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August 22, 2003 PERMALINK
Bridging The Religion Gap
(posted August 22 1:30 AM ET)

One of bigger fault lines in politics is religion.

In 2000, Bush handily won the bulk of the 42% of voters who attend religious services at least weekly.

Gore scored, with somewhat smaller margins, with the 42% who attend monthly or seldom.

(The 14% who never go to services went big for Gore.)

Many of those who are very religious vote Republican not on economic matters, but on the more amorphous area of "values."

In fact, of all the main demographic groups that make up the GOP coalition, fundamentalist white Protestants have the lowest household income (according to data published in The Unfinished Election of 2000.)

That‚s why the GOP exploits „values,š to avoid talking about bread-and-butter issues.

Bill Keller‚s NYT Magazine piece earlier this year on the „Radical Presidency of George Bush,š discussed the values strategy:

''Issues appeal rationally, but Reagan appealed way beyond the rational dimension,'' [GOP pollster Richard] Wirthlin recalls. ''He tapped into values.''

Thus while many voters found Reagan's specific positions too conservative, they voted for him anyway because he seemed to care about the kind of things they cared about, and they generally trusted him to do the right thing.

Bush, says Wirthlin, connects in the same way...

...''Bush instinctively, and Rove intellectually and tactically, knew they should not compete issue by issue,'' said a Republican strategist. ''Clinton and Gore had the edge.

So you got a values campaign: 'an era of responsibility,' 'leave no child behind' and, of course, 'compassion.' ''

Now, any analysis of 2000 should note that Bush didn‚t exactly win, and so, any strategic move of his shouldn‚t be automatically deemed to be political genius.

But it‚s safe to say that it‚s perceived disputes over values that sets the Dems back in rural areas and the South.

(It can‚t be because the South hates big government, as they benefit more from federal government largesse than supposedly liberal New York and California.)

And if Dems want to claim stable majority status, it can‚t cede an entire section of the country.

So how can Dems bridge the cultural divide?

Creatively, and boldly, step into hot-button controversies, like the current one in Alabama over displaying the 10 Commandments in a government building.

Now, this is generally the last thing politicians want to do, for good reason.

There‚s not a lot of room for win-win compromises with polarizing social issues. More than likely, you‚re just going piss off a lot of people.

But when you run for President, you get asked about everything, especially what‚s on the front pages.

If asked about this one, chances are most Dems will probably sidestep. The issue will probably fade, so why kick up dust?

Yet a response that successfully bridges the religion gap would show that he or she can really be a uniter, not a divider.

Such a response would have rely on admittedly predictable liberal arguments. For example:

„Our Founding Fathers wanted separation of church of state so we all can practice our religion and beliefs freely without the fear of the theocracy preached by Osama Bin Laden.š

But Dems should also include the unpredictable, praising those who believe so strongly:

„To see Americans bravely standing on a courthouse steps, to express their deep faith to the world, also makes our Founding Fathers proud.

„We must always stand up for rights of Americans to worship as they please, while making sure the government doesn‚t send the signal that some faiths don‚t warrant the same support.š

This is not an argument that is going to get hard-core religious voters to switch their positions on the intersection of politics and religion. That‚s not doable.

And it‚s not a simple silver bullet to winning the South in ő04.

But such inclusive arguments, on this issue and future ones, may help Dems, over time, reverse the perception that the party is fundamentally antithetical to the core values of the very religious.

As well as mitigate GOP attempts to paint Dems as immoral.

Howard Dean may be the natural candidate to attempt such a bold strategy, as he has similarly tried to position his support for gay civil unions, and has talked of winning over voters who display Confederate flags by finding common ground on health care and education.

But other candidates should consider it, if for no other reason than if they want to steal momentum away from Dean, they need to take some risks and go to where the hot news is.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

August 21, 2003 PERMALINK
Hispanic Bust
(posted August 21 1:45 AM ET)

Part of the Karl Rove game plan for ‚04 is to pump up Bush‚s Hispanic vote, as Latinos are a fast-growing constituency.

In 2000, Bush got 35% support from Hispanics. And as the W. Post reported two years ago:

In [Bush pollster Matthew Dowd‚s] view, if every group -- black, white and Hispanic -- votes in 2004 as it did in 2000, President Bush will lose not only the popular vote, but also the electoral college.

"Republicans have to increase their percentage among blacks and certainly among Hispanics," Dowd said.

"As a realistic goal, we have to get somewhere between 13 and 15 percent of the black vote and 38 to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote."

In turn, Bush Inc. has had an aggressive Hispanic strategy from Day 1, mostly style, little substance.

-- Calling the White House „Casa Blancaš on Cinco de Mayo

-- Producing a Spanish TV infomercial/news program, „Abriendo Caminosš or „Forging New Pathsš

-- Pushing the judicial nomination of Miguel Estrada

(On the one item of substance, liberalized immigration policy with Mexico, the Bushies flinched after 9/11.)

Is this concerted effort working?

Just two months ago, the GOP thought so, after a Zogby poll said Hispanics gave Dubya a 63% favorable rating.

But not so fast. A poll released yesterday shows the effort is faltering.

The poll, from The Latino Coalition and Hispanic Business Roundtable, pegged Bush with a 49% favorable rating (down from 58% in their poll from last year).

More importantly, in a trial heat with a generic Dem, Bush gets only 31%, falling behind in Rove and Dowd‚s goal of 38-40%.

Keep in mind that this is a poll from the conservative Latino Coalition, a poll filled with biased questions that should be treated with suspicion.

(The classy Latino Coalition supported the Estrada nom by running ads accusing opponents of racism.)

Unsurprisingly, the group tried to spin the weaker numbers in Bush‚s favor.

For example, the news release called that 49% favorable, a "high" rating.

And there was this reported in Reuters:

Robert De Posada, president of The Latino Coalition, said Bush has consolidated a core group of support of about one-third of the Latino vote.

"That is a problem for the Democrats simply because from there on, Democrats are going to have to get basically almost 100 percent of undecided Hispanic voters to remain competitive in the general election process," he said at a news conference.

There‚s a lot of assumptions and embellishments in those statements.

First, it‚s a total assumption that Bush has „consolidatedš one-third.

The polling trend for Bush appears to be down. Since he's at 31% now among Hispanics (less than what he got in 2000), that could well drop further.

Second, the Dems don‚t need „almost 100 percentš of the undecideds, based on this poll.

They need about two-thirds, and the thumbnail rule among pollsters is that two-thirds of undecideds break to the challenger.

The poll had 18% undecided in that trial heat. Assuming one-third of that goes to Bush, that gets him to 37%, just short of what Dowd said Bush needs.

To be generous, if you included the responses „Don‚t Knowš and „Refused,š you‚d have 26% undecideds, one-third of which would push Bush to 39%, just over the Dowd threshold.

But that‚s a stretch, not a certainty. And this is working with numbers from a biased source.

Why isn‚t the Bush Hispanic strategy catching fire?

Back in February, LiberalOasis argued that to really win Latino voters, you might want to do something about Hispanic unemployment, which remains stubbornly higher than white unemployment.

Bottom line: a job beats a cheesy infomercial every time.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

August 20, 2003 PERMALINK
The Mother of All Messes
(posted August 20 1:15 AM ET)

If Dems are able to oust Dubya from his occupation of the Oval Office in ő04, the prize will be responsibility for the occupation of Iraq.

And after yesterday‚s horrific bombing on the UN headquarters in Iraq, you have to wonder what kind of person would really want such a job.

The bombing capped a series of attacks -- the others on oil and water pipelines -- that appears to aim at crippling the rebuilding of the country.

That shows that whoever is responsible Ų be it Baath, Qaeda, foreign jihadists, or anti-occupation Iraqis Ų doesn‚t give a damn about the people of Iraq.

They prefer that Iraqi suffering continues in order to further their political goals.

But the attacks may also show how little support there is for the US presence among regular Iraqis.

Prof. Richard Shultz, of the highly-regarded Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, argued the opposite in the NY Times:

The attacks on the oil pipelines and the water are in some ways stupid, because if the United States plays it right, the government can run that back against these elements pretty effectively as hurting the average person.

But is the US even in a position to play it right?

There would have to some amount of goodwill among Iraqis to build on and make the argument that we‚re on their side, and the terrorists aren‚t.

As the W. Post reminds us:

[The US presence] has provoked increasing resentment from Iraqis who complain of heavy-handed raids and mistaken shootings of unarmed civilians

The more likely outcome, it would seem, is widespread cynicism, hopelessness, and anger directed at all parties.

And if the people don‚t rise up to oppose the attacks, there‚s no reason for the attackers to stop.

The main Dem solution to this is to remove the occupation stigma by internationalizing the operation, minimizing the US troop presence without letting Iraq turn into the next Afghanistan.

(Although, Afghanistan may actually be the next Afghanistan.)

This still is the right approach, but it‚s going to get harder and harder to find willing parties to pitch in if it puts our pals on the firing line.

Prof. Shultz seems to think this will spur the UN and others to redouble their efforts.

We‚ll see. It could just easily go the other way.

In the world‚s eyes, this is Bush‚s War and Bush‚s Iraq.

Other nations clearly are reluctant to expend lives for something forced upon them.

The UN has more of an obligation not to turn away, but losing their staff over a war they didn‚t want has to be a bitter pill.

One UN staff member, speaking of the slain Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top UN envoy in Iraq, told Reuters:

We send our best guy to Iraq and he comes home in a box.

That doesn‚t sound like defiance. It sounds like bitterness.

And the finger-pointing between the US and UN over who was responsible for guarding the UN facility won‚t boost UN morale either.

If by ‚04, attacks continue in Iraq, terrorist groups gain strength, international staffers keep dying, and Iraqi quality of life remains dismal, a Dem prez will not be able to produce instant results.

This Iraq mess will be of such enormity, that it will take considerable time and effort to repair the damage to our international relationships and earn the trust of the Iraqi people.

And without that, all of our military might won‚t be enough to stop the terrorists, rebuild Iraq, and prevent a new Afghanistan from taking root.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

August 19, 2003 PERMALINK
Bush Approval Nears 40s
And He Can Thank Iraq
(posted August 19 12:15 AM ET)

Here‚s a poll number from last week that seems to have slipped past everyone.

In the latest Scripps poll, Dubya‚s approval is down to 52%.

That‚s dangerously close to the dreaded 40s, at which point the media has no choice but to stop calling Bush „popular.š

To be fair, the stat is at the low end of the major polls, but not by much. Most have him in the mid-50s.

Still, the trend is basically down, although a couple polls (Pew and Cook) have ticked up slightly this month.

What‚s interesting about the recent movement in the polls is that they seem to be tied to the Iraqi aftermath, more than the economy.

This is a different dynamic than with Daddy Bush.

Then, as the Iraq war faded from the headlines, the bad economy moved up front and dragged down Poppy's approval.

Now, the economy again is a major drag, arguably a gravity center exercising a consistent downward pull on Dubya‚s approval.

But it‚s Iraq that seems be the primary source of the recent poll action:

Driving it down while IntelliGate was making news. Stabilizing it, or even slightly turning it around, after Saddam‚s sons were killed.

The problem for Bush is, whenever there is a notable success in Iraq (killing the sons yesterday, perhaps getting Saddam tomorrow), it‚s for political naught if the bad news (US soldiers or innocents killed) keeps coming.

The bad news provides a steady hum in the news landscape.

„Noveltyš stories like Arnold, Kobe and the blackout may temporarily take center stage, but Iraq never goes away, as long as people are dying.

For example, ABC‚s World News Tonight (seen by more than FOX, CNN and MSNBC combined) runs a regular graphic:

Since May 1st, [insert number] U.S. troops have been killed in action

(The anchor helpfully notes that May 1 is when Bush pronounced major combat over.)

The Scripps poll shows the impact of the military deaths:

Public confidence in America's military involvement in Iraq has eroded recently with 42 percent of U.S. adults now describing themselves as "not certain" that committing troops to war was the right thing to do.

Scripps found that erosion in the red state South as well. From the Birmingham Post-Herald (via Political Wire):

Southerners are starting to oppose the war for the same reason they once supported it, said Nikos Zahariadis, a professor of political science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

"It seems paradoxical, I know, but many people from the South weren't supporting Bush, they were supporting the troops," he said.

Now those supporters are "wondering exactly when their husbands and sons and daughters are coming home," he said.

To date, foreign policy has been Bush‚s buffer, protecting his approval from the bad economy.

If the bad news from Iraq continues, that won‚t be the case next year.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

August 18, 2003 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted August 18 1:15 AM ET)

Fox News Sunday‚s Brit Hume drew out the most important point yesterday, while interviewing Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham:

HUME: ∑you‚re saying with certainty here, sir, and others are as well, that we need to upgrade the transmission facilities, and you've been trying to do that.

ABRAHAM: Right.

HUME: But you're not yet sure that there was a failure in the transmission facilities, are you?

ABRAHAM: Well, here's the bottom line.

Regardless of whether the problem was related to the transmission operations, we need more transmission capability.

The real bottom line is everyone in the electricity game is trying to exploit the blackout for their own ends.

Even though we don‚t know yet what exactly caused the blackout, and hence, cannot possibly know what the solution should be.

But investing in infrastructure sounds nice enough.

As long as environmental standards are in place, it‚s good ol‚, job-creating, public investment. Right?

Although, we do have that nasty deficit. Who‚s gonna pay?

On that, here‚s Abraham, being interviewed on CBS‚ Face The Nation by Bob Schieffer:

ABRAHAM: Ratepayers, obviously, will pay the bill because they're the ones who benefit.

And that's where most of the responsibility ultimately will be assigned.

SCHIEFFER: Ratepayers -- that means people who pay in their electric bills.

ABRAHAM: Right. It does. That's right.

SCHIEFFER: So you're saying the customers are going to have to pay for this?

ABRAHAM: ∑that's the kind of long-term investment that will be needed, to keep the transmission system in a situation where we have the ability to both avoid blackouts on the one hand, and deliver power to people at an affordable level.

You heard right. Your rates need to be jacked up, in order to keep your rates affordable.

And why is it that this falls on you?

Because, as almost every pol will tell you, you‚re the reason the grid is strained.

Abraham, on NBC‚s Meet The Press:

The problem we‚ve got is that people want more energy.

We forecast a huge increase in electricity demand over the next 20 years.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, on ABC‚s This Week:

You can‚t double demand on the system and not at the same time modernize the transmission facilities.

Abraham predecessor Bill Richardson, on CNN‚s Late Edition:

∑we need to modernize our grid

This is what's happened in the last 10 years: America has increased demand of electricity by 35 percent, yet we've all only built 18 percent new capacity.

See, this is all your fault, you slovenly energy glutton.

You can‚t give up your precious web-surfing, your TiVo, your George Foreman. So you gotta pay.

But hold up. Let‚s look at those claims again.

Despite Abraham‚s claim, this year‚s „Annual Energy Outlookš from his Energy Dept. didn‚t exactly forecast a „hugeš demand increase in the next 20 years:

Electricity Use Is Expected To Grow More Slowly Than GDP

During the 1960s, electricity demand grew by more than 7 percent per year, nearly twice the rate of economic growth∑

∑The continuing saturation of electric appliances, the availability and adoption of more efficient equipment, and promulgation of efficiency standards are expected to hold the growth in electricity sales to an average of 1.8 percent per year between 2001 and 2025, compared with 3.0-percent annual growth in GDP.

For Tauzin‚s comment, „You can‚t double demand on the system,š it‚s not clear if he meant it would double in the future or it has doubled in the past.

Either way, it doesn't quite fly.

A 1.8% annual growth rate won‚t double demand by 2025.

And Richardson‚s stats show any doubling of past demand must have been spread out over multiple decades.

Speaking of Richardson, what‚s the relevance of his 35% demand, 18% capacity stat?

Richardson‚s not the only one to bring that number up. The NY Times and others have cited it recently.

But where does it come from?

The industry-backed Electric Power Research Institute, three years ago.

(Here‚s a 2000 Scripps piece with the stat, but it doesn‚t directly credit EPRI. You‚ll need Nexis access for definitive proof.)

So we don‚t know what the demand vs. capacity stats are for the last three years.

Furthermore, stats from industry sources can be misleading, as California learned in its 2001 crisis. From the SF Chronicle:

Power companies say it so often, and with such certainty, that it has become a virtual mantra:

"Skyrocketing" energy use by Californians is a root cause of the state's power crisis, and justification for surging electricity prices.

But a computer analysis of electricity usage data by The Chronicle reveals that the mantra is a myth -- that overall growth in electricity demand hasn't been nearly as great as the industry portrays it.

Even taking the EPRI stat at face value, who is to blame for the rise in demand, and the extra burden on the grid?

Despite what the pols insinuate, it may not be you.

In 2000, the Consumer Federation of America reported:

Creation of markets for electricity services requires a huge growth in transactions∑

∑Demands on network facilities are likely to increase as a result of the wide range of new transactions taking place∑

∑An increase in the number of transactions may require costly improvements to the transmission system in order to ensure reliability.

Prior to the price spikes of 1998, the number of traders increased over 50 fold; the quantity traded increased several hundred times.

Basically, power that used to just go from point A to point B -- from the plant to you -- is now shuttling back and forth between wholesalers, straining the system.

Thanks to deregulation.

That‚s a deregulation that pretty much no regular citizen ratepayer ever asked for.

Dereg came about because of upstart power companies wanting to score big, led by Enron, and large corporate power users wanting cut costs.

Yet, as Abraham said plainly yesterday, you, Joe Ratepayer, will foot the bill for their deal.

Unsurprisingly, deregulation‚s role in weakening the grid didn‚t come up much on Sunday.

Because, since the various corporate interests have showered money all over DC on elec dereg, the debate in Washington is not liberals vs. privatizers.

It‚s power companies vs. other power companies.

And so, Richardson, a Clintonite, represents the „opposingš view on the talkshows.

But he‚s for dereg as well. Just a different approach that would benefit a different set of companies.

In turn, no one was there to advocate why we shouldn't lighten the load on the grid by scrapping the dereg boondoggle.

This is one of those issues that drove Ralph Nader to claim there was no difference between the parties.

It should be clear to all now that such a claim is wild overstatement. But on this issue, the Dems have not stood on principle.

And we will all suffer for it.

(For more on electricity deregulation, check out Public Citizen, Open Secrets and Consumers Union.)

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

The Sandbox
Humor by John Cougarstein

NEWS ALERT
To Save Job, Gray Davis Repositions As Ferret-Loving, Porn-Publishing, Fruit-Smashing, Cliché-Repeating, Sitcom Actor

SACRAMENTO, CA (Aug. 18, 2003) -- Gov. Gray Davis unveiled a hip, edgy persona in an attempt to co-opt the appeal stoked by the litany of candidates seeking to replace him.

Appearing before reporters with ferrets perched on both shoulders, Davis announced a series of new projects and a new verbal style.

He signed a NBC contract to appear as Mr. Drummond in an updated version of „Diff‚rent Strokes.š

In what is seen as a swipe at rival Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges will return but Lil‚ Bow Wow will play Arnold. Traci Lords will replace the late Dana Plato as Kimberly.

At the same time, Davis will launch a new eponymous magazine, „Gray,š that will mix hard-core porn with lifestyle advice.

„It‚ll put Larry Flynt out of business, and Martha Stewart to boot,š said one Davis aide. „The pictures are much raunchier than Hustler, and Gray‚s recipe for white chocolate mousse with mint meringue is to die for.š

Also, while Arnold Schwarzenegger has been campaigning with catch phrases such as „I‚ll be backš and „Hasta la vista, baby,š Davis incorporated his own while taking questions on the budget crisis.

„The Legislature better bring it,š said Davis, „because I‚m keeping it real. The force is with me. Nano-nano.š

Then, after staffers passed out raincoats to reporters in the front row, Davis ended the news conference by yelling, „Please Hammer, don‚t hurt őem!š and then smashing an inordinately large avocado with a sledgehammer.

For more Cougarstein, check out The Cougarstein Ramble and download Cougarstein songs at Iuma.com

**************

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