The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Saturday, May 15, 2004


South Africa will host the Cup in 2010.

This is just preliminary, but I'm gonna be there. Awesome.

We can all now look forward to the epic struggle for the rights to the 2014 World Cup, between East Timor, Chechnya and the Holy Islamic Republic of Iraq*.

* - they would co-host the event with neighboring Chalabistan.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Yesterday I explained, simply, why the Berg story in no way negates the Abu Ghraib story.

In a similar vein, Mark Kleiman explains . . . very slowly so everyone can keep up . . . why the press is paying more attention to Abu Ghraib than to the Berg beheading. Just in case any law professors in Knoxville with blogs have any questions.

Also, Oliver Willis makes a point about the that law professor and his assertion that internet searches for Nick Berg have bearing on the relevance of news stories:
People are looking for this video for the same reason they slow down at a traffic accident, the same reason people kept searching for the Janet Jackson boob video, and the same reason those Girls Gone Wild videos sell like crazy.

It's voyeurism, pure and simple. Yes, there is outrage when people see the video, but people want to see it because it's a version of splatter porn. I wish that weren't the case, but it is.

CNN/Time has Kerry leading Bush 51-46 in their latest poll, a seven-point shift since February. Remember, it was between those two points that Kerry's campaign has been viewed as lackluster and message-free, so this probably reflects an even larger shift than that.

The rest of the poll includes some other interesting nuggets:
Kerry and Bush are essentially tied over who would handle Iraq better -- 46 percent to 43 percent.

Bush appears to have an advantage over Kerry on the war on terrorism with 49 percent saying he would do a better job, compared to 42 percent for Kerry. He also had the edge in "moral values" -- 46 percent to 42 percent.

On the question of who would do a better job, Kerry had big leads on health care, protecting the environment, reducing the deficit and reducing unemployment. He even did better than Bush on the question of taxes.

In the fight against terrorism -- one of Bush's strengths in many polls -- this poll showed a split over whether Bush is doing a good job. Forty-six of those polled said he was, but 47 percent said he was doing a poor job.
This is huge, and big news for the Democrats. In the one category that was supposed to keep Bush over the top come November -- terrorism -- his advantage has essentially vanished. Kerry has achieved relative parity with Bush on the subject (only a 7-point spread) and more people disapprove of Bush's handling of terrorism issues than approve. Not only does this corroborate the findings in the latest CBS/NYT poll from a couple days ago, it amplifies those trends even more.

This can't make Karl Rove happy.

Thursday, May 13, 2004


The Bill Keller-led New York Times puts the smackdown on this ridiculous idea that the murder of Nick Berg somehow negates the Abu Ghraib scandal and that some disparity in coverage makes the media out to be hypocrites:
The claim of this young American's murderers that they were retaliating for the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners is a cruel ruse. They killed him out of the same madness that drove their comrades in Al Qaeda to slaughter thousands on Sept. 11, 2001. But this manipulative attempt to establish a moral equivalence between the gruesome execution of Mr. Berg and the torture of Iraqi prisoners is now being mimicked by some hard-core supporters of the American war in Iraq. They are cynically trying to use the images of Mr. Berg to wipe away the images of Abu Ghraib, turning the abhorrence for the murderers into an excuse for demonizing Arabs and Muslims, or for sanctioning their torture.
Also, it's pretty simple. Al Qaeda is "evil" and thus, brutally killing an American from time to time is "what they're supposed to do". America, on the other hand, is "good", but the abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib is "not what they're supposed to do".

For that reason alone -- though also for many others -- Abu Ghraib is necessarily the bigger story.

I'd also like to add that last night I viewed the Nick Berk video (which has since been pulled from the website that was hosting it) and it made me sick to my stomach. I have not explicitly commented on it until now because, to echo Josh Marshall, (and not to aggrandize myself)
I could write a post saying that I thought Berg's execution was horrifying and awful and that I couldn't get to sleep last night because the ugliness of the images wouldn't leave my mind. But what would that tell you? That al Qaida is awful and that I think they're awful too? Perhaps I simply have nothing to add. The online world has lots of vociferous me-too-ism, going on record saying in fist-clenched tones things I think we all know we all feel. That's fine; I just don't like doing that.

Breaking news:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Iraq on Thursday as the United States struggled to quell criticism over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American military guards.

The embattled secretary, travelling under tight security to a country where more than 700 U.S. troops have died since last year, landed at Baghdad airport and later began meetings with senior U.S. military officers in the capital.

Rumsfeld denied on a 15-hour flight from Washington that the Pentagon was trying to cover up the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

"If anybody thinks that I'm (in Iraq) to throw water on a fire, they're wrong," he told reporters aboard his aircraft.

"We care about the detainees being treated right. We care about soldiers behaving right. We are about command systems working," he added.
No doubt, this is a good PR move on Rummy's part. The quickest way for one to appear proactive about an issue is to be right there, talking to the people most directly related to the issue.

It doesn't change any of the current facts, though: Don Rumsfeld, as Secretary of Defense, has horribly mangled and mismanaged the war effort in Iraq. I'd say the "we can do it with only X amount of troops" fuck-up is just as big as Abu Ghraib, but either one is grounds for resignation. As details continue to come out, it's pretty clear that we're taking our Gitmo methods -- also under Rummy's leadership -- and applying them to Iraqi detainees who, as the International Red Cross reported were mostly arrested "by mistake". We also know that they've been "outsourcing" detainees to nominal allies like Egypt whose rules on torture "coercive interrogation" are more lax.

When you embark on these tactics, you run the risk of having them exposed. This is especially true in Iraq, where a big component of our effort is ideological and "hearts and minds" oriented in a very explicit way.

The fuck-up was not that all this horrific abuse was exposed. The fuck-up was that we resorted to this in the first place, and not only did we, but we did so in a casual, lax way with not a hint of oversight (including efforts to avoid any oversight) for a long time. Whistleblowers are a great American tradition, they are heroes. Please don't shoot the messengers. We live in an open society, and it's ironic that those who trumpet how free and great and open America is are often the same ones who tell us that we've made too big a deal out of secretive torture, that we're "overracting", as Tom the Bug Exterminator put it.

No doubt, the soldiers who did this share the responsibility. But if we are to repair damage around the world, including in Iraq, then there must be accountability further up the chain than that.

Anyway, Rummy going to Baghdad sounds like a good move on his part. As a PR stunt, if it works, it works. But the facts remain...

Wednesday, May 12, 2004


Some good speakers coming in the next week or two:

Friday, May 14: Daniel Ellsberg, Jonathan Schell and others will participate in a panel discussion called "Nuclear Weapons and International Disorder", 7:00 PM at SBCC's west campus.

Monday, May 17: 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, in a lecture called "Islam, Democracy and Human Rights". She'll be appearing at Campbell Hall at 8:00 PM. Tickets will cost $15, $10 for UCSB students.

Monday, May 24: Joe Wilson and Bill Kristol debate the Iraq war at Campbell Hall, 7:30 PM. Should be very, very interesting.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004


Here's the link. Please read it all, but in the meantime, here are a few noteworthy grafs:
Domestically, a Kerry-McCain ticket would also go a long way toward healing the Vietnam wound, now rubbed raw again by recent events in Iraq. The two men represent very different responses to that war, and could help unite their generation--finally!--over it. To have two combat veterans up against Bush and Cheney would also eviscerate Republican attempts to paint Kerry as weak on defense and in the war on terror. Besides, McCain represents a real and utterly unrepresented constituency in America: the fiscally conservative, socially tolerant hawks, usually described as "independents." By bringing these people into the Democratic big tent, Kerry could not only win the election, but help position the Democrats to regain majority status. It would be, for the Democrats, a strategic coup de main.

McCain, of course, is a Republican. But he has worked with many Democrats, including Kerry, and has been systematically excluded by the increasingly fundamentalist caste of the Republican establishment. On domestic issues, such as campaign finance reform, corporate scandals, and the deficit, he might actually be more comfortable in conservative Democratic ranks. He is pro-life, which makes him anathema to Democrats. But this year, with Kerry under fire from the Catholic hierarchy on the abortion question, picking McCain would enable the Democratic candidate to insist that there is real diversity within his own party, and that he respects those who disagree with him on abortion. His position would remain the same, but he could go a long way to reversing the unfortunate litmus test among Democrats and Republicans that abortion has become.


McCain could say that this national crisis demands that he put country ahead of party and serve. His loyalty to his party would therefore be trumped by loyalty to his country. Kerry could also say that his impulse is to be a "uniter, not a divider," and that, unlike Bush, he will actually show it in his pick for the vice-presidency. Their platform? Winning the war, cutting the deficit, reforming corporate excess. A Kerry-McCain ticket, regardless of the many difficulties, would, I think, win in a landslide. Will it happen? Still unlikely. But Abu Ghraib has shortened the odds; and the arguments for such a dramatic innovation just got a lot stronger.
I assume, then, that Sully's tone on this means that he endorses a Kerry-McCain ticket and would vote for it. I keep forgetting, is he a naturalized citizen? I think so.

I've given this a lot of thought, both right at this instant and in the past several weeks, and I have concluded that a Kerry-McCain ticket is a Good Idea. Does that render McCain my VP first choice? That's yet to be decided, but I'd feel very good if Kerry chose McCain.

That said, there are some issues that need to be explored.

--Abortion. Yeah, Sully brought this up in his article, and downplayed the issue's importance, at least as a party litmus test. I agree, I don't think abortion should be the be-all and end-all of partisan politics. Rudy Giuliani is pro-choice, and Dennis Kucinich was pro-life for a long time, and I don't begrudge either of them that. Perhaps McCain's position will evolve if he ends up on the ticket, but does it have to? The practical implications of a McCain vice presidency on the abortion issue are as follows:

1) Potentially one less anti-choice vote in the Senate (with a caveat, actually, two of them)
2) Kerry will be the one nominating Judges and Justices
3) McCain will be too old to run in 2012, and if he ascends to the Oval Office through other means (let's say Scaife funds a "Massachusetts Project"), I'd say he's very unlikely to use an anti-choice litmus test on his nominees.
4) McCain will be reasonably loyal to President Kerry

Okay, but there are still problems. As Vice President, John McCain would break ties in the Senate. Let's say the Senate is still evenly divided in 2005, and that the Republicans still control the House. The house passes an anti-choice bill on a party line. The Senate goes exactly 50-50 on the bill. Vice President McCain has to break the tie. What happens then? If Senate Republicans do a head-count and see the possibility of a 50-50 tie, they wouldn't hesitate to try to put that bastard turncoat McCain in a pickle like that. Does he vote based on his views and put Kerry in the awkward position of having to veto his own Vice President in a very public manner?

If McCain is to join the ticket, he needs to sit down with Kerry and the two of them need to work out precisely what they'll do in such a circumstance, to eliminate the possibility of future misunderstandings or public conflicts.

--Arizona. If McCain becomes the VP, wouldn't that leave a vacant Senate seat in Arizona? Arizona's governor, by the way, is a Democrat. Would she appoint a Democrat to replace McCain -- perhaps citing balance in her state against John Kyl and his arch-conservative voting record -- thus rendering 50-50 ties on abortion issues a much less likely possibility? (that wouldn't be the sole reason, but you get the point)

Generally, I'm not in favor of the whole "Senator from Party A retires, so Governor from Party B appoints someone from Party B" thing. I like special elections with hastily thrown-together campaigns (well, except for the one in California). However, given Tom DeLay's mid-decade redistricting tactics in Texas and Colorado, I wouldn't mind that much. We can't unilaterally disarm. In early 2001, the incoming Bushies courted Louisiana Senator John Breaux with the idea in mind that it would eliminate a Democratic vote in the Senate. So yeah, I'm fine with it.

By the way, McCain isn't retiring anyway is he? I get my Senators mixed up sometimes. Campbell's retiring, Graham's retiring, Zell's retiring (thank god), and Edwards is retiring (and he'll make a great Attorney General, by the way, that is if Spitzer doesn't get it). I feel like I heard something about McCain. Eh, maybe I'm confused.

--Defense. Well duh, that's precisely the point!

--Things McCain has said. One of the tiffs between McCain and Bush during the 2000 campaign was about how McCain compared Bush to -- gasp! -- Bill Clinton. And it wasn't in a positive, job-creation or peace-and-prosperity kinda way. Bush responded with a series of ads calling McCain's accusation over the line. How is all this going to go over with Democratic voters? True, this time around we've shown a pretty big pragmatic streak, and we'll be willing to overlook this stuff. And maybe we can chalk all that Clinton talk up to "stuff people say to win party primaries". But on some level, it must be an issue.

You'd better believe that the usual suspects -- Dick Morris, Bill Safire, George Will, Peggy Noonan, etc -- are going to have a field day trying to manufacture a rift between Kerry and the Clintons over a McCain Vice Presidency.

--Potential lines of attack for Bush. They finished off McCain in 2000 largely on a psychological angle. They painted him as a short-fused maniac who could blow at any minute. And now he's effectively jumping ship from the Republicans. Certainly they'll try to weave that development into the "flip flop" narrative they've created with John Kerry. They'll watch McCain's positions like a hawk, classifying any perceived leftward shift as a case of Kerry's disease oozing onto McCain.

At the end of the day, however, a Kerry-McCain ticket would be too strong on the issues that matter this election -- notably defense -- for the usual VRWC narrative techniques to take hold, or even matter that much. The media's response to Kerry's pick would be overwhelming. It would match a guy who has a generally lukewarm relationship with the press with a guy who's an undisputed media darling. The unprecedented coalition nature of the ticket would further enhance the usual bounce a candidate receives after their VP choice. And just as Sully points out, people who think Bush fucked up Iraq but as of yet do not fully trust Kerry to do better would suddenly have somewhere to go where they'd be very very comfortable.


The Vice Presidential debate. McCain versus Cheney. I love it!

P.S. Though I'd be very happy with a Kerry-McCain ticket, let me reiterate that I'm not officially endorsing the idea as my unqualified first choice, at least not yet.

P.P.S. Just a little reality check. Recent events have pushed the possibility of such a ticket from around 5% to around 10-12%, and that's it so far.

Senator James Inhofe (R-Friggin' Idiot from Oklahoma) is "outraged by the outrage" involving the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal.

Boy, I sure hope he doesn't say anything stupid! Fire away!
"I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment," the Oklahoma Republican said at a U.S. Senate hearing probing the scandal.
Okay, he's being partisan, this is bad but not an excuse to hit your head on the desk. But let's see where this is going...
"These prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations," Inhofe said. "If they're in cellblock 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."

That was my head. And probably yours too.

Luckily for those who might have been sucked in by Inhofe, the good people of Reuters place the relevant information in the very next paragraph of their recap:
Coalition military intelligence officers estimated that about 70 percent to 90 percent of the thousands of prisoners detained in Iraq had been "arrested by mistake," according to a report by Red Cross given to the Bush administration last year and leaked this week.

The report also said the mistreatment of prisoners apparently tolerated by U.S. and other coalition forces in Iraq involved widespread abuse that was "in some cases tantamount to torture."
You can read the full Red Cross report by clicking here.

Also, CNN apparently reported that John McCain walked out of the hearings in reaction to Inhofe's comments, though that causal relationship has yet to be confirmed.

UPDATE: Digby has more on Inhofe, including a quote that puts McCain's departure in context. Digby also catches Fred Barnes in the middle of a valiant attempt to wrestle away Inhofe's "Stupidest Abu-Ghraib-Related Public Comment" award.

The Rasmussen daily presidential tracking poll gives Kerry the lead for several straight days, and by shocking coincidence Mickey Kaus finds an excuse not to follow it anymore. Hack!

New Bush space speech planned - UPI.

Took most of the day off from TFM, partially to accomplish some other meaningful stuff, and partially to focus on my sister blog, as I won't really have time to do that in the coming days.

Monday, May 10, 2004


Why, you ask? Because of a good, good omen that arrived last weekend.

That omen was:

Sloshball. UCSB Democrats 15, UCSB Republicans 6.

This doesn't happen very often.
Josh Marshall has a scoop:
There is chatter in Pakistani intelligence circles that the US has let the Pakistanis know that the optimal time for bagging 'high value' al Qaida suspects in the untamed Afghan-Pakistani border lands is the last ten days of July, 2004.
Gee whiz, what could possibly be going on during the last ten days of July?

UPDATE: Swopa throws a little cold water on the "they're just waiting for the most politically expedient moment" theory, noting that this is coming from the same people who have completely bungled and mismanaged Iraq.

Pollster John Zogby offers a positive perspective on John Kerry's candidacy, based in both the issues and Kerry's history. He makes the following points:
The President’s problem is further compounded by the fact that he is now at the mercy of situations that are out of his control. While the economy is improving, voters historically do not look at indicators that measure trillions and billions of dollars. Instead, their focus is on hundreds and thousands of dollars. In this regard, there is less concern for increases in productivity and gross domestic product and more regard for growth in jobs and maintaining of health benefits. Just 12 years ago, the economy had begun its turnaround in the fourth quarter of 1991 and was in full recovery by spring 1992 – yet voters gave the President’s father only 38% of the vote because it was all about “the economy, stupid.”

The same holds true for Iraq. Will the United States actually be able to leave by June 30? Will Iraq be better off by then? Will the US be able to transfer power to a legitimate and unifying authority? Will the lives lost by the US and its allies be judged as the worth the final product? It is difficult to see how the President grabs control of this situation.

Finally, if history is any guide, Senator Kerry is a good closer. Something happens to him in the closing weeks of campaigns (that obviously is not happening now!). We have clearly seen that pattern in his 1996 victory over Governor Bill Weld for the Senate in Massachusetts and more recently in the 2004 Democratic primaries. All through 2003, Kerry’s campaign lacked a focused message. He tends to be a nuanced candidate: thoughtful, briefed, and too willing to discuss a range of possibly positions on every issue. It is often hard to determine where he actually stands. In a presidential campaign, if a candidate can’t spell it out in a bumper sticker, he will have trouble grabbing the attention of voters. By early 2004, as Democratic voters in Iowa and elsewhere concluded that President Bush could be defeated, they found Governor Howard Dean’s message to be too hot and began to give Kerry another look. Kerry came on strong with the simplest messages: “I’m a veteran”, “I have the experience”, and “I can win”. His timing caused him to come on strong at the perfect time. As one former his Vietnam War colleague of told a television correspondent in Iowa: “John always knows when his homework is due.”
That's a good point. Perhaps judging Kerry's general election campaign thus far is similar to judging his primary campaign based on the bulk of 2003. To quote Adaptation, "wow 'em in the end, and you have a hit".

As for me, I'm putting the odds right smack on 50-50. One thing this sort of analysis simply can't account for is the "stupid bullshit" factor. Kerry's campaign has floundered the most when he's allowed Bush to control the campaign dialog; when Bush does that, somehow the topic of discussion always seems to lead towards earth shattering issues such as which medals Kerry threw over a fence 30-plus years ago, and whether or not his wife lets him drive the family SUV from time to time.

My sense -- or is it my hope? -- is that the public, by and large, wont have the patience for stupid bullshit that they had in 2000, because of the gravity of the issues facing the country this time around. If that's the case, then Zogby is correct that Kerry has a damn good chance to be the next President of the United States.

UPDATE: Over at Pandagon, Ezra says essentially the same thing I said, rendering "stupid bullshit" into the infinitely more polite "wedge issues" and "values".

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Rep. Katherine Harris, the former Florida secretary of state who oversaw the disputed 2000 presidential election, admits she's responsible for a vote going uncounted -- her own.

Harris forgot to sign her absentee ballot when she voted in Longboat Key's local election March 9.

"I feel terrible," the Republican said Friday. "It's a mistake. I regret it."

Harris said she was in a rush to catch a flight to Washington, D.C., when she handed the unsigned ballot to her husband to send in. She said she usually votes in person and has never had trouble before.

"I know how important voting is," Harris said.

The election decided the fate of a proposed community center, a Longboat Key Town Commission seat, and a term-limit proposal for town officials. Harris later received a letter from the supervisor of elections informing her that her vote did not count. (full story)

Blogger just gave their site a massive overhaul, to the extent that they are calling it a "relaunching".

Expect me to test out some ridiculous new looks for this blog, before finally getting bored with them and reverting to the design you know and love to which you are indifferent.

UPDATE: I spared this blog any immediate changes, but I mangled the hell out of the California Patriot Watch.
Via Tom Burka, the Flaming Moderate has a big scoop:

"January Presidential Daily Briefing Revealed: U.S. Military Intelligence determined to beat the crap out of Iraqis."


We just had a significant jolt here.

Initial reports from the US Geological Survey have it at 4.6.

I ran outside. At its conclusion, the assembled masses of Isla Vista cheered. Yeah, we got spirit, how bout you?

Update: We made Drudge! At least it wasn't "John Kerry has secret affair with crack in ground caused by 4.6 earthquake! Developing..."