Friday, January 24, 2003

What does it say about this administration when it's becoming almost as hard to trust what the White House is saying about Iraq as it is to trust what Saddam Hussein is saying about the US? It turns out that the evidentiary centerpiece of the case Bush attempted to lay out against Iraq in his September 12 speech at the UN is, well, a fabrication.

The issue in question are aluminum tubes that Iraq attempted to purchase. The White House claimed that these tubes were for use in centrifuges needed to enrich uranium. Condi Rice told us that the tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs."

As it turns out, the tubes are actually perfectly suited for use in the same type of 81mm multiple rocket launchers that Iraq has produced in the past. It also turns out, according to the IAEA, that they are "not directly suitable" for use in uranium enrichment. They could be used for such a purpose, but only after expensive modification.

Here's what David Albright, a former IAEA inspector had to say:

In this case, I fear that the information was put out there for a short-term political goal: to convince people that Saddam Hussein is close to acquiring nuclear weapons.

No wonder support for this war is dwindling at home and abroad.
TNR has an interesting article up chronicling the pro-choice homage that all of the leading Democratic contenders paid to NARAL. There are several interesting tidbits. Ryan Lizza writes:

John Edwards seems to go through cycles of exceedingly high expectations and intense media buzz punctuated by disappointing public performances that leave one wondering, "What is all the fuss about?"

And then goes on to describe the enthusiasm that Democratic operatives seems to have for edwards and the lack of enthusiasm that everyone else seems to have for him. He also claims that Edwards is the candidate the White House fears the most. Does being an attractive southerner count that much? Edwards doesn't have game, and all of these Democrats who are so eager to sign him up are going to wish they had thought twice when he fails to meet expectations in South Carolina.

Lizza also makes the same point about Lieberman that I made in an earlier post - he's doing well in the polls right now but how is he going to translate that into early success? He has no shot in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina. After he gets drubbed in those three primaries I don't think his name recognition will matter that much.

Most interesting is Lizza's description of the looming Dean v. Kerry tilt in New Hampshire (and it will come down to those two candidates) as a rematch of Bradley and Gore, with many of Bradley's 2000 staffers working for Dean and many for Gore's working for Kerry. He makes the very good point that independents, who can vote in the Democratic primary, could decide things in New Hampshire and Dean is poised to capture the independents that Bradley lost to McCain in 2000. The biggest surprise to me was Jim Jeffords endorsement of Dean, saying, "He's my man." Of course, Dean has a home court advantage with Jeffords, but having a popular independent from a neighboring state endorse you can only help with those New Hampshire independents.
When things fall apart they really fall apart. It's really heartening to see things blowing up in the Bush team's face the way they are right now. Let's see:

The coalition for war is falling apart. France and Germany are out and with them UN and Security Council approval. As MyDD reports, public support in Britain for a war not backed by the UN has dwindeled to a pathetic 10%. Will Blair still commit UK troops to the conflict even if it could mean his job? The Labor Party is in a pretty dominant position in Britain right now, but can any party survive such an unpopular choice on this important a decision? Or, more to the point, will the Labor party revolt and dump Blair if he continues to pursue a policy so out of tune with its members? Meanwhile US support for the war is dropping. That might be the only thing that could avert a war. If general Rove decides that a war will cost Bush politically, it might not happen.

Bush's "stimulus" package continues to take hits. A new Wall Street Journal poll shows that only 35% of Americans think Bush's plan will be "very" or "fairly" effective. And there's now news that the head of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, Glenn Hubbard, will be stepping down making it a trifecta of disgraced supply-siders leaving the administration. Kos spreads the rumor that Hubbard will be replaced by deficit hawk Gregory Mankiw. How exactly does the White House hope to have any credibility pushing its supply side plans when it has replaced three supply-siders with deficit hawks like Mankiw, John Snow and Stephen Friedman? Does this signal a change in White House policy? Will they abandon their terrible "stimulus" plan? We can only hope - but don't hold your breath. Thankfully, it looks to be dead in the Senate anyway.

Bush continues to look like an idiot on Korea. Even the conservative pundits are out for blood.

No wonder Bush's poll numbers keep dropping. That same WSJ poll has him at 54%. The State of the Union is coming up. You can bet Rove has planted some doozy in there somewhere. Will we get another "Axis of Evil?"

Thursday, January 23, 2003

One of the best thing about The Daily Kos is Kos's periodic "cattle calls" that rank the Democratic fields and discuss how each candidate has faired recently. Kos posted his latest on the 20th (I'm late I know).

I agree with a lot of his sentiments. Kerry is clearly the front runner, even though Lieberman leads in all the polls. Those polls mean nothing, in my opinion, and are only a result of Lieberman's high name recognition. Lieberman will be a player for sure - he'll have the money and he has the right wing of the party to himself. But I don't see any way he can win when the electorate is so much more liberal than he. Not to mention that he's not likely to do well in any of the first 3 primaries.

Where I disagree is his ranking of Edwards. Admittedly, Edwards is doing well at the polls, much better than he was a month ago when it looked like he might be out of it before it began. His well organized roll-out was effective and no doubt helped improve his standing. I still think he has an uphill road - he has to win SC something that is far from certain with Sharpton, Moseley-Braun and potentially Graham in the field. Graham is the key there, for Edwards. The announcement that he will undergo heart surgery may just kill his campaign (even if the surgery itself doesn't inhibit him, the fact that he is having it will hurt his viability). If Graham is out, Edwards looks a lot better. But he can't tank it in Iowa or New Hampshire either and I've seen nothing to indicate that he has made progress in either state. Graham would have ranked higher than Kos had him, but this surgery changes that. Dean would rank a lot higher in my estimation. I'd even put him at number 3 right now. I know it sounds ludicrous, but he has had a killer month with some great media, a strong showing in the most recent NH poll and a lot of success on the ground in Iowa. He is even being mentioned as a possible winner in Iowa - that's credibility that could help him start raising more money. He needs to be careful that he doesn't raise expectations too high, however. If he comes out of nowhere to win or place a strong second in Iowa that could lunch him to a big win in NH and beyond. But it won't have nearly the impact if success is expected. I agree with Kos that Gephardt is looking sorry.

Two other notes. Kos repeats the various reports that Biden is out. This is not true. Biden may very well jump into the race at a later time. He also lists McCain as an "intriguing possibility." McCain as the VP on the ticket is a fantasy of mine, but do we really want a Republican heading the Democratic ticket? I'd rather lose than totally abdicate like that. Now, as the number two guy on the ticket, he would be perfect.

I'll be writing an article with a more detailed look at the field soon. Look for it on the right.

Tapped has been having an interesting running discussion of the disparity between the electoral power that the conservative plain states have and their relatively small populations. They note that were you to assume that each senator represents half of his state's population (since each state has two senators) then Democrats would represent about 155 million people and Republicans about 125 million people. This also neglects the population of Washington DC, who would likely send two Democrats to the Senate if they were given the chance (which they should be).

There's little question that the Senate is a rather undemocratic institution - why should states like The Dakota or even my own Delaware be given the same say as states with 50 times more people? And since the Electoral College system is based on the number of senators and representatives these same biases are translated into that as well.

Tapped's main argument is that this bias favor conservatives, since most of the over-represented states fall in the highly Republican plains and mountain areas. This is certainly true. And the level of bias is likely to continue to grow as population flows away from rural areas towards urban population centers.

But how much does this really effect things? The House, which is much more representative of the true population differences in the stats, is titled towards the Republicans and about the same level that the Senate is. And there are plenty of Democratic senators in red states and Republicans in blue states. I think where it is more important is in the Electoral College. If each state were given only the same number of votes as it had representatives (and was not given two additional votes for each Senator), Al Gore would now be president and not George Bush.

I'm not sure how you fix this problem. Every electoral system had its built in biases. Certainly, there is never going to be enough consensus to radically alter the Senate. Some have proposed scrapping the Electoral College and directly electing the president but I think that creates more problems than it solves. The electoral college forces candidates to attempt to win disparate blocks of voters in different areas of the country with different values, in a direct election I fear that the election would come down only to the turnout of each party's base, especially in big cities.

I don't think it would be a bad idea to eliminate the electoral votes that the states receive for each Senator. As I wrote in a recent article, each state should also resort to instant runoff voting so that it takes a majority and not a plurality to win the electoral votes of each state.

All in all it's an interesting problem. Hopefully Tapped will start posting some potential solutions.

Monday, January 20, 2003

OK how disturbing is this:

"Look," said Daschle, who was then majority leader. "Nobody at this table can put a dollar value on human life -- "

"Sure we can!" interrupted the outsider at the table, the White House envoy to the talks.

That was Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., the Indianapolis pharmaceuticals executive who had been President Bush's out-of-nowhere choice to run the Office of Management and Budget. As the bleary-eyed legislators turned wide-eyed, the blunt-spoken little man with the crooked nose and the comb-over ordered an aide to find him the actuarial studies. "We've got numbers on that," Daniels explained.

Those are quotes from the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Why does it nor surprise me that they “have numbers on that?”

More to the point – Daniels represents the absurdity of this administration perfectly. How can anyone take him, or the administration, seriously when he talks about reigning in spending but still advocates unlimited tax cut? The Bushies are now telling us that deficits don’t matter. That’s a big change from what they were saying two years ago (or two weeks ago for that matter).

Hey Mitch (and you too Glenn Hubbard): if deficits don’t matter then why are you so opposed to an extra billion or two to protect our citizens from further terror attacks? And if they do matter how can you support these ridiculous tax cuts?

The intellectual inconsistency (actually dishonesty is a better word) of this administration is unprecedented.

Dick's in big trouble. The headline says it all really.

If Gephardt can't win Iowa he is done - any Gephardt scenario has to start with a big win in Iowa. The expectations there are too high for him to survive anything less, much like Kerry in New Hampshire.

The most interesting part of the article, I thought, was this:

Gephardt won the Iowa presidential caucuses in 1988, and because of his next-door-neighbor status and close ties to organized labor, he is considered the man to beat in the 2004 caucuses. But around the table, Gephardt was viewed dismissively as a candidate from the past, and the names of newcomers John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, and former Vermont governor Howard Dean prompted far more favorable responses.

This doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’ve long thought Kerry and Dean to be the two strongest candidates, just how well they would do in Iowa I didn’t (and still don’t) know. I have heard, though, from sources on the ground in Iowa that Edwards’ early visits there have tanked while Dean has been received very well. Dean is going to be around for the long haul, despite what most pundits have to say. I think it will come down to one of Kerry or Dean and probably Lieberman as the last two standing. I don’t think both Dean and Kerry can survive until the end – it won’t come down to two New England liberals. I think whichever one of those two makes it to the end wins the nomination. Right now I’d give the edge to Kerry, but that could change.

Also interesting were comments by Governor Tom Vilsack:

"The conventional wisdom assumes that labor is with Gephardt, and I don't know that that's true," Vilsack said. "I don't think that [labor unions] necessarily are sold on any candidate at this point. There are an awful lot of other groups that could provide a base for any candidate."

More bad news for Gephardt. The two things he has going for him are Iowa and labor – could both be failing? I don’t know. Keep in mind this article is based on interviews with 10 Democrats – hardly a scientifically accurate sample. But it reinforces whispers that have been floating around. More important, in this game perception can become reality and you can bet the Gephardt camp isn’t happy this article is on the front page of the Post.