Saturday, February 14, 2004

Ain't it the truth?

Josh Marshall sez:

Now, needless to say, if we were still operating under the rules that prevailed in the mid-1990s, James Carville would have been appointed Independent Counsel in the late summer of 2002 to investigate Halliburton. He'd have had the Intel shenanigans, the Plame matter and the Niger documents added to his brief since then. A cowed AG would have given him the Guard matter around the middle of last week.

And here I thought that the right-wing always opposed relativistic standards of morality and ethics. I guess applying absolutes in those areas kind of depends, doesn't it?

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/14/2004 11:26:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The lost caucuses

In the hotly contested Nevada and DC caucuses... It's Kerry by a nose!!

Sorry, just trying to inject some element of horse-racing into the horse-racing metaphor. Actually, Kerry won both contests easily with 63% in Nevada and 47% in DC and picked up 15 delegates overall. Sharpton was 2nd in DC (20% and 4 delegates) and Dean 3rd (18% and 3 delegates). Dean also picked up 2 delegates in Nevada with 17%. Edwards finished out of the money in both races.

Kerry goes into Wisconsin with 555 delegates to Dean's 187 and Edwards' 166. Kerry is now 1/4 of the way to the 2,161 he needs.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/14/2004 11:12:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A popular expression

For reasons that rather elude me (maybe it has something to do with the current resident of the White House?), it's been popping into my head on and off for the last two weeks that it's amazing that the expression "Doesn't know shit from Shinola" remains in circulation, despite that fact that very few people (including myself) have ever used (or even seen) the now-defunct shoe-shining product Shinola.

I guess the alliteration has something to do with its longevity -- it's just plain fun to say. (And it's always fun to have some excuse to use cuss words.)

For those who don't know the difference between shit and Shinola, you can find a detailed guide here.

Finally, a "naming company" (which consults with corporations and other organizations regarding their names or the names of their brands) called A Hundred Monkeys once ran a Shinola Naming and Branding Award to recognize the best, and worst, names. (It looks as if the site hasn't been updated in a couple of years, so I don't think the award is an ongoing thing.)

Here's their list of the best and the worst:

Mr. Clean
Count Chocula
Mr. Bubble
Cap'n Crunch
Smokey Bear
Mr. Peanut
Betty Crocker
Frito Bandito
Juan Valdez
Jolly Green Giant

Joe Camel
Spuds MacKenzie
Ronald McDonald
Mr. Whipple
Chef Boyardee
The Noid
Joe Isuzu
Ann Page
Little Green Sprout

(On the award website, there are some interesting comments from the judges on why they considered these to be good or bad.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/14/2004 03:16:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Bush/AWOL Google News counts [updated 11/18]

I continue to count stories cataloged on Google News about the Bush/AWOL scandal, and to graph the results of both the count and daily adds.

The links on the right under "feature" take you to the graphs and to the older comments. Newer comments I'll post below.

Postscript: Sorry, here's the direct link to the graphs. The top graph is the count of stories, and the bottom is daily adds.


11/18: I've found the missing story, and it's good news and bad news. I'll lay it all out in a new post.

11/17: No change, everything is still flattening out, and there's no indication that anyone in the Democratic party is taking their cues from unfutz, because no one's come forward to goose this story forward. Has everyone determined that they've gotten everything out of it that they could?

11/16: So far, the data shows no sign of any upward rise; adds are down almost to very and the total count is flat.

Kevin Drum weighed in today with the thought that the story (at least the part he was examining closely) didn't seem to be going anywhere. If the Kerry and the Democrats don't want this story to die and have to be resurrected from the dead later on (if that would even be possible to do once it goes down for the second or third time), they had better be planning something for Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest. One would think that careful examination of the papers would provide some kind of news hook, some new angle to puff a little life into the thing, but if not, at the very least an accurate summary of the known facts, clearly and forcefully presented, might help.

Postscript: There's another possibility, which is that the keywords and keyword combinations I'm using to track the coverage are no longer driving it, and that some other keyword is. Paul Lukasiak suggested I try "physical examination", but it and other variations on it don't show enough unique hits to be useful. I hope to do a little research to look into other possibilities.

11/15: Today's experience exemplifies the volatility of the data in the 3 or 4 days it takes for it to settle down. Adds for "AWOL" on the 11th were at 178 before I checked them last night, when they had burst up to 411, significantly changing the shape of the graph. Because of this, I've added a note to the charts idicating that the last 4 days of data presented are tentative.

11/14: Thanks to Billmon for linking here from his excellent site Whiskey Bar. In his comment, he writes:

unfutz's charts show the rate of growth slackening considerably over the past couple of days -- an early warning sign of media scandal fatigue, I think.

I'm not sure I agree, or, rather, I think it's too early to tell.

First there's the methodological problem that it takes three or four days to get an accurate read on the number of Google News hits, so the slackening that Billmon sees may turn out to be somewhat less that it appears at the moment. Still, it's not going to go away completely even after the numbers are corrected.

More importantly, as Billmon also states, it really takes a specific news hook to get the kind of spikes in adds you can see on the 3rd the 8th and the 10th, and that hook can conceivably be nothing more than some high profile Democrat summarizing and reprising the charges against Bush, perhaps with an added twist. That might well be enough to spike things again. (One hopes that the Kerry campaign and the DNC are looking at graphs similar to mine -- or, at the very least, are relying on their intuitive sense of the ebb and flow of press coverage -- to gauge when the most opportune moment is for a renewed attack. My thought is that Tuesday might be a good day for it.)

Finally, as indicated by their behavior in the gaggle, the White House press corps (and the major media in general) smells blood and weakness in the Bush administration, which opens the door to the kind of journalistic pack behavior which keeps a story like this active and prevents it from dying. They haven't been that way in a while and now that they've tasted the thrill of it (they really seemed to enjoy browbeating Scott McClellan about the community service issue), they're unlikely to let it go so easily.

For these reasons, I'm not inclined to be as pessimistic as Billmon is about the trajectory of this story.

Postscript: Kos also thinks that the story may be on its "final legs."

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/14/2004 02:14:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


No comment(s)

I got tired of looking at "Comments (0)" so I removed the code which generated comments.

Failure is one thing, but I don't really need to have it constantly paraded in front of me like that.

In some ways, I guess it's rather liberating to write a blog that nobody reads, but sooner or later I suspect it's going to get me into trouble.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/14/2004 01:56:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Mishandling it [updated]

I can't help but think that Bush's people mishandled the release of his service record so badly because they just haven't had any practice at handling an aggressive press corps. The media has been so pliant and deferential to Bush for so long, that Bush's minions lost whatever chops they once had. (Assuming they once had any, that is.)

Update: BTW, I have a feeling that the time-honored "Friday dump" technique is not going to help Bush in this case, that in fact it's going to hurt. A slow-news long weekend is going to allow reporters on this story the leisure time to closely examine Bush's "complete record" (we'll see how complete it turns out to be) before they report about it, a luxury they wouldn't have had if it had been released mid-week.

An earlier release would have generated a number of non-committal "Bush releases full record" stories at a time when people were actually paying attention, but now those positive (for Bush) headlines will come over the weekend, and what people will wake up to on Tuesday will be in-depth analyses of what's there and what's missing (and stuff will be missing, since Bush's medical records weren't released, just shown to some reporters).

Just another example of Bush's people mishandling this whole affair.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/14/2004 04:09:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Clinton and Gore should testify

According to an AP report, the September 11th commission will ask Bush, Cheney, Clinton and Gore to testify:

The federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks will soon ask President Bush, former President Clinton and their vice presidents to testify in public about possible warnings they might have received from U.S. intelligence sources before the attacks.

''We need them to testify,'' former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, the bipartisan commission's chairman, told The Record of Bergen County in a story published Thursday. He said the panel would issue formal invitations within the next few weeks, although he conceded that all four men would probably decline to be questioned at a public forum.

However, Kean said their cooperation was crucial to the commission's work, so he hoped they would at least consent to private interviews with the panel.

I do hope that both Clinton and Gore see the value in their participating in an open public hearing before the commission. Not only is it essential that the commission get their insights, but testifying would be immensely valuable to the Democratic campaign to get rid of Bush.

The testimony of Clinton and Gore would undoubtedly receive a great deal of attention, probably including live coverage on the cable news networks, and the public would get a chance to see just how intelligent and perceptive our last legitimately elected President was, as well as the qualities of the man that most voting Americans wanted to be President in 2000.

Not only that, but it's lose/lose for the GOP. They can send Cheney to testify (although he's already got one foot in the tinfoil-hat camp and would probably not come off all that well) but they can't afford to put Bush under that kind of public scrutiny, especially after his poor showing on "Mett the Press". So either they feel forced to do so and he comes off as distinctly inferior compared to Clinton and Gore (and Cheney as well), or he refuses to go and Americans get to wonder why the man running the government is afraid to testify.

Bill, Al, answer those requests with a resounding "Yes", and you'll have done a great deal to help us defeat Bush.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/12/2004 04:53:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A Democratic southern strategy

Publius, "a southern, non-Federalist Society law clerk", has a few thoughts about how the Democrats should approach winning the South. First of all:

The South isn't an alien planet. It's just got a massive two-century old inferiority complex. Until Democrats understand the psychology and adjust for it, they will continue to lose in the South.

He also believes that Democrats (and liberals in general) need to readjust their approach to getting their message across:

Liberals have, for far too long, tried to persuade people by being moral bullies. They have a tendency to argue negatively rather than positively. In other words, they don't explain why their position is better - they argue that the conservative position is worse, or racist, or anti-enviroment, or whatever. Quite simply, there is far too much 1968 in Democratic rhetoric, and far too little 1960. Red Americans (people in states voting for Bush) have been told for 25 years that they are backwards, racist, sexist, fill-in-the blank and Democrats are now reaping the benefits of that rhetoric. Now, a lot of those arguments are true, but liberals have been characteristically stupid in the rhetoric they have adopted to counter these positions.

These different strands of the 1960s have filtered through into the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Take Gore. His meta-theme was the "people versus the powerful." The only way the message could have succeeded was if people were angry and without hope. Americans weren't. They never have been, even to the point of absurdity. Gore argued negatively - he provided no reason to vote Democratic, he only offered reasons not to vote Republican. I think Kerry may be falling into this same trap with his screw-the-HMOs message. Democrats need to return to their roots - to 1960. They need to offer positive reasons for voting Democratic. Modern day "liberalism" is, at its essence, a beautiful message. It's not a word to be ashamed of. Liberalism is about helping people. It's about protecting an environment that we do not own, but for which we act as stewards for future generations. Liberalism rejects the pure Darwinian free market, which cares nothing for the struggles of individuals and which is - at its essence - an atheistic philosophy that only values raw power. Liberalism instead mixes free market principles with government programs to help those who need help. It recognizes that government can act as a force for good to help people. That's why I'm not ashamed to call myself a liberal. Properly understood, it is much more consistent with morality and justice than the atheistic free market.

I think Clinton understood this - as does Edwards.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/12/2004 01:02:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Kerry and "Electability"

About a week ago, in a summary of the results of Mini-Super Tuesday, I wrote about Kerry:

Nevertheless, I continue to have my doubts about his vaunted "electability," for the simple reason that if the Democrats who voted for him today have convinced themselves that Kerry is "electable" and that's why they've voted for him (because they -- and we -- want so desperately to defeat Bush) it's a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. They think he's electable, so they all vote for him, so everyone thinks he's electable. Unfortunately, it's yet to be established that the public at large, as opposed to primary-voting Democrats, concur in this assessment. In short, it could well be something of a mass delusion.

And then, a few days later:

Incidentally, I've referred in another post to the possibility that the meme of Kerry's "electability", which seems, according to media reports, to be the strongest factor inducing people to vote for him, may well be a kind of mass illusion. People think Kerry is electable, so they vote for him, which makes other people think he's electable and so on. Which is all well and good, and would work perfectly for Kerry to get elected if Kerry's electability was any kind of factor in the general election, which it really can't be, by simple logic. (Those for whom the electability of the Democratic candidate is paramount are those who will vote for the Democratic candidate anyway, pretty much whoever it is and in spite of any lack of their "electability", but the election won't be decided by those votes, obviously.)

Now Slate's William Saletan echoes these comments in an article examining Kerry's supposed "electability":

Is Kerry the most electable Democrat?

It's a hard question to answer, because most of the evidence is circular. If people support Kerry because they think he's electable, he goes up in the polls, which makes him look more electable. The best way to filter out this distortion is to focus on the voters least likely to make their decisions in November based on electability. These happen to be the same voters who hold the balance of power in most elections: independents, conservative Democrats, and moderate Republicans. They aren't principally trying to figure out which Democratic candidate can beat Bush, because they don't necessarily want the Democratic nominee to beat Bush. They're trying to decide which Democratic candidate, if any, would be a better president than Bush.

How well has Kerry done among these voters? In absolute terms, well enough. But in relative terms, the numbers show a disconcerting pattern. By and large, the closer you move to the center and center-right of the electorate, where the presidential race will probably be decided, the worse Kerry does. The opposite is true of Edwards.

Saletan follows up with some state-by-state analysis of the exit polls, and it's worth taking a look at what he comes up with.

I don't necessarily think that Kerry is not "electable" (whatever the hell that really means), nor that he might not be the most "electable" of the various candidates available to us. Certainly there's no doubt that John Kerry will garner more votes as the Democratic candidate than would Al Sharpton or Dennis Kucinich, and it seems clearer every day that he'd outpoll Howard Dean as well, but the ground is a lot muddier when we look at Kerry against what Wesley Clark might have been (if he had entered earlier and had a better campaign) or what John Edwards can be (see my comparison of their negative affordances). Kerry might be the most "electable", the best candidate to beat Bush, but his primary wins and the votes he received in them don't necessarily to anything to prove that.

At this point, with Clark withdrawn, I'm hoping that Dean with see reason and also withdraw after Wisconsin, assuming that (as I think will be the case) he will neither win there nor do well enough to jumpstart his campaign. Then I think John Edwards should do his very best to test Kerry, not by going negative against him, but simply by forcing him to run the best possible campaign for as long as possible.

Josh Marshall has written about Kerry's tendency towards complacency, and it took the dramatic insurgency of the Dean campaign to put some spine into all the other Democrats, so the last thing we want is for Kerry to be annointed and then slip back into his old habits. That would result in Kerry sliding into a media black hole where Bush, as current resident of the Oval Office, has the upper hand.

Better that, as I argued a couple of days ago, we keep this thing going for as long as we can, garnering as much media attention as we can (and a tight race will assuredly do that; even one that's not so close will attract good coverage for a while), and keeping the attacks on Bush in as high a profile as possible. Then, when (or "if', in the event that Edwards campaign catches fire) Kerry clearly has things wrapped up, he'll have to resist the temptation to relax, and instead take the general election campaign to Bush immediately. He can start by doing it through proxies, if he's concerned about wearing out his welcome, but we really cannot afford to give Bush even a moment's respite from the pressure. We need to continue to capitalize on his descending numbers.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/12/2004 12:12:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Environmental ratings

Prompted by a comment on Calpundit, I took a quick look at how Kerry and Edwards stack up on environmental issues.

The League of Conservation Voters gives Kerry a lifetime rating of 96%, and Edwards only 76%. (Kucinich was 90%).

The Sierra Club doesn't make things quite so easy, but looking through their "Vote Watch" records, in the past 5 years (since 1999) they marked 44 votes in the Senate as being important for the environment. Of these Kerry has voted for 36 of them, with no votes against, but on 8 he didn't register a vote at all. Edwards, on the other hand, voted for 34 of them, but voted against 5 and had 5 in which he didn't vote. So that's Kerry 36-0-8 and Edwards 35-5-5, which I believe gives the edge to Kerry.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/11/2004 07:36:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Democratic popular vote

Greg Abbott has been tracking the Democratic popular vote. His latest figures (absent a few percentage points in Maine, Virginia and Tennessee) show Kerry at over 42%, Edwards at almost 23%, Clark just below 15% and Dean below 10%.

It's interesting to look at, and helps us to gauge the relative popularity of the candidates, but also perilous in that it might tend to reinforce the idea that the race for President is a national one, an idea which ignores the realities and pitfalls of the Electoral College.

Just a reminder: who got the most popular votes in 2000?

[Via Daily Kos]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/11/2004 05:13:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


More FUD

Cancelled flights, increased terrorist chatter, alert status heightened and then reduced -- almost every day we continue to be bombarded with the possibility that we might be subject once again to a terrorist attack. Given the track record of the Bush White House and the reputation of Karl Rove, in light of the abundant evidence from many sources that much of what the White House does is intended for its calculated political effect and is not in aid of any coherent policy goals, it is tempting, very tempting, to think that at least some of the terrorist warnings and alerts we are constantly subjected to are, if not manufactured out of whole cloth, at least blown up out of proportion to their actual severity in order to utilize their effect on the voting public for Bush's political gain. Every time that Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) can be maximized, the chances are good that some people out there will decide that it's too risky to change horses in midstream, and decide to continue supporting Bush instead of seeking an alternative.

But if Rove is indeed doing this, I think it's a risky strategy, because every time an American is made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe and in great risk of being attacked they are also susceptible to responding "No" when they are asked "Do you feel safer now than you did 2 years ago?"

Think about it: civil liberties eroded, international argeements violated, prisoners taken without being afforded basic human rights, two countries invaded and still occupied, America's military overextended and overtaxed, soldiers dying ever day and still we're told we're in serious danger of being attacked by Islamic fundamentalists. Osama bin Laden supposedly routed and on the run, and Saddam Hussein overthrown, one third of the "axis of evil" destroyed, and yet in practical terms we do not seem to be any safer or more protected from terrorism than we were just after 9/11.

Isn't that something that the Democrats should be pounding on, that Bush took extraordinary steps, swept aside the worlwide web of agreements and interrelationships which has kept the world more or less safe for over 50 years, promulgated a new theory of warfare which allows us to attack at will whomever we wish to, whether or not the evidence is available to support a real and existing threat or not, and yet we are still responding semi-hysterically to terrorist "chatter" and worrying about more civilian deaths on American soil? Isn't that exactly what Bush's actions were supposed to alleviate?

For the time being, until some hard evidence comes out to say otherwise, I'm willing to suspend my quite justifiable suspicions and assume that the warnings and alerts are all legitimate responses of a government bureauracy whose real and serious concern is to protect us. I'll accept that a certain amount of CYA may be going on, so that alerts may be announced which might not actually be justified by the evidence alone, but I can take that as just a manifestation of basic human nature. And if that's the case, than it is dangerous for the Democrats to try to use these warnings for their own partisan purposes. BUT, the moment that there's even a scintilla of a glimmer of a possibility that Bush and Rove are using the alerts to FUD the public into complacency in the election, then the gloves must come off, and the Democrats have to pummel Bush unmercifully on the domestic security issue.

Update: Edited for typos, style and mixed metaphors.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/11/2004 12:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Legal Fiction: Kerry's best choice & Bush in trouble

Legal Fiction's Publius thinks that Kerry's best choice for VP is John Edwards.

[Kerry] needs help exciting voters, and especially the base. Kerry's single biggest problem is that he's boring (or at least seems that way on TV). Can you imagine how dreadfully boring these tickets would sound: Kerry-Gephardt; Kerry-Graham; Kerry-Richardson. Good God. These selections might bag Kerry a state, but at the cost of creating the most boring Democratic ticket in modern American history (with Gore-Lieberman a close second). It doesn't do any good to win Florida and New Mexico if Democrats are too bored to go vote for you in the other states. That's a critical point - picking off individual swing states is only important if you can actually carry the other states.

This is what Edwards brings - excitement. He's young. He's southern. Everyone likes him. He's a great speaker (better than Kerry). He's not a patrician. And he's actually capable of generating excitement (Bob Graham is not). He's the anti-Kerry - he has everything that Kerry lacks. And Kerry has everything that Edwards lacks - experience, national security credibility, and he's a war hero. It seems like a match made in heaven.

Publius provides solid arguments against picking a VP based solely on Electoral College considerations (he feels the effect of the VP on the College are overstated -- the veep doesn't actually insure regional victories), arguments which carry weight because of his own concerns that Democrats are not taking Electoral College considerations seriously enough. (See this previous post.)

Also on Legal Fiction, a site well worth checking in on frequently, Publius speculates that Bush may indeed be in serious trouble because his track record contradicts what people expected of him, and it's the breaking of those expectations that gets people's attention, not necessarily the absolute gravity of any particular action:

Clinton's affair didn't result in impeachment because Americans knew from almost Day One of the Clinton candidacy that he liked to chase women and that he wasn't always truthful. So when the whole Lewinsky debacle broke, it didn't contradict Americans' perception of Clinton (and more specifically, it didn't contradict his strengths). If, however, the economy had bombed during Clinton's presidency, it would have contradicted his strongest perceived virtue - fiscally sound economic policies. Good economics was the raison d'etre of the Clinton presidency, and moral goodness was not.

Now we have Bush. As the Russert interview made painfully clear, our Commander-in-Chief is not exactly a master of the English language. But his gaffes and difficulties with language never hurt him, because Americans have known from Day One of the Bush candidacy that he was not a great speaker. He was not elected for his verbal skills. I would even argue that, absent Iraq, Bush wouldn't have been hurt significantly by the enormous deficits caused by his tax cuts. Everyone knew he was going to try to cut taxes, so the tax-cutting (and its consequences) didn't cause anyone to change their view of Bush.

The real strength of the Bush presidency relies on the perception that he is honest and that he is the best leader to fight terrorism. Iraq has destroyed both perceptions.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/10/2004 11:32:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


My opinion: Clark is out

An excerpt from my post below about the primary results tonight:

10:13 Clark is speaking just now and, while I doubt that he'll announce his withdrawal right now, he's clearly setting himself up for doing so very soon, possibly tomorrow. He's talking about the overriding goal of taking back the White House, he's pumping up the Democratic Party, he's dissing Bush, he's talking nice about Kerry and Edwards, and he's not sounding at all like a partisan pushing himself as the alternative.

10:19 Significantly, Clark spoke numerous times about "leaving Tennessee", but made no mention of going on to Wisconsin. He's out.

Update (11:06): CNN reports that AP says Clark is out.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/10/2004 10:25:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Internal conflict on the right

On Wampum, Dwight Meredith has a very good post which details the slippage in Bush's support from the echo chamber of the Mighty Wurlitzer. Criticism is cited from Andrew Sullivan, Rush Limbaugh, George Will, Paul Weyrich, the American Conservative Union, the Club for Growth, the National Taxpayer's Union, the mob at National Review Online, the Heritage Foundation and Bill O'Reilly. (I don't have citations at hand, but I believe Bush's spending policies have also been sharply criticised by the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute.)

Does any of that punditry matter in the long run? I do not know. If it seeps down to the grass roots and depresses intensity, turnout or votes, it might. I suspect that the Wurlitzer’s criticism of Mr. Bush is only temporary. They will return home by summer.

Nonetheless, as the Daily Howler has relentlessly documented, the mainstream media covers elections by scripting roles for the candidates. Everything is then viewed through the lens of the script. If the Wurlitzer helps to create a script that is unfavorable for Mr. Bush, it will be difficult to shake the role.

Whether or not the Wurlitzer’s criticism of Mr. Bush is permanent or temporary, it sure is fun while it lasts.

It does matter, I think, if only because it means that Bush and Rove have to expend some amount of energy and political capital satisfying their base and suppressing any signs of dissent there. That time and energy is then not being spent attacking the Democrats and attempting to gather in swing voters.

It's interesting that one of the ongoing comments I've been hearing in the coverage of the Demcoratic primaries, and in e-mails in the discussion group I'm a member of, is how united the Democrats are this time around, even despite the fact that the nomination continues to be contested by 4 well-qualified candidates. This is very different from Democratic behavior in the past.

At the same time, the GOP is behaving differently as well, being somewhat more fractious than they normally are.

Hopefully, that combination bodes well for our chances in November.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/10/2004 09:49:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


It was easy to fool the Guard

Richard Cohen in the Washington Post looks at what the records seem to indicate about Bush's National Guard service, and sees himself:

During the Vietnam War, I was what filmmaker Michael Moore would call a "deserter." Along with President Bush and countless other young men, I joined the National Guard, did my six months of active duty (basic training, etc.) and then returned to my home unit, where I eventually dropped from sight. In the end, just like President Bush, I got an honorable discharge. But unlike President Bush, I have just told the truth about my service. He hasn't.

At least I don't think so. Nothing about Bush during that period -- not his drinking, not his partying -- suggests that he was a consistently conscientious member of the Texas or Alabama Air National Guard. As it happens, there are no records to show that Bush reported for duty during the summer and fall of 1972. Nonetheless, Bush insists he was where he was supposed to be -- "Otherwise I wouldn't have been honorably discharged," Bush told Tim Russert. Please, sir, don't make me laugh.

Cohen explains how easy it was to get away with doing nothing while in the Guard, and still get paid for it:

I did my basic and advanced training (combat engineer) and returned to my unit. I was supposed to attend weekly drills and summer camp, but I found them inconvenient. I "moved" to California and then "moved" back to New York, establishing a confusing paper trail that led, really, nowhere. For two years or so, I played a perfectly legal form of hooky. To show you what a mess the Guard was at the time, I even got paid for all the meetings I missed.

In the end, I wound up in the Army Reserve. I was assigned to units for which I had no training -- tank repairman, for instance. In some units, we sat around with nothing to do and in one we took turns delivering antiwar lectures. The National Guard and the Reserves were something of a joke. Everyone knew it. Books have been written about it. Maybe things changed dramatically by 1972, two years after I got my discharge, but I kind of doubt it.

Bush seems to have ended up in the Air Reserves after some of the same sort of behavior. The White House is about to release some "newly found" pay records, but, if Cohen is right, these won't prvoe anything, because the Guard would apparently pay you even when you weren't doing anything. The only thing that has a chance of dispelling the speculation about Bush's service record is the wholesale release of his complete and unexpurgated file, not the selective release of whatever the White House thinks would be useful to have made public. That's what Bush promised on "Meet The Press", but, according to Josh Marshall, it doesn't look like Bush has taken that step, waiving his privacy rights so that reporters' FOIA requests can be filled.

It needs to be reiterated repeatedly that the issue here is not precisely Bush's service, nor is the point to denigrate the National Guard, the point is that Bush was able to do what many other young men at the time could not, shelter himself from fighting in Vietnam, and he was able to do that because of his family connections. The point is also that Bush wrapped himself in the flag as a result of the service he supposedly did, and that is a lie made for political reasons, to promote his political aspirations. Finally, the main point is, as always, not in the deed, but in the coverup of the deed afterwards.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/10/2004 12:58:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ratings and Scorecards

I think it's generally accepted that the ratings of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) of the voting records of Senators and Congressmen is a fairly good indicator of liberalness -- in fact, I'm not sure if the ADA, which used to be a fairly serious organization, does much of anything any more other than issue those ratings -- so it's interesting to see how the Democratic candidates stack up:

Lifetime ADA Voting Ratings
Sen. John Kerry................92
Rep. Dennis Kucinich........86
Sen. John Edwards..........85
Sen. Joseph Lieberman... 78

It's interesting to see that Edwards, generally thought of as significantly more centrist than Kerry (I called him a centrist myself in a recent posting), does not have a rating all that different from Kerry's, and that his is very close to that of Kucinich, generally considered to be very liberal. Not only that, but Lieberman, whom many liberals consider to be so conservative as to be "Bush Lite", lags not too far behind. For purposes of comparison, Zell Miller, who really is a Republican in all but name, had a a rating of 30% in 2002. (I couldn't find a current lifetime rating for him, or a more recent one, for that matter.)

Looking at other liberal organizations which offer ratings (these are all for 2003 and come from Vote Smart):

Friends Committee on National Legislation
Kerry 100 / Edwards 83 / Kucinich 78 / Lieberman 75

National Committee for an Effective Congress
Kerry 100 / Edwards 95 / Lieberman 95 / Kucinich 85

US Public Interest Research Group
Kucinich 100 / Kerry 95 / Edwards 81 / Lieberman 81

On the flip side there are the American Conservative Union's ratings:

ACU Lifetime Voting Ratings
Sen. John Kerry...............5
Sen. John Edwards........12
Rep Dennis Kucinich.......15
Sen. Joseph Lieberman..19

Once more, for comparison, Zell Miller gets a 65.

Here again we see the same pattern. Kerry is the least conservative of the four, but Edwards is not far behind, and here he's actually ahead of the "very liberal" Kucinich. The "Bush Lite" Lieberman is only a few points away from them, and they're all a long way away from Zell Miller.

BTW, and this is indicative of any awful lot that's been said about the weakness of liberal infrastructure compared to that of the right-wing, the ADA website is an absolute mess, a shambles that seems to be about 2 years out of date, while the website for the ACU is well-organized and up to date.

You can see a summary of other scorecards (for environmental issues, labor issues, civil rights issues etc.) here, or use Vote Smart to search for issue-oriented organization ratings.

Update: There is at least one liberal group which rates Kucinich muchhigher than the other candidates, and that's

Public Citizen's Congress Watch
Kucinich 100 / Edwards 45 / Lieberman 36 / Kerry 27

which is, not too surprisingly, just about in inverse order of their length of service in Congress.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/10/2004 08:41:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Why now?

Media Whores Online has a take on why Bush's numbers are falling so precipitously:

Bush Fatigue. It's exhausting for a liberal to fight the Bush regime's policy failures on all fronts, its secrecy, and its retaliation against dissenters. But it's equally exhausting for a conservative to continue defending it, with the knowledge that ultimately they will ending up looking like a faith-based dupe. (It was once much easier before, when there was no accountability because the public and media had been terrorized into a state of unprecedented gullibility and obedience.)

There does seem to be a fair amount of disturbance in the Dark Side of the Force these days!

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/10/2004 05:38:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Book on Bush

Nation columnist and MSNBC blogger Eric Alterman and former New York City Public Advocate Mark Green have a new book out, The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America.

Here are some early review quotes from the book's website.

"The two progressive champions make no effort to hide their dislike of Bush, but the weight of their evidence and their reasonable tone makes it difficult to dismiss them as ideologues. Alterman and Green provide up-to-the-minute information on several issues. From this voluminous record emerges a portrait of Bush as an ideological bully who knows how to 'fake left and drive to the right,' passing himself off as a populist while launching initiatives that benefit only his hardcore supporters."
--Publisher's Weekly

"Molly Ivins, Al Franken, and Michael Moore are mere gadflies compared to Nation columnist Alterman?and New York politico Green, who issue a sweeping, powerful indictment of Bush 43...Carefully researched and plenty passionate: a veritable bible for Bush-Bashers."
--Kirkus Reviews

And this is from

While other liberal-minded books, written by everyone from documentary filmmakers to political strategists to comedians, have been broadly critical of the entire early 21st-century conservative universe, Eric Alterman and Mark J. Green have narrowed their focus to the man living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And unlike some of their contemporaries, they choose to largely eschew the clever metaphors and whimsical storytelling to get right at their pointed criticisms of George W. Bush, whom they accuse of being less than honest with the American people while serving the interests of large corporations, the religious right, and neoconservative ideologues. Such charges, by themselves, are so commonplace by this point as to be unremarkable but Alterman and Green provide voluminous, detailed research and come at the case with the vigor of prosecuting attorneys certain of a defendant's guilt or maybe a pair of exceptionally ambitious graduate students ready to present a final dissertation. They contrast sections of Bush's public statements, especially campaign rhetoric, that seem to strike a centrist, conciliatory tone with evidence of his actions that veer hard right and contradict the very things he had said. Some of Bush's words come off more as simple talking points on complex issues than outright deception, and the authors do stop short of calling Bush a liar, but even in these situations, the president still comes off as either out of touch or disingenuous. And though some of their supporting material comes from opinion pieces in publications like the New Republic, serving more to echo the authors' perspective than document it, there's plenty more from objective sources and raw factual data. Liberals will find plenty in The Book on Bush to arm them in arguments against conservatives and they'll have the evidence to make their case. --John Moe

[link via Roger Ailes]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/10/2004 05:17:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Edwards' trial attorney problem

A friend of mine, a trial attorney, wrote to say that she was concerned about Edwards as a candidate, given the low opinion that many people hold of trial attorneys. Here's my reply (with a couple of corrections and emendations):

A good point, given that trial attorneys are way up there on the list of people who are mistrusted, however, I don't think that's going to make as much of a difference as you might think, despite that the GOP will pound on the issue.

Once again, it's a question of perception, in my opinion. When people say they don't trust trial attorneys, I think they have a mental picture of the kind of person they mean, and I imagine it looks something like this: a man, middle-aged, paunchy, and balding who's tricky and shifty, a faster talker who looks a bit different from normal folks, and constitutionally can't speak straight and direct like truthful people do.

That may be off the mark, somewhat, but I think it captures the flavor of what people think when they think of a "trial attorney". If I'm right, then John Edwards defies that sterreotypical caricature in almost every respect.

Remember, whatever prejudiced people have about trial attorneys, every jury that Edwards has approached had those prejudices as well, and he was able to get past that and win often enough and big enough to be a big success at what he does. That he's not what people expected to see must have played some part in that, and I think it will to some degree innoculate him against the attacks by Rove based on his chosen livelihood.

Let's compare the affordances that Kerry and Edwards provide for Rove to grab hold and twist with:

  • A northeastern liberal

  • Worse, a Massachusetts liberal

  • Rich, from rich parents, married to a very, very rich woman

  • Took money from special interests, possibly in compromising ways

  • Kind of funny looking

  • Comes off as distant and impersonal, patrician

  • His wife is foreign, and a little odd (off-beat, let's say)

  • Almost two decades of Senate votes to cull for attack material

  • Didn't need to make a living, he's that rich


  • From the border south (He's southern, but not too southern)

  • Basically a centrist [Update: Maybe not -- see this]

  • Worked his way up from humble origins

  • Took money from people in his profession, but not in circumstances that are suspect

  • Handsome

  • Comes off as friendly, a regular guy

  • His wife is perky and intelligent, but not overbearing

  • Has less than 1 term in the Senate, so not too much of a record to be attacked with

  • He made his living as a trial attorney

Granted, maybe I'm cooking the books a little, but I think you can see why I worry about Kerry, there are just too many toe- and finger-holds in his entire package that Rove can make use of. Yes, Kerry has his status as a decorated veteran and a war hero, but Edwards is young enough that questions about Vietnam-era military service won't be raised, so that's pretty much a wash (plus, considering the play that the Bush/AWOL story continued to get, I'm not sure how hard they're going to press any military service angle).

At this point, I think that, despite my respect and liking for General Clark, I'd like to see him get out of the race to clear the way for Edwards to make a run at Kerry. Dean, I still think, is a dead duck just waiting for confirmation of his demise, which he will get once he's given Wisconsin his best. I don't think he can take it much further than that. If the other guys drop out as I expect them to, then Edwards has just barely enough time to make his case for Super Tuesday, and we'll all be better off I think, in the long run. Kerry will have a chance to be really tested in a way he hasn't since before Iowa (when he rejiggered his campaign with the help of Ted Kennedy), and we'd see from both Kerry and Edwards if they have the right stuff.

[Thanks to Ves for bringing up the issue.]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/10/2004 03:39:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


T & V

I know I swore off making predictions just a few days ago, but can I dip a toe in again, at least to the extent of guessing that the order of finish in both Tennessee and Virginia will be:

Kerry / Edwards / Clark / Dean

What, you ask, is my basis for this prognostication? Well, I glanced at a Zogby poll, once:

Kerry 47%
Edwards 24%
Clark 11%
Dean 10%

Kerry 45%
Edwards 21%
Clark 19%
Dean 5%

Plus, Political Oddsmaker has:

John Kerry, 8 to 7 (46.7% chance)
John Edwards, 5 to 2 (28.6% chance)
Wesley Clark, 7 to 1 (12.5% chance)
Howard Dean, 15 to 1 (6.3% chance)
Al Sharpton, 30 to 1 (3.2% chance)
Dennis Kucinich, 100 to 1 (1% chance)
All others, 1000 to 1 (less than 1% chance)

John Kerry, 7 to 5 (41.7% chance)
John Edwards, 11 to 4 (26.7% chance)
Wesley Clark, 7 to 2 (22.2% chance)
Howard Dean, 15 to 1 (6.3% chance)
Al Sharpton, 30 to 1 (3.2% chance)
Dennis Kucinich, 200 to 1 (less than 1% chance)
All others, 1000 to 1 (less than 1% chance)

That's enough for me.

Update: ARG's Tennessee poll show things tighter between Kerry and Edwards, but the order of finish remains the same. link via The American Street]

American Research Group
Likely Democratic
primary voters Feb 6

John Kerry 32%
John Edwards 21%
Wesley Clark 20%
Howard Dean 8%
Dennis Kucinich 1%
Al Sharpton 1%
Undecided 17%

Update: On Lean Left, one voter explains why he ended up voting for Edwards in Tennessee. P.S. The blogger, tgirsch, also wrote:

All that said, I could live with either Kerry or Edwards winning the nomination. One salivates at the idea of a three-time Purple Heart recipient (Kerry) debating military and foreign policy with career underachiever Bush. One also salivates at the idea of an Edwards v. Bush debate, given Edwards' obvious rhetorical abilities. Either way, I'm starting to feel better about our chances in 2004, so long as Edwards and Kerry survive, and Clark and Dean drop out soon.

6:15pm Slate has early exit polls, posted at 1:41pm:

Kerry: 44
Edwards: 26
Clark: 18
Dean: 6

Kerry: 54
Edwards: 25
Clark: 9
Dean: 7

Daily Kos reports that a Clark fund raiser scheduled for tomorrow has been cancelled.

8:57 Kerry has Virginia in the bag. With 85% reporting:

Kerry 51% (42 delegates) / Edwards 28% (25 delegates) / Clark 9% / Dean 7% / Sharpton 4% / Kucinich 1%

Obviously, this is a very poor showing for Clark, who really should bow out now, but an extremely poor showing for Dean, even considering that he didn't campaign in the state. For Dean to be so close to the Sharpton Line is embarrassing, and makes it even more imperative for him to win Wisconsin. My feeling is, no matter what his backtracking position is at the moment, if he doesn't take Wisconsin, or have an extremely strong second place finish (in the neighborhood of 30-35%), he's as dead as I pronounced him weeks ago, and he ought to pack it in and let us get down to a Kerry v. Edwards campaign. As long as they can keep it clean, that would be good for the party, and good for the country for the Democrats taking back the White House.

One other note: there's no sign of any kind of "liberal revolt" in Virgina -- both Dean and Kucinich did poorly.

In Tennessee, not only 8% has been counted, but Kerry's the projected winner, and shows at 40%. The interesting part is second place where Clark is current ahead of Edwards 25% to 24%. This may not hold up, but to the extent that winning second place may keep Clark in the race, this could be a bad thing. There's no chance of his winning now, and Clark really should look at what's best for his party and bow out gracefully, preserving his chances to be considered as a possible VP candidate.

Once again Dean and Sharpton are duking it out for 4th.

9:05 With 19% counted in Tennessee, 41 / 25 / 24 with Clark still ahead of Edwards.

BTW Maine still hasn't finished its count, as of 10:32am, it's at 80%.

9:30 Reports on Daily Kos say that Clark is not dropping out, that he's raised "more than $144K since yesterday," and that he told his staffers that he's going on to Wisconson. (There's some question if the cancellation of a fund raiser happened before or after that report, but it was also in Houston and Clark might have decided to spend all his available time in Wisconsin.

In the Tenessee vote tally, Edwards inches ahead of Clark 26% to 24%, but Dean is trouncing Sharpton 4% to 1%.

9:55 At 68%, Edwards pulls away 42 / 26 / 23. Jerome Armstrong notes on Daily Kos, this means that in Tennessee, the "anti-Kerry" vote is larger than what Kerry received, but I don't find that to be persuasive, because it's true in any race where the winner does not receive a majority. There's no guarantee that if Clark wasn't there all of his votes would go to Edwards. Perhaps most of them might, but some would have gone to Dean and some to Kerry as well.

10:04 Except, of course, that Kerry saying that tonight's results show he can do well in the South is not really true. Virginia isn't truly a Southern state, and in Tennessee the opposition vote was split between two Southern candidates. That enabled Kerry to win, but it doesn't really prove his viability in the South.

In Virginia, with 99% in: Kerry 52 (53 delegates) / Edwards 27 (29 delegates) / Clark 9 / Dean 7 / Sharpton 3 / Kucinich 1

In Tennessee, with 83% in: Kerry 41 (15 delegates) / Edwards 26 (11 delegates) / Clark 23 (7 delegates) / Dean 4 / Sharpton 2 / Kucinich 1

10:13 Clark is speaking just now and, while I doubt that he'll announce his withdrawal right now, he's clearly setting himself up for doing so very soon, possibly tomorrow. He's talking about the overriding goal of taking back the White House, he's pumping up the Democratic Party, he's dissing Bush, he's talking nice about Kerry and Edwards, and he's not sounding at all like a partisan pushing himself as the alternative.

10:19 Significantly, Clark spoke numerous times about "leaving Tennessee", but made no mention of going on to Wisconsin. He's out.

11:06 CNN reports that AP says he's out.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/10/2004 01:22:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, February 09, 2004

Graphing the Bush/AWOL Google News searches [updated 2/13]

I reworked the data I've been collecting from Google News searches for stories about the Bush/AWOL scandal and graphed the results.

  • I extended the searches back to January 12th. (I originally began on January 26th, the day after the New Hampshire debate which featured Peter Jennings' question to Wesley Clark about Michael Moore and his "deserter" charge.)

  • I also fine-tuned the searches a little. The four search expressions I used were:

    1. Bush deserter -AWOL (stories which had "deserter" only, and not "AWOL")

    2. Bush AWOL -deserter ("AWOL" but not "deserter"

    3. Bush +AWOL +deserter (stories which used both terms)

    4. Bush +"service record" -deserter -AWOL (stories which used "service record" but did not have either of the other terms)

    (I also tried searching on "military record" but there were too many stories to begin with, too much noise drowning out the effects I has looking for. There was noise in the other counts as well -- for instance, stories about Paul O'Neill being AWOL in Africa at the time of a stock market crisis -- but not nearly as much.)

  • I recorded the counts of these 4 searches for each date between 1/12 and 2/8, and then totaled each day

  • I then graphed the result, but chose to start the graph at 1/23, when the "deserter" story started to take off.

  • It should be noted that Google News keeps stories current for 1 month, so older stories are slipping away, reducing each count. This will start to be a factor by the middle of this month, when significant number of "deserter" stories start disappearing, and near the end of the month when the pace picks up considerably.

  • Because of this, I also counted and graphed each day's "adds", the number of stories added in each category that day, and the total number of adds for the day. On this graph it isnt quite as easy to see the trajectory of things, but it will stay accurate longer than the "stories" graph.

  • One further note, the numbers I've been posting were all collected around the middle of the day on the date noted (usually between 12n and 5pm, sometimes later in the evening), because that's when I originally thought of doing it, and I continued that practice once I started. On this new data set, since I used Google News' search parameters to limit the days being searched, each day's numbers represent all the stories dated that day. This means that a graph of the numbers I posted previously would look a little different, but the shape of things would be just about the same.

Looking at the graphs, you can see from the "Total" line in the "Stories" graph that at the beginning, the coverage was being driven by the "deserter" charge, but on February 3rd, the "AWOL" story spiked up and has been driving the coverage since. (You can see the spike on the "Adds" graph, and see also that we're in the middle of another, extended spike.)

Once again, those graphs are available here -- the count of stories is on top, and the adds are below. I'll try to keep them updated daily for as long as it seems worthwhile.


2/13 With no strong revelations or accusations to drive it, things slowed down yesterday for the second day in a row, although the trajectory of the curve still continues to be basically upward.

Another note on methodology: for whatever reason, it seems to take a few of days -- 3 or 4 -- for the counts on Google News to calm down and stay put, so I've started checking back 4 days and correcting the data as I go.

2/12 I've fine-tuned the methodology again to avoid the problem of stories "falling off" (i.e. aging and no longer being in the Google News catalog). Now, instead of counting all the stories each day and subtract one day's totals from the last day's total, I'm counting each day's adds directly and then adding those numbers to get the totals. I've gone back and refined the numbers using this new method, and the new graphs are, once again, available at this address, with the count of stories on top and the number of adds on the bottom.

2/11 An extraordinary day yesterday, with a huge number of "AWOL" adds (476), all due to the White House releasing some of Bush's National Guard pay records. The "AWOL" count line went almost vertical, while "deserter" stays flat (and will start to decline in a couple of days as stories start to age off of the Google News database).

2/10 The big jump up from 2/6 through 2/8 was just what I said, a spike, almost certainly related to Bush's appearance on "Meet the Press" and the AWOL subject coming up. On 2/9, adds returned to normal levels, and the slope of the "Total Stories" line flattened out somewhat, although it's still going up.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/09/2004 11:41:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Maine caucus results: signs of a liberal revolt?

As of 10:15, with 40% reporting:

Kerry 46% / Dean 26% / Kucinich 14% / Edwards 9% / Clark 4% / Sharpton 0%

Kerry strong, almost at 50% once again; Dean good (but he is the other regional candidate); and Kucinich shows some strength as well (not that it will do him any good.)

If "electability" is one of the main reasons that Democrats are voting for Kerry, is it possible that the strong showings for Kucinich these last two days are signs of a small liberal revolt against "electability"? If we surmise that the votes for Dean and Kucinich are primarily coming from liberals, we see 40% of the vote which we might call the "electability be damned" vote against 46% for the leading candidate of electability. In Washington "electability be damned" polls 38% against Kerry's 49%.

It's still not close, especially if we take the votes for Edwards to also be a vote for an "electable" candidate, but I do wonder if some sizable portion of the left-wing of the party isn't balking at being asked to put aside ideology in favor of practicality and the greater good.

Update (2/10): Almost a day and a half after the Maine caucuses, and CNN is still only showing 80% reported -- they must count pretty slowly down Maine. Results for the moment are pretty much the same as before: Kerry 45% / Dean 26% / Kucinich 16% / Edwards 8% / Clark 4% / Sharpton 0%. Despite the uncounted vote, Maine's 24 delegates have already been awarded, 15 for Kerry and 9 for Dean. That brings the current count of delegates to:

Kerry 432 / Dean 181 / Edwards 117 / Clark 84 / Sharpton 12 / Kucinich 2

Kerry has passed the 1/5 point, and the gap between Edwards and Dean continues to widen in Dean's favor.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2004 10:48:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Does "legs" have legs?

One unforeseen side effect of the current interest in whether the Bush AWOL story will remain in the public eye long enough to have an effect of public opinion, is that it may remove the scare quotes from "legs," the Variety slang expression for "stamina at the box office". I've now read it in numerous articles and (I believe) heard in on CNN, which means there's a good chance it will pass into more general usage.

A brief secondary investigation shows no articles on Google News for "Bush AWOL 'has legs'" -- however a search on plain old "has legs" turns up 256 stories cataloged. Some of the various memes and things (interesting name for a bookstore)which may (or may not) have legs are:

  • the economic recovery

  • Janet Jackson's revealed breast

  • the Dean campaign

  • "Sex and the City"

  • "Lost in Translation"

  • the Ariel Sharon corruption scandal

  • the low-carb trend

  • charges that CBS colluded with Michael Jackson

So it would appear that "legs" does indeed have legs.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2004 12:35:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Rethinking satirical redistricting

About 3 weeks ago, I blogged about a satirical piece from The American Street about the GOP "redistricting" the country:

In a massive "redistricting" of the country, the Republican-controlled Congress has redrawn the boundaries of the states to favor Republicans.

"There's nothing wrong with it," said Rep. Tom Delay, mastermind of the scheme. "If Democrats were in power, this is what they'd be doing."

The boundaries of New York State now include only the relatively conservative upstate area and Staten Island, which is solidly Republican. Democratic New York City is now part of Rhode Island, which will have four electoral votes in November.

Florida now constitutes only those counties that solidly voted for Bush in 2000 and most of Louisiana, to form "Louisiorida," a "Super State" with, according to Delay, "a zillion" electoral votes.

It occurs to me, though, that while shifting NYC to Rhode Island and giving conservative upstate NY control of that state's electoral votes would be a good move for the Republicans, combining Bush-solid counties of Florida with Louisiana would not be.

The gimmick underlying the Electoral College is that because the number of electoral votes each state gets is determined by the number of representatives it has in the House (which number depends on population) plus the number of Senators it has (2), small states are over-represented in the College in relation to their population. What this means is that the GOP shouldn't try redistricting by consolidating states, or parts of states, it should be creating new states and enjoying the additional 2 Senators and 2 electoral votes they represent.

So, instead of carving out the Bush counties of Florida and combining them with Louisiana, it should make those counties into a brand new state, perhaps to be called Jebida. But the best thing they could do would be to break Texas up into two states (presumably East Texas and West Texas, but I'm not familiar enough with Texas politics and culture to know where the dividing line should be or what criteria would be the basis for the split). By doing so, they would retain the same number of Representatives, more or less 1 or 2 (since they are determined by population, and the population of the two states combined would be the same as the old state, give or take some rounding error), but gain two Senators and two Electoral Votes.

With that kind of edge, their hold on the Senate would be assured for years.

Now, the Democrats could try the same thing, splitting California up into two states, North and South, but, even given the recent demographic changes there, they probably wouldn't control South California the way they control the combined state now. Besides, I believe it takes an Act of Congress to add a new state to the Union, and the current Congress isn't likely to approve of anything the Democrats come up with along those lines.

So, in the future, if you hear any talk about dividing up Texas or Florida, you'll know the context behind it -- get another Republican power grab. (The Republican Party -- slogan: "Allergic to democracy, and proud of it.")

P.S. If the GOP combined NYC with Rhode Island, I believe the combined entity would have a lot more than 4 Electoral votes, since NYC has about half of NY State's population.

Who thought this Electoral College thing was a good idea anyway? Apparently, like many ass-backwards institutions, it was part of a compromise necessary to get enough states to approve the Constitution:

One common misconception about the Electoral College is that it was a clever scheme that the Framers' considered at length and that they unanimously agreed upon. In fact, the Electoral College was part of a last-minute compromise (the Connecticut Compromise) that many Framers opposed.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2004 11:41:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Handicapping the election

Ron Faucheux, the editor-in-chief of Campaigns & Elections magazine claims a 98% accuracy rating for their Political Oddsmaker feature.

Since 1995, The Political Oddsmaker has called a total of 2,178 races, of which 2,135 (98.03%) were called accurately.

Currently, they show the odds of Bush being re-elected at 56.3% (down from 57.1% on January 25th).

On the Democratic side they show the following odds for winning the Democratic nomination:

John Kerry, 4 to 5 (55.6% chance; upgraded from 47.4% chance Feb. 7; upgraded from 45.5% chance Feb. 5; upgraded from 41.2% Feb. 3; upgraded from 35.7% chance Feb. 2).

John Edwards, 9 to 2 (18.2% chance).

Howard Dean, 7 to 1 (12.5% chance; downgraded from 16.7% chance Feb. 5; downgraded from 22.2% chance Feb. 3)

Wesley Clark, 9 to 1 (10% chance; downgraded from 11.1% chance Feb. 7).

The 98% figure is impressive, and I recall using their numbers to make some pretty accurate predictions in 2000, but it's hard for me to understand how, exactly, they can put such precise odds on Bush being re-elected when they aren't certain who Bush will run against. Similarly, their handicapping for Democratic Vice Presidential nominees seems a bit inane when the choice will largely be determined by who the Democratic candidate is.

In any case, their "Top Tier" candidates for Dem Veep are:

Sen. John Edwards (NC), 4 to 1 (20% chance)
Gov. Bill Richardson (NM), 9 to 2 (18.2% chance)
Gov. Ed Rendell (PA), 9 to 1 (10% chance)
Gen. Wesley Clark, 9 to 1 (10% chance)
Sen. Bob Graham (FL), 10 to 1 (9.1% chance)
Sen. Evan Bayh (IN), 12 to 1 (7.7% chance)
Sen. Bill Nelson (FL), 15 to 1 (6.3% chance)
U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt (MO), 20 to 1 (4.8% chance)

BTW, you'll find a link for Political Oddsmaker in the right-hand column, in the more links section, in the cluster with other politics-oriented sites.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2004 06:14:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Let's not wrap up this nomination too quickly, please

Kenneth Baer, writing in The Gadflyer's Campaign Dispatches, on why a longer process helps the Democrats:

[Y]ou can't put a dollar figure on the free media that this race is giving the Democratic Party nationwide and in key states. It is not a coincidence that Bush's lowest re-elect numbers are coming now with four candidates crisscrossing the country and filling the airwaves with anti-Bush arguments.

This is true, but on the other hand, given the reduced attention that the media is giving to Dean and Clark right now, having effectively written both of them off (keeping just enough attention on them in case they happen to come back again), I think there is also value in reducing the field to two men, Kerry and Edwards, and letting them continue to criss-cross the country, getting formidable media attention in the process. (If Edwards manages to surge ahead and really make it a race, the amount of coverage the Democrats will receive will be very good for spreading the word about Bush.)

As long as they can keep the inevitable attacks on each other within some reasonable limits, and focus on the really relevant issues, like what's wrong with this country, how Bush got us there, and what each of them can do to fix it, those things will get reported no matter how much the media focuses on the horse-race aspect of it.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2004 04:08:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Some polls we really should be seeing

The polls which show John Kerry running neck-and-neck with George Bush, or even ahead of him, are all very good and encouraging, but they really are pretty irrelevant. Not just because there's a long way to go before the election, and Bush and Rove haven't even started spending the $100 million dollars or more they've got in their warchest (nor have they focused their attention exclusively on Kerry yet, which they will if he eventually claims the Democratic nomination or even before if it's clear he'll be the candidate), but also because although those polls might or might not accurately predict the national popular vote in 2004, we don't actually elect a President in this country on that basis at all, as we were reminded all too sadly in 2000, when Gore won the popular vote.

What would be much more interesting to see, and I wonder if anyone has done this yet, is how Kerry or the other Democratic candidates stack up against Bush in the 10 or so "battleground states" in which the outcome of the Electoral College vote will probably be determined? If we had the results of those polls, we might actually know something about Kerry's chances which it would be useful to know.

Incidentally, I've referred in another post to the possibility that the meme of Kerry's "electability", which seems, according to media reports, to be the strongest factor inducing people to vote for him, may well be a kind of mass illusion. People think Kerry is electable, so they vote for him, which makes other people think he's electable and so on. Which is all well and good, and would work perfectly for Kerry to get elected if Kerry's electability was any kind of factor in the general election, which it really can't be, by simple logic. (Those for whom the electability of the Democratic candidate is paramount are those who will vote for the Democratic candidate anyway, pretty much whoever it is and in spite of any lack of their "electability", but the election won't be decided by those votes, obviously.)

In a post I'd previous overlooked, Publius does some interesting analysis related to my "mass illusion" theory, involving the concept of "information cascades." It's worth a look.

Update: David Lubin and Thomas Schaller make the case for Edwards' strength's as a candidate (or as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate) in a piece on The American Prospect website, employing an argument base primarily on the Electoral College race:

Southern Democrats possess many political assets that appeal to moderate white voters in swing states. People often forget that Bill Clinton would still have won the presidency in both 1992 and 1996 without a single southern electoral vote. But Clinton couldn't have won absent the skills he gained as an Arkansas politician.

The South is more conservative than the rest of the nation, especially on divisive social and racial questions. Successful southern Democrats are unusually savvy at first winning primaries dominated by African American and white liberal voters, then turning around a few months later and winning election among the more conservative electorate in November. In short, they know how to appeal to African Americans -- and, increasingly, Hispanics as well -- without alienating whites. Typically, southern Democrats inoculate themselves against claims that they are too liberal by favoring the death penalty, identifying with gun owners, or both.

As important as the positions that southern Democrats espouse are the language and rhetoric they use to espouse them. They are far more comfortable invoking values like faith and patriotism than coastal or northeastern Democrats are. Even if their abortion-rights positions differ little from their nonsouthern counterparts, southern Dems deftly lament the frequency of abortion along with the rise in sexual promiscuity.

In short, the positioning and rhetorical skills that seem to come naturally to southern Democratic politicians make them electable in downballot races in a conservative region that is increasingly hostile to the Democratic Party.

But that doesn't mean those skills are most effectively or efficiently applied to the task of winning electoral college votes in the South. Instead, what Edwards would bring to the presidential ticket is needed help in Rust Belt and border swing states, including Democratic "nail-down" states like Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, and potential "pick-up" states like West Virginia, Ohio, and Missouri.

In short, Edwards is valuable because he can get votes in the "battleground states" which will most likely decide the outcome of the 2004 election.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2004 03:24:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Voice of Osama

I've argued in the past that the tapes which have been released which purport to be by Osama bin Laden are suspicious simply on the grounds that they are audio tapes, which are more easily counterfeited, and not video tapes, which are as easy to make these days as audio tapes, but much harder to fake. After all, a video tape of Osama preaching to his followers would have much more impact when broadcast on al Jazeera and other Arab-language channels than a tinny audio tape does.

From this one fact I have drawn the conclusion, which I still believe to be true, that Osama bin Laden is most probably dead.

That conclusion is shared by Richard A. Muller, a UC Berkeley physics professor and 1982 McArthur Fellow. Writing in a column in MIT Technology Review, he asks "[W]hy were [the tapes] audio and not video?":

The voice sounds right, but video would have been more convincing. Video recorders are cheap and small. Osama could put all doubt to rest by releasing a film of him holding up a recent newspaper of Saddam's capture. Prior to Tora Bora, videos of him were the norm. What happened?

I can find only two plausible explanations. One is that Osama bin Laden is severely ill or wounded, and does not want the world to know it. The other is that he is dead, and the audio tape is faked. But how could the counterfeiter do a good enough job to fool experts?


[S]houldn't voice recognition software work reliably to identify Osama, or to reject an imitator? Unfortunately, the Al Jazeera tapes are not high quality -- probably no better than telephone sound. That's good enough to detect some kinds of deception, but not all. Here are three possibilities:

1. The tape was made by an impressionist trying to imitate bin Laden's voice. Good impressionists can mimic the tone and pacing of their subject, but they often overemphasize obvious quirks, much as a caricaturist exaggerates dominant physical features. That makes it amusing to hear, but it won't fool an analyst. Impressionists are not good at catching the more subtle features that even simple voice recognition software uses. This kind of counterfeit can almost certainly be ruled out.

2. The tape was made by cutting and pasting true excerpts from bin Laden's past speeches. Much of the tape could be unchanged from a prior recording. The tough part for the counterfeiter was adding mention of Saddam's capture [to the most recent tape, released on January 4th], where words and phrases had to be rearranged. To detect such a forgery, a good analyst would listen for discontinuities in the background noise, or small blips indicating the tape was spliced. Digital processing by the tape maker can remove such artifacts, but they leave behind their own; low-pass filters, for example, create easily detected changes in the spectrum of the background hiss. (That's why true audiophiles dislike noise suppression filters. It is readily noticed by a trained ear.) Such cutting and pasting, even with digital filtering, would have been detected by the CIA. Digital processing can be detected in other ways; for example, it sometimes generates false frequencies (called aliases). Such tampering would have raised suspicions. Therefore this scenario can probably be ruled out as well.

3. The tape was a recording of one of Osama bin Laden's sons, who was deliberately trying to sound like his father. This is, in my mind, the most likely hypothesis.

Saad bin Osama bin Laden is the third of Osama's 23 to 50 children; he is known to be in his early twenties. He has been active in al Qaeda since his pre-teen years, and was probably being groomed for eventual leadership. He is reported to be fluent in English and the use of computers. The Washington Post reported that Saad was a key organizer of the May 12, 2003, al Qaeda bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. There have been reports that he is hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; others say that he is in Iran close to the Afghanistan border, in a region not controlled by the Iranian government. The Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat says that Saad is now one of the principal leaders of al Qaeda, but I'm skeptical of that. Al Qaeda is too sophisticated to let such a young and inexperienced person take over. But he likely has an extremely useful talent: sounding like his dad.

I like to consider myself an expert in the voices of my wife and my two daughters. I notice them even in a crowded and noisy room. When one of them telephones me, I instantly recognize her -- but often incorrectly. The one I name is the one I expect, not the one who called. (They find this very amusing.) I don't know if the similarity of their voices is genetic or learned, but I know that others have similar problems. Parents and children tend to sound alike, and that effect is exaggerated when bandwidth is poor, such as in a telephone call or on a cassette recording. In fact, commercial speech recognition software that is "trained" to respond to a particular person's voice often will have a hard time distinguishing the voice of a family member. The more sophisticated systems that intelligence agencies presumably use may of course be less prone to such confusion -- but I suspect that this vulnerability to child and sibling spoofing remains. And I doubt that the U.S. government has a recording of Saad to use for comparison.

[via Follow Me Here]

Muller's conclusion is surprising, at least to me, but a very interesting one. If he's right, than obviously the people putting out the tapes can continue to produce and release them indefintely, but I wonder how long tapes of "Osama" can be accepted as authentic by his followers without their actually seeing the real thing? Surely there must be some point when they begin to get suspicious that they aren't being presented with any kind of picture of their leader? That time may be delayed by their desire to believe in Osama's continued existence, but I don't believe it can be held off forever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2004 02:44:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Kicking the habit

No predictions about Maine, not of any kind. After looking foolish twice, I'm swearing off guessing.

(At least for the time being.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2004 01:37:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The eyes have it: the problem of Clark's "creepiness"

To address a moment the sense of "creepiness" that some people see in Wesley Clark (Mickey Kaus, for one -- no, I won't link to him -- but also some folks in my e-mail discussion group expressed the feeling as well), I've just watched him give a speech on C-SPAN, and I think it has to be said that the oddness of his visual aspect is pretty much all in his eyes (although there's also the problem of the almost feminie delicateness of his face seen from certain angles.)

First off is the well known fact that he blinks a lot less often than most people -- 2 to 4 times a minute as opposed to an average blink rate of 15 to 20 times a minute. That's really a significant difference, and quite noticeable, but it's compounded by the fact that Clark's eyes seem to be much more open than those of most men. (I say men, because women tend to do things to their eyes with makeup that make then appear to be more open -- and it would interesting to know the evolutionary psychology behind that widespread behavior, but I don't have it at hand -- which makes it difficult to compare the visual aspects of the eyes across genders.)

C-SPAN followed Clark with a speech by Edwards, and the contrast was striking. When Edwards' eyes were normally open all the way, they seemed to take up at most 3/4 of the total opening, the rest being the eyelid, and he blinked at what appeared to be a normal rate. Occasionally, when making a point, Edwards would open his eyes even wider than normal as if to emphasize what he was saying. Clark's eyes, on the other hand, take up what appears to be almost 100% of the eye opening and his eyelid almost disappears. The space above his eye to the eyebrow is also quite small, and his eyebrows appear fairly bushy, and the total combination of these physical characteristics is that his irises appear to be really quite huge. (Maybe they are huge, I don't know how much variation there is in the size of human irises). He almost appears like something out of a painting by Keane, but without the kitschy, sappy emotionality.

Aside from blinking very rarely and his eyes appearing to be very large, he also didn't make use of his eyes in concert with what he was saying. One could say that his eye-expression vocabulary was extremely limited compared to Edwards', and, indeed, compared to most people. What Clark does well is forceful and direct eye contact, and this may have been good for him if he has had to address large groups of soldiers without benefit of television screens to show close ups. The wide-open eyes can be easily read from a distance, and they have no trouble expressing fortitude, strongness and determination, all good qualities in a general, but they seem to be less good at expressing other things, like empathy, tenderness and so on.

Which is not to say that Clark doesn't feel these emotions, or that he's a hard man, I don't have any reason to believe that's the case at all, but it does seem to me that, as regards his face, at least, his visual aspect is somewhat less than perfect for a politician's.

P.S. C-SPAN followed Edwards with Bush making a speech somewhere, and he did all sorts of things with his eyes before I turned him off to watch... well, anything else, really, even self-indulgent crappy made-for-$2 monologues on public access are better to watch than Bush ... so he did all these things to express his empathy, his caring, his forcefulness, his sense of humor, and I didn't believe a single one of them, because the eyes behind the symphony of facial expressions are dead and hard and lifeless. Molly Ivins may say it's hard to dislike this guy if you're in the same room with him, but I think if you keep your focus on his eyes, it would be a lot harder to make yourself like him.

Update: It should go without saying, but here it is, that I don't think anything about Clark's visual aspect should disqualify him from being President, but it is a harsh fact that how people respond to a candidate's physicality can be an important factor in who wins elections.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2004 01:12:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

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original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


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but credit all you take.

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