Friday, April 14, 2006


General Knowledge

It's funny that the automatic assumption in Washington is that there is something conspiratorial afoot. The sudden chorus of voices against Donald Rumsfeld must be somehow "coordinated":

"I have not talked to the other generals," [retired Maj. Gen. John] Batiste, interviewed from Rochester, N.Y., said on NBC's 'Today' show. Nevertheless, he said he thinks the clamor for Rumsfeld to step down is "happening for a reason."

Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division forces in Iraq, said he declined an opportunity to get a promotion to the rank of lieutenant general and return to the wartorn country as the No. 2 U.S. military officer because he could not accept Rumsfeld's tough management style.

He said he does not believe Rumsfeld has been sufficiently accountable for the plan that led to the invasion of Iraq and the ouster of Saddam Hussein, although he also said that 'we have no option but to succeed in Iraq.'

"I support civilian control (of the military) completely,' Batiste told interviewers on CBS's 'The Early Show."

But, he added, "we went to war with a flawed plan that didn't account for the hard work to build the peace after we took down the regime. We also served under a secretary of defense who didn't understand leadership, who was abusive, who was arrogant, and who didn't build a strong team."
Asked why he was focusing his criticism on Rumsfeld and not President Bush, Batiste replied, "My focus is on the Department of Defense. It's what I know."

Rather than coordination or conspiracy, there is a far more basic human instinct that explains all the generals stepping forward -- safety in numbers.

As soon as one or two step forward, it encourages others who quietly had the same concerns to to do the same. It's easier to dismiss one or two as cranks or malcontents; it's much harder when it is a half-dozen men who had high-ranking leadership roles in the service and the specific mission.

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Maryland Mischief

The New York Sun follows up on The Washington Post's story last week on the conniptions that Michael Steele is causing Maryland Democrats:

Democrats' victory calculus has long relied on capturing virtually all of the black vote. Now a 37-page report, based on a telephone survey of 489 black likely voters and presented by Cornell Belcher, a pollster handpicked by Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, suggests that some of that support may be slipping away

"At this time, a majority of African-American voters are open to supporting Steele, particularly younger voters," Mr. Belcher concluded.

"Steele's messaging to the African American community has clearly had a positive effect - with many voters reciting his campaign slogans and his advertising," the report found. Younger black voters, especially men, as well as churchgoers and single mothers, tended to be "very open to Steele's value messaging."

Mr. Belcher recommended strong action. "Democrats must be aggressive, Steele is a unique challenge," he wrote. "Democrats can not afford to wait until after the primary election to knock Steele down. A persuasion campaign should start as soon as possible to discredit Steele as a viable candidate for the [black] community."

Mr. Belcher spelled out how to discredit Mr. Steele: "Connecting Steele to National
Republicans, especially on issues such as Medicare reform and Social Security
privatization, can turn Steele into a typical Republican in the eyes of voters, as opposed to an African American candidate."
Now, something that should be kept in mind is that Maryland has one of the largest black populations outside of the Deep South -- nearly 27 percent of the voting-age population. However, until Steele came along, no black had been elected statewide. Indeed, Democrats haven't even nominated an African-American for statewide office. Heck, in 2002, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend picked a white Republican as her running mate!

Republicans at least have nominated four minority candidates for statewide office. In addition to the winnng Steele, Alan Keyes ran twice and Linda Chavez once for U.S. Senate (though each were handily defeated, neither campaign was a "joke" effort in the way that Keyes' run against Barack Obama in '04 was).

And even in this contest, the Maryland and national Democratic elites have coalesced around white candidate Rep. Ben Cardin. The person who announced first was former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who had just recently stepped down as president of the NAACP.

Mfume is a conventional liberal, but tried to play "good cop" at the NAACP to Julian Bond's "bad/insane cop." In the process, he helped build back the civil rights organization's financial footing that had eroded under the disastrous tenure of Benjamin Chavis.

Mfume was not without his faults. While at the NAACP, he dated a woman who was a subordinate. Another
later charged sexual harassment. Still, should that accusation have been enough for the entire Democratic establishment to turn from someone who, during his career in the House was one of the most memorable chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus?

The fact is that Mfume is well-positioned, if he so chooses, to play hardball with the Democratic establishment. If anything, the DNC memo could be interpreted as saying that black voters refuse to be taken for granted in the Democratic-heavy state. If the Democrats don't want to nominate a black candidate, African Americans can still support one of their own in the general election.

So, Mfume can honestly say (behind close doors, at least), "I'm the only candidate who can keep the heretofore-most-loyal part of the Democratic base in our camp in the general election."

Indeed, if that ploy worked and Mfume won, it would set up one of the more interesting races in the nation's history. Indeed, Maryland and the country could do far worse than have a well-fought contest between two serious, well-qualified, African-American candidates, each with fascinating life stories -- one a Democrat and one a Republican.

Quite different from the Obama-Keyes farce, this would be an historic, honestly intriguing campaign, where race would be simultaneously omnipresent and irrelevant.

If nothing else, it would force the Democrats to come up with another way of going after Steele than the fact that he's -- gulp! -- black and Republican.

UPDATE: To further complicate the calculus, the Washington Post's polling analyst, Richard Morin talks about the still rather high number of whites willing to bolt their party on Election Day if it nominates a black candidate:
[W]hite Republicans nationally are 25 percentage points more likely on average to vote for the Democratic senatorial candidate when the GOP hopeful is black, says economist Ebonya Washington of Yale University in a forthcoming article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. White independents are similarly inclined to vote for the white Democrat when there's a black Republican running, according to her study of congressional and gubernatorial voting patterns
between 1982 and 2000, including five Senate races in which the Republican nominee was black.

Her analysis suggests that GOP "white flight" in the Maryland Senate race could mean at least an additional 1 or 2 percent of the vote goes to the Democrat, and perhaps more -- but only if the candidate is white. Together, independents who would otherwise vote for a white Republican plus GOP deserters may easily swamp any increase in black Democratic crossover to Steele.

Neither the author of the study, nor Morin seem to raise the possibility that there could be a justifiable non-racial reason on the part of voters for this phenomenon -- the quality of the candidate. In many of these races, I would bet that the stature/qualification gap between the (white) Democrat and the (black) Republican was so great that it was impossible for any voter -- to support the black Republican. Until recently, it was more likely that Republicans would run a minority as a "sacrifice" candidate because the race didn't seem winnable from the start. Earlier, I said that the Keyes and Chavez Senate campaigns in Maryland in the '80s and '90s were not "joke" contests. I stand by that -- but, at the same time, against Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, neither candidate really stood a chance. No wonder the elections were blowouts -- and undoubtedly many Republicans crossed over to vote for the Democrat.

By the way, this happens with all white candidates as well. In 2004, the New York state GOP put up a white "sacrifice" candidate to run against incumbent Chuck Schumer -- the little-known Upstate Assemblyman Howard Mills. He was clobbered, 71-29 -- the biggest landslide statewide loss in New York history (Mills was compensated with a nice sinecure for which he was totally unqualified -- state insurance commissioner). You can most definitely bet that a large segment of Republicans voted for Schumer.

In decided contrast with past years, the GOP today is putting forward individuals like Steele, and gubernatorial candidates Ken Blackwell in Ohio and Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania: These are all serious candidates, raising serious money and with the serious backing of the state and national party apparatus. Most significantly, they all have long-standing ties and relationships to their states and communities (in Maryland, both Keyes and Chavez were Washington suburb types with little connection to the broader Maryland). I would be very surprised if quite the level of white flight discussed here happens this year.

But, even if it does, that still raises the question inferred in the original post. What do white voters do if both candidates are black (as would be the case if Mfume wins the primary)? Vote on the issues? Stay home? Move?

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Interesting Newbies...

Some new-ish blogs that have popped up that deserve a perusal or two...

1) The Morningside Post comes from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) program. It touches upon a variety of foreign policy issues. By the way, SIPA is one of the CU student groups sponsoring a talk Monday with Michael Gordon, co-author of COBRA II, the newly released account of the run-up to the Iraq War. Yours truly will be moderating.

2) J. Mark English gives up a new sports-related blog at
American Legends.

3) I can't remember if I gave a shout-out to Umar Lee yet (and I'm too lazy/tired to go Google myself to find out), but he's a rather smart and opinionated fellow Brooklynite who approaches contemporary issues from an American Muslim perspective. He's been visiting the comments section for sometime and his own provocative site deserves a look-see (though he seems to have dropped its rather provocative title for its current eponymous variation).

4) And then there is
Blogger Ale, an odd mish-mash of various contemporary topics -- many well beyond my ken -- that somehow come together under the general categories like beer and politics.

Enjoy the reads!

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Thursday, April 13, 2006


Black Flight?

Having previously lived in Maryland and Washington, D.C., I was well acquainted with the stereotypical views on the various movement habits in the region: "Democrats (i.e. blacks) move to Maryland; Republicans (i.e. whites) move to Virginia.

Well, it seems like that stereotype isn't completely true.

Even more, well, it seems that black families make choices about where to relocate on similar
criteria as whites:

Other blacks said they moved from or skipped over Prince George's because of what they said were poor schools and surging crime.

The Moores said Prince George's was on the top of their list when they began house hunting because of its proximity to friends and family. But the more they learned about the school system, the lower Prince George's fell on their list. Under the No Child Left Behind law, Prince George's has 66 schools in need of improvement. Prince William has none.

Dorian Ford, a 38-year-old barber, grew up in Prince George's but now runs a shop in a plaza next to Princeton Woods, where he lives. He left Prince George's 12 years ago, he said, because of the increasing crime. The county had 173 murders last year, compared with 13 in Prince William. "You want to raise your children in a safe environment," Ford said.

Donald L. Frederick Jr., president-elect of the Prince George's County Association of Realtors, said the county has several excellent schools, but he did not dispute its challenges, even though he said it is one of the nation's premier majority minority communities.

"There's no question it gets its share of bad publicity," he said. "If I was someone from DeKalb County and read about Prince George's, I wouldn't want to come here, either."
Hmmm....and that's the incoming head of the PG County Association of Realtors!!

And, yes, this migration certainly has political ramifications:

The influx of blacks also is adding Democrats to Prince William, where Republicans hold a 6 to 2 edge on the county board and generally side with the GOP in national, state and local elections.

In the fall, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine edged Republican Jerry Kilgore in Prince William with nearly 50 percent of the vote. The River Oaks precinct, created in 2002 to serve the new subdivisions, gave Kaine 69 percent of its votes, more than any precinct in the county.

In the 2004 presidential election, River Oaks voters also gave the highest percentage of votes -- again 69 percent -- to losing Democratic candidate Sen. John F. Kerry. President Bush carried Prince William with 53 percent of the vote.

But Prince William's black newcomers did not move there to make a political
statement. They say they are more interested in the day-to-day issues of suburban life, particularly good schools and safe neighborhoods.
In other words -- just like everybody else. Of course, this does have the interesting side effect of making red-state Virginia a bit more "purple," which could have some interesting effects in future elections, if this sort of migration continues.

Something to watch.

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And Then There Were Four....

When the generals talk

Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni.

Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton.

Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold.

And now...

Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste.

UPDATE: Make that five, uh, six.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Addiction, Thy Name Is...


Of course, the plot twists over the last two weeks where the president of the United States -- portrayed as dumb and manipulable through the first half of the season -- is revealed as the
evil co-mastermind of all the awful developments of the last few weeks (hours) is, well, disturbing.

Before all the liberals get excited about how fiction is showing "truth," please keep in mind that the Secretary of Defense is being set up to be the "hero" who takes on the rogue president.

Donald Rumsfeld coming to rescue the country from George W. Bush's presidency?

It's only a television show.

It's only a television show.

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Um, Don't Think This Is What Was Meant By "Uniter"

Presidential job approval: 38% Approve; 60% Disapprove.


With less than seven months remaining before the midterm elections, Bush's political troubles already appear to be casting a long shadow over them. Barely a third of registered voters, 35 percent, approve of the way the Republican-held Congress is doing its job -- the lowest level of support in nine years.

The negative judgments about the president and the congressional majority reflect the breadth of the GOP's difficulties and suggest that problems of each may be mutually reinforcing. Although the numbers do not represent a precipitous decline over recent surveys, the fact that they have stayed at low levels over recent months indicates the GOP is confronting some fundamental obstacles with public opinion rather than a patch of bad luck.

A majority of registered voters, 55 percent, say they plan to vote for the Democratic candidate in their House district, while 40 percent support the Republican candidate. That is the largest share of the electorate favoring Democrats in Post-ABC polls since the mid-1980s.

This grim news for the GOP is offset somewhat by the finding that 59 percent of voters still say they approve of their own representative. But even these numbers are weaker than in recent off-year election cycles and identical to support of congressional incumbents in June 1994 -- five months before Democrats lost control of Congress to Republicans.

As Bush and the Republicans falter, Democrats have emerged as the party most Americans trust to deal with such issues as Iraq, the economy and health care. By 49 to 42 percent, Americans trust Democrats more than Republicans to do a better job of handling Iraq.

Democrats also hold a six-percentage-point advantage over the GOP (49 percent to 43 percent) as the party most trusted to handle the economy. Their lead swells to double digits on such as issues as immigration (12 points), prescription drug benefits for the elderly (28 points), health care (32 points) and dealing with corruption in Washington (25 points).

The public divides evenly on only one issue: terrorism, with 46 percent expressing more confidence in the Democrats and 45 percent trusting Republicans on a top voting concern that the GOP counts on dominating.
Ironic: The issue which most united Americans around President Bush for the last five years is now the one issue that he still has the most support -- but also the closest to a 50-50 split in the public.

That split can be expected to continue when stories like this are then rapidly followed by this. So what are the American people to believe?

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Monday, April 10, 2006


Manna From West Virginia

While Sunday's Times article -- on House Ethics Committee ranking member Alan Mollohan (D-W. Va.) who managed to slip $250 million in federal earmarks to "five nonprofit organizations that he set up" -- doesn't exactly innoculate Republicans from their corruption woes, it's certainly a story that congressional Democrats would have preferred to not have seen:

The earmarking occurred as an abundance of local projects was added to spending bills outside the normal budget review, from $32.9 billion in 2000 to $64 billion in 2006, the Congressional Research Service said. Although it is impossible to trace individual earmarks for certain, an analysis by Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington watchdog, found $480 million added in the House or in conference committees, most likely by Mr. Mollohan, for his district since 1995. That sum helped West Virginia rank fourth on the watchdog list — $131.58 for each of the 1.8 million West Virginians this year.

Although Mr. Mollohan's mentor, Senator Robert C. Byrd, has long blanketed the state in bacon in the form of large public works projects and federal complexes, Mr. Mollohan has directed more than half his earmarks to his five organizations of his design.

Several people involved in the appropriations process said no other lawmaker employed that strategy to the same extent.

The first and largest is the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation, which is absorbing the troubled Institute for Scientific Research. Another, the Canaan Valley Institute, works on stream restoration and wastewater treatment. The Vandalia Heritage Foundation redevelops dilapidated buildings, and the Mountain Made Foundation helps artisans market wares.

"He's basically judge, jury and executioner for all this money," said Keith Ashdown, vice president of the Taxpayers for Common Sense in Washington.

Of the empty building in Mr. Mollohan's hometown, Fairmont, Mr. Ashdown added, "This is sort of Mollohan's field of dreams, but in his case, he's building it, and it doesn't look like they're going to come."
Again, this is the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee. Look for Republicans to make Mr. Mollohan the poster child of how the Democrats would "reform" ethical behavior in the House.

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A DeLay Post-Mortem

A former staffer for Tom DeLay gives a muted defense of his old boss.

Ex-press secretary John Feehery puts the blame squarely on "rogue" aides Ed Buckham, Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon.

I know Feehery, having worked with him while in Speaker Gingrich's office. It doesn't surprise me that he -- as described here -- was wary of Buckham and Co. As Feehery describes it, "[Buckham] was also forceful in promoting the evangelical beliefs he shared with DeLay. There were times when he would gather the staff for prayer." Feehery was -- and is -- a Catholic and while Catholics certainly pray, many of them tend to be less visible in their public displays of faith than evangelicals.

But, more significantly, Feehery always seemed like a straight shooter (I never had much contact with Buckham) and it doesn't seem unusual that he would try to distance himself from staff members who seemed somewhat less than honest.

However, I think John may be a bit naive if he concludes that DeLay's problems come down to having "staff members run amok."

Indeed, the anecdote he relates on the 1997 failed coup of Speaker Newt Gingrich seems like a snapshot of what may well have happened later in the legal area: Buckham was clearly nudging DeLay into helping participate in the removal of Gingrich -- and DeLay clearly was involved in it and suggested to the anti-Gingrich forces that he was on board. However when everything fell apart, Buckham tried to get DeLay to pin everything on Armey; Feehery tried to get him to be contrite. At the end of the day, according to Feehery, "Tom fessed up to his own role while also implicating Armey."

In short, Tom DeLay is hardly Othello and Ed Buckham is hardly Iago. One doesn't get to be majority whip or majority leader by being easily plied by staff members. Tom DeLay surrounded himself with an inner circle of staff that reflected his own way of gaining and retaining power.

We've seen what's happened to a couple of them -- whether that fate awaits their former boss remains to be seen.

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