Thursday, November 30, 2006

Close House Races in 2006 Could Mean 85 GOP Seats Are At Risk For 2008

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY) won two years ago with 51 percent. This year he was barely challenged and piled up 79 percent. Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-SD) had an even harder time in 2004, winning both a special election in a squeaker and a general election by a slightly larger margin. Herseth was on many lists this year of endangered Democrats. In the end, she cruised to an easy win with 69 percent of the vote.

In an election where Democrats did wvery well, Herseth and Higgins typified many of the trends. No Democratic seats were lost, and a majority of elected Democrats (117 out of 232) were either unopposed or received 70 percent or more of the vote. In fact, in the Northeast, 45 of 68 Democratic winners (and nearly all the incumbents) pulled in 70 percent or more.

In the closest elections, where winners drew 52 percent or less, Republicans won by a 26 to 19 margin. If you wonder why Democrats did not win 40 or more seats, there's the answer. Unlike in 1994, the Republicans managed to win a lot of close elections.

The Republican edge grew as the margins moved up a bit. For seats won with a 53 to 55 percent margin of victory, GOPers posted 16 wins to 15 for Democrats. But from a 56 percent to 59 percent margin of victory, the Republican edge was a stunning 43 victories to eight. If you want to find 85 Republican-held seats to challenge hard in 2008, they are clearly available within this group.

-- From analysis by David Kowalski, in MyDD.com, Nov. 30

Bush May Be President, But For Growing Majority, He's No Longer Our "Leader"

Although the words are often used interchangeably, "president" and "leader" have much different meanings.

And currently, our President is not our leader -- at least not for the majority of Americans.

President is a job title. By definition, a president is not necessarily a leader, but rather the highest-ranking official. "Appointed or elected to preside over an organized body." Bush certainly qualifies to be called president.

But to lead, by definition one has to take a lead position, and "guide" or "influence" others. And for a majority of Americans, this is no longer the case. Over the past year in particular, President Bush hasn't been out in front of the issues -- he's been behind the curve -- and the midterm elections, and poll after poll suggest that Americans' opinions on a wide range of issues are not guided or influenced by Bush.

Consider:

-- A majority of Americans (86 percent) say it is important to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. The Bush Administration has repeatedly said that this is not a priority.

-- A majority of Americans (68 percent) are calling the situation in Iraq a "civil war." Bush refuses to do so.

-- A majority of Americans (69 percent) want to see troops withdrawn immediately, or a timetable to be established for such a withdrawal. Bush refuses to consider either option.

-- A majority of Americans (83 percent) support hiking the minimum wage. The Bush Administration backed a Congressional Republican to increase the minimum wage only if it could be tied to a repeal of the estate tax. The measure was defeated. (Note: One poll found that only 29 percent of Americans support repealing the estate tax.)

-- A majority of Americans (68 percent) support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Bush vetoed a bill on the matter in July, in spite of bipartisan support.

-- A majority of Americans (60 percent) disapprove of Bush's proposal to privatize Social Security. Bush said in June: "If we can't get it done this year, I'm going to try next year. And if we can't get it done next year, I'm going to try the year after that."

Of course, that was before Democrats regained control of both houses of Congress.

***

The Democrats would do well to start framing these key issues as "mainstream" -- or put another way, they should not allow conservatives to mischaracterize these issues as "liberal." This is the time for Democrats to be "leaders," not be on the defensive, worried about Karl Rove's latest catch-phrase.

With majorities in both houses of Congress, the Democrats can quickly pass a minimum wage hike, federal funding for stem cell research, a timetable for phased redeployment of troops from Iraq, etc. How amazing would it be to have a "do something" Congress?

Dare Bush to veto bills that have bipartisan support in Congress, and the broad support of the American people. He'll either show how out of step he is with the American people -- certifying how he is not a "leader" -- or he'll buckle.

It's a win-win, for the Democratic Party, and for the American people.

Majority Of Americans Believe Iraq In Civil War

A majority of Americans think Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, regardless of how strongly the Bush Administration rejects the description.

A new Harris Interactive poll finds 68 percent of U.S. adults believe there is a civil war in Iraq, compared with 14 percent who disagree and 18 percent who aren't sure.

More than 2,400 people were polled from Nov. 14 to Nov. 20. The margin of error is stated as 2 percentage points.

Just as a majority of Americans this year stopped buying into the administration's spin on Iraq -- that the insurgency was in the "last throes," how the Iraq government was doing "remarkably well," and other nonsense that didn't mesh with what we could plainly see on our televisions -- perhaps a majority of Americans have decided it doesn't matter whether the administration admits Iraq is in civil war.

There are too many other people -- frankly with more credibility on Iraq than Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld -- using the term, apparently now including former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

***

The mainstream media has been mixed on the subject -- MSNBC/NBC, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times have used the term, for example, while Fox News Channel and USA Today and the Washington Post have not.

Some may be waiting for the Bush Administration to use the term first, but that would be giving the administration credibility on Iraq that it has not shown it deserves.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Big Oil Launching PR Campaign To Try To Influence New Congress

The American Petroleum Institute is planning to launch a major "educational advocacy" program in January 2007 to broaden efforts directed at public policy experts, regulatory officials, and other influential individuals starting in January 2007.

The goal, according to PR Week, is to frame issues (read: present its spin) for the new Congress.

If the institute, which represents 400 major oil and gas producers, can successfully foist its side of the story, maybe Congress won't investigate Big Oil's record earnings, Vice President Dick Cheney's secretive energy task force, or the peculiar way that gasoline prices tumbled in the weeks before the election, but mysteriously began rising immediately therafter.

Institute president and chief executive officer Red Cavaney told PR Week that, with assistance from the public relations firm Edelman, the institute had recently worked to "put earnings in perspective, to explain how we reinvest them."

The campaign will also feature television and magazine advertisements, and tours of oil and gas operations. So the average American will get to hear Big Oil's spin, too.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Texas Ethics? Uh, No. Commission Allows State Disclosure Laws That "Condone Bribery"

A Texas official who receives any sum of cash as a gift can satisfy state disclosure laws by reporting the money simply as "currency," without specifying the amount, the Texas Ethics Commission reiterated Monday.

The 5-3 decision outraged watchdog groups and some Democratic officials who unabashedly accused the commission of failing to enforce state campaign finance laws.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, told the Houston Chronicle the "currency" interpretation would render it "perfectly legal to report the gift of 'a wheelbarrow' without reporting that the wheelbarrow was filled with cash."

Cash gifts to state officials became an issue when Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, who finances Republican campaigns and causes, gave Bill Ceverha a check to help pay legal bills accumulated when he was a GOP operative. Ceverha, by then a member of the state Employee Retirement System board, reported that he was given a check, but not the amount.

It was later learned that Ceverha received two checks totaling $100,000. But the commission says state officials only have to report that they received a gift of more than $250 -- not the exact amount.

As the Austin American-Statesman noted in an editorial yesterday: "That, in essence, misleads the public and condones bribery."

***

State Rep. Lon Burnam, a Democrat from Fort Worth, sued the ethics commission in April asking that "meaningful" descriptions of gifts be required.

After the ethics commission ruled on Monday, Burnam said he was eager to move forward with the lawsuit.

The opinion "clearly, obviously violates the intent of the law," he told the Associated Press. "They deliberately I think misconstrued it and they are showing how utterly spineless and useless they are as an ethics commission."

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will stay aboard until after Dec. 29, so that he can best Robert McNamara's record of longest-serving Defense Secretary, Newsweek reports, citing an anonymous White House source.

In other words, Rumsfeld's ego may be more important than turning around the mess in Iraq.

Officially, the White House spin is that Robert Gates will be sworn in as Rumsfeld's replacement -- two weeks after his confirmation -- once Gates winds up affairs as president of Texas A&M University.

But as Newsweek reports: "(T)hat's news in College Station, Texas, where Gates has been handing everything over to the man he calls "my strong right arm," the executive vice president and provost, David Pratt."

Gates on Nov. 8 announced he would quit A&M on "completion of the confirmation process and a Senate vote."

Britain To Reduce Troop Levels In Iraq, As The "Coalition Of The Willing" Shrinks Some More

The Bush Administration doesn't use the term "coalition of the willing" much anymore to describe the multi-national effort in Iraq and Afghanistan -- in part because the coalition is falling apart.

Great Britain isn't planning to leave just yet, but it does have one foot out the door. Defense Secretary Des Browne told BBC News yesterday that his nation's 7,000 troops would be significantly reduced by the end of 2007.

While not planning a full withdrawal, Browne said, "I can tell you that by the end of next year I expect numbers of British forces in Iraq to be significantly lower by a matter of thousands."

***

"Coalition of the willing" always seemed to be an odd term, especially for the spin-happy Bush Administration, home to so many "Luntzian" phrases. (It was apparently pilfered from President Clinton, who used it to describe a United Nations mandate.)

It makes you wonder why a country would be unwilling to fight in Iraq (such as: Iraq had nothing to do with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.)

From the start, the state department admitted that only a few of these countries are providing any major military presence in the Gulf, notably Britain and Australia.

But look at the nations that have exited the coalition: Singapore (in 2004), Nicaragua (2004); Spain (2004); Dominican Republic (2004); Honduras (2004); Norway (2004), Philippines (2004); Thailand (2004); New Zealand (2004); Tonga (December 2004) Hungary (2004); Portugal (2005); Moldova (2005); Netherlands (2005), Ukraine (2005), Bulgaria (2006), Japan (Joly 2006), Norway (2006), Italy (2006) and Poland (planned for December 2006).

Additionally, Australia, South Korea, Georgia and Denmark have each reduced their troop levels. And Britain will be next.

Here's a question: Does the Bush Administration, or its neocon friends, ever wonder why so many countries have become "unwilling?"

Monday, November 27, 2006

Will Cheney Follow Rumsfeld Out Of The Bush Administration?

Does Dick Cheney feel like a lame duck?

That was the thought posed by Congressional Quarterly political analyst Craig Crawford. Speaking on MSNBC's Hardball today, Crawford told host Chris Matthews that he wonders if Cheney "stays in this administration for the full term here. I really wonder if Rumsfeld’s leaving is just the beginning."

Crawford's reasoning is that Cheney's "authority is waning, if not gone." With a Democratic-controlled Congress come January, and President Bush appearing to listen to friends of his father -- James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Robert Gates -- instead of Cheney's neocon friends, the veep has never been more "isolated."

Here's part of the transcript:

MATTHEWS: Why would he leave?

...

CRAWFORD: My point is I don’t know why he’d want to stick around.

MATTHEWS: He has assumed an awful lot of authority under this President.

CRAWFORD: I know, and that authority is waning, if not gone. And my point is why would he want to stick around in this environment? He might just choose to leave.

MATTHEWS: Let me check this. I rarely do this on the show. Are you teasing? Are you — do you actually think there’s a reasonable plausible case for this Vice President to give up all the power he enjoys as the President’s first counsel?

CRAWFORD: Not if he doesn’t enjoy it anymore. I mean all I’m seeing is the man getting isolated more and more. This seems to be his most vulnerable position in the entire Bush administration.

Mission Accomplished? Iraq Won't Turn Around Unless The Bush Administration Stops The Spin, And Starts Recognizing The Reality On The Ground

The spin from the Bush Administration about Iraq is that Americans shouldn't pay attention to the violence they see on their televisions (read: blame the "liberal" media), because the fledgling Iraqi democracy was about to turn the corner.

"The situation in Iraq is still tense, and we're still seeing acts of sectarian violence and reprisal," Bush said in a March speech. "Yet out of this crisis, we've also seen signs of a hopeful future."

Even as the Iraq Study Group report makes recommendations on what to do next in Iraq, the U.S. needs the Bush Administraton to take an important first step.

Stop trying to spin us. It isn't working. And continuing to not accept the situation on the ground can only make matters worse.

As Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) said recently: "Hope is not a strategy."

This has nothing to do with exit strateiges. It's catch-phrase partisan politics to turn every conversation into whether the Democrats want to "cut and run," or whether the Republicans have a better understanding of whether U.S. troops begin redeploying now, a year from now, or three years from now. The American people made it clear at the polls this month: they aren't buying the spin anymore.

What's most important is the administration recognizing, understanding, and admitting that there is a steady and possibly unending drumbeat of death and destruction in Iraq, and that Iraq's Shiites and Sunnis are engaged in Civil War. It has to do with the realization and admission that without rapid change, the vacuum of leadership that is being created by the U.S.-led coalition will push the Iraqis to turn to the all too willing arms of Iran.

Still believe the spin that there's a "hopeful future" in Iraq if we "stay the course"? Here are some recent items from the news.

-- Thousands of Iraqis are believed to have died from shortages of medicine, vital equipment and qualified doctors, despite an infusion of nearly half a billion dollars from U.S. coffers into this country's healthcare system, Iraqi officials and American observers say.

-- Exacerbating the crisis, hundreds of doctors have been killed, and thousands have fled Iraq. The child mortality rate, a key indicator of a nation's health, has worsened since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to Iraqi government figures.

-- More than 250 academics have been killed since 2003, targeted by so many warring factions that it seems to be the only issue they can agree on. To date, not one person has been arrested for these murders. Fanatics targeting Iraqi academics are wreaking havoc on the educational system by threatening, kidnapping and killing innocent professors.

-- The Iraqi insurgency is now self-sustaining financially, profiting from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting, corrupt charities and other crimes that neither the Iraqi government nor the U.S. have been unable to prevent.

***

How about the spin of the successful Iraqi reconstruction?

As the Washington Post notes: The U.S. has committed $38 billion to reconstruction, and most of the money has been spent. "Yet tallying finished projects can be a misleading way of measuring success."

For example:

-- The United States has finished repairs on 86 of 98 railway stations. But few trains run because of security concerns.

-- In the oil sector, while production capacity has nearly returned to prewar levels, the country had a severe fuel shortage this summer because of high demand and sabotage.

-- More than 100 health-care facilities that were scheduled to be finished by now instead are empty because the contractors assigned to build them did not get their jobs done.

-- The U.S. claims it has restored access to water, and return electricity to pre-war levels. But Iraqis interviewed by the Post say that Iraqis are drinking untreated water, and that electricity only works two hours each day.

***

We need U.S. leadership willing to accept the reality on the ground, and speak to the American people like adults.

Until the Bush Administration stops spinning how it's "full speed ahead" in Iraq -- as Vice President Cheney said this month -- the situation in Iraq can only get worse.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Is Putin Really A Friend In The "War On Terror?"

Is Russian President Vladimir Putin really a friend in the "war on terror?"

President Bush has called Russia "a strong ally in ... fighting the war on terror," and "a strong and viable partner with the United States."

It's great spin, especially when accompanied by warm handshakes like the one in the photo at right. But there's no reason to believe the relationship between Bush and Putin has translated into any kind of partnership on Iraq or Iran.

Earlier this year, a Pentagon report revealed that the Russian government provided Saddam Hussein with intelligence on U.S. military movements and plans during the opening days of the war in 2003. Russia called the allegations "ridiculous," but the Pentagon hasn't backed away from the claims.

In July, Bush stood side by side with Putin at the G8 Summit in Russia. Bush told Putin that Americans want Russia to develop a free press and free religion “like Iraq.” To laughter and applause, Putin responded: “We certainly would not want to have same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, quite honestly.”

Remember, Putin is our "strong ally in ... fighting the war on terror."

Now comes word that Russia has begun delivery of Tor-M1 air defense missile systems to Iran, in spite of U.S. criticism.

In August, Russia rejected talk of sanctions against Iran.

"I believe that the question is not so serious ... to consider any introduction of sanctions. Russia stands for further political and diplomatic efforts to settle the issue," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters at the time. Russia also failed to warm up to the idea of sanctions after a trip last month to Moscow by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

So Russia isn't listening to us. It might have helped Iraq. And its leader, Putin, makes jokes about it.

How again is Russia our "strong ally in ... fighting the war on terror?"

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Iraqi Insurgency Is Self-Sustaining (Which Is More Than The U.S. Can Say)

The insurgency in Iraq is now self-sustaining financially, profiting from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting, corrupt charities and other crimes that neither the Iraqi government nor the U.S. have been unable to prevent, a classified United States government report has concluded.

The report, completed in June and obtained by the New York Times, estimates that groups responsible for many insurgent and terrorist attacks are raising as much as $200 million a year from illegal activities. It says $25 million to $100 million of that comes from oil smuggling and other criminal activity involving the state-owned oil industry, aided by “corrupt and complicit” Iraqi officials.

“If accurate,” the report says, its estimates indicate that these “sources of terrorist and insurgent finance within Iraq — independent of foreign sources — are currently sufficient to sustain the groups’ existence and operation.” And then comes the truly scary observation: “In fact, if recent revenue and expense estimates are correct, terrorist and insurgent groups in Iraq may have surplus funds with which to support other terrorist organizations outside of Iraq.” However, experts don't believe this is happening ... yet.

(For comparison: the insurgents spend an estimated $200 million a year; the U.S. spends roughly $265 million a day in Iraq.)

***

While the report suggests the insurgency is self-sustaining, the same cannot be said for the U.S.-led war effort.

Back in 2002, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey estimated the cost of the Iraq War to be no more than $200 billion. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the cost would be "something under $50 billion." He and other officials expressed optimism that Iraq itself would help shoulder the cost once the world market was reopened to its rich supply of oil.

Alas, that hasn't happened. Not even close. Some now estimate the cost to be as much as $2 trillion, while other estimates place the cost -- assuming the U.S. begins deploying troops within three years -- at closer to $700 billion.

***

Why can't we stop money from reaching the Iraqi insurgents?

The report says American efforts have been hamstrung by a weak Iraqi government and its nascent intelligence agencies, a lack of communication, and the fact that the insurgency is sustained by couriers carrying cash rather than more easily traceable means involving banks and the hawala money transfer networks traditional in the Middle East.

Another factor for the United States, the report says, was its inability to persuade foreign governments -- most recently France and Italy -- to “stop paying ransoms.”

Ah, but that would require diplomacy from the U.S. Is that possible from the Bush Administration?

Hastert, "Dejected" And "Embarrassed," Says He Will Retain Seat For Now

Defying expectations that he would immediately retire if the Republicans lost their majority, outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) is preparing to join the rank-and-file, at least for the short-term.

Hastert will be the first House Speaker to leave the House leadership but remain in Congress since Joseph Martin Jr. (R-MA), who was House Speaker in 1953 and 1954.

Friends say that Hastert is "dejected" and "embarrassed" by the Republicans' loss of House control. That loss is connected in part to the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), a scandal that led various House leaders -- including John Boehner, Thomas Reynolds and Roy Blunt -- to publicly chastise Hastert.

***

Hastert would like to hand-pick his replacement. At the same time, he is hoping for a favorable response from the House Ethics Committee, which is investigating whether he or his staff acted properly in dealing with warnings about improper conduct toward Congressional pages by Foley.

It is possible that Hastert will lose both battles.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Drug Industry Mourns Santorum's Pending Departure

"We're going to have tough days ahead of us," Ken Johnson, spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, told the Washington Post.

A post-election e-mail to executives at the drug company GlaxoSmithKline details just how tough. "We now have fewer allies in the Senate," says the internal memo, obtained by the Post. The company's primary concerns are bills that would allow more imported drugs and would force price competition for drugs bought under Medicare.

The defeat of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) "creates a big hole we will need to fill," the e-mail says. Sen.-elect Jon Tester (D-MT) "is expected to be a problem," it says, and the elevation to the Senate of Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) "will strengthen his ability to challenge us."

The Post reports that drug companies are hiring Democratic lobbyists, but they're holding on to their Republican lobbyists.

Their gameplan is clear: fight legislation as necessary, knowing that the Democrats don't have veto-proof (or even filibuster-proof) majorities. The underlying reason? If the Democratic-controlled Congress struggles, Republicans could regain control in 2008.

And by that point, the drug industry can find another Republican to carry its water, much like their buddy, "Gunga Din" Santorum.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Limbaugh Explains "The Real Story Of Thanksgiving"

On the Nov. 21 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh presented "The Real Story Of Thanksgiving," which somehow had little to do with giving thanks, and more to do with praising the merits of capitalism.

LIMBAUGH: "Long before Karl Marx was even born, the Pilgrims had discovered and experimented with what could only be described as socialism. And what happened? It didn't work! Surprise, surprise, huh? ... (W)hile most of the rest of the world has been experimenting with socialism for well over a hundred years – trying to refine it, perfect it, and re-invent it – the Pilgrims decided early on to scrap it permanently. What Bradford wrote about this social experiment should be in every schoolchild's history lesson."

***

For conservatives, perhaps Limbaugh tells a heartwarming story.

Keeping in the spirit of his re-interpretaton of Thanksgiving, listeners may want to mark their calendars now, in case Limbaugh spews these other re-interpretations of upcoming holidays:

-- "The Real Story Of Hanukkah" (Dec. 16). "What the left won't tell you is that Hanukkah shows how desperate people can become if they don't have a sensible, pro-growth energy policy. Had these Jews committed to exploratory drilling, they may have had oil not just for eight days, but hundreds."

-- "The Real Story Of Christmas" (Dec. 25). "Santa Claus is representative of the success of American capitalism. Here we have a sole proprietor who succeeds because he doesn't have to worry about elfen labor laws. If the liberals had their way, Santa's workshop would have been closed years ago."

-- "The Real Story Of Martin Luther King Day" (Jan. 15). "The liberals don't want you to know that King was a Republican, and would not have supported the creation of this holiday. I believe there are quotes from King saying other Americans are more deserving. The fact that those Americans are white males is irrelevant."

Check your local listings ...

Poll Suggests Romney, A Mormon, Has Uphill Climb To Secure GOP Nomination

A new Rasmussen Reports poll suggests that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a main 2008 GOP presidential contender, has an uphill climb to secure his party's nomination.

The reason? Romney is a Mormon, and the idea of a Mormon president doesn't sit well with a good chunk of would-be voters:

-- 43 percent of voters say they would never even consider voting for a Mormon Presidential candidate. 38 percent say they would consider casting such a vote while 19% are not sure.

-- 53 percent of Evangelical Christians say that they would not consider voting for a Mormon candidate. That's a key, because the Christian Right is a key player in Republican primary season.

As pollster Scott Rasmussen notes: "It is possible, of course, that these perceptions might change as Romney becomes better known and his faith is considered in the context of his campaign. Currently, just 19% of Likely Voters are able to identify Romney as the Mormon candidate from a list of six potential Presidential candidates."

***

As JABBS noted last year, the Southern Baptist Convention website has characterized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a "cult." The influential Christian right group Focus on the Family declares that "God cannot be identified . . . with the Mormon religion's notion of god."

Romney, in an interview last year with the conservative magazine Weekly Standard, understood that his religion could pose a problem:

ROMNEY: "I think if you said, 'Look, we have a candidate for you, and you can know nothing about this person, except [his] religion, that's the only thing that you can know, this person is a Mormon, but that's all you can know. Do you want [him] as president?' ... I think a lot of people would say, 'Gosh, I am not sure that that makes me feel real comfortable.'"

That lack of comfort may be playing itself out.

How Safe Is Iraq These Days? Bush Schedules Meeting With Iraqi Leader ... In Jordan

President Bush plans to fly to Jordan next week to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as the two leaders try to revitalize the war effort, the White House announced.

The trip -- called a "surprise" although it is being announced a week in advance -- is part of an effort to review the gameplan after spiraling violence in Iraq and voter rejection at home.

But why is the meeting in Jordan?

Should Americans take the meeting site as a sign that even the heavily guarded "green zone" in Baghdad -- where a car bomb Wednesday was set off intending to kill Iraq's speaker of parliament -- isn't safe enough for a presidential arrival?

Don't forget that when Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice traveled to Iraq last month, she had to wear a bullet-proof vest -- at an airport that the U.S. supposedly secured two years ago.

This may be one factoid the mainstream media will overlook -- as the Washington Post did in its coverage this week -- but would be hard to spin if someone in the White House press corps dared ask.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why Does Diplomacy Matter? While The U.S. Talks Tough, Iran Hopes To Increase Influence Via Summit With Iraq And Syria

Iran has invited the Iraqi and Syrian presidents to Tehran for a weekend summit with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to hash out ways to cooperate in curbing the runaway violence that has taken Iraq to the verge of civil war and threatens to spread through the region.

Instead of the U.S. taking a lead diplomatic role in bringing peace to the region -- a move supported just a few days ago by British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- it is instead allowing Iran to flex its muscles as a influential power broker in the region.

The initial U.S. reaction can't help matter. It's a variation of staying the course -- we don't talk to "Axis of Evil" members and their friends. The Los Angeles Times called the U.S. attitude "skeptical nonchalance."

Instead of diplomacy, the U.S. once again talked tough -- a strategy that hasn't worked well since the Bush Administration came to power.

State Department Deputy Tom Casey said, "while there have been positive statements from the Iranian government about wishing to play a positive role in Iraq, those statements haven't been backed up by actions." He offered a similar assessment of Syria, saying the problem "is not what they say; the problem is what they do. ... What we would like to see the Syrians do is take actions to, among other things, prevent foreign fighters from coming across the border into Iraq."

In addition to being undiplomatic, is Casey correct on the issue of "foreign fighters?" A report last year from the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies found that of the estimated 30,000 insurgents, only 4%-10% were foreign fighters. That finding was confirmed, at least anecdotally, by U.S. Army commanders in Iraq, in interviews last year with the Telegraph of London. And if the U.S. is going to blast countries for not preventing foreign fighters from going to Iraq, where's the condemnation of Saudi Arabia?

As the Times editorial noted: "President Bush need not wait for the release of (the James Baker-led) commission report to convene a conference and invite all of the key players in Iraq's future: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, as well as representatives of the Gulf Coordination Council, the European Union and the U.N. Agreeing on a mutual duty to respect and uphold Iraq's territorial integrity would be the first goal. If the United States fails to act, diplomacy delayed may become diplomacy derailed."

Pentagon (Again) Extends Timeline To Destroy Aging Chemical Weapons

The Pentagon has once again extended its timeline to destroy its aging chemical weapons arsenal until 2023, despite concerns by Congress and watchdog groups that the stockpiles raise the risk of an accident or theft by terrorists.

The new schedule, outlined in Pentagon documents, means the military won't eliminate its stocks of deadly nerve gases and skin-blistering agents until 2023, instead of 2012. Earlier, the Pentagon received a five-year extension, from the original deadline of 2007.

Pentagon spokesman Chris Isleib said the military remains committed to the job and that the war in Iraq has not drained money from the effort. “Destroying these weapons safely is not a fast or simple process,” Isleib said.

But critics say the plan will ultimately raise costs and create needless risks of an accidental chemical release or terrorist attack.

“To intentionally put tens of thousands of Americans at an unnecessary risk by continuing to store these weapons is reprehensible,” said Craig Williams of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, a Kentucky-based coalition of citizen groups from stockpile sites. “Not only are they ignoring our international treaty obligations, they are undermining the military's … obligation to protect U.S. citizens.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Bush Touts His "Hard Decisions" On Iraq

President Bush, speaking in Indonesia, said he welcomed the fact that thousands of people had been demonstrating for days across the sprawling archipelago against his visit and policies in Iraq and the Middle East.

“I applaud a society where people are free to come out and express their opinion,” he told a press conference with his host, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. “It’s not the first time people have shown up to express their views on my policies. That’s what happens when you make hard decisions.”

This is a classic example of Bush spin. Bush's decision to ignore intelligence saying there was no link between Iraq and Al Qaeda? "Hard." Bush's decision not to reign in people in his administration from continuing to make that connection? "Hard." Bush's decision not to listen to generals who said we needed more troops in Iraq from the get-go? "Hard." Bush's decision to not have any communication with potential terror threats Iran and Syria? "Hard." Bush's decision to demonize Americans who oppose his decisions? "Hard."

It's a tomato-tomato thing. Bush says "hard," and most Americans say "bad."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Republican Congressman Single-Handedly Blocking Popular Legislation Banning Animal Fighting

The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act has widespread support.

The bill, from Rep. Mark Green (R-WI) had 324 co-sponsors in the House. It unanimously passed the Senate. It has support from the National Sheriffs' Association, the National Chicken Council, American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States.

The bill would make it a federal felony to transport cocks and dogs across state lines for the purpose of setting up fights, and possibly slow a sport that has an estimated 100,000 animals fighting each year. Even in these days of partisan bickering, this is one bill that should easily become law.

But it won't, because Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) says no.

Sensenbrenner, who for the next few weeks is the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, won't move the bill to the House floor for a vote. He said stopping cockfights and dogfights should be handled by local law enforcement.

Even FBI officials disagree with him. Often, FBI officials say, raids to stop animal fighting also lead to crackdowns on organized crime, illegal gambling, and animal cruelty.

But why let facts get in the way? Democrats remember Sensenbrenner well from the 2000 election cycle, when he distorted an actual statement by Al Gore, creating the conservative myth that Gore said he "invented the Internet." Sadly, this may be Sensenbrenner's biggest accomplishment as a Republican.

***

Green's bill -- and Sensenbrenner's protest -- will die when the current Congress ends. When the new Democratic-controlled Congress takes over, the bill may be re-introduced, and if so, quickly passed.

US Concerned With Chinese Military Buildup

The United States has concerns about a military expansion in China that may be excessive, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday.

China's reported military budget rose more than 14 percent this year to $35.3 billion, but outside estimates of China’s true spending are up to three times that level.

“There are concerns about China’s military buildup,” Rice told a television interviewer. “It’s sometimes seemed outsized for China’s regional role.”

So should we add China to the list of countries that are doing something militarily that we don't approve of, but apparently can do little to stop?

Santorum Breaks Conservative Hearts, Says He Will "Absolutely Not" Run For President In 2008

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), fresh from being walloped by Democrat Bob Casey Jr. this month, may have a better sense of reality.

He's not popular. At least not anymore, with the exception of the conservative radio ranters, conservative pundita the fringe right audience/bloggers who hang on their every word.

So it shouldn't be much of a surprise -- except to the aforementioned conservatives -- that Santorum has no plans to run for president in 2008.

"Absolutely, positively not. Absolutely not," Santorum said Thursday on The Michael Smerconish Show on Philadelphia's WPHT-AM. "My wife would throw me out of the house if I do anything in '08."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Mort Kondracke, on Fox News Channel's Special Report With Brit Hume, said Thursday that incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) should be nicknamed the “Wicked Witch of the West.”

Remember, Knodracke is supposed to provide "balance" for Hume's so-called "All Stars." Kondracke is supposed to express opinions to the left of the likes of Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol.

Here's the transcript (the link also has video):

KONDRACKE: So the history on House leadership is, we had “The Hammer, Tom DeLay, and now we have the “Wicked Witch of the West,” you know, Nancy Pelosi, who is twisting arms and making — you know, having her aides making threats, and stuff like that.

HUME: But was that really happening?

KONDRACKE: Supposedly. That’s, that’s — it got heavily reported, and I have heard no contradictions of that.

That's how things work on Fox News. Name-calling, backed by hearsay. No wonder Fox News is losing viewers.

Blair Suggests Syria, Iran Could Play "Constructive" Role In Middle East Peace Process

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a television interview that Syria and Iran could play a "constructive" role in the Middle East.

Blair said it was absurd to suggest that talking to the countries amounted to "appeasement."

The interview was conducted by Sir David Frost for the new al-Jazeera English-language television channel.

It's quite a different philosophy from the Bush Administration, which has long favored tough talk to diplomacy with countries it considers evil. It hasn't worked, but that hasn't stopped our leadership from, er, staying the course.

As John McLaughlin, CIA deputy director from 2000 to 2004, noted in July: "(E)ven superpowers have to talk to bad guys. The absence of a diplomatic relationship with Iran and the deterioration of the one with Syria ... leave the United States with fewer options and levers than might otherwise have been the case."

Will the Bush Administration listen to Blair, one of its staunchest allies in the "war on terror?" My guess is no.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Democrats To Push Legislation To Make Fraudulent Election "Robo-Calls" A Crime

Democratic leaders want to craft legislation that would make it a crime for political campaigns to flood voters with "robo-calls" peddling decpetive information about rival candidates -- a tactic allegedly undertaken by several Republican candidates during this month's election.

"These robo-calls, somehow, constitutionally, we are going to have to find some way to stop this," said incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)..

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) are looking at a host of deceptive practices.

Among those that were practiced in the 2006 election cycle were robo-calls in New Jersey and elsewhere that were designed to sound as if they came from the Democratic candidate. If a voter hung up the phone, the robo-call would redial again and again. If the caller stayed on the line, the message went from positive sounding for the Democrat to negative.

In other examples, the calls peddled disinformation -- such as the location of a polling place. Criticizing the robo-call dirty tricks, Schumer was blunt. "It's despicable" and the perpetrators "should go to jail for 10 years."

Schumer said he and Emanuel are looking at legislation applying criminal penalties to certain kinds of campaigning and creation of a separate unit at the Justice Department to prosecute.

Leahy Asks Whether Ingraham Should Be Investigated

On election day, right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham urged listeners to obstruct efforts to protect voting rights by jamming a free voter-protection hotline.

In a Senate Judiciary Commmittee hearing yesterday, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) asked Wan Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, whether his department would be investigating Ingraham’s phone jamming. Kim said Ingraham’s actions sounded like a “voter fraud scheme.”

I don't listen to Ingraham, but I wonder if she either apologized for her deplorable action, brushed it off as right-wing humor (as is the modus operandi of her friend, Ann Coulter), or do nothing.

Kim, who said the criminal division of the Justice Department would handle such matters, seemed to take the matter seriously:

LEAHY: According to press accounts, right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham, urged listeners of her radio show to jam a phone line set up by Democrats to investigate alleged voter irregularities. She told her listeners, everybody call that voting line all at the same time and basically mark it inoperative. ...

KIM: I share your concern about any sort of dirty trick or scheme to tell people not to vote or have people not vote because I agree with you that voting is the essence of our society and our democratic society and everyone who should vote should get out there and vote on Election Day.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Military Recruiters Caught On Tape Lying To Potential Enlistees

How hard is it for the military to recruit during wartime?

Apparently, hard enough that recruiters have to lie about the odds of a recruit winding up in Iraq, or about the ease with which someone can leave the military.

An undercover investigation by ABC News revealed some Army recruiters in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut told students that if they enlisted, their chances of going to Iraq would be small.

In an exchange videotaped by a hidden camera, a student asked a recruiter, "Nobody is going over to Iraq anymore?" The reply: "No, we're bringing people back."

One recruiter told a student that just quitting the Army was an option if military service didn't suit the new recruit."It's called a `Failure to Adapt' discharge," the recruiter said. "It'll just be like it never happened."

Col. Robert Manning, in charge of Army recruiting for the Northeast, said both statements were lies.

"We are a nation and Army at war still," Manning said after seeing the ABC News tapes. "It's hard to believe some of the things [recruiters] are telling prospective applicants."

Manning said he hopes the actions caught on tape are the exception, not the norm.

Abizaid Admits Shinseki Was Right About Troop Levels In Iraq

The top American military commander for the Middle East, General John Abizaid, publicly admitted yesterday that the American position in Iraq had been undermined by the Bush administration’s decision not to deploy a larger force to stabilize the country in 2003.

That decision came after Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff at the time, told Congress that several hundred thousand troops would be needed. His testimony was derided by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and contradicted by then-undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz, and the general was ostracized at the Pentagon before his retirement a few months later.

General Shinseki was right that a greater international force contribution, U.S. force contribution and Iraqi force contribution should have been available immediately after major combat operations,” Abizaid said. “I think you can look back and say that more American troops would have been advisable in the early stages of May, June, July.”

***

Someone owes Shinseki an apology, big-time.

New England Turns Bluer

Democrat Joe Courtney's defeat of incumbent Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT) -- by just 91 votes -- leaves Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) as the only House Republican from the six states that comprise New England.

Other New England Republican incumbents to lose were Nancy Johnson of Connecticut and Charles Bass of New Hampshire.

The region's lone Republican Senators are Olympia Snowe, who easily won re-election, and Susan Collins of Maine. Liberal Republican Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) was defeated by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Democrats, Moderate Republicans Reverse Conservatives' Plan To Eliminate Iraq Inspector General

The Senate approved an amendment yesterday to extend the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an office that has unearthed millions of dollars in waste and fraud.

The amendment, written by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), gives the office a one-year extension, through October, 2008.

"That office has been enormously effective as a watchdog," Collins said in an interview with the Associated Press. "It's inconceivable to me that we would allow it to expire prematurely when literally billions of dollars are still being spent on Iraqi reconstruction projects."

As JABBS noted last month, Congressional conservatives had set the earlier termination date at the behest of the Bush administration, presumably to remove the source of a series of audit reports that have been critical of the administration's efforts.

At the time, it was clear that Democrats -- who support such fact-finding missions over empty conservative spin that money is being spent wisely -- supported the inspector general, Stuart W. Bowen, Jr. Senate Democrats backed an amendment written by Collins that would have given Bowen authority over about $6 billion of new funds for Iraq. But that plan was nixed by House Republicans, led by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA).

Radio Clown Mark Levin Says "60 or 65 percent" Of Americans Identify Themselves As Conservatives. ... Uh, No.

On last night's rant, radio clown Mark Levin said that "60 or 65 percent" of Americans identify themselves as conservatives.

The man is simply delusional.

Harris has actually looked into this. In January, it released its latest poll on the subject, and found that 34 percent of Americans identified themselves as conservatives.

Harris has asked the question nearly every year since 1968. And if anything, the recent trendline is that there are fewer conservatives than in past years.

In 1995, 40 percent of Americans identified themselves as conservatives. The number has drifted down ever since.

It took me about 30 seconds to find these statistics. Just imagine what other "facts" Levin gets wrong in a typical rant.

We're #53! We're #53!

Sweden, Britain and Denmark are doing the most to protect against climate change, according to a report released Monday by environmental groups.

The United States ranked #53, with only China, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia doing worse.

"We don't have any winners, we only have countries that are better compared to others," said Matthias Duwe of the Climate Action Network-Europe, which released the data at the U.N. climate conference. "We don't have big shining stars."

The index ranks 56 countries that were part of a 1992 climate treaty or that contribute at least 1 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The calculations took into account emissions levels, emissions trends and climate policy.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was quick to offer official spin.

“The president has made dealing with climate change a priority for this administration (and) will continue to,'' he said. Two weeks ago, Snow said that “contrary to stereotype,” President Bush has been “actively engaged in trying to fight climate change.”

Remember, we're ranked #53. Can anyone seriously believe that climate change is an administration priority? Can anyone seriously believe Bush is "actively engaged" on the subject?

Since empty conservative spin hasn't helped, here are two ideas that may help raise the ranking: Bush should (albeit belatedly) fulfill his promise to cap carbon emissions, and he should stop offering the spin that global warming can be successfully fought through "voluntary” programs.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Unemployment Rate Sky High For Young Veterans

Check out the statistics in the image.

Shouldn't the Bush Administration be doing more to support the troops?

Fitting in with its broader outlook on the economy and job growth, one has to assume that the administration expects some veterans to become, ahem, "entrepreneurs."

And to be clear, I don't mean the "lovely word" that Bush often talks about -- think high-paid corporate consultants -- but the "entrepreneurs" then-Commerce Secretary Don Evans discussed in 2004: "entrepreneurs who are self-employed like truck drivers, like painters, like child-care workers, like hairdressers, like auto mechanics."

Why Should Conservatives Cross The Road ...

One idea making the rounds in the conservative media is that the Republicans lost the House and Senate because they weren't conservative enough, and failed to energize the base.

The stats don't bear that out.

According to exit polls:

-- Compared with the midterm election in 2002, Republicans lost significant support among independents and suburbanites — prime groups of swing voters that both parties pursue. Young people, voters with college degrees and secular voters also moved decisively to the Democrats.

-- White evangelical Christians remained a bulwark: Seven in 10 voted for Republicans. (MSNBC reported 71% voted for Republicans in 2006, compared with 72% in 2004.)

-- Republicans focusing on issues important to the Christian Right, including banning same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research, apparently alienated less devout voters. Those who attend church only occasionally moved to the Democrats by 9 percentage points, compared with 2004. Those who never attend church moved away from the GOP by 11 percentage points.

So if the GOP wants to lose again in 2008, it should redouble its efforts to woo social conservatives -- and watch every other group of voters turn to the Democrats.

FBI Arrests Conservative Blogger Accused Of Threatening Democrats, Celebrities. Should Coulter Be Next?

A California man has been arrested by the FBI and accused of mailing threatening letters over the last three months, along with white powder, to MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), late night talk show hosts David Letterman and Jon Stewart, and other high-profile figures.

The man, 39-year-old Chad Castagana of Woodland Hills, Calif., is a sometime conservative blogger.

FBI agents took Castagana into custody Saturday on charges of conveying false information and sending threats via the U.S. mail. He was to appear in court Monday.

Castagana has posted on several conservative sites. Earlier this year, for example, at ExposeTheLeft.com, he wrote: "Congresswoman Katherine Harris is a remarkable lady! She has perservered a lot to advance the Conservative Cause. We Red-Bloooded (sic) Americans are obligated to support her, siritualy (sic), not just politically!"

***

Some letters, which were sent over the past three months, included phrases like "Death to Demagogues" and pictures of victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami, authorities said. Some letters had references to Alan Berg, a Jewish talk radio host murdered by white supremacists in Denver in 1984, the document said.

The FBI said federal agents watched Castagana, of Los Angeles, walk from his home to a public mailbox Thursday and deposit several letters. One was allegedly addressed to someone previously targeted and contained the white powder.

While the FBI is still trying to identify the white powder, preliminary tests revealed it does not pose a hazard.

***

Now that Castagana is in custody, isn't it time for the FBI to turn its attention to another conservative, Ann Coulter?

As JABBS noted in September, Coulter admitted that she sent the New York Times an envelope with an X scrawled through it and a suspicious powder inside. The powder was later determined to be cornstarch."So glad to hear that the New York Times got my letter and that your friend at the Times thinks I'm funny," she e-mailed a journalist after the incident.

And that wasn't an isolated deathwish for the Times. In June, Coulter told Fox News Channel's Alan Colmes that she stood behind her claim that Timothy McVeigh -- who was executed for his role in bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City -- should have instead bombed the Times office, especially if the reporters were inside.

Castagana is a no-name. It doesn't matter whether he's conservative or liberal. Should he be proven guilty, he deserves a lengthy prison sentence for terrorism -- he could face 15 years, MSNBC reported last night.

But should there be two tiers of justice -- one for no-names and one for celebrities? Because frankly, I don't see much difference between what Castagana allegedly did, and what Coulter admitted to doing.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Rove Continues To Tout "The Math" To Rationalize GOP Losses

"You are entitled to your math, and I'm entitled to the math," Karl Rove told a National Public Radio interviewer last month.

And he's sticking to that spin.

According to Rove's math: 10 of the 28 House seats Republicans lost were sacrificed because of various scandals. Six more were lost because members did not recognize and react quickly enough to the threat, he said. That leaves 12 other seats lost, fewer than the 15 Democrats needed to capture the House.

Furthermore, Rove says 23 races were decided by 2 percentage points or fewer, and a shift of 77,611 votes would have kept the House in Republican hands.

But can't people make that sort of rationalization whenever the numbers don't work their way? I'm a big Boston Red Sox fan. This year, the Sox finished nine games behind in the chase for an American League playoff spot. Certainly, there were at least nine games when a key error, a missed opportunity on offense, or a poor effort by a pitcher cost the Red Sox a win. If every missed opportunity had gone the Red Sox' way, the Sox would have made the playoffs, and possibly the World Series.

But those opportunities didn't go their way. And other opportunities that could have gone against them did not.

So yes, if there had been no Mark Foley scandal, no Bob Ney scandal, no Duke Cunningham scandal, no Don Sherwood scandal, no Curt Weldon scandal, no Tom DeLay scandal, no George Allen scandal, etc., and if Jack Abramoff hadn't had ties to other Republicans, such as Conrad Burns, and if there hadn't been people like FEMA Director Mike Brown or White House Advisor Claude Allen or Special Assistant David Kuo, then maybe the Republicans would have held onto the House or the Senate, or both.

But if the Bush Administration didn't frequiently make misstatements of fact on the Iraq War and a host of other issues, or if it had cooperated with those it disagreed with, learned from its mistakes, occasionally reached out across the political divide, not wasted billions on earmarks, avoided demonizing those that disagreed with policy, etc., then maybe Bush would have more than 35 percent of the country supporting him, and Americans would actually want Republicans to remain in control of Congress.

***

Furthermore, some Republican pundits aren't buying Rove's spin.

Richard Viguerie said that Tuesday's election was "clearly a loss for George Bush, Karl Rove." And Andrew Sullivan said the election "shows (Rove) not to be a genius, but to be a real failure as a political strategist."

Even Bush seemed to be jabbing Rove. At a news conference Wednesday, Bush was asked about his ongoing book-reading contest with Rove. "I'm losing," Bush said tartly. "I obviously was working harder in the campaign than he was."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Increase In Young Voters Has Democrats Excited About 2008

Two million more people under the age of 30 voted in the midterm elections than in 2002, according to an analysis by the University of Maryland's Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Exit poll data from the elections suggested that the increase in youth turnout aided Democrats in capturing control of Congress. In House races, young people formed the most supportive age group, with 61 percent voting Democratic.

By comparison, the 18-to-29 age group voted Democratic 55 percent of the time in 2004, and roughly 50 percent of the time in 2002, according to exit polling at the time.

Democrats hope this is the latest sign of a new wave of Democratic voters. In 2004, young-voter turnout substantially increased, and the 18-to-29 age group strongly supported the presidential candidacy of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

The X factor, though, is whether more young people are voting -- and voting Democratic -- because they are reacting to the increasingly unpopular Iraq War, or whether there are other issues at play, such as the desire to see an increase in the minimum wage or less corporate-friendly federal environmental policies.

We may know more in 2008.

"We're very excited about this," Jane Fleming, executive director of the Young Democrats of America, told the Washington Post. Fleming suggested, however, that 2008 "will be the real test."

Radio Clown Mark Levin Suggests Santorum, Allen Should Seek 2008 GOP Nomination

No, it's true.

Radio ranter Mark Levin, by his own admission "going against today's conventional wisdom," suggested in a Friday column on National Review Online that outgoing Sens. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and George Allen (R-VA) should consider running for president in 2008.

"I still consider Santorum and Allen among the best and most appealing conservatives on the scene," he wrote.

It's a fringe right fantasy come true, but the truth is, Democrats would love the chance to take on Santorum or Allen.

Santorum was trounced on Tuesday -- the weakest performance by an incumbent Senator in recent memory -- after a race in which multiple false statements didn't budge his poll numbers.

But Levin has always liked Santorum, seeming ignoring when the Pennsylvanian appeared to distance himself from President Bush's agenda.

Meanwhile, Levin also remains loyal to Allen.

Is it possible to have had a more error-prone re-election campaign than Allen had this year in Virginia? Presidential timber? I just don't see it.

Allen had a 20-point lead over Democrat Jim Webb in an April poll. That lead was still 10 points in July. And really, it shouldn't have gotten much closer than that.

But somewhere between being caught on tape uttering "macaca" and having his staffers caught on tape assaulting a University of Virginia student and former marine, too many Virginians lost faith in Allen.

Conservative may blame the "liberal media" for keeping various Allen stories alive. But the problem was, Allen was slow to apologize, and then offered lame apologies at that.

Allen defended questionably racist decisions during a Meet The Press debate by suggesting those decisions were made because he was a rebellious "kid" -- even though some of the incidents occurred from age 25 to 41. After the assault was caught on tape, CNN reported Allen's response was "Things like that happen."

***

Hey, if this is who Levin thinks should represent the party, so be it. Maybe Levin thinks that Santorum and Allen couldn't do this badly on the national stage.

He'd be wrong, of course. But then again, Levin is seldom right.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

In Ohio School Board Race, Science Trumps "Intelligent Design"

Ohio's scientists flexed some political muscle Tuesday as four pro-evolution candidates they backed captured or retained seats on the state Board of Education.

In the race that drew national attention, Tom Sawyer, a former Akron mayor and 16-year congressman, beat incumbent Deborah Owens Fink nearly 2-1 for a board seat. Also winning seats were pro-evolution candidates John Bender, Deborah Cain and Sam Schloemer.

Voters were treated to the unusual sight of Kenneth Miller, a nationally renowned biologist, stumping like a ward-heeler for pro-evolution candidates, and Pastor Ernie Sanders, an evangelical radio host, blasting Sawyer as a merchant of sin.

***

In 2002, the school board adopted science standards that encouraged students to seek evidence for and against evolution. Last February, however, the board rescinded the policy.

Critics of the policy said it was a backdoor attempt to introduce "intelligent design,'' a controversial belief that argues that a higher being designed the complex universe. The belief has been championed by conservative Christian leaders as an alternative to evolutionary theory worthy of being taught in public schools -- creating a "debate" between scientists and non-scientists. It has been fought by supporters of separation of church and state, who see intelligent design as a thinly veiled way to teach religion in public schools.

***

The terms of four more appointed board members will expire Dec. 31, enabling the new governor, Democrat Ted Strickland, to either reappoint or replace them.

That means the 19-person board could have eight new members come January and be transformed into a bully pulpit for Strickland-backed policy.

And Strickland, like the Ohio scientists, has no plans to teach "intelligent design" in the state's public schools.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Will Fox News Channel Pundits Criticize Murdoch's Insensitive Comment?

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch on Monday called the U.S. death toll in the Iraq War -- 2,832 troops since the March 2003 invasion -- "quite minute."

"The death toll, certainly of Americans there, by the terms of any previous war are quite minute," Murdoch told reporters at a conference in Tokyo.

At best, the comment was insensitive to the families of our fallen soldiers. That said, here are some questions for the folks at Murdoch-owned Fox News Channel to ponder:

-- Was Murdoch's comment an example of supporting the troops?

-- If not, will Fox News Channel's pundits criticize Murdoch's statement? (To date, there has apparently been no mention of the quote on Fox News.)

-- Given the anger from the right 10 days ago over a botched joke from Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) -- created over the perception that Kerry was disrespecting the troops -- shouldn't the Murdoch comment receive a similar level of fury?

With Recess Appointment Set To Expire, Bolton Appears Unlikely To Win Confirmation From Senate

Key lawmakers said yesterday they would block the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, all but killing chances for him to remain in the post past December.

For nearly 20 months, President Bush has tried, unsuccessfully, to get Bolton confirmed in a job he has held since August 2005. Bolton then received a recess appointment after not getting enough support in the Senate.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and its presumed chairman when the Democrats take control of the Senate in January, said in a statement yesterday that Bolton's nomination is "going nowhere."

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), who was defeated in Tuesday's election, also said he would block Bolton's nomination. Without Chafee's support, Republicans on the committee do not have enough votes to recommend Bolton's confirmation.

"To confirm Mr. Bolton to the position of U.N. ambassador would fly in the face of the clear consensus of the country that a new direction is called for," Chafee said in a statement.

Result Of Congressional Race Apparently Incomplete, After (Whoops!) 18,000 Votes Disappear

More than 18,000 voters in Sarasota County, Fla., or a whopping 13 percent of those who went to the polls Tuesday, did not seem to vote in the Congressional race when they cast ballots, a discrepancy that Kathy Dent, the county elections supervisor, said she could not explain.

The amazing total would seem to impact the outcome of the race, in which Republican Vern Buchanan leads Democrat Christine Jennings by 373 votes, out of 237,861 cast. A preliminary review by The Herald-Tribune of Sarasota found that if Jennings had won the same percentage of the 18,000 missing votes as she did among counted votes in Sarasota County, she would have won the race by about 600 votes instead of losing by 373.

The seat was vacated by Katherine Harris (R-FL) -- irony, anyone? -- who ran for Senate and was subsequently walloped by Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.

While 13 percent of Sarasota County voters failed to register a vote for the House seat, neighboring counties in the district recorded 2-5 percent of people not voting for the seat, according to The Herald-Tribune. And many of those who did not seem to cast a vote in the House race did vote in more obscure races, like for the hospital board.

In other words, it's highly unlikely that 13 percent of Sarasota County voters didn't cast a vote for the House seat.

***

State law requires machine recounts when the margin of victory is half a percentage point or less. But will a recount matter?

“If a vote is not recorded electronically inside the machine for whatever reason, there’s no way to go back and recover it,” Rebecca Mercuri, a computer scientist and an expert on voting technology in Hamilton, N.J., who has been critical of electronic voting, told the New York Times. “Chances are that nothing’s going to change, because those votes are gone.”

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rumsfeld, Praised Last Week, Resigns. Is It Possible Bush Didn't Use "Fantastic" Last Week To Praise Rummy?

Just last week President Bush called Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "fantastic" and said Rummy would stay till the end of his administration.

As JABBS noted: "As unlikely as it sounds ... if and when Bush decides Rumsfeld must go, he ... can merely spin that what sounded like praise was actually a sign of disatisfaction."

That was sarcasm on Nov. 2. It's reality now. Rumsfeld announced his resignation Wednesday -- perhaps as a sacrificial lamb following the trouncing the Republicans took in the House and Senate on Tuesday.

Bush praised Rumsfeld for his loyalty and patriotism, but at the same time the president was apparently calculating that after what amounted to a referendum on the way his administration was handling Iraq, a change of some magnitude was needed. Ditching Rumsfeld was an obvious option -- especially after Rummy was embarrassed this week by editorials in Army Times and other military newspapers demanding his resignation.

As the Chicago Tribune wrote: "It may mean that the president really thought Republicans would hold onto the House and was shocked by the magnitude of the Republican losses last night into finally seeing how large a political liability Rumsfeld was. 'Actually, I thought I was going to be fine in this election. Shows you what I know,' Bush said in the press conference (announcing the resignation)."

Remember those definitions of "fantastic":

Definition #1: Conceived or appearing as if conceived by an unrestrained imagination; odd and remarkable; bizarre;

Definition #2: Imaginary or groundless in not being based on reality; foolish or irrational;

Definition #3: Highly unrealistic or impractical; outlandish.

In the end, the Bush Administration may wind up being remembered as a time of "fantastic" people -- including Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Wolfowitz.

AP Declares Webb Winner In Virginia, Giving Democrats Control Of Senate; Republican Leaders Call On Allen To Concede

A historic week for the Democrats appears to have gotten a whole lot better.

The Associated Press declared Democrat Jim Webb the winner late Wednesday of the Virginia Senate race, and reported that his victory gives the Democrats 51 Senate seats and majorities in both the House and Senate for the first time since 1994.

The AP contacted election officials in all 134 Virginia localities where voting occurred. About half said they had completed their post-election canvassing and nearly all had counted outstanding absentees. Most were expected to be finished by tomorrow.

The Democrat's lead over the Republican incumbent rose to more than 7,300 votes, within the margin under state law for a state-paid recount. Out of 2.3 million votes cast, the margin is about 0.3 percent. But election experts say overcoming that kind of lead has almost never been done in a recount.

***

An adviser to Allen, speaking on condition of anonymity because his boss hasn't formally decided to end the campaign, told the AP that the senator wanted to wait until most of the canvassing was completed before announcing his decision, possibly as early as this evening. The adviser said that Allen was disinclined to request a recount if the final vote spread was similar to that of election night.

Meanwhile, the National Journal Hotline reports that "top Republicans in Washington will give Sen. George Allen a few days to take stock of his legal and political options before beginning to pressure him to concede to James Webb. Senior Republican officials and White House aides believe that Webb won the race. Several outside advisers to Allen want him to make the decision quickly."

Goodbye, Sen. "Macaca."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Democrats Win House; Senate Remains Undecided

Here's where things stand:

The Democrats regained control of the House last night, as nearly every close race around the country broker their way.

MSNBC projects the Democrats will pick up between 30 and 32 seats, winding up with at least a 231-204 majority. CNN this morning had the Democrats up 227-194, with 14 seats too close to call.

In the Senate, Democrats have picked up seats held by Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum, Ohio's Mike DeWine, Missouri's Jimi Talent and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee.

Still to be decided is Montana, where Democrat Jon Tester leads incumbent Conrad Burns by 1,700 votes with 91% of precincts counted. Computer glitches in Yellowstone County have forced a hand-count there.

In Virginia, Democrat Jim Webb has about an 8,000-vote lead over incumbent George Allen, but because the difference is less than 0.5%, the state mandates a recount. (Ironically, this was the rule in Florida in 2000, when Republlicans balked at a state recount of votes cast for George W. Bush and Al Gore.)

If the Democrats hold on to both Montana and Virginia, the party will also take control of the Senate.

Exit polls suggest the unpopular Iraq War, and the Bush Administration's questionable management of the war, was high on people's minds. Also way up there: Republican corruption, from Tom DeLay to Duke Cunningham to Bob Ney to Mark Foley to Curt Weldon.

***

Funniest moment of the night: Stephen Colbert, on Comedy Central's special Midterm Midtacular, putting up a map of the 1984 presidential race and arguing to Jon Stewart that the Republican near-sweep that year was still relevant.

Most interesting moment: MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, explaining that he comes from a family of Democrats, and that his mother had to lie to his father about voting for John Kennedy in 1960.

Most gratifying moment, present tense: Santorum gave a magnaminous concession speech, calling victor Bob Casey Jr. a "fine man who will do a fine job for Pennsylvania." The key here is that it was a concession speech, in what proved to be a very lopsided race.

Most gratifying moment, past tense: Ohio Democrat Ted Strickland walloped Republican Kenneth Blackwell in the race for governor. Blackwell had an apparent conflict of interest in 2004, when he oversaw the presidential ballots while serving as Secretary of State, and Bush's state chairman. In Florida, Democrat Bill Nelson walloped Republican Katherine Harris in the race for Senate. She had a similar conflict of interest in 2000, as Secretary of State and Bush's state co-chair.

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