Gallup Throws Doubt On Political Polling

Editor & Publisher noted yesterday that Gallup reported a shift in party identification in the US; Democrats outpoll Republicans in party identification — by a single point:

In a (perhaps) historic shift, more Americans now consider themselves Democrats than Republicans, the Gallup organization revealed today.
Republicans had gained the upper hand in recent years, but 33% of Americans, in the latest Gallup poll, now call themselves Democrats, with those favoring the GOP one point behind. But Gallup says this widens a bit more “once the leanings of Independents are taken into account.”

However, that’s not exactly how Gallup itself headlines its results:

Americans are about as likely to identify as Republicans as they are Democrats according to a review of recent Gallup polls. However, once the leanings of independents are taken into account, the Democrats gain an advantage. Democrats have been on par with, or ahead of, Republicans in party identification since the second quarter of 2005.

A one-point difference, especially in a poll of 1,000 adults, falls within the margin of error in any case. It’s interesting and revealing to see E&P cast this as a “historic shift” when Gallup reports that this has been unchanged for almost a year. Either E&P has a strong case of analytical illiteracy or they want to put a spin worthy of John McEnroe on what amounts to a lob.
But one issue does arise from this fresh polling, one that undermines practically every political survey published in the past couple of years. If party identification is so close as to be a dead heat, why do polling services routinely underrepresent Republicans? CBS polls routinely overpoll Democrats so badly that their results are hardly worth the effort of analyzing. Their last major poll had a disparity between Democrats and Republicans of thirteen points — which they corrected to a nine-point difference. Surprise! It found that Bush’s approval numbers had dropped!
Here’s another that CQ noted earlier this year. Despite undersampling Republicans by 5 points, the NSA terrorist surveillance program managed to garner majority support, with or without warrants. CBS actually had their raw numbers correct in this poll, but “corrected” them through weighting to give Democrats a five-point edge. Again, it should surprise no one that this allowed CBS to report that Bush had suffered another drop in support in May of last year.
Now we have a benchmark against which to measure these polls. Any poll purporting to take the political temperature of the American electorate that doesn’t reflect these rather steady numbers should receive the scorn it deserves. The polls that we have seen thus far in 2006 all fail the sampling test, and most of what we saw last year fares no better. Too bad Editor & Publisher didn’t think to actually review media reporting on polls based on this information.

Color The LA Times Unimpressed

One media outlet on which Democrats could rely for sympathetic treatment for their new “plan” on national security would be the Los Angeles Times. Its political analyst, Ron Brownstein, is not known for pandering to conservatives either. The combination should have provided the best opportunity for the Democratic plan to resonate with the national media.
Unfortunately, the Democrats developed a “plan” that not even the LA Times could like, and Brownstein tells why:

Sharpening their election-year message, leading Democrats on Wednesday released a plan that promised to strengthen America’s security but offered few details about how they would achieve their sweeping goals. …
Though Democrats were spirited in their denunciations of Bush’s record on national security, they offered limited insights into the actual policies they would pursue if returned to power.
The party document said Democrats would double the size of the military’s special forces, pass legislation improving veterans’ medical care and press to screen all cargo bound for the United States “in ships or airplanes at the point of origin.”
On many other fronts, though, the Democratic plan emphasized aspiration over direction.
For instance, party leaders said they would make “the needed investments in equipment and manpower so that we can project power to protect America wherever and whenever necessary.” But aides said the proposal did not commit Democrats to any specific increase in defense spending.
Along with its vow to eliminate Bin Laden, the plan said Democrats would “destroy terrorist networks like Al Qaeda, finish the job in Afghanistan and end the threat posed by the Taliban.” But other than adding more special forces and improving America’s intelligence capacity, the document offered no hints of what strategies the party might employ toward those ends.

The plan is a collection of slogans and mission statements with almost no specifics about legislation, financing, strategies, tactics, or military efforts to achieve them. Even on those topics where their report gets specific, it fails to address the consequences of the action involved. For instance, on its insistence that the Democrats would eliminate Osama through greater numbers of special forces (doubling them), it does not say how or where they will find the men to fill those slots or the funding necessary for the expansion. It does not address how exactly they will manage to invade Pakistan against the will of our precariously-seated ally Pervez Musharraf without touching off another war.
The most humorous moment comes when the Democrats accuse George Bush of “subcontracting” the Iranian nuclear talks to the British, French, and Germans. After listening to their complaints over the last four years about Bush’s supposed “unilateral” approach to foreign affairs — while he garnered the support of dozens of nations for the invasion of Iraq, including troops from 15 other countries — having them screech about allowing the three European nations that appear to be at the highest risk of a nuclear-tipped Shahab-3 rocket only solidifies the hyperpartisan nature of their approach. The Democrats have no consistency on national security, no credibility, and this passage is a perfect example of why. Instead of actually developing a comprehensive, consistent, and thorough strategy for foreign policy, they’ve reduced themselves to nothing more than gainsaying whatever the GOP does and hope that the voters don’t notice the difference.
The point of the document, as Brownstein hints but never outright states, isn’t to redirect American policy much at all, except to make our exit from Iraq a full-blown retreat reminiscent of our exits in Somalia and Beirut. This effort is just a superficial talking-points memo designed to make Democrats sound tough without having to make any of the hard decisions already faced by this administration. It’s the perfect “eat your cake and have it too” document, but it is so baldly superficial that it can’t even convince Democratic allies to support it.
Dafydd ab Hugh at Big Lizards and Jim Geraghty at TKS have done an excellent job in dissecting this piece of meringue. Start at the links at keep moving through the rest of their posts on the subject.

Jill Carroll Released By Captors

After three months as a hostage, AP reporter Jill Carroll has been released to American forces in the Green Zone, the news service reports (via Stop the ACLU):

Kidnapped U.S. reporter Jill Carroll has been released after nearly three months in captivity, Iraq police and the leader of the Islamic Party said Thursday. She was reported in good condition.
Carroll, a freelance reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, was kidnapped on Jan. 7, in Baghdad’s western Adil neighborhood while going to interview Sunni Arab politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. Her translator was killed in the attack about 300 yards from al-Dulaimi’s office.
“She was released this morning, she’s talked to her father and she’s fine,” said David Cook, Washington bureau chief of The Christian Science Monitor.
Police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said was handed over to the Iraqi Islamic Party office in Amiriya, western Baghdad, by an unknown group. She was later turned over to the Americans and was believed to be in the heavily fortified Green Zone, he said.

Carroll’s kidnappers had demanded the release of all female prisoners from US custody as a condition of her release. Five eventually were released by US forces in late January as part of an overall release of 424 detainees, a move that Centcom denied having any connection to the Carroll kidnapping, but it only resulted in a repeat of the overall demand in any event. The deadline for the ransom came and went over a month ago, and no one had heard anything significant about her status since then.
The AP does not report when Carroll will return to the US, or whether she intends to do so immediately or not. Undoubtedly, we will await her own report on her captivity, treatment, and observations about the nature of the enemy that kept her in bondage for so long.

Canada First To Cut Off Hamas

The Canadians became the first nation besides Israel to formally cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority after its Hamas-controlled government officially took power yesterday. The nation’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Peter MacKay, announced that Canada would not support terrorists regardless of whether they win elections or not:

Canada has become the first country after Israel to cut funding and diplomatic ties to the Palestinian Authority over the new Hamas government’s refusal to renounce violence. …
“As you know, Hamas is a terrorist organization — listed in this country — and we cannot send any direct aid to an organization that refuses to renounce terrorist activity, refuses to renounce violence.”
The news shocked pro-Palestine groups who fear aid will be cut to those living in squalid refugee camps. …
“The stated platform of this government has not addressed the concerns raised by Canada and others concerning non-violence, the recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap for Peace.
“As a result, Canada will have no contact with the members of the Hamas cabinet and is suspending assistance to the Palestinian Authority.”

The new policy and the speed in which Stephen Harper implemented it may have truly caught the Palestinians by surprise. They surely expect a similar reaction from the US, but they had hoped that Europe and Canada would offer more moderation, more talks, and more money as an incentive to keep Hamas at the bargaining table. Hamas tried to keep that gambit alive in Ismail Haniyeh’s double-talk prior to the Israeli election, hinting that Hamas might negotiate with the Israelis but refusing to change its stated goal of the destruction of Israel.
This development strikes a significant blow to those hopes. No one pretends that the EU has much interest in unity with the US on foreign policy, but Canada has been a reliable partner for the past few years for Europe. Having Canada leap out ahead of even the US to isolate Hamas and disengage from the Palestinian Authority places much more pressure on the EU to follow suit. Even with the Tories in power in Ottawa, it will be impossible for Europe to characterize the Canadian government action as a radical right-wing move.
Harper really has cast a gauntlet down to all parties. He has challenged the Palestinians to acknowledge that choices have consequences, especially in elections, and Europe to follow through on its own policies of non-negotiation with terrorists. Harper’s action also prods Washington to join him soon; if we delay, we may wind up leaving Harper twisting in the political wind.

Gray Lady Misrepresents FISA Testimony

The New York Times has panicked into a serious misrepresentation of the testimony given to the Senate Judiciary Committee by five former FISA judges. Power Line looks at the transcript of the committee hearing and discovers that reporter Eric Lichtblau, who predicated his new book on the supposed illegality of the secret NSA terrorist surveillance program, wrote dishonestly about their appearance in yesterday’s hearing.
Here’s what Lichtblau wrote:

In a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the secretive court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, several former judges who served on the panel also voiced skepticism at a Senate hearing about the president’s constitutional authority to order wiretapping on Americans without a court order. They also suggested that the program could imperil criminal prosecutions that grew out of the wiretaps.
Judge Harold A. Baker, a sitting federal judge in Illinois who served on the intelligence court until last year, said the president was bound by the law “like everyone else.” If a law like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is duly enacted by Congress and considered constitutional, Judge Baker said, “the president ignores it at the president’s peril.”

After buying the transcript and reading it for themselves, Power Line reveals what the judges really said:

Judge Kornblum: Presidential authority to conduct wireless [Sic. Presumably Judge Kornblum meant “warrantless.”] surveillance in the United States I believe exists, but it is not the President’s job to determine what that authority is. It is the job of the judiciary. *** The President’s intelligence authorities come from three brief elements in Article II….As you know, in Article I, Section 8, Congress has enumerated powers as well as the power to legislate all enactments necessary and proper to their specific authorities, and I believe that is what the President has, similar authority to take executive action necessary and proper to carry out his enumerated responsibilities of which today we are only talking about surveillance of Americans. ***
Senator Feinstein: Now I want to clear something up. Judge Kornblum spoke about Congress’s power to pass laws to allow the President to carry out domestic electronic surveillance, and we know that FISA is the exclusive means of so doing. Is such a law, that provides both the authority and the rules for carrying out that authority, are those rules then binding on the President?
Judge Kornblum: No President has ever agreed to that. ***
Senator Feinstein: What do you think as a Judge?
Judge Kornblum: I think–as a Magistrate Judge, not a District Judge, that a President would be remiss in exercising his Constitutional authority to say that, “I surrender all of my power to a statute,” and, frankly, I doubt that Congress, in a statute, can take away the President’s authority, not his inherent authority, but his necessary and proper authority.
Senator Feinstein: I would like to go down the line if I could. *** Judge Baker?
Judge Baker: No, I do not believe that a President would say that.
Senator Feinstein: No. I am talking about FISA, and is a President bound by the rules and regulations of FISA?
Judge Baker: If it is held constitutional and it is passed, I suppose, just like everyone else, he is under the law too. ***
Senator Feinstein: Judge?
Judge Stafford: Everyone is bound by the law, but I do not believe, with all due respect, that even an act of Congress can limit the President’s power under the Necessary and Proper Clause under the Constitution. ***
Chairman Specter: I think the thrust of what you are saying is the President is bound by statute like everyone else unless it impinges on his constitutional authority, and a statute cannot take away the President’s constitutional authority. Anybody disagree with that?
[No response.]
Chairman Specter: Everybody agrees with that.

Instead of expressing skepticism, the judges confirm that the matter is far from settled, and in fact told Congress that they don’t have the jurisdiction to make the judgment. What they did tell the Judiciary members is that President Bush’s arguments have a strong element of validity and probably are correct. Unfortunately for Lichtblau, that undermines the whole premise of his book — and apparently that can’t be tolerated.
UPDATE: Er, Gray Lady. I wasn’t suggesting some sort of transgenderism when I first wrote “Gary Lady”.

Trent’s Tone-Deaf MYOB On Pork

Mark Tapscott has the skinny on how Senator Trent Lott decided to keep pork in the dark. Lott scuttled an amendment by Tom Coburn and Barrack Obama that would have created a public database of pork projects so that taxpayers could see where Congress spends their money. Lott, apparently, decided that government spending is none of the taxpayers’ business and has nothing to do with lobbying reform.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-MS, raised a Rule 22 Point of Order which resulted in the Coburn/Obama amendment being killed. … The Senate’s Rule 22 refers to the germaneness – i.e. relevance – of a proposed amendment. Translated from the Washington legislatese in which senators and congressmen so often hide, this means Lott thinks making sure the public can see who is getting more than $300 billion of their tax dollars has nothing to do with congressional ethics.
Put another way, Lott just told taxpayers to butt out.

Tom Coburn has tried mightily to return the GOP to the anti-spending activism that carried them to control of Congress in 1994. There is more than a fair bit of irony in having this latest effort squelched by the man who became Senate Majority Leader on the momentum of that massive power shift, although I doubt that this amuses or consoles Coburn. Lott lost that position by extolling the virtues of Strom Thurmond in historical terms that left much to be desired, and his political ear has not improved since.
Earmarks are the single most vulnerable process in Congress to corruption, by lobbyists or anyone else, thanks to the lack of open voting on the various line items involved. Congressional representatives can insert funding for any pet project that either pleases campaign contributors or aggrandizes themselves. Robert Byrd has practically named the entire state of West Virginia after himself by bringing home the federal bacon for a wide range of public projects back home. To pretend that earmarks are not germane to any honest effort at ethics and reform is to reveal the entire exercise as either a sham or a hopeless waste of time.
Hopefully Coburn and Obama can breathe new life into the Pork Database. Maybe we can even get Trent Lott back on board by promising to name it after him. We could call it the Whole Lott Of Pork Federal Earmark Database, where we hope to empty the silk purse that Congress keeps making out of pork earmarks.

UN Gives Iran 30 Days, But Then What?

The UN Security Council finally agreed on a resolution demanding that Iran halt its uranium-enrichment program and sent it to the Islamic republic late today. The UNSC demand gives Iran thirty days to cease its program and return to the terms of the NPT, but the document carries no legal standing and fails to communicate any consequences for defiance:

The U.N. Security Council demanded Wednesday that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, the first time the powerful body has directly urged Tehran to clear up suspicions that it is seeking nuclear weapons. …
Diplomats portrayed the statement, which is not legally binding, as a first, modest step toward compelling Iran to make clear that its program is for peaceful purposes. The Security Council could eventually impose economic sanctions, though Russia and China say they oppose such tough measures.

The UNSC adopted the resolution by consensus, but the only agreement that the 15 nations could reach was to punt for another month. The UN representatives plan to debate the consequences for Iran if it fails to comply with the request, but that will wait until tomorrow — and it’s unclear that any decision could affect this resolution anyway. The resolution did not give any indication that the UNSC will modify its approach in any way.
This may be a start, but it’s a weak one, which is exactly what Russia and China wanted all along. They actually wanted the matter referred back to the IAEA, which lacks any kind of enforcement power. All it can do is report its findings to the UNSC when a country falls out of compliance. If the Russians and Chinese prevail, what the UNSC would wind up creating is an endless loop, where violations would get reported to the UNSC and then promptly be returned to them. Even this resolution refers the matter back to the IAEA, asking only for a status update.
Teheran must have spent this afternoon laughing up its collective sleeve. As Saddam did in the last years of his regime, the mullahs have spent their oil money wisely to capture at least one and probably two of the five vetoes on the UNSC. There will be no further progress on this matter, at least not at the UN, while we allow Russia to run interference for Iran long enough for them to develop working prototypes of nuclear weapons.

New Democratic Image On Security A Hit!

Today the Democrats launched their mission to revamp their image on security and national defense. They have long complained about a national perception of their party as wimpish, but Cynthia McKinney decided to set the record straight — by slugging a cop:

According to two sources on Capitol Hill, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., walked through a metal detector in a House of Representatives office building. When an officer asked her to stop, McKinney kept walking. The officer followed her and tapped her on the shoulder.
McKinney then allegedly turned around and hit the officer in his chest with her cell phone.

Members of Congress are not required to stop for the metal detectors, but that policy should change soon. Obviously, some members have less emotional stability than others. Cynthia McKinney probably has less than anyone.
So will this be the new Democratic program to convince Americans that they can handle security issues — by punching those responsible for the security of our federal buildings?
NOTE: That picture is the one that ran with the story at MS-NBC. If I were a Democrat, I’d be complaining about the use of that picture on this story.
UPDATE: The AP has a little more detail than NBC:

Members of Congress do not have to walk through metal detectors as they enter buildings on the Capitol complex. They wear lapel pins identifying them as members.
McKinney routinely doesn’t wear her pin and is recognized by many officers, the police official said, adding that she wasn’t wearing it when she entered a House office building early Wednesday.
By one police account, she walked around a metal detector and an officer asked her several times to stop. When she did not, the officer tried to stop her, and she then struck the officer, according to that account.

I just need to make sure we have this correct. The new Democratic effort on national security, therefore, is to defy identification procedures, ignore common-sense safeguards, pretend not to hear warnings, and then assault the people protecting us.
Gee, I don’t know … sounds like the old Democratic program on security to me.

CQ On The Air Tonight

I will be appearing on The World Tonight with Rob Breckenridge, broadcast from Calgary’s CHQR, at 9:05 Central time this evening. Rob and I will be talking about illegal immigration and the political firestorm it has caused this week in the US, as well as anything on Rob’s mind. Be sure to join us on the Internet stream if you can’t catch the signal on 770 AM.

Senate Ends Anonymous Holds, Holds Off On Other Reform

In a little-noticed action yesterday, the Senate ended the much-abused practice of anonymous “holds” on legislation, a parliamentary trick by members that allow them to stop progress on legislation without allowing a vote. It came as part of an overall reform effort that will fall short in other areas, but this change may hold real promise:

The Senate on Tuesday voted to strip its members of the power to secretly place a “hold” on legislation they oppose, a parliamentary tool that has allowed a single senator to derail bills or nominations while leaving no fingerprints. …
The proposal to do away with the anonymous holds, used by senators to signal to Senate leaders their objection to legislation, won overwhelming support on a vote of 84 to 13.
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who cosponsored the amendment, argued that requiring disclosure of a senator relying on the hold procedure would enable negotiations to occur on the dispute.

More than that, an end to the anonymous hold means that Senators will now be held accountable for their obstructionism. An anonymous act in a public debate suggests either a lack of testicular fortitude for one’s position, or some sort of corruption in play. In either case, as both Grassley and Wyden note, one cannot engage in negotiation when the aggrieved party will not identify himself, essentially giving each Senator veto power over any bill that comes to the Senate floor.
Unfortunately, the rest of the bill looks like more warmed-over platitudes towards reform than the real item. The Senate soundly rejected a new independent ethics office and has moved to place most of the burden for reform on the lobbyists rather than themselves. The Senate plan will not ban the travel that lobbyists fund despite that being one of the key complaints in the Jack Abramoff scandal. Most interestingly, limits on earmarks have been eliminated from the bill:

McCain complained that some key amendments are being laid aside as a result of the vote. In particular, he said he regretted that amendments that would limit earmarks — narrowly focused appropriations — and that would, in effect, restrict lawmakers’ use of chartered jets would not be voted on as part of the bill.
The legislation as it stands would bar lawmakers from accepting meals and gifts, including sports tickets, from registered lobbyists, and would increase the disclosure that lobbyists must make to the public.

The Senate apparently does not see the corrosive connection between earmarks and lobbyist money. If one truly wants to reform politics, then the only way to do that is to remove the individual ability to direct federal money towards pet projects. Without that kind of power, politicians have to reach consensus on all expenditures, and lobbyists can’t simply buy one politician to get their clients undeserved chunks of our tax money. That simple mechanism for reform should be apparent to everyone, even within the Beltway. Its exclusion from the reform debate shows that both sides lack any real appetite to change how business gets conducted on Capitol Hill.