|Man Without Qualities|
Saturday, January 31, 2004
Can the reader toss her mind up just to see where the media reporting would come down if the Kansas or Georgia or New York legislatures were considering a bill to conform building codes of those states, or policies of those states governing the construction of government buildings, to applicable directives of Leviticus or Hassidic custom? Or with some pre-Reformation notions of attracting Christian "grace" to the structure, perhaps by requiring some structures to be built in the shape of a cross - or banning icons on building walls? It requires little imagination to envision the outrage, the correct but shrill assertions of incompatibility with the First Amendment and depiction of the legislators involved by the media (especially the New York Times,where Linda Greenhouse would no doubt address the matter in her highest dudgeon) as insensitive atavists.
And what if the California legislature were actively considering passing a law "meant to encourage planning agencies, building departments and design review boards to provide for the use of feng shui principles, which often touch on the placement of doors and staircases, the position of buildings and the alignment of objects in rooms. It aims to help people live in harmony with nature by promoting the flow of chi, or positive energy, and neutralizing or avoiding negative energy."
The New York Times article describing that development would of course rage against the introduction of such obviously religious considerations - many would say superstitious considerations - into law. The Constitutional infirmity of such a proposal would be prominent in the Times article, right? The paper would never let the proponents of such an outrageous proposal conceal their transparent attempt to impose their religious strictures on state codes with the transparent dodge of "cultural pluralism," would they? We know the Times wouldn't let that dodge be asserted without contradiction because when some legislatures have considered passing laws concerning the teaching of "Creationism" in public schools the Times never allows the proponents of such measures to argue that "Creationism" is another scientific theory that competes with evolution. No, no. "Creationism" is described in every Times article on the subject as a disguise for a religious tenet. In fact, the attempted concealment is generally the major "news" component of any Times article on "Creationism"
And feng shui? That's just a matter for cultural diversity. Or, in the words of the Times' unfiltered and uncontradicted quotes:
"The structure of a building can affect a person's mood," the measure says, "which can influence a person's behavior, which, in turn, can determine the success of a person's personal and professional relationships." "We need to allow the expression of one's culture. That's why people come to California." .... "Feng shui is a very major cultural factor." ... "If there is harmony in the house, there is order in the nation. ... If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world."
No need to point out the religious content in any of that. And, for that matter, no need to point out that imposing feng sui principles on the building code would probably add many billions of dollars to construction costs every year in California, a state in which "affordable" construction is already almost extinct.
Gotta keep that chi up as a matter of official public policy and law!
I can't wait to face the Los Angeles building permit process for, say, adding another bathroom in the house, if this thing goes through. And to pay the contractor for building it.
But the Times doesn't report on any of that. Apparently Constitutional infirmity, religious outrage, and huge added construction costs just isn't news fit to print.
David Brooks with dry hilarity nails the Democratic Party's dynamic of choosing its nominee - John Kerry at the moment - mostly on the grounds of contentless "electability." Among other things, Mr. Brooks brilliantly describes the Democrat/media hall-of-fun-house-mirrors process that has elevated a nearly meaningless Iowa caucus and an irrelevant, favorite-son dominated New Hampshire primary to essential contests.
Of course, the great irony of the "electabiity"criterion - an irony unspeakable by the media - is that not a single voter in the general election will choose either candidate on the basis of his "electability."
How smart is it to choose a candidate with a criterion of no interest to voters in the general election? The Democrats are about to find out.
Read! Laugh! Cry! It's incredibly expensive entertainment - and you're paying for it!
Thursday, January 29, 2004
The Wall Street Journal today offers some intriguing evidence as to the roots of the continuing irrational media infatuation with Senator Edwards in the form of an amazingly wrong-headed endorsement of Josh Marshall in a survey of political internet web sites:
An assiduous reporter with a writer's eye for nuance and detail, Josh Marshall spent the past week hop-scotching from one New Hampshire campaign rally to another, giving readers of his blog an on-the-ground sense of, for instance, how a candidate like Sen. Edwards was able to reassert himself.
"I've realized that it's impossible not to believe Edwards is going to be the nominee while you're actually watching an Edwards event," he wrote on Sunday. "The certainty wears off awhile later, of course. But while he's got you in his crowd you're under his spell ... There's some sort of hypnosis. At least in the moment, he's that good."
It should be among a candidate's worst nightmares that he convinces his audience of things that they later realize were the results of "a kind of hypnosis." Such a style of campaigning is highly uncondusive to inspiring the kind of loyalty and trust in a constituency that a serious candidate needs. What should be seen as a huge weakness in Senator Edwards' approach is seen by Marshall and this Journal reporter as a kind of strength: he's that good.
This kind of weakness is a very standard and long-observed pitfall of politicians, and it is easy to see that it's a big problem for Edwards in particular. Some media representatives do see the problem, at least in some cases,as David Brooks recently observed:
Aristotle believed that the greatest speakers don't just persuade audiences to accept an argument - they get people to trust their judgment. They use emotion and logic to establish their character, which leaves a deeper impression than the momentary thrill of a standing ovation. [Edwards'] speech does not do that. ... Edwards's answers are just too facile.
Brooks is not a reporter. Many reporters covering Edwards don't seem to understand at all - and fall in love. Why might that be?
Could it be that for most reporters hypnotizing readers with an article for a short time is just fine for the reporter's career? Do reporters sense that they have this in common with Edwards?
It is certainly fine for a trial lawyer to cast a spell that lasts for the length of the jury's deliberations. It simply doesn't matter that the jury may wake up a week later thinking: How could I have done such a thing?
The dynamic is a little different in politics. The presidential election process rewards those who can burst another candidate's bubble - while introducing resources far beyond those available in, say, a personal injury trial.
Assuming the spell can be made to last through an election, doesn't this aspect of Senator Edwards' approach suggest why at the time he decided not to run for re-election he was doing rather poorly in North Carolina polls? It seems that the spell had lifted in North Carolina.
It's a mistake even for a fancy trial lawyer to argue with Aristotle.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. today joins Dick Morris in arguing that Howard Dean has been demolished by the Clintons:
To understand the 2004 presidential campaign we must bear in mind that there are actually two campaigns going on. The first appears to be a campaign among Democrats for the party's presidential nomination. Actually, as is becoming clearer every day, it is a campaign for control of the party for years to come; and that the Clintons are waging it is increasingly apparent. The second campaign is a historic struggle between the two factions of the 1960s generation -- once known as the young right and the young radicals -- to claim that generation's identity once and for all. ...
The most imminent of these campaigns now is the Clintons' campaign to maintain control of the Democratic Party. Last summer's noisy rise of Mr. Dean, the outsider, sent alarm through the Clinton camp. The open field after New Hampshire is more to their liking. It allows for Bill's high-profile trip to Washington this week. His influence will grow, and the arrival of a bruised Democratic frontrunner at the convention this summer will allow Senator Hillary to play a dominant role. ....
Sources in the Kerry camp and the Edwards camp told my colleague "The Prowler" at Spectator.org that much of the opposition research that smeared Mr. Dean in Iowa came from the Clark campaign. "It wasn't just Clark, though," a Kerry staffer reported, "We know of at least two different stories that came from people currently on staff with the DNC, who fed the material to reporters." Says an Edwards staffer, "These are folks who worked for Clinton back in '92 and '96 and in the administration."
That all pretty much tracks the Morris analysis. But what about the future? Where is this all going? Where are the Clintons taking it? In particular, Mr. Tyrell, in my view, veers towards the highly unlikely:
Will frontrunner Mr. Kerry be the next victim of the Clintons' political research teams? Possibly not ... He may be limping in after still more primary battles. Then Hillary ...[may] allow herself to be nominated to the No. 2 spot...
Senator Kerry may or may not be strong in the Convention, but he is not obviously offensive to the Clintons' ambitions as the nominee. He has not threatened to dismantle the Clinton influence in the DNC or the Party generally. Of course, he may simply be keeping quiet about such intentions and do it anyway if he obtains the nomination. But the threat Senator Kerry poses to the Clintons lies in the possibility that he may actually win the election. That development would, of course, be completely inconsistent with Hillary ever becoming president. There no significant likelihood that Hillary Clinton would accept the No.2 position on a ticket she wants to go down to defeat. No. The Clintons would be perfectly happy with Senator Kerry becoming the nominee, not disrupting the current of the DNC an the Party generally - and then losing.
Returning to Mr. Tyrell's question: Will frontrunner Mr. Kerry be the next victim of the Clintons' political research teams? Not soon, at least with respect to releasing anything fatal. Instead, the Tyrrell/Morris approach suggests that the Clintons' would do that only after Senator Kerry becomes the nominee. Of course, at that point the research could not directly or obviously come from the DNC. But indirection is well within the Clintons' capabilities.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
William Safire sketches out a plausible route leading to a brokered Democratic convention in today's column, a column that uses the term "voice from the sewer." I confess that I had not seen this phrase before, but it's a beaut. Here's the explanation:
Conventions have also served the function of building enthusiasm for the party’s candidates, and even before the advent of television, sometimes this enthusiasm was not entirely spontaneous. At the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1940, a message from President Franklin Roosevelt was read indicating that the president had no desire to be nominated for an unprecedented third term. The delegates were stunned, but soon a “We want Roosevelt” chant began that lasted for forty-five minutes, leaving Roosevelt no choice but to accept the nomination. This demonstration did not begin on its own. Chicago’s superintendent of sewers had rigged a microphone into the arena’s public address system and started the chant immediately after Roosevelt’s statement was read. This went down in history as the “voice from the sewer.”
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
New England Verities II(0) comments
There is already a dim awareness dawning at the New York Times that local favorite son considerations still matter a lot. But now that previously-ignored verity is trotted out by the Times to bolster the usual media love and hopes for Senator Edwards:
As he was last week in Iowa, Senator John Edwards was the man in motion at the end of the race. Almost half the voters who chose him here did so in the past three days, an indication that he was gaining but ran out of time. Mr. Edwards now heads to next week's contest in his native South Carolina a presumptive favorite son.
So, here's the Times' thought: After finishing just a few points behind first-place John Kerry in Iowa, John Edwards "bounced" all the way from about 8% in the New Hampshire polls to a grand 12% in the actual vote - while during the same period John Kerry bounced to 39%. But the Times says Senator Edwards just ran out of time. Yes, perhaps if Senator Edwards had kept going for, say, another three months he could have been a contender in New Hampshire.
Why must the Times pretend that there is reason to believe Edwards was on the upswing in New Hampshire? Can't it be enough for the Times to just point out that Senator Edwards may do well in the South - which Senator Kerry has essentially chucked overboard? And why can't the Times admit that Kerry's "win" in New Hampshire was probably inflated by the exact same "presumptive favorite son" considerations that the Times awards to Edwards in South Carolina? And what's wrong with mentioning that Senator Kerry has a personality and bearing that is likely all but unbearable in the West - but that Senator Edwards' personality and bearing don't have that problem?
It's also dawn at Fox News, which notes:
Despite spending a good part of the past year campaigning in New Hampshire and holding more than 100 town hall meetings, Edwards could not overcome the built-in advantages of the New Englanders.
"They're from right next door," Edwards said of Kerry and Dean. "They're expected to do that."
Edwards wants to make a stand with a win next week in South Carolina, his native state.
... but the BBC is placed firmly on its own hook.
This is a good opportunity for defunding and/or disestablishing the Beeb.
Link from Croow Blog.
Work is the curse of the blogging class.
But work has let up a bit in time to note that the media is almost universally assigning a significance to the New Hampshire primary that is, in my opinion, completely unjustified. And the consequences of that behavior seem poised to become even more embarrassing to the media.
Media blindness to New Hampshire's provincialism has not always been the case. Bill Clinton's strong 1992 second-place showing in New Hampshire enabled him to dub himself the "comeback kid" and eventually become the President. Mr. Clinton finished behind former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts - whose Senate seat is now occupied by Senator John Kerry. Senator Tsongas was, like his successor Kerry, a favorite son. Tsongas' win was therefore appropriately discounted by the media. Clinton's success was significant because it was based totally on matters unaffected by particularly local concerns.
The basic fact is that this is a primary in a small state that is dominated by two favorite-son candidates from adjoining states. The most striking thing about what seems to be happening in New Hampshire is that Kerry and Dean - the two favorite sons - combined are on their way to garnering a mere two-thirds of the vote. (According to DRUDGE, it's now Kerry-36%, Dean 30%. UPDATE: Kerry-39, Dean-26, Clark-13, Edwards-12, Lieberman 9) That shows - in my opinion - that both of them are unusually weak candidates. If Dean and Kerry were not weak candidates and the New Hampshire results were therefore completely dominated by these two local favorites, the media probably would have seen more clearly that the New Hampshire primary is irrelevant because it reflects local concerns and prejudices in a small state. But the weakness of these two men creates the illusion that New Hampshire is a national microcosm. In other words, both Dean and Kerry have benefited enormously by their own weaknesses. It won't last.
There is a small additional bit of information in Joe Lieberman's expected very weak showing. He, too, is a New Englander - and the compete absence of enthusiasm for his candidacy in New Hampshire also shows his hopeless weakness. He is an intelligent man, so he will now likely drop out. [UPDATE: He says he's not leaving. So much for intelligence.]
Senator Kerry's "win" today will also be discounted once the media remembers that most of the country lies well south of Dixville Notch and Hart's Location and that Dr. Dean had become a sainted "underdog" who has now, apparently, "come back" as Bill Clinton did from the Gennifer Flowers scandal that nearly derailed him. But that will leave Dr. Dean's "comeback" with much more significance than it deserves. Early returns from New Hampshire are suggesting that Dr. Dean will also have one of those invaluable strong second-place showing in New Hampshire. So isn't Howard Dean the NEW COMEBACK KID?!
Just to write such a thing is to sense its absurdity - although I do not yet write off Howard Dean.
Of course, there are some major differences between 1992 and 2004. Bill Clinton was a Southerner - and anything but a favorite son. The character problems at the root of the 1992 scandal (poor sexual judgment coupled with a broad tendency to prevaricate) eventually seriously impaired the effectiveness of his presidency. So perhaps voters have learned from that experience. Dr. Dean's character problems that have caused much of his decline are, if anything, more obvious and more obviously relevant to his fitness for the office of the presidency.
If either of the Southerners John Edwards or Wesley Clark were to do well in this primary, that part of the story would have special significance, as Bill Clinton's part of the story did in 1992. But at this point they don't seem to be doing well at all (Drudge, again, reports 12 for Edwards and 9 For Clark). The media may have permanently outgrown its former preposterous infatuation with Clark. But 12 points may be enough to preserve the media's widespread willing, continual, irrational infatuation with John Edwards' empty suit and "it"-ism. John Edwards, a man shallow enough to evaporate within minutes of sunup, but whose feckless words (even his body language) nevertheless occassion admiration and respect, sometimes fear, from even some conservative media figures who seem completely aware of the cynicism of his rhetoric. In any event, his failure to do well in New Hampshire doesn't reveal much new information about John Edwards' viability.
The distorted significance being given to New Hampshire is further complicated by the fact that many reporters have evidently conceived a strong personal dislike for Dr. Dean. And that's true of John Kerry, too. Although by many reports both men provide ample grounds for the reporters' reaction, those reactions - coupled with irrational media infatuation with John Edwards - further obscures the small, real story in New Hampshire: Both Dean and Kerry are weak candidates. Very weak. Senator Lieberman is hopelessly weaker - and should leave right away.
UPDATE: John Ellis distills about as much information from the New Hampshire results as can be done reasonably without pretending to get too much. A must read.
FURTHER UPDATE: John Edwards is shallow, but he's not stupid:
Mr. Edwards's showing came as a disappointment to the senator from North Carolina, coming a week after he placed second in Iowa last week. But his advisers noted that he had had less time here than he had in Iowa, where he had built up steam in the final days of that race, and that he was competing against two men ? Mr. Kerry of Massachusetts and Dr. Dean of Vermont ? from neighboring states.
Next Tuesday, when South Carolina, Missouri, Delaware, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and North Dakota have their primaries, will be a real test for all of these candidates. And so will California and New York. Senator Kerry is still far short of a majority even this close to home - and those who think this nomination will be decided soon are reading too much into too little. It's hard to see Kerry really catching fire nation wide. As a 2002 Boston magazine article unearthed by Kerry-loathing Kausfiles describes the new JFK: thin-skinned panderer who poses as a courageous, post-partisan freethinker on issues such as education and campaign finance reform, but bails out when the going gets tough. Now that's the kind of reaction it takes to fire up broad national enthusiasm! Now that Kerry is the designated front runner, all of the others will have intense incentives to point out to the voters the many aspects of Senator Kerry's history and character that gave rise to those Boston sentiments. The effect of that effort may be dramatic - and will probably at least keep Senator Kerry from building a full groundswell. And it's hard to see anyone else catching fire, either. Local ups and downs are a distinct possibility. As is Al Sharpton. Indeed, the reported emphasis Democratic primary voters are placing on the "electability issue" and on the "Anybody But Bush" approach pretty well drives home how little enthusiasm any of these candidates is creating among the broad electorate - even as their much smaller core supporter groups shout themselves hoarse.
Sunday, January 25, 2004
Many pro-choice activists have long dismissed the arguments of pro-life activists that acceptance of abortion will lead to acceptance of infanticide.
Yet, the dismissed argument has always been intuitively correct - although obviously difficult to verify. Now we have this:
A GOVERNMENT adviser on genetics has sparked fury by suggesting it might be acceptable to destroy children with ‘defects’ soon after they are born.
John Harris, a member of the Human Genetics Commission, told a meeting at Westminster he did not see any distinction between aborting a fully grown unborn baby at 40 weeks and killing a child after it had been born.
Harris, who is a professor of bioethics at Manchester University, would not be drawn on which defects or problems might be used as grounds for ending a baby’s life, or how old a child might be while it could still be destroyed.
Harris was reported to have said that he did not believe that killing a child was always inexcusable.
Professor Harris is not crazy. Nor was General Wesley Clark crazy when he stated that a woman had the right to abort her fetus at any time before birth - even long after it had become fully viable. Yes, these opinions are the opinions of moral idiots. But these opinions are nevertheless becoming quite mainstream - and they are becoming mainstream because broad abortion rights and practice are encouraging many people to view infanticide as no big deal.
It's just a fact. In large measure you can thank the Supreme Court of the United States.
Saturday, January 24, 2004
What is it about Wesley Clark that seems to stir up the most unpleasant and self-destructive comments on the military records of himself and others?
Retired General Hugh Shelton, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported that the reason Mr. Clark "came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues ... Wes won't get my vote."
Then Mr. Clark himself bizarrely attempted to diminish Senator Kerry's undoubted Vietnam heroism. He did this after infamously stating that if anyone else criticized his military record he would "beat the s--- out of them." Clark was later forced to distance himself from his own remarks. But will he physically attack General Shelton - a prime offender - when next they meet?
Now there's the weird "deserter' flap. Michael Moore accused President Bush of being a deserter and welcomed a debate between the "General and the Deserter." Clark refused to distance himself from his bizarre supporter's comments, even though they were not new and had been discredited to the satisfaction of the vast majority of the media and the public.
What the heck is it with Wesley Clark and military records?
UPDATE: Still more claptrap on Clark's military record, this time from Newsweek, which follows up on General Shelton's remarks:
What really happened? According to a knowledgeable source, Clark ran afoul of Cohen and Shelton by being less than totally forthcoming in morning conference calls during the Kosovo war in the spring of 1999. From his NATO headquarters in Brussels, Clark wanted to wage the war more aggressively, but back in the Pentagon, Cohen and Shelton were more cautious. They would give Clark instructions on, for instance, the scale of the bombing campaign. "Clark would say, 'Uh-huh, gotcha'," says NEWSWEEK's source. But then he would pick up the phone and call [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair and [Secretary of State] Madeleine [Albright]." As Clark knew full well, Blair and Albright were more hawkish than Shelton and Cohen. After talking to the State Department and NATO allies, Clark would have a different set of marching orders, says the source, who has spoken about the matter with both Cohen and Clark. "Then, about 1 o'clock, the Defense Department would hear what Clark was up to, and Cohen and Shelton would be furious."
Was Clark going around them? Not really. As NATO commander, Clark told NEWSWEEK, "I wore two hats." He reported to Washington, but also to America's European allies. And within the U.S. government, he was within his authority to seek guidance from the State Department and certainly from the White House, as well as from his nominal bosses at the Pentagon.
No reasonable person will put any substantial faith in a report on this topic attributed only to "a knowledgeable source," and nobody at Newsweek should be so foolish as to believe otherwise. There are lots of people with actual knowledge of this matter - heck, even Wesley Clark himself is probably "a knowledgeable source" here. The problem is that all the known "knowledgeable sources" have personal interests in the story, which is a nice way of saying that they have an incentive to lie. Is the "knowledgeable source" Madeleine Albright or Sandy Berger? - two Clinton administration operatives who are almost certainly "knowledgeable sources" on this matter, but each of whom has a strong personal interest in how the matter is presented to and accepted by the public and each of whom has a serious record of prevaricating. Remember Knowledgeable Source Berger "remembering" to ever-credulous TIME magazine that the Clinton administration had left a secret plan with the incoming Bush people to invade Afghanistan? Now it seems Newsweek's turn to swallow whole a big piece of leftover Clintonian balloney - at least TIME named its absurdist source!.
The Newsweek story is nothing other than an attempt to discredit General Shelton's statement. At bottom, the story attempts to "explain" the severe language used by General Shelton in terms that portrait General Clark as acting entirely within his authority.
But the pattern Newsweek describes of General Clark juggling different constituencies does not amount to the "integrity and character issues" with which Shelton and Cohen charged Clark. And this pattern is definitely not the reasons tendered by General Shelton when he had Clark removed. That is, we may rest assured that General Shelton and Secretary Cohen did not call President Clinton and say something along the lines of:
"Mr. President, we have to remove Wesley Clark as head of NATO because in our morning conference calls with him he says 'uh-huh' and then phones your Secretary of State and our allies that he is supposed to talk to anyway, tells them what we want to do exactly as he is supposed to do, and then phones us back and tells us that they all want to be more aggressive. This just has to stop!"
Such a conversation never happened because nobody in his right mind could think such a conversation would actually result in the removal of the head of NATO. Since what Newsweek calls "what really happened" was not the proffered reason for Clark's removal, it seems that the "knowledgeable source" is planning to assert that this is what "really happened" in the sense that it was the true but undisclosed motivation of Messrs. Shelton and Cohen. How nicely unverifiable. Unless and until Newsweek wants to start naming its sources here we are all best advised to assume that General Clark - or someone working on his behalf - has a buddy at Newsweek and a friendly "knowledgeable source" from the detritus of the Clinton administration, who together were quite happy to create this ridiculous article just as Candidate Clark needed it.
I wonder what the called-in chip was? Where do I go to get some?
FURTHER UPDATE: God, it's worse than I thought. Clark's condition seems to be infectious. How else to explain this self-destructive and entirely unnecessary snap by Kerry:
"That's the first time I have heard a general be so dismissive of lieutenants, who bleed a lot in wars," Kerry told Ed Bradley in Sunday's interview. "I think the general is entitled to his feelings and opinions." .... "[Vietnam] is young people dying for the wrong reasons, because leaders don't do the things that they should to protect them."
And isn't Senator Kerry getting more than a little too cute when he says "I think the general is entitled to his feelings and opinions" where the point is exactly that General Clark is not entitled to these particular feelings and opinions because Senator Kerry thinks those feelings and opinions are insensitive, disrespectful, inappropriate and downright wrong?
But, most of all, why are these two men involved in this completely silly ongoing exchange?
The political process is often compared to a "marketplace of ideas." Within a particular political party, the purpose of the presidential primary season is in large measure to force the competitors to eliminate each other from competition. If that process is not completed by the primaries, then the convention must finish the job and establish a "monopoly" by choosing a single nominee.
What happens in a convention in which nobody commands a majority of delegates? Well, if one candidate commands a near majority, the brokering of the convention will likely be a deal cut by that that candidate and another player who can put the leader over the top. In other words, the convention will bear a stong resemblance to a kind of oligopoly.
If no contender has a near-majority, things get much more complex very fast. How fast? Well, continuing the economic analogy, one might say that as the "market" within the convention gets less concentrated, the convention functions more more like "perfect competition" - which is exactly the chaotic situation that the primaries and convention are supposed to eliminate.
How fast does a convention degenerate into perfectly competitive chaos? Probably mush faster than the degree by which the candidates fail to obtain a majority of the delegates. In the economic arena, a standard measure of market concentration is the Herfindahl index:
[T]he Herfindahl index is a measure of the size of firms in relationship to the industry and an indicator of the amount of competition among them. It is defined as the sum of the squares of the market shares of each individual firm. ... The major benefit of the Herfindahl index in relationship to such measures as the concentration ratio is that it gives more weight to larger firms. Take, for instance, two cases in which the six largest firms produce 90 percent of the output:
Case 1: All six firms produce 15 percent, and
Case 2: One firm produces 80 percent while the five others produce 2 percent each.
We will assume that the remaining 10% of output is divided among 10 equally sized producers.
The six-firm concentration ratio would equal 90 percent for both case 1 and case 2, but in the first case competition would be fierce where the second case approaches monopoly. The Herfindahl index for these two situations makes the lack of competition in the second case strikingly clear:
Case 1: Herfindahl index of 1360
Case 2: Herfindahl index of 6430
This behavior rests in the fact that the market shares are squared prior to being summed, giving additional weight to firms with larger size.
If the economic analogy holds, then a political convention in which, say, five contenders each hold about 20% of the delegates will pretty well approximate chaos. In other words, such a situation would mean that the entire primary season had decided essentially nothing.
Mickey Kaus says "yes!" [Also, scroll down for lots of top quality Zogby bashing!]
Mickey points to this Greg Abbott post that argues that Clark is trashing Edwards to weaken Edwards in South Carolina - which, of course, is exactly what the Man Without Qualities has been arguing essentially follows as a corollary to Dick Morris' Clinton alarums.
But John Ellis argues (I think) that if Clark trashes Edwards now then that helps Kerry win New Hampshire by 20 points, which is not good for Clark! But Clark (or Lehane) may think that Kerry's New Hampshire win won't mean much because he's a favorite son there. For example, Bill Clinton's strong second-place showing in New Hampshire primary — behind former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts — enabled him to dub himself the "comeback kid" because Tsongas' "win" was discounted as a merely a "favorite son" effect in comparision to the strong showing by the Southerner. It is much more important for Clark to show strength in South Carolina - where Clark is not a favorite son but Edwards is. Of course, it's also very important for Clark to stop Edwards from showing too much strength in New Hampshire, where Edwards is anything but a favorite son. And if Clark/Lehane are sliming Edwards, they are probably trying to slime Kerry, too.
But, dear me, John Ellis is probably right that if Clark is trashing Edwards, then there is a big risk that Clark and Edwards may both get savaged in the process - one way or the other. In fact, if either of them (but especially favorite son Edwards) doesn't do well in South Carolina, that will likely leave the poor performer weakened through the rest of the camapign - but enhance Al Sharpton's results throughout the South and the African American community generally. Clark and Edwards should care about all that - but the Clintons don't, and Clark advisor Lehane really works for them.
As things look now, John Kerry will not after New Hampshire have taken or even threatened to take anything near a majority anywhere - even his own back yard. Heck, Kerry and Dean combined hardly claim a majority now in New Hampshire, where they are both favorite sons from adjoining states. What's more, John Ellis cogently observes that Kerry has now officially peaked in New Hampshire and Dean is apparently in a tailspin (although Zogby says Dean has had a small one-day bounce), so their combined vote is likely to shrink, if anything.
The chances of a brokered convention in which Al Sharpton carries a good deal of weight seem to be growing, if anything. Yes, right now John Kerry is looking strong. But John Kerry in South Carolina and the rest of the South? Please. The image of John Kerry tucked into a breakfast of shad roe and grits would be worse than seeing Michael Dukakis tucked into that tank.
Similarly, not even Senator Edwards' most unhinged and infatuated media admirers are suggesting that he will likely command a majority of delegates or anything close to it walking into the convention. The speculation now is on his viability.
Dean? Clark? Yes, they may be shrinking (although the polls seem unreliable and inconsistent at least as to the degree of shrinkage) - but nothing fatal, yet.
The prospect of being offered the vice-presidency has likely kept several of these contenders going for some time. That prospect alone may keep Clark, Edwards, Dean and even Kerry (and Sharpton!) going until the end of this very short primary season. That further increases the chances of a brokered convention.
Suppose John Kerry emerges as the nominee from a brokered convention in which he failed to command even a majority of Democratic delegates and in which Al Sharpton has a big say in cutting the final deal. Is such a nominee likely to be a strong contender in the general election?
After the dust settles on the highly probable Kerry loss to Bush, the Clintons could turn to the African American community and point out: We made you strong in Boston in 2004! Now help us in 2008!
Friday, January 23, 2004
No, race can't be ignored or disregarded - especially if the prosecutors begin to look like they can actually convict. That doesn't seem to be the case at this point, which may be why the race issue has remained less disruptive than it will be if things keep moving forward.
Race is a big issue in the Kobe Bryant prosecution. And the consequences of that are beginning to force their way to the surface:
[T]he Laker star's defense team complained: "There is lots of history about black men being falsely accused of this crime by white women."
And so there is.
A federal prosecutor said she was worried about finding a fair jury in the Martha Stewart trial after one potential juror looked at the style maven and openly wished her luck.
And it doesn't help matters any that the prosecutors seem to have a really bad case. Does somebody need to remind them that the standard they face is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? Have they looked through their files and chanted "reasonable doubt" ten times? Perhaps they should.
Indeed, pardon my skepticism, but the Justice Department's approach to Martha Stewart's prosecution seems eerily like the scientists' approach in this cartoon.
Perhaps the only thing in this race more remarkable than how little it takes to get the media to trumpet that Senator Edwards is on fire is how much it seems to take to get any meaningful portion of the public to warm up to him:
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who earned a jolt of momentum from his second place finish in Iowa that so far has not translated into rising poll numbers in New Hampshire, slipped one percentage point to 7 percent.
On a related point, the complete arc of Dick Morris' reasoning described in the immediately preceding post has even more difficulties than noted there, including the complete absence to date (January 23) of any detectable bounce for Senator Edwards.
It is worth noting that the man supposedly behind the machinations which are the subject of Mr. Morris' reasoning, Mr. Lehane, putatively works for Wesley Clark but actually works for the Clintons - and they don't want any of the Democrats in this race, including Mr. Clark, to become president. But they especially don't want Dr. Dean to become even the Democratic nominee - since he has all but pledged to purge the Democratic Party and its institutions of the Clintons' operatives and influence. The contenders other than Dr. Dean are less offensive to the Clintons' agenda as the mere nominee - as long as that nominee doesn't trip up and actually win the presidential election. But if any substantial portion of the speculation in these stories is correct, the Clintons seem to be well on their way to preventing that disaster.
But, one might argue, Senator Edwards and General Clark are both Southerners - their time will come in the South. That raises a name that has mostly been irrelevant so far in this campaign: Al Sharpton. That's a name that could become very significant to Messrs. Edwards and Clark - and even to the entire future possibly-brokered Democratic convention in which a candidate commanding, say, 10% of the delegates corresponding to the votes of the Democrats' most loyal and important consitituency could have real influence. As Senator Zell Miller sagely put it:
First, the Reverend "Ready for Prime Time." Conventional wisdom says native Southerners John Edwards and Wesley Clark and moderate Joe Lieberman will have the edge when the primaries move South. Don't count on it. I'd be willing to bet a steak dinner (mad cow or no mad cow) that Al Sharpton will get almost as many votes as Messrs. Edwards, Clark or Lieberman in this supposedly more friendly territory. (If they're still around, that is.) The last time there was an African-American in the primaries, Jesse Jackson blew everyone away, getting 96% of the African-American vote in the South, carrying Georgia, Virginia, Mississippi and Louisiana, and placing second in North Carolina, Florida, Maryland and Tennessee. It would be a tall order to match that. But Rev. Sharpton could do well because he's even more appealing than Rev. Jackson. While Jesse is sullen, Al is engaging. Can you imagine Rev. Jackson poking fun at himself? Can you imagine him on "Saturday Night Live" belting out James Brown's "I Feel Good" with a few cool moves?
In Democratic primary season, Senator Miller builds a road running both ways: If Mr. Sharpton can be seen as an annoying obstacle to the ability of Messrs. Edwards and Clark to harvest the South, then they can be seen as annoying obstacles to Mr. Sharpton's ability to do the same. One thing the Clintons know especially well is the politics of the South. And in addition to their proven ability to adapt to campaign contingencies, the Clintons have a very good record of being able to plan well ahead in a campaign (actually running the government was not so easy for them). So it seems likely that they also see what Senator Miller sees coming. Is it possible that the better reason for the Clintons' purposes to eliminate or damage Senator Edwards now is to clear the way for the kind of Al Sharpton Southern triumph predicted by Senator Miller? Would a brokered convention in which Al Sharpton has a lot of say in the final deal be more or less likely to produce a winning nominee and program than one in which he had no influence?
The reader should not be so naive as to imagine that the Clintons haven't considered that last question - or that they don't have a very well-considered answer.
UPDATE: Ah! We didn't have to wait at all! Here's another daily drip on Edwards already. And its a nice corrosive one in a Democratic Party that's full of people all charged up about campaign finance protocol.
FURTHER UPDATE: Ah, another one! Ripe. Very ripe. The "optimism and hope" bit ("Pessimists and cynics did not build this country, optimists built this country," Edwards said.) is suggested to be a calculated sham - supplemented by nasty, secret, negative tactics. Yes, very ripe that one. A trial lawyer offering arguments just for effect? Arguments that he doesn't really believe? Who wudda thunkit?!
STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: Signs of a national Edwards bounce after all? Odd that it's not detected as happening in New Hampshire, the state where people actually have to vote very soon.
Who are these people?
STILL MORE: This poll seems to show a New Hampshire Edwards surge.
Thursday, January 22, 2004
Dick Morris says:
What happened to Howard Dean? He was assassinated by Bill and Hillary with the assistance of Chris Lehane, the political hit man who first worked for Kerry and now backs Clark.
Desperate to keep control of the Democratic Party, the Clintons used their negative researchers and detectives to the ultimate and generated a story-a-day savaging Dean. The Vermont governor, not ready for prime time, cooperated by being thin-skinned, surly and combative. And now he is an artifact of history. ... My bet is that Edwards surges and finishes second in New Hampshire, too. Then we proceed to the big states five weeks later - New York, Texas, California and Ohio all vote on the same day in this front-loaded process. Edwards and Kerry will slug it out and the winner is anybody's guess.
On Foxnews Mr. Morris has justified this conclusion by arguing that ONLY the Clintons have the resources to have produced the day-by-day water torture of anti-Dean stories that supposedly did him in. If Mr. Morris is correct, why doesn't this same reasoning lead to the conclusion that Mr. Lehane is targeting Senator Kerry's most formidable contender right now by employing the same negative researchers and detectives to create the same ultimate story-a-day savaging of John Edwards? Indeed, if a string of anti-Edwards revelations appear, doesn't Mr. Morris' reasoning lead to the conclusion that ONLY the Clintons/Lehane team could be their source?
Could Matt Drudge's pledge to present RESULTS OF A DRUDGE REPORT INVESTIGATION INTO THE MAN OF MYSTERY, DEM HOPEFUL JOHN EDWARDS have any connection? Hey, a Lehane/Drudge connection? Come on! Drudge is the guy who broke and tended the Lewinski story. Surely a Clintonista like Lehane wouldn't have anything to do with Drudge.
Of course, Mr. Morris' reasoning has some odd consequences. For example, some talented people believe that the Iowa Deanerdammerung has removed much of the reason for Wesley Clark's entire campaign. If that's true and Mr. Morris is right, then wouldn't Mr. Clark be more than a bit annoyed at Mr. Lehane right now?
The New York Times and the Washington Post both suggest that President Bush received a bounce from the capture of Saddam Hussein that has now largely dissipated. And, of course, many commenters believe that Senator Kerry (and maybe Edwards) received a big bounce from the Iowa results - especially for Kerry in New Hampshire.
I am not convinced of any of it.
It's not that I deny that the President is doing worse in his polls compared to the immediate post-Saddam- capture numbers (at least in polls like the NYT's poll with sampling techniquies apt to be skewed against him), nor do I deny that Senator Kerry is doing better in his polls relative to other Democrats in the race.
It's the causation of these things.
With respect to Saddam's capture: It has been fairly widely and (I believe) correctly observed that since and largely as a result of Saddam's capture a great many voters (Democratic and others) have reduced their evaluation of the significance of the entire Iraq war and occupation. Indeed, that reduction by Democratic voters is widely believed to be a substantial (but, of course, not the only) factor in the recent loss of altitude experienced by both Howard Dean and Wesley Clark. In other words, the public appears not to be treating Saddam's capture as of passing significance. If anything, there are signs that the public - and not just the Democratic public - is ascribing too much long term and profound significance to that capture.
It being the case that the public appears to have lodged the Saddam capture in its collective mind as an important and priority-shifting development, I think - unlike the Times and Post - that it is highly unlikely that the public has ceased to ascribe to the President the long term credit for that capture. Instead, as I have noted in a prior post, I believe the capture of Saddam Hussein is viewed by the broad public the removal of a continuing drag on the public's evaluation of the President's performance. The recent developments in the Democratic contest and current polling data seem to support that conclusion. To be fair to the Times and Post, their articles do not expressly assert the causal connections, but those connections are clearly intended to be drawn as conclusions by the reader. And, I believe, those conclusions are wrong.
As I noted in the post immediately below, what in my view is likely happening is that political news coverage has been recently dominated by reporting of the Democratic selection process - which means that the Democratic arguments have been getting a lot of play - and the polls are reflecting that process.
With respect to Senator Kerry and Edwards: I detect little sign that the public - Democratic or otherwise - have actually raised their estimations of Senators Kerry or Edwards. Instead, it appears that for very different reasons Iowa caucus members re-evaluated sharply downward their estimates of both Dean and Gephardt as those caucuses approached. The effect was that, relative to those two, Senators Kerry and Edwards looked the better choices. A caucus is after all, in the final vote, a zero-sum game. That there appears to have been no (or very little) bounce for Edwards in the New Hampshire polling is further evidence that Democratic voters are not raising their estimation of him - despite media reports that Senator Edwards "positive message of hope and optimism" is getting through to more people. Instead, Senator Kerry is occupying a larger share of New Hampshire territory as a favorite son now that the other favorite son, Howard Dean, is contracting and Wesley Clark may be receding with the public's perception of Iraq's significance and in accordance with his own increasingly odd pronouncements (Kerry's Vietnam heroism was no big deal. Gay marriage is A-OK., etc., etc.). Clark's position in all this is, however, more complicated since he is also arguably picking up New Hampshire supporters who are departing from Dean - even as the territory claimed by both Dean and Clark together shrinks. In fact, because Senator Kerry is a favorite son from a neighboring state, New Hampshire has only down-side potential - and no substantial up-side potential - for Senator Kerry.
One further point: It has been said that Mr. Gephardt commenced his barrage of attack ads against Dr. Dean on the advice of Bill Clinton. Those attack ads resulted in Dr. Dean upping his attacks on Mr. Gephardt. The net effect is that they both shrank and lost, while Senators Kerry and Dean looked better and better. Gephardt is now out of the race entirely and Dean may be mortally wounded.
Nice work by Mr. Clinton in resolving those gosh darned competing goals, wasn't it? I wonder if all the Democratic contenders are still seeking Slick Willie's advice?
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
One curious side effect of the President being unopposed in his own party is that - except for coverage of the State of the Union address - political news coverage has been mostly dominated in the last couple of weeks by reports of actions and statements of people trying to replace him in the White House. The Man Without Qualities believes that where coverage of one's critics and their speeches dominates the media one is likely to suffer a bit in the polls, which has apparently happened to the President - at least in some polls. Until that balance in coverage corrects itself, it is more interesting than otherwise the case to peruse polls that detect shifts in public sentiment that are not so directly political as the customary polls asking whether a respondent thinks the county is "off track" or the like (although those polls and sentiments are very important). One such poll is tabulated in the ABC News/Money magazine CONSUMER COMFORT INDEX, which has been displaying a rather pronounced trend recently:
End Date.......................................Consumer Comfort Index
This Index is particularly interesting to the Man Without Qulities given the unwavering belief here that the coming election will be dominated by domestic economic issues barring an unforseen and dramatic development on another front.
The New York Times reports that following his encouraging Iowa performance, Senator John Edwards is keeping his stump speech positive and has stuck to his message of optimism and hope.
So what does that mean in practice? Well, apparently, this:
Just as in Iowa, [Senator Edwards] sought to criticize President Bush as having helped create "two Americas," one for the haves and one for the have-nots, in an effort to undercut Mr. Bush's State of the Union address.
"I expect him to say the state of the union is strong," Mr. Edwards said, repeating to a scrum of reporters on the steps of the library here what he had just told the audience inside. "The question is which union? The union of special interests and insiders is strong. The problem is there are a lot of Americans who are struggling every single day, and they are the people who need our help."
It is not inappropriate in a campaign for Senator Edwards to offer such criticism and his harrowing vision of what the American union has become. But if that's what the Times and Senator Edwards think of as constituting the the "positive", "optimism" and "hope" in his message, it's terrifying to imagine what the Times and this man think it means to actually go negative.
Monday, January 19, 2004
An astute if, perhaps, somewhat mischievous, reader informs the Man Without Qualities that all of the complaints here about the Iowa polls being misleading predictors of the caucus results are all wrong-headed. He says that it's the polls that count - not the caucus results:
Nobody thinks the Iowa caucuses are about the incremental contribution of the delegates selected in Iowa to the probability of getting the nomination -- that number is close to zero no matter who "wins" the caucuses or by how much.
Instead, they are about the ability of candidates to gain traction among somebody other than pundits. The caucuses are almost pure signal. In that case, the raw Zogby-type poll numbers (to the extent they are accurate) actually measure what people are interested in. Indeed, reporting the outcome of the caucuses is probably the mistake here.
When results don't match polls there are three possibilities: a) the polls predicted the raw totals, but the process outcome doesn't mirror the raw totals (your case); b) the polls failed to predict the raw totals because the electorate changed their minds at the last minute -- or lied to pollsters -- or didn't show up as the pollsters predicted they would in some differential fashion; or c) the polls were really political and not scientific documents, i.e. the polls were calculated to misreport in order to skew perceptions.
It seems to me that b) and c) are both more common, and more interesting, than a) but I have no real evidence on relative frequency.
So put all that in your pipe and smoke it!
More On Those Iowa Polls: The 100-Year Kaustown Flood!
Talk about Flooding the Zone?!! O My God - somebody will have to declare Iowa a political disaster relief area after Kausfiles Floods the Entire State!
It's all worth reading and thinking about carefully, in my view.
Curiously, after all this display of high quality awareness of the distorting effects of the Iowa caucus mechanics, Kausfiles really doesn't draw attention to any likelihood that John Edwards will not be able to exploit his "surge" (if there is one) in popularity there because he reportedly hasn't much of an Iowa organization.
UPDATE: The Note goes the extra mile!
Sunday, January 18, 2004
According to TIME magazine, Bill Clinton is a consultant for each and every Democratic presidential candidate's campaign:
Whatever their differences, Clinton is talking to all the candidates because, his friends say, they share one goal: ensuring another one-term Bush presidency.
Yes, indeed. No doubt they all don't like Mr. Bush. But as each and every one of those Democratic contenders listens to Mr. Clinton's sagacities, they may want to remember that he has an additional goal - making his wife president in 2008.
And Mr. Clinton doesn't have a good record of subordinating his - shall we say - more personal goals and needs to those of the Democratic Party generally.
Saturday, January 17, 2004
What, exactly, do polls try to estimate? "Raw vote."
What, exactly, do the Iowa caucuses determine? "Delegates."
Consider how the Iowa caucuses go from "raw vote" to "delegates," and then thank God that you aren't living in Iowa (unless you are):
You meet in a room with all the other registered Democrats in your precinct who decide to show up. ... Then the caucus chair asks everybody to express their preferences among the presidential candidates. She tells the Howard Dean people to stand in this corner, the Dick Gephardt people in that corner, the John Kerry people in the other corner, etc. There's also a corner for "uncommitted." ... The chair counts how many people are in each group. That's the raw vote. ...
The party has a "viability" rule: If [a] group doesn't add up to a sufficient percentage of the total vote in the room - at least 15 percent, but it can go higher, depending on various factors - the chair will declare your group nonviable. Now you have to choose which of the viable candidates you prefer as a second choice. ... The chair counts again. That's the realigned vote.
Next the chair translates this vote count into a delegate count. Every viable group gets at least one delegate. The bigger your group, the more delegates you can earn. But there are two catches. First, the number of delegates to be distributed in the room depends on how many Democrats voted in your precinct in the most recent gubernatorial and presidential elections. If you're new in town, and the turnout in your precinct was lousy four years ago, your vote effectively counts less than it would have if you'd moved to a high-turnout precinct. Second, if your group is bigger than another group in the room, that doesn't guarantee you'll get more delegates. Let's say the chair has six delegates to distribute, and there are four viable groups. That leaves two extra delegates, which will probably go to the two biggest groups. If you're in the third-biggest group, and you've got more people than the fourth group does, tough luck. You each get a delegate, and that's that.
The precinct chair phones the county Democratic Party and reports how many county delegates have been awarded to each candidate or to "uncommitted" in your precinct. ...
On caucus night, the Iowa Democratic Party will release the delegate count. Here's when the party will release the raw vote count and the realigned vote count: Never.
There! Wasn't that easy?
So, Mr. Zogby, please tell me how all of those mechanics, weird distorting procedures and inconsistent agendas are included in your polling numbers that you offer to the media every night?
Friday, January 16, 2004
Howard Dean tells People Magazine that he has been there.
Link from John Ellis's site.
Surprisingly and refreshingly, from Michael Kinsley:
Speaking of blindsided, howzabout that killer quote describing Bush in Cabinet meetings as being "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people"? O'Neill says this is "the only way I can describe it," and I fear that may be the case. It's vivid, and it certainly sounds insulting enough. But what on Earth does it mean? According to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, it means Bush is "disengaged." The Washington Post story began, "President Bush showed little interest in policy discussions in his first two years in the White House, leading Cabinet meetings 'like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people.' …"
I'm sorry, but how is being uninterested in policy like being a blind man in a roomful of deaf people? Are blind people uninterested in policy? Or, more accurately, do blind people become less interested in policy when they find themselves in a room with deaf people? Does a blind man surrounded by deaf people talking policy issues think: "Oh, hell. These folks are going to go on and on and on about the problems of deaf people. Who needs that? I've got problems of my own." Is that O'Neill's point? And even if there is something about a room full of deaf people that makes a blind man disengage from policy issues, what does this have to do with President Bush and his Cabinet?
As described by Paul O'Neill, life inside the Bush administration is like life itself (according to Macbeth): "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." The only solid punch he lands on President Bush is unintentional: What kind of idiot would hire this idiot as secretary of the treasury?
Yes, and that's why this entire O'Neill kerfluffle will mean absolutely nothing in the upcoming election - contrary to the great wishes of Paul Krugman and the like. It's so sad - Herr Doktorprofessor showed so many cards and embarrassed himself so thoroughly, all for nothing. Mr. Kinsley's view of this book rather strongly suggests that he would view Herr Doktorprofessor's take as totally wrong and motivated by partisan looniness. Of course, many of Herr Doktorprofessor's critics have believed that for a long time. But Mr. Kinsley has solidly liberal credentials. The point is that the credentials of the critics just keep getting better.
I particularly like Mr. Kinsley's comment "It's vivid, and it certainly sounds insulting enough. But what on Earth does it mean?" That's the kind of thing currency and securities traders said to each other about God-knows-how-many O'Neill utterances during his tenure. The markets roiled, billions of dollars moved violently and were wasted. Often, as in the Brazilian crisis, some of the most desparate people in the world were placed in greater pain.
And the Treasury Secretary said: "What are people so upset about?"
Wesley Clark seems to have a face, character and set of fundamental principles for every occassion.
The Wall Street Journal points out:
[W]e now know that less than 18 months ago, as Congress weighed whether to authorize war against Saddam Hussein, Mr. Clark all but declared himself part of the "neocon cabal" as he offered a litany of reasons for action while testifying on Capitol Hill.
"There's no question Saddam Hussein is a threat," Mr. Clark told the House Armed Services Committee on September 26, 2002. "Every President has deployed forces as necessary to take action. He's done so without multilateral support if necessary."
It gets better. Mr. Clark also cites approvingly the Darth Vader of the vast Iraq War conspiracy: "I want to underscore that I think the United States should not categorize this action as pre-emptive. ... As Richard Perle has so eloquently pointed out, this is a problem that's longstanding. It's been a decade in the making. It needs to be dealt with and the clock is ticking on this."
On the nature of Saddam's threat: "He has chemical and biological weapons. ... He is, as far as we know, actively pursuing nuclear capabilities. ... I think there's no question that, even though we may not have the evidence as Richard [Perle] says, that there have been such contacts [between Iraq and al Qaeda]. It's normal. It's natural. These are a lot of bad actors in the same region together. They are going to bump into each other. They are going to exchange information. They're going to feel each other out and see whether there are opportunities to cooperate."
But the Minuteman says "watch out."
Kausfiles impressively puts an awful lot of it all together. Is it all that the RNC says it is? No. But it's still really, really bad for Clark.
When President George H. W. Bush was not re-elected many people commented that his support and his campaign seemed oddly drained and enervated - and therefore feckless. A good deal of that enervation was, in my opinion, attributable to a particularly self-destructive political habit George H. W. Bush had cultivated: Staking out defensible but controversial positions (such as his "no new taxes" pledge and his veto of a particularly ill conceived civil rights bill), only to reverse course for completely unconvincing reasons that could only be considered pretexts. George H. W. Bush signed both that tax rise and the civil rights act he had denounced - the former "justified" by specious arguments that government financial needs were more pressing than had been known when the dramatic "no new taxes" pledge had been uttered, and the latter "justified" by small changes from the vetoed version. There were other examples.
It is a commonplace that all politics is local. And it is true. The purveyors of that commonplace generally have local political activities in mind. Of the nature of school boards and political clubs. But politics does not stop there. Indeed, all politics germinates around the family dinner table, in one-on-one cocktail party conversation, in steam rooms and racketball courts, during shared jogs, shopping trips and other venues where two or three are gathered - even out of pillow talk (the last appears to be especially true with people who swear they absolutely never discuss politics in an erotic environment).
All politics is ultimately intimate.
A consequence of the ultimate intimacy of politics is that those who defended George H. W. Bush's defensible but controversial policies ultimately found that because they had defended those policies they themselves were personally and intimately embarrassed. Embarrassed at the family dinner table. Hung out to dry at the next cocktail party. Exposed in the banya, on the courts and shopping trips.
Every administration has to reverse course from time to time. But that kind of thing happened far too often and with respect to policies far too profound with George H. W. Bush.
And that led to a lot of enervation. That enervation came not just from the Administration's reversal, but from first causing supporters to personally support policies in dramatic terms, only to reverse those policies in circumstances that strongly suggested that the Administration had never cared about them other than opportunistically. SUCKER.
I mention all that because there are now reports that Bush administration officials are leaning toward reversing a ban on bidding by French, German and Russian companies for U.S.-financed contracts in postwar Iraq.
Now, the Man Without Qualities has from the beginning believed that the reconstruction contract ban was but one component of the larger Administration-Baker strategy for Iraq debt relief - and has probably been presented as such to the more sophisticated representatives of Iraq's creditor nations. So it makes sense to me that the contract ban would give if the Europeans give enough ground in debt relief or other Iraq-related matters.
But that case has not been made explicitly. And in the mean time a lot of George W. Bush supporters have defended his defensible but controversial policy of barring obstructionist nations from reconstruction contracts on the basis of some fairly personal, tough, emotional and intuitionistic principles such as: Those who didn't help with the invasion while Americans risked and lost their lives shouldn't now prosper from the reconstruction expenditures by the US taxpayers.
So far the explanation for the shift has been wanting: A senior official said the White House has always said the contracting policy could change as circumstances change, and the countries are being given credit for their pledges to postwar Iraq.
Those "pledges" presumably include both funding and debt-relief contributions. Debt relief negotiations are only under way - and public reports do not yet clearly indicate that France and the others have given freely and generously to the Iraq effort.
But the President's supporters have ... often in intimate circumstances.
James Baker is superbly competent, but we all have our limitations. It is worth keeping in mind that he was a key player in the Bush administration that didn't get re-elected.
... or even accept a draft.
She likes to know in advance that she can win:
U.S. consumer sentiment enjoyed its biggest one-month jump in more than 11 years in early January, signaling that the economy was likely at a turning point that would lead to better hiring.
The University of Michigan's preliminary reading of consumer sentiment rose to 103.2, the highest since November 2000, before the recession hit three years ago and the economy suffered through a sluggish rebound.
January's reading, up more than 10 points from December's 92.6 level, was the biggest one-month increase since late 1992 and easily surpassed economists' forecasts for a rise to 94.0.
"It's a sign, if anything, that perhaps the labor market improved dramatically in the first couple of weeks of January versus December," said Ian Morris, chief economist at HSBC Securities USA in New York.
The confidence data helped ease worries that the labor market's slow recovery might undermine consumer spending, which makes up two-thirds of economic activity in the United States.
Yes, things may have picked up in January. But the soft December numbers might just be out-and-out wrong. December is a tough month to measure employment data.
Thursday, January 15, 2004
Iowa is in turmoil. Well, not Iowa exactly, but the media coverage of Democratic caucus campaigning there. We are told that the race is now a statistical dead heat among Kerry (21.6%), Dean and Gephardt (both at 20.9%) and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (17.1%).
Maybe it's actually true. But before reading too much into these Iowa tea leaves (alfalfa leaves?), it's worth noting that the turmoil centers on just one rather problematic axis: John Zogby and his polls. The poll results are Zogby Poll results. And John Zogby personally has been using his Iowa polling to garner a lot of media coverage for himself and his business. it is John Zogby who obligingly tells the news-hungry Reuters reporter John Whitesides: "We might see these candidates exchanging leads all the way to the end." No doubt that news just made Mr. Whitesides' day.
Now John Zogby is a respectable, serious pollster. He attracted considerable attention with his apparent ability to detect that sentiment moved in favor of Al Gore in the waning days of the 2000 presidential election. But there are also some other rather pertinent aspects of his modus operandi that bear keeping in mind in connection with current Iowa kerfluffle:
First, Zogby is putting very little of his credibility on the line in Iowa. These poll results have unusually high margins of error - 4.5%. That means that even accepting the premises of the current poll Howard Dean could be attracting as much as 25.4% of likely caucus attendees, with John Edwards (for example) at 12.6%. That doesn't look so much like a dead heat, and wouldn't get the coverage. But if it happened, Mr. Zogby would have a nice way out.
Worse, according to the Reuters article posted on the Zogby website, the Zogby polls include respondents who say they are likely to attend the caucuses. In evaluating who is a "likely voter" in a general election, many pollsters do not just rely on the respondents' self characterization. They also evaluate factors such as actual past voting record and the like.
In addition, it's been particularly cold in Iowa. As the Reuters article delicately phrases another issue this raises: Polling in Iowa is complicated by the unique nature of the caucus system, which requires participants to leave their homes on a typically bitter cold night and gather with neighbors for hours before publicly declaring their support for a candidate. Some reports from Iowa suggest that there is greater uncertainty as to who will turn out than is normal even in Iowa.
Although his polls and quotes are receiving a lot of media coverage and may be affecting the course of voting, Mr. Zogby's sound bites tendered to eager media representatives misleadingly fail to acknowledge just how problematic Iowa caucus polling is:
"The polls leading up to the caucuses often do not reflect the outcome of the caucuses," said David Goldford, head of the political science department at Drake University in Des Moines.
In 2000, for example, Vice President Al Gore led former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey by only 4 percentage points in the final polling. In the end, though, Gore crushed Bradley, 63.4 percent to [34.9] percent snuffing out the momentum Bradley was hoping to gain in Iowa by exceeding expectations.
But more importantly as far as Zogby reliability is concerned, the very volatility Zogby is reporting itself gives him cover almost regardless of the actual caucus results. After all, where - as Mr. Zogby has noted - individual candidates can move by more that four or five percentage point in a single day, who can blame a pollster if the final swing yields results seemingly at variance with the polls? Let's see, poll margins of error of 4.5%, with 5% candidate swings in a single day? What's the predictive value of that? Not much. But the media grandstanding potential is huge!
Mr. Zogby seems to have a history of exploiting such weaknesses in polling to his own advantage. One savvy observer recently pointed out to the Man Without Qualities that if you go back and look at Zogby's numbers from 2000 and 2002, you see swings in state and national electorates that are simply beyond belief. Some media professionals politely characterize this as a "quality control" issue. There are others who will tell you that, in a pinch, John Zogby makes up the numbers. I have no evidence of that - but it has been said.
John Zogby does not just take polls - he provides unusually substantial analysis, and shares dollops of that analysis with the media. I am told by some whose views I respect that the quality of his analysis is suspect by many professionals. Oddly, this is partly why he's a media favorite: Mr. Zogby has a history of divining big swings and shifts out of high margin of error data - as he is now doing in Iowa. He gives reporters what they want (news coverage changes XYZ race in dramatic fashion) even if the evidence is a bit thin...shall we say.
I am not saying John Zogby is wrong. But I am saying he's getting quite a lot of media coverage out of polling that offers a lot less than meets the eye.
And all that's without giving consideration to the fact that John Zogby's brother is Dr. James J. Zogby, Democratic activist, former aide to Al Gore, and founder and president of the Arab American Institute, a sometimes controversial Washington, D.C.-based organization which purports to serve portions the Arab American community and which some describe as all but a branch of the Democratic Party. I have no evidence that John is influenced in his polling and analysis by James. But their close relationship does raise questions in a race in which American relations with parts of the Arab world are more than a marginal consideration.
MORE: Kausfiles has lots more, including this cite to Josh Marshall.
STILL MORE: The Man Without Qualities reprises a question on whether the New York Times and at least a good portion of the Democrat-alligned mainstream media generally don't like Dr. Dean and are skewing news coverage to deliberately undercut him. This time my question and confidence is buttressed by observations of the redoubtable Peggy Noonan:
The press has kicked in and is playing a part in the drama. The journalistic establishment has become an anti-Dean mover. Tuesday's New York Times piece on the absent Mrs. Dean, for instance--that was a piece with a sting. They decided to front-page it six days before the caucuses. The morning network news shows and the cable news shows are full of Mr. Dean's gaffes, Mr. Gephardt's rise and Mr. Edwards's potential....
Reading between the lines and listening between the lines, it's hard to avoid the thought that reporters don't really like Mr. Dean. The last time a viable Democrat rose, in 1992, the columnists for the newsmagazines and profile writers for the newspapers loved Bill Clinton with a throbbing love. None of those columns are being written now. They don't love Mr. Dean.
This is not a shock. He seems as unlovable (unless you're a Deaniac) as he is improbable. But I suspect there's something else at work. I wonder if mainstream media aren't trying to save the Democratic Party from Mr. Dean.
If Ms. Noonan is right as she so often is, John Zogby is giving these media exactly what they want to hear. Isn't that generous of him? And they, in turn, are helping to make his predictions come true.
Why it could be a virtual ecosystem!
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Two boys, ages 9 and 5, share the abode of the Man Without Qualities, and they have both seen Return of the King.
That means that there have been lots of questions around these parts recently about mammoths, mastodons and elephants. And, frankly, the Man Without Qualities has been hard-put to keep up. Nor is my spouse's knowledge of the proboscideans and their descendants all that it should be.
Fortunately, there is this nifty website that tells all - or at least much. At last the youngsters can be authoritatively advised, for example, that mastodons were trudging about more than 20 million years ago - where mammoths are johnnies-come-latelies at 4 million.
And nobody even knows if all mammoths were woolly - although the Woolly Mammoths were very woolly indeed. And there were also little (6 feet) dwarf mammoths, who fearlessly braved the elements, the sea and oxymoronism!
It's quite a relief.
Monday, January 12, 2004
Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman surely does not savor the irony of his new column - The Awful Truth - being nothing but his parroting charges of Paul O'Neill and endorsing the man himself - a man whose resignation Herr Doktorprofessor only recently described as "long overdue" while preening himself for sensing early that Mr. O'Neill was utterly wrong for the Treasury office. And that is not all. Herr Doktorprofessor kicked Mr. O'Neill as hard as possible at the moment the departing Secretary was most down by repeating this gem:
What's wrong with Mr. O'Neill? He built his business reputation by reversing efforts to transform Alcoa into something more than an aluminum company, instead refocusing on the core business and engaging in ruthless cost-cutting. This is all very well - but overseeing world financial markets is nothing at all like running a large, very old-economy, command- and-control corporation (or, for that matter, working the details of the federal budget).
It wasn't "courage" that Herr Doktorprofessor found wanting in Paul O'Neill - that quality was never mentioned. It was smarts. And talent. And, most of all, Mr. O'Neill just had bad credentials. Herr Doktorprofessor also severely lambasted Mr. O'Neill for having the temerity to differ with Bono (!) on the question of Africa's economic needs. Yes, Bono knew better. Then there was Herr Doktorprofessor's chastisement of Mr. O'Neill for the Treasury Secretary's embarrassing and ignorant failure to understand the nation's currency - as well as the needs of the Brazilian economy and currency. Herr Doktorprofessor also felt it imperative to point out that Mr. O'Neill didn't understand the seriousness and significance of the Enron fiasco - and we all know that Herr Doktorprofessor thinks Enron was more important that 9-11! We were assured that Mr. O'Neill was at best a sucker and apologist for American crony capitalism. He was also disingenuous. And visionless. And insensitive to the poor. He was one of those who refuse to learn from the past, and thereby condemn others to repeat it. And a doubletalking foe of Social Security. A man who had not honored his promise to sell his Alcoa stock until given a "sharp prod" (like one gives cattle) by Salon. Yes, Herr Doktorprofessor assured us that Mr. O'Neill was saying all the wrong things: "I don't know if anyone in the financial markets still takes Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill seriously, but his extravagant statements on behalf of a strong dollar - he recently declared that if he changed his mind on the subject, he would hire Yankee Stadium and a brass band to announce it - are the opposite of helpful." Not content with all that, Herr Doktorprofessor assured us that Mr. O'Neill was also inconsistent. And - just to paint the lily - that Mr. O'Neill "has been a less than enthusiastic team player" - in representing the Administration, which is not exactly desired behavior in a cabinet member.
But not now! Herr Doktorprofessor now assures us that the point is that the credentials of the critics just keep getting better. Who knew that being a disgruntled, discharged employee was a good credential? Thank goodness the Sage of Princeton is here to get the job done. Yes, it seems that Herr Doktorprofessor now thinks that Mr. O'Neill really knew what was going on - and not just at Treasury, but also in matters of national security - see, it all follows from an article published by someone at the* Army War College! [Correction: Krugman does not say that O'Neill attended the College. Krugman cites to a separate College article. The italics phrase before * has been corrected.] Not like that old, clueless, doubletalking, disingenuous O'Neill who was willing to compromise his beliefs, but couldn't even figure out the basics of his own department and somehow was always saying the wrong thing - the thing that was the opposite of helpful - that inhabited all those old columns. No. No. The new Paul O'Neill has "courage" and is at the top of his game! Aware! Smart! Insightful! Incisive! Credentialed! Truthful! Invaluable!
Paul O! We hardly knew ya! Come to papa!
Yes, the "awful truth" comes out in this column. But it's the awful truth about Herr Doktorprofessor's intellectual dishonesty and willingness to mold his public evaluations of others to suit his own agenda. And that's not a truth that is revealed here for the first time.
And on top of all that, Luskin nails him on that irrelevant throw-away line on unemployment at the end of the column - the one that leaves the reader wondering why it's there, buried in several other decoy lines - as being an attempted sneaky little stealth-correction of Herr Doktotptofessor's prior error.
An astute reader points out that the Army War College must be a very odd place indeed. Herr Doktorprofessor has already proved by algebra that an article published by that revered institution is sufficient in matters of national security to second guess and know better than the Secretary of Defense and other high officials actually charged with such matters. [Correction: The italics phrase has been corrected.] Yet Herr Doktorprofessor also believes that attending the Army War College isn't much of a credential for being Secretary of the Army. We know this because former Secretary of the Army Thomas White also attended the Army War College. Yet Herr Doktorprofessor was not impressed when he wrote of Secretary White during his tenure:
[W]hy does this administration, which is waving the flag so hard its arms must hurt, leave the Army ? the Army! ? in the hands of a man who is, at best, a poseur?
At best, a poseur! And Mr. White also attended the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, and graduated in 1974 with a degree in Operations Research! Cuts no ice.
Gollum's got nothing on Paul O'Neill when it comes to having two inconsistent, competing personalities struggle for possession of one's being. Now Mr. O'Neill is telling everyone:
"People are trying to say that I said the president was planning war in Iraq early in the administration. Actually there was a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be a regime change in Iraq."
Gee, I wonder why people are trying to say that kind of thing?
So many exciting questions! Has anyone been checking just how much time Mr. O'Neill spends these days talking to puddles? Or has he been using Mr. Suskind as a puddle-surrogate? Will the new Krugman/O'Neill love affair survive longer than Britney Spears' marriage?
Everybody is just on pins and needles!
And then there's this:
O'Neill told the "Today" show he was guilty of using some "vivid" language during his hundreds of hours of interviews with Suskind for the book. "If I could take it back, I would take it back," he said of the blind man quote.
Asked if he plans to vote for Bush in November's presidential election, O'Neill said he "probably" would. "I don't see anyone who is better prepared or more capable," he told NBC.
STILL MORE UPDATE: And about that Army War College paper.