March 2004
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Month March 2004

The Campaign Finance “Bubble”

Campaign funding is in the middle of it’s own little “Nasdaq” bubble this year. Bloomberg reports today that between Bush, 10 democratic candidates, national party committes, and outside groups, $623.4 million for the election thus far. To get a sense of how extraordinary this is, if you exclude non-candidate funding, Bush and 10 Democratic rivals have spent $242.5 million through Feb 29, 2004; contrast this to the $277.6 million that 19 candidates spent in total throughout the entire 2000 primary season.

Part of this is accounted for by the doubling of individual contribution limits to $2000, and by the front-running candidate’s decisions to decline federal aid which would have capped spending during the primary season.

This is pretty amazing stuff. It suggests that individuals and groups will spend upwards of $1 billion before this is over, possibly considerably more.

Interestingly, the myth that Democrats are being outstripped by Republican fundraising isn’t true. Through the end of February, Republican fundraising (the candidate himself, RNC, other committees) has raised $313.6 MM; Democrats have raised $309.8MM, albeit in a larger series of smaller committees. The real difference is in the warchest under direct campaign control — Bush has $171.4MM to date, versus Kerry’s $61MM.

Even more interestingly, Democrats have the largest contribution sizes overall — thanks to George Soros and others like him (Soros has helped raise $32.7MM for the Democrats by Feb. 29).

What should concern all of us is that high office is forever closed off to “ordinary” citizens. You don’t have to be personally wealthy to be elected (though it helps), but you must be extremely well-connected and well-supported. And the latter requirement says volumes for how much we can expect high office-holders to fight special interests. In that, Ralph Nader is 100% correct — but a pie-in-the-sky solution to the problem is no solution at all.

Richard Clarke’s new book

I’m about done with Richard Clarke’s new book, Against All Enemies, and have found it very interesting, very reasonable, and without any trace of real self-aggrandizement. I think the latter is fairly overrated — the guy is definitely a hard-charger, but for a self-aggrandizer, he sure hasn’t spent much of the last 30 years hogging the spotlight, has he?

Clarke is even fairly moderate in his descriptions of Bush administration behavior before and after 9/11 — if you’re expecting a book where Clarke rails against Bush and his staff (in the way that McClellan have railed against Clarke in the last week), you’ll be disappointed. But neither does Clarke pull any punches. He plainly sets out what he thinks went right, and what went wrong, over the last 20+ years since the 1979 revolution in Iran. Several folks, such as Sandy Berger, Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, Anthony Lake, George Tenet, Will Weschler, and John O’Neill of the FBI, come across as the unsung heroes of a long-standing fight to understand and plan for the terrorist threat. Clinton also comes off looking pretty well, although Clarke does have some pointed things to say about the inability of any White House, including Clinton’s, to cause great bureaucracies to “turn the ship.” The latter has probably contributed more to intelligence and policy failures than any specific decisions by presidents or their staffs, frankly.

The FBI, in particular, seems to have been particularly slow to recognize and “get serious” about the emerging threat. The CIA appears to have taken the threats fairly seriously within the Counterterrorism unit, and Tenet took it seriously, but the Operations team in general was little help and regularly failed to have assets on the ground or be capable of covert actions in response to terrorist incidents.

And naturally, the account of the Bush Administration’s lack of interest in al-Qaeda, focus on Iraq, and subsequent “War on Terror” is pretty much consistent with everyone else who’s talked publicly: Paul O’Neill, David Kay, and others who testified to the 9-11 Commission.

In all, I found the book to be an amazing history of counter-terrorist efforts in the US from the guy who’s been central to that effort. Combined with the testimony of others to the 9-11 Commission and information available in the press, it’s hard to believe that we’re not reading something which closely approximates the “straight scoop” here. Two things are amazing about the book — it’s still the #1 seller on Amazon, and how little the book’s message still seems to have permeated the majority of the country. Hopefully, this book, and further discussion of it, will start to break down the carefully sown myths about how “tough” on terrorism Bush and his advisors have been.

More when I read the final chapter…

A long way to go on racism in Washington…

It’s depressing to live in one of the (supposedly) most progressive areas of the country, and to read about cross-burning in your own backyard. A black minister awoke yesterday to find fire-fighters putting out a burning cross on his lawn in Arlington. It’s amazing how little progress we seem to have made…

Zell Miller endorses Bush…what a shock

Democratic Senator Zell Miller announced his support for Bush’s re-election today, in a move which didn’t surprise anyone. He also announced his leadership of an organization called “Democrats for Bush.” Miller also re-affirmed his status as a Democrat, but he did have harsh words for the national Democratic Party.

Hmmm…he’s a Democrat who supports the other party’s nominee, and doesn’t support his national party. Miller went on to say that the Bush tax cuts have helped “boost the economy” and followed with the tired White House chestnut about Kerry wanting to raise taxes by $900 billion. There was absolutely nothing in Miller’s statement which suggested Democratic affiliation at all, and in fact he comes off sounding like Scott McClellan’s evil twin brother.

The Idiocy Surrounding White House Attacks on Richard Clarke

Among many idiotic moments the administration has had lately, consider this. Over the last two days, the papers have been full of news snippets where “an anxious White House scrambled” to offer rebuttals to Richard Clarke’s criticisms. That quote is from the LA Times, but I’m sure you’ve seen similar quotes all over the place.

This is pretty ridiculous stuff. The White House knew the book was coming out, and when. Hell, I’ve had the thing pre-ordered on Amazon for months. But even more to the point, the White House had their hands on the manuscript for at least three months, since they had to review it prior to publication (which also shoots a hole in the notion that Clarke “timed” the publication to coincide with the start of the election season).

Thus, the Administration has known for months what Clarke’s book contained, and now they’re “scrambling” to respond? Did they think nobody was going to buy it? The fact that it was a “best-seller” on Amazon on the basis of pre-orders should have told them something, along with the fact that the first printing is selling out quickly and a new printing run is apparently on the way.

It’s harder and harder to escape the fact that the White House is “scrambling” and “anxious” because they’re between a rock and a hard place. Either Richard Clarke was “out of the loop” and they were deliberately underutilizing the most talented and experienced counter-terrorism expert to work in four administrations, or Clarke was “in the loop” before 9/11 and somebody doesn’t want to admit that they didn’t pay attention.

Regardless of which is the truth, neither makes the administration look good. At best, they’re less than competent, and at worst they’re chronic blatant liars. And the most interesting part is that they can’t come clean at this point. They’re deep enough that they can’t even do the right thing and say “yeah, we lied,” because then they’d have to explain why there’s been several years of lies on top of the original ones. Think back to childhood…one lie, yeah, you can apologize and move on. Lies to hide other lies, and you’re really in trouble…Their only hope now is to gut it out, keep lying, and just hope that only a small fraction of the population is paying attention.

Doesn’t seem like a winning strategy to me…especially if everyone keeps the heat on.

Daschle’s Statement on Bush Administration Character Assassination

If you haven’t seen Tom Daschle’s statement on the floor of the Senate, it was published in full today. Echoing sentiment among many outside the government, Daschle calls into question the Administration’s pattern of behavior in attacking those who tell the truth. Here’s the transcript, and I won’t repeat it in this post.

The pattern, however is clear. Here’s a partial list of those whom the administration has attacked (and in some cases materially damaged) after the individuals in question told what they believed to be the truth:

  • Paul O’Neill, former Secretary of the Treasury (read Suskind’s book — O’Neill was asked to resign for constantly fighting what he saw as lies and incompetence)
  • Larry Lindsay, former economic advisor to the President (and Lindsay is even a supply-side ideologue!)
  • Gen. Eric Shinseki, former Army Chief of Staff (accelerated retirement after clashing with Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld on troop level requirements for Iraq — readers of Wesley Clark’s book on Kosovo will recognize the dynamic here)
  • Teresa Chambers, Chief of Police, National Park Service (suspended for disclosing budget problems to the public)
  • Elizabeth Blackburn, former member Coucil on Bioethics
  • Ambassador Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame (Plame’s identity as a deep-cover CIA officer was outed to Novak after Wilson spoke out concerning the Niger uranium hoax)
  • Richard Foster, actuary for Dept. of Health and Human Services (was told he’d be fired for telling Congress the real cost of last’s year’s Medicare bill)
  • Richard Clarke, former lead counter-terrorism advisor

The attacks on Richard Clarke are merely the latest in a series of character attacks on individuals who disagree with the administration and have the temerity to say so publicly. Clarke has worked for four presidential administrations, is well-respected in his field, and the documentary evidence in support of his claims is voluminous and unimpeachable. Thus, the administration responds by attacking the man.

Daschle has taken a courageous stand today by concluding:

We shouldn’t fire or demean people for telling the truth. We shouldn’t reveal the names of law enforcement officials for political gain. And we shouldn’t try to destroy people who are out to make country safer.

I think the people around the President have crossed into dangerous territory. We are seeing abuses of power that cannot be tolerated.

The President needs to put a stop to it, right now. We need to get to the truth, and the President needs to help us do that.

Hurrah for Tom Daschle. I’m letting my Senators and Representatives know that I’d like to see them support Daschle’s statement publicly as well — this may be the only way to bring the light of day onto the attack tactics in use by a flailing Bush administration.