Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Thursday, January 29, 2004
The New Hampshire results weren't terrible for Clark, but certainly weren't good. I thought from the beginning that it would be a success if he managed to finish 3rd, beating all the candidates who weren't essentially favorite sons. And he managed, just barely, to do that.

But not so long ago, we were poised to do much better. Tracking polls make it possible to see where things went wrong, and it's clear: Clark's slippage started on the 15th, the very day of the Drudge/Gillespie smear. The inability to answer that smear effectively, although it was easily shown to be false, is one more sign that the campaign simply isn't running well enough.

It isn't the first. The first key strategic decision the campaign made, skipping Iowa, was clearly the single worst mistake. The exit polls from NH show that the biography is the only part of Clark's message that's gotten through; voters who were looking for solutions to domestic problems went for Kerry by huge margins. Clark has an excellent set of domestic proposals, but it's clear that we Clark activists are the only ones who have noticed. The failure to adequately prepare Clark for questions on an issue as obvious as abortion, which the bloggers linked below both mention, is another sign that simple due diligence isn't being exercised.

Nick Confessore thinks that heads need to roll:

I find it interesting that while Dean has the gumption to do something decisive (if stupid) like firing Trippi, Wesley Clark seems to lack the wherewithal to something decisive (and probably smart) like firing some of the guys on his own campaign. Certain other Gore retreads working on Clark '04 are widely thought to have torpedoed John Weaver's bid to become Clark's campaign manager, which preserved their own power on the campaign but deprived it of the effective leadership it so desparately and obviously needs. (Any campaign team that sent Clark onto the Democratic primary trail without at least a well-considered view on abortion deserves summary dismissal.) It's probably too late for Clark to get weaver on board. But if he's smart, he'll hire Joe Trippi.

Confessore drops hints; Amy Sullivan names names and says that Lehane and Fabiani should be fired. I'm a little hesitant to join in. Lehane and Fabiani tend to be an obsession in certain corners of the web; they've been blamed for almost everything except 9/11. I have no inside information to say what role they've actually played in the campaign, whether one or both scuttled the plan (which would have been great) to bring Weaver aboard, or whether they are the ones at fault for the campaign's missteps. But whoever is responsible for the weak message and the weak campaign has really got to go.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Oops, I Did it Again

Gregg Easterbrook is factually challenged once again:

Gene engineering may be a spooky idea for people, but for crop plants, all current projects aim toward higher yield, lower pesticide and fertilizer use, the ability to grow in less-than-prime soils--all things that improve the odds that the developing world will be able to feed itself until human population growth peaks sometime in this century.

In fact, the most common line of genetically engineered products currently on the market is sold by Monsanto, and is a group of "Roundup ready" crops designed to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, allowing more rather than less pesticide use. At least with soy (most US soy acreage is now GE) Roundup ready fields get sprayed with 11% more pesticide and produce, for unknown reasons, 5 - 10% lower yield. Roundup ready soy also has reduced ability to fix nitrogen, resulting in more need for fertilizer. In addition, there is evidence that the widespread use of Roundup is now causing mutations that will ultimately lead to 'Roundup ready' weeds. Since those drawbacks might not be enough to reduce Mr Easterbrook's enthusiasm, I'll note one more - at the same time that GM soy became widely used by consumers, allergic reactions to soy and soy products soared.

Monsanto also produces Roundup ready wheat, cotton, canola, and corn.

Saturday, January 24, 2004
Fun With Context

Tacitus has some artfully arranged quotes from Clark which he is using to imply that Clark disdains all junior officers.

Clark on Kerry, part one:

"Senator [Dole], with all due respect, [John Kerry is] a lieutenant and I'm a general....It's one thing to be a hero as a junior officer. He's done that and I respect him for that. He's been a good senator. But I've had the military leadership at the top as well as at the bottom."

Clark on Kerry, part two:

"I stayed with the military all the way through," Clark told reporters after rallying volunteers at his headquarters...."I'm only saying I stayed with the United States armed forces. I'm proud I did. Lots of us did," said Clark, answering a question about his and Kerry?s military service.

Let's look at the first quote with the passage Tacitus has quietly omitted put back in its place (omitted words in bold):

"Well I don't agree," General Clark said. "Senator, with all due respect, he's a lieutenant and I'm a general. You've got to get your facts right."

Asked later about the exchange, General Clark acknowledged Senator Kerry's military background. But, he added: "Nobody in the race has got the kind of background I've got. I've negotiated peace agreements. I've led a major alliance in war. It's one thing to be a hero as a junior officer. He's done that and I respect him for that. He's been a good senator. But I've had the military leadership at the top as well as at the bottom."

This shows what Clark really meant, and what Tacitus doesn't want readers to see. Clark is talking about what qualifications each man brings to be a President. He quite properly points out that Kerry's service as a junior officer, while heroic, involved limited responsibilities. He was responsible only for the execution of orders, without being involved in broader problems of strategy and objectives.

The same thing, minus the personal heroism, could be said of Kerry's work in the Senate. The Senate, as a body, is responsible for a great deal. But the power and responsibility is divided a hundred ways. An individual Senator is personally responsible only for managing his or her own office, a few dozen employees. So it's easy for both Kerry and Edwards to run around now attacking the Patriot Act without mentioning that both of them voted for it. After all, it wasn't passed by them, it was passed by The Senate. You know, bunch of guys, Washington insiders. Nothing like me, I swear.

Kerry deserves respect for his service both in Vietnam and the Senate. But what preparation either has been for the Presidency is a very valid question.

Clark, by contrast, has experience at the top levels. That means he was involved in such activities as playing a major role in negotiating the Dayton Accords, representing the US in negotiations both with allies and adversaries. He played the key role in holding together the NATO alliance during the Kosovo war. He also had to manage and command the entire US military presence in Europe, responsible for the lives and duties of over 100,000 men and women along with about the same number of civilian dependents. That gives him levels of experience that Kerry simply can't match. There is nothing wrong with Clark pointing this fact out to voters.

In the second example, context has been not omitted, but provided. Or, to be less charitable, invented. The headline on the story Tacitus cited reads: "Clark Contrasts His, Kerry's Military Careers" . But here is the meat of the story:

Retired General Wesley Clark yesterday noted he "stayed with the U.S. Army" through the Vietnam War, setting up a contrast with White House foe John Kerry, who left the military and became a war critic.

"I stayed with the military all the way through," Clark told reporters after rallying volunteers at his headquarters. "I stayed with the United States Army through Vietnam. I was company commander there. I fought and I was hit by four rounds."

Kerry, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1966-69 and won Monday's Iowa caucuses, has climbed slightly ahead of Clark in some New Hampshire polls leading up to Tuesday?s Democratic Presidential primary.

"I'm only saying I stayed with the United States armed forces. I'm proud I did. Lots of us did," said Clark, answering a question about his and Kerry's military service. Clark's 30-plus years of military culminated with his post as Supreme Allied Commander during the Clinton administration.

The original reporter and Tacitus both assure us that Clark is attacking Kerry here. If we just read what Clark says and ignore the spin, we notice that Clark doesn't mention Kerry. There's nothing in the quote that even implicitly talks about Kerry. Clark is only talking about his own background; the criticism of others is only in the presentation of the quotes, not in the quotes themselves.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Hey, if you throw enough darts, eventually one has to hit the bull's eye.

I just posted below my reflections on how Feb 3 and the overall race looked, speculating that Clark should be doing well in Feb 3 states because Dean's support is likely plummeting, while Clark's should still be strong.

I regard Oklahoma as the most solid Feb 3 state for Clark, partly because of polls and partly because I did some calling there for Clark prior to Iowa. In the small and unscientific sample of voters I spoke to, in a very red section of a very red state, I had about half for Clark and half undecided, but mostly with kind things to say about Clark. I had 0 who supported the other Democratic candidates, although I did speak to a Bush supporter.

Now, only moments after I posted, we have the first post-Iowa survey of a Feb 3 state, SUSA's new poll of Oklahoma. The latest pre-Iowa SUSA numbers (from mid-December) are in parens.

Clark 32 (34)
Edwards 23 (8)
Kerry 17 (4)
Dean 10 (21)
Lieberman 8 (9)

Howard Who?

The race continues to change at amazing speed, and what is changing most is the crashing status of Howard Dean. Even Matthew now admits that Dean is looking distinctly evitable.

The Tuesday spin was that Iowa was a disaster for Clark, because the name of the game was to emerge quickly as the anti-Dean. I bought into that some myself, and on Tuesday still regarded Dean as the front runner. That's already looking inoperative. We're now facing a real possibility, that would have seemed preposterous only days ago, that Howard Dean won't be a major factor in the race.

Dean appears to be heading for another bad evening in New Hampshire, where I expect he'll do no better than 3rd. Even if he does pass Clark up for 2nd, except in the unlikely event he actually wins, it doesn't mean a great deal.

The key question, on which we have no polling so far, is how Dean's standing in the crucial Feb 3 states has been holding up. In the four states that have useful polling data, Dean and Clark were the top two, usually with significant separation from the field. Kerry was generally invisible, and so, except in South Carolina, was Edwards. In Missouri, Dean was a distant 2nd to Gephardt, a few points ahead of Clark. My strong suspicion is that much of Dean's support in those states was soft and has now melted. If I'm right, Dean coming into Feb 3 with only negative momentum will crash for the 3rd week in a row, and that will all but kill him as a serious candidate.

Can Clark take advantage? With no polls, Clark's support might be melting in the Feb 3 states as much as Dean's. But I suspect it isn't. Clark's dropping in national polls, but he isn't advertising nationally. He is advertising in NH and most or all of the Feb 3 states. In NH, Clark is down from his peak level, but at or above where he was when most of those polls showing him a 1st or strong 2nd were taken. And in the last few days, Clark is moving back up in some (but not all) NH polls. Also, Clark retains enviable favorable/unfavorable ratios in the latest polls, while Dean's are plummeting along with his preference numbers.

Kerry and Edwards don't have the campaign infrastructure, in paid and volunteer staff, that Clark does in the Feb 3 states. Due to tight money, they aren't advertising as heavily. And the states themselves, 6 out of 7 either swing states or solid red states, are ones where Clark should do well.

Feb 3 will be a Waterloo for both Dean and Clark. But it's looking as if Clark is set for the role of Wellington, while Dean is leaning to the Bonapartist side. Depending on how far Kerry has moved up in the Feb 3 states, I see a real shot of Clark picking up 4 or 5 wins that day. And his major competition may be coming from Kerry and Edwards more than Dean.

Last night's debate was a fairly staid affair. nobody had any triumphs, and nobody made any huge mistakes. Edwards did goof some on the meaning of the Defense of Marriage Act, and Dean contradicted some of his past positions on guns. His current moderate position including support for a renewal of the assault weapons ban is probably fine with many gun owners, but isn't the sort of stance that gets you 100% NRA ratings. Dean is on record in the past as having opposed restrictions on assault weapons ownership.

Noted statesman Al Sharpton was asked for his positions on foreign policy, monetary policy, and civil rights. By contrast, Wes Clark was asked only gotcha questions which generally avoided issues at all. Clark made the mistake of answering these questions, which meant he had little opportunity to discuss his platform.

The most striking of these was when Jennings asked Clark to attack his supporter Michael Moore for having called Bush a deserter. Jennings, who surely knows the facts, simply lied by claiming that Moore's charge was without any reasonable factual basis. Jeffrey Birnbaum, doing the play by play over Fox radio, repeated Jennings' lie. Birnbaum also expressed amazement that Clark hadn't examined Moore's allegations, apparently unaware that, since neither Clark nor his campaign has made any such charge against Bush, there is no reason why he should have done so.

Lying and spinning aren't the only traditional prerogatives of politicians that Jennings took over in this debate. Jennings in particular treated the evening as a forum for himself, rather than the candidates. CJR performed the tedious job of counting every speaker's words and found that Jennings, at 1870, spoke more than the average output of 6 of the 7 candidates. Only John Edwards, through the expedient of simply ignoring his time limits, was able to talk substantially more than Jennings.

In general this debate, like the 2 dozen or so before it, was forgettable and had little importance other than perhaps preparing the eventual winner for his face-off with Bush. The whole format is broken, but I confess to having no really bright ideas about how to fix it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004
After Iowa

Some thought on the new shape of the race:
  • Edwards has been running a positive campaign up until now, which has been easy. He hasn't faced criticism either from other candidates or in the press. That will change, and he may not hold up well under scrutiny. One obvious target: Edwards, in his legal career, never took a single pro bono or civil rights case.
  • They never learn: Already on NPR this morning, I heard Kerry described as the "Frontrunner" in the race. That remains Dean, who has organizational and financial resources that Kerry can't match.
  • In retrospect, Clark's decision to skip Iowa looks like a bad call. It was based on the CW that even a candidate with a compelling message can't do well there without a massive organization. Kerry and Edwards have pretty much demolished that theory.
  • NH now becomes a critical test for both Kerry and Dean. Dean really can't afford to be upset twice in a row. Kerry needs to maintain his momentum. Both are very vunerable going into the Feb 3 states, where Clark should do well. Kerry has been far behind in polling in those states, which mostly seem to have tight races between Dean and Clark. Another Dean loss in NH means he will carry negative mo into Feb 3 and probably lose again. A poor Kerry showing in NH probably means he sinks back into the pack.
  • Clark can afford a solid 3rd behind Kerry and Dean in NH. Both have spent more time there, both come from neighboring states, and both will spend more money there, since Clark is bound by the public financing limits. But Clark really has to pick up some victories on Feb 3 or he'll land on life support.
  • What may be worst about this loss for Dean is that it completely destroys the whole logic of his explanation of why he is the best candidate to win. Dean had unlimited time and resources to bring out the new voters that he supposedly had the unique ability to bring out. And the new voters did arrive to a large degree; participation went way up and about half of those at the caucuses were first time participants. But those new voters didn't break for Dean.
Monday, January 19, 2004

Dean's "insurgent" campaign is looking more and more like an insider campaign. Deanies declaim, loudly and often, that they are little people going up against the party insiders whom they often suggest are the force behind Clark, but Dean leads all other candidates in endorsements from those same cockroaches he loves to inveigh against. (Dean has a margin of four to one over Clark in superdelegate endorsements - much larger than his edge in money, polls, or grass roots support.) Over the last week, the campaign looked remarkably like a traditional insider campaign in trouble, picking up big name and medium name endorsements while it sinks in the polls. This was noticable at the California party convention I went to last weekend as a Clark supporter: not only did most major party office holders endorse Dean, but the convention organizers had a visible bias. The Dean table inside the hall had prime placement so that it was the first thing you saw as you came in by the main entrance; the Clark table was hidden in a much poorer location. Some delegates I spoke to at the volunteer table I helped work outside the hall actually asked me why we didn't have a table inside. Back in Iowa, Dean's form was crimped by the difficulty of launching his usual blistering attacks against Washington insiders who voted for the Iraq war resolution while touring with Harkin, a Washington insider who voted for the Iraq war resolution.

Saturday, January 17, 2004
I noted yesterday that one price of Bush's moronic plan to return to the moon will be the NASA programs that are actually doing valuable research. Case in point.
Friday, January 16, 2004
Latest NH Tracking

Today's numbers:
Dean 28% (29%)
Clark 23% (24%)
Kerry 16% (15%)
Lieb 7% (7%)

Clark droipped one today after jumping two yesterday, which indicates that Thurday's numbers were shockingly bad for Clark. Dean fell 3, from 32 to 29, yesterday, which indicates that Wednesday's numbers were appalling for Dean. It remains to be seen whether one or both of these war a statistical fluke, quite possible in one day numbers for this type of poll. (The MOE for a single day's polling is 7%.)

Kerry continues to bounce back from what looked recently from like complete catastrophe. Only a few days ago Kerry was in danger of falling to fourth or fifth. Today, he could conceivably win in NH should he win in Iowa, and the latest polls suggest that is quite possible. After being given up for dead by everyone, Kerry could potentially become frontrunner in the next 12 days. That would be quite a wild twist.

ARG says the reason is that Clark is still a difficult sell for women. Dean is weakening and men leaving Dean are going to Clark - Clark and Dean are now in a statistical tie among men. But women leaving Dean are going largely to Kerry instead.

To Infinity and Beyond

I'm a supporter of the space program. I want to see eventual visits to Mars, and hope it happens in my lifetime. But Bush's proposal looks like a cross between a joke and a disaster.

His father mused a bit about a Mars push, but gave up in the face of the budget problems. Bush Jr, surprise, just doesn't care about those details. He pushes forward in spite of a much worse budget problem, entirely of his own creation, than his father ever faced. And on top of that, he throws in a permanent Moon station - a hugely expensive proposal that has just about nothing to do with getting to Mars. And he seems to be planning to wipe out most of NASA's best research programs to make way for Mars, although cutting those programs will make up for only a tiny portion of the cost.

Is Bush's willingness to go ahead with his plans in the face of huge deficits just another instance of his basic irresponsibility or something else? One thought that occurs is that Bush's experience may play into his fiscal craziness. Bush likes to brag about being the first president who was also a CEO, but a look at his career will show the Bush was a rather unusual type of CEO: he never really was under any sort of pressure to make money. Cushioned by his father's influence, he fell repeatedly, but always up. At Harken he was given other people's money to invest. He blew through most of it, not creating any value in the process. But selling his nearly worthless assets for a pile of cash was no problem. And the purchasersweetened an already sucrose added deal with a job at a six figure salary which was free of burdensome requirements such as showing up and working. He's spent his whole life not really caring how those long columns of numbers added up, and it's certainly worked for him so far. He has no obvious motivation to change now.

I also wonder if he has any real grasp of what the government's financial situation actually is. By his own admission he doesn't read newspapers and gets his information almost entirely from a small group of aides. And those aides who tell him news he doesn't want to hear are shown the door. This is an awful way for any executive to operate; it guarantees that he's out of touch with things he desperately needs to know.

Charles Kuffner reports that the Fastow plea bargain now is a done deal. The Fastows have pled guilty. The sentencing isn't completely final yet, but looks to be 10 years for Andrew, five months plus some house arrest for Lea.

The severity of Andrew Fastow's sentence is startling and seems to show that the prosecutors are both serious and carrying one hell of a lot of ammunition. Ten years for a white collar criminal, no priors, and cooperating with prosecutors, is extraordinary.

Monday, January 12, 2004
A Very Palpable Hit

Prometeus Speaks on the Iowa debate:

[T]he moderator's first question challenged Dr. Dean to explain his four-year-old criticisms of the Iowa caucuses as favoring special interests, and the debate turned progressively raucous and was filled with difficult moments for the candidates.

Dr. Dean said, "I frankly think people are a little tired of having debates about who said what 4 years ago, or who said what 6 years ago, or 8 years ago, or 10 years ago."

On the other hand, Dean thinks people are very interested in who voted for Nixon 32 years ago, which, by the way, 61% of Americans did.

The Iron Law of Pinky and The Brain

Kevin notes some of the similarities between out of it presidents Bush II and Reagan.

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill likened President Bush at Cabinet meetings to "a blind man in a room full of deaf people," according to excerpts Friday from a CBS interview.

O'Neill, who was fired by Bush in December 2002, also said the president did not ask him a single question during their first one-on-one meeting, which lasted an hour.

Reagan listened without comment while I [Jimmy Carter] covered each point. Some of them were very sensitive, involving such matters as the management of our nuclear forces....I described some top-secret agreements we had with a few other nations. Again, he did not comment or ask any questions. Some of the information was quite complex, and I did not see how he could possibly retain all of it merely by listening.

"What is it about Republican presidents, anyway?" asks Kevin.

It's an interesting question. I certainly can't see those stories being told about any Democratic president in a long, long time - you'd probably have to go back to the 1850s to find such uninvolved and uninterested Democrats at this level.

By contrast, the GOP has developed a remarkable tradition. Every Republican ticket for 30+ years seems to have been designed to follow an unstated law of ticket balancing. The names change, and the positions change, but the balance remains the same. Since the basic purpose of an American electoral ticket is to take over the world, we can call it the "Pinky and The Brain Law".

YearPinkyThe Brain
2000 - 2004BushCheney
1988 - 1992QuayleBush
1980 - 1984ReaganBush
1968 - 1972AgnewNixon

This is strictly a GOP law - it's hard to name a single clear example of a "Pinky" from any Democratic ticket in those years. There were catastrophic choices such as Eagleton and Ferraro, but they were bad picks for other reasons. I suspect the fact that the intelligentsia has for some time now been one of the party's base groups makes it extremely unlikely that any Bush II or Quayle analogue could be nominated on our side. Which makes me wonder, given the overt or covert but quite frequent GOP appeals to anti-intellectualism in this period, whether the Pinky and the Brain Law isn't a subtle appeal of sorts by the GOP to a core constituency of their own.

OK, it was actually Green Bay, not Carolina, that won in OT last week. And it turned out that Philly had to play more than 4 quarters to win Sunday. I still say they'll be better rested than Carolina and should blow them away.

Incidentally, the conspiracy Rush warned us about to pretend that Donovan McNabb is a top NFL quarterback is so sweeping it even seems to include opposing players and coaches. If Rush hadn't warned me that McNabb is a mediocre player, I might well have believed that he was the reason for this victory, because the Eagles did something today that is extremely unusual; they won a game in which they were dominated in both the offensive and defensive lines.

The Pack made 8 sacks while the Eagles got only one, and if not for McNabb's ability to escape trouble there would have been even more sacks. Green Bay ran at will, 207 yards gained by running backs and a 5.8 average per carry. Philadelphia's 164 rushing yards looks impressive, but most of it was McNabb turning blocking failures into successful plays. The RBs gained only 57 yards with a 4.1 average, and even most of that was gained after breaking tackles. Along with over 100 yards rushing, McNabb made passing plays such as throwing a perfect touchdown after breaking two tackles and converting an impossible fourth and 26 at the end of regulation that were astonishing.

Favre's dreadful interception in OT was crushing for Green Bay. But the real mistake was poor playcalling in the fourth quarter. When you've run as easily and consistently as they did throughout the game, why punt on a fourth and 1? And ending two drives by passing on third and short when runs would probably have picked up the necessary yardage was a blunder.

Sunday, January 11, 2004
Carolina won one of the more amazing games I've seen in quite a while yesterday. I believe it was about 30 years ago the last time I watched a game actually go into double overtime.

All in vain of course. The Panthers have played two OT games in a row. Next week they'll run into an Eagles squad that was resting last week, only had to play 4 quarters today, and will be playing at home. Plus being a better team with a much better QB won't hurt the Eagles either.

As I blog this, Green Bay is putting up a real fight, leading 14 - 7 well into the 3rd qtr. I stand behind my prediction.

Friday, January 09, 2004
Clark Still on the Rise in NH; Is Dean hearing Footsteps?

Clark has risen again in today's NH tracking poll. The latest ARG numbers, with the numbers of one week ago in parens:

Dean 35 (37)
Clark 20 (13)
Und 15 (19)
Kerry 11 (16)
Lieb 8 (6)

Clark's rise in NH is now conspicuous enough to reach the front page at Yahoo.

The poll detail show that Dean and Clark are in a statistical tie among male voters. Dean leads 30 - 28, with and MOE of approximately 5.7%. Dean retains a hefty lead among women of 27%, but this is shrinking.

The commentary in today's tracking numbers rather strongly suggested that Dean phoners have been engaging in dirty tricks in New Hampshire. Here's what ARG says:

Over the past 2 days of calling, a number of older respondents registered as undeclared voters have reported that they have received telephone calls from a campaign informing them that they will not be allowed to vote in the Democratic primary because they missed the deadline to switch parties. A respondent discovered, however, that when she told the caller that she was thinking about voting for Howard Dean, the caller told her that she would be eligible to vote.

Obviously, ARG doesn't know who made the calls, but when voters are told they're ineligible, but then suddenly switched to eligible when they support Dean, there's a pretty blatant implication.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Who says the Clark campaign isn't in touch with its grass roots? I asked to have this blog, along with the Poor Man included on the new blogroll at CCN, and, a few hours later, there we were. And it's already providing a significant portion of my visitors.

They haven't yet included Scoobie, prehaps because Scoobie's last Clark-centric post is over a month old. Perhaps that will change if Scoobie gets back to more frequent posting.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Department of Cultural Stereotypes

Atrios and Hesiod each have some thoughts on the attack ad that Club for Growth is running against Dean in Iowa. The script is rather lacking in subtlety:

In the ad, a farmer says he thinks that "Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading ..." before the farmer's wife then finishes the sentence: "... Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.

I don't know if Hesiod meant this as a serious suggestion, but I think he hits at the truth when he suggests that the ad was intended to make Dean look good. I think it is intended to hit Dean's core audience, make them feel under attack, and encourage them to rally and support him more strongly. Club for Growth is surely aware that past attacks on Dean have improved both his fundraising and his standings in Democratic polls. At the same time, it plants in an extreme form the cultural images that the Repugs will use against Dean if, as they hope, they face him in the general election.

Hesiod also notes that Iowa, in fact, has more Starbucks locations than Vermont. But he fails to factor in that Iowa also has more people. Actually, at one outlet for every 306,500 residents, Vermont is more Starbuckized than Iowa's one per 365,400. You can find far more coffee if you head out to California, home of Hollywood in the south, Sodom in the north, and one Starbucks for every 25,600 residents. But even we can't compete with latte-loving Washington DC, headquarters of the Club for Growth, with one Starbucks per 12,400.

Kevin Drum likes Clark's new tax proposal, and makes some interesting points. Kevin's discussion of how Clark's plan resembles the original income tax is especially useful; not many people today understand that income taxes when first instituted were highly progressive, and were a liberal proposal to replace protective tariffs. Tariffs provided the majority of government revenue before the income tax, but were in essence taxes on consumption, since by increasing costs of imports, they increased the overall cost of living. The 19th century tariffs, combined with the gold standard, caused another problem quite unfamiliar to modern government: the first Cleveland administration ran surpluses so large, there was concern that all that gold piling up in government coffers, and therefore being taken out of circulation, would wreck the economy. And the opposition to lower tariffs was fierce, even in the face of surpluses, since their real purpose was protectionism rather than revenue.

The Harrison interlude between the two Cleveland administrations found the obvious solution: they went on a spending spree to build public works. The sudden increases in government costs were considered shocking at the time, and Harrison's first Congress was tabbed with a name that reflected its extravagant ways: the Billion Dollar Congress. Democrats ran against the fiscal irresponsibility that had pushed government spending to the unimaginable level of $500 million a year. After Republicans lost almost 100 seats in the mid-term elections, Harrison was seen as already something of a lame duck and Cleveland was ready for his political comeback.

On one point I have to correct Kevin. He says:

The plan is revenue neutral. For a presidential campaign this is the right way to go, but eventually we're going to have to face up to the necessity of either raising taxes or running deficits forever.

In fact, the new plan supplements, rather than replacing, Clark's existing commitment to repeal the Bush tax cuts for people earning over $200,000 a year. That will produce well over $1.5 trillion in revenue enhancement, exceeding $2 trillion when the reduced cost of interest in the national debt is figured in. So Clark isn't coming up short on the revenue side.

Sunday, January 04, 2004
Meet the Presstitutes

Clark was on Meet the Press today and did quite well. But the show itself was a potent display of why any sane person would rather meet the latest gaggle of 'Survivor' contestants than the hopeless crowd in the Washington media.

The first eight questions were largely host Tim Russert quoting back various statements Clark has made in the campaign about Iraq and terrorism. It was more an effort to make Clark respond to imaginary misstatements or express amazement at the fact that Clark has shown the effrontery, while running against Dear Leader, to actually criticize him than to explicate his views, but at least it did give Clark an opportunity to talk about vital issues.

Russert proceeded to the meat of the interview, the Howard Dean section. The next 20 questions were largely about Howard Dean, with a few about Bill Clinton. Russert asked why Clark isn't beating Dean, made numerous invitations, which Clark refused to accept, for Clark to engage in some Dean-bashing, and finally spent six questions establishing what Clark has already said scores of times, that he is not running to be Howard Dean's VP choice.

After asking 28 questions, not one of which discussed any aspect of domestic policy, Russert then said, "Do you believe that there is a need for you to be specific about policy, particularly on the economy and taxes?" To be fair, Russert did proceed to ask some questions about domestic policy, altough he seemed less interested in the substance of Clark's proposals than in spinning them as tax increases. Clark largely ducked the questions, promising to announce a new tax proposal in a speech in the next few days.

Russert's interview was less than impressive, and was followed by an interview with Iowa journalist David Yepsen, who managed to answer all questions with a banal mixture of the obvious and the cliched. From Mr Yepsen we learned that his paper sponsors debates, "as a service to Iowans" who are concerned about "the economy, jobs, health care, the war on terrorism". Howard Dean has, "a very strong base" because he has, "energized a lot of new people", but, "Dick Gephardt has been a very strong contender here". Granting that there are a lot of people out there who don't already know these things, the likelihood that many of them are watching MTP seems remote.

It was a challenge, but the show managed to go downhill from there, with a panel discussion largely dominated by the spectacurly inane Bill Safire. Safire's meandering ruminations, focussed on his own obsessions with the Clintons and entirely divorced from any reality distinct from his own addled mind, have recently been an embarassment to Alzheimer's patients everywhere. Safire to this day has yet to figure out, or even begin to suspect, that Wesley Clark is actually a presidential candidate rather than an errand boy running some strange covert operation for Bill and Hillary. Today Safire declared that, whatever he says now, Clark will actually runs as Dean's VP when he is given the order by Bill Clinton. The end point of all this, of course, is to promote Hillary's candidacy.

Years ago, I tried to write a satire of the notorious fantasy/soft core bondage porn writer John Norman. Inevitably, it failed. Norman's bizarre and violent misogyny is already so over the top that an attempt to mock it by making it even more excessive necessarily results in something that requires a strong stomach and a twisted sense of humor to appreciate. And it doesn't help that his prose style actually sounds rather like a cruel satire of bad sword and sorcery writing. Safire is entering Norman territory, sounding every day less like a stupid pundit and more like a vicious parody of bad punditry.

Devoid of insight, offering a mix of prissy complaints about usage and tired abuse of the Clintons, Safire is truly an embarassment to the Republic and an insult to those who actually care about the country's politics. And yet, in Washington media circles, he continues to be treated as some sort of national treasure, routinely being invited to high profile and prestigious gigs such as MTP and News Hour, while having a regular opinion column in the most prestigious newspaper in America. Without working at all hard, I could name 50 bloggers who have more interesting and original things to say than Safire. The more difficult challenge would be to find many who don't. Do the people who pay him such respect even stop to think what a devastating, and accurate, condemnation they make of their own useless class by hailing Safire as among its most august and valued members?

Friday, January 02, 2004
Vote Penguin

Matthew and some pro-Dean bloggers have cited this cartoon to criticize the argument that Dean is likely to be a disaster. Apparently the theory is that if several different arguments are being used against Dean, it follows that all are wrong, especially if they can be put into the mouths of bland white guys who restate them in obviously preposterous forms.

But still, the cartoon is definitely clever and funny. So obviously, the sensible thing for liberals to do is to ignore common sense and vote in accordance with the opinions of Sparky the penguin. After all, it's not as if anything went wrong the last time.

Shorter Washington Post: The administration wisely followed the proper policy of allowing downer cattle into the food chain, and has now wisely followed the proper policy of doing the exact opposite. Voters should not be fooled by the irresponsible partisanship of Democrats who try to demagogue the issue by advocating consistent policies.
Nobody is angrier than an apostate. New blogroll addition Politus, by a former Deanie who was also a blogger at the excellent and now defunct Likely Story, is considerably more negative about Dean than this site is. Politus also has a blog at the Clark Community, as does Digby, who has pulled a Dubya lately and gone AWOL from his regular home.

Other new additions to the blogroll include the Isikoff Report, Nitpicker, Prometheus Speaks, and Scoobie (way overdue on that one).

Readers familiar with these fine blogs will notice that they share a common theme. That will probably be true of any further blogroll additions I make in the near future. However, there will be no attempt to introduce uniformity to my links. Although one blog was removed partly for a contentless and vapid attack on Clark, the loyal opposition that is presently on my roll will stay there. If I've got room for Glenn (who is increasingly pointless and may get droppped anyway), I have room for the Deanies.