Monday, August 15, 2005

Bush's Dissolving Approval Rating

Bush's standing with an American public anxious about Iraq and the nation's direction is lower than that of the last two men who won re-election to the White House — Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — at this point in their second terms.

But solid backing from his base supporters has kept Bush from sinking to the depths reached by former presidents Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bush's father. Truman decided not to run for re-election. Nixon resigned. Carter and the first President Bush were defeated in re-election campaigns.

"This president should be glad he's not running for re-election," said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst from the American Enterprise Institute. "But the president is clearly holding his base. It's very important for him to keep the base support in terms of getting things done."

Indeed, Republicans in Congress already are starting to fret about the 2006 election. If Bush's approval ratings sink lower, more of them may be unwilling to go along with his major initiatives for fear it could cause backlash for them with voters.

Bush's job approval in recent polls ranges from the low- to mid-40s. It was 42 percent in the latest AP-Ipsos poll. His ratings on everything from handling Iraq to the economy to Social Security and other domestic issues are at their lowest levels so far.

Reagan was at 57 percent at this stage of his presidency and Clinton was at 61 percent, according to Gallup polling at the time.

The partisan divide for Bush is stark — 80 percent of Democrats disapprove of his overall performance while nearly 90 percent of Republicans approve.

Charles Black, a veteran GOP strategist and close Bush ally, said Republicans are sticking with Bush for two reasons: personal affection and loyalty.

"I haven't seen anything like it since Reagan," he said. "Bush follows through on issues that are largely popular with the base, even when it's not popular with the general public to do so."

Bush may have a hard time pushing up his numbers because issues like the violence in Iraq and gas prices are largely out of his control.

But Bush's efforts to put conservatives on the Supreme Court and overhaul the federal tax code are likely to please his conservative base.

Other presidents have seen their political bases dissolve, in Gallup poll figures:

_Truman's approval dipped to 24 percent in the late spring of 1951 after he removed popular Gen. Douglas MacArthur from command in Korea.

_Nixon's approval dropped to 31 percent in August 1973 as the war dragged on in Vietnam and revelations of administration misdeeds kept spilling out of the Senate Watergate hearings.

_Carter's approval plunged to 29 percent in the early summer of 1979 amid economic troubles and news of increasing problems with new Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

_The first Bush's approval sank to 32 percent in July 1992 as his presidential rivals Clinton and Ross Perot gained momentum in the campaign and the jobless rate rose.

For the current president to fall to those levels, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents would have to abandon him in large numbers. So far there's no indication that is happening, though there are some rumblings of discontent.

"I voted for Bush," said Jerry Fleming a GOP-leaning independent from Athens, Ala. "I feel like he's pretty much a straight-shooter as far as his religious background. I respect that part of him.

"But if the situation in Iraq keeps dragging out for a long period of time with no hope for peace, I would eventually get fed up with it," Fleming said.

For Trisha McAllister, a Republican from Grenada, Miss., Bush's willingness to ignore public opinion wins her over.

"I may not approve of every single thing he does," McAllister said, "but he's a true leader because he's not leading by the polls."

Presidential scholar Charles Jones cautioned against reading too much into low poll ratings for a president at a given point of his term.

"Truman got some of the lowest poll numbers any president ever got," said Jones, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Now when we look back on Truman, he's the highest ranked of the post-World War II presidents."

SF Gate, Aug 15

Sunday, August 14, 2005

We Have to Start Thinking Again

LENOX, MASS. – Johnny Damon and Nomar Garciaparra are not the only boys of summer. For vacationing theatergoers at Shakespeare festivals around the United States, the lineup includes Romeo and Petruchio, Benedick and Othello.

Shakespeare may not attract the stadium-size throngs that visit ballparks, but the Elizabethan playwright's work continues to be celebrated in an ever-growing number of theaters, and audiences are on the rise.

Despite hand-wringing by educators over a lack of interest in the spoken word among a generation raised on electronic entertainment, Shakespeare's influence with young people is being strengthened by companies that offer workshops in schools.

Another important factor is that performance styles have changed, as have teaching methods, with the aim of presenting Shakespeare's language as everyday speech and reclaiming the playwright's innate humanity and sense of humor.

"There's a real appetite for Shakespeare," says Tina Packer, founder and artistic director of Shakespeare & Company here. "I think that old thing about the United States being afraid of Shakespeare is over."

Friday night, Shakespeare plays will be performed on stages from Ashland, Ore., to Chicago to Lenox, Mass., not to mention in Stratford, Ontario, where the largest of the North American festivals takes place. The number of companies belonging to the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America has increased from 37 in 1991 when the association was formed to nearly 90 members today.

This rise in the playwright's stock has occurred partly because of what Libby Appel, director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), calls the vacation factor. "We've made Shakespeare into a summer delight," she says. "People bring picnics; they can come for five days and see nine plays. It engenders a good time."

Popular films such as those by Kenneth Branagh ("Henry V" and "Much Ado About Nothing) and Baz Lurhman ("Romeo and Juliet"), and the fictionalized "Shakespeare in Love" have brought a broader sweep of audiences to the live performances, according to Barbara Gaines, director and founder of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST).

Shakespeare & Company, like OSF, benefits from its location in a vacation spot, in the midst of the Berkshire hills. Visitors can stay in one of the charming bed-and-breakfast inns, take in a concert at Tanglewood (the summer home of Boston Symphony Orchestra), and attend the plays there and at other theaters in the area, not to mention hike and shop for antiques.

Ashland, Lenox, and Chicago have much in common, despite their geographic differences. Each festival is headed by a gifted, feisty woman who also directs several productions a year. OSF presents 11 productions during its 10-month season; Shakespeare & Company mounts five from May to October; while CST presents 620 year-around performances of seven productions, two by visiting companies. In the spring, CST will produce "Henry IV, Parts I and II" in Chicago, then take the plays to Stratford, England, as part of a marathon by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

The RSC's recently announced plans to present the entire canon - dramas, comedies, histories, and even the sonnets - in one seven-month period beginning April 2006, signal that the playwright continues to be celebrated in his own land.

Americans, however, have come to Shakespeare more gradually, starting on a smaller scale.

The OSF traces its roots to 1935 when the town of Ashland contributed $400 to produce three plays. Although the population of Ashland still numbers only about 21,000, OSF sells nearly 400,000 tickets a year and draws steady audiences from Oregon, California, and Washington, adding visitors from across the country.

Ms. Gaines, who began Chicago Shakespeare Theater 19 years ago with $3,000, recalls, "When I said I was starting a theater for Shakespeare's plays, I was laughed up and down Michigan Avenue. 'Never in Chicago,' they said. Now we regularly sell out." Today, CST is housed in a seven-story building on Chicago's busy Navy Pier, and runs on an annual budget of $13 million.

In 1978, Ms. Packer directed her first production in Lenox, in the overgrown gardens at Edith Wharton's abandoned ruin of a country mansion. The actors had to clean out the debris to make room for their sleeping bags. The company moved from The Mount in 1999 after buying a 63-acre campus down the road for $3.5 million, but recently sold half the property for $3.9 million, to allow it to pay off debts and enhance its building fund.

As a group, these theaters run extensive education programs that have revolutionized the teaching of Shakespeare and primed the next generation to treat the plays as familiar, beloved experiences. Students and teachers in New England, up and down the West Coast, and in the Chicago public schools and others in the greater Midwest are prepared by teams of actors who turn classrooms into stages for vigorous, on-your-feet explorations of the plays. The students then come to the theaters by the busloads to see the professional shows. "Fifty-five thousand kids of the greater Chicago area are served each year, with their teachers. The students say that our theater is their favorite field trip," Gaines says.

Crowd-pleasing productions, vacation-time destinations, and year-round school programs are obvious reasons for the expansion of these theaters, but the final account lies in the plays themselves.

According to Appel, "A work of Shakespeare is something different from any old play. His plays continue to reach to every level of society." Gaines believes, "With the pain and suffering going on in the world, Shakespeare is the only playwright who steps up to the issues. Shakespeare lets the listener into the soul of his characters, and it's the same as your soul. It's basically about you."

Packer says, "As we become more media-driven, Shakespeare will become the counterculture for people who believe in the word. There will come a time when we have to start thinking again. The complexity of thought lies in language."

Christian Science Monitor, Aug 14

Cindy Sheehan Has Heart

ASHLAND, ORE., AND CRAWFORD, TEXAS – In her high-profile vigil outside President Bush's Texas ranch, Cindy Sheehan has brought the face and the heart of the antiwar movement to the world.

The plain-spoken words and image of a mother carrying a wooden cross to commemorate the son she lost in Iraq have suddenly brought focus to what has been largely an unseen and ineffective protest movement in the US.

To be sure, this is still not Kent State in 1970. For a variety of political and practical reasons, today's antiwar movement may never approach the ardor of a generation ago. Moreover, many conservatives criticize Ms. Sheehan for being co-opted by the broader political left - itself a reflection of the crosscurrents of the time.

Yet the mother, hoisting her plaintive signs and vowing to stay in Crawford until she gets a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Bush, has become a potent personal symbol of opposition to a war now stretching into its third year. More important, her crusade comes at a time when doubts about US engagement there are clearly growing.

"One keeps hearing that the number of queries coming into conscientious objector advisory groups are on the upswing," says retired US Army Colonel Dan Smith, a Vietnam veteran now working for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobbying group. "College campuses are stirring. Facts suggest a rising antiwar sentiment is in the making."

The depth of America's ambivalence is reflected in the polls. A CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll this month, echoing other surveys, shows that Americans by a 55-44 majority now believe the US "made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq." Some 56 percent say some or all US troops should be withdrawn now.

The hardening sentiment hasn't gone unnoticed in Washington. Many Democrats have become more vocal about the need for a definitive timetable for the withdrawal of troops, and they have been joined of late by some Republicans. The recent special congressional election in Ohio - where the Democrat was an Iraq war vet who nearly won in a heavily Republican district - has added to concerns about the war in some GOP circles.

Within the military, some senior commanders have talked about a timeframe for starting to bring home troops. But late last week, Bush tamped down any expectations of a quick withdrawal, saying it was too soon to say when the number of troops might be reduced.

Still, for all the concern about Iraq, the antiwar movement today isn't likely to reach the levels of Vietnam. For one thing, there are fundamental reasons why this war is distinctly different: the lack of military conscription, a relatively low level of American casualties (at least compared to Vietnam, where more than 30 times as many US soldiers were killed), and the absence of a self-conscious youth culture.

"What made the antiwar movement so powerful during the Vietnam War was its close connection to the movement of millions of baby-boomers through college," says national security analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. "Away from home for the first time and insulated from military service by student deferments, many of these adolescents were acutely aware of their susceptibility to the draft once they completed college. Opposition to the war became part of a generational identity, particularly among middle-class students in universities."

Today, some of the not-so-silent minority worried about the war includes military veterans and their families. Jan Barry, a founder of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, says that when his group posted a statement of opposition to the Iraq war on a website shortly before the conflict started, it was signed by some 4,000 vets and family members, many of whom were retired. What surprised him, though, was the number of second and third generation military who signed up - including many World War II vets.

Activists say the grumbling about the war extends to some in the active-duty ranks. Even though there is no draft today, they note that the war has stretched on long enough, and has involved enough multiple deployments of many older National Guard and Reserve troops with family and work responsibilities back home, that misgivings are surfacing.

"We don't have a 'conscription draft,' as we say, but we have an economic draft [recruiters increasingly targeting poorer high school students], a backdoor draft with the National Guard and Reserves [who now make up more than 40 percent of US troops in Iraq], with the stop-loss program and the calling up of the Individual Ready Reserves," says Steve Morse of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, which offers counseling on a "GI Hotline" at 13 locations around the country.

The group Iraq Veterans Against the War was launched a year ago. Yet like its Vietnam counterpart in the 1960s and 70s, it remains a minority voice.

In a survey of service members earlier this year, readers of Military Times publications agreed that the US should have gone to war in Iraq by a 60-21 percent margin. The University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey last fall found that 64 percent of military personnel sampled (compared to 45 percent of the general population) said the situation in Iraq had been worth going to war over. Among those who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, however, that dropped to 55 percent.

In any case, GI's seem to take a realistically sober view of the war. The Military Times survey found that about half thought it would take 5-10 years for the US to achieve its goals in Iraq. A plurality (47 percent) thought the media should publish or broadcast news stories "that suggest the war is not going well," and 65 percent said "it should be OK to publish photographs of flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base from Iraq."

'Camp Casey'

On the road outside Bush's ranch, the view is even more sober - and the anger more prevalent.

"I have a feeling that a lot of people have found their voice in her [Cindy Sheehan]," says Hadi Jawad, an activist in Dallas who helped found "Peace House" in Crawford near the Bush ranch. "She is articulating what is in their hearts."

About a dozen military families have arrived to lend a hand in the Sheehan protest. They come from Alabama, California, Georgia, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas - and most have lost a loved one.

"We are here for all the soldiers who don't have a voice anymore," says Sergio Torres, whose son Army Sgt. Daniel Torres was killed in February when a roadside bomb hit his unarmored Humvee.

At what's called "Camp Casey," after her son who was killed, Sheehan is shepherded from interview to interview, sometimes using a protester's van to take media calls on a cell phone. Outside her tent, supporters have placed flowers and signs.

Since arriving Aug. 6, she has endured Texas thunderstorms, jalapeño heat, and unfriendly stares from some local people. "Last night I had fire ants crawling all over me," Sheehan says. "Physically it's very uncomfortable, but I think of all the soldiers in Iraq who, when it's too hot or too stormy, can't go into town for refuge. As bad as we have it here, it's nothing compared to how bad they have it over there."

The president's motorcade passed by for the first time on Friday, on its way to a Republican fundraiser down Prairie Chapel Road. But even if she doesn't get to meet with him, Sheehan says, "I've accomplished a lot by putting this war back on the front page where it should be."

At that moment, a counter-protester appeared with a sign that read, "Your son is a hero, not a victim!" Sheehan was whisked away before the two could meet.

Christian Science Monitor, Aug 14

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Vampire Awakens

Katherine Harris (remember the vote-count stopper responsible for Bush's first judicially decided pseudo-win?) is now resurfacing and ready to collect the spoils for being the stooge responsible for this entire Bush debacle. The vampire awakens to make the move to Washington and wield her schizoid power to cause even more destruction. Keep a close watch on this one...she's poised for infamy.


SARASOTA, Florida (AP) -- Rep. Katherine Harris began her campaign for Senate on Tuesday, saying among the issues she plans to address are homeland security and health care.

The Republican, best known for her role as Florida's then-secretary of state during the 2000 presidential recount, is trying to unseat Democrat Bill Nelson, who will be seeking his second Senate term in November 2006.

In her formal announcement, Harris offered a glance at several issues she said she will target, including taxes, homeland security, health care and hurricane assistance.

"After an extended listening tour which begins today, I will fully outline my agenda for Florida -- a road map for change that remains heavy on security and light on taxes; strong on defense but even stronger for those who man our defense; for health care not limited by cost or availability; and relief for those in trouble that bridges every storm while harboring no excuse for delay," Harris said.

Elected to the House in 2002, she declined to run for an open Senate seat while President Bush was on the 2004 ballot because some Republican strategists feared she might cost him votes in Florida. Instead, she was elected to her second House term.

Harris, 48, may have a clear shot at Nelson. No other Republicans have expressed a strong interest in running.

Florida House Speaker Allan Bense said last week he won't challenge her for the GOP nod, saying he believes a campaign would take away from his commitment to the House. The White House and other top Republicans had encouraged Bense to get into the race.

Even with an opponent, Harris would be considered a favorite to win the nomination because of her high name recognition and ability to raise money.

CNN, Aug 9