Thursday, June 28, 2007

Okay, It's Pretty Cool


Draft Durant

Sometime around 4:30 today (Oregon time), the Blazers will draft Greg Oden as the overall first pick in the draft. Their phony campaign to elicit input was pure PR--they knew they were taking Oden the second Stern announced who got the pick. But, just to go on record, the Blazers should take Durant. (Keep in mind that last year I urged them to take LaMarcus or Brandon Roy--they took both--and those turned out smashing successes. So I'm riding a wave here.)

The main reason people want Oden is because he's a center, and ever since George Mikan, general managers have believed that height equals domination. But that doesn't appear to be true. Recent decades have been defined by hybrid players--Bird and Magic to begin with, then Jordan, and now LeBron. These are guys who don't fit neatly into the guard-guard-forward-forward-center schemes coaches draw up. Of all the great centers of recent vintage, only Shaq, who has taken all three of his teams to the finals, can truly be called dominating. Patrick Ewing couldn't get it done, Hakeem couldn't get it done alone, and Tim Duncan, whom height fans always cite, isn't a true center. (Dirk Nowitski is a seven footer, too.) If centers of the old mold were still so valuable, why can't Yao Ming dominate?

(As a matter of economics, centers are definitely a dud. People want to see running and scoring, not standing and dunking. All the exciting players in the NBA since the seventies have been guards or small forwards. If you want to pack people into seats across the league, get a fun team together.)

Which brings me to Durant. He's just two inches shorter than Oden, but he shoots 47% from the field. He can shoot the long ball and he can drive and post up. He's going to be unguardable. Add to that the fact that he outrebounded Oden over the year (11 per game versus nine and a half), had two blocks and two steals a game, and he's a complete package. He's got to bulk up, and there will be a transition period, but his work ethic is legendary--he'll train harder than any rookie in the league. Expect him to instantly electrify Seattle.

Oden's cool, and arguably a better fit for Portland, so I don't have any problem with the pick. (Portland's a great fit for Oden, too; a young team to mature with, a great teaching coach, amazing fans.) But amid all the delirium over Durant, it seems like someone ought to point out the alternate view: Durant's the better player and would make a better pick.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Constitutional Crisis

It is difficult to pick up a newspaper without coming to the conclusion that the executive branch is pretty much in open defiance of the consitution. I finally got around to reading the Sy Hersh piece on Antonio Taguba, which describes the various ways in which the Pentagon subverted laws (American, international, Iraqi, pick one) and then lied to Congress about it. I could cite a number of passages, but this is the first one my eyes fell to. In it, Hersh describes how Rumsfeld lied to Congress about the level of his knowledge of the Abu Ghraib torture.
In subsequent testimony, General Myers, the J.C.S. chairman, acknowledged, without mentioning the e-mails, that in January information about the photographs had been given “to me and the Secretary up through the chain of command. . . . And the general nature of the photos, about nudity, some mock sexual acts and other abuse, was described.”

Nevertheless, Rumsfeld, in his appearances before the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees on May 7th, claimed to have had no idea of the extensive abuse. “It breaks our hearts that in fact someone didn’t say, ‘Wait, look, this is terrible. We need to do something,’ ” Rumsfeld told the congressmen. “I wish we had known more, sooner, and been able to tell you more sooner, but we didn’t.”
Meanwhile, the spectacle of Dick Cheney unfolds like a something out of a Mamet play--except that even Mamet wouldn't have the balls to ascribe positions that Cheney has actually taken. The Washington Post has done the best work excavating his activities since coming into the White House. The four-part series is full of gems, and again, the documentation of serious abuses are legion. I select this one at random:
Geneva rules forbade not only torture but also, in equally categorical terms, the use of "violence," "cruel treatment" or "humiliating and degrading treatment" against a detainee "at any time and in any place whatsoever." The War Crimes Act of 1996 made any grave breach of those restrictions a U.S. felony. The best defense against such a charge, Addington wrote, would combine a broad presidential directive for humane treatment, in general, with an assertion of unrestricted authority to make exceptions.

The vice president's counsel proposed that President Bush issue a carefully ambiguous directive. Detainees would be treated "humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of" the Geneva Conventions. When Bush issued his public decision two weeks later
This strange scene plays out amid other scandals: the Scooter Libby trial and its collected tangle of crimes and the Alberto Gonzales/prosecutor scandal. Recently we heard James Comey describe how Bush tried to get a drugged, hospitalized John Ashcroft to sign off on his warrantless wiretapping scheme. And this is just the recent stuff.

Despite all this, the Democrats don't seem to be interested in doing much more than putting Henry Waxman and Chuck Schumer on the case. We have, on the one hand, an executive branch run amok, and on the other, a legislative branch unwilling to reign it in. On the one hand, we can be seen to be avoiding a constitutional crisis. On the other, it looks like we're deep in the middle of one.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hillary's Weakness

Incidentally, that LA Times poll echoes results in other polls--in a national race, Hillary runs no stronger, and generally substantially weaker, than Edwards and Obama. Dems need to recognize that running under her skirt isn't the best way to win the White House in 2008. Behold:
Clinton 41%, McCain 45%
Clinton 41%, Romney 43%
Clinton 39%, Giuliani 49%
Edwards 40%, McCain 45%
Edwards 46%, Romney 32%
Edwards 46%, Giuliani 43%
Obama 47%, McCain 35%
Obama 50%, Romney 34%
Obama 46%, Giuliani 41%
Forget conventional wisdom: in this case, the black guy's the mainstream candidate.

On the GOP Weakness

I get in regular debates with panicked friends who think that Republicans will hold the White House next year. The accelerant for the fear is an unproveable, which leaves us treading water until the election: the American electorate, as evidenced by the '04 results, are stupid and terrified, and so will ultimately always succumb to the most autocratic Daddy in the Daddy party. Thus do they most fear Rudy.

Early signs seemed to bear the fear out; Rudy was holding tough in the polls and had sizeable advantages in Dixie, where one would expect he would be most weak. (Tellingly, in New York, he gets killed by Hillary.) Nevermind that voters had used abortion and gays to guide them for 20 years, now that their man was for the wrong one and against the right one, they'd line up behind him. The smell of polished leather is a powerful political aphrodesiac.

But the theory appears to be breaking apart. Rudy, who began the year at 35-40% in the polls, has slipped to 25%. And now that Fred Thompson is in the race, it's a dead heat. Early primaries? Giuliani's numbers are dropping like a stone and he is trailing in Iowa (Romney leads), New Hampshire (Romney and McCain lead) and South Carolina (Thompson leads). He's leading only in Florida. But trend lines across the board are down for him.

It looks like Republicans are going to trade Rudy in for Fred Thompson, hoping that if they photoshop in some hair and squint really hard, they can make him look like Reagan. But even yellow silk ties and shoulder pads aren't going to bring the 80s back. This is the desperation of a fading party--looking for a candidate to save them rather than falling back on the machine. In 2000, they were strong enough to run a half-wit who literally didn't know who the Indian PM was. They didn't have to sink all their hopes in a bald man from an aging TV show.

Finally, the thing that is most convincing is that in head to heads, Obama and Hillary regularly are in the margin of error of GOP candidates, and often beat them. Think about that. Obama, who's polling in the low twenties among Dems, beats the Republicans. Last week's LA Times poll had Obama beating McCain by 12%, Romney by 16%, and Giuliani by five. If you're a Republican, that's a big problem.

Lots can happen, but I'm no longer buying the hype: the GOP is going to have to pull off a miracle to win in '08.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Final Thought on Scooter Libby

I have found, for the most part, the Scooter Libby pardon discussion to be no more interesting than the Scooter Libby trial. To the extent it holds any interest, it is because it will shed some light on the kind of person Dubya is. I can see it going either way for these reasons.

Why He'll Pardon Libby
George W. Bush managed to assemble an amazing impregnable bedrock of support of about 30% of the American electorate. Lying about the war, horribly botching a hurricane, botching the war--none of these things shook the faith of the faithful. All Bush had to do was stand pat and he had 30%. He did two things in the past month that amounted to pulling out a sledgehammer and taking it to the bedrock--his immigration plan, which enraged the nativists (valued supporters, and failing to pardon Libby, which enraged those who were not enraged that he didn't fire Rummy. Pardoning Libby stops the bleeding.

Why He Won't
Bush doesn't mind throwing people under the bus. Libby displeases Bush because he got caught and embarrassed him after all that "I'll fire anyone who leaked the name" business. Yeah, Libby didn't do it, but he brought shame, and for this Bush will let him rot in jail.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Rural Voters Stray the GOP

I just posted this at BlueOregon, and at the same time, we had another guest post on the same topic. So I deleted it. An item for the Zombie Blog, I imagined ...

For those of us who read polls like tea leaves, hoping to discern a pattern that will give us insight into what Americans will do in the next election, the recent Rural America poll sponsored by NPR was a shocker. Generally, reading polls is like reading tea leaves--and about as accurate. You may be able to perceive opinion trends, but how these correlate to what people do in the election booth, that's an iffier prospect. But this latest poll is dramatically at odds with conventional wisdom that it looks like it may actually mean something.

Forty-six percent of the survey respondents indicated they'd vote for an un-named Democratic candidate for president if the election were held today; 43 percent favored a Republican.... The numbers reflect a plunge in Republican support among rural voters. Exit polls from the 2000 presidential election had Republican George Bush beating Democrat Al Gore by 22 per cent in rural areas. In 2004, the actual vote tally showed President Bush outpolling his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, by 19 percent among rural voters.

NPR credits the war in Iraq as the main cause for the shift, and it's clearly a factor; they note that "three-fourths of those surveyed know someone who is serving or has served in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan." But digging a little deeper, I notice a trend that should be a lot more alarming for Republicans. When compared with average Americans, rural voters feel far less prosperous and see themselves as having far worse prospects in the future.

Pollsters asked respondents to describe whether certain words applied to rural America and then whether it applied to the country as a whole. Seventy percent believed "prosperous" applied to the country, but only 42% thought it applied to rural America. Similarly, 64% thought "increasing opportunity" applied to the country, but only 39% to rural America.

More predictably, they believed rural America was more strongly oriented toward "traditional values" (80%-56%) and "strong family values" (85%-62%) than the country as a whole. These are the elements the GOP has highlighted for decades, but it apparently they are no longer enough to keep rural voters reliably loyal.

There are three statewide races in '08 (attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer), in addition to Gordon Smith's Senate seat. Conventional wisdom holds that it's the swing districts in Clackamas and Washington County where the real race is. But this assumes that Republicans have the rural districts sewn up. Perhaps that assumption isn't accurate.

Historically, Democrats did a lot better in rural America exactly because they focused on economic fairness issues. We don't know whether these results would be mirrored in Oregon. (Western politics tend not to line up like rural/urban politics of the South and NE.) And yet, the economic concerns are surely as dire in rural Oregon. So, could we be at one of those historic moments when traditional political coalitions collapse and regroup? Maybe the polls are telling us something. It's definitely worth keeping an eye on in 2008.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Pew: Bush at 29%

Polling isn't about the numbers, it's about the methodology. Anyway, it is if you want to know what a population actually thinks. The gold standard for assiduous methodology is Pew, which tends to have numbers that don't make the news--they're not sexy outliers produced by talking to too few people or the wrong people (as Gallup's, famously, are). So it was a shocker to see that when they polled 1500 people from May 31-June 3, they found that Bush was at 29%.
For the first time in Pew Research Center polling, disapproval of President Bush's job performance outnumbers approval by more than two-to-one (61% disapprove, 29% approve). Bush's job approval is down six points from April, and is three points below the previous low measured in November and December of 2006.
This is the first credible poll I've seen where Bush has fallen into the twenties. I didn't think it would ever actually happen--his base is so loyal, and apparently a pretty stable third of the electorate, that I thought he'd avoid a Carter-like plunge late in his term.

So what gives? Immigration. His unshakeable base has finally been shaken, and now they're starting to fall away. Among Republicans, Bush is down 12% among self-identified conseratives and Republicans since April. Even more eyebrow-raising (and a good signal for Dems) is this:
White evangelical Protestants have been one of the groups consistently backing George W. Bush throughout his presidency. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when the president's overall job approval spiked to 86% nationwide it was as high as 95% among white evangelicals. As recently as December 2004, more than three-quarters of white evangelicals gave the president a positive performance review. But the current survey finds just 44% of white evangelicals expressing approval of the president's job performance; roughly the same number (46%) say they disapprove.
The poll also asked about current candidates, and I'm happy to report that Obama's rising among Dems--closing in on a dead heat with Hillary. Pew asks the question sort of oddly: "Is there a good chance, some chance, or no chance you would vote for [candidate]." Hillary is at 44%, Obama 40%.

More promisingly, Obama's crosstabs are looking up: he's in a dead heat among women (59%), is catching up among older voters and the poor (where Hillary had been killing him). He's now pulled ahead among black and religious voters. The trouble area is among less-educated voters, where he trails by 20 points. Still, these are improvements over his numbers a month ago.