Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Revitalized "West Wing"

I'm personally loving the fact that NBC has moved The West Wing to Sundays. I have nothing else on at that time and with Bravo airing last season at the same time, I'm able to get a double dose every week. Art is imitating life big time with the election campaign repeating some plot points from last year's election and Jed Bartlett's White House plagued by a leak scandal.

Post-9/11, my TV taste tended away from the ripped from the headlines hyper-realism of The West Wing and 24 more toward the faux realism of The Amazing Race (which back in the day conflicted with The West Wing), The Apprentice and any other reality show I could get my hands on. As much as I enjoyed the show and admire (read: worship) Aaron Sorkin as a writer, I just couldn't bring myself to watch it week after week. Now, after years of real life inhabiting stranger than fiction territory, I think I'm veering back toward TV not as escapism so much as wish fulfillment and The West Wing allows me to play make believe.

President Bartlett has served his two terms and the election to succeed him is in its final months. In fact, it's August and the Democrat, Congressman Santos (Jimmy Smits), a military man who has trouble connecting with voters, lacks a clear message and has a credibility gap on security issues, is down by 9 points. Sound familiar? Yes, The West Wing is taking Democrats all over the country down a dark path, reliving last year's election. But there is a glimmer of hope this time around. First of all, Janeane Garofalo is on board as a Democratic campaign consultant who demands that Santos fight back hard against attacks from his Republican opponent (played by Alan Alda.) And when Santos makes the apparent mis-step of talking about his faith in an answer to a question about Intelligent Design, it turns out to be a public relations coup that puts the Republican on the defensive. One gets the sense that this revisionist history serves not merely as entertainment, but as prescription as well -- a sort of "how to beat Republicans" guide for Democrats in the future. This is Hollywood after all. But that only works if the Democrat does in fact win. So I'll be rooting for Santos -- for a little bit of 2004 redemption as well as for some 2008 inspiration. It's a lot to ask of one TV show, but like I said, The West Wing this season for me is all about wish fulfillment.

The West Wing's White House leak investigation plot line is even more timely and in some ways offers a more complex dilemma for Democrats. On one hand, it serves as a sort of primer for what must be going on behind the doors of the real White House: subpoenas flying, representation being secured by high level officials, and the day-to-day political functions of the White House suffering for it. On another level, by dramatizing it among a sympathetic cast of characters, The West Wing sort of humanizes the situation, makes it accessible and de-demonizes the crime. But only to a point. In real life, some in The White House have been accused of leaking the name of an undercover CIA operative as political retribution against the operative's husband, a political enemy; in fake West Wing White House, Toby Ziegler confesses to having leaked information about a top secret military space shuttle as a brave act of defiance...to save lives. While the president does not support Toby's action and fires him in dramatic fashion, leave it to The West Wing to make a Democrat leaking top secret information to the press a moral, even laudable act. Wish fulfillment, remember?

Read my full review at Hollywood Momentum starting tomorrow (and every Wednesday.)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Hilarious Today Show "Gaffe"

I don't know how it could have been a typo, but when Katie Couric was interviewing Bill O'Reilly this morning, the Chyron at the bottom of the screen read: "NO SPINE ZONE."

Ah, that's good stuff.

See the vidcap here.

Media Finally Swallows The Red Pill

As my boss is out this week, I've been watching a lot of cable news and it's nice to see the so-called liberal media acting like their usually inaccurate moniker. I've often said, if the media were liberal, wouldn't I be happy with it? For the most part, I've been anything but. But ever since Katrina, the media has stepped up and they've really not relented in their criticism of the Bush administration. It seems now that there's a lot more overlap between the mainstream media and liberal blogs than ever before, as well as between the MM and The Daily Show, as they finally wake up to the abusrdity we've been seeing ever since the Supreme Court stopped the counting of ballots in Florida.

Case in point: CNN's Lou Dobbs. First of all, not only is he a self-proclaimed conservative but he had decidedly non-partisan David Gergen on to discuss the White House's problems of late.

Gergen talking point of choice: "this administration's come off its rails"

He said it literally 3 times in a minute.

CNN graphic of choice: "WHITE HOUSE MESS"

Abandoning Bush

One of the pleasures of recent months, as Bush has made mis-step after mis-step, most notably his disastrous nomination of Harriet Miers as Supreme Court justice, has been the conservative on conservative sniping. For the first time ever I saw Brit Hume and Bill Kristol at each others' throats on Fox News and on Real Time with Bill Maher such putative conservatives as Andrew Sullivan and Ann Coulter ripped Bush apart. After years of nodding and smiling, coddling and excusing, more and more conservatives are through; they feel abandoned, so they're abandoning him.

Slate's Timothy Noah is keeping abandonment watch and brings us choice quotes from Margaret Thatcher and Ari Fleischer:

And as a scientist I know you need facts, evidence and proof—and then you check, recheck and check again. The fact was that there were no facts, there was no evidence, and there was no proof. As a politician the most serious decision you can take is to commit your armed services to war from which they may not return.
[Miers] was always pleasant, always polite, always being tough as the paper kept moving...Is that a skill you need to be a Supreme Court justice? No, I don't think so.
Sidney Blumenthal's column in today's Salon has an interesting thesis: that conservatives are railing against Bush to "hide the utter failure of their ideology":
For his second term, Bush took his narrow victory as a mandate to govern from the hard right. At last, he would begin the privatization of Social Security, rolling back the signature program of the New Deal. But he stumbled upon a dirty little secret of conservatism: Members of the public support conservative presidents so long as they leave the liberal programs that benefit them alone. The more Bush barnstormed the country to promote his Social Security scheme, the more the public became aware of it and opposed him.

Baffled and confounded, he plowed ahead, even as the Iraq war eroded his support. Then Hurricane Katrina blew the top off his administration's culture of cronyism. Meanwhile, the special prosecutor investigating the disclosure of a covert CIA operative's identity by senior administration officials has moved steadily and silently like a submarine toward his targets.

The anti-Bush rhetoric among conservatives has seriously ramped up post-Miers, her nomination being widely seen as a last straw. Conservatives stayed silent in the face of unprecedented spending and a growing deficit under Bush hoping their devotion would pay off in the end; they were counting on this nomination to be their coming out party. Instead they got Miers, an unproven jurist with an uncertain judicial philosophy. They've seen other conservatives such as Sandra Day O'Connor ascend to the court only to turn against them with so-called liberal votes. Blumenthal continues:
Bush's nomination of his White House legal counsel and former personal lawyer, Harriet Miers, for the Supreme Court was the hair trigger for a conservative revolt. Miers is demonstrably the least qualified nominee for the high court since Clarence Thomas. She has never been a judge or prominent public official and has no background in constitutional law. She appears on the White House Web site discussing how Bush plays horseshoes with his dog: "The president throws the horseshoes to Barney, and Barney runs after them."

Conservatives see her nomination as a rebuke to the cadres of ideologues in the Federalist Society groomed for Republican upward mobility; right-wing pundits have outdone each other in denouncing her as a crony. Frum has launched a petition drive to force Bush to withdraw her nomination. "She once told me that he president was the most brilliant man she had ever met," the Bush iconographer sneered. Yet Bush nominated Miers in place of professional ideologues because he had fallen from grace as a consequence of his stubborn adherence to conservative policies; Bush calculated that the Senate would approve her but not a right-wing judge with a well-delineated record. Had Bush's conservative policies succeeded, he might have been able to name a purebred ideologue.
Despite Bush's faithful implementation of conservative ideas, disloyal ideologues blame him personally to deflect attention from the failure of their ideas as they position themselves for whatever or whoever is next. Like Trotskyists for whom communism always remained an unfulfilled ideal, conservatives now claim that conservatism has not been tried, and that Bush is a "betrayer" and "impostor." In his attempt to avoid the nemesis of his father, he is reliving it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The White House Iraq Group

The thread between the Plame leak case and the administration's exaggerated case for war is a connection that is rarely made in the media.

First of all there's the claim that the administration leaked Plame's name in retaliation against Plame's husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, who was outspoken in debunking the infamous 16 words that made it in to Bush's 2003 State of The Union address:
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought
significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
Wilson of course was sent to Africa, apparently at the suggestion of his wife, to check on whether Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger. His conclusion: it wasn't.

Some claim that the 16 words referred to another country in Africa altogether and the statement was essentially factually true since it was qualified by the words "British government learned." But no matter the resolution of this debate, the fact is that these words, which were later retracted, made their way into the State of the Union as part of the concerted effort by a little known top level group called The White House Iraq Group to make the case for war. It is no accident that the Plame leak investigation is focusing on its members.

It was called the White House Iraq Group and its job was to make the case that Saddam Hussein had nuclear and biochemical weapons.

So determined was the ring of top officials to win its argument that it morphed into a virtual hit squad that took aim at critics who questioned its claims, sources told the Daily News. One of those critics was ex-Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who debunked a key claim in a speech by President Bush that Iraq sought nuclear materials in Africa. His punishment was the media outing of his wife, CIA spy Valerie Plame, an affair that became a "side show" for the White House Iraq Group, the sources said.

The Plame leak is now the subject of a criminal probe that has seen presidential political guru Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, hauled before a grand jury.

Both men were members of the group, also known as WHIG.
And who else was in the group?

Besides Rove and Libby, the group included senior White House aides Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James Wilkinson, Nicholas Calio, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley. WHIG also was doing more than just public relations, said a second former intel officer.

"They were funneling information to [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller. Judy was a charter member," the source said.

The same Judy Miller who went to jail for 85 days for not cooperating with Patrick Fitzgerald's Plame leak investigation. The same Judy Miller who published all those articles in The New York Times that spoke confidently of aluminum tubes and WMDs in Iraq that led The Times to finally issue a Mea Culpa in May 2004, which cited such Miller classics as September '02's U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts and White House Lists Iraq Steps to Build Banned Weapons, January '03's Defectors Bolster U.S. Case Against Iraq, Officials Say and April '03's Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert.

Frank Rich elaborates on the WHIG in his column on Sunday:

Very little has been written about the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG. Its inception in August 2002, seven months before the invasion of Iraq, was never announced. Only much later would a newspaper article or two mention it in passing, reporting that it had been set up by Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff. Its eight members included Mr. Rove, Mr. Libby, Condoleezza Rice and the pinmeisters Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin. Its mission: to market a war in Iraq.
Of course, the official Bush history would have us believe that in August 2002 no decision had yet been made on that war. Dates bracketing the formation of WHIG tell us otherwise. On July 23, 2002 - a week or two before WHIG first convened in earnest - a British official told his peers, as recorded in the now famous Downing Street memo, that the Bush administration was ensuring that "the intelligence and facts" about Iraq's W.M.D.'s "were being fixed around the policy" of going to war. And on Sept. 6, 2002 - just a few weeks after WHIG first convened - Mr. Card alluded to his group's existence by telling Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times that there was a plan afoot to sell a war against Saddam Hussein: "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

The official introduction of that product began just two days later. On the Sunday talk shows of Sept. 8, Ms. Rice warned that "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," and Mr. Cheney, who had already started the nuclear doomsday drumbeat in three August speeches, described Saddam as "actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons." The vice president cited as evidence a front-page article, later debunked, about supposedly nefarious aluminum tubes co-written by Judy Miller in that morning's Times. The national security journalist James Bamford, in "A Pretext for War," writes that the article was all too perfectly timed to facilitate "exactly the sort of propaganda coup that the White House Iraq Group had been set up to stage-manage."

The administration's doomsday imagery was ratcheted up from that day on. As Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus of The Washington Post would determine in the first account of WHIG a full year later, the administration's "escalation of nuclear rhetoric" could be traced to the group's formation. Along with mushroom clouds, uranium was another favored image, the Post report noted,
"because anyone could see its connection to an atomic bomb." It appeared in a Bush radio address the weekend after the Rice-Cheney Sunday show blitz and would reach its apotheosis with the infamously fictional 16 words about "uranium from Africa" in Mr. Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address on the eve of war.

Bush Reportedly Knew Rove Leaked Plame

The NY Daily News has a pretty explosive article on the subject of Bush's knowledge of the leak:
An angry President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair, sources told the Daily News.

"He made his displeasure known to Karl," a presidential counselor told The News. "He made his life miserable about this."
"Karl is fighting for his life," the official added, "but anything he did was done to help George W. Bush. The President knows that and appreciates that."

Other sources confirmed, however, that Bush was initially furious with Rove in 2003 when his deputy chief of staff conceded he had talked to the press about the Plame leak.
If true, this could prove to be a problem for Bush since he said the following publicly:

Listen, I know of nobody -- I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action. (Sept. '03)

"I want to know the truth," the president continued. "Leaks of classified information are bad things."

He added that he did not know of "anybody in my administration who leaked classified information." (Feb. '04)

And check out the clasic Daily Press Briefing where Scotty tries to have it all ways with the media who seems to once again/still be actually doing...what is it?...their job:

QUESTION: Scott, is it true that the President --
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Welcome back.
QUESTION: Thanks. Is it true that the President slapped Karl Rove upside the head a couple of years ago over the CIA leak?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Are you referring to, what, a New York Daily News report? Two things: One, we're not commenting on an ongoing investigation; two, and I would challenge the overall accuracy of that news account.
QUESTION: That's a comment.
QUESTION: Which part of it?
QUESTION: Yes, that is.
QUESTION: Which facts --
SCOTT McCLELLAN: No, I'm just saying -- no, I'm just trying to help you all.
QUESTION: So what facts are you challenging?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not going to comment on an ongoing investigation.
QUESTION: You can't say you're challenging the facts and then not say which ones you're challenging.
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Yes, I can. I just did. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Scott, let me come back to -- so you say you're challenging the accuracy, but you won't tell us why. Why would it be irresponsible for us to report that?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Report what?
QUESTION: What you said --
SCOTT McCLELLAN: It's up to you what you want to report. I'm just trying to --
QUESTION: Well, if you want us to say it's inaccurate, you need to give us a reason why, or it wouldn't be responsible to report it.
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Well, there's an ongoing investigation, and as you know, our policy is not to comment on it. So that's where we are.
QUESTION: You just did.
QUESTION: Based on your personal knowledge, based on your opinion, based on your frustration with the story -- what caused you to say that?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: No, I mean, I read the story and I didn't view it as an accurate story. QUESTION: Why not?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not going to go any further than that. There's an ongoing investigation. This is bringing up matters related to an ongoing investigation.
QUESTION: After you read the story, Scott, did you check with either the two people mentioned, the President or Rove, to ask them? Is that what you base --
SCOTT McCLELLAN: I don't have any further comment, Peter.
QUESTION: Well, is that what you base your guidance on, or is it just -- you know, is it just you're feeling that this couldn't have happened?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: I stand by what I just said and I'm going to leave it at that.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Conspiracy Theorist Within

Is it just me or does this administration make you want to forsake your inherent optimism, rationality and general trust in the triumph of people's better natures and become a full blown conspiracy theorist? I mean, part of me thinks, hell, they'd do anything to maintain power. I still can't buy in to the whole "the levies were bombed" thing, or "Bush and Blair conspired to bomb the London Underground" or "the plane that flew into the Pentagon was actually a missile" but Keith Olbermann puts together quite a case for a somewhat less outrageous theory -- is it really just a coincidence that 14 times in the last three years, a terror alert, a warning, an arrest...something to remind us of the ongoing terror threat (code for "Bush is a strong leader") has come directly on the heels of negative press for the president.

Olbermann sets the scene:
Last Thursday on Countdown, I referred to the latest terror threat - the reported bomb plot against the New York City subway system - in terms of its timing. President Bush’s speech about the war on terror had come earlier the same day, as had the breaking news of the possible indictment of Karl Rove in the CIA leak investigation.

I suggested that in the last three years there had been about 13 similar coincidences - a political downturn for the administration, followed by a “terror event” - a change in alert status, an arrest, a warning.
He then goes on to list all thirteen, the date of the bad news, then the date of the subsequent terror alert. Go ahead, take a trip down memory lane:

December 17th, 2003. 9/11 Commission Co-Chair Thomas Kean says the attacks were preventable. The next day, a Federal Appeals Court says the government cannot detain suspected radiation-bomber Jose Padilla indefinitely without charges, and the chief U.S. Weapons inspector in Iraq, Dr. David Kay, who has previously announced he has found no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, announces he will resign his post.

December 21st, 2003. Three days later, just before Christmas, Homeland Security again raises the threat level to Orange, claiming “credible intelligence” of further plots to crash airliners into U.S. cities. Subsequently, six international flights into this country are cancelled after some passenger names purportedly produce matches on government no-fly lists. The French later identify those matched names: one belongs to an insurance salesman from Wales, another to an elderly Chinese woman, a third to a five-year old boy.


July 29th, 2004. At their party convention in Boston, the Democrats formally nominate John Kerry as their candidate for President. As in the wake of any convention, the Democrats dominate the media attention over the ensuing weekend.

Monday, August 1st, 2004. The Department of Homeland Security raises the alert status for financial centers in New York, New Jersey, and Washington to orange. The evidence supporting the warning - reconnaissance data, left in a home in Iraq, later proves to be roughly four years old and largely out-of-date.

June 26th, 2005. A Gallup poll suggests that 61 percent of the American public believes the President does not have a plan in Iraq. On the 28th, Mr. Bush speaks to the nation from Fort Bragg: "We fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we'll fight them there, we'll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won."

June 29th 2005. The next day, another private pilot veers into restricted airspace, the Capitol is again evacuated, and this time, so is the President.

Olbermann is quite measured in his analysis, reminding us of the Logical Falacy: "Just because Event 'A' occurs, and then Event 'B' occurs, that does not automatically mean that Event 'A' caused Event 'B.' But in the same breath he recalls Tom Ridge's statements of earlier this year:
On May 10th of this year, after his resignation, former Secretary of Homeland Security Ridge looked back on the terror alert level changes, issued on his watch.

Mr. Ridge said: “More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it. Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don’t necessarily put the country on (alert)… there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said ‘for that?’”
And Olbermann, probably the press's most reliable member of the reality-based community, leaves us with these words of wisdom:
But, if merely a reasonable case can be made that any of these juxtapositions of events are more than just coincidences, it underscores the need for questions to be asked in this country - questions about what is prudence, and what is fear-mongering; questions about which is the threat of death by terror, and which is the terror of threat.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

...Make That 4 Polls

OK, first thing's first. The new Pew Poll out today has Bush's approval rating down to 38% (hell, the Bushies are nostalgic for the good ole days of 40%!), the lowest of his presidency.

But check out this other statistic from the poll:
About four-in-ten (41%) say that, in the long run, Bush will be an unsuccessful president, up from 27% in January and the highest percentage expressing that view since he took office. About a quarter (26%) believe Bush will be successful ­ down 10 points since January ­ while 30% say it is too early to tell.
Dang. That is harsh. I almost feel bad for the poor guy.


A Bush Event Was Staged?! Shocker!

This is hilarious. The media is up in arms about this tele-conference call Bush had with troops in Iraq. The fact that it was staged is somehow news. It's been on MSNBC.com all day, now it's on Yahoo News main page and NBC Nightly News led with it tonight. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the media is finally treating the administration with the skepticism they deserve; it's rewarding to see their finally wanting in on the reality-based community. But news? Come on, if it hadn't been staged, that would be news.

I'm reminded of Bob Herbert's column in which he marveled at the front page New York Times article about liberals feeling dismayed at the realization that perhaps all that stuff Bush promised after Katrina would never be delivered.

The article noted that some liberal activists had hoped that the extraordinary suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina might lead to a genuine effort by the administration and Congress to address such important poverty-related matters as health care, housing, employment and race...I assumed that most people watching the president realized that he was deeply embedded in a Karl Rove moment. The speech was a carefully scripted, meticulously staged performance designed primarily to halt the widespread criticism of Mr. Bush's failure to respond more quickly to the tragedy.

As the president spoke, it never occurred to me that anyone would buy into the notion that Mr. Bush and his supporters would actually do something about poverty and racism.

And the fact that Scott McClellan tried to deny it was staged in the press briefing? Again, Scotty's obfuscations are news only to the mainstream media:
Q: Scott, why did the administration feel it was necessary to coach the soldiers that the President talked to this morning in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I don't know what you're suggesting...I'm sorry, are you suggesting that what our troops were saying was not sincere, or what they said was not their own thoughts?

Q: So you're saying this was not a staged conversation for PR purposes?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is an event where there's coordination that goes on and we work closely with the Department of Defense. They worked to pull together some troops for the President to visit with and highlight important topics that are going on right now on the ground in Iraq.

This is how it went down, according to The AP:
It was billed as a conversation with U.S. troops, but the questions President Bush asked on a teleconference call Thursday were choreographed to match his goals for the war in Iraq and Saturday's vote on a new Iraqi constitution.

"This is an important time," Allison Barber, deputy assistant defense secretary, said, coaching the soldiers before Bush arrived. "The president is looking forward to having just a conversation with you."

Barber said the president was interested in three topics: the overall security situation in Iraq, security preparations for the weekend vote and efforts to train Iraqi troops.
A brief rehearsal ensued.

"OK, so let's just walk through this," Barber said. "Captain Kennedy, you answer the first question and you hand the mike to whom?"

"Captain Smith," Kennedy said.

"Captain. Smith? You take the mike and you hand it to whom?" she asked.

"Captain Kennedy," the soldier replied.

And so it went.

"If the question comes up about partnering — how often do we train with the Iraqi military — who does he go to?" Barber asked.

"That's going to go to Captain Pratt," one of the soldiers said.

"And then if we're going to talk a little bit about the folks in Tikrit — the hometown — and how they're handling the political process, who are we going to give that to?" she asked.

Manipulating this event to advance an agenda without disclosing the programmed nature of it is called propaganda, Mr. President. You should know that word by now, you've engaged in enough of it. Remember this?

Armstrong Williams, a conservative commentator, had been touting the No Child Left Behind education reform law in newspaper columns and television shows. Favorable television stories about administration health initiatives carried sign-offs like "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting." In Spanish it was "Alberto Garcia." And a syndicated columnist, Maggie Gallagher, repeatedly praised President Bush's Healthy Marriage initiative. It turned out that all these favorable - and sometimes fawning - news stories and commentaries, ostensibly legitimate and independent, had been written and paid for by government agencies or by hired public relations firms.
Guess what?
The Government Accountability Office declared that many of these government expenditures were illegal.
What a shocker.

Bush Below 40% in 3 Polls

Remember when Bush under 50% was a big deal?

NBC/WSJ - 10/12/05 (mid-September)

Approve 39% (40%)
Disapprove 54% (55%)

Right Track 28%

AP/Ipsos Poll - 10/8/05

Approve 39%

Right Track 28%
Wrong Track 66%

CBS News - 10/6/05 (9/2/05)

Approve 37% (41%)
Disapprove 58%

Right Track 26% (31%)
Wrong Track 69% (63%)

One could be an outlier, two could flukes, but three is a bona fide trend. Now, he is still above 40% in other polls, including Rasmussen and Zogby (44% and 43% respectively, slightly up from prior recent lows) but the overall message is that virtually everyone but his core base is losing confidence in him at best, abandoning him at worst.

So why does the approval rating of a lame duck president matter? Because there are midterm elections next year, of course, and the popularity of the president trickles down.

From the WSJ/NBC poll:
With the 2006 congressional elections a year away, 48 percent of respondents said they preferred a Democratic-controlled Congress, compared with 39 percent who said they preferred Republican leadership, NBC said.

The 9-point difference was the largest margin between the parties in the 11 years the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll had been tracking the question, NBC said.

As a result of the waning popularity of the party as a whole, the GOP is having a difficult time attracting top tier candidates to challenge sitting Democratic Senators. Recruitment is one of the top reasons the Republicans have done so well in the last few cycles and it is seriously lacking this year.

Prominent Republicans in recent days passed up races in North Dakota and West Virginia, both GOP-leaning states with potentially vulnerable Democratic incumbents. Earlier, Republican recruiters on Capitol Hill and at the White House failed to lure their first choices to run in Florida, Michigan, and Vermont.

These setbacks have prompted grumbling. Some Republican operatives, including some who work closely with the White House, privately point to what they regard as a lackluster performance by Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the group that heads fund-raising and candidate recruitment for GOP senators.

But some strategists more sympathetic to Dole point the finger right back. With an unpopular war in Iraq, ethical controversies shadowing top Republicans in the House and Senate, and President George W. Bush getting the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, the waters look less inviting to politicians deciding whether to plunge into an election bid next year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Gore Not Planning To Run in 08

I've held out a bit of hope for a Gore run in 2008, now that in "recovery" as he calls his current situation, he's become the candidate we always wanted him to be when he was actually in politics. In a speech in Sweden, he was still coy about a possible run:
I have absolutely no plans and no expectations of ever being a candidate again.
OK, so maybe not coy at all. So I suppose I should take him at his word and give up the dream of redemption for 2000. But it's hard. Every day that goes by, I marvel at what a different country we would be living in had Florida gone the other way. Gore has some ideas about it as well:
We would not have invaded a country that didn't attack us...We would not have taken money from the working families and given it to the most wealthy families...We would not be trying to control and intimidate the news media. We would not be routinely torturing people...We would be a different country.
I think that pretty much says it all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Democrats Stepping Up? It's About Time

On Meet The Press last weekend the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Congressman Rahm Emanuel, began to outline the new Democratic agenda, but I'd say it got lost among his "umm"s, "uhhh"s and general incoherent stuttering (can someone replace him, please?)

According to Roll Call, it appears that there will be a formal (and hopefully competent) roll out of the new Democratic Party message this fall, earlier than the originally planned Spring '06 release. One wonders why it's even taken them this long; I get that it's in preparation for the November '06 elections, but the extreme vacuum of leadership in Washington would seem to have created the perfect opportunity for Democrats to step forward and rise to the occasion. Instead, they've been content to hang back and let the Republicans implode while successfully promoting the frame that Democrats are "the party of no" with "no new ideas." I can only hope that long lasting damage has not been done and that the strategy will be a winning one but they'll have to prove it if they want any more money out of me. In the meantime, I am cautiously encouraged by the main points of the agenda, front paged at dailyKos:
Among the proposals are: "real security" for America through stronger investments in U.S. armed forces and benchmarks for determining when to bring troops home from Iraq; affordable health insurance for all Americans; energy independence in 10 years; an economic package that includes an increase in the minimum wage and budget restrictions to end deficit spending; and universal college education through scholarships and grants as well as funding for the No Child Left Behind act.

Democrats will also promise to return ethical standards to Washington through bipartisan ethics oversight and tighter lobbying restrictions, increase assistance to Katrina disaster victims through Medicaid and housing vouchers, save Social Security from privatization and tighten pension laws.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Looks Like A Duck To Me

The case against Tom DeLay is not insignificant and one sees why an impartial jury, despite the motivations of a prosecutor, which may or may not be political in nature, would issue the indictment.

Former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) met for at least 30 minutes with the top fundraiser of his Texas political action committee on Oct. 2, 2002, the same day that the Republican National Committee in Washington set in motion a series of financial transactions at the heart of the money-laundering and conspiracy case against DeLay.

During the meeting at his Capitol office, DeLay conferred with James W. Ellis, the head of his principal fundraising committee in Washington and his chief fundraiser in Texas. Ellis had earlier given the Republican National Committee a check for $190,000 drawn mostly from corporate contributions. The same day as the meeting, the RNC ordered $190,000 worth of checks sent to seven Republican legislative candidates in Texas.

Turns out DeLay's chief fundraiser, also indicted last week (umm, and this week), allegedly had a more direct role:

In the indictment, the grand jury accused DeLay, Ellis and John Colyandro -- then the director of Texans for a Republican Majority, an ARMPAC offshoot -- of agreeing with the Republican National Committee to conduct the offense of money laundering and set forth a sequence of key events that began on Sept. 11, 2002. It alleges that Ellis "did request and propose" on that day that an arm of the RNC make the payments to Texas Republicans once it had received the check from Texas.

The next day, according to the indictment, Ellis delivered the check to the Republican National State Elections Committee, an arm of the RNC, and also provided it "with a document that contained the names of several candidates." He also "requested and proposed" how much each candidate should receive, the indictment said.

Doesn't mean that DeLay is going down, of course.

To prove that DeLay participated in money laundering or in a conspiracy to conduct it -- the two allegations in the felony indictment brought against DeLay on Monday morning -- Earle will have to prove two things, according to lawyers who are closely following the case: The transactions involving the $190,000 were illegal, and DeLay played some critical role, by approving them or by helping to carry them out.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Harriet Miers Via The Late Night Crew

"Big news this morning at the White House, President Bush defended his nominee, Harriet Miers, calling her 'plenty bright.' Not only that, but then the president said Miers has 'real purdy hair.' Then he got on a mule and headed south."
--Conan O'Brien

"She's never been a judge before...never served on the bench. This is part of President Bush's strategy of surrounding himself with people who are also in over their heads."
--Jay Leno

"Welcome to the 'Late Show,' ladies and gentlemen. It's like the Supreme Court, anyone can get in here."
--David Letterman

"As you might expect some people are criticizing the pick, especially conservative Republicans who worry that Harriet Miers is too liberal. Other critics say she's not a good pick because she hasn't been a judge before. Uh, had Paula Abdul been a judge before? Nobody had a problem when they picked her."
--Jimmy Kimmel

Monday, October 03, 2005

DeLay Indicted AGAIN

New Grand Jury, new charge, this time "Money Laundering" as opposed to "Conspiracy" but it's for the same crime as his first indictment:

Both indictments accuse DeLay and two political associates of conspiring to get around a state ban on corporate campaign contributions by funneling the money through the DeLay-founded Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee to the Republican National Committee in Washington. The RNC then sent back like amounts to distribute to Texas candidates in 2002, the indictment alleges.

The new charge was the first action from a new Travis County grand jury, which started their term Monday...The new indictment comes hours after DeLay's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the case.

Fox News's little bit of editorializing at the end of their report was classic. I'm paraphrasing, but it was something to the effect of:

This second indictment comes on the heels of the defense's request to dismiss the case. It could signal the prosecutor's attempt to solidify his case.

Eating Their Own, Part deux

Conservative sites seem to be coming around to Miers, especially after a release by the White House filled with what even The American Spectator calls "White House Spin."

But what made me smile was a post earlier in the day on the site calling Dick Cheney "wrong":

"Well, we've never backed off from a fight with this Congress or any other Congress. ..." This was the Vice President's response to Rush Limbaugh in discussing the perception that perhaps the Miers nomination was to avoid a fight with Senate Democrats.

The problem is, the Vice President is just wrong. The White House promised a veto of the transporation bill, then punted. The White House had an opportunity to take a more market-oriented Katrina recovery approach and turned it into the New New Deal. The White House was told by more than a dozen Republican Senators that they would fight hard for a Scalia-type conservative Supreme Court nominee this time around, and instead they get someone who looks like an also-ran in a Norma Desmond lookalike contest.

What we've witnessed here today is the dismantling of conservatives' willingness to defend BushCo at any cost. Personally, I'm having a ball watching it all unfold.

Bennett Resigns

In the wake of his controversial comments on his radio show, Bennett has resigned as employee, Chairman and Board Member of K12, Inc, saying:
I am in the midst of a political battle based on a coordinated campaign willfully distorting my views, my record, and my statements. Given the controversy surrounding there marks I made on my radio show, I am stepping down from my positions at K12,so that neither the mission of the company, nor its children, are affected,distracted, or harmed in any way.
There's that trademark conservative accountability again. Mr. Bennett, you have no one but yourself to blame for the predicament you now find yourself in. But if your political opponents have taken this opportunity to milk it for all it's worth, then they are beginning to learn from the tactics of the best: the right wing smear machine. If you guys can dish it, you'd better learn how to take it.

Democrats On Board With Miers

Harry Reid gave the following glowing endorsement of Harriet Miers:
“I like Harriet Miers. As White House Counsel, she has worked with me in a courteous and professional manner. I am also impressed with the fact that she was a trailblazer for women as managing partner of a major Dallas law firm and as the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association. “In my view, the Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer. The current justices have all been chosen from the lower federal courts. A nominee with relevant non-judicial experience would bring a different and useful perspective to the Court. “I look forward to the Judiciary Committee process which will help the American people learn more about Harriet Miers, and help the Senate determine whether she deserves a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.”

So presumably Democrats are on board. Is this a victory? That's how the liberal blogs are spinning it. And Rush Limbaugh seems to agree; he called this nomination "a sign of weakness."

That alone is a victory.

Eating Their Own

George Bush has nominated his trusted advisor and White House Counsel since last year, Harriet Miers, to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. She has no judicial experience but boatloads of loyalty to Bush, which to this president is an adequate substitute for experience. But interestingly, she has also given to Democrats in the past, specifically in 1988, when she gave to the DNC, Al Gore for President, and the re-election of Lloyd Bentsen to the Senate. And one prominent conservative blog doesn't like it one bit. Finally, they're turning on him:
It appears, for what it is worth, that George W. Bush was the ultimate stealth nominee. He has acted like a true-blue conservative, talking the talk and walking the tax cut walk. But, he has expanded government, spent the future, and now nominated she who has the potential to be a female Souter.
Mr. President, you've got some explaining to do. And please remember - we've been defending you these five years because of this moment.
Ahh, this is good shit. We should just sit back and let them fight it out.

I take it from the fact that (mercifully) I have not received any pleading e-mails from the left wing groups about contributing to the opposition to Miers, that she's not altogether offensive to the left, or she just wasn't on the radar and so hasn't been vetted. But it seems to me that, putting aside for a moment her lack of experience on the bench, her closeness to Bush alone is reason for concern.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bush Team Channeling Aaron Sorkin?

It certainly makes sense for an unpopular president, when up against a wall, to take cues from a decidedly more popular president. But a real president taking cues from a fake one? That's just sad.

This post on dailyKos draws the parallel between current Bush spin:
"Doing his job has always been his strongest suit," said one adviser close
to the White House. "Let Bush be Bush. Let him lead. It's what Bush does in
times like these."
...and that of fictional President Bartlett from Episode 19 in 2000:
Let Bartlett be Bartlett.

Bill Bennett Doesn't Get It

On the September 28 edition of his radio show, Morning In America, Bill Bennett, former Republican Education Secretary, inveterate gambler and supposed expert on virtue, offered some quite controversial thoughts in response to the following statement by a caller (Media Matters provides transcript):

CALLER: I noticed the national media, you know, they talk a lot about the loss of revenue, or the inability of the government to fund Social Security, and I was curious, and I've read articles in recent months here, that the abortions that have happened since Roe v. Wade, the lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30-something years, could fund Social Security as we know it today. And the media just doesn't -- never touches this at all.

Okaaay. Well, in response, Bennett started out rationally enough:

BENNETT: Assuming they're all productive citizens?...Maybe, but we don't know what the costs would be, too. I think as -- abortion disproportionately occurs among single women? I just don't know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don't know.

But then he veered into a strange place:

BENNETT: I mean, it cuts both -- you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well --
CALLER: Well, I don't think that statistic is accurate.
BENNETT: Well, I don't think it is either, I don't think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don't know. But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.

Umm, who said anything about black babies, Mr. Bennett? Freakonomics author Steven Levitt doesn't believe there's a statistical correlation between race and crime. As he tells us on his blog:

Race is not an important part of the abortion-crime argument that John Donohue and I have made in academic papers and that Dubner and I discuss in Freakonomics. It is true that, on average, crime involvement in the U.S. is higher among blacks than whites. Importantly, however, once you control for income, the likelihood of growing up in a female-headed household, having a teenage mother, and how urban the environment is, the importance of race disappears for all crimes except homicide. (The homicide gap is partly explained by crack markets). In other words, for most crimes a white person and a black person who grow up next door to each other with similar incomes and the same family structure would be predicted to have the same crime involvement.
And so consequently, on some level, Bennett is right, since

...it would also be true that if we aborted every white, Asian, male, Republican, and Democratic baby in that world, crime would also fall.
Levitt does seem to try to let Bennett off the hook a bit by asking us to remember that "this took place on an unscripted radio show in response to a caller's question. It was clearly off-the-cuff." Well, it seems to me that this only reinforces the notion that what he expressed does indeed reflect what Bennett truly believes -- that being black and being a criminal are in some way synonymous. And the expression of this hateful notion is what is so disturbing about his comments; but instead, his self-defense that came the next day on, where else, Hannity And Colmes, centered on re-assuring us that he truly doesn't believe black babies SHOULD be aborted.

I said, however, if you were to practice that, widespread abortion in the black community or any other community, it would be ridiculous, impossible, and I appreciate you putting it on the screen, morally reprehensible. So I think morally reprehensible, when that is included in the quote makes it perfectly clear what my position is. A number of the people whom you have cited as condemning me have not made the inclusion of that remark, and so they make it seem, Alan, as if I am supporting such a monstrous idea, which of course I don't.
Mr. Bennett, when I heard the words you spoke, it didn't occur to me for a second that you were actually advocating for such a horrific act. It was your unmotivated expression of a correlation between blackness and crime, as if being a criminal is race-based, that took me aback, and is the reason you are in hot water. Your self-defense shows that you really don't get it.

Your rehearsed words on Hannity and Colmes say you are not a racist; your "off-the-cuff" words say otherwise. The next time you wonder why your party has a problem getting black votes, think back to September 28.