Mostly rational politics, with occasional rants about how a few crazy Republicans are ruining the country.
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Friday, July 29, 2005
Friday Prez Odds Update
GOP: - Santorum says he's not running in '08, preferring to spend time with his kids and focus his efforts on his tough Senate re-election battle in '06. Perhaps honest, perhaps not, and I had it somewhat baked in that he would conclude that he wouldn't have much of a chance anyway, but I'll drop him down accordingly, from 30:1 to 75:1.
Dems: - Evan Bayh is the most open and honest about the fact that he's in the race. And he's a formidable candidate - a senator and a former governor, on the Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee, young and attractive, from a red state. He will definitely be one of the 3-4 survivors in the race, and could pull it off. Here's an interview with the Indianapolis Star where he talks about his Presidential ambition. He's currently at 9:1, which I think is about right.
I'm not usually the grammar police, but I find it incredibly frustrating to get a long blast email from Paul Begala, a top democratic strategist who helped Clinton win the White House, with the following phrase as the subject and repeated all throughout the message: "Santorum Can Be Beat".
Either Begala doesn't know that it should be "beaten", which is frustrating, or he is dumbing down his grammar to speak to the masses, which pisses me off even more.
A NYTimes story citing an American businessman as saying he has been briefed on plans for the I.R.A. to announce later this week that it is giving up violence in its struggle for a re-united Ireland, in favor of a political struggle.
If the announcement happens, and is followed through on, this is a great step that I applaud.
I totally agree with Nicholas Kristof on what we need to do with North Korea. Precisely because of our isolationist policies, these people do not know of the freedom and quality of life that comes with democracy, and therefore blindly support their Dear Leader's totalitarian government because it provides their meager subsistence.
As Kristof argues, we need to "[drag] North Korea into the family of nations". Communicate with them directly. Open up their economy. Then will we be able to productively address the country's human rights abuses and nuclear ambitions. And hopefully, eventually, the citizens will see that the world is leaving them behind, and will demand a new government.
Remember Schapelle Corby, the Australian woman who was sentenced to 20 years in an Indonesian prison for smuggling 4kg of Marijuana into Bali, despite her insistence that she was an innocent victim of an Australian smuggling ring?
Now a drug dealer in Australia has confessed that the bag was meant for him and that Schapelle knew nothing about it. The dealer is willing to testify to free Schapelle if the Australian government grants him immunity and assurances that he won't be extradited to Indonesia. That will be tricky as Indonesia goes to great length the imprison drug smugglers.
Of course there's a chance that he's making it up to be the hero, but in a case with as much uncertainty as this one, shouldn't the Australian government do everything they can to take this guy's word for it and make the deal?
In my opinion it is much more important for free democratic societies to ensure that innocent people are not punished for crimes they didn't commit (hence the "beyond a reasonable doubt standard"), than to make sure all criminals are locked up. That same reasoning is largely the genesis of my position as vehemently against the death penatly - there are many cases in which we can ever be 100% sure we get it right, and execution eliminates the possibility of later vindication.
Bush's approval rating in the latest Quinnipiac poll is 41%, the lowest of his presidency. His ratings have been declining since re-election. Either the American public really started to lose faith because of the Social Security debacle and the Rove leak, or else this is our baseline view of Bush as a President and the war fooled people into keeping the same guy at a time of war.
As a partisan Democrat, I can only say that I hope this guy ruins the Republican party for decades to come.
Lance Armstrong, in USA Today, speaking about his efforts to fund cancer research.
"Funding is tough to come by these days," he says. "The biggest downside to a war in Iraq is what you could do with that money. What does a war in Iraq cost a week? A billion? Maybe a billion a day? The budget for the National Cancer Institute is four billion. That has to change. It needs to become a priority again. Polls say people are much more afraid of cancer than of a plane flying into their house or a bomb or any other form of terrorism. It is a priority for the American public."
Dems: - I'm swapping Evan Bayh and Wes Clark. As the Iraq war shows no signs of dying down, it's hard to picture a baby-faced foreign-policy neophyte (hmm, perhaps I need to address John Edwards as well) being trusted in an era of pressing national security issues. A general on the other hand is understandably appealing. So I'm moving Clark up to 7:1 and knocking Bayh back to 9:1. - If I'm harping on foreign policy experience, then I've also got to take Richardson down, so he's going from 6:1 to 10:1. - Al Gore called himself "a recovering politicians" when discussing his new (non-partisan) TV station. That doesn't bode well for my theory that he'll come back and do well. So I'm obliged to take my once-2nd-favorite down further to 14:1.
With his nominee, Bush has succeeded in taking Karl Rove out of the media spotlight. In fact, it's probable that the announcement was rushed from the original "end of the month" projection precisely for this reason.
Another story that won't get much play today, unless you my faithful readers make people aware of it: an Oxford Research Group study estimates that 25,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the Iraq war.
To be fair, a couple of notes: the study counts deaths caused by both insurgents and US/British troops. It says that more overall were killed by the troops than the insurgents, though most of the troop-caused deaths were in the early stages in March 2003 and most deaths nowadays are caused by insurgents. Nevertheless, my opinion is that the insurgency was caused by the war. Obviously Saddam was ruthless and killed civilians, but the war has caused bored foreign Arabs to stream into Iraq to try to kill Americans, and Iraqi civilians are suffering because of it.
Let's remind ourselves... Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network killed 3,000 civilians on Sept. 11th. The U.S. responds in part by inciting a conflict with a different old enemy, that results in 25,000 deaths.
I ask my friends who support(ed) the war: are you still as sure?
I'd be very curious to know if the White House pulled a head-fake in getting the media and the blogosphere all spun up about Edith Clement for 6 hours on Tuesday, so they couldn't dig up too much on Roberts right away. Even if that rumor came from somewhere else, Bush has pulled a very politically savvy move by nominating Roberts, whose 2-yr judicial record will make it very hard to use controversial past opinions against him. Seems like the best thing we've got to oppose him is a brief he filed saying Roe v. Wade was decided incorrectly, but he was a lawyer advocating for a client, not a judge giving his unbiased opinion.
Roberts is clearly the rock-solid conservative that the right wanted, short of Alito (Scalia Jr.). I think Roberts will be a lot like Clarence Thomas - quiet, unyieldingly reliable to the right as a strict Constitutionalist, without the arrogance or crazy statements of Scalia.
It will be very hard for Dems to fight this, and Bush knows it. So I'll say it again - if you believe in social progress, rather than turning the clock back to 1920, please vote for Democrats for President.
According to the Washington Post, Bush is likely to nominate a candidate this week. So, I'm putting my mouth where my odds are, and guessing that the nominee will come down to the two Ediths, and the winner will be Edith Brown Clement, by a nose over Edith Hollan Jones. Let's see if I'm right.
I promoted Live 8 and ONE.org, the U.S. offshoot of the international Make Poverty History campaign, significantly on this blog. Both efforts were aimed at encouraging leaders of rich nations to significantly increase their targeted aid to Africa, focusing on eradicating the extreme poverty and lack of adequate healthcare on that continent.
Today's NYTimes contains an editorial from a Cameroonian columnist criticizing the Western movement to increase aid as ill-guided and serving only to benefit our own conscience. He argues that Africa's real problem is government corruption and ruthlessness.
Don't insult Africa, this continent so rich yet so badly led. Instead, insult its leaders, who have ruined everything. Our anger is all the greater because despite all the presidents for life, despite all the evidence of genocide, we didn't hear anyone at Live 8 raise a cry for democracy in Africa. ... Neither debt relief nor huge amounts of food aid nor an invasion of experts will change anything. Those will merely prop up the continent's dictators. It's up to each nation to liberate itself and to help itself. ... In Africa, our leaders have led us into misery, and we need to rid ourselves of these cancers. We would have preferred for the musicians in Philadelphia and London to have marched and sung for political revolution. Instead, they mourned a corpse while forgetting to denounce the murderer.
His point is good and well-taken. Over the long-run, democratizing Africa and ensuring fairly-elected, competent governments is obviously necessary. But I still can't help but think that the short-term human rights imperative is to help those suffering now. Not through aid to corrupt governments, but to NGOs the likes of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, who save lives on a daily basis.
Long-term we definitely need to treat the cancer, but first we have to stop the bleeding.
So Rehnquist is staying. I must say I am extremely surprised. I really thought he was leaving this summer. I suppose he doesn't really have a strong desire to retire - his wife died a long time ago, so I guess the SC is what keeps him ticking.
Anyway, with that behind us we can get back to figuring out who will replace O'Connor, which is much trickier business than replacing Rehnquist. Obviously the biggest question is Alberto Gonzales - who Conservatives are worried about. It would have been much easier to get him through in a dual nomination with a hard conservative, but with just one nomination now I think Bush will go a different way. I'm currently guessing that one of the Edith's or Emilio Garza is going to be the pick.
Nomination to the Court: Edith Clement - 5:1 Emilio Miller Garza - 6:1 Edith Jones - 6:1 Samuel Alito Jr. - 8:1 John Roberts - 8:1 Edward Prado - 9:1 Alberto Gonzales - 10:1 Michael McConnell - 10:1 J. Michael Luttig - 10:1 J. Harvie Wilkinson - 12:1 Ted Olson - former Solicitor General. 15:1 Janice Rogers Brown - 16:1. Larry Thompson - 20:1 John Cornyn - 20:1 William Pryor - 25:1
My favorite progressive economist has some follow up on Tuesday's topic - the smaller 2005 deficit that the Bush administration says is due to Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Most of you probably won't take the time to read the posts, but basically they show that while the deficit is indeed smaller in 2005 than projected, it would be even smaller still if the Bush tax cuts were never enacted. The cuts have actually caused this to be one of the slowest recession recoveries on record.
Nick Kristof of the NYTimes is back in Pyongyang, North Korea 16 years after being "banned for life". Kristof will be hosting in the next few days a "video blog" that should prove very interesting... the first two are up on the website now. I've been intrigued by North Korea since seeing a movie about the Mass Games at the Tribeca Film Festival.
News out of North Korea has seemed encouraging lately - they've agreed to rejoin the Six-Party Talks (NK, SK, China, Japan, Russia, U.S.), and a news story today says that Kim Jong-Il wants a nuclear-free Korea. That would all be great.
Kristof, however, thinks this is just a stalling tactic while North Korea gets its reactors online to be ready to make a weapon, which is perhaps a couple of years away. This kind of tricky foreign diplomatic negotiation is, in my opinion, any President's most important duty. Unfortunately, this President (and his main advisors - Karl Rove hasn't really demonstrated much discretion in sensitive matters) have done nothing to earn my trust that they can handle these situations.
Today's WSJ contains an editorial crediting Bush's tax cuts with the current economic forecast of a lower-than-previously-projected 2005 deficit. [I don't subsribe to the WSJ, but thanks to my friend Bryce I can reprint the article in the full post - click on "Link" at the end of this post].
The Journal's argument relies on the Laffer Curve - a favorite chart of supply siders:
The curve shows that at 0% and 100% tax rates, the federal government would collect $0 in tax revenue (at 0% there are no taxes; at 100% no one would choose to work). The ideal tax rate is T - whereby tax revenues are maximized and no one is disincentivized to work. Supply-siders argue that government is currently operating on the right of this curve, and that a tax cut will incentivize more people to work, thus raising the tax base and corresponding revenues.
Since tax revenues are increasing now after falling dramatically in 2001-2004, Republicans are saying it proves we're on the right side of the Laffer Curve and tax cuts are the right policy. What Republicans for the most part are totally ignoring is twofold:
1) It is corporate and capital gains tax revenues, not personal income tax revenues, that are largely fueling this year's tax revenue increase. Corporate and capital gains taxes aren't subject to the Laffer hypothesis - they are clearly a byproduct of a recovering economy independent of any stimulus caused by tax cuts.
More explicitly, and more importantly...
2) The economy has natural cycles. You can't simply enact a tax cut at the trough of a cycle (gee what was 2001-2003) and credit the tax cut for the recovery that was coming anyway.
So when Bush & Co. try to claim this one as justification for Reaganomics, don't let them have it. Cutting taxes for billionaires makes them work harder? Please. They'll just buying a bigger house in Aruba.
Disappearing Deficit July 12, 2005
Why is it that the dreaded federal budget deficit only commands screaming headlines when it's rising, not falling? And why is it that the deficit is portrayed as a fire-breathing, hydra-headed monster only when the press can portray the villain as "irresponsible tax cuts," not runaway federal spending?
We ask these questions in the wake of the great unreported fiscal story of 2005: the shrinking federal deficit. It's down by at least $100 billion because federal tax receipts have skyrocketed this year by 14.6% (or $204 billion) through June. Private economic forecasters now believe the budget deficit may come in at about 2.5% of GDP, which is in line with the historical average for the past 40 years. Given that we're fighting an expensive, must-win war on terror, these deficit numbers aren't too shabby.
Not even the most unbridled supply-sider predicted that President Bush's investment tax cuts would unleash such a spurt of tax receipts this year. But thanks to sustained economic growth, more Americans working and improved business profits, individual income tax receipts have shot up by 17.6%. Even more astonishing is the nearly 41% spike in corporate revenues. There's a fiscal lesson here that bears repeating: The best way to grow tax revenues is to grow the tax base, and that is what has happened this year.
Alas, what hasn't happened in Washington this year is federal spending restraint. Despite pious pledges from Mr. Bush and Republicans in Congress to trim spending growth to 4% this year, so far total nonmilitary spending is up 7.3%. Thanks to a 10% boost in Medicare (even before the prescription drug program hits next year), we now devote a larger share of the budget to health care than national defense -- notwithstanding that Congress has a clear Constitutional mandate to spend money on national security, but not so when it comes to funding gall bladder operations or Viagra.
During last year's Presidential campaign, Democrats ripped Mr. Bush for underfunding education -- which is incredible given that the Department of Education budget has jumped by a gravity-defying 20% this year and has more than doubled over Mr. Bush's tenure. One gets the sense that Republicans have thrown up their hands in despair and are pleading: Stop us before we spend again. All of this is to say that Washington doesn't have a budget deficit problem, it has a spending problem. Thank goodness for Mr. Bush's tax cuts or things would be much worse.
The idea of a public timeline for withdrawal from Iraq has always seemed to me to be a dumb one - let's not give the enemy key strategic information on our plans. But I've always hoped that secretly the government does indeed have a very structured timeline for bringing our troops back and transferring the country back to its own people.
This story seems to confirm that at least the British govt has such a plan, and infers that the U.S. seems to as well. Too bad the secret plan is now public. Oh well.
This is the problem that occurs when courts can compel a journalist to disclose the identity of a confidential source: newspapers and reporters will stop investigating, in fear of legal action. The Cleveland Plain Dealer now says they will not publish 2 major investigative stories that are based on illegally leaked documents, because they fear that they will be fined and their reporters jailed.
This is a difficult balancing act to perform. The courts and the public have a right to have criminal acts punished, i.e. if Karl Rove's outing of Valerie Plame's identity was indeed illegal, he should be indicted for it. But Deep Throat's actions were once thought of as illegal as well, and clearly his ability to be a confidential source helped us root out a huge corruption scandal in the White House. I'm not sure where we should go from here.
I keep waiting for that moment when a politician, or a group of politicians, does something truly ambitious, laudable, and public. Like if George Bush had been able to put his neck on the line for controlling global warming. Or if he'd agreed to the 0.7% GDP target for aid to Africa. It just doesn't seem to happen much anymore, definitely not from this administration. What I want is to wake up one morning and find that my President has done something truly amazing to try to change the world... to rally people to a cause. The presidency is the ultimate pulpit - the ability to draw attention and bring the world's resources to any problem you choose, and perhaps fix it. Why don't they use it better?
In the meantime, I'm truly happy the G8 agreed to an additional $25 billion in anti-poverty targeted aid. If it is actually provided, it will make a remarkable impact.
GOP: - I've forgotten to move Arnold Schwarzenegger in recent weeks. His approval ratings have plummeted in CA and there's no real movement to amend the Constitution (sorry also to Gov. Granholm). He was at 40:1, but I'm taking him off the list. He probably won't get re-elected in CA next year. - Mitch Daniels, Gov of Indiana, dubbed "The Blade" for how he loved to cut programs when he was head of the Office of Mgmt & Budget under the Bush admin, has been criticized heavily in that state. He was at 25:1. I'm dropping him to 80:1. - I had Senator Santorum at 22:1. He's going to face a very tough re-election campaign, so I'm dropping him to 30:1. - Karl Rove likely was the confidential source in the Valerie Plame case. That's virtually criminal. I'm dropping him from 35:1 to 100:1. - Taking Jeb down slightly to 15:1.
Democrats: - I'm moving a bunch of the mid-tier players down somewhat, starting with Bill Bradley. - Dick Durbin takes a tumble for his recent "scandal", more for actually apologizing for it than for saying it. Dems would have loved it if he stuck to his guns. He's dropping from 40:1 to 75:1.
Rumor has it that Rehnquist will also announce his retirement this week. Obviously, this complicates things, and partially compels me to take back my earlier statement that Al Gonzales won't be nominated. If there are 2 openings, I think it's highly likely that we'll get one solid conservative - such as Luttig or Alito - and one slightly less solid conservative whose demographics gives the GOP a lift - like Gonzales, Prado, Garza, or Edith Jones.
It kills me that Bush now has this chance to inflict his brand of conservatism on the country for years/decades to come.
In case you missed it over the weekend, read this (very short) interview with Chuck Hagel, who I think has a very good shot at the Republican nomination in 2008. I'm a Democrat, but I agree with Hagel about at least one thing:
In terms of the deficit, we have blown the top right off. We're a bunch of Democrats.
I've never heard anyone call President Bush a Democrat.
That's my point. We're less honest about it. We built the biggest government history has ever seen under a Republican government. The Democrats are better because they are honest about it. They don't pretend. I admire that. They'll say: ''We want more money. We need more money.''
Many of the headlines regarding the retirement of Justice O'Connor have been some variation on "A Nightmare for Liberals". I got a bit heated myself just two posts ago. But somehow lost in the shuffle is that Sandra Day O'Connor, while moderate and extremely influential, has always been a die-hard conservative, and her retirement is not nearly the nightmare that we would face if something should happen to Justice Stephens (the court's oldest).
It's also worth remembering that for a long time the rumor has been that O'Connor wanted to be sure to retire during a Republican administration so her replacement would be a conservative (see here for her reaction on Election Night 2000). If that is indeed true then it's interesting she didn't retire during the last four years of Bush (and before Kerry had a good shot at ousting him). I suppose that puts the theory in question, but I would not be at all surprised if O'Connor and Rehnquist discussed it and decided it would look improper to retire during the adminstration of a President that actually lost the Popular Vote and was installed thanks to their own 5-4 ruling (which, of course, is one of the cases I will remember O'Connor by most of all).
Here are my odds for Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement. Some notes: - The fact that O'Connor not Rehnquist is the retiree puts pressure on Bush to nominate someone groundbreaking... ie. not replacing a woman with a white man. Therefore I think the female and Hispanic candidates move up the list. - Alberto Gonzales will not be nominated. Republicans have been up in arms and are worried that he could turn into a Souter-like liberal after a few years.
Nomination to the Court: Emilio Miller Garza - 5th circuit judge. 6:1 Edith Jones - 5th circuit judge. 6:1 Samuel Alito Jr. - 3rd circuit judge. 7:1 Edith Clement. 7:1. John Roberts - DC Court of Appeals. 7:1 J. Michael Luttig - 4th circuit judge from Texas. 7:1 Edward Prado - 5th circuit judge. 8:1 J. Harvie Wilkinson - 4th circuit judge. 9:1 Ted Olson - former Solicitor General. 10:1 Larry Thompson - former Deputy Attorney General. 11:1 Michael McConnell - 10th circuit judge. 12:1 Janice Rogers Brown - 16:1. William Pryor. 18:1 Alberto Gonzales - U.S. Attorney General. 20:1 John Cornyn - Sen TX. 20:1
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, and the swing vote on a lot of issues, is retiring. It's hard to stress enough that this is a HUGE DEAL. For many people, Justice O'Connor has represented the vote on the Court protecting abortion rights. If Bush can replace her with a hard-right conservative (not easy), many many issues including abortion will be up in the air.
DAMN IT, THIS IS WHY WE HAVE TO ELECT DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTS.