Man Without Qualities

Saturday, January 17, 2004

More On Those Iowa Polls And Caucuses

What, exactly, do polls try to estimate? "Raw vote."

What, exactly, do the Iowa caucuses determine? "Delegates."

Consider how the Iowa caucuses go from "raw vote" to "delegates," and then thank God that you aren't living in Iowa (unless you are):

You meet in a room with all the other registered Democrats in your precinct who decide to show up. ... Then the caucus chair asks everybody to express their preferences among the presidential candidates. She tells the Howard Dean people to stand in this corner, the Dick Gephardt people in that corner, the John Kerry people in the other corner, etc. There's also a corner for "uncommitted." ... The chair counts how many people are in each group. That's the raw vote. ...

The party has a "viability" rule: If [a] group doesn't add up to a sufficient percentage of the total vote in the room - at least 15 percent, but it can go higher, depending on various factors - the chair will declare your group nonviable. Now you have to choose which of the viable candidates you prefer as a second choice. ... The chair counts again. That's the realigned vote.

Next the chair translates this vote count into a delegate count. Every viable group gets at least one delegate. The bigger your group, the more delegates you can earn. But there are two catches. First, the number of delegates to be distributed in the room depends on how many Democrats voted in your precinct in the most recent gubernatorial and presidential elections. If you're new in town, and the turnout in your precinct was lousy four years ago, your vote effectively counts less than it would have if you'd moved to a high-turnout precinct. Second, if your group is bigger than another group in the room, that doesn't guarantee you'll get more delegates. Let's say the chair has six delegates to distribute, and there are four viable groups. That leaves two extra delegates, which will probably go to the two biggest groups. If you're in the third-biggest group, and you've got more people than the fourth group does, tough luck. You each get a delegate, and that's that.

The precinct chair phones the county Democratic Party and reports how many county delegates have been awarded to each candidate or to "uncommitted" in your precinct. ...

On caucus night, the Iowa Democratic Party will release the delegate count. Here's when the party will release the raw vote count and the realigned vote count: Never.

There! Wasn't that easy?

So, Mr. Zogby, please tell me how all of those mechanics, weird distorting procedures and inconsistent agendas are included in your polling numbers that you offer to the media every night?

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Friday, January 16, 2004

High Anxiety

Howard Dean tells People Magazine that he has been there.

Link from John Ellis's site.
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Blathering O'Neill

Surprisingly and refreshingly, from Michael Kinsley:

Speaking of blindsided, howzabout that killer quote describing Bush in Cabinet meetings as being "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people"? O'Neill says this is "the only way I can describe it," and I fear that may be the case. It's vivid, and it certainly sounds insulting enough. But what on Earth does it mean? According to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, it means Bush is "disengaged." The Washington Post story began, "President Bush showed little interest in policy discussions in his first two years in the White House, leading Cabinet meetings 'like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people.' …"

I'm sorry, but how is being uninterested in policy like being a blind man in a roomful of deaf people? Are blind people uninterested in policy? Or, more accurately, do blind people become less interested in policy when they find themselves in a room with deaf people? Does a blind man surrounded by deaf people talking policy issues think: "Oh, hell. These folks are going to go on and on and on about the problems of deaf people. Who needs that? I've got problems of my own." Is that O'Neill's point? And even if there is something about a room full of deaf people that makes a blind man disengage from policy issues, what does this have to do with President Bush and his Cabinet?

As described by Paul O'Neill, life inside the Bush administration is like life itself (according to Macbeth): "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." The only solid punch he lands on President Bush is unintentional: What kind of idiot would hire this idiot as secretary of the treasury?

Yes, and that's why this entire O'Neill kerfluffle will mean absolutely nothing in the upcoming election - contrary to the great wishes of Paul Krugman and the like. It's so sad - Herr Doktorprofessor showed so many cards and embarrassed himself so thoroughly, all for nothing. Mr. Kinsley's view of this book rather strongly suggests that he would view Herr Doktorprofessor's take as totally wrong and motivated by partisan looniness. Of course, many of Herr Doktorprofessor's critics have believed that for a long time. But Mr. Kinsley has solidly liberal credentials. The point is that the credentials of the critics just keep getting better.

I particularly like Mr. Kinsley's comment "It's vivid, and it certainly sounds insulting enough. But what on Earth does it mean?" That's the kind of thing currency and securities traders said to each other about God-knows-how-many O'Neill utterances during his tenure. The markets roiled, billions of dollars moved violently and were wasted. Often, as in the Brazilian crisis, some of the most desparate people in the world were placed in greater pain.

And the Treasury Secretary said: "What are people so upset about?"
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Clark And Congress

Wesley Clark seems to have a face, character and set of fundamental principles for every occassion.

The Wall Street Journal points out:

[W]e now know that less than 18 months ago, as Congress weighed whether to authorize war against Saddam Hussein, Mr. Clark all but declared himself part of the "neocon cabal" as he offered a litany of reasons for action while testifying on Capitol Hill.

"There's no question Saddam Hussein is a threat," Mr. Clark told the House Armed Services Committee on September 26, 2002. "Every President has deployed forces as necessary to take action. He's done so without multilateral support if necessary."

It gets better. Mr. Clark also cites approvingly the Darth Vader of the vast Iraq War conspiracy: "I want to underscore that I think the United States should not categorize this action as pre-emptive. ... As Richard Perle has so eloquently pointed out, this is a problem that's longstanding. It's been a decade in the making. It needs to be dealt with and the clock is ticking on this."

On the nature of Saddam's threat: "He has chemical and biological weapons. ... He is, as far as we know, actively pursuing nuclear capabilities. ... I think there's no question that, even though we may not have the evidence as Richard [Perle] says, that there have been such contacts [between Iraq and al Qaeda]. It's normal. It's natural. These are a lot of bad actors in the same region together. They are going to bump into each other. They are going to exchange information. They're going to feel each other out and see whether there are opportunities to cooperate."

But the Minuteman says "watch out."

Kausfiles impressively puts an awful lot of it all together. Is it all that the RNC says it is? No. But it's still really, really bad for Clark.
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When President George H. W. Bush was not re-elected many people commented that his support and his campaign seemed oddly drained and enervated - and therefore feckless. A good deal of that enervation was, in my opinion, attributable to a particularly self-destructive political habit George H. W. Bush had cultivated: Staking out defensible but controversial positions (such as his "no new taxes" pledge and his veto of a particularly ill conceived civil rights bill), only to reverse course for completely unconvincing reasons that could only be considered pretexts. George H. W. Bush signed both that tax rise and the civil rights act he had denounced - the former "justified" by specious arguments that government financial needs were more pressing than had been known when the dramatic "no new taxes" pledge had been uttered, and the latter "justified" by small changes from the vetoed version. There were other examples.

It is a commonplace that all politics is local. And it is true. The purveyors of that commonplace generally have local political activities in mind. Of the nature of school boards and political clubs. But politics does not stop there. Indeed, all politics germinates around the family dinner table, in one-on-one cocktail party conversation, in steam rooms and racketball courts, during shared jogs, shopping trips and other venues where two or three are gathered - even out of pillow talk (the last appears to be especially true with people who swear they absolutely never discuss politics in an erotic environment).

All politics is ultimately intimate.

A consequence of the ultimate intimacy of politics is that those who defended George H. W. Bush's defensible but controversial policies ultimately found that because they had defended those policies they themselves were personally and intimately embarrassed. Embarrassed at the family dinner table. Hung out to dry at the next cocktail party. Exposed in the banya, on the courts and shopping trips.

Every administration has to reverse course from time to time. But that kind of thing happened far too often and with respect to policies far too profound with George H. W. Bush.

And that led to a lot of enervation. That enervation came not just from the Administration's reversal, but from first causing supporters to personally support policies in dramatic terms, only to reverse those policies in circumstances that strongly suggested that the Administration had never cared about them other than opportunistically. SUCKER.

I mention all that because there are now reports that Bush administration officials are leaning toward reversing a ban on bidding by French, German and Russian companies for U.S.-financed contracts in postwar Iraq.

Now, the Man Without Qualities has from the beginning believed that the reconstruction contract ban was but one component of the larger Administration-Baker strategy for Iraq debt relief - and has probably been presented as such to the more sophisticated representatives of Iraq's creditor nations. So it makes sense to me that the contract ban would give if the Europeans give enough ground in debt relief or other Iraq-related matters.

But that case has not been made explicitly. And in the mean time a lot of George W. Bush supporters have defended his defensible but controversial policy of barring obstructionist nations from reconstruction contracts on the basis of some fairly personal, tough, emotional and intuitionistic principles such as: Those who didn't help with the invasion while Americans risked and lost their lives shouldn't now prosper from the reconstruction expenditures by the US taxpayers.

So far the explanation for the shift has been wanting: A senior official said the White House has always said the contracting policy could change as circumstances change, and the countries are being given credit for their pledges to postwar Iraq.

Those "pledges" presumably include both funding and debt-relief contributions. Debt relief negotiations are only under way - and public reports do not yet clearly indicate that France and the others have given freely and generously to the Iraq effort.

But the President's supporters have ... often in intimate circumstances.

James Baker is superbly competent, but we all have our limitations. It is worth keeping in mind that he was a key player in the Bush administration that didn't get re-elected.
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Another Reason Why Hillary Probably Won't Run No Matter How Wild Iowa Becomes...

... or even accept a draft.

She likes to know in advance that she can win:

U.S. consumer sentiment enjoyed its biggest one-month jump in more than 11 years in early January, signaling that the economy was likely at a turning point that would lead to better hiring.

The University of Michigan's preliminary reading of consumer sentiment rose to 103.2, the highest since November 2000, before the recession hit three years ago and the economy suffered through a sluggish rebound.

January's reading, up more than 10 points from December's 92.6 level, was the biggest one-month increase since late 1992 and easily surpassed economists' forecasts for a rise to 94.0.

"It's a sign, if anything, that perhaps the labor market improved dramatically in the first couple of weeks of January versus December," said Ian Morris, chief economist at HSBC Securities USA in New York.

The confidence data helped ease worries that the labor market's slow recovery might undermine consumer spending, which makes up two-thirds of economic activity in the United States.

Yes, things may have picked up in January. But the soft December numbers might just be out-and-out wrong. December is a tough month to measure employment data.

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Thursday, January 15, 2004

Iowa Turmoil

Iowa is in turmoil. Well, not Iowa exactly, but the media coverage of Democratic caucus campaigning there. We are told that the race is now a statistical dead heat among Kerry (21.6%), Dean and Gephardt (both at 20.9%) and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (17.1%).

Maybe it's actually true. But before reading too much into these Iowa tea leaves (alfalfa leaves?), it's worth noting that the turmoil centers on just one rather problematic axis: John Zogby and his polls. The poll results are Zogby Poll results. And John Zogby personally has been using his Iowa polling to garner a lot of media coverage for himself and his business. it is John Zogby who obligingly tells the news-hungry Reuters reporter John Whitesides: "We might see these candidates exchanging leads all the way to the end." No doubt that news just made Mr. Whitesides' day.

Now John Zogby is a respectable, serious pollster. He attracted considerable attention with his apparent ability to detect that sentiment moved in favor of Al Gore in the waning days of the 2000 presidential election. But there are also some other rather pertinent aspects of his modus operandi that bear keeping in mind in connection with current Iowa kerfluffle:

First, Zogby is putting very little of his credibility on the line in Iowa. These poll results have unusually high margins of error - 4.5%. That means that even accepting the premises of the current poll Howard Dean could be attracting as much as 25.4% of likely caucus attendees, with John Edwards (for example) at 12.6%. That doesn't look so much like a dead heat, and wouldn't get the coverage. But if it happened, Mr. Zogby would have a nice way out.

Worse, according to the Reuters article posted on the Zogby website, the Zogby polls include respondents who say they are likely to attend the caucuses. In evaluating who is a "likely voter" in a general election, many pollsters do not just rely on the respondents' self characterization. They also evaluate factors such as actual past voting record and the like.

In addition, it's been particularly cold in Iowa. As the Reuters article delicately phrases another issue this raises: Polling in Iowa is complicated by the unique nature of the caucus system, which requires participants to leave their homes on a typically bitter cold night and gather with neighbors for hours before publicly declaring their support for a candidate. Some reports from Iowa suggest that there is greater uncertainty as to who will turn out than is normal even in Iowa.

Although his polls and quotes are receiving a lot of media coverage and may be affecting the course of voting, Mr. Zogby's sound bites tendered to eager media representatives misleadingly fail to acknowledge just how problematic Iowa caucus polling is:

"The polls leading up to the caucuses often do not reflect the outcome of the caucuses," said David Goldford, head of the political science department at Drake University in Des Moines.

In 2000, for example, Vice President Al Gore led former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey by only 4 percentage points in the final polling. In the end, though, Gore crushed Bradley, 63.4 percent to [34.9] percent snuffing out the momentum Bradley was hoping to gain in Iowa by exceeding expectations.

But more importantly as far as Zogby reliability is concerned, the very volatility Zogby is reporting itself gives him cover almost regardless of the actual caucus results. After all, where - as Mr. Zogby has noted - individual candidates can move by more that four or five percentage point in a single day, who can blame a pollster if the final swing yields results seemingly at variance with the polls? Let's see, poll margins of error of 4.5%, with 5% candidate swings in a single day? What's the predictive value of that? Not much. But the media grandstanding potential is huge!

Mr. Zogby seems to have a history of exploiting such weaknesses in polling to his own advantage. One savvy observer recently pointed out to the Man Without Qualities that if you go back and look at Zogby's numbers from 2000 and 2002, you see swings in state and national electorates that are simply beyond belief. Some media professionals politely characterize this as a "quality control" issue. There are others who will tell you that, in a pinch, John Zogby makes up the numbers. I have no evidence of that - but it has been said.

John Zogby does not just take polls - he provides unusually substantial analysis, and shares dollops of that analysis with the media. I am told by some whose views I respect that the quality of his analysis is suspect by many professionals. Oddly, this is partly why he's a media favorite: Mr. Zogby has a history of divining big swings and shifts out of high margin of error data - as he is now doing in Iowa. He gives reporters what they want (news coverage changes XYZ race in dramatic fashion) even if the evidence is a bit thin...shall we say.

I am not saying John Zogby is wrong. But I am saying he's getting quite a lot of media coverage out of polling that offers a lot less than meets the eye.

And all that's without giving consideration to the fact that John Zogby's brother is Dr. James J. Zogby, Democratic activist, former aide to Al Gore, and founder and president of the Arab American Institute, a sometimes controversial Washington, D.C.-based organization which purports to serve portions the Arab American community and which some describe as all but a branch of the Democratic Party. I have no evidence that John is influenced in his polling and analysis by James. But their close relationship does raise questions in a race in which American relations with parts of the Arab world are more than a marginal consideration.

MORE: Kausfiles has lots more, including this cite to Josh Marshall.

STILL MORE: The Man Without Qualities reprises a question on whether the New York Times and at least a good portion of the Democrat-alligned mainstream media generally don't like Dr. Dean and are skewing news coverage to deliberately undercut him. This time my question and confidence is buttressed by observations of the redoubtable Peggy Noonan:

The press has kicked in and is playing a part in the drama. The journalistic establishment has become an anti-Dean mover. Tuesday's New York Times piece on the absent Mrs. Dean, for instance--that was a piece with a sting. They decided to front-page it six days before the caucuses. The morning network news shows and the cable news shows are full of Mr. Dean's gaffes, Mr. Gephardt's rise and Mr. Edwards's potential....

Reading between the lines and listening between the lines, it's hard to avoid the thought that reporters don't really like Mr. Dean. The last time a viable Democrat rose, in 1992, the columnists for the newsmagazines and profile writers for the newspapers loved Bill Clinton with a throbbing love. None of those columns are being written now. They don't love Mr. Dean.

This is not a shock. He seems as unlovable (unless you're a Deaniac) as he is improbable. But I suspect there's something else at work. I wonder if mainstream media aren't trying to save the Democratic Party from Mr. Dean.

If Ms. Noonan is right as she so often is, John Zogby is giving these media exactly what they want to hear. Isn't that generous of him? And they, in turn, are helping to make his predictions come true.

Why it could be a virtual ecosystem!

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Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Mammoths And Mastodons

Two boys, ages 9 and 5, share the abode of the Man Without Qualities, and they have both seen Return of the King.

That means that there have been lots of questions around these parts recently about mammoths, mastodons and elephants. And, frankly, the Man Without Qualities has been hard-put to keep up. Nor is my spouse's knowledge of the proboscideans and their descendants all that it should be.

Fortunately, there is this nifty website that tells all - or at least much. At last the youngsters can be authoritatively advised, for example, that mastodons were trudging about more than 20 million years ago - where mammoths are johnnies-come-latelies at 4 million.

And nobody even knows if all mammoths were woolly - although the Woolly Mammoths were very woolly indeed. And there were also little (6 feet) dwarf mammoths, who fearlessly braved the elements, the sea and oxymoronism!

It's quite a relief.

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Monday, January 12, 2004

The Awful Truth

Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman surely does not savor the irony of his new column - The Awful Truth - being nothing but his parroting charges of Paul O'Neill and endorsing the man himself - a man whose resignation Herr Doktorprofessor only recently described as "long overdue" while preening himself for sensing early that Mr. O'Neill was utterly wrong for the Treasury office. And that is not all. Herr Doktorprofessor kicked Mr. O'Neill as hard as possible at the moment the departing Secretary was most down by repeating this gem:

What's wrong with Mr. O'Neill? He built his business reputation by reversing efforts to transform Alcoa into something more than an aluminum company, instead refocusing on the core business and engaging in ruthless cost-cutting. This is all very well - but overseeing world financial markets is nothing at all like running a large, very old-economy, command- and-control corporation (or, for that matter, working the details of the federal budget).

It wasn't "courage" that Herr Doktorprofessor found wanting in Paul O'Neill - that quality was never mentioned. It was smarts. And talent. And, most of all, Mr. O'Neill just had bad credentials. Herr Doktorprofessor also severely lambasted Mr. O'Neill for having the temerity to differ with Bono (!) on the question of Africa's economic needs. Yes, Bono knew better. Then there was Herr Doktorprofessor's chastisement of Mr. O'Neill for the Treasury Secretary's embarrassing and ignorant failure to understand the nation's currency - as well as the needs of the Brazilian economy and currency. Herr Doktorprofessor also felt it imperative to point out that Mr. O'Neill didn't understand the seriousness and significance of the Enron fiasco - and we all know that Herr Doktorprofessor thinks Enron was more important that 9-11! We were assured that Mr. O'Neill was at best a sucker and apologist for American crony capitalism. He was also disingenuous. And visionless. And insensitive to the poor. He was one of those who refuse to learn from the past, and thereby condemn others to repeat it. And a doubletalking foe of Social Security. A man who had not honored his promise to sell his Alcoa stock until given a "sharp prod" (like one gives cattle) by Salon. Yes, Herr Doktorprofessor assured us that Mr. O'Neill was saying all the wrong things: "I don't know if anyone in the financial markets still takes Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill seriously, but his extravagant statements on behalf of a strong dollar - he recently declared that if he changed his mind on the subject, he would hire Yankee Stadium and a brass band to announce it - are the opposite of helpful." Not content with all that, Herr Doktorprofessor assured us that Mr. O'Neill was also inconsistent. And - just to paint the lily - that Mr. O'Neill "has been a less than enthusiastic team player" - in representing the Administration, which is not exactly desired behavior in a cabinet member.

But not now! Herr Doktorprofessor now assures us that the point is that the credentials of the critics just keep getting better. Who knew that being a disgruntled, discharged employee was a good credential? Thank goodness the Sage of Princeton is here to get the job done. Yes, it seems that Herr Doktorprofessor now thinks that Mr. O'Neill really knew what was going on - and not just at Treasury, but also in matters of national security - see, it all follows from an article published by someone at the* Army War College! [Correction: Krugman does not say that O'Neill attended the College. Krugman cites to a separate College article. The italics phrase before * has been corrected.] Not like that old, clueless, doubletalking, disingenuous O'Neill who was willing to compromise his beliefs, but couldn't even figure out the basics of his own department and somehow was always saying the wrong thing - the thing that was the opposite of helpful - that inhabited all those old columns. No. No. The new Paul O'Neill has "courage" and is at the top of his game! Aware! Smart! Insightful! Incisive! Credentialed! Truthful! Invaluable!

Paul O! We hardly knew ya! Come to papa!

Yes, the "awful truth" comes out in this column. But it's the awful truth about Herr Doktorprofessor's intellectual dishonesty and willingness to mold his public evaluations of others to suit his own agenda. And that's not a truth that is revealed here for the first time.

And on top of all that, Luskin nails him on that irrelevant throw-away line on unemployment at the end of the column - the one that leaves the reader wondering why it's there, buried in several other decoy lines - as being an attempted sneaky little stealth-correction of Herr Doktotptofessor's prior error.



An astute reader points out that the Army War College must be a very odd place indeed. Herr Doktorprofessor has already proved by algebra that an article published by that revered institution is sufficient in matters of national security to second guess and know better than the Secretary of Defense and other high officials actually charged with such matters. [Correction: The italics phrase has been corrected.] Yet Herr Doktorprofessor also believes that attending the Army War College isn't much of a credential for being Secretary of the Army. We know this because former Secretary of the Army Thomas White also attended the Army War College. Yet Herr Doktorprofessor was not impressed when he wrote of Secretary White during his tenure:

[W]hy does this administration, which is waving the flag so hard its arms must hurt, leave the Army ? the Army! ? in the hands of a man who is, at best, a poseur?

At best, a poseur! And Mr. White also attended the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, and graduated in 1974 with a degree in Operations Research! Cuts no ice.


Gollum's got nothing on Paul O'Neill when it comes to having two inconsistent, competing personalities struggle for possession of one's being. Now Mr. O'Neill is telling everyone:

"People are trying to say that I said the president was planning war in Iraq early in the administration. Actually there was a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be a regime change in Iraq."

Gee, I wonder why people are trying to say that kind of thing?

So many exciting questions! Has anyone been checking just how much time Mr. O'Neill spends these days talking to puddles? Or has he been using Mr. Suskind as a puddle-surrogate? Will the new Krugman/O'Neill love affair survive longer than Britney Spears' marriage?

Everybody is just on pins and needles!

And then there's this:

O'Neill told the "Today" show he was guilty of using some "vivid" language during his hundreds of hours of interviews with Suskind for the book. "If I could take it back, I would take it back," he said of the blind man quote.

Asked if he plans to vote for Bush in November's presidential election, O'Neill said he "probably" would. "I don't see anyone who is better prepared or more capable," he told NBC.

STILL MORE UPDATE: And about that Army War College paper.
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Nagourney, The Tenth Candidate

Although the New York Times would choose Howard Dean over George Bush in a heart beat, the Times still doesn't really like Dr. Dean - and Times reporter Nagourney especially doesn't like Dr. Dean. DRUDGE reports that Mr. Nagourney is readying an article for tomorrow that will include assertions such as this one:

"With the rest of the field working in Iowa, Gen. Wesley Clark has taken advantage in New Hampshire to move up in the polls behind Dean, drawing crowds that are beginning to rival Dean's and threatening his once dominant position in the state."

But according to today's New Hampshire Poll, Dr. Dean's lead over Wesley Clark is now 36-19%. That's a gap of seventeen percentage points. Previously Senator Kerry was number two in New Hampshire with pretty much the same gap - which is what caused many people to view him as finished. Now it's Clark's turn. What's the surprise or disappointment? Where was Kerry's support supposed to go?

Is the Times actually trying to change the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary results with this kind of report?

UPDATE: The article appears to be everything DRUDGE said it would be.
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Effortless Bush

Howard Dean seems to ensnarl himself painfully every time he touches religion.

In contrast, this story is a good example of how George Bush's almost effortless and vastly broader religious activities make no problem whatever.
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Hamdi Cert II

Does the Supreme Court's acceptance of an appeal in which a party argues that the Court has no jurisdiction constitute a decision by the Court that it does have jurisdiction?

Of course not. Arguably the most famous and influential decision of the Court was Marbury v. Madison, which held that the Court did not have jurisdiction over that case - and that's only by way of example.

Nevertheless, there seem to be people who insist on reading such significance into the Court's recent decision to hear the Hamdi appeal. These are people apparently confused by the Administration's argument on national security grounds that the federal courts have little if any jurisdiction over that case.

The 4th Circuit (in which the Administration prevailed) did not render its decision on "non-reviewability" or jurisdictional grounds, and certainly didn't hold that it had no jurisdiction to hear the appeal. In fact, the Administration made two arguments in the alternative, one argument based on "non-reviewability" principles and the other on principles of court deference to the political branches. The Administration prevailed in the 4th Cir. on the deference argument - and it is that decision the Administration is defending in the Supreme Court. The 4th Cir held that it didn't need to get into the bigger "non-reviewability" issues at all because they were "premature." Did the 4th Cir. "rebuke" the Administration even though it prevailed? I don't think so.

Here's a link to the 4th Cir. opinion and here's a relevant passage:

The government urges us not only to reverse and remand the June 11 order, but in the alternative to reach further and dismiss the instant petition in its entirety. In its brief before this court, the government asserts that "given the constitutionally limited role of the courts in reviewing military decisions, courts may not second-guess the military's determination that an individual is an enemy combatant and should be detained as such."
The government thus submits that we may not review at all its designation of an American citizen as an enemy combatant -- that its determinations on this score are the first and final word.

Any dismissal of the petition at this point would be as premature as the district court's June 11 order. In dismissing, we ourselves would be summarily embracing a sweeping proposition -- namely that, with no meaningful judicial review, any American citizen alleged to be an enemy combatant could be detained indefinitely without charges or counsel on the government's say-so.

Given the interlocutory nature of this appeal, a remand rather than an outright dismissal is appropriate.

If dismissal is thus not appropriate, deference to the political branches certainly is.

On a related matter: This just in. The Court has declined to review the Administration's secrecy surrounding 9/11 detainees.

This time Stout and others, such as the AP, report that the Court's decision handed the Administration a substantial "victory" - which, of course, is true because it's always a victory to any prevailing party when the higher court declines review. It simply means the prevailing party in the lower court has actually prevailed. That's a "victory."

But it doesn't mean the higher court agrees with the lower court or has an opinion on the substance of the case. The Supreme Court routinely hands "victories" to prevailing parties by declining review of cases in which every single Justice believes the lower court from which the appeal is taken was completely wrong. Such a decision certainly doesn't mean that the Court meant to issued a stern rebuke to the Administration's opponents in this case - or has endorsed Administration policy! Linda Greenhouse implies that kind of thing routinely when it suits her politics, but I don't think she'll be going there today.

Returning to Hamdi: The Court's decision to hear the Hamdi appeal doesn't mean that the Court has decided it has jurisdiction of any particular scope (it's a commonplace that a court always has jurisdiction to determine its own jurisdiction, for example). And its decision to hear the case certainly doesn't mean that the Court meant to issue a rebuke to the Administration - still less to any particular individual in the Administration - or has signaled that it disapproves of any Administration policy.

That's all so clear that Linda Greenhouse wrote her correcting article. But, amazingly, there are people who think the Stout and Greenhouse articles are not inconsistent.

UPDATE: Linda Greenhouse scribes her own article on the Court's decision not to hear the appeal of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decision allowing the Administration to not disclose all those names. But, as expected here, she makes no suggestion that the Court endorses the appealed decision or the Administration's policies - there is not even an ambiguous reference to an Administration "victory:"

Even though the justices gave no reason for declining to take the appeal, the development was undoubtedly a welcome one for the administration after several recent judicial setbacks.

That's all quite correct, if a little subdued.

See, Ms. Greenhouse can get it right when the stars, the Justices and her political biases all align! Now if only she could consistently get this kind of thing right when she doesn't like the result of getting it right.
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William Safire Gets It Right ...

... in a remarkably clear-headed column:

The strategic reason for crushing Saddam was to reverse the tide of global terror that incubated in the Middle East. Is our pre-emptive policy working? ...

Set aside the tens of thousands of lives saved each year by ending Saddam's sustained murder of Iraqi Shia and Kurds, which is of little concern to human rights inactivists. Consider only self-defense ...

Libya .... Afghanistan ... Syria ... the West Bank ... Iran ...

Iraq, where casualties in Baghdad could be compared to civilian losses to everyday violence in New York and Los Angeles, a rudimentary federal republic is forming itself with all the customary growing pains. After the new Iraq walks by itself, we can expect free Iraqis to throw their crutches at the doctor. But we did not depose Saddam to impose a puppet; we are helping Iraqis defeat the diehards and resist fragmentation to set in place a powerful democratic example ...

North Korea...

[T]aken together, this phased array of fallout to our decision to lead the world's war against terror makes the case that what we have been doing is strategically sound as well as morally right.

And that's just the way it's all going to play in the upcoming campaign.
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O'Neill/Suskind Hoax?

Sure looks like it.

Link from Hanks.

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Sunday, January 11, 2004

Daschle Descending

The Man Without Qualities has noted in prior posts that the 2004 re-election effort of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle is in deep trouble. He has amazingly high "negative" poll numbers (36%). He has spent more than One Million Dollars on campaign (pre-campaign?) advertising in an effort to correct the number - but word from South Dakota is that the huge (for South Dakota) expenditures haven't moved the numbers at all. All of this has been pretty well and widely known for some time - as has the likelihood that Senator Daschle would probably be challenged by Republican John Thune, South Dakota's former lone member of the House of Representives.

Now the New York Times waddles in to acknowledge its dim awareness of the matter:

Mr. Daschle is facing what could be the toughest campaign of his career, against John Thune, a former Republican member of the House and a close ally of President Bush, in South Dakota, where Mr. Bush is hugely popular. ... [B]oth Republicans and Democrats agree that the candidacy of Mr. Thune, who lost to South Dakota's junior senator, Tim Johnson, by just 524 votes in 2002, puts Mr. Daschle in a difficult spot. "A real challenge" is how [Senator John B. Breaux, Democrat of Louisiana] described it. .... There is every indication ... that the race will be bruising, with Mr. Daschle's job performance the central issue.

Yes, indeed. And that "challenge" starts with the likelihood that Mr. Thune may not have lost to Mr. Johnson at all, since there is plenty of evidence that Mr. Johnson's tiny vote advantage was the product of electoral fraud. That's yesterday's news, and Mr. Thune had the guts and sense of public responsibility not to cause a big Gore-style stink at the time. All of which helps create a sense with voters that Mr. Thune puts them first - not his chance to occupy some powerful office - and that puts him personally in a very nice position to challenge Mr. Daschle this time around.

Mr. Johnson's re-election is also a fairly large negative for Mr. Daschle because it means that South Dakota is now stuck with two Senators in the minority Democratic party at a time when the Senate is probably just going to become more Republican. That means that the two South Dakota Senators can claim not a single Senate committee chair between them. A well-regarded junior Republican Senator like Mr. Thune would likely have more clout than either of Messrs. Johnson or Daschle. South Dakota is a small state, and it receives a lot of federal money. As is true in many small states, South Dakota voters care a good deal relative to voters in larger states about the "clout" their Senators carry in Washington. Mr. Daschle is, of course, aware of this (even the Times is aware of this), and he is again campaigning largely on the basis of that "clout." As the Times quotes Mr. Daschle as saying:

"What I have said to my people in South Dakota is that being the Democratic leader of the United States Senate allows me to put South Dakota's agenda on the national agenda."

The problem for Mr. Daschle in this line of argument is that voters don't care if their Senator can put South Dakota's agenda on the national agenda - they care about whether their Senator can actually get South Dakota's agenda passed into legislation. For example, the Times says Senator Daschle put South Dakota's agenda on the national agenda (and made a big show of it in South Dakota) rather adroitly on Wednesday, when he called a news conference to demand that the White House immediately require country-of-origin labeling for supermarket beef. The issue is important to South Dakota ranchers. All of which is very true. But if Mr. Daschle can't get the law changed as he and South Dakota ranchers desire, the ranchers aren't going to count his "clout" for very much. It's not likely that Mr. Bush and the Republicans are going to give this wounded and vulnerable Democrat what he wants and needs for re-election when this Democrat takes every opportunity to savage the President. In the Senate, Mr. [Trent] Lott said, Republicans will undoubtedly watch Mr. Daschle "very closely and try to keep him from taking credit for things."

Mr. Thune would be in a position to do a lot better job for those South Dakota ranchers.

That Mr. Daschle is remarkably cloutless is also apparent from his inability to obtain passage of the admittedly dreadful and thankfully recently-deceased energy bill:

Republicans intend to hit Mr. Daschle hard on the energy bill that failed in the Senate last year. Mr. Daschle backed the measure, and promoted a provision to expand the use of corn-based ethanol - an issue of extreme importance to South Dakota's farmers. But many Democrats voted against the bill, and their leader did not try to stop them.

But all of those problems would be less significant if it weren't for one bigger conundrum: The very Senate Democratic Leader position that gives Mr. Daschle whatever "clout" he has left, also undermines his ability to keep separate his role of "just plain, decent Tom" who rolls up in a pickup truck dressed in denim and flannel when he's on the South Dakota campaign trail and the entirely inconsistent role of ultra-liberal Washington sharpie operator in three thousand dollar suits that is intrinsic to his being Senate Democratic Leader. Mr. Daschle has been getting away with this political bigamy since at least 1994, when he became Senate Democratic Leader. But a Democrat was in the White House in 1994, and before 2000 South Dakota voters never witnessed the spectacle of Mr. Daschle in harsh conflict with a President whose agenda was much more like South Dakota's than the one advanced by Senator Daschle. But by now the voters have seen that spectacle repeatedly. That is, South Dakota voters may finally be catching on that Mr. Daschle is advancing an agenda whose overall scope is very different from one they favor.

It's that Washington sharpie - not "plain, decent Tom" - who suggested that Mr. Bush knew about September 11 before the fact, and then denied having said that. The voters saw that on television, and they know it was a big deal.

It's that Washington sharpie - not "plain, decent Tom" - who leads the filibusters of so many of Mr. Bush's judicial nominees because they believe in things with which South Dakota voters mostly agree. The voters see that on television, and they know it is a big deal.

It was that Washington sharpie - not "plain, decent Tom" - who last year, on the eve of the United States invasion of Iraq, ... said he was saddened that Mr. Bush had "failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war." The voters saw that on television, and they know it is a big deal.

And it's that Washington sharpie who perpetrated a whole lot more.

But it's "plain, decent Tom" who has to explain it all. Democrats are aware of the conflict, and the Times delicately describes their plans to help Senator Daschle continue his double life with the note that Democrats say they will rally around their leader, giving him the leeway to return home to campaign and take a lower profile on issues where the Democratic position conflicts with the interests of South Dakota voters. Isn't that Times phrasing cute? The seams in all that denim and flannel are showing pretty badly this time around.

The Times article gracefully omits all references to the copious and quite available political polls that show the extent of Senator Daschle's predicament. And although the Times notes that the Senator has raised and spent a lot of money already, the Times curiously does not address whether those expenditures have been at all effective. Nor does the Times address the critical questions of whether Mr. Daschle is himself still effective or is perceived to be effective by South Dakotans. O, well - still a few bugs in the reporter systems.

But all of the Times omissions can't change the fact that a combination of Senator Daschle's Democratic Leadership position, South Dakota's conservative leanings and the new Republican dominance of Washington is making his life as frantic as that of a bigamist who suddenly can't keep his long-distance calls to his second wife from showing up on the telephone bill his first wife pays every month.

MORE ON SOUTH DAKOTA POLITICS and still more on Daschle/Thune.

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