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Tilting at Windmills

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March 31, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SNOOKER IN BELGIUM....The Angry Bear is back from vacation and says everyone was very nice to him, even the French. Americans, on the other hand, are a different story altogether....

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SALAM PAX....The Los Angeles Times published a long article about Salam Pax today. It doesn't really say much — maybe he's real, maybe he's not, who knows? — but I thought I'd point it out anyway. It's a decent summary of the whole Salam Pax phenomenon, in case you haven't been keeping up with it.

Kevin Drum 3:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE BURK BASHING....Joel Mowbray is upset that one of our representatives to the Baltic Conference on Women and Democracy was — gasp — an actual feminist:

Taking a break from hounding Augusta National Golf Club for not admitting female members, infamous feminist Martha Burk heeded the call of the State Department last month to represent the United States as part of a delegation to a conference on women's issues in Tallin, Estonia.

....[The conference] focused mostly on feminist agenda items — "women in power and decision-making," "women and economy," and "women in media" — as well as serious issues such as prostitution and violence against women. Not one to address the real concerns of ordinary women — like the ability to golf at an exclusive club — Burk stuck to the likes of the "sexualization of mass culture and our environment." She did take the time, however, to branch out to bash Bush and the country she was representing.

I'm really tired of this kind of smug yapping from conservative columnists. The reason Burk harps on Augusta National is because no one pays attention to her when she's talking about substantive issues. Make a speech about, say, the difficulty that single working women have finding decent childcare — and the media yawns. And National Review ignores it. Start a campaign to get women admitted to their precious golf club, though, and you get attention that most organizations can only dream of. So if Mowbray really wants to cut down on the frivolity, maybe he should pay a little more attention to feminist substance.

And speaking of substance, exactly why does he think that the relationship of women to power, decision-making, the economy, and the media are unserious issues? I'm no big fan of academic feminism and its seemingly endless ability to dig up ever newer and more baroque examples of power relationships that nobody's ever heard of before, but these four all sound perfectly serious and mainstream to me.

Now, it's probably true that it's inappropriate to make a toast in a foreign country — as part of a State Department delegation — expressing the hope that the president of the United States doesn't get reelected. On the other hand, bemoaning the fact that we didn't pass the Equal Rights Amendment or the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women seem like rather predictable positions for a feminist to take.

Unless, of course, you think Phyllis Schlafly is the right kind of feminist to represent us at international women's conferences. Maybe that's what Mowbray had in mind.

Kevin Drum 2:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PART 5....Yeah, yeah, I know I said I was done, but Tapped points to this article about the need to appeal to the center if you want to make a difference:

There is a vital place for radicalism in any movement, and the direct actions that took place in front of the headquarters of Bechtel (which is in line for huge contracts to "rebuild" Iraq) and Chevron (which named an oil tanker for Condoleezza Rice) seemed wholly appropriate. But group vomiting in front of the federal building, petty vandalism, throwing rocks at cops...Such acts might get you on the news or earn you radical cred, but they marginalize the cause of peace and drive away those who might join you in it.

....At the head of the demonstration, the organizers had banners bearing a picture and a quote of Dr. King: "The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today [is] my own government." I was reminded of the marchers in Selma, wearing their Sunday best, dignified in the face of brutality. Their nobility was impossible to dismiss; it shattered the stereotypes that previously allowed people to do so.

Who said this? Clara Jeffery writing in Mother Jones. I assume that even under Roger Cohn's leadership their activist liberal credibility is sufficiently well established to make them worth listening to on this point?

Kevin Drum 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LOYALTY....You just have to love George Bush's sense of gratitude and loyalty. We have a "coalition" fighting a war in Iraq, but when it comes to bidding on post-war reconstruction contracts that coalition suddenly shrinks to....the United States of America:

"In my organization of 350 U.K. major consultancies and construction firms, 84 have expressed a wish to go work in Iraq -- and 50 have been there before," said Colin Adams, chief executive of the British Consultants and Construction Bureau. Given Britain's support for the war, he said, his members felt they should at least be considered for subcontractor work.

"There's a feeling that not only is there some moral justice that we ought to be able to bid, but also common sense," Adams said.

And why aren't British firms allowed to compete? It gets even worse:

USAID administrator Andrew S. Natsios testified before Congress last week that secrecy was necessary because bidders had to look at "top secret" documents.

So the bottom line is that it's OK for British soldiers to die on the battlefield along with ours, but their firms can't be allowed to see top secret documents that we trust American firms to look at.

The Bushies are a real piece of work, aren't they? I wonder how long before Tony Blair's patience finally evaporates and he suddenly starts ranting gibberish on one of his his transatlantic chats with his friend W? It's bound to happen sooner or later.

Kevin Drum 1:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANOTHER LUNCHTIME SPOT BITES THE DUST....Arnie's Manhattan Deli over on Bristol has closed down. Hmmph. Had to settle for pizza for lunch. Double hmmph.

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IT'S ALL ABOUT QUALITY, GUYS, NOT QUANTITY....National Review's Kathryn Lopez at 12:40 EST today:

The Corner kinda sucks this morning. It will get better as the day wears on and much better--from the start--tomorrow. It will. Don't give up on us just yet. Thanks!!

And why does it suck? Eleven minutes later she tells us it's because they're all too busy:

Why does The Corner suck so far today, you ask? Has entirely to do with baking excellent goods for NRODT, NRO's paper sister (mother/father?).

By my count, the Cornerites had written 25 posts before K-Lo's message. So how busy can they really be? Perhaps the answer is something.....simpler?

And for more K-Lo mockery, be sure to check out Julian Sanchez today.

Kevin Drum 10:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THOSE MARGINAL REPUBLICANS....Matt Yglesias says Bill Kristol is full of shit. Matt bases this on the same paragraph that I also picked out as crap when I first read his latest article in the Weekly Standard:

Parts of the Republican party, and of the conservative movement, fell into a similar trap in the late 1990s, hating Bill Clinton more than Slobodan Milosevic. But this wing of the GOP and conservatism lost in an intra-party and intra-movement struggle, and has now been marginalized—Pat Buchanan is no longer a Republican, and his magazine these days makes common cause with Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal.

Pat Buchanan has been a marginal figure in the Republican party (and out of it) for more than decade. The foaming-at-the-mouth Clinton haters, on the other hand, are still with us, and worse than ever. I mean, Kristol does occasionally read best-selling authors Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, and Sean Hannity, doesn't he? And surely he sometimes listens to talk show superstars Rush Limbaugh, Oliver North, and Michael Savage. And he's heard of the Heritage Foundation and the Scaife Foundation, right?

Oh, and did I mention Tom DeLay and Dan Burton? No? Consider them mentioned.

Kristol actually has a point to make about the dangers of falling so deeply into wild-eyed hatred mode that it actually hurts your cause. But when he implies that Clinton hatred — and rabid hatred of liberals in general — was purged from the Republican party when Pat Buchanan left — well, it is to laugh.

UPDATE: Several months ago Max Sawicky recommended that anytime a liberal criticizes a liberal, we should do penance by criticizing at least four conservatives. So, since I spent the weekend preaching moderation, I'm going to make up for it and concentrate on red meat for the rest of the day. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 10:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DRAFT CLARK?....Just out of curiosity here, as I'm reading some of the "Draft Clark" posts around blogovia (happy, Max?): does anyone know what Wesley Clark's actual, you know, positions are on anything? I mean, I know he's been a general and all, and would allegedly therefore give guys like Howard Dean some street cred with the "nuke 'em into the stone age" crowd, but shouldn't we ask him a few questions — and maybe do an FBI background check while we're at it — before getting too excited about him?

UPDATE: On the other hand, Kos has a point: anyone who raises the ire of Ann Coulter can't be all bad. And being a political cipher has its good points as well. Hmmm.....

Kevin Drum 9:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MODERATION VS. EXTREMISM, PART 4....One last post on moderation vs. extremism. I promise, no more after this, but I do want to clarify a few things:

  • I've now voted in 14 national elections and I have yet to vote for anybody but a Democrat. (Well, there was that one vote for John Anderson in 1980, but that was it.) In other words, I obviously don't have any problem with thinking that the Democratic party itself is too extreme for my personal tastes. Quite the contrary.

  • When it comes to extremism, liberals can't hold a candle to conservatives. The anti-gay bigotry of the Republican party alone is enough to make them unfit for civilized company.

  • However, I understand that my views are not very common here in the land of the free these days, and I believe that as a matter of tactics we have to moderate our message and disassociate ourselves from the lefty fringe. In other words, we should love our lefty radicals in private but keep our distance in public, which is exactly what the Republicans do with their fringe. Once we're actually in office we can enact as much of the lefty agenda as we can get away with, but first we have to build our base of supporters and actually get in office.

    This is an old argument, of course, and I'm basically taking the Clinton/DLC side of things. The world is what it is, and while we should try to fight issues on our terms, we shouldn't commit electoral suicide to do it.

So that's it. Our current president, who very successfully ran as the equivalent of a DLC Republican, revealed himself as a radical conservative once he took office and is now engaged in a methodical and thoroughly determined effort to wreck our country. I don't want to give him four more years to do it, and if that means moderating our message and pandering a bit to some of those nervous suburban office park workers, then sign me up.

Kevin Drum 8:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 30, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SULLIVAN ON CLINTON....Andrew Sullivan notes that Perle and Wolfowitz and Cheney weren't the only guys predicting an easy war. Bill Clinton also thought it would be a cakewalk:

"You're looking at a couple weeks of bombing and then I'd be astonished if this campaign took more than a week. Astonished."

I think this puts Andy in a terrible position. He'd like the war to go well so that his heroes are proven right, but that would mean that Clinton was right too. On the other hand, if it goes more than three weeks then reporters can all gang up on Clinton asking if he's now astonished. But on the third hand.....

Hopefully the cognitive dissonance of the whole thing will be too much and his brain will explode.

Kevin Drum 8:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HOMONYMS....Back when I was VP of Marketing at Kofax Image Products, I spent a lot of time reviewing and editing other people's writing. One thing I noticed was that the most common spelling errors were for words that sounded alike, such as "there" and "their," and I had the bright idea that if that was really the problem, it shouldn't be too hard to turn people into better spellers. After all, the universe of homonyms is much smaller than the total universe of words.

Very shortly, of course, I realized that I was an idiot. It's not that homonyms are really the words people have the hardest time with, it's just that all their other misspellings are caught and corrected by automatic spell checkers.

Still, the basic idea is sound: given that most of our misspellings are now corrected for us by computers, the only thing standing between us and perfect spelling is homonyms. My experience is that about two-thirds of misspellings can be traced to a dozen or so pairs of homonyms, which means that there's good news for bad spellers: if you can just manage to memorize this list (and keep your spell checker on), your documents will look pretty much perfect — spelling wise, anyway. So here it is:

Homonyms

Usage Rule

They're vs. their vs. there

"They're" always means "they are." "Their" involves possession of some kind ("their books," meaning "books that belong to them.") Use "there" in all other cases.

You're vs. your

"You're" always means "you are." Use "your" in all other cases.

It's vs. its

"It's" always means "it is" (or "it was"). Use "its" in all other cases.

Too vs to (nobody seems to have trouble with "two")

"Too" means either "also" or "excessively." Use "to" in all other cases.

Who's vs. whose

"Who's" always means "who is." Use "whose" in all other cases.

Lose vs. loose

"Lose" is the word that's pronounced "looz" while "loose" is pronounced "looss." This is actually the best quickie definition since both words can be used in a wide variety of ways.

Write vs. right

"Write" means putting words on a page. Use "right" in all other cases.

Deer vs. dear

"Deer" is an animal. Use "dear" in all other cases.

We'll vs. will

"We'll" always means "we will." Use "will" in all other cases.

Hear vs. here (and "hear, hear" vs. "here, here")

"Hear" is what you do with your ears. Use "here" in all other cases. (And "hear, hear" is the correct phrase meaning "damn right.")

Plain vs. plane

"Plain" means either "not fancy" or a "flat expanse of land," like the Great Plains. Use "plane" in all other cases.

New vs. knew

"New" means "not old." Use "knew" in all other cases.

This list is more or less in the order that I seemed to encounter them, from most commonly misspelled to least. And if even this list seems like too much work to memorize, there's more good news: the top six are really the killers. They seemed to account for about half of all the misspellings I encountered.

The nice thing is that in most of these cases one of the words has a pretty firm meaning, and all you have to do is check to see if that meaning fits what you want to say. If it doesn't, just use the other spelling — there's no need to bother memorizing its variant uses.

UPDATE: By popular demand, here's a couple more:

Homonyms

Usage Rule

Effect vs. affect

"Effect" is usually a noun, so it has "an" or "the" before it. In all other cases, use "affect." This is not a foolproof guide, but it's close....

Site vs. sight

"Site" means a place where something is located: "the site of the Taj Mahal," or a "website." Use "sight" in all other cases. (And don't even bother with "cite"; just use another word unless you're sure you have it right.)

UPDATE 2: Kieran Healy goes beyond spelling and offers some additional practical advice on writing.

Kevin Drum 3:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DID THEY GIVE HIM A NICE NEW LINCOLN CONTINENTAL TOO?....Via Brian Montopoli, it seems that Saddam Hussein is an honorary citizen of the city of Detroit. Sure, it was 23 years ago, back when we thought he was still an OK guy, but even so this has got to be a little embarrassing:

Father Jacob Yasso of the Sacred Heart Chaldean Church says, "He said, 'We hear you have a debt on your church'. I said, 'Yes Mr. President'. He said, 'How much?'. I said '$170,000'. He said, 'I'll pay it off for you'."

Father Yasso returned the favor at that same meeting 23 years ago. He gave Hussein a key to the city of Detroit making him an honorary citizen.

Kevin Drum 11:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BACK TO J SCHOOL....Via Matt Welch, Greg Mitchell writes in Editor & Publisher about "15 Stories They've Already Bungled." I think you can probably guess who "they" are.

Kevin Drum 11:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE RADICAL CENTER....In for a penny, in for a pound. Ampersand makes this comment about moderation vs. extremism:

Moderates like Kevin have always been with us, sensibly telling us not to rock the boat, to wait, to be patient. We mustn't make people uncomfortable!....But although they've always wanted to get rid of us, they never have. Which is a good thing, because every good idea liberalism has ever had has come from people who were extremists in their time.

This is a fair statement. Surely liberal progress is largely the result of loud, pushy activists who eventually drag the rest of us moderates along, right? Just think of the anti-slavery faction in the North prior to the Civil War.

But is it really true that "every good idea liberalism has ever had has come from people who were extremists in their time"? I think this confuses the notion of "radical" with "extreme," and therefore romanticizes the effectiveness of extremism. Let's take a look at a few examples:

  • The New Deal. This was the work of FDR and his brain trusters, a very comfortable bunch of establishment worthies. Their ideas were radical and far reaching, to be sure, but their actions were far from extreme.

  • The labor movement of the 1930s. The Wagner Act was the key legislative victory for the labor movement during the New Deal, but I think there's little question that the violent strikes and sit-ins of this period were probably essential to its eventual success. This is a case where extremism worked.

  • Civil rights. The two most influential figures in the civil rights movement were Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Johnson, both of whom were practical politicians. Both of them, and King in particular, were vilified as extremists by white southerners, of course, but they were supported by moderates around the country, and this was key to their success. Later, when much of the civil rights cause came to be symbolized by Malcolm X and the Black Panthers — genuine extremists — the movement lost a lot of its support and a lot of its power.

  • Abortion. In this case, the extremists are the protesters who shut down abortion clinics and, to a lesser extent, the "Silent Scream" fundamentalists who try to win support through grotesque imagery. This is still an ongoing cause, of course, but I would argue that it's already clear that these tactics have backfired. Moderates don't support this kind of behavior, and it appears to have had little success in changing minds. Rather, it has alienated potential supporters and probably increased moderate support for abortion rights.

  • Vietnam. This is a mixed bag. The street protests of the 60s certainly had an effect — they were partly responsible for keeping LBJ from running for reelection in 1968 — but their overall effect on the war is unclear. During the entire time the protests were going on the war was continually escalated, first by Johnson and then by Nixon, and support for the war remained fairly high. In 1972, after seven full years of protests, Richard Nixon defeated an anti-war Democrat in one of the largest landslides in history. The protests did have some effect, but probably a good deal less than it appears on the surface.

There's another point about liberal activism that I suspect a lot of liberals don't fully appreciate: it's very rare. Consider the following pair of facts:

  • Since World War I there have been only two periods of serious legislative progress for liberalism in the United States. The first was the New Deal, every bit of which was enacted during FDR's first term. The second was the 60s, which extends (approximately) from the Civil Rights Act in 1964 to the Clean Air/Clean Water acts of 1970-72. In the last 80 years, then, there have been only about a dozen years of serious liberal activism.

  • Both of these periods were made possible by huge Democratic majorities in Congress. It would not take quite such a large majority today (Southern Democrats skew the numbers before 1970), but it would still probably take a majority of 55-60% to usher in another period of liberal activism.

My point is that there's a mixed record here, and hardcore lefties shouldn't be too confident about the proposition that extremists are the engine that drives liberalism. There's no question that single-minded activism is critical — as it is in any movement — but extremism is not, and success normally doesn't come until the cause manages to extend its appeal to moderates. Right now we are in a conservative period in American history, and we need to move America out of this, and the Democratic party into a comfortable majority, before we can do any good. The lesson of history, I think, is that only after we've done that will there be a period in which liberal activism will have a window of opportunity.

UPDATE: This was a long post, but let me just summarize the whole thing like this: if you truly have a radical agenda in mind, you need to represent it as moderate and reasonable so that you don't scare everyone off. Radical conservatives have done this quite successfully over the past 20 years, but radical liberals haven't. Who's winning?

Kevin Drum 10:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NORTH KOREA UPDATE....Via Instapundit, this Baltimore Sun article says that China is putting pressure on North Korea to behave more nicely, and backed it up recently by temporarily shutting down (due to "technical problems") an oil pipeline that's critical to North Korea's health.

That's good news. I hope this means the Chinese are starting to get a bit more nervous about the whole situation. It would be nice if the United States followed suit.

Kevin Drum 10:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 29, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WILL DONALD RUMSFELD FALL ON HIS SWORD?....More from Josh Marshall. He has several good posts up right now:

  • A preview of a Sy Hersh article about how badly Donald Rumsfeld miscalculated the war.

  • More articles about how badly Donald Rumsfeld miscalculated the war. (Do you detect a trend here?)

  • Yet more about how Donald Rumsfeld miscalculated the war. This one is a long memo from a former ambassador to a Muslim country suggesting that we can't bomb Baghdad into submission and we can't win in urban fighting, so the end result is going to be a long siege. "Somebody will have to blink."

I'm still agnostic on this. Sometimes military leaders really are too conservative and civilian leaders are the ones with the right idea (think Lincoln in the Civil War). Then again, sometimes the military experts are right. We'll see.

Kevin Drum 10:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FOOD SHORTAGES?....Yes, I know that Reuters is basically in league with Saddam and therefore not to be trusted, but this doesn't sound good:

Renuart said he could not confirm reports that food rations had been cut for some frontline U.S. units. Reuters correspondents with U.S. troops south of Baghdad have said their rations have been cut to one meal a day from three.

It's probably nothing, but it sounds kind of disturbing anyway. I wonder what's up?

UPDATE: Josh Marshall says there are other reports to back this up.

Kevin Drum 10:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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APOLOGY....In my post yesterday about the liberal center, I used as an example of extremism:

....gay rights parades that seem deliberately designed to repulse as many ordinary people as possible.

The point I was trying to make was that many traditionally valued moderates have an intensively negative reaction toward the more outrι of these kinds of parades. Since we need the votes of these people in order to win elections, I think it would be a good idea to tone down this kind of stuff and pay more attention to how other people view us, not how we view ourselves.

However, I've been convinced that my message didn't get across and that my choice of words was needlessly offensive. I apologize for that.

Overall reaction to my post was, um, not so hot — at least from the liberal end of the blogosphere. Responses here:

At the risk of annoying some of these people all over again, I suspect that part of their reaction to my post might be a result of not fully understanding just how far from the center some of us liberal bloggers are. If you're in the leftmost 10% of the population, but you think of yourself as being just a hardcore liberal — but still a mainstream one — that's going to lead you to some conclusions about winning elections that really don't hold water.

If you're curious to find out just how liberal (or conservative) you are, try taking this quickie test on social values. Yeah, it's just a dumb internet survey, but it's not too bad as a quick and dirty test of where you fall in the political spectrum.

And how did I do? All I'll say is that I took it twice, and Calpundit got a different score than Kevin Drum did.

Kevin Drum 9:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND BLAIR....FRIENDS FOREVER?....I was wondering the other day whether George Bush would demonstrate any real loyalty to Tony Blair for the yeoman work he's done supporting the war. For example, will he be willing to show his gratitude by helping out if Blair asks for support on something he's not too keen on?

Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard takes a crack at this today. His conclusion:

Bush feels beholden to Blair, but gratitude has its limits.

Indeed it does, and Barnes seems to feel those limits have already been reached. Bush, he says, has already made "quite a list of concessions," so why should he make more?

There's a lot to quibble with in Barnes' article. His "list," for example, seems to consist solely of variations on working with the UN, which he admits was favored by other administration players anyway. And his objection to Blair's Mideast roadmap is that "evenhandedness" is intolerable, nothing more than "a code word for pressuring Israel." We all know that pressuring Israel is ipso facto a bad thing, but you'd think even the Weekly Standard could muster up a better argument than that.

Quibbles or not, however, Barnes' view is quite likely shared by many in the White House. If you want to know the likely outcome of the Bush-Blair alliance after the war is over, it's probably a pretty reliable guide.

Kevin Drum 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAY BASHING UPDATE....For anyone interested in the latest news about Thomas McLaughlin, the gay teenager who was harassed by his teachers and made to read Bible verses in order to instruct him in the error of his ways, here it is:

Superintendent Don Henderson sent a guarded letter to the ACLU on March 21 denying that Thomas, a ninth-grader at Jacksonville Junior High School, had been punished specifically because of his sexual orientation. But he did not specifically deny a series of allegations about punishment of Thomas that followed discussions with his teachers on the subject of his sexual orientation. He also refused the ACLU's demand that the school clear Thomas' transcript of any disciplinary actions that stemmed from the fact that Thomas is gay.

On Friday the ACLU said it hasn't firmly decided to sue yet, but it's "something we're looking at."

Kevin Drum 3:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHORTER STEVEN DEN BESTE....I've been remiss in not mentioning the return of Shorter Steven Den Beste. Daniel Davies was the first to try his hand at this, and did a very witty job of it, but after a couple of weeks his brain exploded and he had to stop. Matt Yglesias then decided to take up the slack and lately seems to have found just the right tone of lighthearted mockery that SSDB requires. Here's the latest.

Kevin Drum 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KOSOVO VS. MOGADISHU....Did the administration mislead the American public about how easy the war would be? Of course they did. Proponents of all ideas try to make the benefits sound higher than they really are and the costs lower, and war with Iraq is no different.

On the other hand, it's too early to say how egregiously they've done this. The smoking gun in this debate is Dick Cheney's statement that the war would last "weeks rather than months," but it's too early to say that he's been proven wrong. In fact, anything short of three full months would be close enough for him to claim that he was pretty much right.

The fact that the climactic battle is going to be a siege of Baghdad makes this all the harder to predict. After all, while saturation bombing may not be sapping Iraqi morale, it is destroying infrastructure, which means the ability of the Iraqis to fight back is being steadily eroded even if their morale stays intact. The problem is that their ability to fight back probably won't decline smoothly. Rather, it will stay fairly robust until the day their last bullet runs out, at which point it's all over. This is more or less what happened in Kosovo and Afghanistan, where fighting remained rough all the way until the final few days, when the opposition suddenly collapsed.

Until that day, however, it can easily look like no progress is being made. So if progress is slow, you can take your pick between (a) things are going fine and we're just waiting for the collapse, or (b) we've underestimated the Iraqis and we're now stuck in a king-size version of Mogadishu. Your choice probably says more about what you think of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld than it does about how the war is actually going.

Kevin Drum 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LET'S GET BIBLICAL....Kieran Healy talks today about the fate of the last representative of a superpower who tried to modernize the Middle East:

For all his failings, [Pontius] Pilate was at least attempting to bring a European tradition of republicanism in politics, pluralistic tolerance of religion in civic life, and heavy investment in public infrastructure to a priest-ridden, monotheistic, backward Middle-Eastern region....History might remember Pilate better had he not had the massive bad luck to run up against a blowback problem the size of the Son of God during his governorship.

Heh heh. Poor old P² did have a spot of bad luck there, didn't he?

Kevin Drum 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IDENTIFY THE NEWS CHANNEL: "I'M SURPRISED DICK CHENEY DOESN'T CALL TO TELL THEM TO TONE IT DOWN A BIT"....Jane Finch at the Daily Rant directs our attention to movie reviewer Mr. Cranky's opinion of the TV war coverage so far. It's pretty funny.

Kevin Drum 11:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A BROADER WAR?....Both Tacitus and Josh Marshall are musing over the possibility of what happens if we don't win a quick victory in Baghdad. Is there any chance that this would lift the spirits of Iraq's neighbors and cause them to come to Iraq's defense? Would Syrian and Iranian irregulars start streaming over the border to launch guerrilla attacks on U.S. forces? Is it possible that either country would actually join the war and commit significant numbers of regular troops?

Probably not, for a variety of reasons. But it's got to be something keeping the generals up at night. As dominating as our military is, we couldn't win a war if it involved three or four Middle Eastern countries instead of one.

Of course, there's a flip side to this musing as well: if it actually looked like the U.S. and Britain were in serious trouble, who would come to help us? The French and German and Russians might have opposed this war, but I wonder if they'd really like to see the U.S. defeated or stalemated? That might scare them every bit as much as their fear of American hegemony.

Kevin Drum 10:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 28, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

LET'S SEE, SO FAR HE'S 0 FOR 6....Via Atrios, this interview with Richard Perle last July is truly jaw dropping. I'm going to quote a few more excerpts than Atrios did:

I think the [Iraqi] opposition has much greater potential than we give it credit it for....That opposition includes the Kurds in the north, who have had lots of combat experience....And they've got a strong motive, as we've seen in the film. There are the Shi'a in the south, who have been the victims of Saddam in many ways for a long time. I think there's a great deal of potential there.

....[Saddam's government] a house of cards. He rules by fear because he knows there is no underlying support. Support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder.

....I would be surprised if we need anything like the 200,000 figure that is sometimes discussed in the press. A much smaller force, principally special operations forces, but backed up by some regular units, should be sufficient. Of the 400,000 in Saddam's army, I'll be surprised if ten percent are loyal to Saddam. And the other 90 percent won't be completely passive. Many of them will come over to the opposition.

....There is collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, which means to destroy us. It entails chemical weapons, biological weapons, training in their application.

....[Isn't there a risk if we don't get allied support before we undertake this action that they won't be there to help defray the billions and billions and billions of dollars we'll need to spend for a long time in Iraq?] We'll get lots of allied support when it's over, when it's clear that the result was as we anticipated.

I would guess that the president will not wish to address the Congress again in the State of the Union message without having something to say about what he said last year on the state of the Union....I would be surprised if he would mount that podium without some good news about how we've dealt with Saddam.

Crikey! Has anyone ever made more wrong predictions in the space of half an hour? I sure hope my predictions turn out a bit more accurately than Perle's.

Kevin Drum 10:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHERE'S THE CENTER?....A couple of days ago I wrote a plea for a "center party." Several people wrote to suggest that the Democrats actually are the center party these days, and there's a lot of truth in that. So exactly what "extremism" is it that I'm so concerned about?

I was having a hard time getting my thoughts together on this, and then I read an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times this morning by Drew Limsky, a professor of English at Pace University and Hunter College. Remember Adrien Brody's reaction when he won his Academy Award on Sunday? Everyone loved it — it showed genuine warmth and spontaneity — but Limsky was not amused:

When Berry read Adrien Brody's name and the actor bounded up the stairs, scooped Berry up like prime chattel and branded her with a long smooch, there went dignity.

....The Brody kiss seemed to be the payoff to every [Steve] Martin joke that objectified Berry. Last year, best actress; this year, house squeeze.

This is part of the problem: extreme lefties as moralistic killjoys. There are plenty of serious problems with sexism in America, but complaining about the "objectification" of Halle Berry, a Hollywood star whose most recent role — a voluntary assignment, I assume — was as a Bond girl, makes feminism look ridiculous. The whole point of Hollywood is to put great looking men and women on the screen, and making millions of ordinary people feel guilty for enjoying this can't possibly do feminism any good.

Other examples? Congressmen who travel to Baghdad to criticize American foreign policy on nationwide TV, gay rights parades that seem deliberately designed to repulse as many ordinary people as possible, college professors who publicly hope for lots of American deaths in Iraq, and tooth-and-nail opposition to bans on partial birth abortion, a procedure that's rare, loathed by a large majority of Americans, and generally forbidden even in the socialist hell that is Europe.

I'm sure my two or three conservative readers could add other items to this list. The problem here is that, rightly or wrongly, this kind behavior is associated with Democrats, and it has the effect of either repulsing moderate voters or else making them feel like they have to walk on eggshells anytime they're around us. Making people feel variously repulsed, guilty, and vaguely uneasy is not a vote-winning strategy for a national party.

Let me put it another way: I'm convinced that the Black Panthers set back the cause of civil rights, PETA sets back the cause of animal rights, and vomit-ins are setting back the cause of peace activism. It's a free country, of course, and these folks can do what they want, but somehow we have to disassociate them from the Democratic party in the public's mind. I know perfectly well that Republicans have the same problem with the Christian right, but for some reason it doesn't hurt them among moderates as much as lefty extremism hurts Democrats. It's not fair, but it's a fact.

So there you have it: my problem with liberal extremism. It may not be an official part of the Democratic party, but it's an albatross around our necks anyway. We need to do something about it.

Kevin Drum 5:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GARY HART'S BLOG....Hmmm, Gary Hart has his own blog now. It's not clear yet just what he's going to do with it, but he says he's "committed to using the Internet as a vital tool to engage people on critical policy matters and the future of our country."

Well, me too. I never got a chance to vote (or not vote) for him in 1988, but I did endorse him to be head of the 9/11 investigation a few months ago. I guess that was enough for him to put me on his blogroll, and in return I'm happy to plug him here. It will be interesting to see if he's willing to mix it up on his blog a little more than a politician normally would.

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WAR ON THE CHEAP....This morning I made an offhand comment wondering why Rumsfeld and Cheney have argued so strenuously that we can win this war with relatively light troop deployments. Does it really matter if it costs $150 billion instead of $75 billion?

Atrios wondered the same thing, and I was mulling this over at lunch as well. Neither of us has any inside information, of course, but here are a few possibilities:

  • They believe we are going to be fighting a long series of wars, so they need to show that it can be done relatively cheaply. The cynic in me likes this explanation, but the fact is that Cheney has been pushing the idea of war on the cheap ever since the Bush Sr. administration. I doubt he was thinking of a series of Mideast wars back then, so I'm not sure I buy this, at least not quite this baldly.

  • The administration was genuinely afraid that their support would melt away if the war were twice as expensive as it is. Considering (a) their reluctance to provide a cost estimate for the war while their tax cut bill was in front of Congress, (b) their quick disavowal of Larry Lindsey's $200 billion cost estimate, and (c) their anger at General Eric Shineki's high estimates for a long-term occupation force, I'm inclined to give some weight to this idea.

  • We just don't have the troops for a larger invasion force. The Army, for example, has an active duty total strength of about 500,000, with that many again available from the reserves. The Marines can supply another 200,000. This is about 300,000 less than we had in 1991, so it's quite possible that a deployment of 500,000 troops would simply spread us too thin these days. Our reliance on reserves produces a related problem: if it becomes obvious that signing up for the reserves is tantamount to active duty — as opposed to the typical 90-day callups of the 1990s — people are going to start quitting the reserves in droves and there will be few volunteers around willing to replace them. They may be trying desperately to avoid this scenario.

    On a related note, they are also probably trying desperately to avoid any talk of a draft, realizing (correctly I think) that any such talk would instantly doom their enterprise to the ash heap.

  • Cheney and Rumsfeld want to show that we can win a war solely with lots of high-tech weapons. Remember, this crew came to office promising to "skip a generation" of weaponry and go straight to a new generation of military wizardry, so there may be something to this. Whether this is motivated by a love of technology for its own sake or because they want to enrich their buddies in the military-industrial complex, I couldn't say.

Generally speaking, I suspect the correct answer is sort a munge of all of this. The Bush adminstration has publicly stated a goal of keeping the American military the strongest in the world forever, and has also publicly backed the idea of preventive war as a part of U.S. policy. It's obvious, however, that this is a political nonstarter if it's based on sheer manpower. The American public simply wouldn't put up with it, so instead they need to prove that it can be done primarily with money and technical know-how. In a few months we'll know if they succeeded.

Kevin Drum 2:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AFFIRMATIVE ACTION....The Supreme Court outlawed racial quotas and set-asides in 1978 in its landmark affirmative-action decision in the Bakke case. Thurgood Marshall wrote a dissenting opinion in which he issued a seven-item report card on the state of racial equality in the United States, concluding that "Measured by any benchmark of comfort or achievement, meaningful equality remains a distant dream."

So how have we done on those seven items since the Bakke decision was handed down 25 years ago? The Christian Science Monitor updates us today.

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Before I head off to lunch, here is this week's soothing cat blogging to take your minds off the war. Rolling around on the patio is — I'm told — a sure fire method for reducing stress.

Need even more cats? Check out the Spooky page!

UPDATE: Meatstack has decided to take up Friday Cat Blogging too. I detect a trend.....

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IRAQI TERRORISTS....CNN just reported that we have busted up a couple of "terror plots" planned against us by Iraq. What's more, we have discovered that Iraqi agents in 10 other countries are apparently planning attacks on "U.S. interests."

Isn't it time to stop calling these things "terrorist attacks"? I don't know what these attacks are supposed to have involved, but we have invaded their country, after all, and blowing up the other country's facilities is generally what you expect in a war. I don't like it, but it's no more a terrorist attack than were German U-boat attacks on the Eastern seaboard during World War II. It's a war, after all, and the other guys should be expected to fight back.

On the same topic, why are we surprised at the guerilla tactics employed by the Iraqis? Granted, dressing as civilians and flying phony white flags violates the normal rules of war, but if it were Iraqis invading, say, Tennessee, and the situation were desperate, is there any doubt that the citizenry of this country would be doing the exact same thing?

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman thinks I'm completely off base in my last paragraph. And he's right: soldiers dressing as civilians and flying phony white flags is unforgivable. As he says, "If a white flag doesn't mean what it says, then surrender is impossible, and all war must be war to the last soldier."

So no, it's not justifiable. But — I still wonder if we wouldn't do the same if we were in a similar position against an overwhelmingly superior enemy. Hopefully we'll never have to find out.

Kevin Drum 11:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DOES SADDAM HAVE WMDs?....Jonah Goldberg talks today about a big question: does Saddam Hussein really have WMDs? Does he have "a nuclear program or stockpiles of VX or tubs and tubs of hidden anthrax"? At first, striking a reasonable pose, he suggests that if we find WMDs that means we were right and we're the ones who should run post-war Iraq. But if we don't and it was the UN inspectors who were right, then maybe reconstruction contracts should be handled by the UN.

But the strain of moderation is too much. He immediately changes tack and says:

Now, to be honest, I think they should go to us regardless, because America's motives were right — and our sacrifices are real — even if Saddam doesn't have these weapons. For twelve years he issued bilious clouds of smoke in order to make the world think there's a fire in Iraq. If it turns out it was all smoke and no fire, that doesn't make us wrong for bringing the fire hose.

Huh? So if it turns out that we've been making up this stuff about WMDs all along — well, it's actually Saddam's fault because he kept making scary noises.

Americans in general — and pro-war conservatives especially — are simply unable to understand that the entire world doesn't automatically accept that our "motives were right" or that our intentions have always been benign. And there's no reason they should. They should judge us based on our actions, just as we would judge them. It's this kind of blindness that leads to overoptimistic ideas about Iraqis greeting us as liberators simply because they don't like Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, they don't like us either. Why is it so hard for people to understand that no one likes to have their country taken over by an invading army, no matter how righteous that invading army thinks its cause is?

In the end, of course, probably no one will be satisfied on the WMD question. My guess is that we'll find small amounts of chemical weapons and perhaps some evidence of bioweapons factories — but no bioweapons themselves. In other words, enough evidence to convince the hawks they were right, but not enough to convince anyone else the war was worth it. Much like life in general.

UPDATE: Fox News reports that the Pentagon thinks the biggest reason we aren't being hailed as liberators is that Iraqis are afraid of being shot by their own officers if they do. That might well be a reason, but I imagine that the biggest reason is that they are Iraqis and they don't like being invaded by Americans. Why is it so hard to understand that even in a dictatorship people have considerable pride in their country and don't like to see foreign troops marching in?

Kevin Drum 11:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MUSIC THEFT....Megan McArdle tells us today about attempts in several states to ban personal firewalls. Why? The RIAA thinks they encourage music file sharing by hiding IP addresses.

Megan's post on this is 100% correct. There's no reason why music companies shouldn't be concerned that people are downloading music for free, and since we live in a free market they should be allowed to charge whatever they think the market will bear for their products — if they're wrong, the market will let them know.

On the other hand, their efforts to stop music downloading have been so wildly hamhanded and technically illiterate that they've become their own worst enemy. It's hard for any thinking person not to cheer the music downloaders after hearing a few too many recording industry proposals that are better suited to Stalin's Russia than they are to the bedrooms of American teenagers.

Kevin Drum 10:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POOR ARI....I'm listening to Ari Fleischer's press briefing right now, and I have to say that the press questions are so inane that it's hard not to feel some sympathy for him. I can't help but think that the press corps has gotten the press secretary it deserves.

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SELF-FULFILLING URBAN LEGENDS....Chris Bertram explains today how exaggerated (or fabricated) reports of loony political correctness from the conservative press can lead to....more loony political correctness.

I thought it was liberals who didn't understand the law of unintended consequences?

Kevin Drum 9:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORNING WAR UPDATE....According to CNN, Paul Wolfowitz has admitted that the U.S. may have underestimated the scope of deceitful activity by Iraqis. I'm not quite sure what that means, but it doesn't sound good.

Lt. Gen. William Wallace admitted today that we didn't know ahead of time how the Iraqi paramilitary forces would fight. I wonder if that's what Wolfowitz is talking about?

You know, this general disagreement between the Rumsfeld/Cheney/Wolfowitz faction and the military brass about the use of "overwhelming force" has been going on for a long time, so it's not as if this is something that cropped up just for this war. But I sure hope Rumsfeld turns out to be right. In 1991 we had about 650,000 troops compared to 250,000 this time, and that was for an easier task — all we had to do was kick Saddam out of Kuwait. Granted, the Iraqis are weaker now thanks to 12 years of sanctions, and our technology is a decade better, but 400,000 troops is still an awfully big difference.

I sure hope our war plans aren't based too heavily on this idea that the Iraqi population is just going to lay down its arms and hail us as liberators. Has that ever happened before in history?

UPDATE: One thing I haven't seen much discussion of is why Rumsfeld and Cheney are so wedded to the idea of war on the cheap. Did they really think they would have a harder time getting approval for military action if it turned out to cost $150 billion instead of $75 billion? Or are they thinking ahead to other wars? Or were they worried about leaving a few divisions intact in case we needed them somewhere else? What's the motivation here? Why not just let the brass send in half a million troops and get the job done?

Kevin Drum 9:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 27, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

PREDICTIONS....Here are my war predictions:

  • How long will the war last? Answer: 6 weeks.

  • How many American deaths will there be? Answer: 700.

  • How big will the occupation force be by the end of the year? Answer: 80,000 troops.

  • How long will the military occupation last: Answer: 3 years.

  • How much will the war cost this year? Answer: $110 billion.

  • How much will it cost next year? Answer: $25 billion.

  • How much actual democracy will we bring to Iraq? Answer: 4%.

All answers are plus or minus a factor of two.

UPDATE: On the other hand, if we decide to loiter around Baghdad waiting for the 4th Infantry Division, that could put a crimp into the schedule, couldn't it?

Then again, if Saddam does indeed flee to Syria, that could speed things up. So it all evens out.

Kevin Drum 9:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOBBITS?....Angua says:

Jewish women are genetically trained to look at a balding guy in glasses who is a professional weasel working as a shill for an alleged "war criminal" and go, "Wow, he can make funny unscripted jokes under pressure. Hot!"

What's this all about? Yes, Ari Fleischer, of course, but you'll just have to click the link if you want to find out more.

Who says Canadians can't be funny?

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PAGING STEVEN DEN BESTE....Millionaire car alarm entrepreneur Darrell Issa (R-Qualcomm) knows what Iraq needs: cell phones. And despite the fact that the entire Middle East uses GSM, the European cell phone standard, he thinks Iraq needs American cell phones. Specifically, Qualcomm cell phones:

"If European GSM technology is deployed in Iraq, much of the equipment used to build the cell phone system would be manufactured in France, Germany, and elsewhere in western and northern Europe. Furthermore, royalties paid on the technology would flow to French and European sources, not U.S. patent holders," Issa said in his letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and USAID Administrator, Ambassador Wendy Chamberlain.

Did you get that? France and Germany! French and European sources! Sacre bleu!

Dammit, where is Steven Den Beste on this? He's the one who first taught me that GSM, far from being a mere technical standard, was actually a morality tale about the fecklessness of Europeans, but now that he has a chance to really gloat about it there's nothing but silence from the 49th congressional district. Wake up, Steven.

Kevin Drum 5:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A GRAPHIC YOU WON'T SEE ON CNN....Uggabugga explains the tense world situation in one handy diagram. It's wallet size!

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PERLE RESIGNS....Richard Perle has resigned as head of the Defense Policy Board. I wonder what's up with that?

UPDATE: Here's the AP dispatch. He didn't want his controversial life to cause "even a moment's distraction" from the war effort. Whatever.

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DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN....Mickey Kaus reprints this Daniel Patrick Moynihan quote today:

The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.

He's right: that's a helluva good quote. It contains a lot of wisdom in only 34 words.

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CANADA AND TERRORISM....Canadian Dan Simon suggests that several of us bloggers have overreacted to the remarks of Paul Cellucci, the American ambassador to Canada, who dressed down Canadians on Tuesday for not supporting the U.S. sufficiently. Dan points to this account in the conservative National Post, which is somewhat friendlier to Cellucci.

To my eyes the Post account doesn't really look all that different, although at the very end it does have an entertaining list of anti-American comments from prominent Canadians. However, Dan thinks that Cellucci's comments were driven more by concern about Canada's lax attitude toward terrorist groups within its borders than by their non-support of the war.

I don't entirely buy this, but you can take a look for yourself. In any case, Dan is certainly right that these dustups happen every few years or so and usually calm down fairly quickly. Hopefully W won't hold one of his famous grudges against Canada for the rest of his term.

UPDATE: On the other hand, Canadian expat Scott Martens thinks things are even worse than I do. And he's got newspaper headlines to prove it!

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By: Kevin Drum

WAHHABI EXTREMISM....Stephen Schwartz writes in the Weekly Standard today about Sgt. Asan Akbar, the American soldier accused of launching an attack on command area of Camp Pennsylvania. He says this about Akbar's religious views:

Sources within the American Muslim community say Akbar attended the student mosque at the University of California, Davis, which is controlled by the Saudi-created Muslim Students' Association (MSA). He also listed (under his original name, Mark Fidel Kools) an address at the Bilal Islamic Center in Los Angeles, which is reportedly under "official" Saudi ownership. The Bilal Islamic Center and its Saudi-trained imams are known for venomous preaching of extremism.

Needless to say, this should be taken with a grain for salt until it's confirmed, but it's disturbing anyway. There's probably not much that we can (or should) do about this kind of thing in the United States, but there really ought to be some pressure we can bring to bear on the Saudis to start moderating this stuff at its source.

There are limits to how much either we or the Saudi government can do, but that doesn't mean we can't do anything. Why are we so willing to toss off crude threats against genuinely friendly countries like France, Turkey, and Canada, but we are seemingly not willing to apply even moderate pressure on Saudi Arabia?

Kevin Drum 10:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A LIBERAL QUANDARY....John Derbyshire writes many, many words in National Review Online today in which he says, approximately, nothing. But he does express his opinion about human nature, American manliness, and Iraqi democracy:

Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is a simply terrible name, from every point of view. It is esthetically flat — whatever happened to the principle of naming military operations with ballsy images of "storm," "sword," "thunder," and so on?

Yes, God knows we need more ballsiness from this administration, the wimps. Derb then goes on to muse about what would happen if there were another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil:

My own guess is that a really big terrorist atrocity would steel us and harden us, discredit the vapid talk about "Iraqi freedom," encourage a colder and crueler attitude to enemy civilian casualties, and bring the war to a speedier end. That's my guess. I just wish I felt more sure about it.

Good 'ol Derb, always good for a laugh. But where's the quandary, you ask?

Right here: we liberals tend to have disdain for neocon wet dreams of a wave of democracy sweeping through the Middle East after the war is over. And Derb agrees: it's just "vapid talk." So does that mean we're on the same side as Derb? Or is he still just a nutbag conservative to be mocked at will?

Decisions, decisions.....

Kevin Drum 10:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TUNNELS, TUNNELS, EVERYWHERE....Via Snarkout, here's our fun story for the day: a Japanese journalist who says he has discovered a "secret city" beneath Tokyo:

What changed his life was finding an old map in a secondhand bookstore. Comparing it to a contemporary map, he found significant variations. "Close to the Diet in Nagata-cho, current maps show two subways crossing. In the old map, they are parallel."

The journalist in him taking over, he sought out construction records. When responses proved defensive and noncooperative -- "lips zipped tight" -- he set out to prove that the two subway tunnels could not cross: "Engineering cannot lie."

This inconsistency is just the first of seven riddles that he investigates in his book. The second reveals a secret underground complex between Kokkai-gijidomae and the prime minister's residence. A prewar map (riddle No. 3) shows the Diet in a huge empty space surrounded by paddy fields: "What was the military covering up?" New maps (No. 4) are full of inconsistencies: "People are still trying to hide things."

....What most concerns Shun is not the existence of this network, but why it is a carefully preserved secret. He can understand why maybe before World War II the government thought it prudent that the public remain in ignorance. "Not wanting the enemy to know, it was decided to tell no one and let the population survive as best it could."

At the end of the war, the Cold War took root. "It seems likely that the subterranean complex was prepared for a possible nuclear attack." What is going on right now under our feet, he wonders, with scares of war in the Middle East and within missile range of North Korea.

Brilliant investigative journalist or lunatic conspiracy theorist? You make the call.

Kevin Drum 9:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MONEY IS STILL GREEN....FOR NOW....A reader tells me that the Treasury has postponed the introduction of our new money until June. Hmmph. I was looking forward to it.

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March 26, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE COLOR OF MONEY....Tomorrow is supposed to be the big day: the day the Treasury introduces NextGen, new currency with all new colors. Will it be salmon pink? Teal? Fire engine red?

As usual, the $20 bill is first. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 9:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THOSE LOVELY CONSERVATIVES....Via Atrios, here is Dahlia Lithwick writing in Slate about today's arguments before the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, the gay sodomy case currently before the court. You should read the entire article, but here are a few infuriating snippets:

Rehnquist wonders whether, if these [anti-sodomy] laws are struck down, states can have laws "preferring non-homosexuals to homosexuals as kindergarten teachers." Smith replies that there would need to be some showing that gay kindergarten teachers produce harm to children. Scalia offers one: "Only that children might be induced to follow the path to homosexuality."

....In response to a question from Justice Anthony Kennedy as to whether Bowers is still good law, [Texas district attorney Charles] Rosenthal replies that mores have changed and that "physical homosexual intimacy is now more acceptable." Since he suddenly seems to be arguing the wrong side of the case, an astonished Scalia steps in to say, "You think there is public approval of homosexuality?"...."You're saying there's no disapproval of homosexual acts. But you can't ... say that," he sputters.

You know, in response to some email I've gotten I'm in the middle of writing a post about some of the things I don't like about the extreme wing of the Democratic party. But fuck it. If I can finish it to my liking, I guess I'll still publish it, but there's nothing — nothing — in the Democratic party that comes close to matching swill like this that regularly comes out of the Republican party. Until the Republican leadership repudiates insane bigotry like this, they shouldn't even be accepted in polite society, let alone be allowed to run the country.

Kevin Drum 9:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SADDAM AND JOE, PART 2....Was Robert Fisk right to compare Saddam Hussein to Stalin? According to this Atlantic article, it's an apt comparison indeed:

He has become a student of one of the most tyrannical leaders in history: Joseph Stalin.

Saοd Aburish's biography, Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge (2000), tells of a meeting in 1979 between Saddam and the Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman. It was an early-morning meeting, and Saddam received Othman in a small office in one of his palaces. It looked to Othman as if Saddam had slept in the office the night before. There was a small cot in the corner, and the President received him wearing a bathrobe.

Next to the bed, Othman recalled, were "over twelve pairs of expensive shoes. And the rest of the office was nothing but a small library of books about one man, Stalin. One could say he went to bed with the Russian dictator."

Kieran Healy has some interesting commentary on this, and explains why it might pose bigger problems for the U.S. than you might think.

Kevin Drum 9:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ARI FLEISCHER, BUSH ADMINISTRATION FLACK SEX SYMBOL....This is just scary. From The Corner:

Check this one out: "A bunch of my girlfriends and I get together via the internet (I'm in Germany and they're in the States and Australia) almost every day to discuss how hot Ari Fleischer is and how good he looked at the latest briefing. I have to wonder if he has any idea of how large a female fan club he has? We love the guy. We're also pretty enamored of Gen. John Abizaid as well."

Words fail me.

UPDATE: Via TBOGG and a bit of Googling, I find that there's an actual Ari Fleischer fan club. Somebody just shoot me.

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STATE OF THE NATION....Bill Schneider on CNN reports that American morale is holding up well: 70% of Americans still support the war. Lou Dobbs asks, what does it mean? Schneider: "It shows that the American public is pretty shrewd....We're in this for the long run."

Yeah, baby! Seven whole days and we're still supporting the war! We Americans really know how to stick it out, don't we?

Can someone please shut these nitwits up?

POSTSCRIPT: I wonder what the real American tolerance for war is these days? In the last 30 years we haven't waged a war longer than a couple of months or with more than 300 deaths. Does anyone seriously believe that the American public would tolerate Gulf War II if it lasted a year and took 10,000 lives? It's not likely that we'll have to find out, but talking about the grim determination of the United States until we approach these kinds of figures seems laughable.

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THOSE DAMN FRENCH....William Safire is on an anti-French crusade (here and here), and the good folks at TomPaine.com have the goods on his dishonest Francophobic screed.

But Safire is an amateur. Check out this attack on everyone's favorite republic:

....the dissoluteness of youth, the wanton and wicked reviling of magistrates...the cherishing of seditious practices, the opposition to the laws of the country...the open practice of adultery and fornication, the multiplied instances of fraud and swindling...the devotedness of thousands to a covetous pursuit of wealth...have encreased upon us, with a rapid accumulation, within a short space...And shall I lay open the source...?...an enthusiastic attachment, in multitudes of people in this country to the revolution and cause of the French. This attachment has given an easy introduction to the atheistical, infidel, and immoral principles of that people.

That was the Reverend Ashbel Green delivering his Fast Day sermon in 1799. Could those guys sling the invective, or what?

If you're interested, and you really should be, this passage and the ones in the post below are from American Aurora, by Richard Rosenfeld, an immensely entertaining history of our near war with France in 1798-99, as told by stringing together excerpts from the Aurora, an anti-Federalist Philadelphia newspaper, and some of its competitors. It seems as though 900 pages of excerpts from old newspapers ought to be pretty tedious, but in Rosenfeld's hands it's anything but. It's a fascinating look at history in the making, and gives you a real feel for how this particular episode of war frenzy played out. It's a timely read.

Kevin Drum 2:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GOD AND POLITICS....Eugene Volokh comments today on a proposed House resolution calling on the President to declare a day of prayer and fasting. The resolution cites several previous Presidential proclamations of such days and says, among other things, that they have historically "been a means of producing unity and solidarity among all the diverse people of this Nation."

One of the proclamations they don't reference is John Adams' declaration of May 9, 1798 as a day of "solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer." Here is what Benjamin Franklin's grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache, had to say about it in his newspaper, the Aurora:

There is nothing in the constitution giving authority to proclaim fasts....Because prayer, fasting, and humiliation are matters of religion and conscience, with which government has nothing to do...And because we consider a connection between state and church affairs as dangerous to religious and political freedom and that, therefore, every approach towards it should be discouraged....

And this letter to the editor:

I find most good men look on the President's Proclamation for Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer throughout the States as one of those apparently humble, hypocritical and delusive methods Tyrants have universally began the foundation for oppressing the people with....

Benjamin Franklin himself — one of those framers of the constitution that people like Anton Scalia keep telling us about — would surely have agreed. Bringing God into politics didn't produce "unity and solidarity" in 1798, and there's no reason to think it will do so today either. This is one resolution that should stay in House members' churches, where it belongs.

Kevin Drum 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND CANADA....Henry Farrell and Dan Drezner both have good comments about the latest Bush administration imbecility in threatening Canada for not supporting our war with Iraq. The Globe and Mail reports that our ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, said that:

the relationship between the two countries will endure in the long term, but "there may be short-term strains here."

Asked what those strains would be, Mr. Cellucci replied, "You'll have to wait and see." But he cryptically added it is his government's position that "security will trump trade," implying possible implications for cross-border traffic.

"You'll have to wait and see." Huh? Has Cellucci been taking lessons from the Godfather?

Are these guys ever going to learn? Don't they understand that publicly threatening people doesn't get them to back down, it just pisses them off? Hell, it didn't even work against Saddam Hussein, let alone the prime minister of Canada, who would be out of a job in a wink if he were seen as caving in to American pressure.

The fact is that threats and intimidation virtually never work. It didn't work against Saddam, it didn't work against the Turks, and it didn't work against France. It hasn't worked for either Israel or the Palestinians, although neither side has learned this lesson over the past half century. And it didn't work for Japan when they bombed Pearl Harbor.

It's not going to work for George W. Bush either, and the fact that he keeps trying shows just how bankrupt and desperate his foreign policy is.

Kevin Drum 1:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND TURKEY....Good column from Josh Marshall in The Hill this week. The Bush administration screwed up on Turkey, and now the conservative fangs have been bared against the Turks themselves, instead of against the hamhanded Bush version of diplomacy that caused the Turkish defection in the first place.

That's the price of democracy, W. You actually have to persuade people instead of simply bullying them, and that's a lesson you seem loathe to learn.

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POLITICAL CLIQUES....Yesterday I wrote a couple of posts about alternate views of the war, one from Saudi Arabia and one from Robert Fisk, and this led to an email exchange with Nicholas Pisarro over at Dark Machine about "confirmation bias," the tendency of people to pay attention to evidence that supports their views and to dismiss evidence that contradicts it — even if the credibility of both pieces of evidence is about the same.

By chance, I came across an interesting and related item while reading Discover last night. Valdis Krebs is the author of a piece of software that analyzes social networks, and on a whim he decided to use it to find out if buying patterns at Amazon.com could be used to draw conclusions about the polarization of American politics:

"I started thinking, I wonder if you could see evidence for this in the book-reading networks." Krebs used InFlow to analyze the network of book purchases surrounding two best-selling titles, one from the left (Michael Moore's Stupid White Men) and one from the right (Ann Coulter's Slander).

"What I got were two cliques that were about as distinct as they could be. I kept looking for paths that crossed between them. Every time I tried to follow one of these paths, I'd go out three or four steps, and then boom, I'm right back in the clique." Most strikingly, the two networks intersected only on a single title: Bernard Lewis's What Went Wrong? Otherwise, the two groups were engrossed in entirely different reading lists, with no common ground.

Granted, these are pretty extreme books and appeal to pretty extreme audiences, but it's still an interesting little data point about the discomfort people have even listening to arguments they disagree with.

And while we're on the subject, Nicholas recommends this Christian Science Monitor article about war reporting and confirmation bias. Check it out.

Kevin Drum 12:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CAN THE CENTER HOLD?....The LA Times has a local columnist, John Balzar, who writes some very nice pieces. Today he talks about extremism:

Speaking in terms of culture, not advocation, I find myself wondering about the center and its place in society. A large share of American political energy has taken flight. From a shared sense of direction, people have dispersed to the self-righteous poles.

It took two presidents and several bloody, unhappy years of Vietnam before 100,000-plus people demonstrated in the streets for an end to the fighting, or before officers were fragged in their tents in the field. This time, we've witnessed both in the opening hours of war.

I know this is just idle chatter, but I can't tell you how much I yearn for a new political party that represents, as Al Franken puts it, the mushball middle. The Finns have a party called, appropriately, the Center Party, and I want one too.

Why? Because I think that fundamentalism is the real enemy of progress, and that includes both fundamentalist take-no-prisoners conservatives as well as fundamentalist America-is-a-sink-of-corruption lefties — both at home and abroad. I'm tired of Christian fundamentalists, who apparently think America should be ruled via some lunatic interpretation of the book of Leviticus, and I'm tired of Islamic fundamentalists, who think it's a sin for women to drive cars. Likewise, I'm tired of tax-cut fundamentalists who want to ruin the American economy via deficits as far the eye can see, and I'm tired of anti-globalization fundamentalists who think McDonald's is the root of all evil.

Like Balzar, I have a hard time empathizing with any extreme view of the war with Iraq. It's a close call, after all. The fact is that Saddam poses only a moderate — and long term — threat to the United States, so it's a little hard to understand the mouth frothing rage that conservatives bring to the pro-war cause. At the same time, Saddam is about as brutal and unliberal a dictator as you could imagine and the world will undoubtedly be a better place without him, so it's also a little hard to understand the anti-war fervor that some liberals bring to their cause.

End of rant, I guess. But if anybody were ever able to set up a credible political party for the middle 60%, they could sign me up in a flash. Sure, I'd end up losing a few fights and compromising on some things I'd rather not compromise on, but there's a chance that we'd be able to keep the extreme loonies out of power, and that would be reward enough.

Feh. Maybe my serotonin levels are just a little low today. Back to the fight tomorrow.....

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias says I'm just reading too many blogs. He's probably right.

And both Matt (directly) and Atrios (indirectly) make the point that the Republican party really does have an extremist wing with real influence, whereas extremists in the Democratic party are pretty marginalized. That's true, and it's why I'm a registered Democrat. But I think there's more to it, and I'll blog about it when I get my thoughts together.

Kevin Drum 10:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TAX AND SPEND?....NO, IT'S TAX OR SPEND....Pandagon says that Republicans don't understand Keynesian economics:

As far as I can tell, Republicans have one and only one reading of Keynesianism that comes from the shortened second day of Econ 001 - government spending can revitalize the economy. It just so happens that the rest of it is politically inexpedient, and they have a preferred method of spending that can be sold any time, regardless of the circumstances...tax cuts.

Yeah, tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.....

The lesson of Keynes is that governments can help economies out of a recession via deficit spending. Essentially, the government is trying to keep overall demand in the economy high by replacing the spending that consumers and businesses aren't doing.

And it has to be deficit spending because it doesn't do any good to simply tax money away from consumers and then spend that same money via the government. Total spending stays the same, and since government expenditures tend to be less efficient than consumer and business expenditures, the overall effect would actually be moderately damaging to the economy.

Needless to say, you can run a deficit either by spending more or taxing less, so which should you choose? There are two big considerations: (a) because there are lags built into any big economy, you want the stimulus to happen as fast as possible, and (b) you want the stimulus to be temporary. When the economy recovers, the deficits should go away.

That's what makes the Bush tax cuts such a disaster: it will take a long time — probably on the order of 18-24 months — for their effects to be felt, and hopefully the economy will be recovering by then anyway. And of course, the tax cuts are permanent, which means we'll be running deficits forever, even when the economy is strong.

In other words, spending programs are generally better and faster ways to stimulate the economy than tax cuts. And this time around we don't even have to deal with one of the biggest problems with Keynesian spending programs, namely that it's often hard to find useful, short-term projects to spend money on. Federal money could be spent on helping states out of their budgets crises and on increased unemployment benefits, and thanks to 9/11, money could also usefully be spent on the war with Iraq, on vastly increased homeland security measures, on reconstruction efforts in post-war Iraq, and so forth. All of these things are both immediate and temporary by their nature, and when you add them all up and throw in the usual pork projects (bridges, water treatment plans, etc. etc.) you could easily have a stimulus package that amounts to several hundred billion dollars.

If there was ever a time when a pure Keynesian spending program was the best solution to a slow economy, this is it. It's too bad that Republicans have allowed their fundamentalist ideology to blind them to it.

Kevin Drum 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DON'T CALL ME, I'LL CALL YOU....Today's good news: on July 1st you'll be able to sign up for the new national do-not-call list. Violators who call anyway are subject to fines up to $11,000, and potential violators are not happy about this:

Telemarketers say the registry will devastate their industry and send ripples through the economy.

Devastate away, guys....

Kevin Drum 9:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MAC DIVA....I see that frequent commenter Mac Diva (at, ahem, other sites that have comments) now has her own blog. That's good. Mac has strong opinions, and this will let her express them in public — and allow her antagonists to take their shots right back.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Mac.

Kevin Drum 9:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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INDIA AND PAKISTAN....Over at Max Sawicky's site, the Sandwichman calls our attention to America's peace loving ways.....whenever the argument is between other people:

India today countered the renewed call by US for resumption of talks with Pakistan, asking why military action was resorted to against Iraq and Afghanistan instead of dialogue to resolve the crisis confronting the two countries.

....He was asked about remarks made by US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher in Washington that "violence will not solve Kashmir's problems. Dialogue remains a critical element in the normalization of relations between India and Pakistan."

There's a lot of justice in these remarks. Just as Ronald Reagan insisted that Britain and Argentina should settle the Falklands contretemps via negotiation but then launched a preemptive strike against Grenada a year later, George Bush seems endlessly dedicated to talking out world problems — unless they happen to affect the United States. India's dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir has been simmering along (or boiling over) for half a century now, but when Iraq reappeared on W's radar screen he decided that six months of diplomacy at the United Nations was more than any Christian man should be asked to bear.

Yesterday I criticized Erwin Chemerinsky for suggesting that illegal U.S. behavior toward prisoners at Guantanamo might encourage Saddam Hussein to violate international conventions. But this is a case where the criticism is on a bit firmer ground. Extreme thugs like Saddam don't much care what the world thinks of them, but democracies like India do, and when they see that the United States feels free to disregard world opinion it's just one more nudge in the direction of disregarding it themselves.

If talking is good for India and Pakistan, then talking ought to be good for the United States and Iraq, and it ought to be good for Israel and Palestine. If it's not, then we have no right to lecture India that violence will not solve their problems.

Kevin Drum 8:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 25, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TV TIME....After a three-week hiatus, 24 is finally back on tonight. Whew. Last we heard, Los Angeles had just escaped nuclear incineration — though poor old George Mason wasn't so lucky — but I suppose we still have all that fallout to worry about. I wonder what the weather report is like....?

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MAGNANIMOUS, AS ALWAYS....Glenn Reynolds on Saddam's buddies:

The French are still defending him. And they'll probably try to blame the U.S. and Britain for the slaughter [in Basra]. But they want a piece of the action once Saddam's gone.

Screw 'em. We ought to help the new Iraqi government extradite Chirac as a war criminal.

Has he completely flipped his lid?

And on a more substantive note, is Glenn in favor of Iraqi democracy or not? If he is, then he should accept that the Iraqis — decent people, we are told, once they are liberated from Saddam's lies and deceit — will choose to do business with whomever they please. But if he thinks that Iraq should be treated like an American colonial possession, then shouldn't he just come out and say so?

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SADDAM AND JOE....Question: to what extent should you accept or discard a report based on the ideology of its author? Without knowing who wrote the following, what do you think of this dispatch from Baghdad?

At other times, President Saddam sounded like his hero, Joseph Stalin. "They have come to destroy our country and we must stand and destroy them and defend our people and our country ... Cut their throats ... They are coming to take our land. But when they try to enter our cities, they try to avoid a battle with our forces and to stay outside the range of our weapons."

Was this, one wondered, modelled on the Great Patriotic War, the defence of Mother Russia under Uncle Joe?

....it's also possible to imagine just how long President Saddam and his army and Baath party militias can endure, a sobering thought for those of us sitting in the Iraqi capital and only too well aware that the Stalingrad symbolism might turn out to be real. Saddam's tactics are clearly those of Stalin.

Is this (a) an interesting commentary on Saddam's likely tactics? Or (b) ridiculous shilling on Saddam's behalf?

Well, I came across this on OxBlog, where David Adesnik says this:

Just when you thought he couldn't be any stupider, he outdoes himself again. Today, Robert Fisk compares Saddam to Stalin.

But wait, you say, isn't that a pretty accurate comparison? Sure it is...unless it is meant as praise for Saddam.

But wait, you say, how could a comparison with Stalin ever be considered praise? Don't worry, it can. After all, Stalin did hold out against the Wehrmacht for more than two years at a time when military experts predicted the fall of Moscow within six weeks.

Yep, it's Robert Fisk. But frankly, if I hadn't known that before I read it I would have chosen (a), feeling that this was an intriguing look into how Saddam himself views this war. And now, even though I do know it's Fisk, I'd still choose (a).

Just because Fisk is anti-war and anti-American doesn't mean his reports can't have some interesting insights, and I think this one does. He may be wrong, but we do ourselves no favors when we casually dismiss things simply because we don't like the ideology of the messenger. The Battle of Baghdad won't last two years, but it may yet turn out to be a pretty serious fight.

UPDATE: Let me be more clear about this. I've read a number of Fisk's pieces, and I don't like his strident anti-Americanism any better than any other American would. But the fact remains that he has been reporting from the Arab world for a long time, has a lot of contacts that American reporters don't, and is obviously extremely knowledgable about his beat. Of course you need to take his biases into account — he is writing commentary, after all — but even with a skeptical reading it's possible to extract a lot of interesting information from his reports that's not available to (or not wanted by) the mainstream American media. The fact that he doesn't like the war and sympathizes with the Arab cause doesn't necessarily make his facts wrong or his opinions automatically stupid.

Kevin Drum 6:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PROOFREADING ADVICE....From Eugene Volokh:

It turns out that over 100 articles published in law reviews since 1998 contain the text "Bookmark not defined." (And all you people at name-brand law schools, quit sneering; the most recent entry on the list is from the Yale Law Journal.) I never knew there legal academics were that interested in writing about the law of bookmarks....

I'm not surprised. I've found that a huge number of mistakes happen in the following areas:

  • Picture captions

  • Table titles

  • Headers and footers

  • Boilerplate

  • Chapter and section heading.

  • And, of course, footnotes

In other words, all those areas other than the main text of whatever you're proofreading. So next time you're forced to proofread something, do a second pass specifically for these things.

Kevin Drum 6:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND LOYALTY....Here's a question for you. Everyone agrees that Tony Blair has been a truly stand-up ally on the Iraq war despite the fact that this has caused him tremendous problems at home. I mean, this is a guy who has to put up with stuff like this from his own party members.

So: George Bush clearly owes Tony Blair big time, and if loyalty is a two-way street it means that he'll find some way to pay him back. That is, he'll agree to wholeheartedly support Blair on some issue that's important to him even though it will cause Bush problems with his supporters in the U.S.

Do you think he will?

Kevin Drum 6:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POINT/COUNTERPOINT....The twins comment on the war:

Amanda:
I'm anti-war. I think we should'nt attack Saddam. He's evil and if we attack then we'd be evil, too. Two evils don't make a right. Let him attack, we're stronger. We have the power of peace, goodness, and fairness, on our side.

Maddy:
I don't get it. Besides my dad, mom, and me, I'm like the ONLY PERSON THAT RELIAZES WE NEED TO GO TO WAR! Sure I don't want to...but come on...REALITY CHECK!

Hmmm, so much for that business of twins always developing similar personalities.....

Kevin Drum 4:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A DIFFERENT VIEW OF WAR....For what it's worth, here's how the front page of the Saudi Gazette (dated 22 Muharram 1424) portrays the war. Pictures of American POWs, Iraqi civilians being "escorted" at gunpoint, and Iraqis celebrating the downing of a U.S. helicopter.

The headlines have a similar tone: British forces "flee" Basra, two helicopters downed and 30 others "forced to retreat," Turkey sending troops into northern Iraq, and Britain "seeks its share of trade bounty."

Of course, when you get right down to it, I'm not sure this is really all that different from the New York Times front page. And it's sure a lot better than the headline over at the Palestine Chronicle: The Genocidal War on Iraq: Can We Scream Any Louder?

As always, these front pages and more can be found over at the invaluable Newseum. If you don't have it bookmarked, do it now.

Kevin Drum 4:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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STOCK MARKET JOURNALISM....Stock market journalism has gotten past the point of being ridiculous and has now entered the realm of total fantasy. I was going to post about it this morning, but Megan McArdle beat me to it:

Can everyone stop writing posts/articles on how the last ten minutes activity in the stock market proves their belief that the war is won/doomed? First of all, no one writing any of those "Stocks up on hopes of a quick resolution" headlines took a poll to find out what the millions of investors who set the stock prices by buying and selling individual shares of stock, was thinking. They're just guessing, mostly based on what they think would have caused them to buy and sell if they were people who had money, instead of journalists.

On Friday stocks were up because no Americans had died yet in Iraq. On Monday stocks were down because it turned out the Iraqis were going to fight back after all. Tuesday morning they were up because news from the front was mysteriously somewhat better than 12 hours before. Now, this afternoon, stocks are back down because....the Senate voted to cut Bush's tax cut in half.

Sez who? "Analysts," of course. There are two primary possible explanations for all this silliness:

  • As Megan suggests, journalists just make this shit up.

  • Big institutional investors really do react instantly to news like this. In other words, they are flakier than we imagined, even after the emperor was unclothed during the dotcom bust.

I'm not sure which of these I'd rather believe, but sure as hell someone comes out of this looking like an idiot. I can't think of any rational reason why allegedly sophisticated investors would buy or sell, say, Procter and Gamble based on whether a war in Iraq happens to be going well during a particular 24-hour period, but if they aren't, then I can't figure out why journalists would feel it necessary to make this stuff up.

However, one conclusion you can draw is that the average joe is actually more level headed than most of the experts who run the country. Ordinary investors are apparently far better at sticking to a long-term investing strategy than most fund managers, for example, and ordinary newspaper readers seem much more level headed about the fortunes of war than the breathless reporters telling us about it. I'm not entirely sure what lesson there is here, but I'm sure there is one.....

Kevin Drum 3:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SUPPORTING OUR TROOPS....Over at National Review Online, Gabriel Ledeen got a letter from a peace activist expressing concern for our troops. Gabriel says he's normally a temperate guy, but after thinking about this for a bit he got really pissed at the obvious duplicitousness of his correspondent and responded thusly:

"I find it disingenuous of you to claim that you support our troops now, when it is politically convenient to do so. Groups with which you identify have been railing against the military for years and years....protesting against the 'homophobic' and 'sexist' practices of the military, banning recruiters from career fairs all over the country, closing down ROTC units at Ivy League and other universities, campaigning against tax breaks for military families and against an increase in the shamefully low military salaries."

Most of this is rhetorical fair game, but why does he include "protesting against the 'homophobic' and 'sexist' practices of the miltary" — complete with obligatory scare quotes to indicate that it's absurd to suggest that the military is anti-gay or less than fair to women — as tantamount to contempt for the military itself? Might I suggest that it's exactly the other way around?

And speaking of "politically convenient," has Ledeen noticed that at the same time it was flogging war with Iraq, the Bush administration has been busily cutting veterans' benefits, slashing education funding for school districts that serve military bases, and firing gay Arabic linguists? You'll have to excuse me if this all sounds slightly less than 100% pro-military.

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GLUED TO THE SET....Chad Orzel responds to my query about how it is that people can be so obsessed with news about the war. As befits the name of his blog, he says the answer is.....uncertain.

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EQUAL OPPORTUNITY ARRESTS....Yesterday I noted that Cass Sunstein, speaking on Bill O'Reilly's show, claimed that in Chicago police arrested only male protesters, not female ones. The Chicago Tribune seemed to say otherwise, and today I got an email from the parent of one of the protesters confirming the Tribune's side of things:

In Chicago's Thursday night protest the cops targeted women to arrest in greater numbers than ever before. When the women were in the cells/holding pens waiting to be processed they were shouted at over and over to make sure they tell their friends about what happens when you protest. Most of the men were released the morning after - the women released late into the afternoon. It was really ugly. And get this: at the police stations (Grand Ave Station for the women and girls - Pullman Station for the boys and men) the cops all had black tape over their badges!

So not only were women arrested, it appears they were actually treated a bit worse than the men.

Kevin Drum 12:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ISRAELI NEWS....A correspondent writes to tell me that "The Jerusalem Post has been taken over by non-Israeli right-wingers and every writer of any talent (or salary) has been let go. It survives entirely by pandering to the out-of-Israel Likudnik market." He suggests that I add Ha'aretz to my media list on the right in order to get more balanced Israeli reporting. Consider it done.

In fact, any other suggestions for additions are welcome too. I created the media list several months ago for my own use simply by skimming though Yahoo's news category and plucking out interesting-sounding English language sites. I'm open to suggestions for additional good news sources, especially foreign ones.

POSTSCRIPT: In blogs, everyone seems to refer to this newspaper as "Ha'aretz," while they themselves have ditched the apostrophe and transliterate themselves as "Haaretz." It seems like I really ought to use the translation they themselves use, but what do I know? What's the deal here?

UPDATE: Reader Howard Litwak sets the record straight:

In Hebrew, "ha" means "the" and "aretz" means "land."

Ha-aretz (yes, I'm doing this intentionally!) is one word in Hebrew (in fact, it's in the first line of the Old Testament — you know, in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth), so it would make sense to treat it, in its English representation, as "haaretz."

OK, I'm convinced.

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE END OF HISTORY....When I was reading Daniel Ellsberg's Secrets a few days ago, the realization popped into my head that I had no personal recollection of the whole Pentagon Papers affair, which happened in 1971. Conversely, I do have vivid personal recollections of Watergate, which started only a year or two later. Hmmm.

Then, in response to an ill-judged remark about the Free Speech Movement a couple of days ago (which, just for the record, I don't think was the work of crackpots or loons), a correspondent wrote to ask, "Just how young ARE you?"

The answer, of course, is "just young enough." All of us have a particular age when we started paying attention to the larger world, and for each of us the events that happened before that date, even if only by a year or two, are the stuff of history, known — sporadically and imperfectly — from the dry and analytic intake of books and TV documentaries. Everything after is part of our life and evokes the full range of emotional response that's normal for events that we personally experience.

What's funny, for me, is that I can date this divide rather precisely. One day, in the period before I really understood why anyone bothered reading any section of the newspaper other than the comics, I had this approximate conversation with my father:

ME: So what happened in the world today?

DAD: Well, they declared martial law in the Philippines.

ME: Oh, ha ha, very funny.

But when my father left the room, I picked up the paper, and guess what? Ferdinand Marcos really had declared martial law in the Philippines. After that I started reading the paper every day.

A bit of googling turns up the exact date for this event: September 21, 1972. So there you have it: for me, the end of history was September 1972. When was it was for you?

Kevin Drum 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SADDAM AND DONALD....In the LA Times today, Erwin Chemerinsky says this about Donald Rumsfeld's condemnation of Iraqi treatment of American POWs:

Rumsfeld's hypocrisy here is enormous. For two years, the Bush administration has ignored and violated international law and thus has undermined the very legitimacy of the treaties and principles that constitute the law of nations. Though we all hope, of course, for the quick and safe return of the American prisoners of war, the fact is that -- unfortunately -- Iraq and other nations may feel much freer today to violate international law in the way they treat war captives and the way they wage war.

Now, I would very much like to believe this since I think George Bush's disdain for collective security and international treaties has serious long-term consequences, but I can't. It's just fantasy.

The plain fact is that Saddam Hussein is a nauseatingly vicious brute, and accounts of his longtime love of torture as both entertainment and an instrument of state policy are enough to make any civilized person sick. He has always felt free to violate international law — not to mention every conceivable law of human decency — and that has nothing to do with the fact that the United States abrogated the ABM treaty or is holding 600 al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Chemerinsky is almost certainly right that we should provide tribunals for the Guantanamo prisoners as required by the Geneva conventions, but the reason we should do this is precisely because we hold ourselves to infinitely higher standards than Saddam Hussein has ever held himself — not because we think our example makes the slightest difference either to him or to his likeminded thugs in other countries. It is foolish to suggest otherwise.

Kevin Drum 9:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE FOG OF WAR....Can I just say that the endless news reports and blog postings suggesting that our military strategy is hopelessly screwed up — Rumsfeld obviously thought the entire country would just surrender! — are a bit premature? It's only been six days so far.

Why are they pushing toward Baghdad so fast? Why are they leaving their supply lines in the south so thinly guarded? Why are the Iraqis actually fighting back? I don't know, the reporters don't know, sure as hell bloggers don't know, and even the legion of retired military analysts on cable news are only guessing.

It may turn out in the end that we made some mistakes, and it may turn out the Rumsfeld was responsible for some of them. But I wouldn't hang your hat on it yet. It's early days.

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March 24, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

IT WAS BOUND TO HAPPEN SOMEDAY....Oddly enough, this Steven Den Beste post is quite good advice. It's about three times longer than it needs to be, but it's good advice nonetheless. Just skip directly to the lists at the bottom.

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O'REILLY: WE NEED TO ARREST MORE WOMEN....Bill O'Reilly was just talking to Cass Sunstein, who claimed that at the Chicago protest this morning only male demonstrators were arrested, while women were let go. O'Reilly was shocked. "Does NOW know about this? We need equal rights for protesters!"

But here's what the Chicago Tribune says:

The protesters were loaded into two police vans — one for men, one for women. As in previous protests, men were taken to Area 2 police headquarters, 727 E. 111th St., and women to Area 5 police headquarters, 5555 W. Grand Ave.

So what's the real deal?

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ANOTHER NRO EXCLUSIVE!....Isn't this cute? National Review Online now has an "Iraqi Time" clock on their website, presumably so that you can be sure not to miss any of the nighttime bombing runs.

And there's a bonus: the clock magically updates every five minutes, so if you have NRO sitting idly in your taskbar it pops to the surface every five minutes. There's nothing new there, of course, just the latest time in Saddam's bunker, but I guess they figure it keeps their website at the tippy top of your mind, whether you want it there or not.

Sneaky conservatives....

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NEOCONS REDUX....Is it true that the heavily Jewish roots of the neoconservative movement affect its views on Israel? Is it true that Jews are more pro-Israel than non-Jews? Is the phrase "pro-Israel" even meaningful? I got knocked around for even bringing up the subject a few days ago, and promised myself I would henceforth leave this subject dead and buried.

But what the hell, it's a new week, right? Here's Eric Alterman's take on the subject:

Am I the only Jew in America who will admit to having "dual loyalties?" I find the entire debate on the pro-Israeli sympathies of the Neocons who planned this war a bit mystifying. Of course it's about Israel; at least in part. The question of whether it's more about Israel than the United States is a non-issue for most of these people because they do not admit to any conceivable conflict of interest between the two, which is a common position on both the dovish left and the hawkish right. (And in that regard, Osama Bin Laden did the latter group a tremendous favor, by appearing to fuse Israel's enemy, politically motivated Palestinian resistance with America's enemy, radical Islamic terrorism.) But the equation is too easy. Even if you don't grant any differences in practice, it's impossible to argue that they're not possible in principle. America is not, despite what the Buchanan/Cockburn axis might like to argue, Israeli-occupied territory.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, I was openly instructed in Hebrew School, by my grandparents, and elsewhere about my "responsibility" to protect and defend Israel, usually "because of the Holocaust," which America had catastrophically sat out. This was practically the only content of my religious education. I was sent to Israel twice as a teenager for the purposes of being lectured some more and strengthening my emotional ties to the Jewish state, whose existence was always posited as tenuous and dependent on U.S. support. I was explicitly instructed that I must "never allow America to turn its back on Israel," and hence should support an interventionary foreign policy for those purposes.

This lecture continued uninterrupted in college, when the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) would come and make exactly the same points in exactly the same way, generally slandering anyone who took a different view as either an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew.

All of this worked to one degree or another. When I write and think about U.S. foreign policy, I am inexorably drawn to the question, "Is this good for Israel?" It just so happens that I think that an immediate withdrawal from the occupied territories is good for Israel, so I support all measures designed to bring that about, including the withdrawal of U.S. aid and a forced peace settlement, whether Mr. Sharon likes it or not. Many Jews and all Neoconservatives disagree. Fine. But these same Jews seem to think it a kind of blasphemy to say aloud what I've just said because it will give aid and comfort to the anti-Semites. Lawrence Kaplan of The New Republic calls the very discussion of the idea, "toxic," and any number of the supporters of the war with Iraq consider even raising the issue to be prima-facie evidence of anti-Semitism. But to me it's common sense.

I am not speaking for anyone else. I don't profess to know the psychological motivations of Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Irving Kristol, William Kristol, Lawrence Kaplan, Charles Krauthammer, Seth Lipky, Martin Peretz, Norman Podhoretz, Elliott Abrams, etc. And it's true that many pro-Israel Neocons are not even Jewish. (To say nothing of the Israel-lovin' fundamentalist Christian conservatives, like, um, the president of the United States.) But I'd be surprised if they did not imbibe at least some of the wine I did in the days when, in the aftermath of the '67 and '73 wars, it was as common among Jews as water. And if we refuse to admit in public what we know to be true in private, we are living a lie. In that case, the anti-Semites really do win.

OK then.

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HMMM....The motto over at Ted Barlow's site this week is "There are no cats in America." I find this.....disturbing.

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THE VALUE OF FEAR....Chris Mooney has an article in this month's American Prospect about one of my perennial favorites: how to fight back against the conservative monolith. The subject of his article is Susan Nall Bales, who runs a communications consulting firm called FrameWorks, and I'd like to agree with one thing she says and disagree with another.

First, Bales tells us that we have to figure out how people actually respond to liberal ideas and adjust our message accordingly. Unfortunately, she says, liberals don't like to work that way:

Some may even be willing to suppress their instinctual reservations about coming off as calculating and Machiavellian, instead of idealistic, pure and high-minded. But it's still a tough struggle. "There was a huge resistance to this," says Diane Benjamin, director of the Minnesota Kids Count Project and a FrameWorks devotee, about her group's implementation of strategic frame analysis. "Either people thought it didn't matter what their media message was or they felt it was somehow selling out to be strategic about how they think about issues."

Bales is absolutely right when she says that people are not usually persuaded by facts ("'If the facts don't fit the frame, it's the facts that are rejected, not the frame,' is an oft-repeated FrameWorks aphorism.") Good marketing people understand that you can't build your campaign around a message that would convince you, you have to build it around a message that will convince your target audience. Understanding that this audience may view the world differently from you is a necessary first step in changing minds, and there's nothing wrong with a rational, calculating approach to gaining this understanding.

But then she takes a wrong step, claiming that a successful message has to be a positive one:

"Negative attacks by many of the groups, like children's advocates and environmentalists, that we see as being caring kinds of groups do more damage to them than they do to the opposition. That's one of the real hardships [of] liberal advocacy."

It's true that doom-and-gloom messages by themselves don't sell, but something similarly negative does: fear. And it sells big.

Not fear of things like eventual environmental collapse (she's right about that), but fear of people. Conservatives have very successfully gained ground by convincing moderate swing voters to be afraid of liberals: liberals "blame America first," they have contempt for traditional values, they are atheists, they're soft on child molesters, etc. etc. These are not people who should be in control of our government.

Fear sells. You buy deodorant because you're afraid of the social ostracism of BO. You buy Wisk because you're afraid your husband's colleagues will think you're a poor homemaker if they notice his ring around the collar. You drive your kids to school because you're afraid of kidnappers and child molesters.

Of course you need a positive program too, but before anyone will listen to it you have to make them afraid of the opposition. So the fundamental problem for liberals is this: figuring out how to convince the middle third of voters that they should be afraid of what extreme conservatives are doing. When they are more afraid of them than they are of extreme liberals, then the real work can start.

That's not a very inspiring message, is it? But it's the reality of politics today, and liberals need to learn it. Fast.

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TODAY'S MOOD: WEEP WITH COMPASSION DO YOUR BEST TO FEIGN REGRET....Reader Jeremy Osner recommends Patrick Farley's latest creation: President Bush's advice on how you should feel about the Iraqi people. It's pretty funny.

That is, it's pretty funny if you don't like President Bush in the first place. Which, in case this hasn't yet been quite obvious enough for y'all, I don't.

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IDLE WAR THOUGHTS....I have to admit that I'm a little perplexed that so many people are interested in minute-by-minute coverage of the war. I can understand being glued to the set for some kind of big breaking news — the space shuttle disaster, for example — but the invasion of Iraq has been in the works for months, it's rolling along pretty much as planned, and it's going to last for a few weeks (more or less). After the first few hours, I just don't see how people can sustain such an intense interest in the whole thing.

Nor do I understand the insistence by some that other activities (like the Academy Awards, for example) should be put on hold "because we're at war." I don't want to sound like Noam Chomsky here, but the United States has been at war at least nine times in the past couple of decades (Grenada, Nicaragua, Panama, Gulf War I, Haiti, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Gulf War II). Considering that we do this kind of thing approximately every 30 months, it's hard for me to take seriously the notion that normal life should grind to a halt whenever the United States is at war.

Oh, and as long as I'm in Andy Rooney mode here, here's something else that bothers me: continual blog posts about "supporting our troops." I imagine that everyone aside from the most radical imaginable pacifists — and probably even them — supports our troops. But it's almost like it's become a contest to demonstrate who can mourn the loss of every soldier the most, and the forced tone of these postings sounds less than genuine to me. Because of that there's something vaguely demeaning about the whole exercise.

In other news, it turns out that the chemical weapons factory wasn't, Bush is finally going to submit a bill for the war to Congress, and the stock market, which allegedly was delirious on Friday because we were doing so well, is allegedly distraught today because the invasion has slowed down a bit. Sheesh.

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ACADEMY AWARD WRAPUP....Sorry, Ted, but I'm not heading over to Freep land even if you do pay me. (Although, you know, you could always make me an offer....)

As it turns out, conservative reaction to the Academy Awards seems to be pretty muted. Sure, they all thought Michael Moore was an idiot, but Steve Martin's quip lightened their outrage (and besides, Moore got some boos in addition to the applause). Adrien Brody's speech hit a good tone, showing obvious concern for both the horror of war and his friend in the army. And Susan Sarandon's peace sign — well, that was pretty restrained for Susan Sarandon.

The best comment of the night? Steve Martin's final line: "For all our service men and women overseas, I hope you enjoyed the show. It was for you."

And can I just say that I wish they'd bring back Steve Martin to host every year? Sure, not every joke went over, but as a standup comic I think he's unbeatable. Billy Crystal, on the other hand, just makes me wince.

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THE EVOLUTION OF NATIONAL REVIEW....Tapped, in a post about David Frum's National Review article lambasting conservatives who don't support the war, comments about

NR's evolution away from old-style, William F. Buckley-conservatism, and towards something harder to define.

National Review these days strikes me as sort of the conservative equivalent of Michael Moore: bomb throwing, at times entertaining, and not, um, especially wedded to the absolute truth.

The old Buckley version of the magazine, love it or hate it, was often animated by a Goldwater-like adherence to principle, come what may. The current version, on the other hand, simply picks and chooses its target with no apparent principle to guide it. Federalism is good when it's on their side, bad when it isn't. Ditto for Supreme Court strict constructionism, libertarian views of individual rights, federal deficits, and a host of other topics. I can quite imagine Buckley, for example, engaging in sustained criticism of the Bush administration if it did something he disapproved of, but not the current group. They might — might — write a single article expressing mild disagreement, but that's about it.

Compare that to the Weekly Standard. Again, love it or hate it, they at least have an animating principle that's stronger than simply keeping the bad guys out of power, and because of that they're not afraid to take on the Bush administration when they find themselves on opposite sides. They aren't simply shills, and this makes them fundamentally more interesting.

POSTSCRIPT: And I'm just curious: why does Tapped identify Frum as "Canadian David Frum"? Is his Canadian-ness relevent, or are they just trying to give our northern neighbor props whenever they deserve it?

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MORE BLOG COVERAGE....Blogger Brooke Schreier (Asparagirl) gets a nice writeup in the LA Times today. The mainstream media sure has been writing a lot about blogs in the last couple of months. Does that mean that the blogging phenomenon has peaked and is now in terminal decline?

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OH, WAS THAT US?....Apparently Al Jazeera knows what CNN transmits better than CNN's own Aaron Brown does. Pathetic. Kieran Healy has the transcript.

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March 23, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

OSCAR™ ROUNDUP....OK, I was 20 minutes off, but the show still ran 35 minutes "long." Why the scare quotes? Because it's pretty obvious that the show lasts exactly as long as the producers want it to. Consider: (a) it runs long every year, (b) every other award show ends within a few nanoseconds of the scheduled time, (c) the networks sell advertising time based on the length of the show, and (d) these guys are pros and know exactly how to time a show like this.

So since it's obvious that they know how long it will go, my question is this: why pretend it's a 3-hour show? Why not just schedule it for 3½ or 4 hours or whatever? What cachet do they think it gives them to have the show run long every year? Inquiring minds want to know.

And while we're on the subject, don't you just love Michael Moore? I mean, short of awarding an Oscar to Hillary Clinton, is there anything more they could have done to send every conservative in the country into a blinding, sputtering rage? And Roman Polanski too! Depravity is the winner this year!

I can't wait to see the conservative blogosphere register their terminal disgust over all this. Monday should be good fun. I think I'll start off at The Corner.

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A QUESTION....Watching the Academy Awards I'm reminded of a question I have every year: why are the presenters so lame at reading their lines? I mean, these folks are professional actors, but they read their four or five line intros like fourth graders in a school play. Sometimes they can't even read the names of the nominees without stumbling.

What gives?

UPDATE: To be more specific, what I wonder is this: is it the fault of the actors for not spending even the few minutes it would take to rehearse their lines? Or is it the fault of the writers, who write lines that are so pretentious as to be almost unreadable?

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OFF TO WATCH THE SHOW....I'm going off to watch the Academy Awards now, and all I have to say is that ABC damn well better not cut into it for anything less than a surrender speech by Saddam himself.

My prediction for the evening: the show will end at 9:26.

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WHY DO WE NEED FRANCE, ANYWAY?....Timothy Garton Ash wrote an op-ed in the New York Times a few days ago about "the war after the war." He is talking here about nothing so trivial as the mere postwar reconstruction of Iraq, but rather of the entire post-9/11 world order. Basically, like the three bears, he proposes three ideas: (a) American might is good, (b) American might is bad, and (c) his "just right" middle ground: the Blairite notion that we need a grand alliance against terrorism similar to the one we had in the Cold War against communism.

I think he's right — although, as he admits, "the trouble is the execution" — but that still doesn't address the key issue of why we should bother. In particular, I want to take issue with the lazy pass he gives to the "Rumsfeldian idea" that he says is half right. In particular, he agrees that:

It's probably true that the United States can now win most wars on its own.

This has been repeated so often lately that it has become almost a cliche, especially now as the rest of the world looks on with shock and awe at the firepower we have on display in the current war. We spend more on our military than the rest of the world combined, our technology is 20 years ahead of the competition, and we are, simply, unbeatable on the battlefield.

But to steal a line from Steven Pinker, this falls into the category of ideas that are so bad they are not even wrong. A projective war like the one in Iraq requires resources so immense that even the United States can wage such a war only against a weak enemy — and even then only with basing rights from surrounding nations. Against a minimally stronger enemy, such as Iran or North Korea, we would have a difficult time even with nearby basing rights, and we would be completely helpless without them.

This is the reason that we do need to bother with the difficult business of diplomacy and alliance building that George Bush is so obviously frustrated with: because we can't win on our own. It is a grave mistake for neocon hawks and their ideological brethren to suggest otherwise, and an even bigger mistake to suggest that the United States can make itself safe through military might alone.

It's not so, and we won't be safe until our leaders realize this. I only hope they figure it out before it's too late.

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WAS THE VIETNAM WAR WORTH IT?....I finished up In Retrospect last night, and in the end I was disappointed. I've always felt a fair amount of sympathy for the position that Robert McNamara found himself in as Secretary of Defense for Kennedy and Johnson, and it's always interesting to read first-person memoirs like this — especially from a guy who's obviously trying to be truthful — but he never really tackled the primary geopolitical question of the Vietnam War: was it worth it?

There was a fairly widespread (though far from unanimous) feeling even back in 1965-67 that it was impossible for us to actually win the war against North Vietnam, but in a way this is beside the point. Even if we couldn't win, the reason we were there was the fear that leaving would (a) damage U.S. prestige, (b) demonstrate that America didn't stick to its commitments, and (c) cause a domino effect in which the fall of South Vietnam would inexorably lead to the fall of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, etc.

So what does McNamara think? He states over and over that — in retrospect — we overestimated the damage that would have been done by pulling out of Vietnam. Unfortunately, that's all he does: state it over and over. For a guy who spent seven years at the very center of this debate and who has had 30 years to think about it since, I would have expected some serious analysis of this proposition. What would have happened if we had pulled out in 1964? And more to the point, given the evidence available at the time, was the domino theory an unreasonable one?

For example, at one point McNamara talks about a memo written in 1965 by Secretary of State Dean Rusk, in which he says that if U.S. commitments are seen as unreliable, "the communist world would draw conclusions that would lead to our ruin and almost certainly to a catastrophic war." This was a common view at the time, and keep in mind that "catastrophic" in this regard means "nuclear," a very realistic possibility to men like Rusk. McNamara explains:

The reader may find it incomprehensible that Dean foresaw such dire consequences from the fall of South Vietnam, but I cannot overstate the impact our generation's experiences had on him (and, more or less, on all of us). We had lived through appeasement at Munich; years of military service during World War II fighting aggression in Europe and Asia; the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe; repeated threats to Berlin, including that of August 1961; the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962; and, most recently, Communist Chinese statements that the South Vietnam conflict typified "wars of liberation," which they saw spreading across the globe.

But that's it. Sure, Rusk's view strikes us as an overreaction — but only because we know now that we won in the end. But was it an unreasonable view at the time?

McNamara never really tries to answer that question, and this is odd since one of his primary criticisms of himself and his colleagues is that they never really seriously analyzed the situation at the time, instead just accepting the conventional wisdom and then reacting to events. But now, 30 years later, he seems to be doing the same thing except that this time he's accepting the new conventional wisdom that the domino theory was overblown.

That's too bad. Given that McNamara was a famously analytic person, it would have been interesting to see him analyze the situation all over again given the information available at the time. That he doesn't robs the book of any lasting impact.

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IT'S ALL ABOUT OIL, PART 2....A couple of posts down I talked about John Herrington's LA Times op-ed in which he suggests, essentially, that we should take control of Iraqi oil for the next century and sell it back to ourselves at reasonable prices. I asked, hoping I was wrong, "Did someone in the Bush administration get him to send this idea up the flagpole to see what kind of reaction it gets?"

I was hoping Herrington's view was just an isolated instance of overactive conservative looniness, but apparently not. A few minutes ago I got an email from a correspondent I trust who said that he recently had dinner with a relative who's an energy economist and does some government consulting:

He gave me the impression that something along these lines is under serious consideration in some quarters in the government. He was all for it, but doesn't think it's going to happen because, according to him, American oil producers like OPEC which restrains Gulf producers from engaging in vigorous price competition with domestic suppliers.

At any rate, I don't think your fears are misplaced.

So the main thing keeping the Cheney crowd from following Herrington's prescription is that the domestic oil guys don't want competition from cheap Iraqi oil? That makes me feel better....

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YEAH, SADDAM IS A BAD GUY....It's hard to know what to think about this Telegraph story about a "human shield" who went to Iraq and discovered......that Saddam Hussein is a bloody tyrant. I mean, bully for him for having the balls to publicly admit that he was idiot, but you really have to wonder about people like this. There are perfectly defensible reasons for opposing the war, but thinking that Saddam is a beloved, enlightened ruler is not one of them.

The weirdest part is the last couple of paragraphs:

Last Thursday night I went to photograph the anti-war rally in Parliament Square. Thousands of people were shouting "No war" but without thinking about the implications for Iraqis. Some of them were drinking, dancing to Samba music and sparring with the police. It was as if the protesters were talking about a different country where the ruling government is perfectly acceptable. It really upset me.

Anyone with half a brain must see that Saddam has to be taken out. It is extraordinarily ironic that the anti-war protesters are marching to defend a government which stops its people exercising that freedom.

This guy had to spend a month on the ground in Iraq to figure this out, but now anyone "with half a brain" ought to see things his way? He may have seen the light on Saddam, but apparently he's still an idiot.

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SUING THE GUN INDUSTRY....Gun control is not one of my hot button issues, so I haven't been following the gun lawsuit in New York very closely. But Brian Linse has, and he thinks it could do for the gun industry what tobacco lawsuits are doing to the cigarette industry.

Even if I agree with their goals, I'm not entirely supportive of efforts like these to use the courts to accomplish things that really ought to be handled by legislatures. Still, Brian is right: it's an interesting case and it could have far reaching consequences. It's worth checking up on.

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I GUESS IT REALLY IS ALL ABOUT OIL....John Herrington was Energy Secretary under Ronald Reagan, and today in the LA Times he has a bright idea for replacing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — you know, the half billion barrels of crude that we're storing in salt domes in Louisiana. His answer: replace it with a bigger salt dome.

Isn't it reasonable to make Iraq the answer to our desire for energy independence? Shouldn't Iraq be our strategic petroleum reserve? Shouldn't Iraq be our answer to OPEC and oil blackmail?

This is not an out-of-context quote, either. He really means it: we should take over Iraq, install a really friendly government, open up development solely to American companies, control the spigots, and sell Iraqi oil only to the United States. And we should do this for, um, a long time:

In return for a secure supply of oil at market prices for the rest of this century, we would help Iraqis spend their new wealth to benefit Iraq's people.

Ah, yes, we would help the Iraqis spend their money. For the rest of the century.

And you know what? We deserve it thanks to our unflagging support for the IMF, the World Bank, the UN (!), the liberation of Kuwait, etc. etc. It's really no different from the Turks charging for oil that flows through their pipeline to the Mediterranean.

My jaw just dropped as I was reading this, and the worst part is that since it was published on the op-ed page of the LA Times it's obviously meant to be taken seriously. Did someone in the Bush administration get him to send this idea up the flagpole to see what kind of reaction it gets?

UPDATE: It's one thing for a liberal like me to criticize this kind of talk, but it would sure make me feel better if some conservative war supporters stepped up to the plate on this kind of looniness. OxBlog? Drezner? Volokh? Reynolds? This guy is out in left field, right?

UPDATE 2: Apparently it's worse than I thought.

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March 22, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

COVERING THE WAR?....Tired of wall-to-wall insta-coverage of the war from CNN, Fox, etc? Do you feel that the fog of detail actually obscures what's going on more than it illuminates?

You're not alone. Tim Rutten, who writes a weekly media column for the LA Times, asked four veteran war journalists where they went for news on Gulf War II and the unanimous answer was: newspapers.

[Peter] Osnos, who covered the Vietnam War for the Washington Post and whose son Evan is a Chicago Tribune correspondent traveling with the 1st Marines, said, "The electronic reporting we're getting is in real time, but it's impossible to absorb in a way that tells us what's really going on. There's a confusion that results from too much information and not enough perspective. The other media are able to see all the pieces of the puzzle but find it impossible to put the pieces together. That's become the role of the newspapers."

So much for new technology. It looks like there's a place for synthesis and analysis after all.

It's funny: a number of bloggers have told me (or written) that because of blogging they rely less and less on their daily paper as a source of information. For me, it's been just opposite. Blogs are great fun and can help drive issues that the mainstream media misses, but their fast paced post-then-think nature prevents them from putting all the pieces together and offering a high level picture of what's going on. I can read blogs all day, and then read the LA Times the next morning and find that they've put together a lot things and connected a lot of dots that I missed online. Reacting instantly has its virtues, but it also has its drawbacks.

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HEDONISTIC BLUE STATES....VIRTUOUS RED STATES....Another day, another slur. A rather tedious interstate commerce case got resolved a couple of days ago: one Rhonda Anne McCoy apparently got drunk one night and in the course of taking family photos, "Rhonda and [her daughter] Kala, partially unclothed, posed side by side for the camera, with their genital areas exposed. This pose was captured in one photograph."

The 9th Circuit Court overturned McCoy's conviction because it seemed rather remote from any legitimate federal concerns about interstate commerce, and Clayton Cramer thinks this was the right decision. He also suspects that McCoy's behavior was not really what legislators had in mind anyway:

Unless there's something missing here, the description of the events sound more like the sort of stupid, intoxicated behavior that I learned to expect living in California, not the sort of child-injurious conduct at which this statute was aimed.

Is Clayton seriously suggesting that getting drunk and acting stupid is somehow a uniquely California phenomenon? This from a guy who lives in Idaho?

Besides, I'll have you know that California has earned its flaky reputation through years and years of hard and persistent work. From Sister Aimee to Ham and Eggs to the Free Speech movement, we've coddled crackpots and loons for longer than either Clayton or I have been alive.

And you know what? It works! All us loony, urban, free spirited — and heavily taxed — blue states have turned out to be the engines of progress for the entire country, providing most of the economic growth and subsidizing the hell out of all those morally virtuous red states. So any time Idaho wants to round up some of its fellow freeloading red states and secede from the Union, I guess I won't stand in your way. But if you want to keep all the free goodies coming your way from us hard working entrepreneurs on the coasts, I'd recommend against it....

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A MODERN DAY MOSES....Mona Charen says:

Who would have guessed that the amiable but unprepossessing son of George H.W. Bush -- a prankster and overly enthusiastic drinker in his youth, a man (like Moses?) who often tripped over his words -- would become a president of such vision and high purpose?

Um, yeah, but didn't the Lord promise Moses to provide him with all the eloquence he needed when the time was ripe? When is that going to happen with W?

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YES, HE REALLY IS OBSESSED ABOUT IRAQ....Check out this from a Telegraph story on Friday about Tony Blair's visit to the United States shortly after 9/11:

Officials said one of his main objectives was to ensure that the US administration did not take action against Iraq immediately.

"The final decision to concentrate on Afghanistan was not taken until Blair met Bush in Washington," said a senior British source.

These guys never cease to amaze me. Can it possibly be true that right after 9/11 Bush seriously considered going after Iraq instead of going after the guys who actually coordinated the World Trade Center attack? Unbelievable.

And then there's this from a "senior British official" about Bush's speech to the UN last year:

"For us the key phrase was Bush's commitment to seeking a new UN resolution to disarm Iraq. We were only sure we had it 24 hours before the speech.

"For some reason this was left out of the text on the teleprompter as Bush was reading it, and he had to improvise. He managed to ad-lib a sentence saying 'we will work with the UN Security Council for the necessary resolutions'. But instead of saying 'resolution' he said 'resolutions' in the plural. That's how we got stuck with the French idea of two resolutions."

I suppose it didn't really matter in the end, but what a cluster fuck that must have been. In private, Blair and his aides must be wondering why Churchill got Roosevelt while he has to deal with a guy who seemingly can't even discuss his own policies coherently unless he's got a teleprompter in front of him. Poor Tony.

Kevin Drum 12:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BIG MACS....This story last week about Don Gorske, the guy who has eaten 19,000 Big Macs, was entertaining all by itself, but what do you make of this paragraph?

Gorske, 49, of Fond du Lac, eats two Big Macs per day and drinks little else beside Coke. He also keeps track of everything he eats in a notebook.

Even for an admittedly anal guy like Gorske, what's the point of writing down everything you eat if the only thing you eat is Big Macs?

Kevin Drum 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHOULD COLIN POWELL RESIGN?....Bill Keller writes today in the New York Times that Colin Powell should resign after the war is over. Unfortunately, his column is a bit muddled, at some points criticizing Powell for inept diplomacy while at other points placing the blame squarely on the rest of the administration for undermining everything Powell has tried to do:

Mr. Powell is not, of course, entirely to blame for the mess of the past few months. If you're apportioning fault, you can cast plenty at the French for demonstrating to the president that Mr. Powell's patient diplomacy was pointless. We can blame Mr. Rumsfeld, the anti-diplomat, who dispensed insults to uppity allies as if they were corporate subordinates. (Getting the president a more compatible secretary of state might allow Mr. Rumsfeld to get out of the business of undermining foreign policy and back to the business of reforming the military.) We can blame the White House national security staff, which is supposed to choreograph something resembling a coherent strategy. We can, of course, blame the man at the desk where the buck stops.

I can understand the muddle, however, since I feel the same way. To a large extent, I feel like Powell is the only one keeping the Bush administration on anything close to an even keel and I'd hate to see him go. On the other hand, how long can you expect him to hold out when he's obviously surrounded by people who hold him in such contempt?

Keller comes down on the side of resignation, partly because he thinks that cutting down on the infighting would be a positive development all by itself:

At least if the president had a secretary of state he fully trusted, the State Department might be allowed to attend to the other grave problems it has given short shrift: the flammable dispute between nuclear India and nuclear Pakistan, the dangerously slow rebuilding of Afghanistan, the multiple woes of South America and the toxic problem of North Korea's nuclear program....Despite Mr. Powell's efforts, the trove of expertise that resides in his department has been marginalized. The State Department is apparently, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, "old America."

I have a hard time buying this line of thought. It's sort of like saying that with Congress in Republican hands Bush might listen a little more closely to grumbles about his tax cuts being badly timed and fiscally irresponsible. Oddly, though, that doesn't seem to have been the case, does it?

In the end, I guess I hope that Powell — faults and all — will stick around, but I won't blame him if he doesn't. Maybe he can return as secretary of state in a John Kerry administration.

Kevin Drum 11:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE COST OF THE WAR....I'm reading In Retrospect right now, Robert McNamara's memoir of his tenure as Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War, and I'm still waiting to see if he addresses the most interesting question of the whole debacle. I should finish the book today, and I'll probably have a few comments then.

But one thing that he has made crystal clear (as have legions of other commentators on the war) is that he thinks LBJ's biggest mistake was escalating the war without ever going back to Congress and having a serious national debate about it. Regardless of whether a war is a good idea, McNamara says, it has to have popular support or it's doomed to eventual failure.

This is something we should be talking about a lot more today, not as it relates to the Iraq war itself — which is unlikely to last more than a few weeks — but as it relates to the postwar reconstruction. President Bush claims to be concerned about doing the job right in Iraq and truly planting the seeds of democracy, but so far he's been unwilling to really make the case to the American public about why this is important, how long it might take, and how much it will cost.

So let me reduce this to its simplest terms: the $100 billion price tag for the war itself is a sunk cost, but my guess is that a comprehensive reconstruction program for Iraq and some of the surrounding areas could easily cost $50 billion a year for the next decade. If anything, that might be low, but for now just go ahead and humor me with this figure.

Are you willing to spend this money to make sure reconstruction goes well? It amounts to around $170 per person, or $700 for a family of four. And no deficit spending allowed: if you want to spend this money, it comes out of increased taxes.

Assume for the moment that this money will all be spent wisely on programs that you support. Just focus on the amount. Is democracy in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East worth this much to you? For the next decade?

And when — if ever — will President Bush get around to asking us?

Kevin Drum 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OUR WARTIME BUDGET....Matt Yglesias is puzzled that Senators Hollings and McCain, having failed to kill President Bush's tax plan entirely, also refused to vote to cut the plan in half. Isn't half a loaf better than none?

I dunno, and neither the Washington Post, the New York Times, nor the Los Angeles Times can be bothered to explain why they voted the way they did. Hooray for the media!

In other, um, disturbing budget news, here's a paragraph from the New York Times story:

The White House has not yet asked Congress to approve money for the war, and administration officials have refused to say how much it might cost. Republicans said the president did not want his tax cut jeopardized by concerns about war costs.

You know, that's exactly how LBJ got himself into trouble — refusing to properly account for war costs because he didn't want to jeopardize passage of his Great Society programs — and we paid the price for that folly for a long time. But then, Bush has never exactly been a student of history, even when he really was a student of history.

And then there's this from the Washington Post story:

The Senate approved a proposal by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) to double, to $1.8 billion, the allocation for the Amtrak passenger rail system.

Amtrak spending doubled! That's a wartime budget for you! And this:

Voting largely along party lines, the Senate rejected proposals by New York's senators to increase spending on homeland security by $5 billion or more this year and $88 billion over the next 11 years.

I'm happy to see that, once again, President Bush has placed the safety of his tax cuts over the safety of the American people.

Kevin Drum 10:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUTTER VS. MARGARINE....I have spent my entire life — literally — eating popcorn flavored with Imperial margarine. It is part of my deeply held belief that the purpose of complex carbohydrates in a properly balanced diet is to serve as a vehicle for either grease, sugar, or some combination of the two. (The Imperial™ part is just childhood conditioning.)

Recently, however, we had some real live butter left over and I used it up on a bowl of popcorn. Damn! That's good stuff! So good, in fact, that I can use about half as much and still have a much better bowl of popcorn than I can with margarine. So should I keep using it? Should you? The good points are: (a) tastes better and (b) fewer calories from using half as much. Bad points: even using half the amount butter has (a) more saturated fat and (b) costs more.

I report, you decide. Make your choice wisely.

UPDATE: Elissa Howe writes:

Most of the margarines on the market contain high levels of trans fat, created during the hydrogenation process (used to solidify the liquid vegetable oils used). Trans fats are reportedly just as bad (in their own way) as the saturated fats they are replacing (see here for more info). Butter is the superior alternative, especially since (as you claim) you only need to use half as much. In addition, most sources of animal (saturated) fats also contain small amounts of a "good" fat: CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is currently being researched for its health benefits (see here and here) and is even being marketed as a dietary supplement.

So enjoy (in moderation)!

Well, that sounds authoritative, doesn't it? And since it's the conclusion I wanted to hear in the first place, sign me up!

Kevin Drum 9:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAY BASHING UPDATE....Y'all remember Thomas McLaughlin, the gay teenager who was harassed by his teachers and made to read Bible verses in order to instruct him in the error of his ways? The school district, not surprisingly, has declined to comment publicly, but this story in the Arkansas Times has more detail about how the entire story unfolded. Also not surprisingly, reading the additional detail just makes the whole thing worse.

But just to show that there's a bit of humor in everything, here was the excuse that typing teacher Linda Derden gave for harassing McLaughlin:

Derden reportedly said she runs her typing class like a business environment, and discussions about topics like homosexuality are not appropriate.

Hah! I would venture to say that water cooler discussions of "topics like homosexuality" — and I'm using the word "like" in the broadest possible sense here — are perhaps the most popular conversational subjects in the entire business world. What does she think we do, chatter all day about whether federal deficits have a long term impact on interest rates?

Derden really needs to get out more.

Kevin Drum 9:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 21, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

NORTH KOREA UPDATE....Dan Drezner recommends this piece in Reason suggesting that Bush's non-policy toward North Korea makes more sense — and is actually more of a policy — than it seems on the surface. Like Dan, I don't know if I buy it, but it's an interesting perspective.

(However, I have to make the obligatory comment: if it's so important to get the rest of the region on board when dealing with North Korea, why is it not equally important when dealing with Iraq? It makes some sense that any settlement unilaterally dictated by the United States will eventually break down because it doesn't commit other countries to support it, but it makes sense in the Middle East too. So why didn't we patiently and quietly pursue broad-based diplomatic solutions in Iraq?)

Kevin Drum 7:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THOUGHTS ABOUT THE WAR....My comment below ("If World War II didn't stop the show from going on, then neither should Gulf War II.") was dead serious. I'm not opposed to war in general, and I'm not even opposed to the aims of this war — I just think it was executed so clumsily that it's going to cause us far more trouble than it should have. But there are a lot of things about this war that bother me a lot.

I haven't posted about this because I have trouble finding the right words to describe my reaction, but here are a few of the things that disturb me:

  • Treating the war per se as more serious than it is. No, it's not Grenada, but it's not World War II either — or even Korea or Vietnam. But from the breathless tone of the round-the-clock news coverage you'd barely know it, and I think that in some sense this debases both past wars and current reporting. I mean, CNN just scrolled the news that Australian forces had captured an Iraqi tugboat. Do we really need to treat this as big news?

    This implicit debasement of the past is more important than it seems. I feel like I'm going to scream the next time I hear someone claiming that what we're facing today is more complex and dangerous than the Cold War dangers our parents faced because, after all, there was just one big enemy back then instead of lots of little ones. But this is ridiculous. Nothing we're facing today is even remotely comparable to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and no one today is seriously afraid of a nuclear exchange that could kill half the population of the country.

    This elevated sense of drama prevents people from learning from the past and encourages them to overreact to things in the present. It's a potentially lethal combination.

  • Treating the aftermath of war as less serious than it is. The news channels are chockablock with trivial reports about individual advances or whether killing Saddam Hussein would violate the Geneva Convention, but virtually nothing about the post-war situation. It's just too complex, and nobody really cares. Bad TV.

    But scholars have debated for decades how the history of the United States might have been different if Abraham Lincoln had lived and the postbellum policies of the United States government had been different. In the event, though, it all went wrong, and we've been paying the price for over a century. The same could easily happen in Iraq if we're not sufficiently magnanimous in victory — in the broadest possible sense — or if we treat this as just the opening salvo in a war against the Middle East.

  • The increasing shrillness of the pro-war folks. I know, you'd hardly think it could get worse, and since they've finally gotten the war they've been campaigning for you'd think maybe they could calm down a bit and take the few remaining anti-war protests with a shrug of the shoulders. But no. Ted Barlow does a pretty good job of summing up their real-life reaction, and Digby pointedly reminds us that, peculiarly, Republicans "become enraged when they find that winning didn't result in unconditional surrender by the political opposition." The war party, unfortunately, will seemingly not be satisfied until both the UN and NATO are demolished, trade with France is prohibited by law, and the entire Middle East is under U.S. occupation. Unlike the few lonely "direct action" anti-war protesters in San Francisco, these aren't fringe views, either, they are the opinions of national columnists, congressmen, defense analysts, and other pillars of the conservative community.

    Don't believe it? Try reading this Weekly Standard piece.

  • The Philadephia Inquirer reports that before his Wednesday speech, Bush pumped his fist and said "Feels good." Granted, not every president can be an Abraham Lincoln, but I really can't imagine FDR or Truman or Eisenhower or even LBJ feeling that way about war either. (Maybe Nixon did, but that's not a very complimentary comparison.) War may be necessary sometimes, but it's not something that a president should ever "feel good" about.

Sorry, this went on longer than I intended, and I'm really not sure it expresses my feelings well in any case. Maybe later I'll have something a bit more coherent to say, but for now this will have to do.

Kevin Drum 5:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AND THE WINNER IS....Just in the nick of time, I have now seen all five of the Best Picture nominees. Last on the viewing list was The Pianist, which I found oddly flat and tedious for a subject that can evoke considerable emotion even when treated clumsily. Some of the early scenes, showing day-to-day Nazi treatment of Polish Jews on the street, were powerful and stomach clenching, but as a whole the film just didn't work. Because it covers six full years, it is forced to provide mere snippets of action, and in the end they seem somehow disconnected from each other, ultimately failing to provide an emotional portrait, as opposed to a chronological one.

So which film gets my vote? Not Lord of the Rings Part 2, which I thought was not as good as Part 1, and not Gangs of New York, which was too melodramatic for my taste and which also (I thought) completely fell apart in the last half hour. I've already written that I liked The Hours, and I liked Chicago too, which successfully captured a tremendous sense of energy and bottled it for the screen.

It's a tough choice between those two, but I think I'll vote — barely — for The Hours. In the end, it seemed a bit more ambitious than Chicago and pulled off the very difficult trick of making a trio of depressed women seem genuinely sympathetic and interesting. So here's the final order:

  1. The Hours

  2. Chicago

  3. Gangs of New York

  4. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

  5. The Pianist

After all that, I sure hope they don't decide to cancel the awards just because we're bombing Baghdad. The 1942 awards were held two days after all Japanese Americans on the West Coast were ordered to evacuate inland and just a few weeks before Doolittle's raid on Tokyo and the Battle of Coral Sea. If World War II didn't stop the show from going on, then neither should Gulf War II.

Kevin Drum 5:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHOCK AND AWE....And speaking of Shock and Awe.....

The first time I heard about it the idea repulsed me, and it still does. But initial revulsion doesn't prove that it's the wrong thing to do, and if it shortens the war and reduces deaths overall — well, then it's the right thing to do. But will it?

I think the answer is likely yes. Admittedly, the use of bombing as a way of sapping an enemy's will to fight (as opposed to its more conventional role in destroying infrastructure) has a pretty poor history: it sure didn't work in Vietnam, and it probably didn't work in World War II either. But despite enormous skepticism from people like me, it did work in Kosovo, thanks to enormous increases in both raw firepower and striking accuracy. And thanks to those advances, I have a feeling it's going to work in Iraq too.

Of course, the long buildup to war, the 12 years of sanctions, and the psychological warfare of the past few months contribute too. Still, although my gut churns at the thought, it also tells me that as a strategy Shock and Awe is probably both sound and, in the end, humane. I have no doubt that the Pentagon is genuinely doing its best to avoid civilian deaths during this campaign, and if it persuades the Republican Guard to give up the fight sooner than they otherwise would, then it will have been a success.

But I can't say that I'm happy about it.

Kevin Drum 4:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AND LET'S KEEP THE GOWNS MODEST TOO, OK?....I spent the last few days with a friend (Grayson's pet human) who is so disgusted with George Bush that he could hardly stand to have the TV news on. So despite his 60-inch-monster-cabled-10-speaker-surround-sound home theater system, which surely would have been just the ticket for watching Shock and Awe™, by the time I got home last night I knew that the war had started but not much else.

In particular, I was unaware that the traditional pre-show festivities had been cancelled by the organizers of the Academy Awards, allegedly because it would be a bit tacky for life to go on as usual while our troops are in harm's way. Virginia Postrel has an alternate explanation:

The red carpet survived World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, not to mention September 11, but it can't survive Iraq? I suspect a different motive: the commercial powers that be have wisely concluded that interview after interview with antiwar stars would turn off the American viewing public.

That sounds about right to me.

Kevin Drum 4:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Today's guest star, from Chico, California, is Grayson — no explanation needed for the name, I think. As you can see, Grayson spends his time deciding whether to come indoors to play, and when he does he makes himself useful by protecting us from errant copies of TV Guide. Apparently he doesn't think much of Kelly Clarkson.

Next week: Inkblot and Jasmine return!

Kevin Drum 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND LOYALTY....Tapped recommends this article from the Washington Post about George Bush's ability to hold a grudge pretty much forever:

Although all administrations use political muscle on the opposition, GOP lawmakers and lobbyists say the tactics the Bush administration uses on friends and allies have been uniquely fierce and vindictive....The fear is that Bush will either freeze them out of key meetings or hold a grudge that might deprive them of help in other areas, the lobbyists said. When the Electronic Industries Alliance declined to back Bush's dividend tax cut, the group was frozen out when the White House called its "friends" in the industry to discuss the tax cut, according to White House and business sources.

I've noticed the same thing myself. Bush seems to have an almost pathological desire for obsequious loyalty, and when he says "either you're with us or you're against us," he means he expects you to be with him on everything. The result, though, as Democrats learned last year and Republicans are learning now, is that there's not much payoff for supporting Bush unless you're willing to toe the line as thoroughly as Waylon Smithers donating a kidney to his boss. If you're not — well, you might as well be Al Gore as far as Bush is concerned.

Sadly, I imagine Tony Blair is going to learn this lesson too when the war is over. He probably deserves better, but I imagine that the first time he crosses Bush their relationship will be all over.

Even Bush's father apparently agrees that Jr. ought to lighten up a little. My own advice, however, is a bit simpler than his: put down the Old Testament for a bit and read a few passages from the New Testament now and again. There's some good counsel there.

Kevin Drum 10:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHRILL? ME?....Who says Paul Krugman doesn't have a sense of humor?

To accuse the current administration of wrecking the federal budget sounds, well, shrill — and we don't want to sound shrill, do we?

Heh heh. And speaking of Krugman, here is Donald Luskin in NRO explaining how Krugman does it:

But more important is his limitless willingness to prevaricate, exaggerate, character assassinate, use innuendo, and scare-monger — whatever it takes to make his case.

This is coming from National Review? It was all I could do to keep from choking on my Milky Way bar when I read that last night. I guess NRO has a sense of humor too.

Luskin's piece is an example of that second most favorite of online activities: fact checking their asses. Like most people who play this game, Luskin seems to think he has scored some devastating hits on Krugman's veracity but instead ends up sounding mostly juvenile and ridiculous — rather like a 15-year-old proudly trumpeting a newfound proof that God doesn't exist. Typical is his effort to "prove" that Krugman was lying when he said that Bush "mortally insulted the Turks." Luskin is outraged! "They're still alive," he says cleverly, apparently referring to Bush's diplomatic triumph in getting approval to keep our warships bobbing happily in the Mediterranean.

Of course, Luskin gives away the game at the beginning of his article anyway. It's neither Krugman's shrillness nor his dedication to the truth that bothers him, but rather that he uses his column "like a flamethrower aimed at everything conservatives and libertarians hold dear."

Indeed he does, and may he continue to do so for as long as the Times allows him to.

Kevin Drum 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CALPUNDIT AT WAR....I was hoping the war would be over by the time I got back home, but no dice. This is bad news for everyone actually fighting the war, of course, but also bad news for blogging — on this blog, at least.

I mean, let's get serious: if you want war news, tune in to CNN or Fox or NBC or CBS or ABC or just about any other channel, all of whom seem to be covering the war 24/7. But don't come here, where all I can do is regurgitate what some "embedded" reporter just told us via an artifact-ridden-two-frames-per-second videophone report from a desert alleged to be in Iraq somewhere. And analysis of how the war is going? Don't make me laugh.

I do wish the networks would knock off the continuous coverage, though. They've all proven they can do it — except for ABC, of course, which mysteriously decided to stop covering the war during their actual scheduled news segment on Thursday — and they can always break in if there's any genuine news. Frankly, I'd reather watch Jeopardy at 7:00 than another half hour of non-news from Iraq.

Like Atrios, I will try to keep warblogging to a reasonable level here. This may be hard, since apparently normal news all halts while a war is going on, but I'll try to track down a few non-war items here and there. We'll see how it goes.

Kevin Drum 8:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 17, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

OUT OF TOWN....I will be out of town this week, so there will be no further blogging for the next three days. The good news is that when I get back I will have a guest star for this Friday's cat blogging.

See you Friday.

Kevin Drum 9:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MOMENT OF TRUTH....I guess there's to be no "whip count" at the UN after all. So the annals of history (and Google searching) will continue to show that the French have never vetoed a U.S. resolution in the Security Council.

Matt Yglesias has the roundup. At this point, I think I finally agree with him: all we can do now is hope for the best. I hope the war is short, that not too many people are killed, and that the post-war reconstruction goes well.

Kevin Drum 9:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAY HARASSMENT UPDATE....Here's the reply that Richard Einhorn received from one of the board members of the Pulaski County school district regarding the ACLU's charges that teachers harassed a gay student at Jacksonville Junior High School in Little Rock:

Dear Mr. Einhorn,

I share your concern as to what we're hearing about the McLaughlin allegations...these are not the kinds of values that this school district espouses. Rest assured that Dr. Henderson and the administration are looking into these charges and will react accordingly when all of the facts are in. Nevertheless, I must withhold judgement or other comments for the time being, given that some individuals may ultimately come before the board for disciplinary action.

Thank you for your concern, and I trust that the final outcome of this unfortunate affair will reaffirm the values of freedom and democracy that we both share. Please note that I write only as an individual, and I don't necessarily speak for the other members of the school board or the administration.

Dr. Don Baker
Pulaski County Special School District Board of Education

I hope they do the right thing.

Kevin Drum 7:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WEDDING WISHES....Kieran and Laurie are getting married today. Wear a bit of green and wish them luck!

Kevin Drum 7:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COORS DIES....Joseph Coors, όber-conservative and founder of the Heritage Foundation, has died at age 85. According to his brother:

"He was very principled and dedicated. But we got along a lot better if we didn't talk politics," Bill Coors said.

"He was conservative as they come. I mean he was a little bit right of Attila the Hun."

His legacy, unfortunately, will be with us for a long time to come.

Kevin Drum 7:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 16, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

FEAR, FRIENDS, AND 9/11....The cover of this week's issue of Newsweek is titled "Why America Scares the World." However, as has been noted time and time again, Fareed Zakaria's cover story really should have been titled "Why Bush Scares the World."

It's a terrific story, one that everybody should read all the way through. There are a ton of paragraphs that I'd like to excerpt, but I'll make do with just this one:

But should the guiding philosophy of the world’s leading democracy really be the tough talk of a Chicago mobster? In terms of effectiveness, this strategy has been a disaster. It has alienated friends and delighted enemies. Having traveled around the world and met with senior government officials in dozens of countries over the past year, I can report that with the exception of Britain and Israel, every country the administration has dealt with feels humiliated by it.

“Most officials in Latin American countries today are not anti-American types,” says Jorge Castaneda, the reformist foreign minister of Mexico, who resigned two months ago. “We have studied in the United States or worked there. We like and understand America. But we find it extremely irritating to be treated with utter contempt.” Last fall, a senior ambassador to the United Nations, in a speech supporting America’s position on Iraq, added an innocuous phrase that could have been seen as deviating from that support. The Bush administration called up his foreign minister and demanded that he be formally reprimanded within an hour. The ambassador now seethes when he talks about U.S. arrogance. Does this really help America’s cause in the world? There are dozens of stories like this from every part of the world.

Zakaria's observation that the most powerful nation in the world somehow feels as if it is "besieged" is a telling one. Time and again, when I try to figure out what is happening in America, I keep coming back to the palpable sense of fear that seems to envelop us. We are seemingly afraid of everything: child molesters, terrorists, street crime, sharks — in a way that is wildly out of proportion to the actual danger they present. (I took the train up to Los Angeles once a couple of years ago and then took the bus to my destination. The bus! My Irvine friends were incredulous and acted as if I had gone mad. Was I scared? Did anyone attack me? The thought had never occurred to me.)

Our reaction to 9/11 has been the same. Instead of making use of the outpouring of support that we got in its aftermath, we have turned in on ourselves, and in the process we have changed from the flawed but generous nation that we are into a mean and paranoid country that lashes out at friends and enemies alike.

But we are not a cornered animal, and I hope that someday soon we will begin to peek out from our self-imposed isolation and realize it. The world is a dangerous place, yes, but it is far less dangerous when you face it with your friends at your side. We have many such friends in the world today, if we would only open our eyes long enough to see them.

Kevin Drum 6:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HMMM, DEAN AND SHARPTON IN '04?....Daily Kos is attending the California Democratic Party's annual convention and says that Howard Dean rocked the house. Al Sharpton too! Go read his report.

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WHAT IF YOU KNEW ALL THE STUFF THEY KNEW?....WOULD YOU STILL OPPOSE THE WAR?....This is going to be a bit of a long post, but I think it's worth it, so don't go away.

Brad DeLong, over on his immensely slow-loading Semi-Daily Journal, recounts this conversation:

Economics Professor:....I mean, I can understand that there might be secret intelligence to convince [the administration] that Saddam Hussein is too dangerous to be allowed to rule--that he is a madman with poor judgment about to embark on a career of terrorism and conquest--and that we need to strike to overthrow him as quickly as possible no matter what the United Nations thinks...

Interlocutor: And that secret evidence would be what?...

This is a serious problem for anyone not in the higher echelons of the government: they do have access to information that ordinary citizens don't, and any serious anti-war partisan has to wonder if their mind would be changed by reading a few of the classified documents that these guys read on a daily basis.

Now, someone like Daniel Ellsberg would probably tell you that governments lie so routinely that you shouldn't take a single word they say at face value. Unfortunately, assuming a priori that everything the government says is a lie doesn't really get us anywhere either, and it turns out that Ellsberg himself has a much better and subtler argument for why your opinion — even without access to classified information — is probably as good as George Bush's.

The explanation for this comes from Secrets, his book about the Pentagon Papers. Before we get to it, though, you have to first wrap your head around the rather unlikely setting for his explanation: a meeting with Henry Kissinger in 1967 when he was advising him about the Vietnam War. The idea of Kissinger seeking out Ellsberg for advice on Vietnam initially seems like something out of the X-Files, but in 1967 Ellsberg was a highly respected analyst on the war who had worked for both the Pentagon and Rand, and Kissinger was just entering the government for the first time. Here's what Ellsberg told him:

"Henry, there's something I would like to tell you, for what it's worth, something I wish I had been told years ago. You've been a consultant for a long time, and you've dealt a great deal with top secret information. But you're about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe fifteen or twenty of them, that are higher than top secret.

"I've had a number of these myself, and I've known other people who have just acquired them, and I have a pretty good sense of what the effects of receiving these clearances are on a person who didn't previously know they even existed. And the effects of reading the information that they will make available to you.

"First, you'll be exhilarated by some of this new information, and by having it all — so much! incredible! — suddenly available to you. But second, almost as fast, you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions made by presidents for years without having known of the existence of all this information, which presidents and others had and you didn't, and which must have influenced their decisions in ways you couldn't even guess. In particular, you'll feel foolish for having literally rubbed shoulders for over a decade with some officials and consultants who did have access to all this information you didn't know about and didn't know they had, and you'll be stunned that they kept that secret from you so well.

"You will feel like a fool, and that will last for about two weeks. Then, after you've started reading all this daily intelligence input and become used to using what amounts to whole libraries of hidden information, which is much more closely held than mere top secret data, you will forget there ever was a time when you didn't have it, and you'll be aware only of the fact that you have it now and most others don't....and that all those other people are fools.

"Over a longer period of time — not too long, but a matter of two or three years — you'll eventually become aware of the limitations of this information. There is a great deal that it doesn't tell you, it's often inaccurate, and it can lead you astray just as much as the New York Times can. But that takes a while to learn.

"In the meantime it will have become very hard for to learn from anybody who doesn't have these clearances. Because you'll be thinking as you listen to them: 'What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? Would he be giving me the same advice, or would it totally change his predictions and recommendations?' And that mental exercise is so torturous that after a while you give it up and just stop listening. I've seen this with my superiors, my colleagues....and with myself.

"You will deal with a person who doesn't have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you'll have to lie carefully to him about what you know. In effect, you will have to manipulate him. You'll give up trying to assess what he has to say. The danger is, you'll become something like a moron. You'll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours."

....Kissinger hadn't interrupted this long warning. As I've said, he could be a good listener, and he listened soberly. He seemed to understand that it was heartfelt, and he didn't take it as patronizing, as I'd feared. But I knew it was too soon for him to appreciate fully what I was saying. He didn't have the clearances yet.

The bottom line is this: these guys do have information that we don't have, and it does influence their decisions. But on broad issues like war and peace, it probably doesn't matter. Unless they have some kind of smoking gun intel showing, say, that Saddam already has nuclear weapons with probability 1 — and if they did they wouldn't be fussing around with the UN in the first place — that intelligence probably doesn't give them a better sense of the big picture than any other knowledgable person.

So rest easy. You're every bit as smart as they are.

Kevin Drum 4:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHO'S WITH US HERE?....You know, Tom Spencer asks a question I've been idly curious about myself: if the Spanish and the Portuguese are so committed to our cause, why aren't they offering any troops? Ditto for Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, and everyone else colored green on this map.

Even a token batallion or two would be pretty useful as "multilateral" cover, wouldn't they? And if the American commanders think they'd be more trouble than they're worth, they could at least play a support role of some kind.

Somehow, though, I have a feeling that in most of these countries troops can only be committed with the consent of the legislature. And we all know how that went in Turkey....

Kevin Drum 3:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THOSE DARN FRENCH, PART LXVII....Emma does about the best job I've seen lately of explaining why Jacques Chirac is doing what he's doing. And it's not even very long.

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TORTURE....Stuart Taylor talks about torture:

But what if nothing short of unambiguously "severe" pain -- torture, that is -- seems to have any chance of eliciting Mohammed's potentially life-saving secrets? Should interrogators be prepared to cross that line? I would say no, in principle.

In practice, though, which is all that counts after all, Taylor apparently thinks differently. So does that mean it would be OK for Saddam to torture American soldiers in order to elicit information that would save Iraqi lives from a planned American assault?

No, I didn't think so.

Kevin Drum 11:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SUMMIT IN THE AZORES....The Big Three have finished their summit. There was more contempt for France, no commitment to a UN vote except possibly as a showpiece for a French veto, and almost certain war sometime this week.

The contrast between Bush and Blair was dramatic. Both were unflinching in their condemnation of Saddam, but Bush seemed almost unable to contain his anger and contempt at the rest of the world for not following his lead. But the fault for that almost certainly resides solely with Bush himself, and the fact that only three countries were involved in this one-hour meeting in the Azores is the surest sign of diplomatic failure you can imagine. It is an appalling statement about our leadership that we have lost a worldwide opinion poll against Saddam Hussein. But we have.

Kevin Drum 11:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 15, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

"LET THE MIGHTY EAGLE SOAR"....This Guardian article about John Ashcroft's, um, peculiar style of running the Department of Justice is a year old, but I just happened to run across it today whilst trying to educate myself about the connection between Ashcroft and calico cats (thanks a lot, Digby). It's an oldie, but, yes, it's a goodie. Take a couple of minutes and go check it out.

(There's even some video of Ashcroft doing his own imitation of a Vegas lounge lizard. It's worth the price of admission all by itself.)

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THE HOURS....I just got back from seeing The Hours. I really only went to see it because I wanted to see all the Best Picture nominees before the Academy Awards ceremony, so I wasn't expecting much. Somehow a review of melancholic women of the 20th century didn't seem all that appealing.

But I was wrong: it's a terrific movie. Granted, if you just don't understand depressed people and find their screen incarnations terminally annoying, there's not much to like here. But if you can get past that, the portraits of the three women are genuinely moving and the depiction of depression is one of the best I've seen. You really get a sense of how the world just seems to cave in unbidden on people like this, often set off by small things that most of us would just shrug off.

I think I agree that the Ed Harris character wasn't that good, but he wasn't on screen all that much anyway. The three stars all gave compelling performances, and that's what counts. Thumbs up.

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ANOTHER RECRUIT....Ah, excellent. Just as Glenn Reynolds and Steven Den Beste have corralled genuine dead-tree pundit William Safire into their conspiracy theory about French perfidy, Tim Dunlop directs my attention to GDTP Howard Fineman, who today joins my conspiracy theory about the possibility of Colin Powell resigning if we invade Iraq without UN authorization.

Everything is going exactly according to plan. Soon all of Washington DC will be mine.....

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IMAGE IS EVERYTHING....Andrew Sullivan on why working with the UN is worth the effort:

If, by some miracle, we get a majority and France vetoes, the impact will be huge for the worldwide legitimacy of the war and - just as importantly - for the marginalization of Paris. A few days is worth that effort, even if it fails. But more important, what matters is the appearance of effort.

Yep, got to keep up pretenses. We wouldn't want anyone to think that we'd been planning to go to war all along no matter what, would we?

Don't tell Sullivan, but I have a feeling that no one's been fooled.

MORE SULLIVAN: He follows this up with a show of disgust over Hans Blix's comment that in combatting terrorist "we have to look at the social problems as well." Says Sullivan: "You see in this interview every half-baked European rationale for ignoring the threat we face."

But here's a bit more of what Blix said: "...to get at the social conditions — better democracy, more education in the Middle East, giving the hope for the many youngsters in that part of the world — now that's harder."

Hmmm, more democracy. That sounds familiar. In fact, Sullivan himself is a big proponent of the neocon proposition that America is going to ignite a tidal wave of democracy in the Middle East that will transform the entire region and put an end to terrorism. If that's not an attempt to solve a "social problem," what is?

Kevin Drum 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TELL 'EM HOW YOU FEEL....Yesterday I wrote about the teachers at a Little Rock junior high school who have been harrassing a student, Thomas McLaughlin, because he is openly gay. Reader Richard Einhorn suggests that an email campaign might be a good idea.

That's a great idea, so below are the email addresses of the district superintendent and the school board members. Let's deluge them with emails, especially Pat O'Brien of Zone 6, which includes Jacksonville Junior High School, where McLaughlin is a student.

Remember, though, keep it clean. Email has more impact if it sounds like it's coming from an intelligent person instead of a ranting lunatic. That said, start typing!

Pulaski County Special School District
925 East Dixon Road
Little Rock, Arkansas 72206
Telephone: 501-490-2000
School district website: http://www.pcssd.org/

Don Henderson, Superintendent: dhenders@pcssd.org
Jeff Shaneyfelt, Board President: jeffshaneyfelt@lsmcpas.com
Pam Roberts: proberts@mwsgw.com
Carol Burgett: y2659@aristotle.net
Don Baker: wdbaker@arkansas.net
Pat O'Brien: pobrien@aristotle.net
Mildred Tatum: No email listed
Gwen Williams: gwilliams29@earthlink.net

Kevin Drum 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE PROBLEM WITH THE UN....Matt Yglesias is right: this article by David Gelernter in the Weekly Standard is so dimwitted that it's hard to know where to start with it. How can someone pack so many bad ideas into a mere 1600 words?

Basically Gelernter is mad at the United Nations, and for the usual reason: it opposes our invasion of Iraq. No organization that disagrees with the United States can be allowed to live, and Gelernter has some ideas for putting the UN out of its misery and replacing it with something a bit more pliable. These kinds of things can be good academic fun, a slightly more erudite version of renaming french fries as freedom fries, but check out a few excerpts from his piece:

....The United States has repeatedly proved that it follows the rules and fights fair.

....The U.N. made no sense, [E.B.White concluded in 1956], if members were allowed to do whatever they felt like behind the locked doors of their own "internal domestic affairs," no matter what kind of shrieking and hollering the neighbors reported.

....Now is the time to start thinking post-U.N., not merely because the Security Council has made such a mess of Iraq but because we have remarkable opportunities. And if the experiment fails, the U.N. simply carries on, chastened. The core of the new organization--call it the Big Three--would be a Britain-Russia-America triumvirate. The underlying principle: No credible world organization could include only countries we like. But Russia's fluid condition gives us an unusual opening. Russia is a big country with a vivid history. No organization that includes Russia could possibly be America's cat's-paw. Yet Russia is uncertain of what she wants; she is open to persuasion. Yes, that means money; but international prestige is worth even more, especially to a humbled former champion. Including Russia (but not China or France) in the ruling committee might impart just the right soupηon of anti-Americanism to the new organization, which must be credible yet not intractable.

...."Of course," we will say, "we are solidly behind United Europe!" But why should we be?

....Once its brain has been replaced, the former-U.N.'s body (the police forces, aid organizations, bureaucracies) could easily be reconstituted within the Big Three. A B3 resolution won't pack quite the multilateral punch of the Security Council, but it will pack plenty.

The United States always fights fair? Like in Vietnam, Grenada, and Panama? The problem with the UN is that it doesn't interfere with other countries' internal affairs? Does Gelernter seriously want a world organization with the power to interfere in U.S. internal affairs? Jim Crow might have died a little faster in the South if that had been the case in 1956, but somehow I don't think that's what he has in mind.

And his post-UN world is just as bizarre. Admit Russia because they can be bought off when necessary? That should add credibility, and I'm sure Putin will be delighted with the invitation. And secretly plot against the interests of a united Europe? In exactly what way does that serve our interests?

The UN haters just never seem to get it. There are lots and lots of other multilateral organizations in the world in which membership is based on economic clout, commitment to democracy, collective regional security, etc. We really don't need another one. What's more, the idea that we can pick and choose countries and be assured that these countries will always be on our side is childishly naive.

The UN is far from perfect, but the fundamental reason we're having trouble there is because of too much democracy, not too little. Chile, Mexico, and France, for example, are opposed to us largely because their own populations are opposed to us by huge margins. If the people of the world supported our position, the only no vote in the Security Council would probably be from Syria and the only threat of a veto would be from China. And who cares about that?

The Bush administration has done a horrible job of making its case with anyone except its core supporters in the U.S. That's the problem. The UN is only a symptom.

Kevin Drum 9:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHERE'S JEFF PROBST?....The meeting in the Azores that President Bush is jetting off to reminds me of a bad episode of Survivor. The guys are all heading off to tribal council where they'll vote to decide who gets thrown off the island.

Silly of me, I know.

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March 14, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

COMPARE AND CONTRAST....A British official today expressing his exasperation with French rejection of their compromise proposal:

The French rejected our tests before the Iraqis. Enough said.

American reaction today to a similar proposal put forward by Chile:

Even before it was formally presented to U.N. Security Council members, a Chilean compromise proposal on Iraq was dismissed by White House and State Department officials as a "nonstarter."

Those damn frogs sure are unreasonable, aren't they?

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YOU'RE GAY? A LITTLE ENFORCED READING FROM THE BIBLE SHOULD STRAIGHTEN YOU RIGHT OUT....Via Arthur Silbur comes this disgusting story about some poor junior high school kid in Little Rock who told a few of his friends he was gay and then found himself the target of a flurry of abuse. Not from other kids, mind you, but from his teachers. Here's what the ACLU says:

  • One teacher called a conference with McLaughlin's parents and the principal because she objected to his being open about being gay. During the meeting, the principal concurred that she was opposed to McLaughlin talking at school about being gay.

  • A different teacher ordered McLaughlin not to discuss his sexual orientation, saying that she found it "sickening," and later called his mother to complain about his homosexuality.

  • School officials preached their religious views on homosexuality and forced him to read aloud from the Bible in clear violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. This was done as punishment after McLaughlin, who is himself a Christian, disagreed with a teacher for calling him "abnormal" and "unnatural."

  • In violation of McLaughlin's free speech rights, the school suspended him for two days for telling other students about being made to read the Bible in school. The principal and assistant principal also told McLaughlin that if he told any of his friends why he was suspended, they would recommend that he be expelled.

  • McLaughlin is not even allowed to participate in typical teenage conversations about crushes. In January he was disciplined for talking between classes with a female friend about a boy they both considered "cute." He was disciplined; his friend was not.

Unfortunately, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is a subscriber-only newspaper, and no one else seems to have covered this story yet, so there's no telling if there's another side to this story. Frankly, though, I sort of doubt it.

Kevin Drum 5:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEOCONS AND ANTI-SEMITISM....Several people have replied to my question about how to criticize neocons without falling into the trap of anti-semitism:

For what it's worth, I should mention that my original comment was prompted by a Matt Yglesias post in which he said this about neoconservatism:

The issue is also confused by the fact that "neoconservative" carries heavy connotations of "Jewish," as evidenced by the fact that Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz are constantly cited as leading neocons while goyische Senator John McCain who seems to share their foreign policy views is not.

At the time, my feeling was that Kristol and Wolfowitz were simply the highest profile neocons around, so it was perfectly reasonable to use them as examples. Still, who knows? Maybe this kind of thing is well known in more plugged-in circles as an example of thinly veiled anti-semitism? So I asked about it.

Anyway, the answer to my question — in theory — seems to be simply to maintain normal standards of civil discourse and not to mention anyone's ethnic background when discussing neocons — although this strikes me as slightly disingenuous, especially since George Bush's brand of Christianity seems to be fair game for critics who question his motives in the Middle East. In practice, I suppose the best bet is to make sure to mention someone like Bill Bennett or Michael Novak whenever Kristol, Wolfowitz, Perle, etc. are brought up.

By the way, a few of the commenters above seem to think that simply raising the question showed some kind of vague ill will on my part, a point of view I find disheartening. It's simply not possible to take into account every possible connotation of every word you write, and insisting on superhuman precision of language is just not reasonable. These kinds of issues become impossible to even discuss if this is the kind of reaction it generates.

Kevin Drum 5:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE CRYPTONOMICON....Over in comments at Ted Barlow's site, Atrios wrote this in response to Ted's complaint that he found the characters in Cryptonomicon to be "as exhausting as hanging out with a group of improv comics for a week":

I agree about the characters, though I thought it a deliberate and appropriate stylistic decision and not just bad writing. A kind of 'comic realism' style. Having said that, I do agree too many readers didn't notice that 'comic 'part.

Oh yeah. To me, Cryptonomicon was a long, funny, roller coaster ride of a comic book, sans pictures. The characters were supposed to be larger than life and the situations were supposed to be sort of absurd. That was part of the fun.

(Stephenson's other books have the same roller coaster sense, by the way. The first chapter of Snow Crash uses this to hilarious effect, and some of the stuff in Diamond Age — yes, I'm thinking specifically of the ship full of orphans floating offshore — makes Cryptonomicon look postively sedate. And don't worry about the Stephenson's vaguely libertarian politics, just enjoy the books.)

Anyway, Ted, if you want exhausting characters, what you really need to do is read Infinite Jest, another book that both Atrios and I recommend highly. That's an exhausting book, but worth every exhausting minute. But if you do read it, two pieces of advice: (1) read page 223 first, and (2) read the first chapter again after you've finished the book.

UPDATE: Stuart Turner emails to point out that, like most books these days, Cryptonomicon has its own website, www.cryptonomicon.com. It's several years old, but if you're interested it has an author bio, an excerpt from the book, and an interview with Stephenson where he discusses his next book.

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ....SMALLPOX IN LOS ANGELES....So, can George Bush's team use the war on Iraq as a springboard to promote democracy in the Middle East? Sounds like a tough job, doesn't it? Something that requires a deft touch, a feel for persuading doubters, and a good sense of what's possible and what's not.

Sort of like convincing skeptical health workers that they should get smallpox vaccinations:

The nation's largest population centers -- home to more than 30 million people -- have vaccinated only 296 front-line health-care workers against smallpox, the deadly disease that the Bush administration has pegged as a top bioterrorist threat.

....Some administration officials are particularly angry that so few have volunteered. For every health-care worker who chooses not to be vaccinated, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity, "more people will die in case of an attack."

On Wednesday, federal health officials remained perplexed as to why their high-profile anti-terrorism campaign had failed to catch on.

Attaboy, George! Do a lousy job of getting input from the health care community itself, fail miserably to convince them that smallpox is a serious risk, and refuse to compensate them properly in case of complications. And then get angry and perplexed when they don't do what you want them to.

296! That's less than 1%!

And we think these guys can promote democracy in Iraq?

Kevin Drum 3:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CRYSTAL BALL GAZING ON WALL STREET....I've always been skeptical of the peculiar brand of instant analysis that the business press engages in when it reports on the day's stock market news. It's usually something like "The market declined as today's unemployment report sparked fears that consumer spending will slow down." Or, if the market went up that day, it's "The market rose as today's unemployment report sparked hopes that a weak labor market will keep a lid on wage increases." It's basically just astrology.

But now it's even worse. Here's the headline in the LA Times today:

Stocks Jump on Speculation That Iraq Crisis Might End Soon

Huh? What planet are these guys living on? As the story itself notes:

But analysts were quick to question whether Wall Street's rally of the last two days has staying power. They noted that a war with Iraq was still a distinct possibility....

Ya think?

UPDATE: Have you ever noticed the same effect from biographers of famous people, who all seem hellbent on proving that their subject's personality was molded by their parents? If both parent and offspring were thrifty, for example, then offspring was clearly following the parental example. But if offspring turns out to spend with wild abandon, then he was obviously rebelling against his parents. If you pay attention, you'll see this in practically every biography you read.

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MORE CATS....I think I will make Friday cat blogging day here at CalPundit. It seems like a nice way to greet the weekend, don't you think? And in case you're joining us late, that's Jasmine on the left and Inkblot on the right.

However, if your taste runs more toward dogs, Charles Kuffner has a roundup of dog blogging today as well.

Kevin Drum 11:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COLIN POWELL AND THE UN....Since Steven Den Beste, Glenn Reynolds, and William Safire all get to engage in weird conspiracy theorizing about the French, can I do the same for the Bush administration?

My question is this: why aren't we at war yet? Bush's contempt for the UN is patent, and yet we continue to make Herculean efforts to get Security Council authorization for a war. Why? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Despite his talk, Bush actually believes in the UN. I think we can safely dismiss this one.

  • It's a sop to Tony Blair. This is the most common theory, and a pretty good one.

  • The loss of Turkish bases and flyover rights is more important than we've been lead to believe. This has caused an unavoidable delay in military planning, and as long as we're delayed anyway there's no harm in continuing the fight at the UN. This seems plausible, but not convincing. I suspect the military would rather go now even with incomplete planning rather than allow summer to draw ever closer.

  • Colin Powell has threatened to resign if we invade without UN approval.

Obviously I made this list just to get that last item in, because the thought has been bugging me for a while. But Cyrus Vance resigned as secretary of state prior to Jimmy Carter's effort to rescue the hostages in Iran, so it's not as if there's no precedent for this kind of thing.

On the scale of weird ideas this ranks well below the possibility of nuclear war with France, but it's still a bit out there. On the other hand, the normal explanations for our continuing efforts with the UN don't quite sound convincing to me and I keep wondering if there's something else going on behind the scenes.

Or maybe I'm just coming down with blog looniness too. An occupational hazard of spending too much time in front of a computer, perhaps.

Kevin Drum 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PAUL KRUGMAN SHOULD WATCH HIS MOUTH....RealClear Politics on Paul Krugman:

On the eve of war, when we have over 200,000 young men and women about to go into battle and risk their lives for our freedom, Krugman uses his national platform to suggest the Commander in Chief "has lost touch with reality." This is reckless. This is wrong. And this is a LIE.

Having lost the political debate on the wisdom of the war in the Congress and with the American people, Krugman suggests the President who is about to order our troops in to battle may be insane, a modern day Captain Queeg. Absolutely despicable. It makes me sick to my stomach.

Disagreeing with the wisdom of the war is fine. That is what a free democracy is all about. But after having lost that debate I would hope that all Americans would rally behind our President and our troops and pray for their well being and safety. Instead Paul Krugman puts the word out that the Commander in Chief just may be crazy. It is a disgrace.

I guess I have a stronger stomach than John McIntyre, but can I just point out that the antiwar folks haven't quite lost the debate yet? I admit the smart money isn't betting on them, but a lot of things have gone wrong over the past couple of weeks, American support for war without UN approval continues to be shallow, and the Bush administration, despite rhetoric to the contrary, still seems to consider UN authorization important. So it's not exactly unreasonable — or disgraceful or unpatriotic — to keep up the fight.

Kevin Drum 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BEMUSED....So what do the French think of all this freedom fries nonsense? Francophone translator Jane Finch has the scoop over at the Daily Rant.

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ORWELL WATCH....Should pain and suffering awards to victims of medical malpractice be capped at $250,000? Or something higher?

"There is no particular magic in $250,000 as opposed to $350,000," Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 3 Republican in the House, said after the vote. Blunt said the goal was simply to put patients first.

Putting patients first? Can I just say that I hope Roy Blunt never sees fit to put me first? I could do without his help, I think.

Kevin Drum 10:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PARMENIDES' FALLACY....A few days ago Philip Bobbit wrote in the New York Times about Parmenides' Fallacy, the problem of comparing the present to the past instead of comparing the present to other possible presents based on different choices that might have been made. For example, he says it's probably true that we are worse off now than we were before we invaded Afghanistan, but if we hadn't invaded we'd be even worse off.

This reminds me of another way of looking at this, a method apparently endorsed by Robert McNamara during the Vietnam War. This is from Daniel Ellsberg's book Secrets (p. 141):

McNamara said, "Dan, you're the one who can settle this. Komer here is saying that we've made a lot of progress in pacification. I say that things are worse than they were a year ago. What do you say?"

I said, "Well, Mr. Secretary, I'm most impressed with how much the same things are as they were a year ago. They were pretty bad then, but I wouldn't say it was worse now, just about the same."

McNamara said triumphantly, "That proves what I'm saying! We've put more than a hundred thousand troops into the country over the last year, and there's been no improvement. Things aren't any better at all. The means the underlying situation is really worse! Isn't that right?"

I said, "Well, you could say that. It's an interesting way of seeing it."

The punchline, of course, is McNamara's own statement to the press ten minutes later:

Gentlemen, I've just come back from Vietnam, and I'm glad to be able to tell you that we're showing great progress in every dimension of our effort. I'm very encouraged by everything I've seen and heard on my trip....

No comment.

Kevin Drum 9:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TOO MUCH CRISIS....Matt Yglesias says:

...the aggregate quantity of crisis in the world appears to have surpassed the information-processing capacities of both the US government and the world's media organizations.

That does seem to be the direction of things, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 13, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

HONORED DEAD....I did a little web surfing after I wrote the post about Ginny Brown-Waite, the congresswoman who's introducing a bill to dig up all the soldiers buried in France and Belgium and ship them back to the United States.

Just so everyone gets a good idea of what this nitwit is proposing, here's a picture of the beautiful Colleville-sur Mer cemetery in France, overlooking Omaha Beach on the Normandy coast. It is one of 14 in France and Belgium operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission and is built on land that France ceded to the United States "in perpetuity without charge or taxation."

The current chairman of the ABMC is former Commandant of the Marine Corps P.X. Kelley. I hope that Brown-Waite hears from him.

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By: Kevin Drum

SURVIVOR AMAZON....Can I just say that Survivor is pathetic this season? I mean, over the years I've become a Survivor addict and offer no excuses for it, but this boys vs. girls thing, which originally sounded like it could be some good-natured fun, has just been horrible. I think it's set back gender equality by 20 years, no mean feat in a TV world already saturated with Joe Millionaire and the The Bachelorette.

On the other hand, I give them some credit for including Christy Smith, a deaf woman from Colorado, this time around. It's a worthwhile thing to give some real-life exposure like this to the deaf, and it's worked out pretty well. Good for them.

But speaking as a fan, I think the show needs a facelift. Something's got to give.

Kevin Drum 10:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LISTENING TO THE WORLD....Jim Henley has a short and sweet explanation for why we should listen to the United Nations. And no, it's not because we should let the French dictate our foreign policy.

Kevin Drum 9:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEAL STEPHENSON....Eugene Volokh thinks everyone should read Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. I agree. If you haven't read it yet, drop whatever you're doing and go buy it.

When you're done you should go read Stephenson's other books too. They aren't as good as Cryptonomicon, but that's a pretty high bar. They're awfully good.

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By: Kevin Drum

CAN WE JUST IMPEACH THE ENTIRE HOUSE?....As correspondent Ian D remarks, "It can get stupider":

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, plans to introduce a bill today proposing that the families of the thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen buried in France and Belgium be allowed to dig up their remains and have them shipped home. "The remains of our brave servicemen should be buried in patriotic soil, not in a country that has turned its back on the United States and on the memory of Americans who fought and died there," Brown-Waite said.

Yesterday Glenn Reynolds suggested that renaming french fries wasn't such a bad idea. Just a way of blowing off steam without "being destructive or self-defeating like trade sanctions."

Hmmm. It looks to me like this silliness is rather quickly morphing into being both destructive and self-defeating. Care to comment on this latest escalation, Glenn?

Kevin Drum 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LIFE GOES ON IN THE SENATE....OK, so the Senate just voted 64-33 in favor of banning what "its critics call partial-birth abortion" (as the New York Times puts it). But I thought that Republicans were all claiming that the Democratic filibuster of Miguel Estrada was irresponsible because it was holding up the important business of running the country?

I guess not. Too bad, though, in this case.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WOULD THE UN APPROVE AN ATTACK ON AL-QAEDA CAMPS?....After the U.S. offensive against Afghanistan destroyed the Taliban, a few al-Qaeda members managed to escape American forces by slipping across the border into Iran.

By late 2002 many of them had crossed Iran into Iraq and settled in the Halabja Valley, a Kurdish area under the control of Ansar al-Islam, a band of radical Islamic Kurds. As a story in the Washington Post put it:

"The relationship between Ansar and al Qaeda is very much like the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan," said Barham Salih, the prime minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Kurdish administration that abuts the Ansar zone.

Saddam Hussein has little effective control over this area, so the existence of the refugees doesn't really constitute strong evidence that he has ties to al-Qaeda. Nonetheless, there are al-Qaeda operatives in the Halabja Valley, and Dan Drezner has a question about it:

At a minimum, the Post story would seem to justify an offensive to knock out Ansar al-Islam and retake the Halabja Valley. This leads to an intriguing question. Given the obvious link between achieving this objective and the war on terror, and given the assertions by France and others that credible evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda would justify use of force, would the Security Council be willing to approve U.S. military action in this area?

Dan thinks this would be an interesting test of French and German motivations. Would it?

It's a hard question to answer in isolation, since at this point I think everyone would simply assume that the U.S. was using such a strike as the thin end of a wedge toward full war on Iraq. So it's almost impossible to evaluate this on its own merits.

At the same time there's also a larger problem. Since al-Qaeda is a global organization, approving U.S. military action against Ansar al-Islam could be taken to imply approval of any U.S. action against any suspected al-Qaeda group anywhere in the world. It therefore seems unlikely the UN would approve of this, and in turn the U.S. would surely never ask the UN for approval, since it would limit our freedom of action in the future if the request were turned down.

Or so it seems to me. Back to you, Dan.

Kevin Drum 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEOCONS AND ANTI-SEMITISM....Pat Buchanan has an article this month in The American Conservative that questions the influence of neocons on administration planning for the Middle East. That's fine. But he also says this:

We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interests. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords. We charge them with deliberately damaging U.S. relations with every state in the Arab world that defies Israel or supports the Palestinian people's right to a homeland of their own. We charge that they have alienated friends and allies all over the Islamic and Western world through their arrogance, hubris, and bellicosity.

Coming from someone with Buchanan's rather dodgy record of anti-semitism, this doesn't really help the anti-neocon cause much. However, while granting that this is the wrong way to address the issue, I'm curious about what the right way is.

As near as I can tell, here are the (highly condensed) relevant facts:

  • Lots of neocons are Jewish.

  • Neocons are rabidly pro-Israel.

  • It is reasonable to infer that they are pro-Israel largely because they are Jewish.

  • They have a strong influence in the current administration.

  • Lots of people have a strong distaste for the whole neocon agenda of remaking the Middle East in America's image.

I don't really have a place to take all this, I guess, but I'm wondering about the best way to clearly distinguish legitimate criticism of neocons from mere anti-semitism. For example, when Gary Hart referred a few weeks ago to "think tank theorists," he was clearly talking about neocons. And when he warned that we shouldn't be guided by "Americans who too often find it hard to distinguish their loyalties to their original homelands from their loyalties to America and its national interests," it's pretty obvious that he might well have had Jews in mind. Or not.

This is hardly a new issue, but it's become more visible lately because of the rise of the neocons and we're likely to hear more about it. What I'd like to see are some reasonable guidelines for discourse, guidelines that suggest which lines of attack on neoconservatism are reasonable and which ones aren't, and what kinds of criticism of Israel are legitimate and which ones aren't. If there were any consensus on this, it would make both criticism and defense of neocon theology a lot easier and a lot less polemical. It would make it a lot easier for me, anyway.

Maybe someone who thinks this is an interesting topic and allows comments on their site will bring this up and see what kind of discussion we get. Matt? Max? Anybody?

Or is this just a hopeless topic?

Kevin Drum 11:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AND NOW, BACK TO OUR USUAL ACERBIC SELVES....Uber-commenter Mac Diva has read my plea for more humanity in the blogosphere and begs to disagree:

Placing a premium on niceness is unfair to acerbic bloggers.

Just goes to show that almost anything can be controversial these days!

POSTSCRIPT: Does this mean no more cat pictures? Ha! I might even have to get a dog now just to give me more photographic opportunities....

Kevin Drum 10:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEBT FREE AT LAST?....For all the folks coming over from Dan Drezner's site wondering what he was talking about, the subject at hand is Paul Krugman. In his column on Tuesday he wrote:

With war looming, it's time to be prepared. So last week I switched to a fixed-rate mortgage. It means higher monthly payments, but I'm terrified about what will happen to interest rates once financial markets wake up to the implications of skyrocketing budget deficits.

Krugman's column prompted a longish exhange between Mickey Kaus and Brad DeLong about whether we should be worried about inflation or deflation (answer: both), but I thought there was a far more important question at stake here.

This essay on Krugman's personal website indicates that he lives in a nice house, "though it's not a mansion," and that between his salary, his wife's salary, his book royalties, his speaking fees, and his income from the New York Times, he makes a lot of money. And before he started his Times column he made even more, likely in the close range of $1 million a year or so.

So my question is: why the hell does Paul Krugman have a mortgage? Why doesn't he just pay the damn thing off?

UPDATE: Krugman also says he has two cats. We want pictures!

Kevin Drum 9:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 12, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

A PLEA FOR HELP....Sean-Paul Kelley of The Agonist has been planning to take a trip this summer along the old Silk Road, but federal and state spending cuts have eliminated the grant he was counting on to help pay for the trip. Tickets have already been purchased and visas obtained, but now he needs some donations to help replace the funding he lost.

If you contribute to the cause Sean-Paul promises to send you an autographed copy of the book he's planning to write. Plus he'll be blogging the entire way. So head over to The Agonist and hit the PayPal button. He's over halfway to his goal, so a little bit more should put him over the top.

Kevin Drum 9:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SECONDHAND SMOKE....On top of all its other ill effects, apparently secondhand smoke also causes tooth decay in children. Sheesh. Pretty soon it will be responsible for peanut allergies and the spread of Ebola.

Kevin Drum 9:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MEXICAN STANDOFF....We've been hounding President Vicente Fox of Mexico for weeks to get his vote in the Security Council. President Bush has made veiled threats, the Economist reports that American businessman have been warning their counterparts that contracts and partnerships could be at stake, and on Monday our ambassador to Mexico asked, "Will American attitudes be placated by half-steps or three-quarter-steps? I kind of doubt it."

Unfortunately for Mr. Fox, his constituents are opposed to war by a huge margin. So what to do? Answer: go into hiding.

By day's end, Mr. Fox announced that he would undergo spinal surgery on Wednesday and remain out of public view until the weekend. While on the operating table, he will temporarily transfer presidential power to his interior minister, Santiago Creel. The unexpected surgery is likely only to prolong the diplomatic agony.

That's the kind of decisive action I like to see! I sure wouldn't want to be in this Creel fellow's shoes, though.

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DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ....Dan Drezner's monthly New Republic column is up, and I generally like it. He argues in favor of democracy in Iraq (and the Middle East generally) without dismissing the obvious difficulties. I wish we had more people like him making policy in Washington instead of utopian ideologues like Wolfowitz and Perle.

On the other hand, he cites Turkey and Iran in defense of his optimism about Mideast democracy, but I think these can be taken both ways. Turkey is indeed on its way to becoming a modern liberal democracy, but it's not fully there yet and it's taken 70 years so far. Iran, as Dan notes, is a democracy but far from a liberal one, and they've been at it for 20 years. So while democracy is possible, it's likely to take a very long time to establish.

In a followup to his piece he mentions the idea of a "club" of emerging Mideast democracies as a carrot that the U.S. could use to promote democratic institutions. At first glance this seems kind of silly, but it's not, really. Talking shops — like the UN, for example — really do have benefits, and the U.S. could also use its club to provide more tangible benefits as well. More important, however, is the general category of incentives that Dan is talking about. There are lots of small things we can do to nudge things in the right direction, and this is just an example.

Kevin Drum 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WE'RE #2!....Nick Denton says that French isn't even in the top ten of world languages, and it's about time the French learned it. Whatever. What I'm really interested in his contention (based on figures from the Summer Institute for Linguistics) that English is the #3 language worldwide with 322 million speakers.

Just counting the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, Canada (minus Quebec), and Australia, I get a population of about 400 million, which puts English at #2. Even discounting the 20 million or so non-English speakers in the U.S., we've still got at least 380 million native English speakers worldwide.

So what's up? Do they not count children or something?

Kevin Drum 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A 6-STEP PROGRAM....Britain is in a frenzy of UN activity trying to secure passage of a second resolution that sets out firm benchmarks for Saddam Hussein. Here they are:

  1. Mr. Hussein must admit on Iraqi television that he possesses weapons of mass destruction and will now disarm fully.

  2. He will account for and destroy stocks of anthrax and other biological and chemical weapons.

  3. Mr. Hussein will permit 30 scientists and their families to fly to Cyprus for interrogation by United Nations weapons inspectors.

  4. He will admit to possession of an unmanned drone aircraft discovered by inspectors.

  5. He will promise to destroy mobile production facilities for biological weapons.

  6. Mr. Hussein will pledge to complete the destruction of all unlawful missiles.

I guess it's worth a try, but it doesn't seem likely that anything like this will fly in the Security Council.

And when you get right down to it, isnt #1 the only one that matters? The others are really just window dressing, aren't they?

Kevin Drum 10:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SPOOKY....Huh? Eleven soldiers have died in a helicopter crash at Fort Drum? I don't like the sound of that....

UPDATE: OK, this was kind of lame. It's just that it happened at Fort Drum. You know, as in Drum?

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THOSE INSCRUTABLE FRENCH....As a followup to the post below, I'd like to take a crack at the question implicitly posed by Steven Den Beste and Michael Ledeen: Why is France opposing us so strenuously? Here are a few possibilities that do not include partnerships with Osama or threats of nuclear war against the United States:

  • They have good relations with the Arab world and have a natural inclination to side with them.

  • Jacques Chirac thinks it's good domestic politics since 80% of his constituents oppose war.

  • Based on their experience with both terrorism and the Muslim world — which is quite a bit more extensive than ours — they believe that a war will destabilize the Middle East and cause more problems than it will solve.

  • They agree that Saddam is dangerous but genuinely believe that intrusive inspections can keep him in a box at less cost and risk than a war.

  • Chirac doesn't really care about the United States, he just wants to piss off Tony Blair.

  • Chirac has his back up now and is refusing to back down purely for reasons of Gallic pride and macho posturing.

I haven't the slightest idea whether any or none of these is true, and there are plenty of other possibilities too. But warbloggers, who are so wrapped up in their revulsion for Saddam Hussein that they can't conceive of why anyone would be opposed to going to war against him, should understand that there are plenty of perfectly plausible reasons for French opposition — some of them honorable and some not.

And another warning: if it were only France that were opposed to war, then conspiracy theories about their stand might be within the realm of reason. But (a) half the population of the United States is opposed to war in one form or another, (b) a large majority of virtually every other country in the world is also opposed, (c) on the Security Council, there are currently 11 countries leaning against war and three permanent members who might veto a U.S. resolution, (d) Turkey's parliament has denied us basing rights, (e) most of the Arab world, including Iraq's neighbors, who are certainly in the greatest immediate danger, oppose the war, and (f) every single country in the world except two — Britain and Australia — has declined to provide us with any military assistance.

Whether you like it or not, Chirac is pretty much in the mainstream of world opinion — and probably loving every minute of it. You hardly need to engage in any conspiracy theorizing to figure that out.

UPDATE: As a couple of readers have noted, it's also likely that general French dislike of American "cultural hegemony" should be added to my list. You bet. But you still don't need partnerships with al-Qaeda to understand why France acts the way it does.

Kevin Drum 9:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JACQUES CHIRAC, TERROR MASTER....Michael Ledeen has long been one of the more, um, visionary thinkers among conservative hawks, essentially advocating U.S. military action against the entire Middle East. Today Digby points us to Ledeen's latest missive, an effort to understand those darn French and explain why they willfully continue to oppose us in the face of our obvious righteousness:

So the French and the Germans struck a deal with radical Islam and with radical Arabs: You go after the United States, and we'll do everything we can to protect you, and we will do everything we can to weaken the Americans.

The Franco-German strategy was based on using Arab and Islamic extremism and terrorism as the weapon of choice, and the United Nations as the straitjacket for blocking a decisive response from the United States.

As near as I can tell, this is the conservative version of the "It's all about oil" argument from lefty peace activists. France has always considered itself a counterweight to the United States in the Arab world, so there's probably a kernel of truth in the idea that their position is partly an effort to curry favor with Arab states.

Unfortunately, that thesis isn't interesting enough for Ledeen, who insists on making it into some grand conspiracy theory in which, Illuminati-like, Jacques Chirac is secretly Osama's right hand man, plotting terrorist attacks as a way of keeping the perfidious Americans too busy to export their lousy Hollywood movies to Paris.

As Digby points out, it's one thing for a few crazy bloggers to say stuff like this, but "Michael Ledeen gets invited to the White House. He is crazy as a loon." Maybe he should get together with the Bible Code nutcase who's been helping out our intelligence analysts.

Kevin Drum 8:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE CATS!....War getting you down? Go take a look at Digby's swimming cat and Gianna's Valentine Cat lookalike.

The Drum family motto has always been "You can never have too many cats." In sober reality this has occasionally turned out not to be true, but the sentiment is accurate....

Kevin Drum 8:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"AS IF WE WERE IN GRAMMAR SCHOOL"....Were the questions at last week's presidential press conference pre-approved? David Appell has the answer.

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March 11, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

FIRST TURKEY, NOW BRITAIN?....

This morning a reporter asked Donald Rumsfeld if we would go to war without Britain. He said:

To the extent they are able to participate -- in the event that the president decides to use force -- that would obviously be welcomed. To the extent they're not, there are work-arounds and they would not be involved, at least in that phase...

Now, to Americans this seemed like just another case of good old straight shooting Don Rumsfeld. After all, there's been a lot of news about backbench rebellion in the Labor Party, ministers resigning if Tony Blair commits troops without UN approval, and Blair's stress-induced ill health, so it's only natural that the Pentagon is planning what to do if Britain does indeed decide to pull out of the coalition.

But the real story here is how Rumsfeld's comments show once again the Bush administration's almost pathological inability to understand how other people are going to react to what they say. In Britain, Rumsfeld's remarks caused a firestorm and were the lead story at the Times, the Telegraph, the Independent, and the Guardian — and probably every other newspaper and television broadcast as well. A few hours later, after frantic transatlantic calls, Rumsfeld backtracked and said he had "no doubt" of the full support of Great Britain.

What a way to help the only ally you've got. Blair's situation is already dicey enough, and Rumsfeld's comments have potentially provided just the nudge needed to cause Blair to lose the support of his own party.

Every time one of these guys opens his mouth we lose another ally, and when this is all over it may turn out that their bungling in Turkey was the straw that finally broke the camel's back. We lost the vote in Turkey by three votes, and this in turn probably demonstrated enough weakness to convince France and Russia to stand firm in their opposition to war. That in turn has sent Britain scrambling, and while we can surely prosecute the war on our own, the loss of both Turkey and Britain could delay the invasion long enough to allow even more opposition to develop. It's still unlikely that anything will stop Bush from going to war, but at this point it's at least possible.

And all because nobody in the administration can keep their damn mouths shut. It's like watching a bunch of posturing teenagers in a schoolyard. Pathetic.

UPDATE: Bizarrely enough, Andrew Sullivan is on the same page as me. How likely is that?

Kevin Drum 10:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FATHERLY ADVICE?....I've been getting a bunch of emails about George Bush Sr.'s speech at Tufts University along with pointers to additional stories, and it now seems even odder than it did yesterday. Here's the basic timeline:

  • February 26: Bush Sr. gives his speech. The full text is here, and the Q&A is here. The next day it is reported rather straightforwardly by the Boston Globe as a speech that defends Bush Sr.'s record in Gulf War I and supports Bush Jr.'s approach to the upcoming war.

  • March 9: For no apparent reason, two weeks later Walter Pincus writes up the speech in the Washington Post and suggests that Bush Sr. "appears to have used a recent speech to send a subtle message to his son about the importance of maintaining multilateral relationships."

  • March 10: Roland Watson of the London Times picks up the story, but in his hands it morphs into an "unmistakeable" message to Bush Jr. and an "ominous warning" about the danger of ignoring the UN. This is an especially odd spin since the Times is a conservative, pro-war newspaper.

  • March 11: Salon publishes a piece by Jake Tapper about the different diplomatic styles of Bush Sr. and Jr. That's pretty standard fare, but Tapper also mentions the Tufts speech, saying that Bush Sr. "illustrated that the priorities that mattered to him are, shall we say, a tad less important to his son, including maintaining an international coalition behind a move against a sovereign country."

What the heck is going on? For two weeks after the speech there was virtually no coverage at all, and now three stories in three days suddenly pick it up and suggest that it was actually a warning from father to son. Is this (a) just a coincidence? Or (b) did Pincus decide on his own to speculate a bit and the other two picked up on it? Or (c) did someone close to Bush Sr. call a few reporters and tell them that they missed the real story behind the speech?

UPDATE: Henry Farrell has some similar comments. Which I suppose isn't surprising since we've been emailing each other about this all afternoon....

Kevin Drum 7:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TORTURE....Here are a few practices that were once rather widespread and unremarkable but that are now considered entirely taboo in America and the rest of the developed world:

  • Torture

  • Slavery

  • Forced sterilization

  • Children working 12-hour days running a steam-powered loom

You can add your own favorites to this list, but the point is this: taboos define us a civilization. They are things that we recognize as beyond the pale, things that define us as monsters if we cross the line.

If torture is acceptable because it can sometimes be useful, then why not slavery? Or child labor? Or any of a host of other potentially useful but odious practices? Because this is not who we are. Torturing a terrorist might indeed produce a small amount of useful information, but for every bit of information it produces, it turns a thousand potential followers against us. It's a Faustian bargain, and it's a bad one.

We will win the battle against terrorism by drying up the terrorists' recruiting pool, and we will do that by consistently demonstrating that our vision of humanity is superior to theirs. Torture is not the way to do that. It belongs to days long past, and that's where it should stay.

UPDATE: And for anyone who thinks a "little bit" of torture might be OK, this post by Jonathan Edelstein demonstrates graphically what a slippery slope it really is.

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HOW FAR WILL THE FRENCH GO?....Steven Den Beste continues his long, lonely journey to complete lunacy. Today he's worried about continuing French opposition to our war and asks:

Do they see the stakes as being high enough so that they might actually threaten to nuke us?

It's hardly even funny to mock him any more. He really needs to seek professional help.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy blogged about this too and ended up with this exchange in his comments:

Narniaman: I think you're misrepresenting his case. He's stating worse case scenarios, they don't have to be completely plausible. Stranger things have happened.

Kieran: Stranger things have happened than France nuking the United States? Want to give any examples? The famous rain of frogs in Posset-on-the-Wye in 1537, maybe?

We are now officially in through-the-looking-glass-land.

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DNA TESTING....John Ashcroft has asked Congress to budget $1 billion over five years to increase the use of DNA analysis in crime fighting. I'm a big fan of DNA analysis, and this sounds like good news to me since the proposal seems to provide funds for using DNA testing both to catch criminals and to exonerate them:

The plan announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft would also commit federal money for the first time for DNA testing of convicted felons who argue that they are innocent, and it would expand the types of crimes that would be included in a national DNA database.

I don't know if there's any fine print here I should be worried about — this is John Ashcroft we're talking about here — but I'll tentatively say that this sounds like good news. The prime goal of law enforcement shouldn't be either toughness or leniency, it should be accuracy. This is a good step toward that goal.

Kevin Drum 4:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BIG FISH IN A SMALL POND....Via Blogging News, Jason Kottke provides a summary of various attempts to rank blogs:

Here are some lists of the top weblogs (as determined by counting inbound links):

Technorati Top 100
Daypop Top Weblogs
Myelin Blogging Ecosystem
TTLB Blogosphere Ecosystem
Most Watched Blogs @ blo.gs**
Blogrolling.com Top Links**

** These two lists are not like the others and the discussion below may not apply. (Or maybe it does.)

You can also add the BlogStreet Most Important 100 Blogs to that list.

Jason notes correctly that each of these lists provides wildly different rankings. As of today, for example, the rank of CalPundit on these lists is (in order) 65, 0, 0, 8, 0, 0, and 50. Jason wonders if we can do better:

So, my hypothesis is that because of the skew introduced by the initial conditions and the small sample sizes, all of these lists (except maybe Technorati) are pretty inaccurate. It's like the network effect squared or something -- the rich seem disproportionally richer because the network is being measured from their perspective (perhaps making this weblogs & power law business more pronounced than it actually is) -- but I can't get my head around it. So here's my question for you. How do you construct a fairly accurate map of a network (the weblog universe in this case) with a sample size much smaller than the total number of nodes (weblogs)? Is it even possible?

Needless to say, I prefer the methodology that ranks me the highest, but there are really two questions here: (1) what is the best measure of "rank"? and (2) how can this measurement be calculated? The technical question is interesting, but I suspect it's the first question that's really the hardest.

Kevin Drum 3:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEBT? WHAT DEBT?....Paul Krugman thinks that as deficits pile on top of deficits, the most likely solution is for the government to simply print money by the cartload and inflate away the debt.

Scott Martens says, "Bring it on!" In fact, the more the better:

The next time you run into a Bush supporter, thank them for me for subsidising my life. Remind them that, thanks to Dubya and his damn-foolishness, every time they make a mortgage payment or send money to their credit card, there is a liberal, non-American computer programmer who's getting to see the world on their money.

Heh heh.

Kevin Drum 3:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE CATS....My cat post on Friday prompted an outpouring of requests from one guy for more pictures. Good enough for me!

So here they are again. The big black and white one on the left is named Inkblot (for obvious reasons). He weighs in at nearly a full stone and has an IQ, even in cat terms, of about 10. The brown tabby on the right is Jasmine, named by one of our friends' kids, and she tends toward "small but clever." She keeps Inkblot on a leash through sheer force of will.

So, will I be posting more cat pictures in the future? Will I ever! Thanks to the miracle of digital photography, I can take literally endless pictures of my cats and it costs me absolutely nothing. You, of course, are the beneficiaries of this technological wizardry.

(Don't like it because you access CalPundit via a slow dial-up link? Hmmm, how can I put this politely? GET BROADBAND!)

POSTSCRIPT: On a slightly more sober note, I'd like to encourage other bloggers to post personal nonsense like this too. Maybe it will inspire Bill Sjostrom to post more pictures of his dog, for example.

As John Cole pointed out a few weeks ago, these kinds of things remind us all that while we mostly talk about politics in our blogs and therefore conclude that all the other guys are venal, smug, hypocritical idiots, we are actually fairly ordinary people in real life — you know, going to work, attending church, raising our kids, fixing the broken faucet, and so forth. I myself, for example, steal candy from babies only when there's simply no other choice, and I imagine my ideological opposites, misguided though they are, feel much the same way.

And now it's off to lunch. A chili burger at Tommy's sounds like it would hit the spot today. Yum yum!

Kevin Drum 1:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CONGRESS OFFICIALLY SURRENDERS TO THE BLOGOSPHERE....Ezra Klein points us to this CNN story:

The cafeteria menus in the three House office buildings will change the name of "french fries" to "freedom fries," a culinary rebuke of France, stemming from anger over the country's refusal to support the U.S. position on Iraq. Ditto for "french toast," which will be known as "freedom toast."

The name changes were spearheaded by two Republican lawmakers who held a news conference Tuesday to make the name changes official on the menus.

It's one thing for a few nitwits who own private restaurants to do this, but the United States Congress? Then again, as I mentioned yesterday, a three-digit IQ has never been a precondition for election to Congress.

Idiots.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, I've seen a few bloggers claim that French fries are named after the culinary technique of frenching and have nothing to do with France per se. Not true. They really did originate in France, and that's where the name came from.

Kevin Drum 11:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHORTER BLOVIATOR....As promised, The Bloviator is dedicated to the problem of the uninsured this week. Ross has several good posts up right now:

If any of these subjects sound interesting, hop over and take a look. And sign the proclamation while you're there.

Kevin Drum 10:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AT LEAST THEY'RE OUR BASTARDS.... Ah, our friends the Kuwaitis. Nick Denton treats us to the picture at right, demonstrating the usual Kuwaiti tolerance of religious diversity, dedication to freedom of speech and association, etc. etc.:

PLEASE NOTE THAT CURRENT LAW OF THE STATE OF KUWAIT PREVENTS ANY KIND OF COOPERATION OR INTERACTION WITH ISRAEL. THE MINISTRY OF INFORMATION NOTIFIES AGAINST FEEDING ISRAELI NEWS AND BROADCASTING ORGANIZATIONS WITH REPORTS FOR BROADCASTING FROM THE STATE OF KUWAIT.

ANY ORGANISATION OR PERSON WHO VIOLATE THE ABOVE SAID NOTICE WILL FACE LEGAL PERSECUTION.

I'll bet they will. Lovely sentiments, aren't they?

(By the way, note the variant spelling of "organization" in the memo. Was spell check not working? Or are they just trying to split the difference between the two occupying forces currently encamped in the their country?)

Kevin Drum 10:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GOOD SOCIOLOGY....BAD SOCIOLOGY...."Violent Shows Inspire Violence, Study Says." That's the headline, anyway, but as Matt Yglesias points out, that's only one possible explanation:

Under one interpretation, identifying with the characters on violent television shows causes children to grow up into aggressive adults. This seems to be the interpretation they want you to believe. But isn't it a lot more likely that aggressive kinds just identify with violent TV characters and then grow up to be aggressive adults.

It's maddening that studies like this don't take this possibility into account. Actually, let me rephrase that: it would be maddening if the study didn't take this into account. But it did. Here's the press release from the American Psychological Association:

Might these results simply be an indication that more aggressive children like to watch violent TV shows? "It is more plausible that exposure to TV violence increases aggression than that aggression increases TV-violence viewing," said Dr. Huesmann. "For both boys and girls, habitual early exposure to TV violence is predictive of more aggression by them later in life independent of their own initial childhood aggression. Also, the study suggests that being aggressive in early childhood has no effect on increasing males' exposure to media violence as adults and only a small effect for females."

Now, I've still got some problems here, chief among them the small sample size of 329. Once you start breaking that down by "the child's initial aggression levels, their intellectual capabilities, their social status as measured by their parents' education or occupation, their parents' aggressiveness, or the mother's and father's parenting style" — not to mention age and gender — the subgroups start to look pretty small. There are also questions of methodology (how was "initial aggression" measured?), but without the full article it's impossible to say anything about that one way or the other.

Bottom line: Huesmann might be wrong, and even at best his results are suggestive, not conclusive. But he did take into account the possibility that this is just a matter of aggressive kids showing a preference for violent TV. Whether he gave it short shrift for reasons of his own I don't know, but it's definitely an option he addressed.

UPDATE: The full-text of the study is here. I'm not remotely competent to judge its conclusions or methodology — plus it looks kind of long and boring — but anyone else who wants to read it and report back is welcome to try! In fact, since Kieran is the only blogging sociologist I know, I think I'll assign this as homework to him. He ought to have some free time next week for this kind of stuff. Right, Laurie?

Kevin Drum 9:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 10, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRATS AND NATIONAL SECURITY....Digby is worried about the 2004 election:

I hope that the Democrats face up to the reality that national security is going to be the foremost issue in the coming Presidential campaign and find a way to deal with the fact that we are considered to be complete losers on the issue. This is a HUGE problem and it's not going to magically disappear no matter how badly they manage to fuck up the economy. They are going to keep asserting that the economy is in the ditch because of the "war" on evil and there is nothing to be done but to keep cutting taxes and invading countries that might threaten us someday. They are committed to this and they aren't going to budge.

And we are going to lose if we don't find a way to answer the charge that Democrats are pussies.

For reasons both fair and unfair, he's right. I don't know if Wesley Clark is the answer, but the problem is real. Like Digby, I hope the Democratic candidates face it squarely.

Kevin Drum 10:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SENIOR VS. JUNIOR....There's been a ton of blogospheric attention given to today's London Times article suggesting that George Bush Sr. is critical of his son's handling of the Iraq situation. The reason is obvious when you skim through the Times story:

Bush Sr warning over unilateral action
The first President Bush has told his son that hopes of peace in the Middle East would be ruined if a war with Iraq were not backed by international unity....The former President's comments reflect unease among the Bush family....Although not addressed to his son in person, the message, in a speech at Tufts University in Massachusetts, was unmistakeable.

....He said that the key question of how many weapons of mass destruction Iraq held "could be debated". The case against Saddam was "less clear" than in 1991, when Mr Bush Sr led an international coalition to expel invading Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Objectives were "a little fuzzier today", he added.

....In an ominous warning for his son, Mr Bush Sr said that he would have been able to achieve nothing if he had jeopardised future relations by ignoring the UN....Also drawing on the lessons of 1991, he said that it was imperative to mend fences with allies immediately, rather than waiting until after a war.

This sounds damning indeed, but click the link and read the whole thing carefully. There are an awful lot of unsupported inferences in the story, aren't there? And no direct quotes critical of Bush Jr. either. Odd, isn't it? And note that something else is missing: the date of the speech.

The reason is that Bush Sr. gave this speech two weeks ago. I read it then, along with a similar speech he gave in Iowa, and decided not to blog it because, once you read through it, there isn't really much news there. Compare the Times treatment to this story written in the Boston Globe the day after the speech by someone who was actually there:

At Tufts, elder Bush defends US Iraq policy
In a speech at Tufts University....former President George H.W. Bush supported his son's present policy toward Iraq.

....Defending his own stewardship of the 1991 conflict, Bush said the coalition that aligned against Iraq then would have crumbled if the US had decided to march into Baghdad to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

....The former president later drew a distinction between the importance of multilateral action in the Gulf War and today, saying that coalition-building is harder now, when the evidence that Hussein has weapons of mass destruction is ''a little fuzzier'' than when Iraq invaded Kuwait. ''Another ingredient we didn't have [during the Gulf War] was 9/11,'' Bush said. ''The United States must do what it can to protect itself and its friends against the use of weapons of mass destruction.''

....The elder Bush said he refrains from giving advice to his son, not wanting to ''complicate his life.'' He added that he feels hurt by criticism of his son, who the senior Bush said wants a peaceful resolution of the Iraq crisis as much as anyone. Still, Bush said the United States has more work to do. ''We need to make clear the new world order is not some code for American imperialism, but making freedom and self-determination widely accepted norms,'' he said.

The Globe story makes it plainly obvious that Bush Sr.'s speech was extremely supportive of his son. The Times reporter, for some reason, twisted his words about Gulf War I into "unmistakeable" warnings about the current war that seem to be more a product of his imagination than of the speech itself.

Unless there's some reason to think that the Times reporter based his story on inside knowledge of Bush Sr.'s intentions, it looks like it's just a case of someone trying a little too hard to spin some news out of nothing. I don't think there's much to this story.

Kevin Drum 8:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TAKING LESSONS FROM REAGAN?....Reader Bill Davisson passes on the following item from Paul Routledge's column in the lefty British magazine New Statesman:

Belatedly but factually I hear that George Dubya phoned [Tony Blair] on the eve of his State of the Union address. "I'm gonna say: 'Let's nuke Saddam!'" he confided. Blair choked down the phone, until Bush roared with laugher at the joke. At least, I think it was a joke.

He's quite a card, our president is.

(Sorry, no link. As Bill points out, New Statesman has a decidedly non-proletariat-friendly policy of charging for all online content.)

Kevin Drum 6:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PRECIOUS BODILY FLUIDS....First there was Trent Lott putting his foot in his mouth. Then Howard Coble suggested that it was all for the best that Americans of Japanese descent were interned during World War II since it was really for their own safety. Now we have James Moran blaming the upcoming war on a Jewish cabal and Arlon Lindner claiming that homosexuals weren't persecuted by the Nazis.

I realize that a PhD in history is not required for election to the U.S. congress — nor even a three-digit IQ for that matter — but what the hell is going on here? Is it something in the water?

Or is it always like this and it's just that blogging makes it more obvious?

Kevin Drum 6:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FIXING THE UNITED NATIONS....A MODEST PROPOSAL....I grew up in Orange County in the 60s, and back then "Get US out of UN!" bumper stickers were as common as swallows at Capistrano — and as well beloved. So conservative distaste for the UN is hardly something new.

However, modern UN-bashing is different from that of my parents' day. Back then the fear was that the UN was too powerful and the United States would soon find itself in thrall to a socialistic world government run from smoke filled rooms in the Kremlin.

Today's UN bashers have a quite different complaint: far from being too powerful, the UN is woefully ineffective, too bureaucratic, and irrelevant to the grave dangers we now face. And it is no longer the Kremlin we fear, but a Security Council veto from our cheese-eating enemies, the veto-wielding French.

So let's fix all that. First, we need to get rid of the Security Council since it's the veto power of the permanent members that makes it almost impossible to take action on anything that's even remotely controversial. Then, with only the General Assembly left, we need to change the voting procedure there to reflect both real-world power and dedication to collective security.

Here's how: let the member countries buy their votes. Every year, each country would get votes in proportion to the money it contributes to the UN budget. This would be great for the United States, since we can easily afford to buy lots of votes. It's OK for France, too, since if they're really serious about their status in the world they can always pony up the requisite dough. It's true that small, poor countries would get screwed, but they do already, so there's no harm done on that score.

Just think: this proposal would make the UN more action oriented and, by setting up a bidding war, would give it the funds to back up its words with deeds. Let's do it!

UPDATE: Of course, if you just want to give up on the whole UN thing entirely, there's always HR 1146, the latest in a long string of efforts to get us out of the UN. Check and see if your congressman is one of the 12 cosponsors!

UPDATE 2: And surveying the landscape of other wildly impractical proposals, we have Matt Yglesias, who suggests that we could fix the undemocratic nature of the U.S. Senate simply by redrawing state lines. Yeah, baby!

Kevin Drum 5:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE REAL GEORGE BUSH?....The good folks at the Economist have decided to start sending me their magazine again — apparently based on the fact that I am sending them money once again — and the Lexington column this week really hit home when I read it. He is talking about President Bush's real agenda and says:

Mr Bush's tax-cut strategy is at heart a more ideological gamble on the future: he argues that lower taxes and a simpler tax structure will make the economy more efficient in the long run—meaning eight, ten, 20 years out.

Something similar applies to Iraq. Mr Bush is on the verge of committing America to an immense enterprise....[As] he made clear in last week's speech to the American Enterprise Institute, it would be an earnest of America's commitment to the democratic transformation of the Middle East, which would help to solve the Israel-Palestine problem. But this too will take years, even decades.

The fact that Mr Bush is looking so far into the future is in many ways admirable. But it casts a shadow of doubt over his divisive tactics. For in both domestic and foreign policy, the president is committing America to a long haul without doing the work needed to prepare people for the setbacks that will be inevitable along the way.

Lexington seems quite sure — for reasons that are unstated — that these long run plans really are at the heart of Bush's agenda. But how does he know this if, as he says, Bush has declined to actually spell any of this out? To me, for example, his economic plan seems rather exquisitely timed to produce good news right around summer 2004.

Although there are certainly many who would oppose war with Iraq regardless of Bush's true motives, there are many others for whom this is key. But in the end I wonder if it matters. Even if a democratic transformation of the Middle East is truly something he believes in, it will never happen if he's not willing to expend even the modest political capital it would take to talk about it, let alone push the appropriate programs through Congress.

Unlike Lexington, who seems to think he can see directly into Bush's heart, the rest of us can only judge him by his words and actions. On this score, it seems like wishful thinking to suppose that he is truly committed enough to a democratic Iraq to take the risks necessary to see it through. That's too bad.

Kevin Drum 3:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SEYMOUR HERSH, FIRST AMENDMENT TERRORIST....In an interview with Wolf Blitzer yesterday, neocon hawk Richard Perle said this about journalist Seymour Hersh (of My Lai fame):

Look, Sy Hersh is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist, frankly.

The ostensible reason for this bizarre remark — which even caught even Blitzer off guard — was a New Yorker article in which Hersh accuses Perle of benefitting financially from a war with Iraq, but Tom Spencer explains that there's some very bad blood between Hersh and Perle that may help to explain Perle's charge. Apparently it goes back a long way.

UPDATE: A reader warns me that I should be cautious about accepting at face value anything on David Irving's site, which Tom linked to. However, the excerpt on the site is said to be from "Seymour Hersh's The Price of Power (1983) pg 322," so it can be pretty easily verified. If anyone has this book and can check to see if the excerpt is fair, please let me know.

Also, just for the record, Hersh's book apparently says that Perle was "overheard discussing classified information," which may or may not be anything serious — and probably happens routinely in high-level Washington circles, even if it is in technical violation of the law. So who knows? However, whether serious or not, it certainly sheds some light on why Perle dislikes Hersh so virulently.

Kevin Drum 12:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOWARD DEAN ON IRAQ....Gabriel Wildau at The American Prospect has an online article today that runs down the highlights of yesterday's political chat shows.

He mentions that Howard Dean was not especially impressive defending his position on Iraq, and I agree. I caught a few minutes of Meet the Press, where he appeared, and he seemed pretty uncomfortable with the subject.

In fairness, I think this really is one of those cases where the liberal position is hard to articulate. Why should we care what France thinks? Still, if Dean's position is that this is a problem that needs broad international support to be resolved successfully — well, he'd better figure out a way to explain that in a soundbite or two. Maybe that's unfair, but this is the big leagues.

And while I'm on the subject of the Prospect's online articles, can I just take this opportunity to say that they run quite a few good pieces every week? A lot of us read Tapped, which usually promotes the online articles in a single post where they all get munged together, and it's pretty easy to just skip past these posts and miss the articles themselves.

So: don't just read Tapped. You should also bookmark the Prospect's home page, where they not only display the contents of their current issue but also highlight each day's new articles — usually short takes on timely topics — along with helpful little summaries. In fact, I think Tapped should take those home page summaries and post them at the top of the blog in the same format they use on the home page. They'd get more attention that way, and I think it's primarily the new stuff that blog readers tend to be interested in anyway. Whaddaya say, Tapped gnomes?

UPDATE: Of course, it might help the Prospect out if I actually linked to them on my own media list over at the right. Not to mention The Nation, The New Republic, and The Washington Monthly. Sheesh. I'm not exactly helping the cause here, am I? But it's all fixed now.

Oh, and how about dumping the popup ad on the Prospect's home page? Pretty please?

Kevin Drum 12:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JIMMY CARTER, FATHER OF RADICAL ISLAM?....One of the most annoying things about the warblogger community is that their hatred of Jimmy Carter is so bizarrely over-the-top that it forces me to defend him now and again. So let's get it straight: Carter was a mediocre president who never found a compelling voice and who had little to show for the four years of his presidency. I voted for him in 1976 (yes, 14 days after my 18th birthday!) but not in 1980.

But he did have at least one thing to show for his presidency: the Camp David peace accords. So why does Glenn Reynolds say this?

In fact, much of our problem with radical Islamism today is because of Carter's weakness and ineptitude nearly twenty-five years ago.

This is simply ridiculous. If there's one thing that Carter might have accomplished if circumstances had been different it's the reduction of tension in the Arab world. By refusing to take a one-sided pro-Israel approach he gained the trust of the Arab states and might have been able to build on that if he'd gotten the chance.

He didn't, of course, because he supported the Shah too long and opposed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, considering that those are both things that Ronald Reagan surely would have done too, I fail to see how this indicates any "weakness and ineptitude" on Carter's part.

Say what you will about his methods and the rest of his presidency, but Carter has a pretty good record when it comes to peacekeeping, and this in a business where a batting average of one in ten is considered decent. Sure, a lot of people find his moralizing annoying — hell, I find his moralizing annoying — but if I were seriously trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, he's a guy I'd want on my side.

Kevin Drum 10:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE BLOGOSPHERE: BEACON OF TRUTH IN A TREACHEROUS WORLD....Remember that story about Iraqi soldiers who tried to surrender to the British but were sent back? More than likely it's bunk, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden comments:

We'll probably see more of this sort of thing over the next several weeks. One hopes that, on balance, the blogosphere will be an antidote rather than a purveyor.

Huh? The blogosphere as antidote to wild rumors and unsubstantiated innuendo? Are we all talking about the same blogosphere here?

Kevin Drum 9:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HEALTH INSURANCE....This is "Cover the Uninsured Week," and in recognition of this The Bloviator plans to spend the entire week focusing on the 42+ million people in America who currently have no health insurance.

So check over there daily and see what he has to say. This is truly a national scandal in a country as rich as ours.

Kevin Drum 9:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A CHANGE OF MIND?....OR JUST A CLARIFICATION?....Hmmm, Josh Marshall says he hasn't really changed his mind about war with Iraq. But then he says:

But at a certain point it simply becomes clear that the damage the administration has done outweighs the gains we might possibly amass by invading Iraq and toppling this regime.

We are at that point.

And what to do now?

I think the answer is that we have to wait. I feel confident that an able foreign policy mind could come up with a tack that would allow us to secure our vital objectives and yet work our way out of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. I'm not sure what that grand gesture is. And absent such a grand gesture I think we have to resort to a policy of coercive inspections, start giving the inspectors quality intelligence data (not garbage) and begin whittling down the Iraqis WMD capability one step at a time.

Well, that sounds like he's changed his mind to me. It also sounds remarkably close to my own view.

Basically, Josh and I both think that an invasion would be a good idea — and still do — but not at the cost of permanent damage to an international security system that, if anything, is even more important in an age of terrorism than it was before. So ease down the rhetoric, reduce the troop levels, keep the inspection pressure as high as possible, and wait for another opportunity. This is far from ideal, since Saddam does pose a genuine threat, but, truthfully, the near-term danger is not that great and I think we can live with it.

In fact, who knows? Maybe we could strike a deal: agree to pull back from an invasion in return for an agreement with our UN antagonists on how to deal with North Korea and nuclear wannabe Iran. If we could do that, it might be a win for all sides. It's worth a thought.

Kevin Drum 9:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 9, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ANY TAKERS?....Mark Kleiman has some questions for the warbloggers. They're pretty good questions, too.

Kevin Drum 9:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WE MAKE IT UP REPORT, YOU DECIDE....Via Jeanne d'Arc, Fox News has finally prevailed in their fight for the right to lie on their news programs. Two producers, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, produced a show about Monsanto's Bovine Growth Hormone for Fox's WTVT subsidiary in Florida, but ran into trouble:

Shortly before the original TV series was to run, an attorney from Monsanto contacted Fox TV and demanded that the script be altered. The station gave in to Monsanto's demands and told Akre and Wilson to rewrite and tone down the script. One year and 73 rewrites later Monsanto still wasn't satisfied and Akre and Wilson were fired.

....As reported by Jeanette Batz in the St. Louis newsweekly, Riverfront Times, David Boylan, WTVT station manager, was blunt in demanding that Akre and Wilson tell the story about rBGH the way Monsanto wanted it told. "We (the Fox TV network) paid $3 billion for these television stations. We will decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is."

After they were fired Akre and Wilson sued under Florida's whistleblower statute, which prohibits retaliation against employees who threaten to disclose employer conduct that violates the law. They won damages, but a few weeks ago an appellate court overruled.

Why? Because although the FCC does have a policy against the intentional falsification of news, this policy didn't qualify as a "law" under the Florida statute. So Akre and Wilson couldn't have threatened to disclose a violation of the law, and therefore they couldn't have been fired for this.

I'm glad to see that TV news is once again safe for corporate America. I feel safer, don't you?

Kevin Drum 8:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE ON TORTURE....Glenn Reynolds, responding to an unfortunate post from one of my fellow liberals, says this about torture:

Yeah, the torture of Al Qaeda guys concerns me less than the torture of, I don't know, innocent people -- but it's still wrong, and if the practice goes into general use a lot of innocent people, perhaps named by torture victims who just want to name someone to make it stop, will suffer. And so will the people who do the torturing, and so, indirectly, will the rest of us.

That's exactly right.

Plus the French used to do it, and we don't want to be like them, do we?

Kevin Drum 7:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHY THE WAR NO LONGER MAKES SENSE....A few people have asked me to explain what caused my change of heart yesterday about the war. It would be convenient for me to have a post that puts the whole argument in one place, so here goes.

My support for war has always been strongly influenced by the likelihood of using it as a springboard to build a better Middle East, something that the U.S. simply can't do alone. So while Friday's report about the forged uranium documents was what tipped me over the edge, my real problem is that it has become increasingly clear that Bush's implementation of the war is the very one that will prevent it from ultimately being successful.

Originally, my skepticism about Bush's goals was due to the fact that he never spoke about them. Then, over the past couple of weeks, when he started addressing the problem, he just made things worse. First a "blueprint" for a military occupation was presented to Congress, but it reassured no one with its vision of a U.S. military governor and a solidly U.S. occupation force. Then there was his AEI speech, where he had a chance to rally the country behind a long-term vision, but instead just spoke a few platitudes and promised that we'd get out as soon as possible. Then there was the sellout of the Kurds. And the decision that we wouldn't support any kind of federal government in Iraq. And then, finally, at the Thursday press conference he devoted all of two sentences to the subject:

The form and leadership of that government is for the Iraqi people to choose. Anything they choose....

Put all this together with things like Paul Wolfowitz's fanciful testimony before Congress last month and it's simply become wishful thinking to believe that Bush is really committed to any kind of serious effort to promote democracy in Iraq. Unlike Tony Blair, he's not willing to take political risks, and selling the American public on a long, arduous, expensive, and risky rebuilding is something he's just not willing to do.

Without that, the war isn't worth it. Saddam's direct threat to the U.S. is marginal, and while I'd rather get rid of him now instead of later, I don't think it's worth the risk if we do it by demolishing the collective security system that, flaws and all, has served us pretty well for the past 50 years.

So that's it. There are other reasons to support or oppose the war, but they're just fluff. It's the chance to stabilize the Middle East that's key, and I no longer think there's even a remote chance that Bush plans to do this.

POSTSCRIPT: As one of my readers has thoughtfully pointed out, I've never really supported war without UN approval anyway, so despite all the hoorah yesterday I guess all I was really doing was stating my opposition to war without UN approval a bit more loudly. Of course, several months ago I was confident that we would be able to present evidence strong enough to persuade the UN to act, so that seemed like a minor impediment. Now it's not.

Kevin Drum 4:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANDREW SULLIVAN VS. THE NEW YORK TIMES....Josh Chafetz takes Andrew Sullivan to task today for going way over the top in his criticism of today's New York Times editorial in which they oppose war unless it has "broad international support."

Josh's piece is well taken. The pro-war crowd has just got to stop accusing the anti-war crowd of being unpatriotic at best and treasonous at worst. It just hurts your own cause, guys.

And on the substance of the Times editorial, I'm not even sure why it qualifies as "stupid." Josh may disagree, but suggesting that the United States not undertake a pre-emptive war unless it has broad international support seems like a perfectly defensible position — and one shared by a very large number of Americans if polls are to be believed. In this case, I'd say the Times is pretty much in the dead center of the political spectrum.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds, on the other hand, thinks Andy's position is just swell and says sneeringly, "I guess this would matter more, if the editorial positions of the Times mattered more."

Note to Glenn: I'm pretty sure the Times still has a teensy bit more influence in national affairs than InstaPundit. Hard to believe, I know....

UPDATE 2: Now Glenn has a genuinely weird update to his post. The sentence I excerpted above was his sole reaction to Sullivan's comment, but now he says that he meant it to be "archly indicating that I think Andrew is a bit over the top." Huh? How do you figure that?

Then he burbles on about people in "positions of influence," like....Chrissie Hynde. And says the Times has an "irrational dislike for President Bush." I dunno Glenn, maybe it's, you know, actually based on something. You never know.

I think Glenn has been drinking too much of Atrios' gin.

Kevin Drum 3:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DECISIONS, DECISIONS....So Jim Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review is considering a run for Senate and he wants my support. And although he's too shrewd to come right out say it, he obviously believes that I owe him my endorsement because he bought out the annoying banner ad on my site. You scratch my back and I scratch yours, eh, Jim?

But I'm not so sure. Maybe I should call Arlen Specter's office and see what he's offering? After all, like they say in Texas, if you can't drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money, and vote against 'em anyway, you don't belong in politics.

But let me just say this: if Jim does decide to run, I promise not to run against him. OK?

UPDATE: If Jennifer Lopez is J-Lo, should we start calling Jim J-Cap? "J-CAP FOR SENATE" is kind of catchy, don't you think?

Kevin Drum 3:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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I WONDER IF HE STILL KEEPS UP HIS JAPANESE?....I missed this a couple of days ago, but Nathan Newman has a picture of George Bush's college transcript posted. Find out what classes he took! And, um, what grades he got.

Now if we could only get hold of those military records....

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HOUSING BUBBLE....Megan McArdle says this is not a good time to buy a house. I agree.

Every financial bubble is accompanied by a legion of commentators claiming that this time is different — and trotting out some plausible sounding theories about why there's been some fundamental change in the way the world works that will sustain these high prices forever. But it ain't so.

We're in a housing bubble right now, and it's going to burst within the next year or two, maybe sooner. Save your money and buy then.

UPDATE: Always pay attention to historical fundamentals. Always. Every once in a while a genius comes along like Michael Milken who notices that some long-held financial truth isn't quite right and who's able to clean up for a while by exploiting this insight. (In his case it was the average return on non-investment grade bonds, which was higher than it should have been given the historical risk of default.) But you're not Michael Milken. Hell, even the rocket scientists at LTCM turned out not to be Michael Milken.

Us ordinary folks should just look at garden variety fundamentals like PE ratios and the like and act accordingly. That's my financial advice for the day.

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FUN WITH MAPS....Friday it was census tracts, today it's aerial photographs.

Head off to MSN's TerraServer site and you can get an aerial photograph of anyplace in the United States. You can't exactly spy on your neighbors since the photos are from a 1994 survey, but it's still kind of fun.

The photo at right is of the neighborhood I grew up in, right here in sunny Orange County. You can see my house, the house where my best friend lived, the school I attended through third grade, the railroad tracks (stick a penny on the tracks and wait for a train!), and the nearby ditch, always good for hunting frogs and tadpoles.

Check it out. It's a fine way to while away a few spare minutes on a weekend.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy has some doubts that I'm revealing the full truth about my old neighborhood....

Kevin Drum 1:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REBUILDING IRAQ....I know Tom Friedman gets a lot of grief from liberals, especially over his approach to war and rebuilding, but today's column seemed spot-on to me:

Mr. Bush talks only about why it's right to dismantle the bad Iraq, not what it will take to rebuild a decent Iraq — a distant land, the size of California, divided like Yugoslavia. I believe we can help build a decent Iraq, but not alone. If we're alone, it will turn into a U.S. occupation and make us the target for everyone's frustration. And alone, Americans will not have the patience, manpower and energy for nation-building, which is not a sprint but a marathon.

Mr. Bush growls that the world is demanding that America play "Captain, May I" when it comes to Iraq — and he's not going to ask anybody's permission. But with Iraq, the relevant question is not "Captain, May I?" It's "Captain, Can I?" — can I do it right without allies? No.

I think that's exactly right: I too wish the rest of the world agreed with us, but the fact is that they don't. And because of that there's virtually no chance that the post-war rebuilding can be done in a way that actually improves our security instead of undermining it.

It's not just the rest of the world, either. I'm reminded of a comment last month about Friedman's appearance on Oprah as described by Jeanne d'Arc:

The interesting thing [was the reaction] to Friedman's suggestion that war with Iraq will have to be followed by a twenty year occupation....When the camera turned to the audience after Friedman's suggestion, you could see the shock on their faces. Mouths open. Shaking their heads. Friedman looked increasingly ridiculous saying that this twenty-year occupation is what Americans have to be prepared for, while (mostly) women looked at him as if he were out of his mind. One man in the audience, in fact, rose to tell him exactly that. Watching the show was worthwhile if only to see Friedman get taken down.

I'll quibble with the loaded term "occupation" she uses, but otherwise this sounds about right. Improving America's security means fostering democracy and tolerance in the Middle East, and whether your version of this is the vast neocon revolution or a more subdued humanitarian approach, it's going to take a long time, a lot of people, and huge boatloads of money — and even at that it might not work. Unfortunately, the American public is not prepared for this, and George Bush obviously is not willing to take the political risks necessary to sell it. He'd rather have a dividend tax cut.

Kevin Drum 9:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HOPPING OFF THE CLUETRAIN....Greg Beato has a trenchant comment on yet another column from Doc Searls and David Weinberger of The Cluetrain Manifesto fame.

I can't tell you how tired I am of reading commentary from self-styled net gurus saying, essentially, that the entire business world should simply give up and accept that the internet is going to destroy their industries. It's not just that they are probably wrong, it's that their misreading of human nature is so profound as to be mind boggling. Do they really expect Hollywood, for example, to just ditch the whole idea of copy protection and sadly watch as their revenues drop 99% because their content is being copied for free by anyone who wants it? Not in the universe I live in.

I read The Cluetrain Manifesto when it first came out based on the enthusastic recommendation of a marketing friend of mine, and I was just appalled. It was page after page of platitude, all based on the idea that marketing-as-we-know-it was doomed to extinction in the very near future. This in turn was seemingly based on the authors' idea that traditional marketing doesn't work too well on smart, technically literate nerds — a market segment that accounts for about 1% of the consuming public — and that smart, technically literate nerddom was shortly to take over the world.

This is just fantasy. When it's all said and done, my money says that big marketing will adapt just fine to the internet and so will big business. In fact, it will probably make them stronger than ever, and unlike the utopian predictions of The Cluetrain Manifesto that marketing is shortly to become a frank, cuddly, conversation between buyers and sellers, that's a prediction that should truly send shivers down our collectives spines.

Kevin Drum 8:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 8, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

MORE TORTURE....Every day Pat Buchanan and Bill Press host a show on MSNBC. Via Meatstack, here's an excerpt from their show on Tuesday where they are discussing the use of torture:

BUCHANAN: Look, doctors regularly, daily, inflict horrible pain on patients. They cut them open and they put new hearts in them. And it's horrible pain. It's done for their own good to save one life. If you can do it to save one life, why can't you inflict pain on a guilty man to save 100 lives?

ROTH: Pat, come on.

PRESS: Come on.

ROTH: You don't see a difference between consenting to an operation to save your life vs. forcing severe pain on somebody else? Please. You don't really believe that.

BUCHANAN: Listen, oh, I do believe...

This is why torture is a taboo that should not be broken, because once it is people start thinking the way Pat Buchanan does. And once you start thinking like that, there's simply no end to the justifications you can come up with to do anything you want.

This really isn't negotiable, folks. Once you cross this line, it's hard to ever come back. This is not the kind of country we want to have.

Kevin Drum 9:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TORTURE....I haven't commented recently on the news that we shipped al-Qaeda #2 man Khalid Shaikh Mohammed off to Pakistan for questioning allegedly because of their relaxed attitudes toward torture. I've written about the use of torture twice before, suggesting here that "if we lose our moral compass then we have lost the essence of what makes America worth fighting for," and here that "conservatives, who have lately prided themselves on their moral clarity, seem to have lost their voice on this issue."

But Jim Henley at Unqualified Offerings really provides the only reason anyone should need to oppose the use of torture:

Because we're the fucking United States of America!

There are lines that shouldn't be crossed no matter how tempting they are or how justified they seem in the heat of the moment. This is one of them.

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BILL FRIST, SUPERGENIUS....Jeanne d'Arc reports that Bill Frist is less intellectually honest than Wolf Blitzer. Why? Because he put up an online poll and then took it down when he didn't like the results.

But it might actually be worse. (Hardly seems possible, I know, but bear with me.) Here's the statement on Frist's site:

Users are normally allowed only one vote in the poll, however, sometime yesterday, someone figured out how to vote several thousand times....The poll has temporarily been removed until a more secure method of operating web polls is in place.

So Frist put up an online poll and somehow didn't realize that sometimes people, um, cheat on these things and figure out how to vote over and over? Wasn't Frist supposed to be the dynamic, smart, young information age guy who would replace that old dinosaur Trent Lott? I'll bet even Lott would have had the horse sense not to do something as stupid as post an unpredictable online poll at his website....

Kevin Drum 4:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHY?....Back from lunch I see via Atrios that the events of the past few days have pushed Josh Marshall over the edge too. And I have email from Sean-Paul Kelley at The Agonist informing me that he's also thrown in the towel.

So what did it? And to answer Atrios' question, what took me so long?

The press conference was part of it. Bush was obviously incapable of doing anything more than reciting talking points like a child in sunday school and was deeply unconvincing. And there's been Glenn Reynolds' ever increasing disdain for the entire rest of the world, to the point that he seems to have been completely sucked into the loony-right fantasy that American military might can solve all the world's problems. And this morning, for the first time in quite a while, I happened to stop by Bill Quick's site and saw this:

What, precisely, do these midgets think they can accomplish without the acquiescence of the "hyper power?"

In today's world, no meeting of nations deserves the appellation "summit" unless it includes the United States. Foothill, maybe. Even molehill. But not summit.

I just can't align myself any longer with the folks who think the rest of the world are "midgets" who should be shoved unceremoniously out of the way whenever we feel like it. As my wife put it at lunch today, "We don't seem to be the America we used to be."

In short, the pro-war group had every chance to keep me on their side, but their increasing bellicosity and divorcement from reality finally pushed me over the edge. They have no one to blame but themselves.

And what took me so long? Well, sometimes politics makes strange bedfellows. Yes, I knew that the timing was political, and I knew that the al-Qaeda connection was bunk, and I knew that Bush lied about a lot of things. But I also think the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and I understand that sometimes you have to play rough to build support for a difficult decision. So I did my best to put aside my personal dislike for George Bush and his tactics and support the end result.

And to be honest, Tony Blair's support has been meaningful to me. Sure, he's a bit of a weasel at times, but he has similar sensibilities to mine and his support for war is obviously sincere and heartfelt. I respect his opinion, and I assume he has access to same levels of information as George Bush and his advisors. So that kept me on board too.

But enough is enough. The ends don't always justify the means, and the positives of permanently ridding the world of Saddam Hussein no longer outweigh the negatives. So I find myself on the other side of the fence now, while still hoping that eventually we are able to construct a genuine international coalition that will help stabilize global hot spots and make the world a safer place. Sadly, it looks like we will have to wait at least until November 2004 for that process to begin.

UPDATE: Via email, it's obvious that I've left the impression that my change of opinion was largely due to personal dislike of the pro-war partisans. However, as a few people have pointed out, some of the anti-war partisans are also people I probably wouldn't want to associate with. Fair enough.

So this post shouldn't be taken too literally. My substantive problem is that my support for war has always been strongly influenced by the likelihood of using it to begin building a better Middle East, and this is something that the U.S. simply can't do alone. With this in mind, it has become increasingly clear to me that Bush's implementation of this war is the very one that will prevent it from ultimately being successful. I'll write more about this later.

UPDATE 2: And here it is.

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THE LAST STRAW....This business of the forged documents that the U.S. and Britain have presented as evidence that Saddam was trying to buy uranium from Niger has gotten suprisingly little play in the American press. It hasn't been ignored or anything, and it's on the front pages of the three major dailies, but look at the actual headlines:

Only the Post clearly headlines the story. The LA Times headline refers to the generally weak quality of U.S. intelligence, not specifically to the faked documents, and the New York Times headline ignores it. (Oddly, the British press doesn't seem to do any better, with only the Guardian giving the story any play.)

Now, this doesn't (so far) appear to be a deliberate deception on the part of British or U.S. intelligence, but the real story might be even worse. Here's the Post's version:

The documents had been given to the U.N. inspectors by Britain and reviewed extensively by U.S. intelligence. The forgers had made relatively crude errors that eventually gave them away -- including names and titles that did not match up with the individuals who held office at the time the letters were purportedly written, the officials said.

"We fell for it," said one U.S. official who reviewed the documents.

So U.S. intelligence is so inept that even after "extensive" review they didn't realize that names on the documents didn't match up with the people who held office at the time? Information that's probably available with a simple Google search?

And as the LA Times story reports, all this comes on top of the fact that the UN inspectors have repeatedly followed U.S. intelligence leads in Iraq only to come up empty-handed. The general quality of U.S. intelligence, as the UN inspectors have put it privately, is "garbage."

For a variety of reasons related to post-war planning and Bush's seeming indifference about tearing down international institutions in order to get his way, I've been on the fence about war with Iraq for several weeks now. Basically, I figured that all it would take is one more thing to send me into the anti-war camp, and I think this is it. If we're planning to start a war based on intelligence from the same guys who made this mistake, it's time to take a deep breath and back off.

I still believe strongly that we need a tough-minded long-term policy aimed at eradicating terrorism and modernizing the Arab world (among others) — and that this policy should include the use of force where necessary — but not this time. This is the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

UPDATE: It's impossible for a single column to cover all the bases, but this Newsweek piece by Jonathan Alter does a fairly good job of describing Bush's general incompetence in making the case for war over the past nine months. He needs to start over.

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WILL WE ALL GET ADVANCE WARNING IN YOUR BLOG?....Matt Yglesias reports that, thanks to his Harvard education, he may end up as a terrorist someday. But we won't know for a while.

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BUSH PRESS CONFERENCE ROUNDUP....So did reporters have to get questions pre-approved at Thursday's press conference? The short answer seems be no, but here's all the evidence one way or the other.

So the order of questioning was certainly prepared beforehand, the general subjects of the questions were probably tacitly agreed on, but the exact wording of the questions probably was not. And that's probably where it will stand unless something new crops up. Kevin Drum 10:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JERRY BOWYER AND RICHARD MELLON SCAIFE....A few weeks ago I posted a piece that was highly critical of an article Jerry Bowyer wrote for National Review Online. At the end, I linked to a TBOGG post saying that Bowyer was President of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, which is partially funded by Richard Mellon Scaife. Today Bowyer emails to say:

A simple google search on the words "Bowyer" and "Scaife" would have led you to plenty of articles that would demonstrate that your facts are way out of date. I am not the President of the Allegheny Institute — that info is almost three years out of date. I do not get any Scaife funding of any kind, and never will. In fact a little checking could have yielded the relevant information that not only am I not Dick Scaife's "sock puppet" but Dick and I had rather public (therefore easily found by a conscientious fact checker) disagreement

Just for the record (although I doubt you will be interested in correcting the record): I disagree vehemently with what my party did in the 1990's running over the cliff into crazy conspiracy theories about Clinton the mass-murderer, Clinton the drug runner, Clinton the Foster-cide, etc. I think Clinton's blow-job in the white house was none of Ken Starr's business, nor that of the US Congress and I rank Bill Clinton in the top quarter of US Presidents in the 20th Century. I have said these things hundreds of times publicly over the years. Fronting for Scaife? You oughta call that theory into my radio program sometime, you'd be laughed out of town by my liberal callers alone.

Damn, I knew I shouldn't have relied on that TBOGG character. He's an unreliable sort....

Kevin Drum 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 7, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

DID BUSH KNOW THE QUESTIONS BEFOREHAND?....Marc Sobel emails to point to this audio report from Nadja Middleton of Free Speech Radio news. In a report about yesterday's White House fesitivities, she says:

During last night's press conference, where journalists' questions had to be pre-approved by the White House, very few, if any, challenging questions were asked of the president.

If this is true, it's outrageous. And it's even more outrageous that all the major news outlets would agree to keep it quiet.

I'd sure like to hear some firsthand confirmation of this one way or the other. There's got to be someone from a major news organization willing to step up to the plate and tell us whether this happened.

Kevin Drum 10:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE LAST PALM TREE....One of my favorite books of the last few years was Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel (review here), and apparently Diamond has a forthcoming book about how societies deal (or fail to deal) with environmental catastrophes, which sounds fascinating. Luckily for Mark Kleiman, who is a professor at UCLA, Diamond is also a professor at UCLA, so Mark got to attend a lecture today on the topic of the book. His report is here.

Kevin Drum 9:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OUR DIVA PRESIDENT....Jonathan Hendry sends along this piquant item from the BBC:

The White House asked if President Bush could address the European Parliament, Baroness Williams revealed on BBC One's This Week show on Thursday. But, she said, Euro-MPs were told there was a condition attached to him making the speech: a standing ovation should be guaranteed. The speech has never taken place.

What is he, a movie star or something?

Kevin Drum 9:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IT'S TOO BAD TOM CLANCY DOESN'T HAVE A BLOG....I realize that surfing around the warblogger sites and continuously mocking them doesn't really do any good, ultimately. Grains of sand and beaches, you know.

Still, we do what we can and occasionally I run across something so wildly out of touch with reality that it practically invites abuse. Here is Patrick Ruffini today analyzing world affairs:

Meanwhile, France's last act will have been to demonstrate its utter futility in world affairs, and for what purpose?

Exactly why is it that warbloggers insist that voting against the United States demonstrates other countries' "utter futility"? Is that the fate of anyone who votes against mighty America? If so, it's a long list.

However, the reason for Patrick's disdain toward anyone who disagrees with us soon becomes obvious. Apparently he has been reading lots of Tom Clancy novels about the ever-growing power of the U.S. military:

Soaking all this in it dawns on me that it isn't inconceivable that, if these gains continue into the relatively near future, the U.S. could pop a Saddam-sized dictator every three to six months. Under these circumstances, the shallow European criticism, "What are you going to do, kill every dictator?" doesn't sound that implausible or unattractive.

I wonder how many warbloggers agree with this kind of thinking? Are they seriously under the impression that the world can be made a safer place by knocking off miscellaneous dictators a few times a year? And that this would, somehow, reduce the threat from terrorism? And that either (a) we can also help rebuild several countries a year or (b) we don't need to bother?

I suppose there's really no need to answer that, is there?

UPDATE: Patrick responds here.

Kevin Drum 4:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIVOLOUS CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS....Inspired by last night's festivities, I would like to propose a constitutional amendment:

Amendment XXVIII

Section 1. The president of the United States shall be required to hold a press conference no less often than once every week. The length of said press conference shall be no less than two hours.

Section 2. The president shall be allowed to have no advisors present to assist him at press conferences.

Section 3. Each press conference shall include eleven reporters, nine to be selected by members of the House of Representatives and two to be selected by members of the Senate. Each house may enact its own rules for specifying the order in which its members select reporters, with the proviso that every member must be allowed to select a reporter at least once per year. Members may select only reporters who have been accredited via the standing rules of their house.

Section 4. Alternate press conferences shall be made available for radio and television broadcast. Transcripts of all press conferences shall be made publicly available via the internet as soon as practicable, and in no case later than six hours after the end of the conference.

Section 5. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

So what do you think? Congress ought to go for it since it gives them the chance to curry favor with the press, so all we need is three-quarters of the states. Should be a piece of cake!

UPDATE: Tim Dunlop has a modest suggestion that might be a little less complicated than my idea.

Kevin Drum 3:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ALL THE WORLD'S PROBLEMS.... America is about to invade Iraq, North Korea is building nuclear bombs, the UN and NATO are getting ready to implode, AIDS is rampant, we're merrily running a $400 billion deficit, unemployment continues to creep upward, and through it all we're being led by a man who seems unable to string two coherent sentences together. It's enough to just make you scream and scream and scream and.....

But then I turn around and look out the window. He sure doesn't seem to care, does he? It's 70 degrees out, there's plenty of food in the cat dish, no dogs around, and no trips to the vet planned. So what's to worry about?

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By: Kevin Drum

POLITICAL, BUT NOT MORAL....Glenn Reynolds posits today that:

....the United Nations is a purely political body with no moral component whatsoever.

I wonder which of the world's other great deliberative bodies he is comparing it to? I suppose he must be referring to the high standards of morality in, say, the United States congress or the Tennessee legislature. (And in case those aren't sufficiently political for his taste, may I introduce him to the California legislature?)

And in a further effort to show that either he doesn't read much history or has simply gone off the deep end, he thinks that France was perfectly justified in attacking the Suez Canal in 1956 and Eisenhower was wrong to oppose them. Of course, at the time France had essentially no excuse for this invasion except that they didn't like Nasser very much, which more and more seems to be the Bush administration's reasoning for doing things as well. So I suppose it all fits.

UPDATE: Randy Paul sends me this link about the UN finally succeeding in sending a human rights team into Iran and asks:

As a matter of background, they had been persistently trying year after after to send a mission to investigate human rights in Iran. They never gave up.

I wonder what Glenn was doing to help human rights in Iran during that time?

Indeed.

Kevin Drum 11:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CENSUS FUN....Did you know that the 2000 census results are online and available at the neighborhood level? It turns out that I live in census tract 525.14, which includes a grand total of 46 houses and 122 people. Of these:

  • 41 are owned 5 are rented.

  • Of the population, 92 are white, 28 are Asian, 2 are "mixed," and of these 6 are Hispanic.

  • There is one person in my neighborhood over 85 years old.

OK, it wasn't all that interesting. But if you want to check out this information for your city, school district, or neighborhood — or just noodle around with the census data — click here.

Kevin Drum 11:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BESIEGED IN AMERICA....WILL BLOGS MAKE IT WORSE?....This is not an original observation, but a couple of things have gotten me thinking about the polarization of politics in America lately. I blame newsletters.

A common hallmark of special interest groups in America these days is a feeling of being besieged. Fundamentalist Christians think they are daily under attack by atheist liberals, gun rights activists are afraid of the imminent confiscation of their weapons, civil rights groups are convinced John Aschcroft wants to model the country after Mussolini's Italy, and on and on. Why?

Guns are a good example. It's a subject I'm not that interested in, so I only know what's going on by reading the daily paper and watching the evening news. And based on that, I'd say there's been next to no activity on this front for the past decade. Snooze city.

Needless to say, the average NRA member doesn't see it that way, and newsletters are the reason. In a country of 290 million people, there's plenty of anti-gun action every single month that doesn't make the front page of the paper. After all, there are 50 states, dozens of counties in each state, hundred of cities, and thousands of schools. If even a hundredth of one percent of them pass (or think of passing) some kind of gun control legislation — some of it pretty silly since, after all, there are plenty of silly people around — the absolute numbers get large very quickly. So even though by most measures there's not much going on, it's still pretty easy to collect 10 or 20 instances of anti-gun activism every month and stuff them into the newsletter that you send to 30 million people.

It's the very size of the United States that causes this. No matter what your interest, in a country as large as ours you can find lots of instances of someone opposing it. And if every month you get newsletters from the NRA or Focus on the Family or the ACLU that are chock full of new outrages — well, before long you feel like everything you believe in is under siege. Most of the time it's not true, of course, and the fact that the local school district in Sioux Falls did something foolish is hardly a sign of the apocolypse. Still, human nature being what it is, if you hear the same thing over and over it's hard not to be convinced.

Blogs are just faster, easier newsletters, of course, and have the potential to make this problem even worse than it is now. So far the NRA doesn't have a blog (does it?), but how long can it be before it does? And all the other special interest groups too? And then, instead of hearing about outrages against decency monthly, you'll be able to hear about them daily.

Oh brave new world!

Kevin Drum 10:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TOE THE LINE, OR ELSE....Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned. Over at The Nation William Greider tells us that the pro-war Washington Post has recently gotten ever so slightly skeptical of the Bush administration:

The Post's institutional discomfort was confirmed on February 27 in a long, semiconfessional editorial that respectfully acknowledged the angry dissenters and attempted once again to justify the march to war, but with less imperious certainty. The essence of the editorial board's defense was, Hey, the Post has always been for invading Iraq and toppling Saddam, so give us credit at least for consistency.

And their reward for that bit of drift? Well, George Bush called on the New York Times last night and the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal and the....

Oops.

Kevin Drum 10:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ANDY ON GEORGE....Well, I was sure wrong about Andrew Sullivan's reaction to the Bush press conference:

All in all, though, this press conference struck me as a mistake. He looked drained, wan, exhausted from this interminable diplomatic process. He seemed defeated to me - and the U.N. has effectively defeated him and protected Saddam. But not for too much longer.

And be sure to check out uggabugga for, um, exhaustive deconstruction of Bush's remarks.

Kevin Drum 12:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 6, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

INSTANT ANALYSIS....You're probably all wondering how I managed to blog about President Bush's press conference so quickly, aren't you? Well, I have some very high technology at my disposal.

It's called a "television." And not just any television, mind you, it's an itty-bitty little television that I bought for my study so that I can watch George Bush and type at the same time! So when the press conference is over, all I have to do is click the Publish button, and my left coast mockery of our president (and press corps) is ready for a waiting world.

Pretty cool, eh?

UPDATE: I also got a radio so that I could listen to Rush Limbaugh. That hasn't worked out quite as well, though, because....um, I just can't force myself to listen to the guy. Sorry, but I'm only willing to go just so far in service to my public.

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By: Kevin Drum

TORT REFORM QUIZ....Dwight Meredith has a tort reform quiz over at PLA today. Go test your knowledge!

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BUSH PRESS CONFERENCE....Ari Fleischer says the White House doesn't like press conferences because "they include too much preening by reporters." I don't know about preening, but the Washington press corps sure is hopeless when it comes to actually asking questions.

I mean, how about this one: "Mr. President, do you worry, maybe in the wee small hours, that your critics might be right and you might be wrong?" That's some tough questioning there!

On the other hand, there's something to this preening business too. Why do so many of the reporters insist on asking long, two-part questions that make it childishly easy for Bush to ignore whichever parts he wants to ignore? And how come none of them ever follow up and insist that he actually answer the previous question?

Like this one, for example: What about the cost of war? "There's also a cost to not going to war." Yeah, OK, but what about the cost of war? No one bothered to follow up. About half an hour later somebody did finally ask again and Bush's answer was, basically, "we don't know, but as soon as we do you'll be the first to know."

Other lowlights:

  • "Is success contingent on capturing Saddam Hussein?" No answer. If we don't capture him, will Bush refuse to ever speak his name again, the way he does with Osama?

  • How about those protesters? "Nobody likes war. I don't like war."

  • Are we going to ask for a UN vote even if it looks like we'll lose? "No matter what the whip count is, we'll call for a vote. It's time for people to show their cards." An actual answer! And actual news!

  • Is the UN important? "If we need to act, we'll act. We don't need the United Nations to do that....When it comes to our security, we really don't need anybody's permission."

  • How about post-war Iraq? "The form of that government is up to the Iraqi people to choose. Anything they choose." Sheesh. Glad to hear we've thought this through so carefully.

Pathetic. The only toss-up is whose performance was worse, Bush or the press.

UPDATE: So what was the press conference really like? The punditocracy speaks: "Somber." Hmmm. "Aaron, was it as somber as it looked on TV?" Yes, somber. Bob Woodward? "Somber." John Warner? "Somber."

Oh, and stilted and scripted too. So there you have it: somber, stilted, and scripted.

UPDATE 2: Hmmm, Atrios wonders if the questions were pre-approved. It's true that Bush was reading from a list when he called on the reporters, and most of the reporters seemed to be reading their questions off a card. But there's no way the White House would force the press to submit questions beforehand, is there? Nah, Bush's "scripted" remark probably referred to the order in which he called on reporters. Right?

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By: Kevin Drum

DEFICIT SPENDING....The LA Times has a good editorial about the budget today, warning correctly that the deficit for this year is likely to be $400 billion or more and that even President Bush's allies are starting to get nervous about the whole thing.

As well they should. I'm a moderate deficit hawk myself, and although this is partly for straightforward economic reasons, it's mostly because of a couple of pretty obvious long term problems that no one ever really wants to fess up to: Social Security and Medicare.

Right now the United States spends just under 30% of its GDP on government services (state, federal, and local). This number is actually fairly low by global standards, but it's going to go up a lot in the next 30 years. Social Security, which gets a lot of attention, is actually the smaller problem, with estimates suggesting that it will grow from around 4% of GDP today to 8% a few decades from now. Thus, other things being equal, government spending will grow to just over 30%.

Medicare is a whole different animal. Even in its present form it is almost certain to grow from around 2% of GDP to 8%, but in reality it's much worse than that. Americans currently spend about 15% of GDP on medical services, and I suspect that whether anyone likes it or not, this will become 100% government funded sometime in the next couple of decades. Thus, the real problem is not Medicare growth per se, but the fact that Medicare will be replaced by a more comprehensive health program and overall medical spending by the government will grow from 2% of GDP to around 15% or so. This will put total government spending at around 40% of GDP or a bit more.

It's wishful thinking to believe that any of this won't happen. Medical technology is going to force the government into the medical insurance business, and both Social Security and Medicare are too popular to believe that either one is going to be seriously cut back. The votes just aren't there for that to happen, regardless of whether George Bush or any other Republican would like for it to happen.

Now, 40% of GDP is still not outrageous — nearly all European countries already have higher government spending than this — but it's plenty high. So while there's no need to panic about domestic spending, we do need to be careful about large spending programs outside of these two areas and we need to accept the fact that taxes are going to have to cover all this stuff. So if you think a $400 billion deficit is high, just wait until the baby boomers start to retire. It's something George Bush should be thinking about.

Kevin Drum 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO'S CONFUSED, AM I?....Things have gotten completely nuts. Maybe Osama is alive, maybe not. Maybe we've captured him, maybe not. The president decided last night whether to invade Iraq, no he didn't. There's a press conference today, the first in four months, but it's not about Osama or invading Iraq — or is it? We're willing to settle for a compromise UN resolution, but maybe we don't care about UN resolutions anymore. Saddam is destroying weapons, no he's not. We've quietly accepted a nuclear North Korea, no we haven't.

This is crazy. What the hell is going on in Washington DC? I quite understand that the president of the United States cannot publicly say everything he'd like to, but even so the confusion and lack of planning in this administration have grown to Olympian proportions.

Tom Spencer is taking suggestions for questions for tonight's press conference. I'd propose one except that I'm sure his answer to every question will be either (a) Saddam is an evil man or (b) we don't know — but we're 100% committed to whatever it is we're committed to. And when it's all over, Andrew Sullivan will declare it a magnificent performance.

Having given up on Steven Den Beste — although even the post that says he's giving up has now been deleted — perhaps D² can switch gears and give us "Shorter George Bush" after watching the press conference. I'm sure we'd all be grateful.

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THE FIRST AMENDMENT HATERS GO PUBLIC....Don't these guys ever give up? Tom DeLay is bringing up that old conservative warhorse, Article III, Section 2, to prevent the Supreme Court from ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance:

"Article III, Section 2 [of the Constitution] allows us to do that. I think that would be a very good idea to send a message to the judiciary they ought to keep their hands off the Pledge of Allegiance," he said.

....Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and chairman of the Constitution subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, said he thinks the Supreme Court will overturn the appeals court's decision and make congressional action unnecessary.

But he said if that doesn't happen, the two options open to Congress are a statutory change to limit jurisdiction, as Mr. DeLay laid out, or amend the Constitution to protect the Pledge. "I hope that's not necessary to amend the Constitution," he said. "I hope the Supreme Court takes this up and overturns this absurd decision."

I get awfully tired of these America-hating conservatives constantly trying to undermine the judicial cornerstones of our nation. A little more patriotism and respect for the constitution would be in order, don't you think?

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EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAW....BUT NOT TOO EQUAL, MIND YOU....You've probably heard that because of one of those weird historical flukes Ohio never ratified the 14th amendment. When I heard that they were planning to repair this oversight this year, the first thought that crossed my mind was, "I wonder if anyone will have the guts to vote against it?"

The answer, via Atrios, is: yes. And, needless to say, it's a "handful of conservative Republicans" who have issues:

"We now have a system where there's some misapplication. I don't want anybody to misconstrue our re-ratification of the 14th Amendment as also ratifying those cases where it's misapplied," said state Rep. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland.

....State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, is proposing more strident language: "Resolved that the General Assembly rejects those judicial interpretations of the 14th Amendment that unreasonably restrict state governments from promoting the free exercise of religion, defending the sanctity of unborn life and ensuring the equitable distribution of education dollars to aid students enrolled in schools sponsored by religious institutions."

Lovely people, aren't they?

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THE EYES OF TEXAS ARE UPON ME....My mother is shocked — shocked! — to learn from this post that I didn't know the tune to "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Why? Because, she informs me, at the precise moment I was born the muzak wafting through the speakers of St. Mary's Hospital was....."The Yellow Rose of Texas." It was literally the first sound I ever heard.

It's amazing the things your parents never tell you unless you give them just the right stimulus, isn't it? Now, however, I live in fear that I have been genetically programmed and, Manchurian Candidate-like, will find myself blissfully voting for George Bush in 2004 without even knowing why. Shiver.

(If your popular culture references are as weak as mine, click here to listen to the tune. Like me, you'll recognize it immediately as soon as you hear it.)

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March 5, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

GREENBACKS AND RAZORBACKS....CNN reports today that new $20 bills to be unveiled on March 27 will have a background color other than green.

Unlike M&Ms and Lifesavers, however, the Treasury Department is not allowing consumers to vote on the color, a potentially costly mistake. But the big question, I think, is what they're going to do with the rest of the bills. Do they get facelifts too? And will they all be the same color, or will we have rainbow money, like so many foreign countries?

And if we can't call them greenbacks, what are we going to call them?

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TROUBLING TIMES....Normally levelheaded Eugene Volokh, at the end of possibly the worst argument ever against "smart guns," says this:

....judging by recent human history, there's reason to think that there's a significant (10%? 20%? who knows?) probability that at least some time in our lives, our homeland will be attacked, possibly with sophisticated anti-electronic weapons, and civil order will break down.

Huh? In the last century our homeland has been attacked only twice, both of them isolated incidents, and while I agree that future terrorist attacks are fairly likely, it seems extremely unlikely that "civil order will break down."

Has the Montana Militia hacked into the Volokh Conspiracy and started writing under Eugene's name?

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NEPOTISM IN BABYLON ON THE POTOMAC....Arianna Huffington's column is pretty good today. I never knew that Trent Lott's kid used to run a Domino's pizza franchise and is now a high-powered DC lobbyist — although one who never talks to Dad about business, of course. The things you learn reading the op-ed page....

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SINGING POETS....Good information from the blogosphere:

This is probably one of those things that native Americans know from age 8, but it was a revelation to me. A reader has told me that all of Emily Dickinson's poems can be sung to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas." It checks out. Amazing! Since presumably the same is true for anything in iambic tetrameters, you could likewise sing Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin" to that tune. We learn something new every day.

I'm a native American, and not only did I not know that, I don't even know the tune to "Yellow Rose of Texas."

This fine piece of trivia comes to us via National Review's The Corner. If those guys could just ditch all the political stuff, they might be pretty readable....

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SCIENCE AND HUMAN BEHAVIOR....Mrs. Tilton at The Sixth International has a post up today about sociobiology evolutionary psychology that does a good job of explaining what's right and what's wrong about it:

Here's what triggered the show today: a chatty piece by Zoe Williams attacking sociobiology. Williams (or her sub-editor) has provocatively summarised the piece by writing, 'the "science" of sociobiology exists only to explain why men are within their rights to pursue young hotties.' Mr Cuthbertson growls that Ms Williams denies sociobiology for reasons of 'political correctness'.

There's something to his charge. But what Ms Williams is denying is not sociobiology but a cheap caricature thereof (and one that, if accurate, would be eminently worthy of denying). Her article's subtitle gives the game away. No sociobiologist would claim that men are 'within their rights' to pursue young hotties.

By general consensus, "sociobiology" was renamed "evolutionary pyschology" about a decade ago. This change was made for good and sound reasons, its practitioners insist in public, but if you get a couple of beers into them they admit that the real reason is that "sociobiologists," as Mrs. Tilton points out, were frequently denounced as Nazis and doused with pitchers of water back in the 70s when the field was a newborn babe. Best to retreat and regroup.

I have never entirely understood either the antipathy with which evolutionary psychology is greeted by many liberal academics or the delight that it seems to engender in social conservatives. (This last especially since the entire field is based on applying the lessons of evolution, a science that many of these same social conservatives deny in the first place.) Even a passing familiarity with the subject should persuade both sides of two things:

  • It is not biological determinism. It simply states that biology plays a role in human behavior.

  • It makes no statements at all about what proper human behavior should be.

It seems obvious that explaining why something is so does not imply approval of the thing in question. In fact, it's so obvious that it even has a name and a long and glorious history. But still it haunts us.

Evolutionary psychology attempts to explain why we do the things we do, and it succeeds better at some things than at others. But it certainly doesn't suggest that innate behavior is either moral or desirable. In fact, since the entire goal of civilization for the past 10,000 years has been mostly to rein in and modify innate human behavior, this should be obvious too, and the lessons of EP can help us in this ancient and worthy effort. If research suggests a reason why little boys do one thing and little girls do another, for example, the lesson should not be that we are forced to accept this behavior even if we don't like it, but that we should try even harder to modify it because it's probably going to be a real bear getting the job done.

As indeed it is, a lesson we all learn daily. If only all those other guys could just listen to sweet reason.....

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ANTI-AMERICANISM IN EUROPE....A STATISTICAL ANALYSIS....So which European country is the most anti-American? Inquiring readers want to know.

Bill Sjostrom at AtlanticBlog has a post today summarizing Eurobarometer 58, a poll of European attitudes toward America. Basically, they asked five questions and asked if America played a positive role in each area or a negative role. Bill has a table posted with responses to all five questions by country, but it's hard to make sense out of it. So in my continuing effort to annoy Steve Verdon by taking fuzzy statistics and massaging them to make them even fuzzier, I stuck the numbers in Excel and came up with a single number for each country so we could rank the entire continent. It's this kind of simplistic pandering to the lowest common denominator that has gotten me where I am today.

(How did I do it? Well, each question has a certain percentage of respondents who are pro-America and a certain percentage who are anti-America and I just figured the difference. For example, if 30% are pro and 20% are anti, the score for that question is +10. Do that for all five questions and then figure the average. Easy!)

So here are the overall scores for the 15 surveyed countries:

  1. +14.1: Ireland

  2. +2.4: Italy

  3. -3.6: Denmark

  4. -7.6: Finland

  5. -8.2: Germany

  6. -10.8: Great Britain

  7. -12.4: Belgium

  8. -12.6: Portugal

  9. -14.4: Sweden

  10. -15.2: Netherlands

  11. -18.4: Austria

  12. -19.2: Luxembourg

  13. -23.4: Spain

  14. -30.4: France

  15. -50.4: Greece

Surprise! Greece hates us the most, and by a whopping margin. The French are a distant second, so they better get on the stick if they want to retain their reputation.

And Great Britain isn't our biggest admirer, Ireland is. In fact, the Brits come in a dismal sixth, one notch behind the hated Germans.

Interesting note: every country except Ireland and Denmark had an overall negative impression of America's role in promoting peace, but, oddly, all but two countries (Spain and Greece) had a positive impression of our role in combating terrorism. On the other hand, every single country had an overall negative impression of our role in fighting global poverty and our role in protecting the environment. Even our pals the Irish didn't support us there.

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FREE SPEECH IN MALLS....Last year I had a consulting job with a company in San Jose and I commuted up there for three days every week. While I was there I stayed at the noisy, unfriendly, and dilapidated — but cheap! — confines of the Pruneyard Inn, a mere few hundred feet from the Pruneyard Shopping Center.

This matters not a whit, except as a meaningless lead-in to this much-blogged story about the guy who got thrown out of a mall in New York because he was wearing an anti-war T-shirt. As InstaPundit notes, the mall's action was quite legal since it's a private organization, but he suggests rightly that "other people are free to take their business elsewhere" if they don't like it.

And what does this have to do with my consulting? Nothing except to extol the virtues of my home state: here in California, in the famous case of Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center, the California Supreme Court ruled that you do have free speech rights in a public mall — in California anyway. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld this ruling unanimously, but, as Glenn notes, not too many states have followed our enlightened lead.

So the lesson is, if you want to protest the war at a mall, move to California. We welcome you.

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RELIGION VS. THEOCRACY....Hmmm....Charles Murtaugh and Atrios both have posts up about religion and religious conservatives. Neither likes what the other has to say, but I think both of their posts have merit. I'm not sure there's quite as much disagreement between them as they think.

In any case, Atrios reflects my own views pretty well — and is entertaining at the same time! "Christians are great," he says, but:

Liberals have contempt for people who try and mandate the teaching of creationism. We have contempt for people that have built an entire political movement by demonizing gays and lesbians....We have contempt for supposedly devout people like George Bush who upon travelling to the Middle East "joked" that he was going to inform Israelis that they were all going to hell. We have contempt for high ranking public officials like James Watt whose belief in impending armageddon drove his environmental policy. We have contempt for the fact that the media have turned Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell into the public faces of religion in this country.

Amen. Go read the whole rant.

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YOU DON'T WANT TO END UP LIKE THE FRENCH, DO YOU?....DO YOU?....Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect deconstructs the latest threats against an ally from the Bush administration. This time it's Mexico.

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RICHARD PERLE'S MIDDLE EAST....Max Sawicky linked to this yesterday, but I didn't actually follow the link until today. It was good for a chuckle, so I thought I'd reproduce it today.

UPDATE: Apparently this is an old jest. It originally appeared at uggabugga in September.

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MORE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE....Sam Heldman blogged yesterday that he thought the Supreme Court might well uphold the removal of "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. I have a feeling he may be right. Despite the unpopularity of the decision, the court does have to retain some semblance of following the law on this, and suggesting that "under God" doesn't have religious implications is a hard case to make.

As Sam notes, the best defense is that "under God" is just pleasant mumbo-jumbo, not real religion, but the religious folks themselves might be their own worst enemies on this. By the time it gets to the Supreme Court, there's going to be so much evidence that churches and church leaders take this very seriously indeed that it will be hard to make this argument with a straight face. If they know what's good for them, they probably ought to shut up and pray that the court decides to give them a victory just because they don't want the grief.

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LEARNING TO LIVE WITH THE BOMB....The Los Angeles Times reports today that, having done absolutely nothing so far, the Bush administration has already given up on North Korea:

In closed briefings and private conversations with members of Congress over the last several weeks, administration officials have indicated that they expect North Korea to begin reprocessing its plutonium stockpiles soon, perhaps within a few weeks, the sources said. Once reprocessing begins, North Korea will be able to produce enough plutonium for one nuclear weapon a month.

A Senate staff member who is privy to the briefings said the administration was "preparing people up here for a de facto, if not declared, North Korean nuclear state and saying that this is something we can deal with through isolation, sanctions, deterrence and national missile defense."

This is just a "rumors" report, of course, but it seems pretty well sourced and certainly fits with the administration's actions to date. So this is the story so far:

  • Bush declared loudly last year that he would never negotiate with North Korea

  • North Korea didn't budge

  • Bush is now backed into a corner

  • Apparently he feels that allowing North Korea to build a few dozen nuclear bombs is actually preferable to just sitting down at a table with them

Words fail me. It's like watching a slow motion train wreck — except we're all in the path.

And since I seem to have forgotten, can someone from the Bush-is-smarter-than-you-think crowd please remind me how this is better than that awful Clinton/Carter treaty that prevented this from happening for a decade?

POSTSCRIPT: Hey David, does this change your thoughts any? This is bad news, no?

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March 4, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

OSAMA ALIVE?....Time reports that American intelligence now thinks that Osama bin Laden is alive and hiding in northern Pakistan. If we catch him, I wonder what we'd do with him?

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WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN HABEUS CORPUS....Via Jack Balkin, Newsweek is running an excerpt from a new book by Steven Brill about how America reacted to 9/11. It only took six days for John Ashcroft to respond:

By that evening [House Judiciary Chairman James] Sensenbrenner, still in Wisconsin, was sitting on his porch reading a faxed draft of an entire 100-plus-page piece of legislation. Sensenbrenner, marking up the document furiously, was astounded. Ashcroft and his people had written the magna carta of federal agents, freeing them to wiretap, search, arrest, and hold almost at will, with little judicial oversight.

Most shocking was that the bill suspended what was known in the law as habeas corpus—which gave anyone detained on American soil the right to demand a court hearing to challenge the authority of those holding them. Lincoln had suspended habeas corpus for a time during the Civil War. Now Ashcroft was proposing that it just plain be eliminated during this undefined emergency that had no designated end date. What was going on at Justice, the conservative Republican from Wisconsin wondered. (Ashcroft says he cannot "reconstruct with any accuracy" whether the suspension of habeas corpus was proposed. Sensenbrenner's recollection, as well as that of two White House officials who saw the draft, seems credible.)

A lot of civil libertarians — including me — reluctantly concluded during the Clinton administration that Democrats weren't really much better on civil liberties issues than Republicans. But revelations like this have got to change your mind. Yeah, Clinton signed some bad bills (related to FISA, wiretaps, internet censorship, etc.) but I can't imagine any Democrat proposing a bill like this one even after a shock like 9/11. As Jack says:

The President should fire this man immediately and replace him with someone who genuinely cares about our Constitution and our civil rights. The only problem is, President Bush probably agrees with him, for he has, if anything, even less interest in these issues.

Sad but true.

Kevin Drum 8:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANATOMY LESSON....First the snow penis, now the snow boobs. (Via Jeanne d'Arc.)

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PLEDGING ALLEGIANCE....I don't really have much of an opinion about the whole Pledge of Allegiance "under God" flap, so I'll leave the legal and philosophical arguments to others. However, I would like to offer a literary opinion instead. Consider the original pledge:

...one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

And now the new and improved 1954 version:

...one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Did it not occur to anyone in 1954 that the second version really doesn't scan well? The original wording clearly made the point that we live in a single, undivided country. The second version, with the word "indivisible" hanging off on its own, doesn't really make any sense, and when the pledge is recited those three phrases ("one nation," "indivisible," and "under God") are simply chanted as freestanding ideas not connected to each other. (Except for Jane, who's a communist or something and has never said the pledge, all of us who recited it every day in school know exactly what I'm talking about.) Is it any wonder that kids usually don't have the slightest idea what the pledge means?

UPDATE: Oops, I meant "Canadian," not "communist." It's the same thing, though, isn't it?

UPDATE 2: Now that I think of it, what's the deal with the cadence of the spoken version of the pledge? Here's how it's usually recited by schoolkids:

I pledge allegiance
to the flag
of the United States of America,
and to the republic
for which it stands,
one nation,
under God,
indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.

And here's how it should be spoken:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,
and to the republic for which it stands,
one nation, under God, indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.

Anyone know where the singsong version came from?

UPDATE 3: I just asked my mother what it was like in the classroom when the phrase "under God" was added to the pledge, but she didn't start teaching until 1955 so she has no firsthand knowledge. She did, however, tell me that in the 30s children were taught that upon saying the phrase "to the flag" they were supposed to extend their arms in the direction of the flag. During World War II, when this started to seem a little too "Sieg Heil"-ish for comfort, the practice was halted. At least, that's how it went in Los Angeles. I'm beginning to get the idea that an entire book could be written about the lore and practice surrounding the Pledge of Allegiance.

UPDATE 4: OK, according to this website, the really original pledge was written in 1892 and went like this:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all

Later that year the word "to" was added:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all

It was changed in 1923 to this:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all

The pledge was recognized by Congress in 1942, and "under God" was added in 1954 after a campaign by the Knights of Columbus.

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COLLEGIATE ATHLETICS....Eugene Volokh has a good post about collegiate sports that I quite agree with:

I'm not wild about collegiate sports, in part because I think that the pressure to get a good sports team, especially in the profitable sports, compromises academic standards (both just by overtly lowering them, and by encouraging cheating even as to the lowered standards). But if we step back a bit from that common objection, we see a more basic question: Why should we be demanding that athletes who are getting an education in athletics pass muster under academic standards, or for that matter engage in academics at all?

His point is well taken: why should good athletes be denied the opportunity to develop their skills simply because they're not very good at math/English/history/etc.?

Of course, the reality is that this doesn't happen. I doubt there are any good athletes who don't end up in a university program one way or another, it's just that most of them don't graduate. So we pretend they're student-athletes, when in fact they are just revenue generators for the university.

Eugene's proposed solution is to let academically unqualified athletes play for one university (say, UCLA) while attending classes somewhere else (perhaps a trade school). As Eugene suggests (go read the whole post for details), this is a win-win-win — but unfortunately it exposes the fundamental dishonesty that bubbles just barely below the surface of collegiate athletics today: if college athletes take classes somewhere else, it becomes too hard to ignore the reality that their only purpose is to generate money for the university. And if that's the case, then why aren't they paid for it?

As things stand, major collegiate sports are simply free farm teams for the pros. Universities like it because it generates revenues and keeps the alumni happy, and professional sports teams like it because it saves them the trouble of running minor league teams. The only ones who get screwed are the athletes themselves, most of whom never become pros, never get a diploma, and never get a dollar out of the whole thing.

The more you think about how these kids are treated, the harder it is not to feel faintly disgusted. It's about time we put a stop to it.

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INSPECTIONS GONE WRONG....Mickey Kaus — sounding more and more like he's made up his mind to oppose war — suggests today that Fareed Zakaria was right: the U.S. isn't telling UN inspectors where the WMDs are because we're afraid they might actually find some.

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WAR WITH NORTH KOREA....AND THE SOONER THE BETTER....Rod Dreher at The Corner is unsure if he approves of the Bush administration's latest appeasement of North Korea:

CNN is now reporting that the United States has "temporarily" halted recon flights over international waters off North Korea, following Sunday's intercept by Dear Leader's MiGs....Now, if we're taking the temporary break to steel ourselves for the possibility of imminent war with North Korea, fine....

Huh? This is OK, but only if it means we're about to go to war with North Korea?

Have these people gone completely insane? So far the administration has not even been willing to talk to North Korea — George Bush was "off-the-wall angry" when his own deputy secretary of state suggested it — let alone do anything else to try and defuse the crisis. But Dreher thinks it's already past time to go to war?

I'm under no illusions about either Kim Jong-il's intentions or the odiousness of his regime, but the fact is that he's been remarkably consistent in his demands: he wants bilateral talks with the U.S., and he wants them because he wants to negotiate a nonagression treaty with us. So let's give him one. It's just a piece of paper, after all, and it certainly wouldn't prevent us from defending South Korea or anyone else if North Korea launched an attack.

Does it not also strike Dreher that perhaps our allies in the region, who would surely suffer the brunt of any North Korean aggression, should have some say in the matter? Are Japan and South Korea now to be placed in the same bucket as France and Germany, just another pair of weakling appeasers to be mocked liked a bookworm schoolkid and ignored whenever they disagree with us? Is there any check at all on American force that they believe in any longer?

UPDATE: Jeez, I hope Dreher doesn't see this Political Strikes cartoon. It might just send him completely around the bend.

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RELIGION IN AMERICA....Atrios has some words today — inspired by a Nick Kristof column in the New York Times — about media coverage of religion. I think I would have skimmed right past it except that I happened to read a book review in the LA Times this Sunday about the Left Behind series, a novelized version of the story of Revelation:

Had these books simply found a small niche audience, we could ignore them as cultural flotsam, no more or less disturbing than Guns & Ammo magazine, militia survival guides and the Heaven's Gate suicide cult. But the "Left Behind" series is not a fringe phenomenon, and the story is not treated as fiction by many of its readers.

The review bothered me. I'm exactly the kind of person it was aimed at — nonreligious, suburban, liberal, educated — and yet the contempt was so obvious and the review so vitriolic that even I had a hard time swallowing it.

"Not treated as fiction by many of its readers"? No, of course not. It's a novel, sure, but many — perhaps most — Americans believe in the prophecies of the Bible, including the Book of Revelation. This includes quite a few of my suburban friends, none of whom, I think, read militia survival guides or belong to suicide cults. I honestly can't imagine the Times running a similarly sneering review about any other religious community's beliefs.

The author of the review was Zachary Karabell, "educated at Columbia, Oxford, and Harvard University" and an expert on "American politics, history, and culture" who "lectures frequently on current affairs, religion, and politics." So I'm sure he knows what he's talking about, and what's more, I likely agree with him about most of the dangers of evangelical (and fundamentalist) influence on American culture: creationism, abortion zealotry, antagonism toward science, and so forth. But when he starts talking about politicians — and George Bush is his obvious, though unnamed target — who "press for policies that emerge from the theology of the end of days," I start to wonder just who the conspiracy theorists are. He goes on to say:

Yet there is no open debate about the virtue of these ideas as drivers of public policy and national security. Is a belief in the necessity of the ingathering of the Jews in Israel a good justification for U.S. foreign policy toward Israel and the Middle East? Are we more or less secure as a nation as a result of policy that may stem from that belief? Is the conviction that the U.N. is a prophesied prelude to the coming of an Antichrist-led world government a sound reason for bypassing the U.N.? And does the belief that world conflagration is inevitable lead to policies that make it so?

I wonder about these things myself, and yet I'm not aware of any real evidence that George Bush's foreign policy is based on any of this. In fact, there are a large number of influential Jewish neocons who support George Bush from both inside and outside the administration, and it's hard to believe they would support someone who they suspected was truly driven by end-time Christian theology.

I'm left without much to wrap this up with. I'm pretty thoroughly nonreligious, but I try hard to fight only the policies I dislike, such as creationism, without vilifying the religious beliefs themselves. Every movement has its lunatic fringe, but treating all of evangelical Christianity as a lunatic fringe, as Karabell seems to, makes me nervous. Perhaps that makes me credulous — or lacking the courage of my convictions — but there you have it. I'm open to suggestions on how we should proceed.

UPDATE: Here's another look at the Left Behind phenomenon from The American Prospect. I think it sets a better tone — we should fight the policies and ideas of the religious right, not demonize the practitioners — despite the fact that the Prospect is an overtly political magazine and would therefore be far more justified in taking a more aggressive stance.

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MAX SPEAKS, THE BEAR LISTENS....Hey, Max, these flowers are for you! Keep up the good work!

(And speaking of flowers, this picture is courtesy of the Calyx & Corolla website, which was recommended to me shortly before Valentine's Day by the estimable Megan McArdle for obscure reasons having to do with a Harvard case study that she read back in her MBA days. Anyway, she was right: the flowers were absolutely gorgeous, they were delivered via FedEx in two days, they arrived in perfect condition, and Marian loved them. They were more expensive than a basket of poseys from your local Conroy's, but, really, not that much more if you ask for an ordinary glass vase instead of the outrageously marked up piece of pottery shown in the pictures.

Just thought I'd pass that along for anyone with an anniversary or birthday or whatnot coming up — or who's planning a big fight and just wants to be prepared.)

UPDATE: If you like tropical flowers, reader Howard Litwak recommends these guys.

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March 3, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

JACQUES CHIRAC AND THE GRASSY KNOLL....Several weeks ago, weary of his futile efforts to understand the French psyche, Steven Den Beste announced that he had exhausted all other logical possibilities and come up with the only possible remaining reason why the French continue to oppose our war with Iraq: they have supplied banned weapons to Saddam and are afraid that an American invasion will turn up evidence of their treachery. Mind you, this is not just garden variety sanctions breaking he has in mind, which nearly everyone has done, but active help developing nuclear bombs and other WMDs.

Now, Den Beste's essays usually strike me as being bastard stepchildren of JFK assassination conspiracy theories: long, closely argued tracts that are full of facts and surface plausibility, but drawing conclusions that any rational person recognizes as fantasies. So I didn't take this very seriously.

But as with all conspiracy theorists, Den Beste has his own cult following and his speculation about French motives quickly made the rounds of the warblogosphere. Today, even Glenn Reynolds is apparently a believer, reporting happily of "more support for Steven Den Beste's theory."

But I've got a question about all this. I have no doubt that the French have sold Saddam lots of stuff — that's no secret, and U.S. companies have also done business with him — but if they really had sold him WMDs (or the makings for WMDs), wouldn't their best bet be to support the U.S. wholeheartedly in return for us keeping quiet about the whole thing? Especially since, as Den Beste himself admits, it seems obvious that "the US is going to move with or without any further UNSC resolution."

Does this make any sense at all? And who are the people who take it seriously?

POSTSCRIPT: Actually, the best part of this essay is the part where, Unabomber-like, he concludes that if this French perfidy is made public "it seems unlikely that this would lead to an immediate and direct war with the US." I'm not making this up. He thinks we might refrain from an invasion of France. On the other hand, it would "really hurt the tourist industries in both nations [France and Germany, that is]."

UPDATE: Chad Orzel thinks I'm being too nice to Den Beste! And be sure to read the comments....

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WHO'S IN CONTROL HERE, ANYWAY?....Robert Novak on White House reaction to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao's meeting with labor leaders last week:

Presidential aides emphasized that Chao was acting on her own and that the White House was not pleased.

Capitol Hill Blue on White House reaction to its own party's anti-terrorism bill:

[Congress] "did not respond to the $3.5 billion we asked for — they not only reduced the budget that we asked for, they earmarked a lot of the money."

The New York Times on White House reaction to deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage's testimony before Congress last month:

His efforts left Mr. Bush "off-the-wall angry," said a senior administration official, whose account was corroborated by several White House officials.

It's long been clear that President Bush is willing to double-cross just about anyone he deals with if it suits his partisan needs, but now it looks like he can't even be trusted to support his own people.

And these quotes are all from just the past couple of weeks; another couple of years of this and Bush won't have a party left to support him in 2004. A happy thought, no?

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MORE ON BOGUS SCIENCE....The Chronicle of Higher Education, following up on "The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science," today treats us to a long but interesting column about the gullibility of pop psychologists and psychotherapists — and thus the public — in accepting theories of human behavior that have been discredited by scientific studies. Examples include:

  • Low self-esteem causes aggressiveness, drug use, prejudice, and low achievement.

  • Abused children almost inevitably become abusive parents, causing a "cycle of abuse."

  • Therapy is beneficial for most survivors of disasters, especially if intervention is rapid.

  • Memory works like a tape recorder, clicking on at the moment of birth; memories can be accurately retrieved through hypnosis, dream analysis, or other therapeutic methods.

  • Traumatic experiences, particularly of a sexual nature, are typically "repressed" from memory, or split off from consciousness through "dissociation."

  • The way that parents treat a child in the first five years (three years) (one year) (five minutes) of life is crucial to the child's later intellectual and emotional success.

Now, "scientific studies" in areas like this are notoriously dicey since the study of human beings is far more complex than simpler subjects such as physics and chemistry. Still, even granting this, I think the article makes a fair point. Scientific studies of human behavior are far from perfect, but they are also far from worthless and frequently provide genuinely interesting — but counterintuitive — results. Unfortunately, all of us think we are experts in how humans work, so while we accept bizarre theories like quantum mechanics simply because physicists say they are true, we are far less likely to accept theories of human behavior that run counter to our own experience and beliefs.

I suspect this won't last very much longer. Both social psychology and evolutionary psychology are rapidly undermining some our longest held "common sense" ideas of how humans work, and you don't have to accept every one of Steven Pinker's "just so stories" about evolved human behavior to accept the general idea that (a) human behavior is susceptible to rigorous study and (b) evolution has a lot to do with it. The evidence on both these scores is already pretty compelling, and it looks likely to get more compelling still as time goes by. Much of what we intuitively believe about how we operate is likely to turn out to be.....well, just a bunch of old wives' tales.

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WHO LOST TURKEY?....Back around 1950, after Mao's communist forces defeated Chiang Kai-shek and drove him off the mainland to Taiwan, the question of the day was "Who lost China?" Today's question seems to be "Who lost Turkey?"

Who indeed? Acording to the Los Angeles Times, the culprit is easy to find:

Early last month, Vice President Dick Cheney phoned Turkey's prime minister with an urgent message: The Bush administration wanted the country's parliament to vote within days -- just before the Muslim holiday of Bayram -- on a request to base U.S. troops in Turkey for an assault on Iraq.

....Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, a reluctant supporter of the U.S. request, told Cheney that a vote in parliament would have to wait, according to Turks familiar with the conversation. But word got around, adding to a series of blunders by the Bush administration and Gul's 3 1/2-month-old government that now seem to have doomed the Pentagon's goal of a northern front against Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

But according to National Review, it's the striped pants brigade that's at fault:

With the margin of defeat so narrow — a mere four votes shy of a simple majority — State's unfortunate diplomacy in the past few months likely made the difference.

....While the source of leaks can never be known for certain, officials at both State and the Pentagon insist that the leaks were part of a coordinated campaign by State to strong-arm Turkey. If so, the tactic backfired.

....Notes a Defense Department official familiar with the Iraqi opposition groups: "Many top officials at State don't want to go to war in Iraq. State knew the politics of the situation, yet they excluded the group backed by Turkey right as the Turkish parliament was voting on the resolution. It makes you wonder: Is State trying to undermine the president?"

The conservatives at National Review have long despised Colin Powell — not to mention the entire raison d'κtre of the State Department in general — but their attempt to shift blame is pretty transparent. For all of us who remember Dick Cheney's disastrous little tour to the Middle East last year, it's pretty easy to decide which of these accounts to believe: when it comes to elephant-like blundering and insensitivity, Cheney has Colin Powell beat by a country mile. Looks to me like we can notch up yet another dismal failure to add to Dick Cheney's long string of diplomatic fiascoes.

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INTERESTING LINKS....Patrick Nielsen Hayden has a bunch of good links up today. I couldn't quite slog through the entire Umberto Eco piece, but all the others were pretty interesting. And be sure to read the comments about the origin of the phrase "useful idiots."

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BILINGUAL COUNTRIES....Matt Yglesias says today:

So long story short: I have no real conclusions to offer on this issue.

Thanks, Matt! That Harvard education really comes in handy, doesn't it?

On a more serious note, Matt is addressing the issue of multilingual countries and responding to Chris Bertram's post suggesting that it's unlikely the EU will ever become "a democratic political arena in its own right." I've long held an admittedly casual belief that two necessary (but not sufficient) conditions for successful nationhood are (a) contiguousness and (b) monolingualism. Countries that are split in two or that have different regions speaking different languages are subject to constant tensions, and eventually those tensions cause the country to either grind to a halt or else separate.

Unfortunately for my belief, there are plenty of counterexamples. Alaska and Hawaii seem perfectly happy to remain U.S. states, for example, and Switzerland gets along pretty well with 3½ official languages. On the other hand, bilingualism causes causes no end of difficulties in Belgium and Canada and noncontiguous countries break apart all the time (Pakistan and East Timor, for example).

So, really, Matt's non-conclusion doesn't look quite so silly after all, does it? Still I think there's something to my fuzzy theory, and it's the reason I suspect that Puerto Rico will eventually become a sovereign country. Commonwealth-hood doesn't seem like it can last forever, but the combination of noncontiguousness and Spanish as the dominant language seem like awfully high barriers to successful statehood.

On the other hand, it's been 105 years and counting for Puerto Rico, so who knows how long commonwealth status can last? Maybe forever.

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TODAY'S CHUCKLE....The Daily Times of Pakistan reports that Saddam has been offered political asylum by....Kim Jong-il of North Korea. You just can't make this stuff up.

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CHICAGO....For what it's worth, I saw Chicago this weekend and it was pretty good. It seems like movie musicals are making a comeback, so maybe the Hollywood powers will finally get around to making that movie version of Phantom of the Opera that's been in the talking stages since around the time of George Bush Sr.'s Gulf War.

(I remember reading once that Andrew Lloyd Webber was originally not that interested in making Phantom into a move. "How much could you make from it?" he asked. Oh, maybe $50 or $100 million, he was told. "Is that all? Hardly sounds worth it." I don't know if this is actually true, but it seems like a good story anyway.)

For some reason, one of the thoughts that crossed my mind after seeing Chicago was that musicals are just grown up comic books. The plots are broad and don't really make a lot of sense, but it doesn't matter much because you go for the music and the visual flash. So why is it that nobody complains about this with musicals ("it's just part of the genre") but they complain about it constantly with movies based on comics? It's all just part of the genre, folks, so who cares if Spiderman shouldn't be able to keep that aerial tram from falling? That kind of three-impossible-things-before-breakfast heroics is all part of the fun.

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SHOOTING THE MESSENGER....Josh Marshall has an interesting post today about the steady loss of Middle East experts from the Bush administration:

On the key issues that matter to this administration, particularly the Middle East, there's been an exodus of government experts out of the executive branch into exile on the Hill, at National Defense University, and various other outta-the-way parts of the national security bureaucracy. A lot of these folks got canned like those Abrams dropped at the NSC. Others just got the message when they were instructed not to pen any reports or tender any advice which conflicted with the administration's favored policies. Everyone who leaves makes one more open seat for a think-tank hack who will tell the politicals what they want to hear.

And speaking of Josh, am I the only one reading the steady stream of war skepticism at TPM who wonders if his pro-war stance is on very thin ice these day?

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March 2, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WHY ARE SUVs SO EXPENSIVE?....So I watched 60 Minutes tonight, and in the segment on SUVs I heard once again about how the profit margin on these vehicles is anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 or more. This compares with ordinary cars, which we are lead to believe are practically sold at a loss.

I've heard this so many times that it must be true, but what's the explanation for this? The same companies compete in both the car and the SUV market, so shouldn't competitive pressures force the profit margins to similar points? Isn't that how this whole free market thing is supposed to work?

Can anybody out there who works for a car company explain this?

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NATIONAL REVIEW'S NOSE GROWS A BIT LONGER....SOON WE WILL NEED SCIENTIFIC NOTATION TO MEASURE IT ACCURATELY....Stephen Moore's recent NRO article has gotten a bunch of lefty-blogosphere play due to his slippery efforts to pretend that his favored supply side candidates for treasury posts are, um, a bit more more academic than they really are. But how about this passage?

In [his textbook], Mankiw echoes the classic liberal Keynesian attack against the Reagan economic policies that created an 18-year expansion and a $16 trillion increase in wealth. Were those results not "desirable"?

Is that rich? In one sentence he manages to give Reagan credit for Clinton's entire term and pretends that the 1991-92 recession never happened. Do you love these guys or what?

UPDATE: Kieran Healy reports that National Review has made a small correction.

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DICK CHENEY, MADMAN....Here's a piece about Dick Cheney and what motivates him. It's not really new, just a rehash of the "he's only acting crazy to fool the other guys" school of thought, but what makes it interesting is that it's written by John Perry Barlow, not exactly the first name that comes to mind when you think of Dick Cheney defenders. I don't really have an opinion about the piece, but thought I'd toss it out for anyone who might be interested.

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IS IT ALL RIGHT TO START CALLING GEORGE BUSH DUMB AGAIN?....OR ARE ONLY REPUBLICANS ALLOWED TO DO THAT?....Via Hesiod, this is the best story I've seen yet about George Bush's inexplicable denunciation of his own party for sending him a spending a bill that failed to contain sufficient anti-terrorism spending because he himself hadn't asked for it. It's hard to pick the best quote, but how about this one:

Congressional Republicans say they now know Bush will undercut them if it serves his best political interest.

Or this one:

"If the president wanted the money, he should have asked for it. He never did," a senior House GOP leadership aide said Thursday. "I wonder if he remembers which party controls Congress."

Maybe this one?

"That was an incredibly stupid thing for the White House to do," a senior House GOP aide complained Thursday.

Then there's Hesiod's favorite:

"What do you want me to do, call the President a liar? George Bush may screw his party. I don't!" [House Speaker Dennis] Hastert is reported to have said.

Decisions, decisions....

Oh, and that was just what the Republicans were saying. Tom Daschle said this:

"Incredibly, the president is now blaming others for the budget he himself insisted on," said Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.).

Democrats said they were introducing a bill to provide $5 billion more for emergency response preparedness -- the same package that Republicans, at White House insistence, refused to add to the omnibus spending bill enacted earlier this year.

"No more blaming others, no more delay," Daschle said.

Jeez, he was nicer about it than Bush's own party members. So what do you think is the best explanation? Was it (a) Bush forgot what party he belonged to? (b) He forgot which party Congress belonged to? (c) He figured no one would notice? Or (d) He thought he was talking about the UN and Karl Rove didn't warn him in time?

Can't you just wait to see how National Review will try to spin this as somehow the Democrats' fault?

UPDATE: Jesse Berney over at Wage Slave Journal has more about the Bush administration's puzzling history of not supporting anti-terrorism funding. And while you're there, be sure to check out the George Bush Scorecard of Evil.

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SUNDAY NOSTALGIA POST.... Remember that old box of stuff I found a few days ago with the Utah sales tax tokens? Well, it had some other interesting little bits of nostalgia in it too.

Apparently my father went through a matchbook cover collecting phase when he was a kid, and there's a whole scrapbook full of matchbook covers. The page on the right is full of matchbook covers from the 1939 World's Fair in New York.

The Drum family also visited the Golden Gate International Exposition that year, and brought back a couple of souvenir coins from the Petroleum Exhibit: "A dollar spent for petroleum products never stops circulating. It pays for wages, taxes, materials and brings countless benefits to every business." The oil biz had better PR back in those days, didn't it? (Not least due to my grandfather, who owned an advertising agency whose biggest account was Mobil Oil — or Socony Vacuum as it was called in New York.)

There's also a copy of the Los Angeles Times from August 15, 1945: "PEACE! Japs Accept Allies' Terms." Inside, on page 7, we find "Long-Concealed Story of Radar Finally Told" and on page 9 is "Ontario Increases Tax Rate to All-Time High."

And one more matchbook cover. This one is part of a set from the Golden Gate Expo and shows the "Gayway," surely a description that wouldn't get used today even in San Francisco. It sure is eerily prescient, though, don't you think?

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THE HUMANITARIAN CASE FOR WAR....OR AGAINST IT....Should liberal hawks support the war? Or is it time to jump ship?

Matt Yglesias identifies the two key elements of discussion: (1) the value of the war purely from the perspective of national security, and (2) the value of the war as a way of kickstarting a wave of democracy in the Middle East.

All of us seem to agree that (1) is a good reason for war, but only barely. Saddam does pose a threat, but it's a fairly distant threat and there's reason to think that a policy of containment could be made to work for at least several more years. When you put this together with the larger damage the war will do to our international relations, the whole thing only barely passes the smell test.

But then there's (2). Even though I'm only barely in favor of the war on its own terms, if it could be used as a way of promoting democracy and human rights in the Mideast, that's enough to kick me well into the pro-war camp. The problem is, George Bush has given us precious little reason to think that he really cares about this. As Matt puts it:

So I support the Iraq policy that the administration says it has (though I still take issue with the way it has been implemented), but I oppose the Iraq policy that I believe they will, in fact, implement.

But why would you support the war if you think the administration is lying about its goals? What's more, even if Bush is genuine in his desire to promote a democratic Middle East, he's spent the past six months publicly and contemptuously excluding the very institutions and allies that give it a chance of working. All in all, the humanitarian goals of the war seem very distant indeed.

Sean-Paul Kelly is on the same page:

I'm so close to throwing the towel in on this one....this administration is tearing down an international system designed to prevent nations from acting in just this sort of way.

On the other hand, Dmitriy Guberman thinks us fence sitters worry too much about the personalities involved:

I see that too much importance is given to Bush's, Rumsfelds, Wolfowitz's, etc. personalities and how they're not...nice?

Actually, I agree, and I've tried pretty hard not to oppose this war just out of reflexive dislike for George Bush. But I think it's gone well beyond that.

And finally, Daniel Drezner, who unlike Brian Wesbury really is a professor at the University of Chicago, is just enjoying the fight.

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GEORGE RYAN, STATESMAN....This story ran a few days ago but I just found out about it today (via Archpundit). Last summer, George Ryan, then governor of Illinois but so hip deep in corruption charges that he had decided not to run for re-election, decided to get cute with 40 state employees:

The 40 Ryan employees were in jobs with four-year terms due to expire shortly after the new governor took office last month....But late last summer, the employees tendered their resignations -- temporarily. They never actually stopped working. Then Ryan appointed them to brand-new terms -- in most cases within five days, according to records compiled by Blagojevich's office.

I can just imagine the dittoheads chortling over this — we sure put one over on them Democrats, yuck yuck! — but this kind of crap needs to stop, and it doesn't matter whether it's a Democrat or a Republican doing it.

And for any Republicans who still think this was a cute move, what are the odds that Rod Blagojevich won't do the same thing four years from now? The net result is that both parties lose the ability to govern the state the way they want, and gridlock and rancorous partisanship just get worse and worse. The whole episode just reeks.

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March 1, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

MORE LIBERAL HAWK ANGST....Matt Yglesias has a question, and since Tom Friedman is probably not going to respond I guess I'll take a crack at it. You can read the whole thing here, but the Reader's Digest version is this: liberal hawks (like me) have some sympathy with the aims of a war on Iraq but are horrified by Bush's execution of the plan. Since halting the war would probably hurt Bush domestically and give us an improved chance of electing a better president in 2004, should we go ahead and oppose the war on those grounds?

Matt thinks this is "pretty damn cynical," and for someone who strongly supported the war it would be. In my case, however, it's not that hard a question, and not that cynical either. As Kieran Healy points out in another post that Matt links to, the most obvious interpretation of Bush's recent actions is that he doesn't really give a damn about promoting democracy in the Middle East, he just wants to invade Iraq, set up some new leadership, and get out. For this reason and a few others, my support for war is now so tenuous as to be almost nonexistent. At the same time, Bush's domestic policies have become so bizarrely destructive that I can barely stand the thought of letting him spend an additional four years ruining our children's future.

So if I thought that opposing the war had a chance of hurting Bush's re-election, it would probably be all the nudge I'd need to actually switch sides and oppose it. I've never thought that Saddam Hussein posed an immediate threat, so postponing war for a while would have little downside, while getting rid of Bush would have a big upside.

Unfortunately, I don't buy it. Yes, it's possible that Tony Blair will end up pulling out of the coalition — unlikely but possible. However, I have little doubt that the Pentagon has planned for this contigency and can go ahead without British help on the current timetable. What's more, I'm sure that Karl Rove is well aware of the domestic fallout from failing to invade, so I don't think anything will stop military action at this point.

However, in practical terms it may be that none of this really affects my position anyway. I'm in favor of war if it has the backing of the UN, and at this point it's looking very much as if we won't get it. So in terms of real world scenarios, I may be opposed to war already without even knowing it.

POSTSCRIPT: In case you're wondering what I mean by "backing of the UN," my answer is a bit fuzzy, actually. I'll leave that discussion for another day.

A QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE: Yes, you in the back. "Since you've pretty much lost faith that Bush has either the vision or the competence to prosecute the war in a way that will accomplish more good than harm, why are you even tenuously supporting it anymore?"

Excellent question, really very insightful. Glad to see you're paying attention. Are there any other questions?

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CITIZEN BILL....TalkLeft reports that Bill Clinton has been called for jury duty and is ready to serve. But the judge is "inclined to excuse him due to the publicity and effect of the constant presence of secret service."

I don't know about that. As I recall, the Supreme Court ruled that Paula Jones' civil suit against Clinton could proceed because, you know, it didn't really seem like it would cause very much trouble — surely one of the worst pieces of prognostication in judicial history. So if suing a sitting president can be done in an orderly way, surely having an ex-president on a jury should be OK too. Right?

But, really, I don't really care about that. I just think it would be loads of fun and I'd like to see it happen. Do you think he'd get chosen as jury foreman?

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HYPERLINK AESTHETICS....Yesterday Atrios used underlines for his hyperlinks. Then this morning the underlines were gone and hyperlinks were in a bright blue. Now they're dark blue and underlined.

Apparently this is all deliberate and Atrios wants feedback on which works best, so go tell him. I vote for the bright blue links: less cluttered but still clear.

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WAR, WAR, WAR....A miscellaneous collection of comments about the war from various blogs:

Via The Agonist, Turkey has voted against allowing deployment of U.S. troops. Oddly, the headline at Yahoo News (and elsewhere) was "Turkish Speaker Nullifies U.S. Troop Vote," which makes it sound vaguely as if the Turkish speaker was involved in some kind of coup against his own parliament. In fact, there were 264 votes in favor out of 533, or three short of a majority. The speaker simply ruled — correctly under Turkey's constitution — that you need an absolute majority of those present, not simply a majority of those voting.

A few weeks ago, explaining why he hates the French but not the Russians, Steven den Beste said:

The Russian position has always been frankly self-interested....I can deal with someone who is self-interested, as long as they're honest about it. I am also honestly self-interested.

I wonder if he'll still feel the same way if Russia decides to veto our latest UN resolution?

Over at Slate, Mickey Kaus dithers about the war but speaks up in favor of working with the UN:

But that's what the international rules mean -- that we sometimes have to do things that are worse for us, including things that increase the risks we face. That's the price of having an international structure of law -- a New World Order, someone once called it -- which will be a handy thing to have when we're combatting terrorism (which we'll be doing for the rest of our lives).

It's really hard to see why the pro-war folks don't get this, instead insisting on the childish argument that "we shouldn't let France dictate our foreign policy." Of course the UN isn't perfect — far from it — but as messy as it is, the UN keeps other people in line more often than not and this makes it in our own interest to support them even if it means that sometimes we don't get our own way. What's more, as I never tire of pointing out, in military matters the UN has generally shown pretty good judgment and has been pretty friendly to the U.S. As much as the UN may seem like nothing more than a bureaucratic talking shop, the fact is that the United States is better off with the UN than without it, and this is why we should support them, not out of some idealistic sense of global altruism.

Finally, Kieran Healy is skeptical about post-war democracy building in Iraq:

If that really is the plan, it's time to seriously consider dsquared's three questions

Give me one single example of something with the following three characteristics:

1. It is a policy initiative of the current Bush administration
2. It was significant enough in scale that I'd have heard of it (at a pinch, that I should have heard of it)
3. It wasn't in some important way completely fucked up during the execution.

I'm also wondering (a) Since WWII, how many autocratic or totalitarian countries have been invaded by a democracy, had the bad guys deposed, and a stable democratic regime installed; and (b) How does this number compare to the number invasions or other interventions that resulted in puppet governments, friendly autocrats, messy long-term military occupations, or oughtright disasters?

The questions D² raises, of course, hinge on your definition of "completely fucked up," and there's little hope of getting any agreement on that. But Kieran's question is more interesting. I would guess, for example, that Republicans would point to Reagan's interventions in Latin America in the 80s as having pushed the region toward democracy, which is now widely — though perhaps not deeply — rooted there. I wouldn't agree with that assessment myself, but it seems like it's at least an arguable case.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias (and Kieran himself in comments) point out the obvious problem: most of us liberals question even the actual commitment of the Bush administration to promoting democracy in Iraq. The question is, could we do it if we truly wanted to?

Kevin Drum 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ODDS OF WAR....John Quiggin also has a pretty good post summarizing the prospects for war with Iraq. Basically, he thinks the odds are 50-50 that Britain will have to pull out, and the odds are only 50-50 that Bush will continue without them. Thus, instead of the 98% chance that Slate estimates, he figures the odds of invasion at around 75%.

I'm not quite sure I agree with either of those assessments — I suspect Blair might be willing to risk his job over this, and I also suspect that Bush will go ahead regardless — but John makes a good case that's worth thinking about, and I think he has correctly tagged the two most important variables. War may not be quite as inevitable as most Americans think.

Kevin Drum 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SCIENCE AND IDEOLOGY....John Quiggin, in a good post about Bush economic policy, says:

It's striking that there is now almost no academic discipline whose conclusions can be considered acceptable to orthodox Republicans. The other social sciences (sociology, anthropology, political science) are even more suspect than economics. The natural sciences are all implicated in support for evolution against creationism, and for their conclusions about global warming, CFCs and other environmental threats. Even the physicists have mostly been sceptical about Star Wars and its offspring. And of course the humanities are beyond the pale.

Conservative disdain for the academic liberalism of the humanities is easy to understand — those academic liberals really are liberal — but John is right to be concerned about the rest. The Bush administration seems to have difficulty finding even halfway respectable economists willing to prostitute themselves in support of their insanely destructive economic policies, and the conservative disdain for even the harder sciences has been growing too. This has been a topic of frequent discussion in the pages of Science lately.

This is a problem to be concerned about, and not just from conservatives either. More and more, over the past decade, it strikes me that partisans on both the left and the right have increased their skepticism toward scientific results that clash with their ideology. This is easy to do with the social sciences, of course, since results are almost always statistical in nature and generally deal with wildly complex subjects. This makes them easy to dismiss simply by throwing mud at them and claiming that (a) the methodology was wrong, (b) the investigators were biased, (c) the statistics are suspect, and (d) common sense tells you the results are all wet anyway.

The general attitude here is that anything too complex for the common man to understand can be ignored. What do pointy headed intellectuals know, anyway?

This is an attitude to be avoided. In every field there are fringe elements, and it's undeniable that occasionally they turn out to be right. But it doesn't happen very often, and whether the results support your own beliefs or not, the mainstream of science is far more likely to be right than wrong. Ignore it at your peril.

Kevin Drum 11:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BOGUS SCIENCE....The Chronicle of Higher Education provides us with the seven warning signs of bogus science. Here's the list:

  1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.

  2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.

  3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.

  4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.

  5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.

  6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.

  7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

The whole article is absolutely spot on. In particular, pay attention to point #1: if a scientific result isn't announced at a legitimate conference or published in a peer-reviewed journal, just forget about it. It's bogus. There are really no exceptions to this rule.

(Note, however, that the opposite isn't true: publication in a peer reviewed journal doesn't guarantee that something is right. It probably means it's not the work of charlatans, but it still might be wrong.)

Kevin Drum 10:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IS THE NEW YORK TIMES LIBERAL?....Tom Spencer, responding to this piece by Jeanne d'Arc, complains about the habit of the New York Times "to consciously avoid stories or refuse to make obvious connections that would embarrass the current administration."

Eh? But I thought the Times was a liberal newspaper? Or maybe Eric Alterman is right, and it's not really. But Bernard Goldberg thinks it is. But...but....splutter....boink.

Sorry, the cognitive dissonance got to be too much. I think I'll spend the next two hours figuring out what to have for lunch.

Kevin Drum 10:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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