Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Ups and Downs of Household Income

As promised, here is a summary chart of the Census Bureau's report on median household income, adjusted for inflation, going back to 1992, the year Bill Clinton was elected president. Those who are convinced that Republicans do a better job of promoting economic growth will not find these numbers comforting.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
The New York Times reports that the uptick in median income in 2005 was not due to higher wages:
The rise, however, had little to do with bigger paychecks — in fact, both men and women earned less in 2005 than 2004. Rather, census officials said, more family members were taking jobs to make ends meet, and some people made more money from investments and other sources beyond wages.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Household Income, Stuck in Reverse

The Census Bureau just issued a report titled, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005," and it's hard to find the good news.
In 2000, the number of Americans living in poverty was estimated to be 31,581,000. That number climbed to 36,950,000 in 2005, an increase of more than 5 million.
The poverty rate grew from 11.3 percent to 12.6 percent.
The bad news isn't limited to the poorest Americans. When adjusted for inflation, all income groups have lost ground since 2000.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau
While purchasing power has declined across the board, lower income groups have been harder hit over the last five years.
Tomorrow, we'll compare these numbers with the comparable statistics from the Clinton era.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Katrina Recovery Efforts and the Conservative Ambivalence for Government

Via Economist's View, we have these comments from Paul Krugman on the lethargic federal reconstruction effort in the Gulf Coast, which has only managed to spend about $100 million of the $17 billion allocated for recovery. In describing this failure to execute, Krugman cites conservatives' "head's I win, tails you lose" attitude towards managing government:
Apologists for the administration will doubtless claim that blame for the lack of progress rests not with Mr. Bush, but with the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracies. That's the great thing about being an antigovernment conservative: even when you fail at the task of governing, you can claim vindication for your ideology.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Something's not Trickling

I'm not conversant in supply side economics in the same way that I'm not clear as to how creationism can explain the fossil record as resulting from a few thousand years of natural history.
I do know that supply siders make two fundamental claims:
1. Cutting tax rates will lead to higher tax revenues.
2. Cutting tax rates for the wealthiest among us will benefit all of us.
I discussed the canard that cutting taxes results in higher tax revenues in a series of posts in July, prompted by blogger and Club for Growth enthusiast Dave of First State Politics.
As for the fairy tale that helping rich people get even richer benefits all of us, we have today's news about real wages lagging behind productivity in the last few years as reported in the New York Times:
The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.
As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s.
Now trickle down economics makes the claim that benefits to the richest among us will trickle down, as it were, to the rest of us, given enough time. I would think that five or six years would be enough time for this ostensibly rational phenomenon to be evidenced in economic statistics. So why hasn't it happened?

Deploy First, Ask Questions Later

We need to do it for our national security. Anyone who disagrees must not be serious about keeping us safe. Never mind the cost, which is probably a lowball figure. As for whether it works...
Sound familiar? No it's not Iraq, it's the untested missile defense system. The Washington Post reports that Donald Rumsfeld isn't sure it will work against North Korean missiles:
Asked at a news conference whether he believed the missile shield was ready for use against a North Korean missile like the one test-fired unsuccessfully on July 4, Rumsfeld said he would not be fully convinced until the multibillion-dollar defense system has undergone more complete and realistic testing.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Katrina: Puncturing the Bush Bubble

The bumbling response to Hurricane Katrina marked a sharp downturn in George Bush's political fortunes by cracking the illusion of competence, shaking his aura of leadership, and showing Bush as out of touch with ordinary Americans.
First, the debacle cracked the illusion of competence that Bush had built up as the first MBA president. It became clear that those in charge simply didn't understand what was going on as New Orleans was under water and thousands were stranded. As the crisis deepened, Bush offered the excuse that "no one anticipated the breach of the levees."
Unfortunately, claymation figure Mr. Bill of Saturday Night LIve fame, shown here stranded on his roof, had done just that in a featurette on the danger New Orleans faced in the case of a severe hurricane.
The spectacle of the commander in chief being showed up by the hapless Mr. Bill led me to start referring to George Bush as President Sluggo.
(By the way, Mr. Bill creator and New Orleans native Walter Williams has created a series of films on the struggles of his neighbors to rebuild their lives, all found at where else,
Second, it punctured his image as a resolute leader. Images of Bush at Ground Zero and strutting about on the aircraft carrier were replaced by President Sluggo peering out a window from Air Force One as he flew over the misery.
Third, it crystalized an image of Bush as out of touch with the priorities of most Americans. Doubts about him had been raised by his unpopular attempt to divert Social Security taxes to private accounts and the unprecendented federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case. The perception of Bush as out of touch grew as the situation in Iraq continued to deteriorate despite upbeat assessments from the White House.
Taken together, these doubts particularly affected views of the war in Iraq. People began to see the incompetence of the occupation, with billions of dollars missing, and progress elusive. People began to see Bush's resoluteness as stubborness. And finally, people began to the war in Iraq as a mistake, particularly when Osama bin Laden is still at large nearly five years after 9/11.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Katrina: One Year Later

The anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is upon us, and it will be hard to avoid the many stories and documentaries on the disaster, most of which will not be kind to our president. The Washington Post has this story on the lasting damage to Bush's image as a strong leader:
For Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), three images define George W. Bush's presidency: Bush throwing out the first pitch of the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium, Bush with a megaphone atop the rubble of the World Trade Center -- and Bush staring out the window as Air Force One traversed the Gulf Coast thousands of feet above the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
The first two images epitomize strength and resolution, the image the Bush White House likes to cultivate. But in one year's time, the last one -- of the president as aloof, out of touch, even befuddled -- all but erased the memory of the others, according to pollsters, pundits and Republican politicians who say they have suffered in the wake of the president's decline.
The disaster was more than a failure of arranging the right photo op. Bush himself added to the impression of being out of touch with these memorable excuses:
1. "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."
2. "There was no situational awareness, and that means that we weren't getting good, solid information from people who were on the ground, and we need to do a better job."

This failure of situational awareness became, after the fact, a metaphor for the multiple failure of Bush's tenure in the White House.
Photo: James Nielsen/Reuters

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Joe Biden Offers Alternative Proposal on Iraq

I don't know much about Iraq except that the reasons given for going to war there turned out to be fallacies, that we are now caught in a sectarian civil war that has nothing to do with our national interest, and that the place has turned into an unholy mess.
Joe Biden, who has given the matter far more thought than I have, offers his prescription for fixing the mess in today's Washington Post, starting with an acknowledgement of the stark reality of the situation:
The new, central reality in Iraq is that violence between Shiites and Sunnis has surpassed the insurgency and foreign terrorists as the main security threat.
Biden's plan, developed with Leslie Gelb, is to give the factions a greater stake in creating a peaceful, civil society:
No number of troops can solve this problem. The only way to hold Iraq together and create the conditions for our armed forces to responsibly withdraw is to give Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds incentives to pursue their interests peacefully and to forge a sustainable political settlement.
Would it work? I don't know. But it seems to me to offer rational alternatives to the current policy, which boils down to hoping things don't get worse.
As for those who like to complain that critics of the war don't have a single position on what to do about Iraq, I would point out that if those who led us into this mess had been more open to alternative points of view, we might not be in this mess to begin with.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Jack Markell's Tour de Delaware

As campaign gimmicks go, this isn't bad. State Treasurer Jack Markell is on a three day bicycle tour of Delaware. (Of course, I've always thought of cycling as a wonky sport.)
Jack started today with about a dozen riders in Claymont and will finish Friday afternoon in Delmar.
I joined up with Jack and the peleton this afternoon on the leg from Centerville to Hockessin. You can follow the fun at Blog For Delaware.

What Bush Has Said about Iraq and al Qaeda

President Bush's answer to a question on Monday about Iraq and 9/11 sparked something of a "he said, he said" controversy. In reviewing the record, let's start with the transcript of President Bush's remarks from Monday:
Q What did Iraq have to do with that?
THE PRESIDENT: What did Iraq have to do with what?
Q The attack on the World Trade Center?
THE PRESIDENT: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill to achieve an objective. I have made that case.
Note that Bush said that he never claimed that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks, and only admitted that he has made the case that Iraq was a breeding ground for terrorists. The record shows that he has said much more.
I turned to the White House online archive of transcripts of the president's remarks, first from Portsmouth, New Hampshire on November 1, 2002, in which he said of Saddam Hussein:
We know he's got ties with al Qaeda.
On February 6, 2003, Bush elaborated on the purported ties between Iraq and al Qaeda:
Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training.
On March 18, 2003, Bush refered to 9/11 in this letter to Congress on his authority to use force against Iraq:
Text of a Letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate March 18, 2003
Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)
Consistent with section 3(b) of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107-243), and based on information available to me, including that in the enclosed document, I determine that:
(1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone will neither (A) adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq nor (B) likely lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq; and
(2) acting pursuant to the Constitution and Public Law 107-243 is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
On May 1, 2003, also known as Mission Accomplished Day, Bush again referred to a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda:
We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding.
Bush repeatedly claimed that Saddam Hussein was connected to al Qaeda in the 2004 election campaign, as in this stump speech in Alamogordo, New Mexico on October 28, 2004:
This is a person who has had contacts with al Qaeda.
These samples do not represent an exhaustive search of the record.
As for why this matters, there is this interesting result from the latest New York Times/CBS poll:
The poll found that 51 percent of those surveyed saw no link between the war in Iraq and the broader antiterror effort, a jump of 10 percentage points since June.
When the same question was asked in April of 2003, only 31 percent saw no link between Iraq and the war on terror.
Bush and his allies have sought to prop up support for their Iraq misadventure by conflating it with the war on terror. Nearly five years after 9/11, little evidence has been produced to support claims of such a connection. With our troops bogged down in Iraq and Osama bin Laden still at large, more and more Americans do not see that the Iraq debacle has advanced the national interest in keeping us safe from terror attacks.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Progress on Energy: Don't Look to Washington

After nearly six years, we have seen no meaningful progress on energy policy from BushCo and the Republicans in Congress. It took them nearly five years to get an energy plan enacted. Bush has been unable to get his "Clear Skies" initiative out of the Senate committee. Last year's energy monstrosity was jammed full of goodies for energy companies. All the while the need for a meaningful national energy policy becomes increasingly apparent as bad news streams into our homes from Iraq, Iran, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
With Washington caught in one-party gridlock, others are stepping up to the challenge, most recently the governor of Illinois as reported by Reuters:
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is seeking re-election in November, announced a plan on Tuesday to tap local sources of energy from crops to coal to satisfy half the Midwestern state's energy needs in a decade.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, said his plan was the most ambitious of any state and involves constructing dozens of plants to make ethanol, electricity and natural gas -- and send the carbon dioxide the plants emit through a new pipeline to pump up the state's oil production and then sequester the greenhouse gas underground.
Environmentalists cheered the governor's proposal:
"The idea of making sure that (carbon dioxide) is captured from industrial sources, especially from new plants, is very important," said Frank Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Interestingly, capturing carbon dioxide is an idea that Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric mentioned last month in his visit to Delaware. As I noted at the time, Immelt remarked that the urgency need to address energy and environmental issues has led to some interesting convergences of views:
GE CEO Jeff Immelt, who spoke last night at the Carper Roundtable, remarked that changing views on energy and the environment make for "surprising bedfellows" among NGOs and business.
Senate Democrats in Washington have proposed sound alternatives to BushCo's supply side approach, introducing a comprehensive energy plan that includes Carper as a cosponsor, and a fuel efficiency bill that includes Biden as a cosponsor.
Given that our federal executive is controlled by two former oil executives, progress over the next two years will likely come from outside Washington, which is why this proposal from Governor Blagojevich is so timely.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Back from the Philly Folk Fest

I'm back with a few highlights from the 45th Annual Philadephia Folk Festival.
Hoots and Hellmouth showed us that folkies can understand tradition and still be as raucous as punk rockers.
We may be seeing a trend towards the muscular in folk music. The Avett Brothers offered songs about lost love with distinctive harmonies, launching into breaks and shredding their instruments (breaking a few strings in the process).
Folk Fest offers listeners and musicians a vista of musical styles. The members of Hoots and Hellmouth stuck around to catch Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu, who followed them on the camp stage Saturday afternoon. Tuva is a small component of the Russian Federation found between Siberia and Mongolia. Hun Huur Tu (which means "sun propeller") offer naturalistic songs about life in central Asia in otherworldly voices.
They sweltered in their traditional costumes in the lush Pennsylvania countryside. Their afternooon concert allowed listeners to catch them up close before their appearance on the main stage Saturday night.
The Horse Flies take traditional folk motifs, deconstruct them, and reassemble the pieces into propulsive grooves that bring to mind techno and trance. Think bluegrass meets Phillip Glass. They kept folkies on the feet in four appearances in the dance tent and in their knockout performance on the main stage Saturday night.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Philly Folk Fest

This being August, the Philly Folk Fest is upon us, with a really cool lineup of artists. Appearing this year are old favorites like the Roches, Jackson Browne with David Lindley, Hot Tuna, and Rodney Crowell. The Fest also highlights rising stars like Amos Lee, Melody Gardot, Eliza Gilkyson and Antje Duvekot.
Hometown heroes Hoots and Hellmouth (right), whose sound is described as being "like black lung coated in raw honey," make their appearance in a showcase concert Saturday afternoon. Wilmington locals David Bromberg and Angel Band will be part of the workshop scene.
Horse Flies are back, described as "Part trance-inducing minimalism achieved through a tribal approach to fiddle music and part folk-rock American gothic achieved through artful original songs."
And making their second appearance are Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu. If you've never heard throat singing, you're in for one of the most hair raising musical experiences on this or any planet.
I'm off to do my small part as a volunteer, so expect sporadic blogging at best over the next few days. See you there.
Photos courtesy of artists' websites

Dog Days

The dog days are here.
The ugliness of the political discourse this month--as Republicans took to calling the opposition "Defeatocrats"--foreshadows a brutal fall campaign season.
While Newsweek published a poll finding that approval of Bush's handling of terrorism climbed from 44 percent to 55 percent, no polls have found a significant overall boost for Bush or the Republicans.
John Zogby's latest poll, which has Bush's approval at 34 percent, finds bad news for him in an unlikely location:
Even among weekly WalMart shoppers – a demographic group identified by Pollster John Zogby as a critical support group for Bush – just 45% now give him positive job marks, though his numbers among those shoppers have improved 10 points since early June.
More than three out of four – 76% – of weekly WalMart shoppers voted for Bush over Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, earlier Zogby polling showed.

The next several weeks will not be kind to Bush as we commemorate the first anniversary of Hurrican Katrina and the fifth anniversary of 9/11. In the past, reminders of the dangers from terrorists have worked for Bush, but I think those days are over. Even so, I would expect to continue to hear Republicans attack Democrats on terrorism, like this television ad with Hillary Clinton's face next to Osama bin Laden's. (The ad also mispells "fascists" as "facists.")
My best advice is to take a few days, grab a beer or some lemonade and try to relax.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More Testimony that Bloggers Aren't Driving Democrats to the Left

In today's Washington Post, Harold Meyerson offers disputes the idea that bloggers are driving the Democratic Party to the left in the middle of his profile of Robert Casey's campaign to unseat Rick Santorum:
Which, if you believe all the nonsense that's been written since Joe Lieberman's primary defeat about those crazy blogistas rebelling against the Democratic establishment and pushing the party to the left, should mean that the bloggers and their ilk ought to be wailing about Casey. In fact, they're doing nothing of the sort. For one thing, the authors of such partisan blogs as the Daily Kos understand that the Democrats have to beat Santorum in order to retake the Senate and raise the political discourse above the level of Santorum's deliberate primitivism (Santorum once equated gay relationships to "man-on-dog" sex). They understand that Casey is the Democrat best suited to the task.
Meyerson points our that a recent poll showed that the presence of a Green Party candidate has narrowed Casey's lead:
Most liberal groups are campaigning mightily for Casey (though support for a Green Party candidate among Naderistic nihilists has cut Casey's lead over Santorum in yesterday's Quinnipiac Poll to 6 percentage points).
Of course, there wouldn't be a Green Party candidate in the race if it weren't for Santorum's funders and staffers.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It's Easy (Money) Being Green in Pennsylvania

Members of the Green Party think of themselves of independent minded who offer a true alternative to what they call the "Incumbency Party." It's a description that fits Dana at Delaware Watch, who has shown ample evidence of independent thought, along with a willingness to endorse at least one Republican.
Which is why I imagine genuine Greens are likely dismayed by the unseemly spectacle of fielding a candidate in the Pennsylvania senate race thanks to Republican donations (including $1,000 from a Halliburton lobbyist) and field work from Santorum staffers. The Philadelphia Inquirer has been following the story:
Six staffers on Sen. Rick Santorum's campaign - including an intern who tailed Democratic candidate Bob Casey Jr. in a duck costume - collected voter signatures to help place the Green Party on the fall ballot.
TPM Muckraker has the backstory.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Paul Dirac, Niels Bohr and Political Invective

In my previous post about liquids, I included a phase diagram showing the solid, liquid and gaseous states of matter, each with its corresponding alert level. I don't know how well this went over, but the idea that an entire state of matter was now officially hazardous amused me. There is something about the scientific sense of humor that includes an appreciation of the excessively literal, which may be why geeks loves puns as much as they do.
Which brings to mind this story the physicist Abraham Pais recounts about Paul Dirac:
One day Niels Bohr came into my office in Princeton, shaking his head while telling me of a discussion he had just had with Dirac. It was the early 1950s, during the time of the Cold War. Bohr had expressed his dislike of the abusive language the American press was using in reference to the Russians. Dirac had replied that all this would come to an end in a few week's time. Bohr had asked why. Well, Dirac had remarked, by then the reporters will have used up all the invective in the English language, so therefore they will have to stop. (A. Pais, The Genius of Science, p. 70)
Of course we know that Dirac was wrong, but his point, however innocent, remains. There is a limit to which overheated rhetoric can overwhelm human reason.
Unlike Bohr, who labored hard to bring about international controls of nuclear weapons, Dirac held himself aloof from the political fray. (Bohr said of Dirac, "Of all the physicists, Dirac has the purest soul.")

Since last Tuesday, the political discourse has sunk, even by the debased standards of recent years. As noted here a few days ago, Bush and the Republicans are playing up the London plot for all it's worth. In this environment, I thought that this old story from more than fifty years ago might lend a little perspective.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Keeping Us Safe from Liquids

Here are some thoughts to ponder over your lemonade on this pleasant Sunday afternoon:
Over at
Cosmic Variance, Sean Carroll, a physics professor at the University of Chicago, offers this conundrum on the technical challenge facing those protecting our homeland security:
I know I’m on vacation, but this seems important: for the first time, the Department of Homeland Security has deemed an entire state of matter to be a national security risk.
While pondering how to protect ourselves from all things liquid, we can take comfort in some good news, via MSNBC, that the London plot wasn't quite as hatched as we had been led to believe:
In contrast to previous reports, the official suggested an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some did not even have passports.
According to a senior British official, an investigation into the plot had been underway for some months.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Name that Source!

A friend sent me these words from another era in our history:
Never has so much military and economic and diplomatic power been used so ineffectively. And if after all of this time, and all of this sacrifice, and all of this support, there is still no end in sight, then I say the time has come for the American people to turn to new leadership not tied to the mistakes and policies of the past.
Who said it? Richard Nixon in his acceptance speech at the 1968 Republican Convention.
Of course, in the same speech he called Spiro Agnew "a statesman of the first rank," so feel free to take with a grain of salt.

Friday, August 11, 2006

"This is going to play big."

So said an anonymous White House official according to AFP.
So far, what we know about the London airline bomber plot suggests that Al Qaeda is either behind the operation or at least the inspiration for the jihadists, some of whom had with ties to Pakistan.
The New York Times headline, "Arrests Bolster G.O.P. as Election Nears" sums up a large part of the GOP's strategy for this election:
Republicans seized on the arrests of terrorism suspects in Britain yesterday to bolster a White House campaign to turn national security issues to their advantage this fall, arguing that the nation needs tough Republican policies to protect Americans from threats from abroad.
AFP reports that Republicans are hoping to take advantage of the news of the London plot:
But Bush's Republicans hoped the raid would yield political gains.
"I'd rather be talking about this than all of the other things that Congress hasn't done well," one Republican congressional aide told AFP on condition of anonymity because of possible reprisals.
"Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big," said another White House official, who also spoke on condition of not being named, adding that some Democratic candidates won't "look as appealing" under the circumstances.
I'm not convinced. There have been other terrorist attacks since 9/11, including the train bombings in London on July 7 of last year.
Four years and eleven months after 9/11, more and more people are seeing the war in Iraq isn't making us safer, despite Republicans' continuing effort to conflate the war in Iraq with the fight against terrorism. I've not heard anything to suggest that the plotters had any connection to Iraq.
The growing opposition to the war in Iraq is a long term trend and unlikely to be reversed by events elsewhere. For instance, the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah hasn't changed many minds about Iraq, despite the hope of some in the GOP that an expanding conflict in the Middle East serves their political ends.
So we we shouldn't be surprised that we are seeing the same tactics from 2002 and 2004. But as the Times reports, Democrats aren't shrinking from the argument:
But in a sign of how this campaign might be different, Democrats struck a tone notably different from the elections of 2004 and 2002, when for the most part their strategy was to try to turn the subject away from national security. This time, Democrats attacked Republicans as failing to improve airline security and, most of all, argued that the decision to invade Iraq had been a distraction that depleted United States resources and allowed the world to become more dangerous.
“The war in Iraq had nothing to do with the war against international terrorism, or very little to do with the war on terrorism,” said James Webb, a former Reagan administration official running as a Democratic candidate for Senate in Virginia. “It has distracted our attention, it has pulled our forces in, and we are now in a situation where we have 135,000 on the ground, which affects our ability to do a lot of things that we would be able to do otherwise.”
Former Virginia governor Mark Warner doesn't think the same tactics will work this year:
Republican wishful thinking notwithstanding, Tuesday’s vote was anything but a Democratic party repudiation of a robust and determined defense of this nation’s security. To the contrary, it is a call for a return to an American foreign policy that unites our friends and divides our enemies—and a call that will inevitably sweep through November’s elections.
Given the way things have turned against the Republicans, I expect that we will be hearing more of this for the next three months:
“Defeatocrats!” declared a statement issued by office of the House majority leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, capturing the tone of Republican rhetoric as the news unfolded.
I just don't think it will work this time.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

In Which I Respond to Jason

I can hardly describe my reaction to your post, "An Open Letter to Tom Noyes" in which you first offer some truly embarrassing words of praise, and then put me squarely on the spot:
As a person who has shown some insight into the thinking of DLC type Democrats, and even some affection for their attacks on the Democratic party can you please answer these questions:
1) What in the world is Carper thinking?
2) Do you think there is anyway to get Carper to reconsider this asinine, Republican comforting position?
Where to begin?
While I'm flattered by your comment that I have "shown some insight into the thinking of DLC type Democrats," I must take exception with your opinion that I have demonstrated "affection for their attacks on the Democratic party."
So here's where I stand on the DLC: I like the practical, policy wonk side of the movement. I think the Public Policy Institute does some useful work in a wonkish kind of way. Democrats have lagged in creating the think tanks we need to help develop and advocate for sound public policy.
I emphatically do not agree with current DLC leaders such as Al From who seem convinced that anyone not hewing toward the center presents a mortal danger to the Democratic Party.
As for the "Third Way," 1992 was a long time ago. I would associate myself with the comments I highlighted yesterday from Simon Rosenberg, DLC alum and president of the New Democratic Network:
The “Third Way” political approach doesn’t fit our time. The conservatives rise to power, and their utter failure to govern responsibly or effectively, requires a new progressive politics of confrontation, not accommodation.
I hope that is clear enough.
As to what Carper is thinking, my short answer is that I have no idea. Does Carper truly believe that it's a good idea for Lieberman to run as an independent? Or is he sticking with his colleague because he promised to? I don't know.

I do know that Carper has certainly put himself on the spot regarding Lieberman. Carper, along with fellow DLC members John Carney and Jack Markell supported Lieberman in 2004. But Hillary Clinton, who is just as prominent in the DLC, rushed to declare her support for Lamont while, as the New York Times reports, taking a diplomatic tone with Lieberman:
Mrs. Clinton urged Mr. Lieberman to “search his conscience and decide what is best for Connecticut and for the Democratic Party’’ before pushing ahead with an independent candidacy.
“I know this is a very difficult decision for him to have to make,’’ she said. “I hope he thinks hard about it.’

The tone may diplomatic, but the message is hard to miss.
As to whether there is any way to get Carper to change his mind, I have no idea, again because I don't know what he truly thinks.
If he believes that it is a good idea for Lieberman to run as as in independent, then I think that events will eventually force Carper and Lieberman to reconsider.
If Carper is sticking with Lieberman out of loyalty, then he may at some point talk with Lieberman about the practical hurdles he faces in the next three months -- which are far more difficult than Lieberman can imagine.
The phone call from Rove looks terrible. So far two GOP Senate candidates have come out for Lieberman. As the GOP rushes to his defense, it will become harder for any significant Democrats to continue to support Lieberman over Lamont.
Lieberman faces daunting challenges running as an independent. He may be shocked by his sinking showing in the polls in the next few days. He will find that unions are unlikely to offer the kind of street support that any major campaign requires. He will certainly have difficulty raising money from longtime supporters who instead are writing checks to Lamont. He has no staff to speak of, no consultants and no polling firm. Democratic operatives are hardly likely to want to work for someone who has bolted the party. I think that the challenge for Lieberman may be not so much winning as staving off personal and political embarrassment.
So, if Carper is sticking with Lieberman out of loyalty, and if he shares my opinion of Lieberman's prospects, then he might talk to Lieberman one-on-one to convince him that the practical political difficulties are too great to overcome. Perhaps the example of another pragmatic politician, Bill Clinton, could move him in that direction.
I think Ned Lamont will be elected.
I do not think that this primary result represents a fatal shift to the left for the Democratic Party. After all, a substantial majority of Americans have turned against the war in Iraq. Lamont's victory is a signal that we truly are in a watershed election year in which Democrats will take control of the House and perhaps even the balance in the Senate to 50-50.
I'm not sure how to close, except to say that, despite your frustration, we will have good reason to be pleased with the way this election turns out in November.
You colleague and fan,

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wes Clark: No "Antisecurity Wing" of the Democratic Party

RNC Chairman Ken Melhman claims that Democrats now stand for "retreat and defeat."
Tell it to Wes Clark:
You see, despite what Joe Lieberman believes, invading Iraq and diverting our attention away from Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden is not being strong on national security. Blind allegiance to George W. Bush and his failed "stay the course" strategy is not being strong on national security. And no, Senator Lieberman, no matter how you demonize your opponents, there is no "antisecurity wing" of the Democratic Party.

Who's Angry Now?

Not surprisingly, Republicans are anxious to make the case that Democrats have lost hold of the center and are in danger of fracturing in the wake of Joe Leberman's loss to Ned Lamont in yesterday's primary.
Well, let's see. How are "Third Way" Democrats reacting? Here's what Simon Rosenberg at the New Democratic Network has to say:
The “Third Way” political approach doesn’t fit our time. The conservatives rise to power, and their utter failure to govern responsibly or effectively, requires a new progressive politics of confrontation, not accommodation.
Yes, we all yearn for a kinder, gentler politics:
I have great sympathy for those wishing our politics could be more genteel, where both sides could come together to work things out for the common good.
Rosenberg concludes that Lieberman should step aside:
It is time, my good friend. Senator Lieberman, it is time. Time to end this part of your remarkable career with dignity, grace and honor. You had a great run, made a great contribution, and done a lot of good. But it is time to move on.
Compare and contrast with this reaction to the defeat of GOP moderate Joe Schwartz from the Republican Main Street Partnership, led by Mike Castle, as reported by Dave at First State Politics:
“The Club for Growth’s vicious and deceptive campaign against Congressman Joe Schwarz shows just how far the Club will go to destroy our party. Congressman Schwarz’s loss tonight is a loss for Reagan Republicans everywhere.”
So a leading Republican centrist organization decries the defeat of one of their own while a leading Democratic centrist organization accepts the result and calls for unity behind the nominee. Could it be that Democrats are holding things together better than Republicans are?

Three Congressional Incumbents Lose Primaries

Somewhere there's a political stat freak who can tell us when the last time three incumbent members of Congress lost primaries on the same day.
Ned Lamont's victory over Joe Lieberman got the headlines, but two other incumbents lost their primaries: In Georgia, Cynthia McKinney lost to Hank Johnson in a primary runoff. And in Michigan, Republican Joe Schwartz lost to Tim Walberg, who attacked Schwartz for his moderate social views.
As the Washington Post reports, Lieberman was hardly chastened by his loss:
"I'm disappointed not just because I lost but because the old politics of partisan polarization won today. For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand."
The New York Times reports that Republicans are eager to portray the Connecticut result as a sharp lurch to the left:
Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, is planning to give a speech in Columbus, Ohio this morning in which he will use Mr. Lamont’s victory to portray Democrats as a party weak on national defense, and his affiliation with blogs to present the Democrats as captive to the extreme wing of the party, Republican aides said.
But is Connecticut a hotbed of wild-eyed radicalism? Not to Ned Lamont:
"They call Connecticut the land of steady habits," he said to supporters. "Tonight we voted for a big change."
This Times editorial disputes the notion that this was an election result driven by radicalism:
The rebellion against Mr. Lieberman was actually an uprising by that rare phenomenon, irate moderates. They are the voters who have been unnerved over the last few years as the country has seemed to be galloping in a deeply unmoderate direction.
In Georgia, the result was a repudiation of McKinney's argumentative temperament and embarrasment over her altercation with a Capitol police officer. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that challenger Hank Johnson made McKinney's conduct the issue in the campaign:
Johnson constantly reminded voters that she had been more of an embarassment than a benefit to the affluent and diverse district, more polarizing than productive at home and in Washington.
In Michigan, challenger Tim Walberg ran on a conservative social agenda, defeating incumbent Joe Schwartz despite support from President Bush and John McCain. The Detroit Free Press reports that Walberg's was the first successful challenge in 14 years:
First-term U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz failed in his bid for re-election Tuesday, losing to former state Rep. Tim Walberg in the Republican primary and becoming the first Michigan congressman since 1992 ousted by a challenger who was not already in Congress.
The Times reports that Schwartz lamented his loss as moving the GOP further to the right:
He said the primary was ''probably a victory for right to life, anti-abortion, anti-embryonic stem cell groups but it's a net loss for the Republican party because it just pushes the party farther to the right.''
Can you spot the trend? In Connecticut, a Democratic defender of Bush's war in Iraq loses and vows to run as an independent. In Georgia, Democrats dump a polarizing, volatile figure for someone less, shall we say, invigorating. And in rural Michigan, Republicans replace a moderate with a staunch social conservative.
Economists would call this a spike in volatility.
Perhaps Bob Dylan described it best, "You know there's something happening, but you don't know what it is..."

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Simon Rosenberg on Joe Lieberman

One prominent Democratic moderate who doesn't think a loss for Joe Lieberman would divide the Democratic Party or drive it into the ditch is the New Democratic Network's Simon Rosenberg, who offers this clear-headed appraisal:
I think there were three critical moments in this race which left the door open for Lamont to make his remarkable run:
1. Lieberman attacks other Democrats over Iraq. Last year the Senator choose to publically chastise other Democrats for challenging the President over our failing policy in Iraq.
2. Lieberman ignores and discounts his opposition. In a period that lasted from last year to until a few months ago, Lieberman, in a very dangerous move, essentially told those who were unhappy with him to pound sand.
3. Lieberman goes independent. So Democrats are wondering whether you a Democrat any more and whats the answer? File as an independent, essentially proving that the opposition's attacks on you were right. This was the most important moment in the campaign, and the one that if Joe loses, I believe, is the main reason why. Prior to going independent, Joe was up by 20 points in the polls and in command of the race.
Rosenberg concludes on a personal note:
Joe Lieberman is my friend, and a mentor of mine. He is a remarkable man, a good leader and one of the smartest people I know. It has been personally very painful for me to watch this political trainwreck over the past year.

It's an Election

Yes, emotions are running high in today's primary in Connecticut. And some folks are saying silly things, as happens in intensely fought elections.
Will Bunch of Attytood offers a touch of satire on the moment's passions with this post:
Help, we will lose our blogger's license if we do not mention Ned Lamont!
Actually, the Future Of The Republic, the Senate, the Progressive Movement, Blogging In General and the Democratic Party are not at stake. It's not a Jihad, as Bull Moose has hotly termed it. It's an election.
The Democratic Party is not being marched back to the bad old days of George McGovern by a gang of relentlessly antiwar bloggers. There are plenty of tough-minded Democrats (Joe Biden among them) who understand that we live in a dangerous world, but are also willing to stand up and declare that our position in the world has been made less secure by the disasterous policies of George Bush.
Implausible, you say? Today's Washington Post poll has this finding that may surprise some:
Which political party, the (Democrats) or the (Republicans), do you trust to do a better job handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism?
Democrats, 46%
Republicans, 38%
As I have pointed out before, many of the prominent bloggers who are supporting Lamont are supporting some Democratic candidates who don't fit the standard liberal mold, like Jon Tester in Montana and Jim Webb in Virginia.
There are other significant primaries on the Democratic side this year. In today's primary in Georgia, Cynthia McKinney, she of the brittle smile, is trailing in the polls to challenger Hank Johnson.
CQ Politics reports that Lousiana congressman William Jefferson, who kept bundles of cold cash in his freezer, is being challenged by Democratic state senator Derrick Sheppard.
Do you see a trend in these primary challenges? I don't.
So when the votes are counted, we will endure the endless explanations of what it all means, and then move on to the next big election, of which there are plenty this year.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Minimum Wage and Maximum Wealth, Part 3

Opponents of the minimum wage argue that increases lead to lost jobs for those at the bottom. But this interesting article from Bloomberg News raises questions about the conventional wisdom:
"My thinking on this has changed dramatically,'' says Alan Blinder, a former Federal Reserve vice chairman who teaches economics at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. "The evidence appears to be against the simple-minded theory that a modest increase in the minimum wage causes substantial job loss.''
Empirical research can enlighten even the most dismal science:
In a Wells Fargo-Gallup poll taken in March, 46 percent of small-business owners said the minimum wage should be increased, and 86 percent said the wage had no effect on them.
"The wage has been left at such a low level for so many years now that inflation has eroded it,'' says Scott Anderson, a senior economist at San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., the fifth-biggest U.S. bank. "It's not as onerous to employers as it once was.''
Here's some more evidence from the

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Career in "Transactional Lobbying"

Have you considered a career in transactional lobbying? That's the term Brent Wilkes used to describe his profession in the New York Times. Wilkes, the “co-conspirator No. 1” in former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham's guilty plea, describes how he got into this lucrative field:
Mr. Wilkes had set up separate meetings with the lawmakers hoping to win a government contract, and he planned to punctuate each pitch with a campaign donation. But his hometown congressman, Representative Bill Lowery of San Diego, a Republican, told him that presenting the checks during the sessions was not how things were done, Mr. Wilkes recalled.
Instead, Mr. Wilkes said, Mr. Lowery taught him the right way to do it: hand over the envelope in the hallway outside the suite, at least a few feet away.
Wilkes' career path illustrates the relationship between risk and reward:
In the end, it was the Cunningham investigation that jeopardized Mr. Wilkes’s business with the government. In August 2005, a team of F.B.I. agents swept through Mr. Wilkes’s headquarters. The flow of earmarks, his companies’ lifeblood, dried up. He laid off 200 employees.
For those keeping score, the top ten recipients of his largess consist of the National Republican Party, eight GOP congressmen and President Bush.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Why Did We Go into Iraq?

I've been pondering Thursday's session of the Senate Armed Services Committee at which General John Abizaid dared to use the words "civil war" and conceded that conditions are getting worse:
I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.
Searching my memory banks, I don't recall that sectarian strife has anything whatever to do with why we went into Iraq in the first place.
The three principle reasons I remember for going into Iraq were:
1. Iraq was aiding and abeting al Qaeda. That turned out not to be the case.
2. Iraq's WMDs posed a threat to our security. That turned out not to be the case.
3. By toppling Saddam Hussein, we would unleash forces of freedom and democracy that would transform the region. That turned out not to be the case.
As far as I can remember, no one advocated invading and occupying Iraq so that we could get bogged down in a sectarian civil war.
At the same hearing Donald Rumsfeld refuted criticism of his leadership:
"I have never painted a rosy picture," he said. "I've been very measured in my words, and you'd have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I've been excessively optimistic."
Golly gee, Donald.
How about your estimate of the cost of the war in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on January 19, 2003, published on the DoD Website (which has since been removed from the record)?
Rumsfeld: The Office of Management and Budget estimated it would be something under 50 billion dollars.
Stephanopoulos: Outside estimates say up to 300 billion.
Rumsfeld: Baloney.
Here's the estimate as of last month via the AP:
WASHINGTON — The war in Iraq has cost $291 billion so far and would total almost half a trillion dollars even if all U.S. troops were withdrawn by the end of 2009, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis released Thursday.
For those who like to keep track, it has been 1,234 days since we entered Iraq and 1,192 days since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished."

Linkin' Blogs: The Delaware Way

Nancy Willing has launched a blog titled The Delaware Way.
Nancy is an environmentalist and open space advocate, notably with the Friends of Historic Glasgow. She also writes with considerable verve:
The Chinese term for blogging is boke. The users are a good 5 million strong with their own internet special police force enforcing supression of too much bouyant worldliness.
Nancy should bring plenty of her own "bouyant worldliness" to Delaware's blogosphere.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Our Shrill Public Discourse

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been called "the shrill one" since the early days of the George W. Bush administration. It's meant as a badge of honor, signifying that Krugman hasn't been afraid to speak up plainly in disagreement with President "Uniter, not a Divider."
There is a blog devoted to shrillness, and it's called (not surprisingly) Shrillblog. Its latest post is headlined, "55% of Americans are Shrill and Unbalanced." You get the idea.
Helpfully, the blog offers this backstory headlined, "The History of the Shrill."

I guess it started, I think, with that extremely strange and not-very-analytical Svengali of the Bush Social Security reform plan, Peter Ferrara, who wrote back in 2001 about "the fierce, shrill, and unreasoned denunciations of allowing workers the freedom to choose a personal-account option for Social Security may impress the gullible... and denounced:

..the highly irascible Paul Krugman...

That was, I think, the start of a very peculiar meme: a piling-on of critics of Bush--especially of Paul Krugman--whose sole criticism was that he was "shrill." The critique was neither that he was a bad economist, nor that his accusations that the Bush administration was lying about a whole bunch of stuff were incorrect (indeed, one of Paul's most vicious critics, Andrew Sullivan, gloried in the fact that Bush was lying about his tax cut. (See So if you wanted to attack Krugman, but could not attack him because his analytics were right, and could not attack him because his accusations of Bush administration dishonesty were correct, what can you do?
The blog chronicles the growing ranks of those who eschew Washington etiquette that prefers euphemism to plain speaking in pointing out that Bush actually doesn't know what he's doing when it comes to the Iraq debacle or diverting Social Security to private accounts or telling his incompetent appiontees they're "doing a hell of a job."
And the ranks of the shrill are now... impressive indeed. Even the truly cowardly are now shrill. Only the bought-and-paid-for have not joined the ranks of the highly critical who have been driven into shrill unholy madness by the mendacity, malevolence, incompetence, and disconnection from reality of George W. Bush and his administration.
Of course, with two-thirds of the country thinking we're on the wrong track, the shrillness of our public discourse is truly deafening.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Tom DeLay: He's Back

Don't ask me to explain the legal niceties, but it looks like we'll still have Tom DeLay to kick around. This from Reuters:
A U.S. Appeals Court on Thursday rejected a request by Tom DeLay, the indicted former House of Representatives Republican leader, to have his name taken off the November congressional ballot.
Yes it does seem topsy-turvy. The Republicans want him off the ballot, while Democrats want him on:
Republicans have claimed the Democrats want to keep DeLay on the ballot to use his legal troubles in Texas over campaign fund-raising and links to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to improve Democratic chances in the November election.
You think?
TPM Muckraker
reports that the Texas GOP plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which by the way traditionally starts its term in October.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Minimum Wage and Maximum Wealth: Blacks In America

One reason that that President Bush and the GOP are so unpopular among black Americans is that they seem tone deaf to blacks' concerns on economic issues. When House Republicans voted for HR 5970, a bill that couples an increase in the minimum wage with a cut in the estate tax, they summed up their party's views on economic policy. If you want to do something about the minimum wage, you have to do something for the children of millionaires.
When George Bush finally decided to address the NAACP, he spoke about the importance of ownership -- of homes, businesses and retirement accounts. He also raised the issue of the "death tax" as one that blacks should be concerned about.
Why doesn't Republican talk about opportunity and wealth connect with black voters?
Many blacks are still lagging in terms of household income. According to the U.S. Census, 32.3 percent of blacks fall in the bottom income quintile, while only 9.4 percent have reached the top quintile.
More dramatic than the income disparity is the asset disparity. According to the National Urban League's report "The State of Black America 2006," the median net worth of African American families is only $6,166 compared to $67,000 for white families.
Why such a large disparity? Even for upwardly mobile families, it takes time to accumulate assets. And far too many black families are not upwardly mobile.
In a nutshell, Republican economic policies favor the accumulation and protection of wealth when many black Americans are still struggling to earn a living wage. With so many black families not achieving upward mobility, the issue of avoiding taxes on assets that seem unattainable just doesn't resonate.
Interestingly, Treasury Secretry Henry Paulson noted this difference in perspective in a speech reported in the New York Times:
“Amid this country’s strong economic expansion, many Americans simply aren’t feeling the benefits,” Mr. Paulson said in a speech at Columbia Business School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. “Many aren’t seeing significant increases in their take-home pay. Their increases in wages are being eaten up by high energy prices and rising health care costs, among others.”
It was an unusual concession from a high-ranking official in an administration that has spoken only glowingly of recent economic gains and has generally joined with Republicans in Congress by dismissing Democratic concerns about growing economic inequality in the United States as “class warfare.”
He did not offer any policies to help those families that aren't doing better.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Santorum Supporters Fund a Green Party Candidate

To win elections, you have to know how to add -- and subtract. The AP reports that supporters of Rick Santorum provided most of the funding to get a Green Party candidate on the ballot:
Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli, making his first bid for statewide elective office, acknowledged Monday that Republican contributors probably supplied most of the $100,000 that he said he spent gathering signatures to qualify for the Nov. 7 ballot.
Romanelli tried to explain how it is that he isn't being played by the Republicans:
"I have friends in all political parties. It's just that my Republican friends are more confident about standing with me than my Democratic friends. And as a group, my Republican friends are a little better off," he said in a telephone interview.

Why the Anger at Joe Lieberman?

Why the anger at Joe Lieberman, particularly among the netroots? It's not that he's too conservative. I have pointed out before that the netroots, Kos included, actually like some of the more centrist contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Writing in the Washington Post, E. J. Dionne puts his finger on the reason why so many Democrats don't like Joe Lieberman:
The statement that did more than anything to power this primary challenge was a comment Lieberman made in December.
"It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years," Lieberman said, "and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril." The implication that there is something wrong with criticizing George W. Bush is unacceptable to most Democrats, who believe that Bush himself has done the most to undermine his own credibility.
Likewise, Lieberman has done the most to undermine his own stature within the Democratic Party.
As I noted out a year ago, Democrats aren't looking for leaders who hew to the left. They want leaders who clearly describe our differences with George Bush.