cheney said.

"Once we had rounded him up and gotten rid of his government, then the question is what do you put in its place? You know, you then have accepted the responsibility for governing Iraq."

Some flip-floppery, no?

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 04:24 PM
HE FORGOT ABOUT STAYING THE COURSE! Via Laura Rozen I see that Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is promising to cut and run from Iraq after the new year. The Poles are probably the most instinctively pro-American people on earth, and they know a thing or two about the relative merits of freedom and totalitarianism. They are not, however, enthusiastic about being junior partners in a failing policy.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:11 PM
"TERROR AS A WEAPON." It's worth looking at the specific talking points the Senate's Republican Policy Committee (RPC) seems to think prove that Iraq was "A Critical Front in the War on Terrorism." Points 1-3 certainly show that Saddam Hussein ruled through brutal, abhorrent methods, but they don't have anything to do with terrorism in the modern sense. (During the French and Russian Revolutions "terrorism" was used to refer to this sort of internal oppression, but these are clearly distinct phenomena.) If the point here is supposed to be that the Iraq War was good policy in humanitarian terms, that would put the RPC on firmer footing, but that's pretty clearly not what the memo is saying. What's more, anyone seeking to justify Iraq as a humanitarian intervention really needs to grapple with the arguments present in Human Rights Watch's excellent brief, "War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention."

Points 5, 6, and 8 exploit a silly semantic ambiguity. Saddam really was a sponsor of anti-Israeli terrorism. But everyone knows that the "war on terrorism" isn't about terrorism per se -- it's not directed against the Tamil Tigers or the Real IRA. Anti-Israeli terrorism has an Islamist edge that Irish, Basque, or Tamil terrorism lacks, so Saddam's activities in this regard aren't wholly unrelated to America's war on terrorism. At the same time, anti-Israeli terrorism is, at best, a peripheral front in the war on terrorism. And Iraq isn't even a primary source of anti-Israel terrorism. To conclude, as the president frequently does, that fighting a peripheral actor in a peripheral counterterrorism theater is, in fact, the "central front in the war on terror" is absurd. If we were going to deploy US troops (not a course of action I would advise) against anti-Israeli terrorists we should have put the troops in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Iran, or Syria before we invaded Iraq.

Point 4 is a good data point for the hawkish side in an argument about Saddam's deterrability -- launching this attack was, from Saddam's point of view, entirely irrational. As far as terrorism goes, all the '93 assassination attempt shows is that Saddam's intelligence services were inept at foreign operations. Point 7 is -- to be generous -- a gross distortion of what the 9-11 Commission said. The phrase "no collaborative relationship" was the key point in their inquiry about contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The same State Department terrorism survey unit that the RPC regards as authoritative in point 8 concluded that Iraq was one of the only Middle Eastern countries in which al-Qaeda didn't operate.

Now if the Senate GOP had their intelligence policy analysts spending a little less time writing up egregious spin and a little more time trying to come up with solutions to the actual terrorism problem I'd feel a lot safer than I do right now.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 03:06 PM
REPUBLICAN TALKING POINTS. Curious what you'll be hearing from Dick Cheney and the rest of the Republican echo chamber in the next few days? Tapped got ahold of a talking points memo generated by the Republican Policy Committee:
To: LAs, LDs, Policy Analysts, Policy Advisors, Committee Staff, and Counsels

Pasted below are some RPC talking points on "Saddam Hussein Used Terror as a Weapon," highlighting that Iraq was a central front, and not a diversion, in the War on Terrorism.

I hope you find this information useful.

Iraq: A Critical Front in the War on Terrorism

Saddam Hussein Used Terror as a Weapon

1) In violation of international law, Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against innocent Iraqi civilians as well as against Iranian soldiers in his eight-year war with that country.

2) Saddam Hussein drained the marshes in southern Iraq and committed genocide against marsh Arabs who lived for centuries in his own country.

3) Saddam Hussein kidnapped, tortured, and murdered tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians during his three decades of rule, and held hostage hundreds of innocent Kuwaiti civilians during his 1990 invasion of that country.

4) Saddam Hussein tried to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush by using a car bomb during a 1993 visit to Kuwait

5) Saddam Hussein gave training, political support, and sanctuary to numerous international terrorist organizations.

6) Saddam Hussein provided cash payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

7) The 9/11 Commission found conclusive evidence of close cooperation between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda: " There was no question in our minds that there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda. " Gov. Thomas Kean, Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, July 2004.

8) Saddam’ s regime was annually listed under U.S. law as a confirmed state sponsor of terrorism by Presidents George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W Bush.

This, of course, is pure Cheney fodder. More than anyone else in this administration, Cheney has sought to link Saddam Hussein, September 11, and al-Qaeda. Consider this interview with the Rocky Mountain News or his September 2003 appearance on Meet the Press in which he stated “[Iraq is] the geographical base of the terrorists who had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9-11.”

Get ready to hear a similar case tomorrow night, and for his colleagues to back up his dubious claims with a concerted misinformation campaign.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 03:06 PM
OH, PORTER. I misspoke last week when I strongly implied that Porter Goss just might reinforce the notion that he's a partisan hack by installing four partisan hacks in senior positions at the CIA. I want to apologize to Michael V. Kostiw, whom Goss has named to the number-three position in the agency, for implying that he’s a partisan hack. What I meant to call Kostiw was a petty thief:
Michael V. Kostiw, chosen by CIA Director Porter J. Goss to be the agency's new executive director, resigned under pressure from the CIA more than 20 years ago, according to past and current agency officials.

While Kostiw, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, longtime lobbyist for ChevronTexaco Corp. and more recently staff director of the terrorism subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has been through the CIA security vetting procedure, final clearance to take the job has not been completed pending review of the allegations. The job is the third-ranking post at the CIA.

In late 1981, after he had been a case officer for 10 years, Kostiw was caught shoplifting in Langley, sources said. During a subsequent CIA polygraph test, Kostiw's responses to questions about the incident led agency officials to place him on administrative leave for several weeks, according to four sources who were familiar with the past events but who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information.

Goss sure is showing spectacular, confidence-inspiring judgment in these early decisions. Just wait until he gets to make the really momentous decisions pertaining to the whole-scale restructuring of America’s intelligence community.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 12:54 PM
A NEW KERRY CAMPAIGN AD. I'm not sure why he waited this long, but John Kerry has finally released an ad barrage attacking George W. Bush for his utterly unprincipled and unworkable policy on federal funding for stem cells. This Washington Post article doesn't tell us where the ads will run and how much Kerry is spending on them, but everything suggests this is an area in which the president is highly vulnerable.

Here's another thought, inspired by Chris Mooney's blog. If the consensus of reputable scientists is that "global warming is likely to produce a significant increase in the intensity and rainfall of hurricanes in coming decades," as the New York Times reports, and George W. Bush has a demonstrably bad record on combating global warming, shouldn't the residents of hurricane-damaged Florida be hearing more about it?

Like I said, just a thought.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 11:31 AM
WHAT MSNBC WOULD HAVE PLAYED. The ironic upshot to Frank Luntz losing his MSNBC slot due to pressure from liberal bloggers is that his focus group was quite favorable to John Kerry. The conventional wisdom following the debate was that swing voters thought Kerry won the debate but that that in itself didn't yet sway their vote. Luntz' group felt more strongly than that:
    -- 16 of the 18 swing voters felt Kerry “won” the debate. Only two picked Bush.
    -- 16 of the 18 felt Kerry was “better prepared” than Bush for the debate.
    -- 13 of the 18 “agreed” more with Kerry than Bush.
    -- 5 of the 18 switched from “undecided” to Kerry. None switched to Bush
Luntz' job is to figure out what resonates -- not to pretend that his side always wins. (At least, this is his job most of the time. After reading the transcripts of many of his televised focus groups, I would say there was usually at least a dose of spin and gaming the focus group to sway the viewers at home.) So Luntz rightly acknowledges that George W. Bush came off as "'nervous,' 'disdainful,' 'not well prepared,' and 'repetitive,'" and he says that voters "liked almost everything that they heard" from Kerry.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 11:08 AM
MORE ON THE GLOBAL TEST. Slate's Will Saletan has a pithy rebuttal of George W. Bush's "global test" distortions. As Saletan says, the only "test" John Kerry was talking about is the test of reality. Unfortunately, the fact that this line of Bush's has been thoroughly debunked won't stop him from using it over and over again on the campaign trail -- the vast majority of Bush's stump speech has been rebutted long ago. Indeed, I think that old, debunked lies are preferred to new ones precisely because they've been rebutted long ago. Since the "global test" line is new, Saletan went and wrote this column. But if Bush says it over and over again every day for weeks, Saletan isn't going to keep writing the column. No one wants to sound like a crank who just keeps harping away on the same point, so the point that Bush is lying just fades away and the line becomes part of the background of the campaign. We've seen it happen over and over again, and I doubt it'll be any different this time around.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:07 AM
NOW HE'S BEING SKEPTICAL. I find it kind of interesting that the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz waited until John Kerry jumped up in the polls to put together a piece about how campaign reporting is too polling-driven, how the polls themselves have been kind of unpredictable this year, and how just because Kerry is up in the polls now doesn't mean he's winning the race. All of these things are true. But they were also true when George W. Bush was leading over the past month.

And while I'm glad Kurtz picked up the Carl Cameron story, he really underplays it. Slugged under the header "Oops" -- oops? -- and placed last in his column, Kurtz's piece doesn't raise any of the obvious questions (like whether Cameron's been taken off the Kerry campaign) and doesn't elicit any fresh response from FOX. Compare that to his diligent reporting on Dan Rather.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 10:56 AM
LEGISLATIVE DICTATORSHIP. Don't let its anemic headline fool you: The Boston Globe's lengthy new special report on the Republican congress, the first installment of a three-part series, is the most important article out there right now for anyone who wants to understand how our legislative process is changing under unified GOP control. It's a thorough, sober, and totally eye-opening piece -- even for those close observers of the GOP's momentous and terrifying transformation of congress who've already read the definitive reports of Michael Crowley, Jonathan Chait and our own Robert Kuttner.

What Susan Milligan and her Globe researchers do in this report that is so helpful is actually collate data on procedures like closed rules, floor debate time, and conference committee riders and offer the appropriate comparisons to congressional practice in the past. Their findings should finally put to rest the claim that Democrats were just as ruthless when they were in charge and are now just whining out of sour grapes. What's going on now really is unprecedented (or it's at least without precedent since the days of "Czar Joe" Cannon, Speaker of the House in the early 1900s). Here are two examples:

Congressional conference committees, charged with reconciling differences between House- and Senate-passed versions of the same legislation, have become dramatically more powerful in shaping bills. The panels, made up of a small group of lawmakers appointed by leaders in both parties, added a record 3,407 "pork barrel" projects to appropriations bills for this year's federal budget, items that were never debated or voted on beforehand by the House and Senate and whose congressional patrons are kept secret. This compares to just 47 projects added in conference committee in 1994, the last year of Democratic control.

...

The number of bills the Rules Committee allows to go to the floor under "open rules," that is, bills to which any member may offer amendments, has dropped steadily. By the count of the then-minority Republicans in the 95th Congress in 1977-78, 85 percent of nonappropriations legislation in the House were offered under open rules.

But the number of bills open to revision dwindled to 57 percent overall and to 30 percent for nonappropriations bills in 1993-94, the last Congress controlled by Democrats, a denial of process so serious that it led the late Representative Gerald Solomon, a New York Republican, to pledge that the incoming Republicans would make the vast majority of bills open. But the opposite happened.

In the current Republican-led Congress, according to statistics offered by both parties, the percentage of nonappropriations bills open to revision has dropped to 15 percent...

Of course, with so much of the actual process of crafting legislation done in secret meetings and closed-door party conferences, outside of the public's purview, lobbyists are that much more inclined to turn up the heat and do their work with impunity. The Globe offers an estimate of how much money industry lobbyists spent on behalf of just two of the major legislative proposals of Bush's first term, the (moribund) energy bill and the (passed) Medicare prescription drug plan. The figure Milligan and company come up with: $800 million.

Read the whole thing. Democrats, particularly in the House, can sometimes come across as a tad melodramatic with the florid language they use to describe their total marginalization and oppression at the hands of the Republican leadership. But the transformation of the basic character of the institution is quite real. Barney Frank talked to the authors of the terrific new book on Tom DeLay, The Hammer (about which I'll be writing more), shortly after the commencement of that Grand Guignol horror show of legislative abuse that was the Medicare bill vote. Frank was clearly a little shaken up by the experience as he reflected:

"This is transformative. Unlike anything we have seen in the past 100 years. DeLay has the power and the inclination to sweep aside any constraint ... any institutional or procedural constraint.”
Now, as you might have heard, DeLay's had a pretty bad month, and there are beginning to be whisperings that the guy may really be toast this time. I have real doubts about that, though I'm certainly no Hill inside dopester. But a more immediately pressing goal for moderates and progressives than taking out the Hammer is to hand the Democrats control of either the Senate or the presidency in November (the House may be a lost cause). Virtually no outcome that produces a Democratic victor in any branch of government in November can lead to anything other than impossible congressional gridlock and partisan warfare. It's going to be a mess regardless. But breaking the durable feedback loop of abuse and impunity that comes with united GOP government has to be priority number one for anyone who is dismayed by this Globe piece.

UPDATE: Part 2 is up today, all about that wonderful energy bill.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 09:21 AM
OF PREEMPTION AND GLOBAL TESTS. People who've been following the story of how the administration abused intelligence about Iraq's nuclear weapons program as it's played out in America's smaller magazines probably won't find much new in The New York Times's extraordinarily long investigation into the subject, though the Times does add a few details. Still, to see this conclusion appear in a major newspaper is an important development:
But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.

The White House, though, embraced the disputed theory that the tubes were for nuclear centrifuges, an idea first championed in April 2001 by a junior analyst at the C.I.A. Senior nuclear scientists considered that notion implausible, yet in the months after 9/11, as the administration built a case for confronting Iraq, the centrifuge theory gained currency as it rose to the top of the government.

Senior administration officials repeatedly failed to fully disclose the contrary views of America's leading nuclear scientists, an examination by The New York Times has found. They sometimes overstated even the most dire intelligence assessments of the tubes, yet minimized or rejected the strong doubts of nuclear experts. They worried privately that the nuclear case was weak, but expressed sober certitude in public.

I think the Kerry campaign's acting wisely to reference this story in their response to the Bush campaign's deliberate misrepresentation of Kerry's remarks about the need for a "global test" before undertaking preemptive military action. To even begin to enter a debate with the president about the legitimacy of preemptive warfare is to concede far too much to the White House. Despite the current mess in Iraq, one could easily see the war as having been worthwhile if it had, in fact, preempted a threat to the United States. The point, though, is that you can't have a preemptive war when you're not preempting anything.

On television yesterday Condoleezza Rice defended herself by referring to other intelligence suggesting that Iraq would have a nuclear weapon within ten years if the United States did not act. But stopping something that's ten years away isn't preemption, and certainly doesn't warrant the sort of hasty, ill-planned unilateral action the administration undertook. And we had other possible courses of action available to us, such as the use of threats of force to allow IAEA inspectors to return to the country. This was, in fact, what was going on at the time of the war. So while it's quite right to say that foreign countries shouldn't have a veto over American security, this was never a genuine issue -- there was no threat, and nothing was preempted by launching the war.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:18 AM
LOSING IT. Oh, please. This is pathetic. I think my friends at Pandagon handle it just right. But I also have a question about Matt Drudge's write-up:
A top Kerry campaign source explained to the DRUDGE REPORT late Sunday how Bush supporters were once again trying to distract.

"Kerry did not cheat," said the Kerry insider. "This is more lies from Republicans, who are hoping for a quick change of subject away from the president's performance, and the new polls."

When pressed on the fact that even brandishing a pen from his jacket would have violated debate rules, the Kerry staffer laughed, adding, "See you at the inauguration, Drudge".

I've noticed that whenever Drudge does a piece about John Kerry, he always quotes some anonymous campaign source or another. Here's my question: Does anyone seriously believe that anyone on Kerry's payroll would talk to Drudge? This is a guy who did his best to hype a story that Kerry was having an affair with an intern. This is a guy everyone knows is out to get Kerry and any other Democrat he can. This is a guy anyone with a brain on Kerry's staff -- I'm not counting volunteers and peons here -- knows that no good can come of talking to, that there is no percentage in cultivating a relationship with.

Why do I suspect Drudge simply makes these quotes up out of thin air?

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 09:05 AM
WEEKEND UPDATE. Spent the weekend licking your paintball wounds? Here's what you missed:

The Columnists

The Op-Ed You Actually Need To Read --Matthew Yglesias
Posted at 08:51 AM
October 01, 2004
UH, "BUYING VOTES?" I liked this piece in Slate, which finally explains why all those kids in Democratic National Committee tee-shirts are walking around D.C. asking strangers if they want to help elect John Kerry. This was a mystery because D.C. was the last place in America you'd canvass for Democratic votes; there's not a chance in hell the District won't give its electoral votes to Kerry in November. So why are all the field work? The answer? The kids aren't raising votes -- they're raising money. They're being paid to collect donations by a for-profit company that gives the canvassers a cut of their total if they make quota for the day, takes a percentage of the rest, and gives the rest to the party. It's an interesting fundraising strategem, although the article fails to note that it's hardly a new one. (I raised money door-to-door for the New York Public Interest Research Group the summer after high school, and we got paid a cut of the money we collected depending on whether or not we met the quota every day for a week. It was truly the suckiest job I've ever had, and for years after I contemplated writing an expose on the exploitative employment practices of liberal citizens' groups.)

What's odd is that the headline asks "Are the Democrats Buying Votes?" The article isn't about voter mobilization -- it's about fundraising. And there's no allegation or evidence of impropriety. Why the loaded words?

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 04:36 PM
“UNDERMINE THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS.” From House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer’s press release today responding to the ethics committee report on Tom DeLay:
The credibility, character, and trustworthiness of the House of Representatives stem from the behavior of those who are elected to serve in it. When any Member comports him or herself in an ethically dubious manner, it hurts the institution, those who serve in it and most importantly the American people.

"The outrageous conduct around the three-hour Medicare vote and other pending allegations of unethical behavior that have clouded the Majority Leader's office are a source of concern for Americans and Members of Congress. I look forward to seeing all of them resolved after full and fair investigations.

"The Committee's report makes clear that this is another example of careful and calculated planning by the Republican Leadership to force Members, state officials, and private sector interests to bend to their will. The coercion of Nick Smith unfortunately is just part of the pattern of actions which seek to undermine the democratic process, and the independence of both Members and the private sector. From the K Street Project, to stealing files from the Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats, to Republican Members who have been offered million dollar jobs from corporations that have benefited from legislation, the Republican Party's questionable behavior will eventually escort them from power."

Good stuff. And really, isn’t it long past due for congressional Democrats finally to launch a serious, coordinated, consistent, long-term vilification campaign against DeLay, day in and day out, in the press, in floor speeches, at stump appearances across the country? The guy’s a bogeyman to liberals who pay close attention to congressional politics. He’s not yet a bogeyman in the broader public's consciousness. The last month has provided ample material for Democrats to begin seriously to make that breakthrough.

They could take a page from Newt Gingrich’s spectacularly successful P.R. offensives waged against the successive House Speakers Jim Wright and Tom Foley in the late eighties and early nineties. Gingrich waged these battles from positions in the minority, at a time when Republicans were shut out of the official avenues of congressional authority in the same way Democrats are today. Given the situation, he capitalized on those decentralizing features of the modern congressional system, the processes that allowed for effective minority obstruction and protest -- above all, he made tremendous and inventive use of the media to drudge up scandal and smear these leaders, to make them icons of congressional corruption. If Dems got serious and organized about doing the same to DeLay, smearing wouldn’t even be necessary. A vilification campaign against the Hammer would have the special virtue of being true and just and so, so righteous.

Just a thought.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 04:32 PM
CREDIBLE EVIDENCE. Last night, John Kerry told an anecdote that Zbigniew Brzezinki shared at a foreign policy conference the Prospect organized last fall:
The former Secretary of State [Dean Acheson] briefed the French President and then said to him at the end of the briefing, I would now like to show you the evidence, the photographs that we have of Soviet missiles armed with nuclear weapons. The French President responded by saying, I do not wish to see the photographs. The word of the President of the United States is good enough for me. Please tell him that France stands with America.
The National Review's John J. Miller, apparently the author of a new book called Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France (wasn't France our ally during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812?), offers a rebuttal:
But more important, Kerry tried to invoke a golden age of Franco-American friendship which in fact is a myth. It certainly didn't exist when de Gaulle was around. No American president cared for the French leader. FDR called him "unreliable, uncooperative, and disloyal." Truman branded him an "SOB." And in the 1960s, Acheson publicly said de Gaulle was not "a dependable or effective ally." It is accurate to say de Gaulle was marginally helpful during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it's wrong to suggest that all was sweetness and light between the United States and Gaullist France during the Cold War--when de Gaulle was quitting NATO and condemning American involvement in Vietnam. If Kerry wants to improve relations with France, he has chosen a poor model.
I think that's besides the point entirely. Kerry wasn't trying to invoke a period of rosy Franco-American relations, he was trying to invoke a period in which the American president was trusted by the world. The fact that Charles de Gaulle was generally wary of the United States only reinforces the point. He wasn't inclined to think that it was necessarily in France's interests to bolster American policy, but he didn't think John Kennedy would deliberately mislead the world (or delude himself) about Cuba's missiles. The contrast with George W. Bush couldn't be clearer. His principle allies -- the UK, Australia, and Israel (and don't forget about Poland!) -- are all led by men who think standing "shoulder to shoulder with America" is in their best interests come what may. Other leaders who assess American activities on a case-by-case basis were uniformly not taken in by Bush's description of the Iraqi threat. And rightly so. He wasn't trusted because he isn't trustworthy. But it's extremely dangerous for the United States to find itself without allies in the world outside the community of knee-jerk pro-Americans. A president who doesn't have the ability to convince the world of his arguments on the merits will always leave this country weak and isolated.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 02:57 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: DESPERATELY SEEKING FLUFF. The quest for pap is on. Rob Garver is monitoring the rapidly evolving post-debate spin -- and as you might expect, pundits care more about sound bites and handshakes than Iraq and al-Qaeda.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 02:28 PM
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: THE BIG FIVE-OH. The margin of victory in current polls isn't nearly as important as another statistic: George W. Bush's vote share. John Kerry can -- and probably will -- poll significantly better on November 2 than he does the day before; challengers to an incumbent always do. Guy Molyneux explains the history and logic behind that classic political chestnut, "undecideds break for the challenger."

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 02:06 PM
WHAT A SHOCK. Our friend Porter Goss, doing his best to put to rest widespread fears that he’s too much of a partisan hack to be a good choice for director of central intelligence (DCI), has made a terrific first step:
Porter J. Goss, the new director of central intelligence, has chosen four House Republican aides for senior positions at the Central Intelligence Agency, including the No. 3 job in the agency, former agency officials said Thursday.

The decision to appoint the four officials is creating waves in the agency, which prides itself on objectivity and independence, the former officials said.

All four worked under Mr. Goss as political appointees on the Republican staff of the House Intelligence Committee, when he was the panel chairman.

It is not unusual in the agency's history for a new chief to appoint a new team. But it is rare for so many newly appointed officials to come from outside the agency and from jobs where they were partisan appointees.

Now imagine that. The Times notes that the move “could also reignite Democratic criticism of Mr. Goss,” but, um, just how much of a leg to stand on do Democrats still have after the craven roll-over we witnessed last week?

This points to a bigger problem with the Dems’ apparent strategy regarding Goss. They seem to think that if John Kerry is elected, he’ll pick someone new anyway, so in the meantime they should just go with the flow. But, last night’s fumbles notwithstanding, there’s a hardly insignificant chance that Bush will be reelected in a month. If he’s reelected and intelligence reform actually gets passed that creates a new, all-important national intelligence director post, Bush is virtually certain to tap Goss for the job. And what are the Senate Democrats going to be able to say then in objection -- that, sure, well over half of us thought he was just dandy to be CIA chief, but we’re not so sure about this new job? That's some mean flip-flopping.

The Democrats have boxed themselves in here, and as a result the country may be stuck with an intelligence community that is far more politicized at the top levels than even what we’ve seen under this administration’s stewardship in the last four years.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 01:52 PM
SMACKDOWN, NON-DEBATE EDITION. Over on MediaNews, New York Times reporter Alex Berenson delivers a whipping to Tennessean columnist Tim Chavez, who, like a lot of armchair pundits these days, thinks he has a better sense of the ground in Iraq sitting on his ass in the United States than the very brave reporters who are risking their lives in Iraq trying to bring the story back home. I bring this up only because it is such a constant feature of the pathetic "the media are making Iraq look worse than it really is" storyline. Berenson issues the right challenge: Anyone who thinks the reporters in Iraq are really doing a bad job should go over there for a three- or six-month stint and do their own damn reporting.

--Nick Confessore

Posted at 01:25 PM
BUT JOHN, TELL US WHAT YOU REALLY THINK. John Derbyshire, not a man always given to calling a spade a spade, speaks his mind.
Gotta admit, I'm getting mighty irritated by readers who think it's outrageous, disloyal, unpatriotic, or something to criticize Pres. Bush and his speaking skills.

Listen: GEORGE W. BUSH IS A SIMPLY TERRIBLE PUBLIC SPEAKER. There now.

He's a good man and a good President. I shall be voting for him in November, and shall do all that I can, within the bounds of truth and integrity, to help him win. That includes (in my view) hammering away at him to improve on his weaknesses. [Emphasis most certainly in the original.]

I happen to disagree with the second two paragraphs. George W. Bush is not a "simply" bad public speaker; he's a rather complicatedly bad one. Just look at the difference between the extemporaneous remarks of the first 88 minutes of the debate and his beautifully delivered closing speech. Ayelish wrote about this a bit last night; Michael Gerson's speeches fit perfectly into Bush's mouth, and the combination is extremely effective. Write off all his difficulties to terrible public speaking skills both diminishes Bush's political acuity and glosses over his true failings.

But Derb's defense of the president (or, more to the point, his defense of his own support for the president) is even more misguided than that. Bush's poor powers of communication -- both his inability to articulate a coherent argument and his unwillingness to acknowledge and grapple with the vast opposition to many of his positions -- are a serious handicap for his presidency. This should be especially troubling if, as Derbyshire does, you think his policies are good for the country. What excites Democrats about John Edwards and Barack Obama is that they make the case for liberalism more effectively than most politicians, not just to the already decided but to the open-minded. That's a power Bush cannot claim.

Derbyshire's National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg expressed this quite ruefully a couple months ago:

I think conservatives sacrificed a lot when we bought into the notion that the President of the United States doesn't need to be an effective communicator. Yes, it's nice to know that Bush's gut instincts are often right (though they're also often left), but his inability or unwillingness to make serious arguments hurts. And that style informs the GOP style across the board these days. Being the majority party in a system which so effectively empowers the minority party means that everyone has to listen to your arguments, it doesn't mean your arguments automatically win.
Looking back at that excerpt from the Derb, though, it's the last sentence that seems most disconnected from reality. (Most Bushian, you might say.) If there's one thing that's clear about this president, it's that it's too late to "improve on his weaknesses." Bush's second inaugural address is not exactly going to cement America's long-awaited transition to conservatism. Bush is a bad debater for a number of reasons that aren't going to change, and there's no use in pretending otherwise.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 01:09 PM
HAMMERING THE HAMMER. The House Ethics Committee is waiting at least another week to decide on whether to take up Chris Bell's ethics complaint against Tom DeLay (read: nothing’s likely to happen before the election), but in the meantime the panel just issued a report on another DeLay ethics charge, publicly admonishing both him and Representative Candice Miller of Michigan for attempting to pressure Representative Nick Smith into voting for the prescription drug bill during that infamous, three-hour-extended House floor vote last fall.

The wording of the report sounds fairly weak -- and the panel absurdly faults Smith himself for indulging in alleged “exaggeration” or “speculation” when he initially disclosed that he was offered $100,000 for his son Brad’s congressional campaign. (Smith later backpedaled from the charge, presumably after he found the proverbial horsehead in his bed.) But it is rare these days for major congressional figures to be admonished in public by the ethics committee. DeLay’s had kind of a tough month. If only there was enough accumulated crud here for his challenger, Richard Morrison, to be able to pull off a miracle and take DeLay out in November.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 12:58 PM
MEANWHILE IN SAMARRA. It's a bit hard to see the strategic thinking behind today's assault on Samarra, probably the softest target among the insurgent-held cities of the Sunni Triangle. Best as I can tell, nothing has changed since a week ago when the administration felt it didn't have any really good policy options here. Or, rather, what's changed is that the administration caught a lot of flack for its inability to devise a good strategy, so they decided to pretend they've come up with one and pummel the city with combined arms. But what is this supposed to accomplish? After fighting for a while, some insurgents will be dead, and the rest will just go hide and melt into the local population. Then we have two choices. We can garrison the city with U.S. forces, who will then be subjected to on-and-off attacks which will provoke on-and-off responses which will increasingly alienate the population. When that happened last time, we left the city and moved to option two: turning things over to an under-trained, under-equipped Iraqi force. Some members of this force will get killed, others scared away from the job, and others co-opted by the insurgency. Then it's back to square one.

The underlying problem last time around is still the underlying problem today: You need to resolve the political problem of Sunni Arab dislike for the U.S. occupation. Shelling the city isn't going to achieve that -- you need to work something out with credible leaders. What we have in the way of potentially cooperative Sunni Arab leadership is Ghazi al-Yawir, the U.S.-appointed President of Iraq. Yesterday, al-Yawir denounced some much milder tactics being employed in Baghad as "collective punishment" that "brings to mind Gaza." In certain circles comparing American policy to Israeli policy counts as praise, but I think we can take it as a given that that's not what al-Yawir meant. And if this is what our appointed representatives of the Sunni Arab community have to say, what hope to do have with the proverbial man on the street?

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 12:57 PM
OF SMIRKS AND SIGHS. I can foresee the hypocrisy charges coming down against liberals who long complained of the ridiculous style-over-substance media coverage of the 2000 debates, but who are now highlighting George W. Bush’s smirks and various pained reaction shots from last night. As Chris Suellentrop already puts it in his Slate report from Spin Alley,
Over and over again, Bush surrogates were asked about the president's demeanor. (Question for Paul Krugman: Are you still angry about the media's focus on style over substance?)
Now, there’s no doubt that liberals will, to a certain extent, appreciate the fact that the same chronic media superficiality that has aided and abetted Bush’s political career for years is, for once, working against him -- and honest liberals will acknowledge that poorly handled reaction shots to an opponents’ words should not, in an ideal world, form the central basis for deciding who wins a debate and who is more worthy to be president.

That said, there really is a substantive significance to Bush’s smirks and discomfort last night that there was not in Al Gore’s long sighs and orange makeup four years ago. The most that was said about the cosmetic problems with Gore’s first debate performance was that they reflected his basic condescension and overbearing demeanor -- they showed he was a bad guy, a know-it-all. To be sure, that was enough to badly, badly damage Gore as a candidate, but it was pretty much all a question of personality perception and likeability issues. Bush’s body language last night connected to something a lot more important, something directly related to his performance as president: the fact that this man is obviously unused to any situations in which he is challenged, obviously ill at ease having to parry challenges, obviously pissed off, as Josh Marshall puts it, at having "to stand there and be criticized and not be able to repeat his talking points without contradiction.”

The president does his work within a cocoon of yes-men and political spinners, and by temperament he is obviously prickly when presented with bad news or challenges to his decisions. That’s why he’s incapable of perceiving the disasters his policies are creating and unable to adjust his course. He’s out of touch. He's in a bubble. And he doesn’t have the bearing or the attitude to be an effective president. That’s what the smirking and the shuffling reflect. It’s a legitimate issue to address, even if the actual substance of Bush’s failures at home and abroad is, of course, the far more important issue.

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 12:21 PM
UNPATRIOTIC ACTS. Leave it to members of the House GOP to squander the bipartisan spirit that brought about the 9-11 Commission report. The House intelligence reform legislation, drafted solely by Republicans, needlessly gives law enforcement agencies more access to personal information and allows for easier deportation of immigrants to nations where they are likely to be tortured.

Read about how the House Republican leadership is defying the 9-11 Commission’s recommendation to strengthen civil liberties at Moving Ideas.

--Diana Onken, Moving Ideas

Posted at 12:18 PM
"PEOPLE KNOW WHERE I STAND." That's the president's line, a contrast with alleged flip-flopper John Kerry. But according to the Program on International Policy Attitudes, people don't know:
Majorities of Bush supporters incorrectly assumed that Bush favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (84%), and the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the International Criminal Court (66%), the treaty banning land mines (72%), and the Kyoto Treaty on global warming (51%). They were divided between those who knew that Bush favors building a new missile defense system now (44%) and those who incorrectly believe he wishes to do more research until its capabilities are proven (41%). However, majorities were correct that Bush favors increased defense spending (57%) and wants the US, not the UN, to take the stronger role in developing Iraq’s new government (70%). . . .

Many of the uncommitted (those who say they are not very sure which candidate they will vote for) also misread Bush’s position on most issues, though in most cases this was a plurality, not a majority. The uncommitted incorrectly believed that Bush favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (69%), the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (51%), the International Criminal Court (47% to 31%), the land mines treaty (50%), and the Kyoto treaty on global warming (45% to 37%). Only 35% knew that Bush favors building a new missile defense system now, while 36% incorrectly believed he wishes to do more research until its capabilities are proven, and 22% did not give an answer. Only 41% knew that Bush favors increased defense spending, while 49% incorrectly assumed he wants to keep it the same (29%) or cut it (20%). A plurality of 46% was correct that Bush wants the US, rather than the UN, to take the stronger role in developing Iraq’s new government (37% assumed the UN).

The uncommitted were much more accurate in assessing Kerry’s positions. Majorities knew that Kerry favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (75%), and the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (60%), the land mines treaty (57%), and the Kyoto Treaty on global warming (54%), and wants the US, not the UN, to take the lead in developing Iraq’s new government (71%). Pluralities correctly assumed that Kerry favors US participation in the International Criminal Court (49 to 30%) and that he favors doing more research until its effectiveness is proven (46%), with 26% assuming he does not want to build a system at all). Thirty-nine percent correctly assumed that he wants to keep defense spending the same, but 36% assumed that he wants to cut it.

I'm pretty sure Kerry actually does want to increase defense, which might explain why people think he wants to increase defense spending. I don't know if this means that generally ignorant people tend to support Bush, or if Bush maintains his support only by misleading people about his views, but it's not very flattering either way.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 12:04 PM
FLORIDA OUTTAKES: LAUGH-TRACK Members of the press, despite being constitutionally snarky, generally speaking, remain respectful and professional during debates no matter how ridiculous the statements made before them. It's part of the code of distance and detachment that governs the way the journalists behave, like never joining an audience in clapping or getting engaged in a political event by singing the national anthem. (Standing for the anthem is the most that's permitted, but sitting through it seems the norm.) So it's notable when members of the press find themselves forced to laugh out loud by something before them. Last night, in my tiny section of the press room, admittedly overrun with other youngish writer-types rather than grizzled White House reporters, there were a couple of these moments, and they all seemed to center on George W. Bush.

Chief among them: Bush's pronunciation of the word "mullah" as "MOO-lah," like the slang term for mad amounts of cash.

Also evoking laughs: When Bush said "of course we're after Saddam Hussein -- I mean bin Laden" while trying to explain how he has not confused the two men and that he remained committed to pursuing the al-Qaeda leader.

And this exchange:

LEHRER: Well, but when he used the word "truth" again...

BUSH: Pardon me?

LEHRER: ... talking about the truth of the matter. He used the word "truth" again. Did that raise any hackles with you?

BUSH: Oh, I'm a pretty calm guy. I don't take it personally.

The absence of comic moments involving John Kerry wasn't just a result of his steadier debate performance last night, though. The Kerry camp is pushing a strategy best characterized as "the new seriousness." After a summer of heated, exaggerated, and ridiculous charges and counter-charges, presenting a sober case based on the facts -- Kerry as a serious man for serious times -- is the new plan. It's a way of compensating for Bush's jovial charm with adult composure, and it's designed to do exactly what it did last night -- make Bush look overly emotional and immature.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 11:46 AM
FLORIDA OUTTAKES: HOW TO SHUT PEOPLE UP. Debate moderator Jim Lehrer comes across as a mild-mannered fellow on television, but, as John Kerry made so clear last night, strength is sometimes expressed through an outwardly calm demeanor rather than through emotions. Those watching the debate at home last night missed the priceless and stern warning Lehrer gave the audience at the University of Miami in the ten minutes before the debate got underway. For all I know, they're a pretty standard way of shutting up audiences before national debates, but I do know I didn't hear anything like this before any of the primary season face-offs.

Facing the audience, Lehrer warned them that they "are here tonight not to participate but to bear witness, to bear very silent witness. This is not a competing kind of pep rally." There will be, he said, "no applause, no hissing, no booing, no crying, no laughing. Absolute silence... If for some reason you choose not to I will be very bad about it. If there is some noise I will turn around and hold you up to public ridicule and deduct time from your candidate... This is not some kind of game."

Then he added that Laura Bush and Teresa Heinz Kerry would each be monitoring half the audience, like hall monitors, for anyone who got out of line.

That seemed to do the trick. The lights went down and the audience disappeared into the silent darkness.

UPDATE: Reader S.P. notes that some TV viewers did catch Lehrer's lecture to the audience -- those watching C-SPAN.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted at 11:32 AM
THE DEFENSE TAKES A PASS. You can judge the awfulness of Bush's performance last night by the lameness of what his defenders have to say. NRO's Jay Nordlinger, after pleading with his readers not to "kill the messenger," just up and admits that Bush lost. His colleagues are less forthcoming, but Janice Crouse concedes that "Bush blew an opportunity." John Pitney pleads that Bush doesn't look as bad if you read the transcript (I hear he came off even worse on the radio, though) instead of watching the videotape. This is probably right, but guess what: It was a televised event. And "better" still leaves a lot of room for improvement.

Tim Graham, as usual, blames the liberal media, about which no more need be said at the moment. Over at The Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes concedes defeat but predicts that Kerry didn't win by enough to win the election. Maybe -- but how is a domestic policy debate or the Edwards-Cheney matchup supposed to help Bush? Jonathan Last scores the debate as a 9 to 9 tie in an 18-round scoring system that involves awarding Bush one point for "winning" the exchange about whose daughter is going to get a leash put on her.

Liberals, meanwhile, seem uniformly pleased with Kerry's performance, even if I think he could have used a little more Tora Bora and a little less UN summit. At least Kerry didn't have to call on Aleksander Kwasniewski to bail him out.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 11:22 AM
POOR GUYS. I haven’t checked out many right-wing blogs this morning to see their take, but I can certainly say that the folks on Fox and Friends, my favorite morning show, were really struggling today to come up with an effective pro-Bush angle on the manhandling he suffered at the hands of John Kerry last night. I almost felt sorry for them.

The only arguments they could come up with were these two: That Jim Lehrer’s questioning was biased, because he challenged Bush on his record more than Kerry; and, above all, that “no knockout punch” was landed, which is what Kerry needed, and thus, QED, Kerry lost the debate. Are either of these even deserving of comment?

In general they seemed caught in an awkward holding position this morning, clearly stalled while they waited for better spin to be handed to them by higher-ups. And I have no doubt that better spin is on the way. It won't be long before Fox and Friends learns to harp on Kerry’s unfortunate use of the term “global test,” or his general emphasis on multilateralism and alliance-building. They'll bounce back.

After all, the Bush's team and allies have nowhere to go but up following Dan Bartlett's initial "he's a moron, but he's our moron" defense, offered up to Ryan Lizza in Spin Alley last night:

Across the room, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, beads of sweat glistening on his forehead, resorts to a very odd line of spin. He lowers expectations for Bush after the debate is already over. "President Bush spoke the only way he knows how," he says. "He's never been labeled the most eloquent and articulate speaker."
Soft bigotry, soft bigotry . . .

--Sam Rosenfeld

Posted at 11:12 AM
COLOSSAL MISJUDGMENT. Osama bin Laden’s deputy and personal physician, Ayman al-Zawahiri, just reminded us of how George W. Bush’s strategic blunder in Iraq has left the word less safe from a reconstituted al-Qaeda. According to the Associated Press, Al-Jazeera just got their hands on a new al-Qaeda audio tape.
"The youth must not wait for anyone and must begin resisting from now and learn a lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan and Chechnya."

In addition to the United States and Britain, al-Zawahri singled out Australia, France, Poland, Norway, South Korea and Japan, saying they had all participated in occupying Afghanistan, Iraq or Chechnya and gave Israel the "means of survival."

Lest we think that this is simply empty rhetoric from a man on the run, consider the outcomes of similar statements by bin Laden and al-Zawahiri over the last year. From Peter Bergen’s well-researched July cover story in Mother Jones:
PERHAPS THE MOST emblematic failure of the war on terrorism has been the continued ability of Al Qaeda's top leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, to set the agenda for a string of terrorist attacks around the world. A bin Laden call for attacks against Western economic interests in October 2002 was followed by bombings of a French oil tanker and a Bali disco catering to Western tourists. In September 2003, Zawahiri denounced Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf for supporting the U.S. campaign against Al Qaeda; Musharraf narrowly survived two assassination attempts over the months that followed. And after bin Laden called for retaliation against' countries that were part of the coalition in Iraq in late 2003, terrorists attacked an Italian police barracks in Iraq, a British consulate in Turkey, and commuter trains in Madrid. According to a May report by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Al Qaeda is now "fully reconstituted," with a "new and effective modus operandi," a presence in as many as 90 countries, and "over 18,000 potential terrorists still at large."
Last night, Kerry did a good job explaining to Americans how Bush lost bin Laden at Tora Bora. He needs to repeat and repeat and repeat the mantra that Bush outsourced our national security to a bunch of rag-tag soldiers who let bin Laden escape. Bush is bad at the war on terror, and as this newest tape reminds us, Bush's huge strategic blunder at Tora Bora has put Americans and our allies at immense risk.

--Mark Goldberg

Posted at 11:04 AM
ABOUT LAST NIGHT. The debate's been over for hours, but the spinning has just begun. Before you get caught up in the scowls, the smirks, and the pronunciation of "mullahs," read our analysis of last night's winners and losers: We'll have more from Rob Garver in just a little while, and we'll have coverage on Tapped all day long. In the meantime, just keep squinting your eyes and shouting about Poland.

--Jeffrey Dubner

Posted at 10:30 AM
WHAT A DICTATOR WANTS. Josh Marshall notes "that President Bush didn't seem to have any really clear idea what his administration's North Korea policy even is." Not so surprising since his administration's policy is inordinately confused and Bush seemed to busy trying to figure out some way to crouch down behind his podium and hide to figure something like that out. Worse, I think, is that he didn't seem to understand the concept of negotiation. His stated reason for opposing bilateral talks is that that's "exactly what Kim Jong Il wants." Fair enough, but isn't the point of negotiating that you give the other side what they want (bilateral talks leading to a peace treaty and economic engagement) and in exchange they give you what you want (a non-nuclear North Korea)? Maybe he was pulling his staring-blankly-into-space routine that day in business school.

The president also found himself petulantly rebuking Kerry about the 1994 Agreed Framework: "And by the way, the breach on the agreement was not through plutonium. The breach on the agreement is highly enriched uranium. That's what we caught him doing. That's where he was breaking the agreement." I congratulate the president for avoiding the usual right-wing distortion on this issue (claiming the breach was through plutonium) but by failing to understand the content of the party-line myth he stumbled into nonsense: The agreement didn't cover uranium, which is exactly why he was supposed to pretend the breach was about plutonium. You can see that this is a president who's not going to find a diplomatic solution to anything. Not because he's a "unilateralist" but simply because characterologically he doesn't have the patience, knowledge, or discipline to reach agreements under trying circumstances. That means either wild nuclear proliferation or else that the president will stay true to his word that he won't allow that -- and thus more wars. Wars we don't have the troops to fight.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:53 AM
FACT-CHECKING IRAQI TROOPS. Here's one I missed last night, but Spencer Ackerman's got the goods:
"The best way for Iraq to be safe and secure is for Iraqi citizens to be trained to do the job," Bush said. "We've got 100,000 trained now, 125,000 by the end of this year, 200,000 by the end of next year." These numbers are simply inaccurate. For much of this year, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld totaled the figure of trained Iraqi police, soldiers and national guardsmen at 200,000--despite the April collapse of those forces during the Sunni and Sadrist insurgencies--only to scale the number back to about 90,000 last month. The 100,000-force figure Bush repeatedly quoted last night has been the one his administration has stuck with.

But that figure isn't even close to the truth. According to internal Pentagon documents recently obtained by Reuters, only 22,700 Iraqi forces have received enough training to be considered even "minimally effective." Barely 8,000 of the 90,000-strong police force have completed a full eight weeks of training--after a year and a half of occupation. While Lieutenant General David Petraeus wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on Sunday that the Iraqi civil-intervention force is "now conducting operations," the leaked Pentagon documents show that training hasn't even begun for its 4,800 members. And perhaps most significantly, while Bush promised 200,000 Iraqis would be trained by the end of the next year, the documents state that it will take until July 2006 to train 135,000 Iraqi police officers.

It's even worse than that, I would argue. Police officers aren't "troops" -- soldiers are troops. No one says that New York City has 39,000 troops; we say the NYPD has 39,000 officers. And it's an important distinction. When the United States sends people to fight the Iraqi insurgency we send full-scale soldiers and Marines, not lightly armed cops who've received a very different type of training. Bush is arriving at his (overinflated) figures by lumping Iraqi Army, Iraqi National Guard, Iraqi police, and Iraqi border patrol forces together, thus generating a totally meaningless figure.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted at 09:50 AM