Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 30, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

RICK SANTORUM, HERO OF THE GOP....Apparently Republicans are now practically stampeding to support Rick Santorum. I guess they didn't listen to Karl Rove's advice to shut up and pray that the issue would go away.

Matt Yglesias has the details. These guys are a real piece of work.

Kevin Drum 10:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GEORGE BUSH VS. THE WORLD....Good editorial in the Washington Post today about the Bush administration's senseless insistence on punishing everyone who disagreed with our decision to invade Iraq:

Overt U.S. measures, such as excluding France from NATO decision-making, will only help Mr. Chirac prove the point he has been trying to make to Europe and the rest of the world -- that the United States has become a reckless colossus and needs to be balanced by coalitions of other nations.

....The attack on Chile is even more senseless....Eighty-five percent of Chileans opposed a war in Iraq; their government responded by supporting a compromise in the Security Council that was intended to delay the war while making possible its eventual endorsement. If this solid hemispheric citizen is now to be punished for failing to fall in line with the United States, the world will indeed take a lesson -- and not the right one.

George Bush has been playing high-stakes politics ever since he became president, seemingly convinced that the way to win is to cow your enemies into submission by attacking at all times and never, ever backing down. The problem is that unless you truly have the power of a Chicago mob boss and all appearances aside, we don't this doesn't work in the long run. On the contrary, it just makes your enemies madder.

Domestically, Bush's show-no-mercy instincts are already coming back to haunt him, with the Democrats finally becoming genuinely pissed off enough to start playing hardball. Internationally, if he keeps this up, the same thing will happen: even Tony Blair, with his competing loyalties between the U.S. and Europe, won't put up with this forever.

The big question is this: are Bush's instincts just leading him astray, or does he actually want to get the rest of the world ganged up against us? It's hard to tell sometimes.

Kevin Drum 10:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PRISCILLA OWEN....Walter Cole of Idols of the Marketplace recommends this Texas Observer article about Priscilla Owen and her part in the Miles v. Ford case. It's a bit of a long article, and Owen doesn't show up until near the end, but it's a pretty compelling story. Definitely worth checking out.

Kevin Drum 6:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLINDED BY SCIENCE....I read two posts today about the (generally poor) state of scientific knowledge of the masses. First, Megan McArdle:

It's dangerous that our humanities students are so alienated from the scientific way of thought that they can't evaluate science on its own terms. You don't need to be able to run a study yourself -- but you should understand the limits of experimental design, how data is used to build a case, and the frameworks of almost-sciences like economics that will let you understand where economists pronouncements are likely to be pretty solid (rent control) and where they're likely to be personal opinions dressed up as facts (tax policy).

We can't all be scientists, but we can, most of us, understand the scientific way of thinking. And since the scientific way of thinking is what's building most of the science that's building our world, and should be constructing the economic thought we expect to make us all richer, we'd better be able to follow it or we risk being led around by the nose.

I'm pretty sympathetic to this thought, but even so I can't help but wonder: is the "scientific way" of thinking really as important as she suggests? On the one hand, my experience in business leads me to think that it is: an inability to seriously analyze a set of numbers and understand their limitations is a real problem for an awful lot of people.

But it can cripple you as well. Libertarians, for example, frequently espouse the peculiar notion that their philosophy is somehow more "scientific" than others, failing to understand that (a) it isn't, and (b) deciding how society should be structured isn't a scientific question anyway. A scientific mindset is an excellent thing to have if you are addressing a problem susceptible to numerical analysis, but it's an albatross if you use it to analyze everything that comes across your plate.

There's another problem here as well: the level of discourse on topics like economics or environmental science is carried on at such a high level that it's simply impossible for laymen to evaluate the evidence and the models themselves. We have to rely on experts, and so we end up making decisions based not so much on the evidence as on which experts we trust. There may be some level of analytic ability that's useful in distinguishing real experts from bullshit experts, but there's also a distinct limit to how far that gets you.

The second post is from David Appell's Quark Soup, where he complains about a science writer who didn't understand a simple concept from physics:

It's far too acceptable in our society to profess ignorance of even basic scientific concepts (and this one is taught the first week of high school physics). Yet no person would be considered educated if they did not recognize certain key passages from Shakespeare, if they knew nothing of the Russian Revolution, or understood the concept of, say, supply and demand. Understanding the basic concept of gravitational acceleration falls into the same category--and one can't make a utilitarian argument, since they all have about the same degree of usefulness.

I'm not sure what to think of this. Once again my inclination is to agree, but when I step back I find myself wondering if this is really right. There are hundreds of important disciplines around, and it's unrealistic to expect most people to have more than a passing familiarity with anything but a handful of them. I know about gravitational acceleration, but I know nothing about ballet or opera. My sister is the opposite. Which one of us is a moron?

Still, from a "cultural literacy" point of view you could argue that there are certain key aspects of science that everyone should know about. But which ones? A knowledge of Shakespeare is helpful because allusions to Shakespeare are all around us, and you miss out on a lot if you don't understand them. Which scientific concepts have the same utility in helping us understand normal public discourse? Any ideas?

Kevin Drum 5:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ATTENTION GAYS: YOUR ROLE IS TO PROTECT HETEROSEXUALS FROM THEMSELVES....The most breathtaking abuse of the slippery slope argument I've ever seen is on display today in Stanley Kurtz's NRO article about incest, homosexuality, and adultery. First he starts with incest:

To see the mechanism of our incest taboo at work, imagine a world in which consensual adult incest was legal. Once we see or hear of couples even a relatively small number who engage in legal, consensual, adult incestuous relationships, the whole idea of incest with minors becomes thinkable. Preventing incest with minors from becoming thinkable is the purpose of the taboo.

I'm pretty sure that the problem of adult incest is pretty tiny in any case, but does Kurtz seriously think that acceptance of adult incest would actually lead to acceptance of child abuse? What on earth leads him to believe that?

But this is just a warmup anyway, leading directly to his real argument: homosexuality, and in particular gay marriage, will lead via a slippery slope to more adultery among straight people. No, really:

Above all, marriage is protected by the ethos of monogamy and by the associated taboo against adultery. The real danger of gay marriage is that it will undermine the taboo on adultery, thereby destroying the final bastion protecting marriage: the ethos of monogamy.

Is he serious? The reason to oppose gay marriage is because it's the only thing that keeps all us heterosexuals from cheating on our wives?

Men have been cheating on their wives since the dawn of marriage itself, and the popularity of this activity has stayed high through thick and thin. If Stanley Kurtz thinks that adultery has been under control all this time but will suddenly overwhelm society if gays are allowed to get married well, he's living in a different universe than I am.

Is this really the best that NRO can do to try and convince libertarians that it's OK to be a Republican?

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SCHOOL CHOICE....I've written a few posts recently about education this is mostly a coincidence, I assure you, not a sudden new crusade of mine and even went so far in one of them as to wonder if math should be a required subject beyond sixth grade. This suggestion was, ahem, poorly received.

However, the prize for audacity in educational reform ideas must now go to Scott Martens of Pedantry, who suggests today that the answer to improving our schools is....to stop making kids go to school. Make it optional. And let the kids themselves make the choice.

Yowza! This is tentatively going onto my Top Ten List of All-Time Worst Ideas, but I sure have to give Scott credit for willingness to rock the boat. There's nothing like a little sacred cow bashing to get people to listen!

The funny thing is that the reason I so strongly disagree with Scott is not the obvious one: his assertion that most people don't actually learn much in school beyond basic literacy and numeracy. I suspect he's right about that for about two-thirds of high school students.

Rather, my disagreement is on the subject of socialization. Aside from learning the various things that schools teach and in the end it may not matter all that much what those subjects are schools serve a critical function in instilling habits: you have to show up every day, you have to sit at your desk quietly, and you have to do what the teacher tells you. This enforced regimentation, of course, is what most people hate so much about school, but the unpleasant fact is that it's also one of the most important roles that schools play.

Kids who don't get this kind of discipline end up being unable to survive at practically any job available in the modern world, and this is becoming more true, not less, as blue collar jobs decline and the service economy grows. It's practically impossible to instill the discipline necessary to succeed at an office job unless it's done at a very young age, so kids who opted out of school would essentially be doomed to a lifetime of menial jobs or complete unemployment.

Scott is quite right to suggest that schools would be infinitely better if the 10% of extreme troublemakers all left. Unfortunately, this improvement would come at the cost of creating an even larger pool of unemployable people than we have now, and the societal costs of that would be large indeed. It's a bad idea.

Kevin Drum 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TAXES....On Monday I wrote a post that made two points about the U.S. economy since World War II: (a) tax rates on the rich have steadily declined and (b) overall growth rates have also steadily declined.

As I said in comments to that post, my point was not really to claim that declining taxes on the rich have caused slowing growth. Rather, it was to show that declining taxes on the rich certainly haven't accelerated growth, as conservative economists keep promising. In fact, within a fairly broad range, tax rates have very little impact on economic growth.

Here's a thought experiment: design any personal tax system you want. You can decide whether it's an income tax or a consumption tax, you can decide what kinds of exemptions are allowed, etc. When you're done, you'll have your very own ideal tax system designed for maximum efficiency and economic growth, and you'll have one job left: you have to set the tax rates themselves on various income groups. The only restriction is that they have to raise enough money to fund whatever government operations you also have in your ideal world.

Given that the actual rates (i.e., flat vs. progrssive) don't have much impact on economic efficiency, the only real reason to choose one set of rates over another is based on what you think is fair and equitable. There's no such thing as a "neutral" system, either. You have to choose rates of some kind, and any set of rates you choose is a reflection not of economic arguments, but of philosophic ones.

My view is that a progressive tax system is best, for reasons of basic equity and fairness. Why? I'll leave that for another post, but for now I just wanted to make a point that often gets hijacked by lengthy discussions of economic minutiae: in reality, tax rates are a reflection of what we value in a civil, democratic society. That's what the argument should be about, and we shouldn't allow partisans either conservative or liberal to avoid the subject by pretending that their proposals are nothing more than neutral arguments about economic growth. It's just smoke and mirrors to take our minds off what's really important, and we shouldn't let them get away with it.

Kevin Drum 8:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 29, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TORY CAT BLOGGING....Since I just finished making fun of British Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, reader James Lucky thought I should see the latest from the Guardian. Apparently they decided to play a practical joke on him by creating fake ads and trying to get him to pose in front of one them. They succeeded. (The complete set of photographs is here.)

You just have to love this kind of stuff. Can you imagine a serious American newspaper pulling a gag like this on John Kerry or Howard Dean?

Kevin Drum 8:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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STANDARDS....I'm sorry, I have my standards. I refuse to link to this post of Tom Spencer's about the Missouri proposal to raise money by taxing besiality, masturbation and sadistic or masochistic abuse.

Sorry, just not gonna do it.

Kevin Drum 8:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEVER SHOW FEAR....Pretty much every analyst in the world thinks that Tony Blair's Labor party, which currently has a majority of about 160 seats, will cruise to an easy victory when they call the next election. But Iain Duncan Smith, leader of the Conservative party, begs to disagree:

"I am very upbeat," he said. "Put money on it. We are going to win the next election, I absolutely believe that. I am not bullshitting. It's right there. This Government is on the edge of complete failure. I promise you."

How come American politicians aren't allowed to talk like that?

Kevin Drum 6:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY VS. DEAN....ByWord takes a look at the recent Kerry vs. Dean dustup and concludes that Kerry is more devious astute than he's being given credit for. And that's a good thing!

I don't know if I agree, but I don't know if I disagree either. I have to admit that most of the time I find myself wondering if the candidates have any strategy in mind before they wake up each morning. In any case, you can read ByWord's explanation and decide for yourself.

Kevin Drum 5:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POLITICAL SOFTBALL....Amy Sullivan reviews Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media? today for The American Prospect, but the best part is actually the opening paragraph, which has nothing to do with the book:

Everyone knows that conservatives win when they play hardball. But they also win at softball. Among congressional staff in Washington, the hallowed summer tradition of softball games on the National Mall is, in many ways, a microcosm of the larger political struggle between liberals and conservatives. Liberals let everyone play, even if it means benching their home-run hitters while the guy who whiffs every pitch gets a turn. Conservatives pick their nine strongest players and send everyone else out to buy beer. Liberals often have four or five women on the field. Conservatives play only the required three and sometimes even insist that different rules apply to women. Liberals have such fierce team names as Jeffords' Vermont Saps or the Daschle Prairie Dogs. Conservative teams are more likely to follow the lead of the Helms Hitmen.

Practically anything can be a metaphor for politics, can't it?

Kevin Drum 4:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RUMMAGING....The Telegraph has been rummaging around burned out Iraqi ministry buildings and come up with evidence that MP George Galloway accepted millions of dollars from Saddam Hussein. A few days later, after more rummaging, they came across evidence that Saddam had connections with al-Qaeda.

The London Times, meanwhile, has been doing its own rummaging and discovered evidence that France had been giving Saddam regular reports on its dealings with America.

This is all very interesting, but I have a couple of questions:

  • What are these guys doing rummaging around Iraqi ministries? Shouldn't the coalition forces be carefully scouring those buildings themselves?

  • And even if rummaging is permitted, where's the American press? Three big scoops for conservative British newspapers, but the Americans, with many more reporters on the ground, haven't come up with anything. What's the deal with that?

Am I the only one who thinks there's more here than meets the eye?

UPDATE: In comments, Brad Johnson points to this Guardian article indicating that British intelligence doesn't think there's much to these stories.

Kevin Drum 3:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JUST TRYING TO BE PATRIOTIC HERE, FOLKS....I missed this a few days ago, but apparently the Pentagon is under pressure to break a contract with a German company to supply it with paint. As usual, the demand comes from a congressman who wants to the contract awarded to a local firm.

The war with Iraq sure has been good for constituent services among our congressmen, hasn't it?

UPDATE: And Matt Yglesias points to a TAPPED post reminding us that one of the companies that won a rebuilding contract in Iraq is part-owned by the bin Laden family. Not that there's anything wrong with that....

Kevin Drum 3:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A REMARKABLE RETRACTION....Take a look at this rather extraordinary retraction printed in this week's Economist. You need to read the whole thing to get the full flavor:

In our article Nigerian Scams: Sharia Shenanigans (December 14th 2002) we reported that Chinonye Obiagwu went on a fund-raising drive through Sweden falsely claiming to be the lawyer for Amina Lawal, a Nigerian woman sentenced to death for adultery, and had received money from people in Sweden on the basis of this false claim. The article also suggested that Mr Obiagwu's behaviour was comparable to fraudulent Nigerian scamsters and the biggest crook of all, Nigeria's former dictator, Sani Abacha. This was quite wrong. Mr Obiagwu has never claimed to be Ms Lawal's sole legal representative and has never sought or received any money from anyone in Sweden or anywhere else in respect of Ms Lawal's case.

Mr Obiagwu is a respected human-rights lawyer working both in Nigeria and internationally and is National Co-ordinator of the Legal Defence and Assistance Project in Lagos. As part of his activities in promoting the cause of human rights in Nigeria, Mr Obiagwu is a member of a group of lawyers who provide legal insight and other support to Ms Lawal's case. Mr Obiagwu was in Sweden at the invitation of a Swedish non-governmental organisation to give seminars on impunity and Sharia law.

The Economist apologises to Mr Obiagwu and deeply regrets any embarrassment or distress caused to him by the article. The Economist also regrets the delay in publishing this apology.

This is remarkable. It's not just a misquotation, or an incorrect fact or figure, it's an admission that, basically, the entire story was made up out of whole cloth.

As usual for these kinds of things, the Economist corrects what it said but doesn't explain just how this all happened or why it took four months to print the apology. I'll bet there's an interesting story of some kind behind that.

UPDATE: Ah, here's the background. Sounds like almost bloglike sloppiness on the part of the Economist.

Kevin Drum 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MEDIEVAL....Andrew Stuttaford today in The Corner:

All this talk about ancient science reminds me of a story I read some years ago in the Economist quoting a report that looked at the level of scientific knowledge held by the UK's teachers (excluding, I presume, science teachers). The conclusion? Depressing. Significant portions of the scientific wisdom of the late medieval era (Sun goes round the Earth and so on) were still believed by a substantial proportion of the nation's "educators."

This is the kind of thing that drives me nuts. Do teachers, for example, believe that heavy objects fall faster than light ones? Maybe especially since it's perfectly true on any planet with an atmosphere. But do they believe that the sun revolves around the earth? I think not.

I don't doubt that there are problems with our educational system, but it's shrill "can you believe that our kids don't know [blank]?!?" stuff like this that gets big headlines but completely poisons any reasonable discourse.

I don't suppose there's anyone out there who knows which study Stuttaford is talking about? Hopefully I won't have to eat my words about this....

UPDATE: John Derbyshire agrees that this is horrific. This is from the same guy who told us just the other day that he didn't really care if his mechanic or his president believed in evolution.

UPDATE 2: I just got back from lunch and read the comments, and I guess I'd better clear something up. My throwaway line about heavy vs. light objects was meant to refer to the fact that given two otherwise identical objects, the light one will generally fall more slowly due to air resistance. That's all.

And speaking of physics oddities, did you know that the kilogram is a measure of mass while the pound is a measure of weight (i.e., force)? I have not yet succeeded in persuading my mother of this.

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE UNITED NATIONS....Writing the post below (about reconstructing Iraq) reminded me that I get asked a lot why I think we should continue to take the United Nations seriously. The UN does indeed have a lot of problems, some of them inherent in any international organization, but regardless of this there are only a few options for how we can conduct both the war on terrorism and our broader relations with the world. If I can be simplistic for a moment, the options are these:

  • On our own. This is a nonstarter: America may be the most powerful country in the world, but we are not omnipotent and we simply can't reach our goals without help. In fact, this path would almost certainly lead to ever increasing hostility from the rest of the world and the eventual marginalization of American interests.

  • Ad hoc bilateral relations. This seems to be the primary strategy of the Bush administration and it might work for a short time. In the end, though, our partners will quickly realize that we are interested in them only as long as they support our positions, and no one is going to be willing to support all our positions all the time. Thus, before long, the alliances will break down unless the U.S. is willing to compromise, and if we're willing to compromise why not keep the international organizations in the first place? There's a lot of useful infrastructure there that can't be duplicated by bilateral alliances.

  • A new international organization to replace the UN. This sounds good in bull sessions, but in the real world it's just not going to happen. This option is hardly worth discussing.

  • The United Nations. The only option left.

So that's it. Despite its myriad problems, my view is that the UN is the best of a bunch of difficult choices. It's only one piece of the total foreign relations picture, but it's an important one that can be steadily improved if we stick with it.

I'm certainly open to opposing arguments on this, as long as they are rooted in the real world and don't assume that the United States is completely unchallengeable, so feel free to take your best shots. Comments are only a link away!

Kevin Drum 12:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RECONSTRUCTING IRAQ....Never one to let a challenge slip by, I clicked over to the Washington Post yesterday to read an op-ed by OxWife Rachel Belton in which she argues that a multinational coalition is a bad way to go about nation building:

Coalitions diffuse responsibility. When Bosnia failed to arrest war criminals, each coalition member could blame its compatriots. No one felt responsible for ensuring the legitimacy of the coalition -- or the success of the country.

....Reconstruction efforts often become the battlefields for unconnected struggles between coalition members. To gain the upper hand, "internationals" dissipate their time and energy playing politics against one another.

No real argument so far. In fact I might even go further: some members of a broad coalition might be actively hoping for failure as a way to prove that they were right to oppose the war all along. Not a pretty thought, but an all too human one, I'm afraid.

Unfortunately, while Belton lists several knocks against international coalitions, she fails to address their biggest positive: they provide a broad acceptance of the effort that the United States is almost certain to lack on its own. In fact, the occupation of Germany and Japan after World War II, which she uses as examples of unilateral nation building by the U.S. military, actually contradicts her thesis. Both of these reconstruction efforts, even if they were led by the United States, had the full support of nearly the entire World War II coalition, and that was key to their success. Legitimacy was never an issue.

More important, however, is that World War II is simply a lousy historical parallel. Comparing the conclusion of a 4-week war in Iraq with the conclusion of the longest, bloodiest, war of the 20th century just doesn't wash, and I'm surprised to see a comparison like that from a serious writer. Kosovo and Afghanistan are better examples, which she sees as failures of international cooperation, but which strike me failures of will instead. We simply haven't been serious enough about them.

The growth of democracy in the former Iron Curtain countries is another reasonable parallel, but this doesn't fit her thesis and therefore doesn't get mentioned. These countries have done quite well, and a big part of the credit has to go to the EU, which provided aid, technical assistance, and the promise of eventual entry to the EU club. In this case, an international organization did quite well.

In the end, though, it turns out that Belton and I partly agree:

The United Nations and other international organizations are staffed by many capable, intelligent, well-intentioned people. They should be encouraged to run humanitarian relief efforts in Iraq and should create a broad, multilateral coalition to control Iraq's oil revenue to expunge the accusation that this has been a war for oil.

That's exactly right, and for the right reason: giving the UN control over oil revenue would prove at least partially that we went to war for the right reasons, and like it or not, this is something that a large part of the world doesn't believe. In the real world, this is a compromise I could live with for now.

Kevin Drum 11:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MOHAMMED UPDATE....Mohammed, the Iraqi lawyer who helped U.S. forces find Private Jessica Lynch, is apparently for real and has been granted asylum in the U.S.

There have been some questions about that whole story, so I thought everyone would like to know the latest.

Kevin Drum 10:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE NEWT....Josh Marshall today:

...one can denounce underhanded scheming and still be able to respect it when it's ably done.

Quite so, quite so.

This is apparently a seque into a discussion of how Newt Gingrich's recent underhanded scheming against the State Department wasn't ably done, and indeed it wasn't. Gingrich, I'm afraid, forgot his own cardinal rule: you're supposed to attack your enemies, not your friends, and he forgot to ask which one Colin Powell is supposed to be these days. It's a little surprising that Newt Gingrich, of all people, would need to be reminded of this.

Kevin Drum 10:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EARTHQUAKE....According to South Knox Bubba, they had an earthquake out in the vicinity of Knoxville this morning. 4.5 on the Richter scale.

Ha ha ha. We don't even notice anything below about 7.0 out here, SKB. You wake up in the morning and your garage has collapsed? Rebuild it and stop whining!

Sheesh. I'm not even sure I could get to sleep each night if we didn't have our evening 4.5. That's why California is the economic powerhouse of the country, by the way: we're tough out here.

Kevin Drum 10:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 28, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

NANO-SOLDIERS....Jimm Donnelly of Project For A New Century Of Freedom has an interesting post about a project to use nanotechnology to create, among other things, new military "uniforms" with rather remarkable properties. It sounds like science fiction, but apparently it's not really that far off. Check it out.

This story from the Washington Post also has a nice summary.

Kevin Drum 9:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OUR SUFFERING MILLIONAIRES....Max Sawicky notes today that if the standard personal exemption had kept up with inflation since 1948, it would be $12,941 today. In reality, it's only $3,000.

This change in emphasis in the federal tax code over the past 50 years has been truly stunning, and it doesn't get enough attention. For the middle class, the standard exemption has decreased significantly while payroll taxes have increased. For the rich, the top marginal rate has plummeted, the estate tax has been eliminated, and rates have been halved on capital gains (and soon on dividends as well if Bush has his way). The net result is that an average family paid about 5% of its income in federal taxes in 1948 and today pays about 25%. During the same period, the effective tax rate on millionaires declined from about 75% to 26%.

Despite the fact that this has been accompanied by steady declines in both economic growth rates and labor productivity, conservative economists continue to tell us that if we keep at their program just a little while longer things will turn around. Their standard fairy tale is that (a) millionaires are overtaxed and (b) this acts as a drag on growth. In fact, both are false. The rich are taxed quite lightly in the United States, and there is no evidence at all that higher rates on millionaires would do anything except possibly improve the economy.

Economic growth is most robust when money is in the hands of people who spend it: the poor and the middle class. Sometime soon this lesson needs to be relearned.

Kevin Drum 8:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JOHN LOTT UPDATE....Why did John Lott remove his name from the response he wrote to the Stanford Law Review article that savaged his research? Instapundit has an update (at the bottom of the post) giving Lott's side of the story.

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EDUCATION....Ampersand writes today about one of my favorite pet peeves: the steady stream of allegations that education has gone completely to hell in America. Today's example is a New York Times article about a report issued by the National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges that, unsurprisingly, finds that schools don't put enough emphasis on writing.

Well, maybe they don't, but as Ampersand points out, the Times accepts the report's conclusions without presenting any evidence at all for them. So how do we really know?

I could go either way on this one. On the one hand, businesses these days mostly treat writing as a specialized skill: people are assumed to be lousy writers, and either no one cares or else their writing is simply passed along to experts who clean it up. Obviously, this speaks poorly for general writing skills.

On the other hand, about a year ago I ran across a prize winning senior essay written by my great aunt in 1906, and it was pretty mediocre. What's more, some of it was almost certainly plagiarized, a fact that apparently went unnoticed by her teachers. So perhaps our ancestors weren't quite as superheroic as they are sometimes made out to be.

Like Amp, I wish there were some real evidence on this score. It might well be that the critics are right, but it's pretty hard to tell based on the conflicting and often panicky pronouncements of the education Cassandras. I would love to see some kind of comparison between current generations on a standardized test of some kind, perhaps given to a cross section of 20-year-olds, 40-year-olds, and 60-year-olds. In practice, though, that's probably pretty hard to do, so we'll never know for sure how they actually compare to each other.

That's too bad. Given both the importance of education and the huge amounts of money we spend on it, it would be nice to know how we're really doing.

Kevin Drum 5:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WOMEN IN IRAQ....Jeanne d'Arc today:

One of the things that struck me watching the crowds tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein was that I didn't see any women. Another thing that struck me was that no one commented on this -- as if streets without women were entirely normal. Pardon my stereotypically feminist response, but to me a world wiped clean of women is a little disturbing....

I think we all understand that there are lots of areas that could stand improvement in Iraq, but it would be nice to think that the folks busily rebuilding institutions there consider this to be one of them. We'll wait and see.

Kevin Drum 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

VIRAL JOURNALISM....This week brings yet another example of the bold, creative, and freespirited approach to journalism of our major newsweeklies: not only do they all have the same cover story not unreasonable under the circumstances but their art departments all had exactly the same idea for their cover pictures. I guess the Economist gets a modest bit of extra credit for using Mao's picture underneath the mask, but you really have to wonder what's going on when not one of them managed to come up with a unique way of illustrating this story.

The big news of the day, of course, is the SARS riot in Chagugang, brought on by residents fearful that a local junior high school would be turned into a ward for urban SARS patients (fears that appear to have been well founded, despite the spin of Chinese officials that "The villagers are unscientific, and trusted rumors.")

The New York Times reports that Chagugang is a "rural town," and Matt Yglesias remarks that "The fact that this is taking place in rural China rather than the urban/student/intellectual crowd strikes me as significant."

Take this with a grain of salt, however. Chagugang is a small town, but it's only a few miles north of Tianjin, a city of 10 million, and is home to the "Liudaokou lndustrial Zone," which somehow doesn't strike me as the kind of thing you'd find in a pastoral little village. (Not coincidentally, I'm sure, it's also only about 40 miles from Beijing.)

Overall, SARS news is mostly bad. It's peaked in a few places, but still expanding in China, and possibly also in India and Indonesia. The crisis is far from over.

Kevin Drum 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NORTH KOREA....What does North Korea want? Colin Powell says "something considerable" but declined to elaborate. The Chinese, however, in an apparently unusual gesture, briefed Western diplomats about the talks:

One envoy quoted the Chinese Foreign Ministry's top North Korea expert as saying North Korea had sought "credible security assurances" from the United States during the talks.

....The first diplomat quoted the Chinese official as saying Pyongyang had demanded Washington negotiate "on the basis of equality and mutual sovereignty."

North Korea also sought compensation for a delay in the completion of light water reactors under a 1994 pact in which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear program in return for them, they said.

Publicly, at least, these negotiations always seem to get down to two things: money and security. Money, I assume, is not really a problem, which means the big issue now and always has been security.

I quite realize that nothing is what it seems when it come to negotiating with North Korea, but I sure wish I understood a little more about what they're really after. Are they truly afraid we might attack them? Perhaps. People certainly talk about it often enough in the United States. So what would reassure them on this score? A final treaty? Withdrawal of troops from the DMZ? What?

A final peace treaty combined with diplomatic recognition seems pretty trivial to me if it were linked to some kind of genuine, verifiable dismantling of their nuclear program, so there must be a lot more to it than that. But what?

Kevin Drum 11:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MARKETING RULE #1: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE....Yet another WMD find turns out to be bogus. By itself, of course, this is perfectly understandable: you would expect that lots of places would be searched, preliminary analysis designed to be "better safe than sorry" would indicate some suspects, and that more thorough analysis would narrow it down even further. The fact that preliminary analysis is ultra cautious and doesn't usually pan out is perfectly normal.

Given that this is normal, however, the real question is quite different: why is the Pentagon releasing these preliminary results every time one pops up? Take this latest one, for example:

The mobile labs were definitely "not labs," Captain Cutchin said. The vehicles MET Bravo found were "probably for decontamination or some kind of fuel filling, consistent with the rockets found at the site," he said.

This was the latest example of a recurring pattern in efforts to track down unconventional weapons in Iraq....By the time MET Bravo arrived at Bayji, for example, journalists who had already been briefed about the findings were already at the site.

(Emphasis mine.)

Why had reporters "already been briefed" before the MET team even showed up? Doesn't the Pentagon realize that this is eroding their credibility daily?

Of course they do, but these reports aren't aimed at journalists or news junkies like blog readers. Rather, they are designed to build up a vague impression among casual news consumers that we've been finding WMD all over the place. Say it often enough, and everyone starts to get foggy about which reports panned out and which didn't or even whether any of them did. Most people are simply left with the idea that we have lots of busy teams spread out all over Iraq and they keep finding stuff.

Like any good marketing organization, the Pentagon knows its audience. And it isn't anyone reading this blog.

Kevin Drum 11:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MIKE HAWASH....Via Emma Goldman of Notes on the Atrocities, there's a "Free Mike Hawash" rally planned for tomorrow at 8:30 AM at the U.S. courthouse in Portland. If you live in the area, you might want to think about attending.

Like everyone, I have no idea of whether Hawash is guilty or innocent of anything. What we do know, however, is that he is a U.S. citizen, he is being held practically incommunicado as a "material witness," he is not charged with a crime, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that he's a flight risk, and all proceedings in his case are secret. It's a disgrace.

UPDATE: Via TalkLeft, Hawash has now finally been charged:

The Justice Department said Hawash was part of a Portland-based group of six other suspects who have already been charged in the alleged plan [to support al-Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11].

''In a nutshell, Hawash was charged as a co-conspirator with the other six,'' said U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones, who is handling the case.

More to come, I'm sure.

Kevin Drum 10:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SHORTER NEWT GINGRICH....Over a decade ago Newt Gingrich wrote a pamphlet called Language, A Key Mechanism of Control, a primer on how to "speak like Newt." Among other things, it contained a list of negative words to be used when speaking of your enemies. These words, he said, should be repeated over and over and over.

Well, Newt is still Newt, and that list of words still forms the core of his speeches. In fact, it pretty much defines his speeches, including last week's all-too-typical blast at the State Department. The speech itself is too long for most of you to want to bother reading it, so instead here is Shorter Newt Gingrich:

... failure ... failure ... politics ... appeasing ... corrupt ... excusers ... murky ... deceptive ... failed ... failure ... ineffective ... incoherent ... pathetic ... hand-wringing ... desperation ... failed ... ineffective ... ludicrous ... unimaginable ... undermine ... watered down ... distorted ... disaster ... coddling ... corrupt ... absolute failure ... entrepeneurial failure ... disaster ... bureaucratic ... failures ... broken ... broken ... broken bureaucracy ... defensive ... dangerous ... collapse.

Got that?

UPDATE: William Safire chimes in on the same subject today in "Invective's Comeback." It's a little thin, but still entertaining.

Kevin Drum 10:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 27, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE DEMOCRATIC HORSE RACE....Patio Pundit has a pretty good rundown of the Democratic field here. It won't be big news to anyone, but it's a nice, succinct, summary.

However, in this post he brings up a familiar complaint: the entire field is weak because it's mostly senators and congressmen, who can't get elected because they don't have executive experience. I'm not sure I buy the whole argument about congress critters being unelectable, but if there is something to it I'll bet it has nothing to do with the differences between being a good legislator and being a good governor. Rather, it may be because national legislators have too much of a track record and it makes them easy to attack. Governors tend to be more of a blank slate on national issues, and this allows them to take any position they want without having to explain away a flip flop. Mighty convenient, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MIRROR OF HISTORY....Yesterday I wrote a post about math education that attracted a lot of interesting comments, including a couple from a Fields Medal winner. (My new motto: "Calpundit Home of Commentary from Fields Winners!") That was pretty cool, so today I think I'll try another pedagogical category: history.

This is a subject that I talk about frequently with my mother (an actual teacher, mind you), trying to figure out why it's such a disliked subject. After all, we like history, but surveys routinely show that it's the least liked subject, ranking even below obvious suspects like math and spelling.

Why is it so disliked? Who knows, really, but it's probably because it seems so remote from normal life. It's pretty hard, after all, for most teenagers to get very enthused about a long-ago debate over the Missouri Compromise that has only the most tenuous connection to the present day.

So in the true spirit of blogging (especially weekend blogging!), here's my dumb amateur idea about how to teach history: do it backward.

It's hard for kids to get interested in century old debates without knowing all the context around them, but they might very well be interested in current day events. So why not start now and explain the events that got us here? War on terrorism? Sure, let's teach it, and that leads us backward to a discussion of how the current state of affairs is the successor to the bipolar world that came apart in 1989. And that leads back to the Cold War, and that leads back to World War II, etc.

In other words, invert cause and effect. Try to get them wondering about the causes of things they already know about, and then use this curiosity to lead them inexorably backward through history.

This is for teenagers, of course, not grammar school kids, who are probably best off with pilgrims, ancient Egyptians, and other picturesque topics. But it might work in high school and junior high school.

All we need now is to get a brilliant historian together with the guy who directed Memento and we'll have it made. We can call it "The Mirror of History."

UPDATE: Over at Atrios, a commenter makes the point that recent history isn't really even taught at all in high school, let alone as part of a broader history curriculum. As Atrios suggests, this is probably because recent history is so overtly political that it's hard to teach it without offending a lot of parents, but even so, how ridiculous is this? Really, which is more important: understanding the American Revolution or understanding the Cold War? An entire year devoted to understanding the most recent few decades of history would probably be one of the most valuable classes a kid could have.

Kevin Drum 6:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PEACHY....Hey, have you been following the Georgia flag controversy? Me neither, really, but here's the nickel version from CNN:

1956: Georgia changes their flag to incorporate Confederate "rebel" flag.

2001: Gov. Roy Barnes gains adoption of new, more neutral flag, but subsequently loses reelection because of it.

2003: Yet another new flag is proposed and is now ready for adoption.

The CNN story indicates that "The new flag is modeled after the 'Stars and Bars' national flag used by the Confederacy," but unfortunately their picture doesn't really give you a good idea of what "based on" means.

The Calpundit Art Department is on the case, however, and you can see the result for yourself. I suppose you can make the case and the designers did that using the original Georgia flag is a decent compromise all around, but if that's the case then why did they deliberately make changes to make it more similar to the Confederate flag than the original 1879 state flag ever was?

It's true that the new flag doesn't pack the emotional punch of the old battle flag motif and at least they had the decency to use 13 stars instead of 7 but still. When it comes to the Confederacy, Georgia Republicans sure do turn out to be surprisingly studious history buffs, don't they? Go figure.

(Thanks to Tacitus for the idea.)

UPDATE: blogoSFERICS points out that on Friday the legislature finally approved a slightly different flag, apparently removing "In God We Trust" from the middle bar, and approved a referendum that doesn't include the old 1956 flag as an option, thus gaining enough Democratic support to pass. The whole story is here.

Kevin Drum 2:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A GLUT OF CHALABIS....I suppose this is common knowledge among people more plugged into the Iraqi exile community than I am, but it turns out that the Pentagon's choice to head up Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi, has a cousin, Fadhil Chalabi, who is now the favorite to run the all-important oil ministry. It's nice to keep everything in the family, isn't it?

According to the Observer, Chalabi

said he would be prepared to serve the Iraqi oil industry if a democratically elected government was in place.

....'Privatisation or partial privatisation is the way to secure this investment.'

Basically, the trial balloon he's lofting is that Iraq should (a) leave OPEC, regretfully of course, (b) pump lots of oil, thus bringing down the price, and (c) sell off Iraq's oil assets to private companies.

Oh yes, he sounds like he should do just fine. I wonder if there are any more of these Chalabis around to fill up the other ministries?

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POSTWAR CONFUSION....More bad news about the search for WMD in Iraq:

The Pentagon originally planned to deploy about 20 "mobile exploitation teams" of up to 30 people each to scour weapons sites, interrogate scientists and analyze documents. But only two such teams are now hunting for weapons in Iraq. Because relatively junior warrant officers are leading the teams, their reports must go through multiple layers before reaching senior commanders.

The Pentagon hasn't supplied enough transport helicopters and military guards to the teams. This limits the teams' movements and their ability to use two highly sophisticated chemical and biological laboratories that were left at an air base in northern Kuwait in shipping containers. "They've been totally unusable," one official said.

Because of the delays, scores of suspect Iraqi military sites, industrial complexes and offices were stripped of valuable documents, equipment and electronic data before U.S. forces or the exploitation teams reached them. Not all the looting appears to have been random, and U.S. officials believe Iraqi officials deliberately burned or removed some critical evidence to prevent detection.

There's a common and peculiar strand in how we've handled postwar Iraq, and it makes itself visible in the looting, the destruction of the museum, the confusion over humanitarian aid, and now the fact that we were obviously unprepared to look for WMD once the war was over. This last especially makes no sense since even if the Bush administration didn't really care about enhancing their credibility by finding the much hyped WMD, they surely saw the importance of locking it down so that it didn't get into anyone else's hands.

Is it possible that there's no WMD to find? Sure, although that seems unlikely to me, and elsewhere in the story intelligence sources insist that we really did have "conclusive" evidence of an ongoing problem.

My best guess, for now, is a different one: all the cakewalk talk notwithstanding, they expected a much longer fight. They weren't prepared for a lot of the postwar activities because they didn't figure there would be a postwar until May or June. The fall of Baghdad seems to have taken the army by surprise every bit as much as it did us, and now they're scrambling to figure out what to do.

Of course, if June rolls around and they're still scrambling, then I'll have to think up another theory....

UPDATE: Some good comments below, several of which point out that another explanation for the postwar confusion is the small invasion force that Rumsfeld insisted on. It was enough to win the war, but not enough to keep control of the country after we won. There's also another possibility: all along the administration expected the UN to cave at the last minute, so they'd have UN peacekeeping and humanitarian forces right behind them. When that didn't happen, they weren't able to gear up a set of revised postwar plans fast enough.

Kevin Drum 11:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

INFINITE SETS....It turns out that one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace, has been in Southern California for the past year, teaching at nearby Pomona College. The LA Times has an interview with him today.

Apparently his current project is nonfiction, a book about the "founder of set theory." I can't tell who this is supposed to refer to (Boole? Cantor?) but it certainly sounds like an interesting departure.

Kevin Drum 11:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 26, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ATTITUDES TOWARD GAYS....On a personal level, support for gay rights is grounded in a respect for basic human decency. As a campaign issue, however, it's grounded in practical politics: how do most Americans actually feel about the various issues surrounding gay rights? And how should the issues be framed for maximum impact?

My personal thoughts on this haven't changed since I was a teenager, but my personal thoughts don't mean a thing since my views are highly atypical. Rather, what got me thinking about this as a campaign issue was reading some polling results a few months ago about various gay rights issues, specifically this report by Kathryn Bowman of AEI, summarizing attitudes toward gays over the past three decades.

There's good news and bad news here, but mostly good news, I think, so here's a quick summary. As a baseline for comparison, 37% of Americans today believe that premarital sex is wrong. Compare this to the following gay rights issues:

  • The baseline attitude toward homosexuality is it wrong? has improved dramatically. In 1973, 80% thought it was always or almost always wrong. Today that number is 64% and other polls put it at around 55%. Still a majority, but declining steadily.

  • Should it be legal? Those saying yes has gone up from 43% in 1977 to 52% in 2002.

  • Employment: 86% think gays should have equal employment opportunities. 72% think they should be eligible for the military. 63% think they are OK as high school teachers.

  • Marriage: only about a third approve of gay marriage, but nearly half approve of civil union.

  • Benefits: 62% think gay spouses should be allowed to inherit, 64% think Social Security benefits should be paid to gay spouses, and 58% approve of health benefits for gay spouses.

  • Nearly half think gay couples should be able to adopt.

Bottom line: attitudes have improved enough that there's probably a decent sized segment of moderate Bush supporters who might think less of him if he could be painted as intolerant or even merely insufficiently supportive toward gays. It's true that there is still widespread personal discomfort with gay relationships, but it's also pretty obvious that large majorities oppose discrimination against gays and basically feel that attitudes like Santorum's belong to a bygone era. It would be fascinating to compare the poll numbers above with similar surveys about civil rights from the early 60s, an era that turned out to be ripe for legislative change.

POSTSCRIPT: I know that Andrew Sullivan is not exactly a prototypical voter, but when he says this...

It is hard to express fully the sheer discouragement of this past week, capped simply by a calculated and contemptuously terse political gesture by a president I had come to trust. It makes me question whether that trust is well founded. And whether hope for a more inclusive future among conservatives is simply quixotic.

...it's hard not to believe that there are some fence-sitting moderate voters for whom this could be an issue that nudges them toward a Democratic candidate.

(Can I just ask, though, what the hell has Sullivan been thinking? Whatever else you think of him, he's a very smart, very politically astute person, so what could possibly have led him to believe that George Bush might actually be willing to take any kind of electoral risk to support gays? 9/11 must have really addled his brain for him not to understand something this basic and this obvious. I almost feel sorry for the guy.)

Kevin Drum 9:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHORTER TIM LAMBERT....Say it after me: "John Lott is a hack, John Lott is a hack....."

Here's the nickel version of today's installment: a couple of guys have written an article for the Stanford Law Review in which they say that Lott's statistics are all wet. Now, econometricians are forever telling other econometricians that their models are no good because they have failed to take into account some obscure variable or another, so us laymen could be excused for nodding off at this point and just waiting a couple of years to see if a scholarly consensus emerges.

But there's more, and this doesn't take an advanced degree to understand: basically, the SLR article took Lott's model and applied it to more recent data. Result: nada. So Lott and a couple of other guys responded by doing their own analysis, and their conclusion is that the model does work. Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of competing analyses: Lott and his partners actually miscoded the data, and by coincidence it was systematically miscoded to favor their hypothesis every time. Can you imagine?

Lott has been using this miscoded data for a while, but it turns out that he took his name off the SLR response before it was published, so presumably he knew what was going on and didn't want to put his name to it in a journal article. Or maybe he was just covering his ass. Or maybe the sheer force of the SLR argument has actually convinced him to change his mind.

(Ha ha, just kidding on that last one, folks. I do slay myself sometimes, yes I do.)

As usual, Tim Lambert has all the gory details.

Kevin Drum 6:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KARL SPEAKS!....OR RATHER, DOESN'T....Via Atrios, Republicans really, really, really don't want to talk about gay sex:

Santorum's defenders are under a gag order. Officials at the White House and Republican National Committee told GOP insiders yesterday, by conference call, voice mail and e-mail not to comment about Santorum's comments, letting him speak for himself.

....Also not responding to requests for comment were: U.S. Reps. Todd Platts, R-York; Tim Holden, D-Schuylkill County; and Joe Pitts, R-Chester County. Also not returning calls were state Senate President Pro Tem Robert C. Jubelirer, R-Blair; state House Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia; and about a dozen top GOP officials.

The fact that Republican strategists are so terrified of this shows just how good an issue it is for Democrats. Karl Rove is no dummy, and although conservatives like to tell us liberals that we're kidding ourselves to think that our social agenda is popular with Middle America, he knows better. The majority of Americans might not be ready for gay marriage quite yet, but by large numbers they are opposed to both overt homophobia and social nannyism of the type that's common in the Republican party.

When Karl Rove is running scared, we've got a good issue. And he's running scared.

Kevin Drum 4:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FORCING 'EM OUT OF THE CLOSET....Virginia Postrel writes today about the policy questions regarding gay rights should sodomy be illegal? vs. the constitutional question should the federal government be allowed to overturn a state law on this issue?

The policy question is also the one to which Andrew Sullivan has primarily addressed his remarks. It's far more interesting--and, in my view, much easier--than the constitutional question. But it's the question conservative pundits mostly want to dodge.

I couldn't agree more. Too often we allow conservatives to retreat into abstract legal arguments instead of forcing them to take a simple stand: in this case, do you think the government should prohibit gay sex or don't you? Not should it be able to, but should it? Not is it sinful, but should it be illegal?

The result of this fainthearted approach is that instead of exposing Rick Santorum's ideological kin as flat out supporters of bans on gay sex, a position that is generally unpopular among moderates, we allow them to hide behind technical discussions of federalism and church-state relationships and slippery slopes that don't exist in real life. So how do we force them so to speak out of the closet on this? What's the right issue?

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO'S AFRAID OF MATHEMATICS?....Despite the problems Britain is allegedly having with declining math proficiency or perhaps because of it a teacher addressing a conference in Bournemouth recently suggested dropping math as a compulsory subject. Simon Jenkins said "huzzah" to that in the London Times, and Chris Bertram had this reaction:

It is always a comfort to find a view with which I strongly disagree being promoted by Simon Jenkins in the Times, for that fact on its own strengthens my confidence that I am right. Today's diatribe is against the teaching of mathematics in schools....

The more I think about this, though, the more uncomfortable I become. I am a considerable mathophile myself, and even intended at one point to major in math. I've long considered calculus to be one of the most elegant and beautiful creations of the human mind, and Isaac Newton is my hero for inventing it. (And let's hear no talk about Leibniz on this score, OK?) Even today, I enjoy reading about mathematics, and I imagine that lunch with John Derbyshire would be quite enjoyable if we stuck to discussions of mathematical puzzles and prime numbers.

And yet, despite all this, I frequently find myself wondering if there's a practical point to all this. After all, the fact that I love math doesn't make it a law of nature that everyone should love or even learn math. I can't honestly say that I actually use it much, and the vast majority of people probably never perform any math beyond addition and subtraction.

(In fact, I suspect that if you took a hundred people off the street, 95 of them would be unable to perform long division. And they wouldn't care.)

So aside from the 10-15% of people who take up professions that require a mathematical background, is there much point in teaching math beyond about the sixth grade to the rest of them? I suspect it serves little purpose, and despite what people like me would like to think, I very much doubt that it instills any useful habits of mind either.

Frankly, if I had to make a choice, I'd prefer that high school students were more thoroughly grounded in history or geography or even simply more thoroughly grounded in basic math than in advanced mathematics. Then again, maybe I'm missing something. Any thoughts?

Kevin Drum 11:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GAY RIGHTS....Josh Chafetz of OxBlog makes a point that I've seen repeatedly recently: sure, Republicans might be anti-gay, but so are Democrats:

It distresses me even more that, some Democrats' claims to the contrary notwithstanding, this is an attitude which plagues both parties. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, shameful both in its treatment of gay couples and in its disregard for principles of federalism, passed the House on a 342 to 67 vote, passed the Senate on a 84 to 15 vote, and was signed into law by President Clinton.

A pox on both their houses.

I sympathize with Josh's feelings, since I also think it was disgraceful for Democrats to support this bill (although, yes, I do understand electoral realities). However, it's also disingenuous: the 15 senators who opposed the bill were all Democrats, and the 67 congressmen who opposed the bill broke down 65 Democratic, one independent, and one Republican.

So let's keep some perspective here. Sure, Democrats have a ways to go on this issue, but that's a far cry from the position of the Republican party, which is monolithically anti-gay, is a happy home to any number of proudly and virulently anti-gay congressmen, and shows absolutely no signs of changing. Anyone who takes the issue of gay rights seriously ought to acknowledge this, and should also acknowledge that the only hope of making progress on this issue comes from the Democratic party.

UPDATE: Jesse Berney of Wage Slave Journal points us to the DNC site itself, which highlights some print ads that make the same point.

Kevin Drum 11:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 25, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WHITE HOUSE HOMEROOM....Does Ari Fleischer remind you of your junior high school homeroom teacher? As Greg Saunders of the lively and entertaining blog The Talent Show points out, apparently some reporters are beginning to feel that way.

You know, if the White House press corps actually had (a) some spine and (b) enough combined IQ to figure out that they need to work together on this, they might actually be able to scare Fleischer into treating them like something more important than his dog's fleas. Fat chance of that, though.

Kevin Drum 5:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SOUND MIND?....SOUND BODY?....Via Belly-Flop.net we learn a few details about the last will and testament of Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA:

The leader of a prominent U.S.-based animal rights group said she had drawn up a will directing that her flesh be barbecued and her skin used to make leather products in protest at man's ill-treatment of animals.

....Newkirk also suggested her feet be removed and made into umbrella stands similar to those made from elephant feet that she had seen as a child.

....In the document she also suggests her liver be vacuum-packed and sent to France to be used in a campaign to persuade shoppers not to buy foie gras, made from the livers of force-fed ducks and geese.

Jeez, a friend of mine got all huffy once just because I mailed him a smashed toenail that had fallen off. I guess Newkirk has more openminded friends than I do.

Kevin Drum 4:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHORTER JOHN LOTT....Tim Lambert has another update on John Lott's dubious grasp of arithmetic.

Tim's latest post is another discussion of the weighting controversy, which, of course, is impossibly abstract for most of us. However, it's also a crucial piece of evidence in the question of whether Lott actually performed the 1997 survey that has since vanished.

So, courtesy of the Calpundit Technical Research Department, here's the Reader's Digest version:

  • Method A (lots of little weights) is obviously bogus, but it does produce the number Lott claims.

  • Method B (a few big weights) is OK, but there is no way it could possibly produce the number Lott claims.

So did he actually perform the 1997 survey? You decide:

  • Yes, but he inexplicably decided to use a weighting method that no one in the field would have taken seriously once his data was released.

  • Yes, but he used a weighting method that can't produce the number he says he got.

  • No, he never did the survey.

Only one of these choices strikes me as consistent with the real world. Can you guess which one?

Kevin Drum 3:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SOUTH KOREA....Roh Moo-hyun is the new president of South Korea. But according the Economist, "Roh" is pronounced "no."

This is peculiar, isn't it? If his name is pronounced "no," why would the standard transliteration into English produce "Roh"?

Elsewhere in their survey of South Korea, we get this:

Most South Koreans believe that North Korea's nuclear weapons, if they were ever deployed, might be launched at Japan or America's west coast, or perhaps sold to another country or a terrorist network, but would never be used on the North's ethnic cousins just across the border.

They may be right: the North has so much artillery pointing at the South that it could easily flatten Seoul with conventional weapons. But it is still disturbing that young South Koreans should consider the prospect of a North Korean nuclear weapon launched at Sapporo or Seattle, or smuggled into Sydney, to be somebody else's problem.

Yes it is.

UPDATE: I'm paraphrasing extremely broadly here, but the consensus of the commenters about the pronunciation of "Roh" seems to be that in Korean the initial sound of his name is something that doesn't exist in English but that sounds like an R, or an L, or maybe even an N, sort of, or maybe a combination of all three. And in any case, whoever created the transliteration scheme might not have had English speakers in mind, or might not have had any other suitable letters left after creating the rest of the scheme, or well, who knows, really? In other words, the hell with it: just go ahead and pronounce it "Roh."

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....I don't often get a chance to take a picture of both Jasmine and Inkblot together. It's not that they hate each other, exactly, it's just that they don't spend a lot of, um, quality time together.

Anyway, I don't know why they were both on the same patio chair yesterday, but there they were like the lion and the lamb, as if it were an everyday occurrence. Luckily, my camera was at hand.

On the right, you can see the other type of occasion that taps the wellsprings of togetherness in them: a dead animal of some kind. This one was some poor bird that, catlike, they were entranced with but showed no signs of actually eating. Just as well, I suppose.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SEARCH FOR WMD....George Bush speaking yesterday about the search for WMD in Iraq:

The president reported that senior Iraqi officials with firsthand knowledge of such weapons programs now are "beginning to cooperate, are beginning to let us know what the facts were on the ground."

"U.S. officials" yesterday in Washington on the search for WMD in Iraq:

"The senior officials who have been captured are sticking to the party line: 'We don't have any WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. This is a fine regime. We never did anything nasty in our lives,' " the U.S. official said. "They're all sticking to the story."

So are they "beginning to cooperate" or are they "sticking to the story"? Inquiring minds want to know.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TURNING THE TABLES....When it comes to reconstructing Iraq and modernizing the Arab world in general, we like to talk about democracy, human rights, tolerance, secularism, capitalism, property rights, and so forth. I am in favor of all these things, so I think this kind of talk is just fine.

But what does it sound like to Arab ears? Try to pretend that the tables were turned and America was a failed country that had just been overrun by an Arab army. Here is what a conversation between an Arab hawk and an Arab dove might sound like:

"Their Congress is little more than a group of corrupt fundraisers. Each one represents his own little fiefdom and the result is gridlock. Nothing gets done."

"Yes, but remember that democracy is a local custom that has been in place for hundreds of years. A monarchy can't be installed right away."

"And those tribes of theirs are going to cause problems too. What are they called again? Republicans and Democrats?"

"We can probably work best with the Republicans. The Democrats are violently wedded to the notion of a secular society and there's probably not much hope of compromise with them."

"That's the real problem, secularism, isn't it? This was the root of Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany, and we need to put an end to its last failed hope in America."

"But we can't replace it with Islam. We have to respect local customs, so the theocracy will have to be Christian in nature."

"Sure, fine, whatever. What about crime? It's rampant, especially in their large cities."

"Mecca wasn't built in a day, and it will take time to win acceptance of a sharia-based judicial system. They will resist at first, but when they see the benefits they will start to come around. Their criminal justice system is actually quite advanced, so we should be able to use much of their infrastructure."

"But it's the breakdown of the home that is responsible for much of their civil unrest."

"Yes: single mothers, abortion, permissive attitudes toward sex. These are difficult problems that will take many years to solve. Abortion can be outlawed fairly easily, but we need to start putting institutions in place that encourage women to stay at home where they belong. That's the root cause of all this."

"Root causes, root shmauses, I'm tired of hearing about that. They have no choice in this matter."

That all sounds rather......naive, doesn't it?

Anyone who thinks that political and cultural institutions in the Middle East are going to turn around quickly should think about how strongly Americans would resist a change in the opposite direction and how violent that resistance might be. Answer: pretty strongly and probably pretty violently. If we're actually serious about encouraging change in the Middle East, we should be prepared for a very long road ahead of us.

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JUST LEAVE US ALONE....Via Regions of Mind comes this story about a group of "limited government advocates" who want to try to band together in a single small state where they can lobby to create a libertarian utopia:

A movement called the Free State Project has registered some 3,100 people who would help choose a "candidate" state and move there in hopes of canceling laws against drugs, prostitution, guns and other individual liberties, while privatizing current state functions such as schools.

"Rather than change the whole nation it makes sense for all of us to gather in one place," said Elizabeth McKinstry, 33, of Hillsdale, Mich., the projects vice president.

Hoo boy. I sure hope these guys have read Robert Heinlein's Coventry.....

UPDATE: Henry Farrell has more on libertarian utopianism.

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MORE ON GALLOWAY....I imagine that, like me, most of my readers know nothing about George Galloway beyond the current allegations that he received $10 million in payments from Saddam Hussein. So I thought I'd share a couple of emails I received about the subject. Here's the first:

You can be excused for not having followed Galloway's career over the past ten years.

He did not get the moniker "the member for Baghdad Central" in the British parliament for nothing, and he did not get it overnight. Parliament is actually (and necessarily) very tolerant of eccentrics. He continually over a decade, stridently and it has to be said on occasion eloquently pushed for the lifting of sanctions, campaigning against them on the basis of human rights abuses he claimed they caused in Iraq.

This was what Saddam wanted above all else. It provided him with cover amongst the only section of Western democratic opinion he could look to influence (the credulous left).

Given that at the very last the policy of supporting the war very nearly brought down the UK Labour government and ended Tony Blair's career, it could hardly be said that Saddam was misguided in valuing Galloway's activities as highly as he appears to have done. If he paid the money it was a shrewd investment which very nearly paid off.

Then there's this:

No one has yet suggested that Galloway directed the funds to the anti-war campaign. He apparently misspent funds donated to his charity/political campaign, the Mariam Appeal, but that's a separate matter from the alleged bribes. The bribes have been said to have gone to his personal wealth. He denies this, though his denials don't seem to hold water (the newspapers claimed his homes to be worth an immense amount of money, and he responded by claiming that they were worth next to nothing reality probably lies somewhere in the middle, and certainly affordable for an MP/columnist).

The idea that bribing a single lunatic backbench MP could have accomplished anything seems idiotic. There was an interview in the Telegraph yesterday, though, with an Anglican minister who had led a number of charity missions to Iraq he commented that the Iraqi leaders whom he met seemed to consider Galloway "a propaganda coup," and ignored his lack of credibility in Britain.

Galloway finally gave some interviews today in which he denied everything, but for some reason I found this paragraph in the latest Telegraph story to be the oddest:

Wearing an ANC sweater, Mr Galloway gave several television and newspaper interviews from the terrace of his farmhouse in Burgau, which overlooks the Atlantic. He refused only one request - to be photographed next to his swimming pool. "Is the Pope a Catholic?" he said.

Why did he not want to photographed next to a swimming pool? And why the weird "Pope/Catholic" response?

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MURKY WATER....Charles Kuffner summarizes the latest in the flap about Josh Llano, the army chaplain who allegedly offering baths to dusty American soldiers in his 500-gallon pool if they agreed to be baptized. His conclusion: Llano is probably in the clear, although there are still a few unanswered questions that it would be nice to get answers to. I think I pretty much agree with his assessment.

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April 24, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

MISSING CHILDREN....Greg Beato has a good idea on how we might speed up the discovery of Iraq's WMD. Check it out.

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MIDDLE AMERICA SPEAKS....Would gay rights really make a decent campaign issue for Democrats in 2004? Doubters ask, "Will it play in Peoria?"

Apparently, the answer is yes, by a vote of 8-3.

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WHO IS GEORGE GALLOWAY?....Via Instapundit, the Christian Science Monitor has more about George Galloway, the British MP accused of taking money from Saddam Hussein in return for his "vociferous opposition" to U.S. and British plans to invade Iraq.

This is truly a bizarre story. On the one hand, you have this from the Monitor story:

David Blair, the British reporter who first broke the story, told the BBC: "I think it would require an enormous amount of imagination to believe that someone went to the trouble of composing a forged document in Arabic and then planting it in a file of patently authentic documents and burying it in a darkened room on the off-chance that a British journalist might happen upon it and might bother to translate it. That strikes me as so wildly improbable as to be virtually inconceivable."

OK, that sounds reasonable. But on the other hand, Galloway was supposedly paid $10 million, with the most recent payment of $3 million coming in January.

$10 million!

What could possibly have lead the Iraqis to think that a fringe lefty like Galloway had any influence at all, let alone $10 million worth? What's more, the first of the three large payments is said to have been made in April 2000, well before anyone was talking about attacking Iraq. What was the point of that?

And how did David Blair come across these documents? His story is here, but it raises as many questions as it answers. He just happened to be rummaging through boxes at the Foreign Ministry office in Baghdad while looters were running wild and found this stuff? Everything else was destroyed but these documents mysteriously survived intact?

Very weird. If Galloway ever turns his cell phone back on, perhaps we'll learn more. In the meantime, at least it's more interesting than yet another Laci Peterson update.

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SPEED READING....At 3:33 PM yesterday Matt Yglesias announced that he was about to go out and try to find Harvard's anthropology library so that he could check out Jacob Levy's The Multiculturalism of Fear.

At 4:25 PM today he announced that he had finished reading it.

Sure, it's only 220 pages, but it doesn't really sound like light reading. So my question is: did he do a little more skimming than he's letting on? Or are Harvard students just ungodly bright?

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JAPANESE PORN....Over lunch I read an Economist article that discussed a little-known fact about the Japanese: when it comes to business, they are actually technophobes. Their factories may be full of shiny new robots, but their offices are distinctly lacking in the PCs, scanners, printers, workflow software, and other high tech accoutrements so common in the U.S.

There are a bunch of cultural explanations for this, but here's my favorite story about it. I was in Tokyo a few years ago and gave my standard spiel to a small seminar group about the wonders of document imaging: if you scan all your paper and store it on a computer, you can get rid of your file cabinets, retrieve stuff faster, provide better customer service, etc. etc.

Afterward I was talking to one of our resellers and we were discussing "white mail" scanning, which basically means that instead of delivering mail to people at your company, you scan it in the mailroom and then send it to them electronically. This isn't intended for all mail, of course, usually just for large volumes of predictable mail such as credit card applications and bill payments.

Still, it would never work, my reseller told me. Why not? After all, it's a pretty mature technology used by lots of companies. Very low risk.

The upper managers would never permit it. Huh? "Oh no, they would be afraid that someone would open up one of their envelopes and discover the porn that they have delivered to their offices in order to keep it secret from their wives."

Hmmm, hadn't thought of that. But you know, neither my company nor any other in the industry ever had much luck selling our wares in Japan. He must have been onto something.

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MORE SANTORUM....A few more miscellaneous thoughts about the Rick Santorum flap:

  • One of the remarkable things about the Santorum interview is that as short as it is, virtually every single paragraph has something to shake your head at. I kept seeing post after post from different bloggers along the lines of "Yeah, that was bad, but did you catch this sentence!?"

    Sure, you've got the whole "gay sex leads to incest" angle that started it, but you've also got the "man on dog" thing, the priestly pedophile thing, the "gays are OK but gay sex isn't" thing, the whole "right to privacy is bogus" thing and all this in only about a thousand words! Give the man credit for pithiness if nothing else.

  • Santorum's main beef relied on a "slippery slope" argument: if the government can't ban gay sex, then it also can't ban incest, bigamy, or adultery. This reminds me of why I dislike slippery slope arguments so much: they rely on the unspoken assumptions that (a) all arguments will eventually be followed to their most extreme conclusion, and (b) there are people whose ultimate goal is to gain acceptance of those extreme positions.

    In some cases abortion opponents and gun control advocates come to mind there really are people hoping to use a small change as a thin wedge toward a more radical goal, but this isn't one of those cases: no one is lobbying for legalization of incest or bigamy. And even if there were, God endowed us with the common sense to ignore them if we want to. Life is all about competing rights, and acceptance of a right to privacy doesn't imply that it trumps every other societal interest. Santorum ought to be bright enough to realize that.

    (Adultery, on the other hand, does seem to have considerable support, doesn't it? Hmmm....)

  • In my first post on this I suggested (again) that gay rights could be a good campaign topic. Jay Caruso, however, thinks I'm probably wrong: "I know people that are as anti-gay as people can get, but wouldn't be caught dead voting for a Republican." My assumption was that the stone homophobes were mostly Republican voters already, so a Democratic candidate had nothing to lose by bringing it up. But maybe not.

It's nice to see that a couple of Republican Senators have now criticized Santorum, but since the two are Olympia Snowe and Lincoln Chafee, part of the tiny "I vote like a Democrat but for some reason I'm actually a Republican" crowd, it probably doesn't mean much.

And the president? No comment, of course, since he's smart enough to know what's good for him. Which is exactly why I think that trying to force him to comment is such a good idea.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has an entertaining post about the Santorum mess. In addition to everything else, he wants to know why Santorum is so damn incoherent. So: he's both pithy and incoherent! A winning combination for a politician.

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THE NEW IRAQ....When I blogged about the New Iraq a couple of days ago, the term was just a throwaway little joke. Little did I know that the term had already been taken and it's not a joke: it's the name of a book by Joseph Braude, and its website, www.newiraq.com, cheerily says that "We welcome your interest in Iraq and its people's prospects for a bright future."

Hopefully I won't be sued for copyright infringement. About the book itself, of course, I know nothing since I only discovered it today. Has anyone read it or heard the author? Is it worth paying attention to? If anyone's read the book, let us know in comments what you thought.

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IMMIGRATION....Britain is having a problem with falling proficiency in math and science, and the Economist highlights one of the infrequently-cited reasons for this:

Teachers across the system are ageing, but the problem is acute in maths and science. Recruiting people to teach those subjects is getting ever harder. There is a shortage of 3,500 qualified maths teachers alone. Last year just 350 newly graduated mathematicians went into teaching.

One of the main reasons why maths and science graduates are in such short supply is increasing demand for their skills: good maths graduates are snapped up by, for instance, financial-services firms. Whereas most new history teachers have good degrees, most maths teachers have bad ones. That creates a vicious circle. Subjects badly taught now will produce fewer teachers in future.

In other words, the very fact that math and science have become more valuable has also become one of the seeds of its own destruction. Math and science teachers generally aren't paid any differently than anyone else, so only the bad ones go into teaching, and those bad ones in turn are pretty unlikely to inspire students to take up the subject in the future.

(As an aside, one of the reasons they aren't paid more at the university level is the argument that this inegalitarianism would impair the famed "collegiality" of unversity faculties, a proposition I have always found amusing. If there is another institution that is generally less collegial than a university faculty, I'm at a loss to think of it.)

In America this problem has been papered over for the moment by a flood of highly educated immigrants, many of whom, for example, form the core of Silicon Valley. I suspect most Americans don't realize just how much of our high tech economy is based not on good old American know how, but rather on a relatively liberal immigration policy.

Remember that the next time someone complains about "all those damn immigrants" and how they're taking jobs away from honest hardworking Americans. The fact is that most immigrants take either entry level jobs that Americans aren't willing to work hard enough to take themselves, or technical jobs that most Americans aren't willing to work hard enough to learn. What's more, these immigrants have lots of kids, and these are the kids who will be paying for our social security when we retire.

The next time you meet an immigrant you should give them copious thanks, both for what they contribute now and what they will contribute in the future. They deserve it.

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FINAL DINI UPDATE....Reader Mitch Schindler passes along the final resolution of the Michael Dini evolution case (remember him?), and I just love the lead on this AFP story about it:

The Bush administration has stepped back from another clash over religion's place in society, as the Justice Department quietly dropped a probe of a university professor who is actively promoting Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Shocking! A university biology professor actively promoting the theory of evolution! What will those radical lefty academics come up with next?

OK, so the lead is, um, misleading, but it's still funny. And although it's hard to extract any good news from the fact that Justice Department ever investigated this in the first place, I guess the good news is that Dini didn't really budge on anything substantive. Ashcroft & Co., showing some rare good sense, just decided to drop it.

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LIFE IN A STATE OF NATURE....Ah, that's better. I'm back in touch with the world again.

Yesterday morning my internet connection went down. I turned on the TV and it wasn't working either. Got up, looked around, and there was a cable company truck outside my house. Excellent, I thought, someone's already here to fix things!

This unusual burst of optimism toward corporate America was unfounded, though. It turned out the cable guy was not here to fix my problem, but to cause it. A few minutes ago a second cable guy finally dropped by, spent 20 seconds putting the connection back together, and I'm back in business.

So I spent a whole 24 hours with no internet and no TV, and I tell you it was a horrible thing, just horrible. After all, what's the point of living such a gray and empty life, with nothing except books, movies, music, telephone conversations, dining, and actual human interaction to take its place? What indeed?

Kevin Drum 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 23, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

NEWT AND THE NEOCONS....You learn something new every day. This is from today's Los Angeles Times:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich increasingly identified as a neoconservative spokesman unleashed a blistering attack Tuesday on the State Department....

Newt is a neocon? Who knew?

Actually, though, this is good news. Indulge me for a moment here. I've never had much sympathy for the Republican party (does it show?), but the point when it completely lost me was in the early 90s when Newt Gingrich rose to power. Younger readers might not relate to this, but in the mid-80s Newt was just a bomb throwing backbencher from Georgia, generally considered on a par with lunatics like Bob Dornan or Jesse Helms and not taken any more seriously than either on the wider stage. But as the Rush Limbaugh era took shape later in the decade, nothing symbolized the rage-induced rightward drift of the Republican party better than the ascendancy of Newt Gingrich.

It's hard to explain how this felt to a liberal like me. It was like waking up one morning and discovering that Norman Mailer was the new leader of the Democratic party. A guy who had been considered a fringe radical just a few years earlier was suddenly a serious statesman.

That was the point at which the Republican party lost whatever sympathy I might have had for them in the past. What respectable party would even think of handing the reins of power over to a guy like Newt?

Anyone under 30 probably doesn't get this. Newt just seems like background scenery, a symbol of what the Republican party is and always has been. But, in fact, it hasn't always been this way, and Newt's rise to power was a watershed.

But now the good news. It turned out that Newt wasn't a harbinger of things to come after all. His ideas were bizarre, his personal life was a wreck, he was congenitally unable to ever keep his mouth shut on any subject whatsoever, and Bill Clinton was able to work him into such a blinding rage that he took leave of his senses on more than one occasion. He wildly misread the popularity of his ideas, and almost from the day he took office he began to overreach. Within a few years he was gone.

So if Newt really is a neocon, it's nothing but bad news for neocons. Newt has always been intoxicated by ideas that are big and bold, but Newt's infatuations have also turned out to be almost universally unpalatable to the average American. If he's boarding the neocon express, it probably means that it's already on its way over the cliff.

We can hope, anyway.

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REALITY TV....Matt Yglesias reports today on a study showing that although black and white TV tastes continue to converge, one large area of difference still remains: blacks don't like reality TV.

The purported reason is the lack of black characters on most reality series, which seems reasonable enough, but I wonder if there's another one as well: for an awful lot of blacks, reality sucks. For whites, Survivor is an entertaining diversion, but for many blacks it might just be a little too realistic for comfort.

Just a thought.

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FEES, NOT TAXES....FEES, NOT TAXES....I've never been able to work up a lot of interest in California politics. I don't know exactly why, but I suppose it's mainly because Sacramento politics is such a cesspool that it makes Congress look like a bunch of do-gooding Model UN participants.

Democrats here control both legislative houses by massive margins, but California law requires the annual budget to be passed by a two-thirds vote, and since the Dems don't quite have a two-thirds majority they can't just tell the Republicans to fuck off, as they would dearly like to. The Republicans, for their part, in an effort to somehow make the Democrats actually look good, have flatly refused to consider any tax increases this year despite the fact that we have a $35 billion and growing every day, it seems budget shortfall.

What do do? Answer: blackmail. It turns out that although the Democrats can't raise taxes on their own, they can raise fees without Republican help. So they are threatening to unilaterally raise the following potpourri of fees:

  • Diapers a quarter cent per nappy

  • Cocktails a nickel a drink

  • Cigarettes 87 cents per pack

  • Dry cleaning fluid $3 per gallon

  • Disposable cups 2 cents per cup

  • Jewelry new fees on mine operators

  • Munitions a dime per bullet

  • Gasoline a buck a barrel

  • Lightbulbs a nickel each

So what makes a fee a fee? It has to be something that goes toward mitigating things that harm the health of Californians.

Right. But diapers? Landfills, it turns out. Too many disposable diapers in landfills.

Anyway, this is what California politics is like. Are the Democrats serious? Or are they just trying to propose something so horrific that Republicans have no choice except to buckle under and get down to serious negotiating? Who knows. And thanks to term limits, not a single one of these yahoos has more than a few years experience with this stuff. Talk about a toxic combination.

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April 22, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WAR SHOULD BE HELL....Justene Adamec of Calblog, possibly better known as the mother of the famous blogging twins, has this to say in comments:

Now that you have comments, does it drive you crazy that you get 5 times as many comments on burgers as you did on reconstructing Iraq?

It's a joke, of course, but in a way it's not, and it actually speaks to one of the things that disturbed me about this war: it was too easy. The fact is that for most of us it made less difference to our actual lives than choosing which hamburger to have for lunch.

This seems wrong. War should require sacrifice, and that sacrifice is one of the things that keeps it rare. Hopefully the Iraqi people will thank us for what we've done, eventually if not immediately, but I still hope we don't make a habit out of this. War should be Hell, not a cakewalk.

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GAY SEX: AT LEAST IT'S BETTER THAN MAN-ON-DOG SEX....Via Atrios, Andrew Sullivan thinks that Rick Santorum has been misquoted. You can read Sullivan's argument and decide for yourself, but I'm not sure he really makes his case. Yeah, Santorum is apparently arguing that the government should have the power to outlaw any kind of sex, not just gay sex, but his take on gays comes out pretty clearly a little later in the interview:

SANTORUM: That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality

AP: I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about "man on dog" with a United States senator, it's sort of freaking me out.

SANTORUM: And that's sort of where we are in today's world, unfortunately. The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we're seeing it in our society.

Santorum makes it pretty clear that of course he has nothing against homosexuals, just against nasty homosexual sex, even in private. And, you know, at least it's not as bad as man-on-dog sex.

So this is quite a choice we're left with: is it better to be (a) a bigot who's in favor of government regulation of gay sex, or (b) a bluenose who's in favor of government regulation of all kinds of sex? Hum dee hum, that's a tough one, better ask my local GOP party chairman about that.

Santorum, of course, is chairman of the Republican Senate Caucus, the #3 spot in the Republican Senate leadership, which leads us to wonder what the Republican party's position is on all this. As Sullivan notes, "We now know where Santorum stands. But what about his party?"

UPDATE: I know I keep harping on this, but I really think the Democrats could make some electoral hay with gay rights as a (secondary) campaign issue. There are just so many horribly bigoted comments about gays from Republican politicians comments that go much further than even some conservative voters are willing to tolerate. If it becomes a campaign issue, they are forced to either repudiate the bigots, which will lose them part of their core constituency, or else stay silent, which might well break off a chunk of their moderate supporters. Surely someone can figure out how to run with this?

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A NOTE FROM THE MANAGEMENT....The problems with the new banner on Mac browsers should be fixed now, thanks to reader Jim Heartney. You guys should now be seeing only one ocean, not the "fabled lovely 'second ocean.'"

Anyway, Jim says it looks fine on all the browsers he's tried, with only a little minor column width weirdness in Opera. Good enough for me! If anyone comes across any other problems, please let me know.

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THE STATE DEPARTMENT....Been wondering what Newt Gingrich is up to these days? Wonder no more: he's planning to lead an effort to completely overhaul the State Department, which he describes as "six months of diplomatic failure." But even the conservative Tom Bevan at RealClear politics can't help but laugh at this:

I'm a fairly creative guy, but my brain simply cannot imagine a Newt Gingrich-run State Department producing different or better results. I like and respect Gingrich but let's face it, diplomacy isn't really his forte.

Good point.

Criticism of the striped-pants crowd is a commonplace among conservatives, who seem to think that simply speaking your mind on all subjects at all times preferably in the form of threats is the best way to get people to do what you want. Gingrich, of course, seems congenitally unable to refrain from saying whatever pops into his brain at any given moment, so his attitude toward diplomacy isn't surprising.

I have reason to be disappointed with Colin Powell myself, and there's certainly at least some evidence that State bungled the job with Turkey. Still, facts are facts: if Rumsfeld and Cheney had just shut up and stayed in their offices, Powell would have had a lot easier time of things. The best way to overhaul the State Department right now would probably be to actually let Colin Powell run it and tell Rumsfeld and Cheney to butt out.

As near as I can tell, Gingrich's main complaint is that the State Department continues to insist on conducting diplomacy with actual other countries. Unfortunately, this dovetails rather too neatly with one of the worst aspects of the Bush administration: its aversion to actually dealing with foreigners in any way. Bush is uncomfortable with them, Cheney and Rumsfeld don't have a clue about how much they piss off foreign leaders, and Powell tries to do everything over the phone instead of meeting face to face more often. It's a toxic combination, like a guy holed up in a cabin convinced the whole world is out to get him. The problem is, if you keep up that attitude for too long, you turn out to be right.

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BAILING OUT THE STATES....Paul Krugman writes today about the Bush tax plan he doesn't like it and at the end throws in a quick sentence about a topic that has pretty much dropped off the radar screen in Washington: the increasingly horrific budget problems of state governments. It's a bit of a throwaway line:

If the administration really cared about jobs, it would provide an emergency package of aid to state governments not to pay for new spending, but simply to maintain basic services. How about $78 billion the same sum just allocated for the Iraq war?

The fiscal meltdown of the states has been truly catastrophic, and back in December there was a lot of talk that Bush's plan would include some kind of state bailout. In the event, though, it never happened.

There's a good reason to be opposed to a state bailout, too: moral hazard. If the states come to expect that the feds will save their bacon any time they get into trouble, they'll be less careful in the future. Bail them out once, and you can expect to do it again and again.

This is an argument that I take seriously, but life is all about making difficult choices and this is one that Bush and his team got wrong. Running a federal budget deficit as a fiscal stimulus but then forcing the states to cut spending makes little sense, and pretending that the Bush tax plan is a "jobs" program while simultaneously watching the states cut thousands of jobs is foolhardy in the extreme.

There are plenty of ways that a bailout could be structured to avoid the worst of the moral hazard problem. After all, we were willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out the S&L industry in the 80s and Long Term Capital Management in the 90s. Why are we willing to bail out big corporate interests but unwilling to bail out state and local governments that provide basic services to the indigent?

Do I really need to ask?

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FINDING THE WMDs....This story says that France has proposed ending UN sanctions on Iraq. This story says that Hans Blix would like to send his UN inspection team back to Iraq.

Sounds like there might be a deal here: end the sanctions in return for letting UNMOVIC back in. I think working with UNMOVIC would be in our best interests in any case, but if it helped to get an overall UN deal moving it would be even better.

And while we're on the subject, note this comment of Blix's from a BBC interview: "I think it's been one of the disturbing elements that so much of the intelligence on which the capitals built their case seemed to have been shaky." No kidding. No matter what we discover over the next few months, one thing that's already clear is that either (a) U.S. and British intelligence in Iraq was close to useless, or (b) administration members deliberately lied about it over the objections of the intelligence agencies themselves. I'm not really sure which of these worries me more.

Kevin Drum 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IN-N-OUT URGE....Ken Layne is thrilled because In-N-Out, a Southern California burger chain, is finally opening a stand in his new hometown of Reno, Nevada.

This just goes to show how unfair the universe is. I have three or four In-N-Out stands within a few miles of my house, while Ken has none, but I've never really been able to figure out the cultish devotion that In-N-Out inspires. (Well, aside from the venerable SoCal tradition of taking "In-N-Out Burger" bumper stickers and removing the "B" and the "r" from "Burger," which is pretty easy to understand.) Basically, they're fine burgers, but that's all.

Now that I have comments on the blog, though, it makes sense to ask my fellow Southern Californians about this: exactly what is it that raises In-N-Out from the merely tasty to culinary nirvana?

(And while I'm on the subject of cult burgers, I finally tried a White Castle slider a few years ago on a trip to Chicago, and I'm still in the dark about their appeal. But if you're ever visiting Southern California and want a real burger, try Tommy's instead. That's nirvana.)

Kevin Drum 11:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RECONSTRUCTING IRAQ....A couple of days ago it looked like we were planning to establish permanent military bases in the New Iraq, but apparently now we've decided not to:

"The likelihood of it seems to me to be so low," [Donald] Rumsfeld said, suggesting that the United States would more likely use bases in other Middle Eastern countries. "We've got all kinds of options and opportunities in that part of the world to locate forces."

And how about that commitment to stay around for as long as it takes to rebuild Iraq into the thriving democracy it deserves to be? Well, Jay Garner has his own definition of "as long as it takes":

Speaking to reporters, Garner declined to specify a timetable. "I don't think I would put 90 days as a mark on the wall, but we will be here as long as it takes," he said. "But we'll leave fairly rapidly."

One of the criticisms of the Clinton administration was that it was always in chaos and never seemed able deliver a consistent message. The Bush administration, run by an MBA, was supposed to be different.

But when it comes to postwar Iraq it seems to be in complete disarray. Military bases? Maybe, maybe not. The UN? Blair says a "vital role," Bush says "ptui." WMDs? Around here somewhere....probably. Length of occupation? Somewhere between 90 days and ten years. Democracy? State says "yes," Defense says "yawn." Syria? A terrorist state hiding Saddam Hussein last week, gratifying cooperation this week. It's just trial balloon after trial balloon.

This has gotten ridiculous. Is anyone in this administration in charge? Is there even the vaguest kind of plan in place for the reconstruction of Iraq? It seems like every senior official in the administration is free to shoot off his mouth on any subject at any time, with no one calling the shots. Where's the CEO?

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April 21, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

PHONE BOOTH....I just got back from seeing Phone Booth, a movie I didn't expect much from, but it wasn't bad, really. It didn't completely hold together, and the ending wasn't quite what it should have been, but overall not too bad. Plus, it was short.

(How's that for a review? Didn't suck too bad, but at least it didn't suck for very long.)

Prices are up again, though. Nine bucks. I don't imagine we've hit Manhattan level prices yet, but we must not be far behind.

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INCOME INEQUALITY....Budget deficits come and go, and while the long term deficits that George Bush's tax cut envisions are a bad thing, they're only mildly bad. Much worse, I think, are two other long term trends that don't get as much attention: (a) the ever growing trade deficit, which puts us at considerable risk if the rest of the world ever loses confidence in our economy, and (b) growing income inequality in the United States.

Yesterday in the New York Times, Daniel Altman argued that income inequality doesn't get the attention it deserves from economists because it largely involves questions of fairness rather than objectives measure of economic performance. He says this is changing, and this is good news since there are several practical reasons to be concerned about rising income inequality:

  • A vigorous middle class has always been the cornerstone of sustained economic growth. A stagnant middle class, as we've had for the past couple of decades, is bad news for future growth prospects.

  • As wealth increases in the upper income classes it leads to increased speculation (what else can they do with their money, after all?) and thence to savage boom and bust cycles. The dotcom boom/bust is the most recent example of this.

  • Historically, rising income inequality has lead to disaster. The reasons are many, but in the end they hardly matter. Whatever the cause, high income inequality has a history of signalling the onset of decline by world-dominant nations such as ours.

Our current levels of income inequality should be a danger signal to anyone concerned about our children's future, but instead the Bush administration is doing everything it can to exacerbate the problem. The consequences of this are legion and will be felt for decades after Bush has left office and gone into retirement in Crawford.

What should we be doing instead to encourage a robust middle class economy and diminish the destabilizing, inter-generational fortunes of the super rich? Two things:

  • Revising the tax code to (a) eliminate the regression of the payroll tax and (b) increase top marginal income tax rates.

  • Increasing, not decreasing, the inheritance tax. Allowing the idle offspring of the rich to live forever off the earnings of others is no part of the American Dream. We should increase the inheritance tax on the wealthy and use the proceeds to decrease income and payroll taxes on the poor and middle class.

Conservative tax ideology has become practically a theology in recent years, to the point where I doubt its practitioners have any idea of the damage they're doing. But doing damage they are, and sooner or later someone is going to have to clean up their broken crockery and get our country back on track toward sustained economic growth that actually benefits everyone, not just the lucky top 5%. The sooner the better.

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UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE....Ron Brownstein's column in the LA Times today says that Dick Gephardt will unveil a proposal on Wednesday for (almost) universal health care. Here's how it would work:

Today, employers who provide health insurance can deduct the cost of their premiums from their federal taxes. That deduction covers about 30% of their premium costs.

Gephardt would double that: He's planning to propose a tax credit that would reimburse employers for 60% of their health insurance premiums.

....Firms that don't insure their workers today would get an even better deal. They would have to offer insurance, but they would not be required to contribute any of their own money.

....To capture the rest, he would let people 55 and older buy into Medicare, allow working-poor parents into the joint state-federal program that provides health care for their children and offer subsidies for unemployed workers to buy coverage.

I had two immediate thoughts about this:

  • It's suicide. It'll be Harry and Louise all over.

  • It's too complex. It'll be like Al Gore's tax plan in the 2000 election.

But it turns out that the entire proposal is....interesting. It is complex, but it accomplishes several things: (a) it keeps healthcare private, so doctors and insurers won't be opposed, (b) it offers a break to current businesses, so they'll be in favor, and (c) it doesn't cost small businesses anything, so they probably won't do anything more than grumble about the paperwork.

It would cost a lot of money, of course, but there's no way around that, and Bush's tax cuts could conceivably help here. Gephardt can position his plan as "healthcare vs. a big tax cut (for the rich)," and foregoing a tax cut might very well sound more palatable than a big new spending program, especially since there's a lot of popular skepticism about the tax cut already.

I'm not sure what I think about all this, but it's definitely an intriguing proposal. I'm sure the other candidates will all be watching closely to see how it goes over.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell wrote about this last week and included a link to a rather remarkable rant by Rush Limbaugh on the subject. It turns out that Rush isn't just opposed to Gephardt's plan, he actually thinks it's fascist. And here I thought it was only radical 60s lefties who accused everyone in sight of incipient fascism....

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LOWERING THE BAR....Good column from Eric Alterman today. He seems to be even more pissed off than usual lately.

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JOSCHKA FISCHER VS. THE NEOCONS....I don't quite know how he ran it across it just now, but Dan Drezner links today to a genuinely interesting interview that German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer gave to Der Spiegel last month. Dan points to this exchange as the most interesting one:

FISCHER: Ever since September 18th or 19th, 2001, when Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in Washington roughly outlined for me what he thought the answer to international terrorism had to be.

SPIEGEL: And?

FISCHER: His view was that the US had to liberate a whole string of countries from their terrorist rulers, if necessary by force. Ultimately a new world order would come out of this - more democracy, peace, stability, and security for people.

Wolfowitz denies saying this, and Dan takes his side, but I'm not so sure. After all, neocons outside the government are pretty open about the necessity for a series of military actions, so you're left with two possibilities: (a) only the most moderate neocons take government positions, or (b) the ones inside the government hold the same views as their colleagues but know perfectly well that government officials have to moderate their public positions.

I'd say (b) is far more likely, and what's more, I wouldn't be surprised if a week after 9/11 Wolfowitz was convinced that now everyone would finally see the wisdom of the neocon position and was therefore more open about it to his European counterparts than he would be now.

Interestingly, in another exchange Fischer shows that apparently he has the same view of the UN that I do, namely that, like it or not, it's the best we've got:

SPIEGEL: The US ignored the UN even though the majority of member states were against an Iraq war. After this debacle does the United Nations still have a future?

Fischer: What would you suggest should take its place? I know of no serious alternative in practical politics nor in political theory that could achieve even a fraction of what the United Nations now achieves.

SPIEGEL: The United States?

Fischer: No, that would be expecting too much. Its military power is unmatched, but politically it would rapidly reach its limits - because the U.S. approaches problems with its national interests in mind. The majority of UN members, as shown by the discussions that took place during these last weeks and months, are deeply convinced that war is only the very last resort and may only be employed among states when all other means have been exhausted.

Dan came away from the interview depressed because he couldn't "divine any underlying social purpose behind Fisher's call for a strategic vision beyond constraining American power." However, I think it's equally plausible that Fischer truly believes that America is acting recklessly and that our friends have a duty as friends to bring us to our senses. The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in between, but it's going to be a while before the emotional stormclouds break enough for either side to see this.

One thing Dan and I agree on, however, is that the entire interview is worth reading, and since it will shortly disappear down the New York Times memory hole I've copied it here. Click "More..." to read the whole thing.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Fischer, did your idea of disarming Iraq by peaceful means fail irrevocably when the first bomb fell on Baghdad? How did it come to that?

Fischer: Because the two positions - on our side, controlled disarmament, on their side, forceful regime change - simply did not make compromise possible.

SPIEGEL: Was it ever conceivable?

Fischer: Certainly. The complete disarmament of Iraq could have been brought about by a combination of military pressure, inspections, and step-by-step measures.

SPIEGEL: A nice thought, but to get that done one would have had to avoid making loud noises in the [German] election campaign and to have entered into serious conversations with the Americans.

Fischer: I did that. Ever since September 18th or 19th, 2001, when Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in Washington roughly outlined for me what he thought the answer to international terrorism had to be.

SPIEGEL: And?

Fischer: His view was that the US had to liberate a whole string of countries from their terrorist rulers, if necessary by force. Ultimately a new world order would come out of this - more democracy, peace, stability, and security for people.

SPIEGEL: A vision of the future that you presumably don't completely share?

Fischer: I can't and don't want to imagine that we are facing a series of disarmament wars. Rather we should be making sure that the instruments for peaceful solutions, above all the UN, are developed further. We must not end up having only the one set of alternatives: either allowing the continued existence of a terrible danger or being forced into a disarmament war. That must be avoided. This is the task of political policy makers, and it is what the majority in the Security Council wants. But so far there has been no genuine transatlantic dialogue about this.

SPIEGEL: Why not?

Fischer: Because the Europeans at their end started to hold strategic discussions too late. We have to catch up now. At stake are the great questions facing humanity: What kind of world order do we want? What are its essential elements? What are the new dangers and risks of our present policy of intervention? How do we confront them?

SPIEGEL: Isn't it more likely that the transatlantic dialogue didn't take place because the Germans were betting too one-sidedly, first on the French and later on the Russians?

Fischer: No.

SPIEGEL: And also because the German government committed itself too early and too unequivocally to be included in the American decision-making process?

Fischer: The decisive question is whether countries that now stand firmly on the side of the US can have or ever did have any influence at all. Should we really have fallen in line with the policy of the American government? After all, you can't justify a policy if you are not convinced it is right. This takes care, retrospectively, of the charge leveled against the German chancellor that he used the Iraq problem to aid his election campaign. Of course it was the central campaign question, just as it was in many other countries too. There, the governments that support the American position face so many serious problems that they are approaching democratic destabilization.

SPIEGEL: You mean countries like Great Britain and Spain?

Fischer: Yes, but there is something else that is surprising. Take Mexico, Chile, and Turkey - all of them young democracies. In these countries you see the obstinacy of democracy. For democracy also means being able to have a different opinion - about fundamental existential questions, certainly also vis--vis friendly governments. This is a very, very important experience which is valid beyond today. And it tells us: When others in Europe have a viewpoint different from ours, it is neither a cause for alarm or for rejection. Rather it is a sign of democratic maturity.

SPIEGEL: That almost sounds as though you see Germany's separation from the U.S. as a sign of a successful postwar democratization.

Fischer: No one here wants to separate. For us the transatlantic relationship remains of paramount importance. However, the question is, What do we do when loyalty to an alliance and the substance of an alliance contradict each other? And not because we want it that way, but because our most important partner is making decisions that we consider extremely dangerous, and because we are convinced that they are going off in the wrong direction.

SPIEGEL: A quick end to the Iraq campaign could encourage the Bush administration to further armed encounters. How can future disarmament wars that may be on the agenda be prevented?

Fischer: The discussion at the last session of the Security Council showed that on at least one point there is great unanimity among the Europeans, namely the need for international regulations and institutions that will be able to prevent the widespread dissemination of weapons of mass destruction, and to do it more effectively than before.

SPIEGEL: That sounds good, but the Iraq example shows that, as a rule, states which have weapons of mass destruction can only be forced to disarm by threats of military force.

Fischer: Objection. In the case of North Korea, for instance, Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton was for a long time successful in largely limiting the North Korean nuclear program - without the public at large being aware of it. It only became problematic when the new administration in Washington did not continue the program. And the greatest successes in the dismantling of weapons of mass destruction were not obtained by military means but on a political level - through the end of the Cold War.

SPIEGEL: The case of Iraq, for one, contradicts your thesis. Without the decision of the Americans to wage a war - with some doubts but perhaps also no matter what - Saddam Hussein would not have made any sort of concessions.

Fischer: There is of course a decisive difference between "with doubts" and "as a last resort" or "no matter what." We must not forget this, and in this case it is not of inconsiderable significance. Certainly, the military threat scenario plays a role, but an extremely double-edged one, because today we have to admit that it was far more than a background scenario. Behind it the buildup of an invasion army took place. A threat scenario must issue a threat, and not produce the automatic behavior that, because of military imperatives and possible loss of face, makes a war unavoidable.

SPIEGEL: Germany consistently circumvented the buildup of a threat scenario.

Fischer: We had other priorities, which I continue to believe were the right ones. Moreover, we didn't circumvent anything, we only said that for good reasons we were not going to participate in any military actions.

SPIEGEL: The US ignored the UN even though the majority of member states were against an Iraq war. After this debacle does the United Nations still have a future?

Fischer: What would you suggest should take its place? I know of no serious alternative in practical politics nor in political theory that could achieve even a fraction of what the United Nations now achieves.

SPIEGEL: The United States?

Fischer: No, that would be expecting too much. Its military power is unmatched, but politically it would rapidly reach its limits - because the U.S. approaches problems with its national interests in mind. The majority of UN members, as shown by the discussions that took place during these last weeks and months, are deeply convinced that war is only the very last resort and may only be employed among states when all other means have been exhausted.

SPIEGEL: Which doesn't change the fact that America is the only remaining political power that can act globally.

Fischer: The power of the US is a very decisive factor when it comes to peace and stability in the world. There is no need to argue with me about that; I have experienced this often enough in the most diverse regional conflicts, but also in connection with global security. But a world order cannot function when the national interest of the strongest power is the definitive criterion for the use of that country's military power. In the end the same rules must apply to the big, the medium-size, and the small nations.

SPIEGEL: The neo-conservatives who are in charge in Washington will probably write off your constant insistence on international regulations and institutions as Old European thinking.

Fischer: The American political scientist Robert Kagan has developed a bizarre image: Europeans come from Venus and indulge in the dream of perpetual peace, while Americans are from Mars, and faced with the hard realities of the wolf's den of international politics, they stand and fight, all against all. Anyone who knows European history knows about the many wars we've had here. The Americans had no Verdun on their continent. In the US there is nothing comparable to Auschwitz or Stalingrad or any of the other terrible symbolic places in our history.

SPIEGEL: All of them were catastrophes in which the Americans were on the right side.

Fischer: Oh yes, and we are still grateful for that today. European integration is the answer to centuries of European wars and slaughter. But it is not a retreat to the illusion of perpetual peace. Acceding to the demand to solve conflicts peacefully whenever possible has nothing to do with cowardice or effusiveness.

SPIEGEL: Kagan does not speak of longing. He speaks of political weakness. There is no political unity in Europe, and militarily Europe is of no great significance. We are the ones who go through the forest unarmed, and that makes us timid, says Kagan.

Fischer: A look into American history shows how nonsensical this is. After the Second World War, when the US was really the only nuclear power with unique strength, one generation - now called the "Great Generation" - had the visionary strength not only to stop Soviet Communism but at the same time to make possible the reconstruction of Europe, on a basis of cooperation and alliances. The US was always strongest when it tied its military might to its ability to build coalitions and to set up international rules that were accepted by all.

SPIEGEL: Which doesn't change the fact that Europeans who set store by rules and institutions are extremely weak politically - either despite all that or maybe because of it.

Fischer: We have to draw the necessary conclusions from that.

SPIEGEL: Which are?

Fischer: We must take on greater responsibility

SPIEGEL: and use the veto along with the French in the Security Council?

Fischer: Forget that. Those are mind games which cannot be implemented in the real world.

SPIEGEL: What do you suggest?

Fischer: We need stronger institutions, and that also requires the strengthening of European foreign policy. In other words, Europe has been weak wherever individual countries acted as national states. But Europe is strong wherever common institutions exist and function.

SPIEGEL: And specifically what does that mean?

Fischer: That we must strengthen and jointly expand our capabilities and that we need a strong European foreign minister who would combine the functions of Javier Solana as EU High Representative and Chris Patten as Commissioner - in one person with one telephone number.

SPIEGEL: Right now such an idea seems far removed from reality.

Fischer: I consider this idea more urgent than ever before.

SPIEGEL: Would you be prepared to fill this job and all that it entails?

Fischer: That's not the point. What is decisive is

SPIEGEL: who does it.

Fischer: No. What is decisive is whether the European nations are ready to understand that they need common institutions that are not directed against member states, but that will bring more of Europe's capacity to act and its influence to bear on foreign and security policies. Only then will Europe be able to continue playing an important role.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Fischer, thank you for the interview.

Kevin Drum 3:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEALING WITH THE UN....There are two things guaranteed to send foreign policy hawks into a lather: favorable mentions of either Jimmy Carter or the United Nations. Jimmy hasn't been much in the news lately, so I'll have to make do with the United Nations today.

So, three cheers for the United Nations? Not quite. Any serious discussion of the UN has to start with acknowledgment of its weaknesses: it supports a huge and not always efficient bureacracy; its policy making is often hostage to a group of overrepresented small countries, many of them dictatorships; and it is rife with corruption and opacity when it comes to disbursing money.

In other words, it's a lot like the U.S. Senate. However, also like the Senate, it's what we have and we need to make the best of it.

A few days ago I suggested that since there were big problems with both a prolonged American presence in Iraq and with a quick pullout, a strong role for the UN would be a good compromise. What I meant, of course, was that a true multinational presence is the best long run solution, and since the UN is the only serious multinational organization we have with experience in nation building and peacekeeping, the UN it is.

David Adesnik of OxBlog politely suggested that I must be nuts for suggesting this, and pointed in particular to the UN's oil-for-food program as a "living embodiment of opacity, bureaucratic incompetence, greed and one-sided politicization."

So what about that? Well, one of the reasons I like the Economist so much is that it's a convenient way of checking my liberal instincts against an intelligent, moderately conservative point of view. Here's what they have to say about the economic reconstruction of Iraq:

Given the risk that political cronies of the government will run any arm's-length company, there may be a strong case for putting the oil and the revenues from it under international administration, perhaps for several years. Such a scheme might be built on the existing, and admittedly far from perfect, UN Iraqi oil-for-food (OFFP) programme.

I think that's a practical approach. The oil-for-food program could usefully use some reform, something that we could be instrumental in forcing through, but it's still a good starting place.

In a broader sense, David's other complaints (I'll try to summarize fairly, but go read the whole post for yourself) are that (a) Iraqis and other Arabs won't really mind our presence that much because our actions will show us to be good guys, and (b) dealing with the UN is a pain in the ass.

As to the first, I think it's wildly optimistic to think that a large and prolonged U.S. presence won't excite tremendous opposition in the medium and long term. And as to the second, I have no argument at all. Political processes are always a pain, and they usually lead to compromises that nobody is entirely happy with. However, they also usually lead to compromises that everyone can live with, and that's what we're after here.

I grew up in Orange County, so believe me, I know how much conservatives hate the UN. But a blinkered American approach that works on the assumption that our actions are so altruistic that given just a little bit of time the rest of the world will come to approve of them, is simply naive, especially so with George Bush running the show, a leader who is despised and distrusted by virtually everyone outside the U.S.

America has always been most successful when it's acted as part of an alliance think World War II, the Marshall Plan, and the Cold War and has been least successful when acting alone think Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War, and Nicaragua.

The future of the Middle East and the wider war on terrorism is too important for Americans to think we can go it alone. Our options are simply too limited if we take this approach, and the more insular we become the more likely it is that we become a target not just of terrorists but of the rest of the world as well. Anyone who is serious about this fight, I think, has to grit their teeth and accept an unpleasant truth: we can only succeed if we work with the rest of the world. And until something better comes along, that means dealing with the UN.

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THE WEIGHT OF EVIDENCE....The indefatigable Tim Lambert has yet more today on famous gun researcher John Lott. The question at hand is this: of the people who have used a gun defensively, how many of them merely brandished the gun as opposed to firing it?

Last we heard, Lott claimed that he had done a survey that showed the number was 98%, and a whole bunch of us were scratching our heads trying to figure out how he got that figure. The raw survey data has mysteriously disappeared, of course, but the best guess is that in a survey of 2,424 people, about 25 would have reported a defensive gun use. 98% of 25 is 24.5, which means that one half of a person actually fired a gun.

Lott has tried to explain this half a person as a sample weighting issue, but here's what Tim found when he tried to use Lott's weighting procedure with his more recent survey data:

....the weighting procedure is systematically biased against minorities and people from small states.

[much arithmetic snipped....]

I didn't notice this problem until I took his data set from the 2002 survey and tried to follow his procedure. With 6 out 7 people brandishing (86%), after weighting using his procedure, the weighted brandishing percentage is 99.8%. It turns out that the person who fired was a minority woman from a small state, and ends up with a weight about 100 times as small as that for the other defensive gun users. Obviously this is incorrect.

Presto! 86% is transformed into 99.8%! The thing is, this really is obviously incorrect. In fact, it's so obviously incorrect that Lott didn't even try to get away with using this procedure in his more recent survey.

So why did he use it the first time around? Tim, of course, has a guess.

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FISKING....Eugene Volokh has a detailed and learned post today explaining that....fisking is legal.

Praise the Lord! And according to Eugene, even Robert Fisk himself can't compain about it.

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IRAQI INTERRUPTUS....Josh Marshall and Matt Yglesias are both pointing to a Washington Post story today suggesting that certain "senior officials" in the Bush administration are pushing to get out of Iraq quickly while others want to stick around for a while. By itself, that's not really surprising, but what is surprising is this paragraph:

Such hedging is likely to exacerbate differences between the minimalist camp and some State Department officials, who still believe the United States should set its sights on spending whatever time it takes to create a true, pluralistic democracy with a thriving, entrepreneurial economy.

In the past, this dispute has always been between the hawkish neocons (Cheney/Rumsfeld) and the dovish multilateralists (Powell), and we all know that the neocon vision calls for a long occupation of Iraq in order to kick off their famous tidal wave of Mideast democracy.

So if Cheney and Rumsfeld, as good neocons, want to stick around, and State and Treasury want to stick around, who is that wants to get out?

The article suggests that part of the resistance comes from military leaders, who don't go along with their boss on this and really don't want to be part of a long term peacekeeping force. But they don't have much say in this.

No, there's really only one other constituency who matters: Karl Rove. He isn't a neocon, and he doesn't really care about foreign policy much. He just wants to get a big tax cut and win the next election. I imagine that Mitch Daniels is on his side too.

So how much clout does Rove have when it comes to Iraq policy? It looks like we're about to find out.

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ICY RECEPTION....This is ridiculous. It will probably be gone in a few minutes, but the banner headline at Drudge right now is "Sarandon Movie on CBS Finishes Last Place in Overnights":

It is not clear if it was ICE's subject matter -- a woman suffering from breast cancer in the South Pole -- or if it was viewership rejection of Sarandon that resulted in the startling ratings crash.

Really, don't the pro-war folks have something anything better to do than pretend that a dud TV movie was some kind of national referendum on anti-war movie stars?

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COUP PLANNING....Chris Kelly of Needlenose sends along this link to a story in the Financial Times about problems getting the Oil Ministry back up and running. Everyone's confused, but the best line comes from the former director general:

He lamented the whole US approach to dealing with post-war Iraq. "We have a lot of experience with coups d'etat and this one is the worst," he said. "Any colonel in the Iraqi army will tell you that when he does a coup he goes to the broadcasting station with five announcements.

"The first one is long live this, down with that. The second one is your new government is this and that. The third is the list of the people to go on retirement. The fourth one, every other official is to report back to work tomorrow morning. The fifth is the curfew."

This is usually done within one hour, he added. "Now we are waiting more than a week and still we hear nothing from them."

Damn Bushies, can't even run a coup properly....

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ANAL SITE DESIGN?....OR THOUGHTFUL LAYOUT DECISION?....Many thanks to everyone who's come to visit the new site, and especially to those who have already left comments. Posting comments is a lot more satisfying than writing me an email that no one else will ever see, and I hope that having a lively comments section will make CalPundit even more fun for everyone.

The redesign is also a good excuse to explain something that I get asked about occasionally (and that also showed up in some of the comments about the new design): the fact that my site design is fixed. The main text column is set at 600 pixels wide and the font is set to 11 points and can't be changed. Why?

Fair warning: I know there are lots of good reasons to be more flexible about this, but I'm afraid on this issue I have a heart of stone. Still, I figure the least I can do is explain, so here goes.

  • The entire site is (approximately) 800 pixels wide so that it can be viewed on an 800x600 screen.

  • Allowing 200 pixels for the sidebar leaves 600 pixels for the main text column.

  • The font is 11 points because at that size the line length is approximately 80-100 characters, which readability research shows to be an ideal length.

Now, you may be thinking that this is all very fine, maybe even sort of interesting in a geeky kind of way, but even so why not allow the font size and column width to be changed for people who don't want to be bound by what a bunch of hoity toity academic researchers say is the best line length? Why indeed? Am I just anal?

Perhaps, but the more charitable explanation is that I frequently use pictures in my posts and I'm pretty careful about how I place them. By predefining the column width and font size, I can ensure that my layout will look the same no matter where it's being viewed.

I'm afraid that my addiction to careful layout is the result of years and years of journalism training, technical writing, and marketing work, and there's nothing to be done about it at this point. I like the blog a lot better when it looks the way I want it to, and my mental stability is, after all, critical to keeping this endeavor going. Sadly, a few people with tiny monitors or browsers that render the font very small have to pay the price for my idiosyncrasies.

Other issues, however, are more easily taken care of. TrackBack, for example, has now been turned on, and apparently I also now have an RSS feed, although I don't recall actually doing anything to get this. Can someone out there confirm that this is true?

Kevin Drum 12:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 19, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

DO WE WANT TO BE LIKED OR RESPECTED?....Writing about our desire to have a permanent military base in Iraq, Matt Yglesias points out today that we are probably going to have a choice to make in the near future: a democratic Iraq vs. a pro-America Iraq.

The inability of most Americans (well, most humans, I suppose) to see the world through any eyes but their own is truly remarkable. We seem to feel that because we think America is a great and altruistic country, others will feel the same way if we can only get them to look at the world rationally. Thus, democracy will produce an America-friendly Iraq.

Is it really so impossible to understand that Iraqis view our presence quite differently than we do? By way of comparison, can you think of any circumstance nuclear devastation, total economic collapse, bubonic plague, anything that would make you happy to accept a reconstruction of America along Mideastern lines even if it were carried out by an Arab country that truly had our best interests at heart?

We can install a pro-America government in Iraq, as we did in Iran for many years, but it won't be a popular one. Or we can install a popular one, but it will almost certainly be hostile to American interests. Remember, even Turkey, which has been a key American ally for half a century, opposed American action in Iraq by about 90%-10%.

We've seen the stick, now it's time for the Bush administration to tone down the blustering and bring out the carrot. So far I haven't seen it, and I don't think the Arab world has either.

UPDATE: And almost like an ironic God is watching over me, ber-rationalist Steven Den Beste has now responded to Matt's post in comments:

But in actuality, [an American military base is] not going to be something they'll fight very hard, and in fact they actually will want it. One reason is that a US base is really good for local business. Another is that Iraq is going to be vulnerable to its neighbors for a long time, and a big concentration of American troops is good insurance against that. And the record in the world is that generally speaking American bases make good neighbors, which is why so many nations are so eager to have us.

In the case of Iraq, there's yet another reason. The presence of a large American military in the region will help keep warlords from getting uppity; it's going to be an indirect guarantee of ongoing peace in the nation.

"So many nations are eager to have us"? The Iraqis will enjoy our presence because it's "good for local business"? How is it possible for such a smart person to assume that everyone in the world has the same Western attitude toward things that we do? After all, if an actual popular vote were taken today, there wouldn't be a single American soldier anywhere in the entire Middle East.

Of course, none of this is the real reason we'll have our base there anyway. As he admits in the next sentence, the real reason is that "They don't really have any choice." Quite so, but that's not exactly a democratic attitude, is it?

Kevin Drum 2:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DIPLOMACY....It's virtually impossible to ever get Arab states to agree on anything, but it looks like we've finally succeeded:

Calling the U.S. and British troops in Iraq an "occupying" force, foreign ministers from the eight surrounding nations declared that they "do not intend to accept any interference in the internal affairs of Iraq" and warned the U.S. against exploiting Iraq's oil resources except under the direction of a legitimate Iraqi government.

In an unusual show of unity that marked the first regional forum after the Iraq war, nations as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran unanimously called on U.S.-led forces to withdraw from Iraq as soon as an Iraqi government is established. They also rallied to Syria's defense against any threatened sanctions by the U.S.

George W. Bush: he's a uniter, not a divider.

Kevin Drum 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHY WE WENT TO WAR....While I was over at Brendan's site I noticed that he linked to an LA Times poll that asked a question I've long been curious about: what's the main reason war supporters gave for supporting the war? Here are the answers they got on April 2, a couple of weeks after the war started:

  • Disarm Hussein 23%

  • Remove threat to America 14%

  • Hussein violated U.N. Resolutions 12%

  • Liberate Iraqi people 15%

  • Hussein is evil 11%

The first three of these are all related to possession of WMD, I think, and they add up to 49%. The final two are related to liberating Iraq from an odious dictator, and they add up to 26%.

So, roughly speaking, by a margin of 2 to 1 war supporters felt that it was possession of WMD (either now or in the future) that was the main reason for going to war. Liberation was a very weak second.

I wonder how they feel now?

(And despite the fact that half of all Americans apparently think Saddam was behind 9/11, that didn't even show up as one of the top five answers in the Times poll. Isn't that peculiar? I mean, if I thought Saddam was behind 9/11, I sure as hell would have listed that as the main reason I wanted to invade his country.)

Kevin Drum 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TECHNOLOGY LEADERSHIP....Brendan Karch thinks Detroit is in trouble again: Japanese car manufacturers are finally competing with them head on in the large SUV category. That's not the worst of it, though:

But Detroit has a bigger problem: with hybrid engines poised to become the immediate future of powertrains (regardless of platform), foreign automakers -- particularly Honda and Toyota -- are going to reap huge advantages while the rest of the industry flounders. Unless Detroit has a serious wild card up their sleeve, like Hydrogen-powered cars (Japan leads the way in this technology, too), this time Ford and G.M. might really drive themselves into obsolescence.

Are they making the same mistake they made in the 70s when they failed to see the small car revolution bearing down on them? It kinda seems like it.

(Hey, and Bluetooth in your car? Cool.)

Kevin Drum 11:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FREE TO CHOOSE....Christopher Bodeen of AP reports on the problems China is having with SARS, especially in rural areas:

Their plight highlights the decline of the system of "barefoot doctors" for whom the communists once were renowned, health care workers who ran basic rural clinics.

But support for such activities has dried up and millions of urban workers have lost health care as state industries that once supplied housing and other services go under or turn into private, profit-oriented companies.

Spending on health care fell from 32 percent of the national budget in 1986 to 14 percent in 1993 the years of the country's fastest economic growth.

"What we're seeing is that health care is supported by the people's own pockets," said WHO's [Henk] Bekedam. "There has been a lack of investment in public goods and people aren't going to pay to support other people out of their own.

Now that's just alarmism. Private markets are the best way to solve this problem, and it's only liberal Democrats the last vestige of a fading and corrupt ideology who oppose cutting healthcare for the poor. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Kevin Drum 11:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LISTEN UP....Swizziland? Higoria? Jesse has some advice for aspiring spam scammers.

Kevin Drum 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 18, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

DANISH PASTRY....Regular readers know that I already have a reason to love Denmark, but today Dan Drezner gives me another: their commitment to open government. Apparently the Danish prime minister allowed a camera crew to follow him around during the Copenhagen summit last year to discuss enlargement of the EU and much hilarity and embarrassment ensued.

The funny thing is that I suspect I don't really approve of this. After all, in the world of diplomacy, transparency is not always the best policy. In fact, it's probably almost never the best policy.

But it sounds like fun anyway.

Kevin Drum 6:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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INSTAPUNDIT....If this is the way you feel, many people asked me this week, why do you still read Instapundit? What's the point?

Good question. Basically, I like to keep up with what's happening on both sides of the aisle, and Instapundit is a good place to see what's going on in the prowar camp. What's more, a couple of days after I wrote that piece Glenn's tone abruptly returned to approximately where it was six months ago, and the end of the war also means he's blogging about more than just Iraq. Go figure. I don't really know what's going on, but suddenly Instapundit is once again just an ordinary opinionated blog. I hope it's a permanent change.

Kevin Drum 5:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORAL EQUIVALENCE....Matt Welch has a post up complaining yet again that the left is too kind to Fidel Castro, prompting this remark in comments:

This inability (or unwillingness) to make moral distinctions seems to me to be peculiarly unique to the port side of the political spectrum. To be sure, the Right overlooked or excused the excesses of the Pinochets, the Somozas, the Marcoses; but never to the extent, it seems to me, that the Left has done for Castro.

But they did this as well for Mao and Stalin and various other brutal rulers as well....

This is tiresome. The only people on the left who have defended Castro are the Gilligan's Island crowd (you know, professors and movie stars), never anyone to my knowledge who is even remotely in the mainstream of liberal thought. Ditto for Stalin and Mao, who were vigorously denounced by Truman, JFK, Johnson, Humphrey, and virtually every other Democrat who occupied a prominent spot in the real world during the Cold War.

If the only examples of an inability to make "moral distinctions" that you can find are radical academics, ditzy movie stars, and student protesters, then what's the point? Sure, go ahead and denounce the "extreme left" for their views if you must, but leave the rest of us liberals out of it, OK?

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, as long as we're on the subject can anyone explain to me what the difference is supposed to be between a "left wing" dictatorship and a "right wing" dictatorship? They sure all look the same to me.

Kevin Drum 4:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MODERATE EXTREMISM....Ampersand demonstrates today that stereotypes are alive and well in bloggerland. Welcome back, Barry.

(But, really, it's going to take a little more than longish hair to make you an extremist, I'm afraid. I mean, you're an arty type, aren't you, what with the cartoons and everything? You probably look downright conservative in that crowd!)

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FOX AND AL JAZEERA....By the way, does everyone know that Fox News, like pretty much all new outlets, pays Al Jazeera a fee for the right to use their footage? I mean, Al Jazeera is just the thinly disguised mouthpiece of Osama and Saddam, so you'd think a toughminded organization like Fox which has criticized CNN's decision to keep its Baghdad bureau would be willing to buck the trend of its liberal media brethren and refuse to pay fees that do nothing except lend aid and comfort to known terrorist organizations.

I suggest a letter writing campaign.

UPDATE: And speaking of CNN, surely no one believes that they were the only news organization that played footsie with Saddam in order to keep their bureau open, do they? So when is everyone else going to fess up? Or are they just going to let CNN twist slowly in the wind and hope that no one ever calls them out?

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEFICIT THINKING....In an unsigned editorial that's up right now, National Review says this about the Bush tax cut:

The size of the proposed tax cuts should also be judged in relation to the spending increases that Washington is planning. If Snowe and Voinovich prevail, there will be more than two dollars of new spending for every dollar of tax cuts in the budget. One federal program, Medicare, is slated to get $400 billion over the next decade. Thats more than Snowe and Voinovich would allow in tax cuts. President Bushs full tax cut is not too much to ask especially since it, unlike federal spending increases, would help the economy.

Now normally I'd just disagree with NR and be done with it, since that's the safest way to bet, but I can't even figure out what point they're trying to make here.

What do spending increases have to do with tax cuts? Are they suggesting that every dollar of spending increases should be matched by a dollar of tax cuts? That strikes me as peculiar economics even for a magazine that's desperately trying to support Bush.

There's nothing wrong with short term deficits, especially in a flat economy, but surely everyone should agree that over the long term the budget ought to be more or less balanced. In the case of Social Security and Medicare, demographics is indeed destiny, which means that these programs are going to grow a lot over the next few decades, and they are also politically very popular, so there's no realistic chance that they're going to be cut back in any significant way.

So there are two choices. Either you can cover your ears and pretend this isn't true, thus committing yourself to endless budget deficits, or you can face reality and fund the programs properly, which means tax hikes. The Republican party needs to choose: fantasy or reality. What's it going to be?

POSTSCRIPT: Since the NR editorial is titled "Bush's Modest Proposal," I'd normally think it must be some kind of satire. But if it is, it's way too subtle for me. I am, of course, open to potential satirical interpretations if anyone has one to offer.

Kevin Drum 3:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TAX CUTS AND THE FRENCH....So I get back from lunch and there's an email from a reader titled "Tax Cuts and the French." How can you resist a teaser like that?

So I click on the link and go to In One Eye, a blog whose only permanent links are to Atrios and me. Another good sign! And sure enough, there's a link to this Eleanor clift column in Newsweek:

Two moderate Republican senators, Ohios George Voinovich and Maines Olympia Snowe, are under intense pressure to renege on their pledge to hold Bushs tax cut at $350 billion. The conservative Club for Growth is running an ad in Ohio with a photo of Voinovich next to a French flag. The groups press release calls Voinovich a Franco Republican. The same ad is slated for Maine with Snowe pictured alongside the French flag. A narrator equates the senators opposition to the full Bush tax cut with French opposition to the Iraq invasion.

You just have to love stuff like this. Back in November the cool thing was to run pictures of Tom Daschle superimposed on Saddam Hussein, now it's moderate Republicans being linked to Jacques Chirac. I guess he's now taken Saddam's place as the Worst Person in the World.

(Actually, there's no love lost between Bush and the Club for Growth, so I think Clift is unfair in blaming Bush for this, but still.....)

UPDATE: Via The Filibuster, here are screen shots of the ads at the Club For Growth website. Lovely stuff.

Kevin Drum 2:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....What are Marian and Inkblot looking at up in the sky?

Ah, it's Jasmine, roaming around on the patio cover. Inkblot, of course, is jealous, since he's too gravity bound to get up on the roof, whereas Jasmine is so light on her feet that she actually crawls straight up the stucco to get there. I don't think I would have believed a cat could do this unless I had seen it, but I have and she does. It's like watching Spider Man.

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IRAQ AND NORTH KOREA....Josh Marshall summarizes the latest on North Korea here. Bottom line: it looked like maybe things were looking up, but now it looks like maybe they aren't. And the LA Times quotes Han Sung Jung, a South Korean diplomat, warning everyone that negotiations with North Korea are "not going to be a cakewalk." After Iraq, I think he's probably wise to put the whole cakewalk thing to rest right out of the gate.

And Josh also makes a good point about the supposed joy of Iraqis at being liberated by U.S. forces:

Last week I went to a lunch meeting in DC on the same day that the statue of Saddam came crashing to the ground.

At the lunch a well-known conservative columnist introduced one of speakers, a well-known liberal columnist, on what he called "the day his worldview was collapsing." By that measure I assume that today's news that, as The Washington Post puts it, "Tens of thousands of Iraqi Muslims took to the streets of Baghdad after Friday prayers ... to demand the departure of U.S. and other foreign troops and the establishment of an Islamic state" should cause at least some creaking in the conservative columnist's worldview as well, no?

I think both liberals and conservatives should be very careful about drawing conclusions based on statue topplings and a few children handing flowers to soldiers on the one hand, or museum lootings and anti-U.S. demonstrations on the other. This is a very long term project we're involved in, and the ups and downs of daily events really don't mean much. It will be months, maybe years, before we know what the real reaction of ordinary Iraqis is to our invasion. I suspect that in the long run it's going to be more negative than positive, but at any rate and to coin a phrase it's sure not going to be a cakewalk.

Kevin Drum 11:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LES MISRABLES....Last night Marian and I went with some friends to see the traveling production of Les Misrables. It's a great show and this is the third or fourth time I've seen it. The audience obviously enjoyed the show too and lustily booed Javert when he made his curtain call, which I thought was pretty funny (and the actor obviously got a kick out of it it too).

The first time I saw Les Misrables was about a decade ago. We got tickets for a local production, but shortly before the show date I got stuck with a business trip to Europe. This was a drag, especially since I had decided to read the book in preparation and I hated to waste all that time. But when I got to London it occurred to me that there was no reason to miss out. The London production was basically sold out, but there were still a few odd single seats left, and since I was by myself I was able to get one pretty cheaply from the box office. It was a lousy, partially obstructed seat, but when I got there I found out that it was in the middle of a row of seats occupied by a group of four. They wanted to sit together, so they traded seats with me and I ended up watching the show from a nice (but still nosebleed) seat at about the same time that Marian and a friend of mine were seeing it in Orange County.

You don't need to read the book to enjoy the musical, of course, but it certainly gave me a greater appreciation for the seamless work that the creators did in writing the show. The novel is over 1,400 pages long, but the show does a remarkably good job of maintaining its narrative and emotional flow in under three hours of stage time. Of course, it doesn't tell you exactly what it was that Jean Valjean wrote on the piece of paper he handed to Cosette during the final deathbed scene. For that you've got to read the book....

Kevin Drum 11:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TIME FOR ANOTHER DISTRACTION?....In the LA Times today, Robert Reich peers into his crystal ball to predict Karl Rove's George Bush's campaign strategy for 2004. I think he might be on to something....

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HUMAN RIGHTS....The UN Human Rights Commission met Wednesday and Thursday, giving Fidel Castro only a mild rebuke and removing Sudan and others from international monitoring. How did the major media react?

  • Los Angeles Times
    Refusing to face reality, much less grow a spine, the United Nations Human Rights Commission voted Thursday in Geneva to give Fidel Castro nothing more than a gentle slap on the wrist for his brutal surge of new human rights violations in Cuba....What U.N. commission members did, in the false name of political parity, was to make Cuba's newly brutalized human rights advocates pay for the perceived sins of the U.S. president. Shame.

  • Washington Post
    But this is not the only outrage perpetuated at this year's meeting of the Commission on Human Rights, surely one of the most hypocritical on record. At this session, the commission also voted against putting Zimbabwe on its list of countries requiring special observation, against making any special mention of the human rights violations in Chechnya and against an amendment that condemned Cuba for jailing dissidents. No resolutions were proposed this year on the treatment of dissidents in China.

  • New York Times
    Even though Fidel Castro has been brutally cracking down on peaceful dissent in recent weeks, the timid United Nations Human Rights Commission let Cuba off easily yesterday...It defeated an amendment that would have condemned the recent roundup and sham trials of nearly 100 independent writers and advocates for democracy....However misguided Washington's policy toward Havana may be, Latin American nations should stop indulging Mr. Castro's totalitarian practices. Judging Mr. Castro's regime is indeed a litmus test for Latin American nations a test of the maturity of their own democracies.

Damn liberal media, always coddling dicators and fawning over Castro. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Kevin Drum 10:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LOOTING....I'm genuinely sympathetic to the idea that there was a limited amount we could do to halt the looting spree that started after the fall of Baghdad. Still, the evidence is growing that the military planners were so convinced that we would be greeted as beloved liberators that they didn't even plan for the possibility of looting and ignored warnings of its likelihood. The LA Times has a disturbing story about this splashed across its front page today:

The spree of looting and destruction across Iraq is hampering Bush administration efforts to revive the country's economy, search for chemical and biological weapons, and hunt for Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants, U.S. officials said Thursday.

They said that neither the Pentagon nor the U.S. intelligence community anticipated the scale and ferocity of the postwar rampage, which appears to have caused far more damage in some areas than did the war.

....One U.S. official said the Pentagon was caught off-guard because of its recent experience in Afghanistan. "There wasn't much looting there," the official said. "Frankly, there wasn't that much to steal."

The story goes on to say that the looting has been not just of office furniture and national treasures, but also of intelligence offices, military installations, and oil fields. This is slowing down the search for Baathist party officials and for Iraqi WMDs, something that surely must have been a top priority, even if protecting museums wasn't.

The whole story is worth reading. As I said, I don't blame the military for this entire debacle, but it's sure starting to look like they foolishly encouraged a bit of "untidiness" without realizing how far it would go. I hope they are now beginning to have a more realistic view of what it's going to take to control post-Saddam Iraq.

Kevin Drum 10:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HUMANITARIAN AID IN IRAQ....Amy Sullivan is sort of half-heartedly defending Franklin Graham from criticism on the left that it's stupid to allow a Christian prosyletizing organization into Iraq right now:

The thrust of many of these commentaries is that the Bush administration should be doing something to stop Graham and Samaritan's Purse from entering Iraq and that its failure to do so represents official approval of missionary efforts in Iraq. As I have noted before, I don't think Bush and Co. are out to turn the country into a theocracy nor -- the President's unfortunate use of the word last year notwithstanding -- do I think they are pursuing a modern-day "crusade" in the Middle East. I do think that they are both thoughtless and tone-deaf about how their rhetoric sounds to everyone outside their small religious world-view and don't much care about the message sent by allowing proselytizing organizations to operate in Iraq.

But doesn't it also send the wrong message to award no-bid Iraq contracts to Halliburton? Or when our Rumsfeld-anointed man in Iraq is weapons-dealer Jay Garner, a man whose idea of relating to the Iraqis is to tell them they've been living under a mushroom? Won't it send the wrong message when American companies start pouring into the country to spread the gospel about the glories of salvation by consumption? Why pick on Franklin Graham, whose organization -- let's admit it -- has done amazing work in some of the neediest places in the world, spending more than a $100 million a year on relief efforts?

Matt Yglesias says he is "semi-convinced. I'm not.

The question here isn't so much about Graham's organization per se, but about the Bush administration's treatment of private organizations (NGOs) in general. There are a large number of private groups that want to get into Iraq, and a larger number still that could assist with humanitarian work that the army is ill equipped to handle. So the real question is: why Graham's group and not the others? What kind of policy encourages a Christian prosyletizing group, even an effective one like Graham's, instead of long-established secular relief groups that are far less likely to cause PR problems in a Muslim country like Iraq?

From the beginning, the Bush administration should have had a non-military program in place to take advantage of the expertise and help that private aid groups could offer in the immediate aftermath of the war. Instead they quite obviously developed a program that was more likely to put off humanitarian aid than it was to encourage it. This is a scandal.

Kevin Drum 9:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE?....I think I sense a bit of ennui in the blogosphere. The higher beings are restless.....

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April 17, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ AND DEMOCRACY....David Adesnik says he disagrees with everything in this Fred Barnes editorial in the Weekly Standard except for this part:

The president will be under enormous pressure from Europeans, Middle East leaders, and top advisers in Washington to withdraw American troops and civilian officials from Iraq within months, not years. He shouldn't. The military occupation of Japan after World War II lasted seven years, and Japan is homogenous, not divided as Iraq is among three often hostile ethnic groups. American forces won't need to stay that long, but it will take at least a year, maybe two or more, to restore order, foster a viable economy, and establish democratic institutions with roots deep enough to survive.

This is one of the topics that I have the hardest time making up my mind about. Barnes, I think, is absolutely correct that establishing a decent successor state in Iraq is a long process that requires considerable commitment from the United States. If we're serious about it, we'll stay put for a while.

But the critics are also right: a long and substantial occupation by the United States is just begging for trouble. Not only will it leave the unavoidable taint of neo-colonialism, but it also acts as a magnet for terrorist recruiting. The kind of young Arab who leans toward terrorism will almost certainly be easier to recruit if the local al-Qaeda representatives have an occupying force of Americans to point to year after year.

I suspect there's no really good solution to this, but there's an obvious one that could at least help: the United Nations. Or, more to the point, the United Nations with the full backing and commitment of the United States. Properly constituted, a UN force could provide the stability and guidance Iraq needs without the symbolic provocation that the United States military represents.

Of course, it doesn't look like this will ever happen. Just another reason why George Bush and Jacques Chirac should both be ashamed of themselves for their childish antics of the past six months.

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SYRIA AND AL-QAEDA....Dan Drezner has a post up today outlining the possible ties between Syria and al-Qaeda and wonders what others think of this.

My reaction is pretty simple: doesn't practically every country in the Middle East have ties to al-Qaeda? Iran and Saudi Arabia do for sure, Pakistan probably still harbors al-Qaeda members, and it wouldn't surprise me a bit if both Yemen and Syria had ties too. In fact, one of the things that struck me about Iraq was not that they might have had some ties to al-Qaeda, but the fact that their ties were quite obviously tenuous at best. They actually showed remarkable restraint in this regard considering that they were smack in the middle of a region in which sympathy for al-Qaeda is practically part of the air you breathe.

The Middle East is a seething cauldron of terrorism. We surely need to do something about this, but if we're planning to take military action or even impose diplomatic and economic sanctions against every Mideast country that harbors terrorists well, then we might as well just set up an empire and call it a day.

UPDATE: Todd Mormon of Monkey Media Report points out that Syria has actually been quite helpful in our fight against al-Qaeda and that the Syrian government is generally hostile to al-Qaeda. Syria does, of course, support the odious Hezbollah terrorist group, but that's another matter entirely.

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IRAQ AND EMPIRE....I like to make fun of John Derbyshire, but even I admit that he can sometimes be interesting even if I disagree with him. But what can we possibly make of this long article in National Review Online today in which he analyzes the looting of the Iraqi National Museum? He says that not only should we not worry about it, but in fact it was probably a good thing:

In what sense do these ancient artifacts belong to Iraqs heritage?....The ethnic and linguistic connections between, on the one hand, modern Iraqis, and on the other, the people of Babylon, Nimrod, Nineveh, and Ur, are tenuous, to say the least of it. In the case of the Sumerians, they are probably nonexistent.

....To describe the contents of the Iraqi National Museum as being Iraqs ancient heritage is, therefore, to stretch a point. In fact, since everything we know of as civilization began in Mesopotamia back in that dim past four or five thousand years ago, it would be just as correct to refer to these treasures as comprising humanitys ancient heritage. They belong to us all.

....Besides, there is the point I started out with. Whether you think these treasures belong to Iraqis or to all mankind, they are treasures nonetheless. They should therefore be stored and displayed in the safest place we can think of. Where would that be?

Where indeed? I think you can guess.

This article is so breathtaking I hardly know what to say. After all, those artifacts managed to survive for 5,000 years while residing in Baghdad, right up to the moment when we invaded the city and then apparently deliberately stepped aside even though we had been warned repeatedly about the likelihood of highly organized looting efforts encouraged by foreign collectors.

But at least Derbyshire is consistent: his argument that just because artifacts come from a particular geographic area doesn't mean they actually belong to the current occupants of that area is very similar to his argument for why Iraqi oil actually belongs to the West. I wonder what Derbyshire would think if someone had tried to apply this logic to Stonehenge during World War II while carting it off to Atlantic City for permanent display?

War partisans, including those at National Review, have worked feverishly to disclaim any interest in an American empire. Why then do they let Derbyshire spew imperialistic drivel like this that gives the game away?

Kevin Drum 11:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANAHEIM ASCENDANT....The Anaheim Might Ducks have swept the defending champion Detroit Red Wings in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. What's up with that? Next thing you know the Angels will win the World Series or something.

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ARE THE NEOCONS GOING SOFT?....Ron Brownstein writes in the LA Times today that the neocons are backing off:

Even as President Bush and his aides are talking tough about Syria, the neoconservative foreign policy thinkers who provided much of the intellectual justification for the war with Iraq are talking down the possibility of further military action in the Middle East at least in the near term.

"I just don't think there is a tremendous appetite on the part of most people for endless military operations, even among people who think things turned out reasonably well in Iraq," said Aaron L. Friedberg, a neoconservative professor of international affairs at Princeton University.

I think that's completely correct, but of course the question remains: are the neocons genuinely changing their tune or are they just biding their time until the American public is ready for some more fighting? Brownstein doesn't really come to any conclusions, but it's a good article anyway.

Elsewhere in the Times today, Hezbollah has "issued a new call to arms against Americans in the Middle East" and gays in the military still have a pretty tough time unless they're kicked out altogether, of course.

And in still other news, the Times is apparently dead serious about making their site the most annoying news website in the world. I now normally get four popunder ads, one of those weird semi-transparent floating ads, and an even weirder invisible ad that prevents me from cutting and pasting text unless I reload the page. All this is on top of one of the lengthiest and most intrusive registration surveys around. Sheesh.

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LEAD AND IQ....Any of you who think that IQ is merely the reification of culturally approved behavioral norms will probably want to read no further, but for the rest of us this front page LA Times story has interesting news:

Blood levels of lead below current federal and international guidelines of 10 micrograms per deciliter produce a surprisingly large drop in IQ of up to 7.4 points, a U.S. team reports in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers found that levels as low as 1 m/d cause most of the IQ drop, and that 10% of all children in the U.S. have levels above 5 m/d. There are about 60 million children in the United States today, so if these findings are correct it means that correcting this problem has the potential to result in an increase of 7.4 IQ points in over 6 million kids.

It's hard to overstate the importance of this. A difference of 7.4 IQ points is a lot, especially when you start getting to the lower end of the IQ scale (say, an IQ of 83 compared to an IQ of 90), and the article goes on to quote a 1991 study showing that "lead abatement in old houses would cost about $32 billion, but would bring benefits in such areas as special education of more than $60 billion."

I usually take these kinds of statements with a grain of salt, but in this case the benefits might even be understated. Not only does special ed cost a ton of money, but disruptive kids who are mainstreamed into normal classrooms many of them with low IQs in addition to other behavioral problems cause enormous problems for everyone else in the class. That's a cost that's hard to quantify.

If it turns out that this problem really could be solved for $32 billion, it would be about the best use of $32 billion you could possibly think of. Something to think about for a president who promised to leave no child behind.

Kevin Drum 10:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 16, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SHORTER STEVEN DEN BESTE....My post about Syria just below made me wonder: what is Steven Den Beste up to these days? So I went and looked.

A bunch of France bashing, mostly, but he does have one interesting bizarro-theory post up right now. Remember Where is Raed, the blog written by the pseudonymous Salam Pax from Baghdad in the form of letters to his friend Raed? It was last updated on March 24, and according to Den Beste:

On March 25, Raed Rokan Al-Anbuge was arrested in New York and has been held by US authorities ever since.

Was the blog a hoax and was Raed Rokan Al-Anbuge actually Salam Pax? If you want to know more, you'll have to click the link and plow through 1,500 words that include a lengthy dissertation about internet hoaxes through the ages. Oh, and some of his commenters say he's wrong. Go figure.

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TONY AND JOHN PAUL....You have to love this headline in the London Times today:

Pope's ruling bars Blair from taking Communion with family

Wow! The pope must really be pissed off at Tony over this Iraq thing. Hoo boy.

Well, no: it turns out that John Paul II is just planning to issue an encyclical that generally forbids Protestants from taking Communion, something that Blair doesn't even do (athough he used to receive it years ago along with his Catholic wife, Cherie). Nothing personal about it.

I just love the British press.

UPDATE: Wording changed slightly for accuracy. I got a surprising amount of mail about this explaining that Blair has an ongoing flirtation with Catholicism, which is quite true. The Times story does a pretty good job of summarizing it if you're interested.

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SYRIA AGAIN....The U.S. believes that Farouk Hijazi, former chief of Saddam Hussein's Mukhabbarat intelligence service, is now hiding in Syria:

One knowledgeable U.S. official said specifically that Hijazi arrived Tuesday in Syria "on a direct flight from Tunis."

Hijazi entered Syria on an Iraqi diplomatic passport, U.S. officials said. Hijazi had most recently been Iraq's ambassador to Tunisia. The Syrian Foreign Ministry denied the claims Wednesday.

Some U.S. officials have expressed anger at the Syrians for allegedly harboring Hijazi, because he is suspected of involvement in the unsuccessful plot by Iraqi intelligence to kill former President George H.W. Bush, the president's father, in Kuwait in 1993.

Why are they making this accusation publicly? It's true that private questioning might not work, but at least it has a chance of working. Once you've gone public, though, there's absolutely no chance of the Syrians backing down and admitting that they lied about this.

Riddle me this: why would you do something that (a) has no chance of success, but (b) is certain to inflame relations? Where's Steven Den Beste when you need him?

UPDATE: It's not as though the Bushies don't understand this principle, either. Last year they tried to deal with North Korea privately, understanding that public accusations would only make things worse, and got caught by surprise when the North Koreans went public with their nuclear program. Why the difference in approach in the Middle East?

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IRAQI WMD....Whatever other misgivings I entertained during the runup to war, one thing I never really doubted was that Iraq did indeed have proscribed WMDs and that Saddam did indeed covet more. But as time goes by I'm beginning to wonder about this on a couple of different levels. Here's the current military perspective quoted in the Saudi Gazette:

"Efforts are ongoing. We had some preliminary examinations that occurred that did not prove to be weapons of mass destruction, we found some things that were potentially agricultural," Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said Tuesday. But he said he was certain that "we are going to find something as time goes on."

General Tommy Franks, commander of US forces in Iraq, has no doubts either. "Whether we'll turn out at the end of the day to find them in one of the two or three thousand sites that we already know about, or whether contact with one of these officials who we may come in contact with will actually tell us there's another site I'm not sure, but I am sure there are weapons in the country, yes," he said in a television interview Sunday.

Now, I know that Iraq is the size of California and we can't search it all at once, but before the war we insisted that we had irrefutable intelligence about Iraqi WMD. We couldn't reveal it to anybody, of course, because that would compromise our sources, but we did know.

But if that's the case, then (a) surely we can reveal everything now, since there are no longer any sources to compromise, and (b) even if we can't do that, surely we can go straight to the sites containing all the WMD. After all, there are no Iraqis around anymore to quickly hide it all as soon as they see us coming.

And yet, so far there's nothing. No sign of nuclear development, which is very hard to hide, and not even any sign of chem or bio weapons yet. Since our case for war was predicated on the notion that Iraq posed an imminent danger, one that required immediate action instead of allowing the inspectors more time to work, surely there ought to be enough of this stuff around that we should be finding it by now. After all, we don't want it to fall into the wrong hands, so locating it and securing it ought to be a top military priority.

If we don't find it quickly, this indicates that our intelligence operations were wildly ineffective. If we don't find it at all, it means we were lying through our teeth. Neither one is an appealing prospect.

I gotta say that I really don't relish the idea of watching Jacques Chirac a year from now crowing about how he was right the whole time. This stuff better show up.

POSTSCRIPT: And if anybody says that it used to be around but since September it's all been moved to Syria, I'm going to scream.

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DEMOCRATIC CATTLE CALL....I was over at Daily KOS last night and read through the comments on his weekly cattle call for the Democratic race. I left a comment myself, and then decided I should expand on it a bit so that a year from now I can remember what I was thinking way back in mid-2003.

At the moment I know almost nothing about the candidates, but paradoxically I think that's a plus. Eventually I'll get to know every little thing about them, and this will change my thinking, but the fact is that the vast majority of voters even in November are pretty much like me right now: they have only a vague idea of what the candidates stand for. So for a brief period I probably represent the typical moderate liberal who sorta cares about politics but, you know, not really all that much.

So, then, here are my predictions for the top contenders. As you can see, they are all predicated on the idea that national security is by far the most important issue for any candidate:

  1. John Edwards. I think that in the end it's going to take a reasonably hawkish candidate to win next year, and Edwards has been reasonably hawkish. He's also an attractive candidate, probably fairly appealing to Reagan Democrats, thinks well on his feet, and obviously knows how to raise money. The fact that he's only been a senator for four years is a minus, but W had only been a governor for four years when he started running, so who knows?

  2. Joe Lieberman. Yeah, he's too conservative for a lot of Democrats, and his preachiness turns off some people too. On the other hand, he's got name recognition, his actual voting record isn't really that horrible, he can raise money, and he's got good hawkish credentials. Definitely a contender.

  3. Bob Graham. His national security cred is good, he's popular in Florida, and he seems to be fairly well liked among the Democratic faithful. Being an ex-governor is a plus. On the other hand, the fact that he announced his candidacy over a month ago and still doesn't have a website isn't a very comforting sign. He also might be a little too old.

  4. Howard Dean. Dean is the John McCain of the 2004 Democratic race: iconoclastic, straight-talking, and a media darling. Unfortunately, even if he's popular with the base, history shows that these media darlings never even get nominated, let alone elected. I just don't see him holding up.

  5. John Kerry. This is just a gut feel, but I don't think Kerry has legs. All politicans like to straddle issues so as to piss off the fewest possible voters, but Kerry is wishy-washy in a way that seems wishy-washy, and I think that's a death sentence. Plus he's a northeastern liberal, and that hasn't exactly been a winning combination for the past 40 years.

And Wesley Clark? Please. He might be a good running mate, but it's a joke to think of him heading the ticket.

I didn't mention anything about these candidates' positions on domestic issues, and that's because I really don't know where any of them stand. In any case, there's no telling at this point which domestic issues will magically become important by this time next year, so it's impossible to say anything intelligent about it.

And who am I going to vote for? Beats me. As usual, I imagine that the nomination will be all but sewn up by the time the California primary is held, so I won't have any say in the matter anyway. I'll just wait to see what the rest of y'all do and then vote for our guy in November.

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PHYSICS AND SPORTS....Dan Drezner points today to a series of short articles in the University of Chicago magazine about the unexpected pursuits of some of Chicago's researchers. He likes this one about the inequities of men's and women's toilets, and I also liked this one, which confirms a longstanding suspicion I've had about wine drinkers.

However, I think I'll choose to highlight this article about John Milton, who is researching how the body handles tasks that it really shouldn't be good enough to do well:

Hes demonstrating his unexpected discovery about the bodys nervous system: it generates random noise to handle taskslike balancing a dowel or standing still without fallingthat require response in less time than it takes for a signal to travel to the brain and back (100200 milliseconds for the stick, 250500 milliseconds for standing). If the nervous system can only make a correction every 200 milliseconds, he asks, whats it doing the other 199?

Sports enthusiasts take note: it takes a full tenth of a second (or more!) for a signal to travel to the brain and back. This is one of those facts of nature that almost no sports enthusiast believes.

Tennis players, for example, universally believe that they respond to the ball hitting the racket by consciously making tiny adjustments. If it feels like the ball is going a little long, for example, you make an extra effort to pull the racket over the ball and keep it from lofting up.

But it ain't so. Tennis balls stay on the racket strings for only a few milliseconds and are several feet away by the time a signal from your hand can travel to your brain and back to generate a correction. So it feels like you're making a correction, but you aren't, and this is why practicing proper strokes is so important: the only thing that matters is that the stroke is correct right up to the point of impact. After that there's nothing you can do to fix things: it's all physics.

The same is true for driving a golf ball or making a jump shot, but sports enthusiasts mostly can't bring themselves to believe it, insisting instead that they just know all these little adjustments are happening and only killjoy researchers who have probably never taken off their coke bottle glasses long enough to engage in a good game of hoops might think otherwise.

Ah, well, at least we can still take solace in purely mental things like, say, the fact that sometimes we feel like we're on a hot streak. We all know those are for real, don't we? I mean, we can just feel it when we're hot. Right.....?

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JESSICA LYNCH....I haven't blogged about the whole Jessica Lynch thing before, mainly because I was waiting around to see what the real story would turn out to be. We still don't know all the facts, I think, but this story in the London Times certainly indicates that the story presented by the military at the time bears little resemblance to reality. I suppose we'll never find out for sure, but once again I'm left perplexed by the desire of people in power to make up a better story when the real one is actually quite good enough. What's the point?

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MORAL CLARITY....Today in the Weekly Standard we hear a common complaint about the left:

Because it may make the United States appear good by comparison, [liberals] excuse, downplay, or omit completely evils committed by others. Not a word from them on Saddam's atrocities; not a word on the arms and oil deals between Saddam's Iraq and the "peace-loving" governments of France, Russia, Germany, and Canada; not a word on the anti-Semitism rampaging through "peace movements" in Europe (as well as at home in America).

Did I blink and miss a decade somewhere? It is fashionable among conservative writers today to condemn tyranny of all kinds and to pretend that liberals, in contrast, are somehow vaguely in favor of brutal dictatorships, but hardly anything could be farther from the truth.

It was a Democratic president Jimmy Something, I think who first introduced the idea that respect for human rights should be a cornerstone of American foreign policy. And while this may have been honored more in the breach than in the observance, conservatives of the time roundly assailed the very idea of concern for human rights as idealistic and naive despite the fact that Ronald Reagan picked up the human rights cudgel a couple of years later and used it very successfully in his campaign against the Soviet Union.

Since then it has been lefty-dominated groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that have led the way in exposing vicious human rights violations across the globe, in both left and right-leaning dictatorships, often to the annoyance of whoever happened to be in power at the moment. These groups didn't support the war against Iraq, but like it or not, they laid a lot of the groundwork for it.

So how about we knock off the tedious arguments about "moral clarity" that seemingly apply only to countries that annoy us at the moment, and instead discuss a comprehensive foreign policy based on intelligent use of force, respect for international alliances and multinational institutions, and a realistic view of how much can actually be accomplished on the ground. The goal should be progress toward safety and stability, not juvenile debating points.

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April 15, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SEX ON THE BRAIN....Ever wonder about hermaphroditism, intersexuality, and transgendered infants? Me neither. But for the intellectually curious among you, Mac Diva has the scoop on all of it.

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ABU ABBAS....You know, I don't want this site to become InstapunditWatch really I don't but how can you ignore stuff like this post about the capture of Palestinian terrorist Abu Abbas?

UPDATE: Note how the BBC plays it:

During the hijack, an elderly American passenger was killed.

No mention that he was Jewish, or in a wheelchair, or tossed overboard -- all details that would have been lovingly emphasized in the unlikely event that such an atrocity had been perpetrated by, say, a U.S. Marine.

Here's what the BBC piece actually says:

The PLF carried out the attack on the Italian liner to demand the release of 50 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel....The gunmen shot dead a disabled American tourist, 69 year-old Leon Klinghoffer, whose body was thrown overboard in his wheelchair.

Would it have killed him to read seven more paragraphs? And is he really suggesting that the BBC is institutionally anti-semitic?

UPDATE: Glenn's post has been updated to note that "the wheelchair is in the story now. Heh." I'm not quite sure what the "heh" is for. And reader Geoffrey Green writes to point out that the paragraph I excerpted is now gone and the wheelchair is right up top in the second paragraph. So apparently this story was being updated during the day.

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REPUBLICANS AND GROWTH....Irwin Stelzer writes about economic growth in the Weekly Standard today:

FDR followed the advice of an adviser who promised "We shall tax and tax, and spend and spend, and elect and elect." The result was a prolonged depression that ended only when America entered WWII. Kennedy and Reagan took the road less traveled, cut taxes, and set in train periods of extended and rapid growth.

Huh? The Great Depression was a result of FDR's free spending ways? Where does the Standard get these people?

The rest of the article isn't much better. Stelzer is writing about the lower productivity growth of Europe vs. the United States in recent years a genuine and somewhat perplexing problem but spends nearly the entire piece trying to make the case that the difference is due to a U.S. tax code that leaves people alone so that they can get rich:

But what the Europeans don't understand that it is far "fairer" to foster rapid increases in incomes of low earners by encouraging still more rapid increases at the top end of the income scale, than it is teach low earners to concentrate on waiting for the next tax credit or handout.

You wonder how people have the gall to write stuff like this. Surely Stelzer has noticed that while the incomes of the American rich have indeed skyrocketed over the past 20 years, "rapid increases" have been a noticeably absent feature of the incomes of the poor and middle class?

(The chart at right, which is adjusted for inflation, shows household incomes since 1967. If median incomes had increased at the same rate as those of the top 5%, the median household income in America today would be $56,000. In reality, it's only $42,000. This difference of $14,000 should be dubbed the "Republican Income Gap.")

Far from "doing nothing," Republican economic policy for well, forever, really, but certainly for the past 20 years, has been explicitly aimed at what Selzer unwisely acknowledges: "encouraging" rapid increases at the top end of the income scale. One of the enduring mysteries of American politics has been the ability of the Republican party to get away with this while still retaining the loyalty and votes of the middle class that they rather obviously don't care a whit about. Middle class enthusiasm (or, at least, tolerance) for the dividend tax cut is merely the most recent example of this.

A vigorous and growing middle class is essential to the health of a nation, and ours has been mostly stagnant for the past 30 years. One of these days the middle class is going to learn just how rich the rich really are and just how little of our country's enormous prosperity ever "trickles down" to them. But when?

BONUS HISTORICAL NOTE: I Googled the "tax and tax" quote, and it turns out that it was uttered by Roosevelt major domo Harry Hopkins....in 1938. What happened was that the previous year FDR had cut back on spending, causing the New Deal recovery to stall and GDP to decrease by 4.5%. The next year, 1939, taxes actually went down, spending did indeed go up, and the result? The economy grew 7.9%. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me!

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GOVERNMENT SPENDING....Today is tax day, so Friedrich Blowhard is complaining about the growth of government expenditures. His numbers, I think, aren't quite right, but there's no need to quibble over minutiae since he's got a more important point to make:

Without putting too fine a point on it, from the time I began to become aware of such things until the presentthat is, roughly 1960 through 2000, I do not think that the quality of services provided by the public sector to me or my family improved by two-and-a-half times. In fact, in many respects--public school educations, transportation, crime come to mind--such services seem to have declined over that time period.

The thing is, he's right: the services provided to him and his family probably haven't changed much. In fact, most of the per capita increase in government expenditure over the past 40 years has come from Medicare, Social Security, and interest on the national debt, none of which benefit him at all for the moment, anyway. And much of the rest of it comes from the fact that we pay government employees more, just the same as we pay private sector employees more these days too thanks to rising GDP and increasing prosperity. School teachers, for example, are no longer expected to do their jobs for $15,000 per year. But since Friedrich doesn't work for the government, that doesn't benefit him either.

As I've mentioned before, total discretionary government spending as a percentage of GDP has been essentially flat for the past 50 years. Unless you're willing to make drastic cuts to Medicare or Social Security, you really don't have much to complain about.

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CORPORAL PUNISHMENT....Via Eve Tushnet comes this article in City Journal by Joshua Kaplowitz, who turned down the chance to work on Al Gore's presidential campaign in order to teach at a Washington DC elementary school. Kaplowitz obviously has an axe to grind, but it's a hair-raising story about the realities of teaching in modern urban schools anyway.

UPDATE: A couple of people have written to mention that Kaplowitz's story was also written up in the Washington Post a few days ago. Actually, Eve also linked to the Post story, but I didn't notice it at first. Read 'em both!

UPDATE 2: Brendan Karch sends along this letter that Kaplowitz's fellow teacher, Nick Ehrmann, wrote to City Journal in response to Kaplowitz's article. In the interests of fairness, here it is:

Dear Editor,

You printed in the Winter 2003 issue Josh Kaplowitzs How I Joined Teach For Americaand Got Sued for $20 Million, which your readers may recall as the cautionary tale of a Yale graduate whose good intentions fell victim to the hostile culture of an inner-city school. I taught two doors down from Josh that year at Emery Elementary School. Although Joshs eyewitness account of school failure may be well-intentioned, I feel compelled to offer my personal testimony to reveal the ways in which his story is incomplete, misleading, and ultimately buries children in the wreckage of his pride.

My name is Nick Ehrmann. In the fall of 2000, I began teaching in Room 312 at Emery Elementary School in Washington, D.C., just two doors down from Josh Kaplowitz. I too was a Teach For America corps member. I too was white. I too had just graduated from a prestigious university. But I have a different story to tell.

Four energetic Teach For America teachers began their careers at Emery that fall, including Josh Kaplowitz. We all faced incredible challenges throughout our first yearadministrative turnover, lack of school discipline, and the resulting transfer of power to disruptive students who exploited this vacuum of administrative accountability. My classroom was frequently a stage for fistfights and tears. The difficulties that Josh describes were painfully real, and we all experienced them in similar degrees.

And we all responded in different ways. During the first week of school, I made positive connections with parents that now, two years later, continue to blossom into trusting relationships. Instead of taking student insults personally, I learned to recognize them as pleas for attention. Instead of responding to misbehavior with anger, I learned that my most difficult students were the ones most in need of patient, unconditional love. Despite being a rookie teacher, I refused to wallow in what was wrong about Emery. Instead I committed myself to the arduous task of finding a style that would minimize negativity and reinforce what was positive about my students and their difficult lives. And although I didnt learn these lessons right away, by mid-year Room 312 had genuinely begun to work as a team.

I bear witness that teachers can and do succeed, and thousands across the country have unlocked the keys to teaching under extremely challenging circumstances. While I firmly believe that there needs to be change on a systemic level to improve the education system at large, until that happens it is our responsibility as teachers to work within the constraints of this broken system and do everything we can to ensure that our students have the opportunities they deserve. Two Teach For America teachers at Emery alone were finalists for the Washington D.C. First Year Teacher of the Year Award, in part because they combined personal responsibility with reasoned frustration and channeled their anger into efforts to connect with their students in the midst of chaotic conditions that were beyond their control. So why was Room 308, just two doors down, the scene of almost constant chaos?

I cant pretend to know what happened inside those four walls. But I did witness moments that Josh does not mention in his article. I did witness Josh argue with and interrupt our principal during one of our first faculty meetings of the year. I did witness Josh berate a lone student in the hallway, his anger clearly uncontrolled. I did witness Josh place his hands upon this students shoulders and shove him against the wall while yelling in his face. Good intentions should not be an excuse for bad decisions.

So when you read Joshs account that the allegations were fabrications, think again. When you read the intimation that Joshs physical contact was limited to breaking up fights, think again. Did Emerys school culture combine with the strict interpretation of the corporeal punishment guidelines to empower students and parents with a litigious weapon? Yes. Do these issues weaken the effectiveness of educators and deserve critical attention? Did the teaching conditions at Emery make it extremely difficult to educate our children? Yes.

In these ways, Josh succeeds in highlighting some of the most pressing challenges facing inner-city educators today. As I read his harrowing account, I couldnt help but applaud him for having the courage to speak out about the institutional breakdown that we all experienced during that year at Emery. Administrative paralysis, reckless student behavior, and social promotion are inexcusable and limit the opportunities for our nations most at-risk children. But Joshs article has more to do with casting blame than providing solutions.

My personal solution to such challenging conditions was to ignore the disorder and focus on building trust and peace in my own classroom. Over time, as I earned the respect of my students and families, I partnered with them to form I Have A DreamProject 312. Now the Executive Director, we have secured substantial funding for a long-term program of academic support, artistic development, cultural enrichment, family outreach and the promise of tuition assistance for higher education. By building trusting relationships, I have been able to focus on long-term goals without allowing chaos to destroy my students dreams.

Instead, by courting the media megaphone, Josh claims to be educating the public about how bad schools can be. Tragically, this negative response crystallizes the stereotypes that continue to plague inner-city students and families. If Josh was attempting to call attention to the failures of the system and be a constructive critic, why is his article entitled How I Joined Teach For Americaand Got Sued for $20 Million? Relegated to uncontrollable and wild status, the subjects of Joshs pen have tragically become anonymous casualties in a cycle of blame, a cycle that risks weakening our continued commitment to public education by replacing it with hopelessness and fear (or worse, education policy that is misguided).

Knowing that teachers can and do succeed in even the most challenging environments, we should recognize Joshs article for what it is: a distraction that appeals to the politics of failure rather than building towards a future of achievement. I believe that his frustrations have poisoned his outlook and harmed children in the process. Late in the year, as he was teaching a group of second-graders, I walked into his dimly-lit classroom. The shades were drawn, and his cheery September face was grown over by a tired beard. How are things going? I asked, sensing that today he was too exhausted to exhale the usual slew of complaints. He shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. Why are your shades all down? I asked, having just been outside in the spring sunshine. He responded with an answer Ill never forget: These kids dont deserve to see daylight. I looked at the fluorescent lights of his room, turned around, and left, imagining the buried children that remained trapped inside.

Nick Ehrmann

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DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN....Today's Political Strikes:

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April 14, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SYRIA UPDATE....The Guardian seems to specialize in running long, authoritative sounding, but completely unsourced stories about American diplomacy and politics. I never really know whether I should put any stock in them, but I'd sure like to believe this one:

Bush vetoes Syria war plan
In the past few weeks, the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, ordered contingency plans for a war on Syria to be reviewed following the fall of Baghdad.

....However, President George Bush, who faces re-election next year with two perilous nation-building projects, in Afghanistan and Iraq, on his hands, is said to have cut off discussion among his advisers about the possibility of taking the "war on terror" to Syria.

"The talk about Syria didn't go anywhere. Basically, the White House shut down the discussion," an intelligence source in Washington told the Guardian.

I hope this is true, but if it is then the highly public blustering about Syria for the past few days doesn't make much sense. If you really didn't want war, you'd do your best to calm things down and send your warnings through quiet diplomatic channels. A public relations campaign is usually only necessary if you're trying to get the public on your side and ready for the next step.

Still, I'll take any good news I can get on this front.

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By: Kevin Drum

BILL PRYOR....I've been remiss in not linking to Sam Heldman's continuing series of posts about his fellow Alabama litigator, state Attorney General Bill Pryor, who has been nominated by President Bush for a circuit court judgeship. To find out more, start here and scroll down. And then go back tomorrow because there will probably be more.

Bill Pryor trivia: he was the only state AG (outside of Florida) to intervene in Bush v. Gore! That's the kind of stuff you learn at Sam's site.

The ability of the Bush administration to keep dredging up these folks is truly a gift of some kind. Where do they find them all?

Kevin Drum 8:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JOHN LOTT UPDATE....Tom Spencer reminds me today to go take a look at Tim Lambert's website, where he chronicles the ongoing adventures of prevaricating gun shill John Lott, something that I haven't done lately. And whaddaya know, it's a twofer: John Lott and Glenn Reynolds.

Long story short, here's what happened: back in 2001 there was an NAS panel charged with doing a gun study. One of its members was a guy named Steve Levitt, and Glenn and Dave Kopel wrote an NRO article complaining that the panel was stacked. In particular, they complained that John Lott was not on the panel and that Levitt, who they said "has been described as 'rabidly antigun,'" was.

Flash forward to 2003 and Lambert tells us that this line appears in Lott's latest book:

Another panel member, Steve Levitt, an economist, has been described in media reports as being "rabidly anti-gun."

And now the $64 question: who exactly was it that called Levitt "rabidly anti-gun" in the first place and then got quoted in Lott's book? Glenn seem oddly reluctant to say, but if you know anything about Lott you can probably guess. Still, if you want to know for sure you'll have to click on the link and visit Tim Lambert's website, where he has all the juicy details. I don't want to take away all of his fun.

UPDATE: By the way, remind me never to get on Tim's bad side. If one reporter in a hundred were as tenacious as he is the Enron guys would have been sent to prison years ago and Trent Lott would have been roadkill back in the Reagan administration. Who knew that Australian lecturers in computer graphics were such tough cookies?

Kevin Drum 3:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEOCON WATCH....From today's edition of Global Agenda, published by the pro-war, pro-Bush, America-friendly, center-right Economist:

Conspiracy theoristsand there are more of them than ever these daysare tempted to assume that a small group of neo-conservative advisers with influence over Mr Bush have a masterplan.

Conspiracy theorists, eh? You mean like these, from the print edition of this week's pro-war, pro-Bush, America-friendly, center-right Economist?

Lastly, the war has moved the neo-conservativesneo-radicals is perhaps a better wordfrom the outskirts of politics to the centre. Led by Mr Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, they have been arguing for the forcible overthrow of Saddam since the early 1990s. They seem to have been right when they said the regime would quickly collapse, and its atrocities would be revealed. The big question now is whether Mr Bush will adopt their wider hope: to democratise the Middle East.

The Economist needs to make up its mind: are "neo-conservatives" and their masterplan merely the feverish imaginings of conspiracy theorists or are they a group of genuine radicals who are now at the center of power and have a "wider hope"? When they figure it out, I hope they tell us.

Kevin Drum 3:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PET BLOGGING DAY....The Daily Rant's pet blogging day is up and running. Check it out. Even if they did put my entries near the bottom.

Kevin Drum 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAYS AND REPUBLICANS....Ted Barlow (permalinks FUBAR), reporting on the hot water that RNC chairman Marc Racicot got into merely for meeting with a gay rights group, tells us that Texas doesn't have that problem: one state legislator posted state troopers outside his door to keep gay activists from getting in to talk to him. Ted says:

I can be persuaded on a number of conservative arguments. Really, I can. But as long as Republicans are "the party that hates gay people," I'm not coming inside.

Me too.

Kevin Drum 12:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SUCKING UP TO DICTATORS....All this talk about Eason Jordan's confession that CNN eased up on some of its coverage from Iraq in order to keep its Baghdad bureau open reminded me that conservatives have their own embarrassment in this regard: Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch has been trying to build his media business in China for over a decade but only met with success after he began soft pedaling any criticism of the regime. Here is Time Asia's capsule summary from last month:

Hoping to leapfrog this roadblock, Murdoch has been currying favor with Beijing ever since his Star satellite network, which runs nine channels in China, got a foothold on the mainland. The relationship got off to a rocky start in 1993, after Murdoch offended authorities by declaring that satellite broadcasting threatens "totalitarian regimes everywhere." Since then, Murdoch has chosen not to irritate the Communist Party

In 1999 he ordered HarperCollins, News Corp.'s publishing arm, to drop a book by former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten because it was critical of Beijing and, shortly after, dismissed the Dalai Lama as an old monk "shuffling around in Gucci shoes."....Making sure that censors are mollified and production values are maintained is an ongoing struggle.

And Falun Gong, the peaceful religious movement that terrifies the Chinese government? A "dangerous" and "apocalyptic cult" that "clearly does not have the success of China at heart," according to Murdoch's son, James. You can get the whole story here, along with plenty of links.

Surely conservatives are horrified at this, and will shortly be calling for a boycott of the New York Post. Right?

Kevin Drum 11:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SPEAK SOFTLY AND CARRY A BIG STICK....Question: why does all this tough talk about Syria bother me? After all, maybe we really don't want to invade Syria but we do want to send a message. What's wrong with that?

Answer: it never works. I'm sure there are some examples that I'm forgetting, but loud public threats never seem to accomplish anything except making the other guy mad. It sure hasn't worked for the Israelis or the Palestinians. It sure didn't work against Saddam. And it hasn't worked against Castro.

Theodore Roosevelt's advice to "speak softly and carry a big stick" wasn't just blather. He recognized that loud talk just gets people's backs up and makes it harder to accomplish your goals. Better to engage in private negotiation where everyone can save face, while at the same time making it clear that you're willing to back up your words if it comes down to that.

The Bush administration has the "backing up your words" part down pat, but they don't seem to understand the "speak softly" part. They should learn.

Kevin Drum 11:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NICHOLAS DE GENOVA UPDATE....Columbia Political Review's blog, The Filibuster, your source for all things Nicholas "A Million Mogadishus" De Genova, tells us today that De Genova has finally given an interview. The interview is in The Chronicle of Higher Education and the interviewer is obviously pretty skeptical of De Genova's explanations. The whole thing is worth reading, but for some reason my favorite part is the last question:

Q. I guess my question is, would you have attempted to be clearer?

A. Had I known that there was a devious yellow journalist from a tabloid newspaper among the audience, I certainly would have selected my words somewhat more carefully. But I would not have changed the message. Unfortunately, that message has been largely lost on people who were not at the event.

What a dick.

Kevin Drum 10:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TEARING DOWN THE STATUE....PART 3....Remember those two photos of the statue toppling in Baghdad that I posted on Thursday? One is the scene on TV, a closely cropped shot that seems to show a large crowd, while the other is a wide angle shot posted on IndyMedia that shows the square virtually empty, with no more than a hundred Iraqis present.

On Saturday I followed up based on a critique of the IndyMedia photo from "M.D.," but I was still skeptical. It turns out that M.D. is Michael Dunham, a Yale student, and last night he wrote me an email pointing to a follow-up post of his own, which you can read here. Most importantly, he has a picture of CNN's coverage of the statue toppling that's time stamped 6:53 PM, and it pretty clearly shows a larger crowd than the IndyMedia photo. My conclusions:

  • The photo that was posted on IndyMedia was definitely misleading. It's now obvious that it was taken well after the statue was toppled and much of the crowd has dispersed.

  • The size of the crowd in the CNN shot looks to me to be around 200-300 people, some of whom are American soldiers. The major media coverage, therefore, still strikes me as deceptive, clearly giving the impression of a hug mob of joyous Iraqis in central Baghdad when in fact it was a fairly modest gathering, especially for an hour-long event in a city of 5 million.

Once again, I'm not suggesting there was any serious chicanery on the part of the major media. They like drama, they like closely cropped shots, they like showing the United States winning, and that's what they ran with. Nevertheless, it was a less than honest performance.

Kevin Drum 10:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IS SYRIA NEXT?....Robin Wright seems to have pretty good insight into the Washington diplomatic scene, and her front page article in today's LA Times makes it clear that she thinks Syria is in the crosshairs:

President Bush again ratcheted up the pressure on Syria amid growing signs Sunday that Damascus will face punitive action unless President Bashar Assad takes swift action on issues ranging from supporting terrorists and acquiring deadly weapons to aiding and abetting Saddam Hussein.

....If the U.S. discovers that Syria is harboring [fleeing Iraqi officials], that could be the last straw, administration officials indicated Sunday.

....The U.S. finally confronted Damascus with intelligence detailing specific officials, ministries and commodities implicated in the illicit trade...."We warned them: 'If we're headed to war and it looks like we are, you're going to be seen as aiding a combatant of the United States. This is zero hour.' "

....Throughout Washington, there is a growing sense that the Assad regime must be held to account.

On the other hand, the New York Times ran nothing on its front page and has only a Reuters dispatch on its website at the moment, suggesting that we are considering nothing more than sanctions of various kinds. Likewise for the Washington Post.

Is Wright reading the tea leaves better than her colleagues? I dunno, but the administration is clearly ratcheting up the talk, despite the fact that nothing new seems to be happening. As the LA Times article notes, Syria has been on the State Department list of terrorism sponsors since 1979, and the cross border trade with Iraq has been going on for years. So why start getting tough now, at the very time when there's no longer a regime to trade with?

It sure looks to me like they're searching for an excuse to send a battalion or two of Marines over the border. You know, just a mile or so, a police action designed to "protect our troops," knowing it will provoke a response. If this does happen, Britain almost certainly won't go along, and that will be the end of the coalition.

Time will tell.

UPDATE: Sam Rosenfeld is officially terrified. On his suggestion I've turned on the news (I'm writing this on Monday at 10:30 AM), and sure enough, it's all Syria all the time. More later.

Kevin Drum 9:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE DEMOCRATIC RACE....Ronald Brownstein has a very good quickie review of the Democratic presidential race in the LA Times today. He briefly covers all the major candidates and their views on several subjects, suggesting which ones are likely to cause them trouble with (a) Democratic voters, and (b) other candidates.

Highly recommended, especially if, like me, you've only been paying attention to the race with half an eye so far.

Kevin Drum 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MAYDAY....For God's sake, if anyone reading this knows anything about how to rescue a FUBAR Movable Type installation, go help out Matt Yglesias right now.

Sheesh.

UPDATE: All better now. Or at least, close enough.

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CASTRO AND CUBA....Matt Welch has been keeping a close eye on the Castro show trials (just start at the top and scroll down), and I have to admit that the whole Castro things perplexes me. On the one hand, I can't conceive of why so many Hollywood celebrities seem to idolize him. Sure, Batista was no great shakes, but Castro's not exactly heading up a liberal democracy over there in Cuba either. He runs a pretty tough operation.

On the other hand, Cuban exiles in Miami excepted, the conservative obsession with him also seems odd. I mean, he's really just a garden variety tinpot dictator. I don't like him either, but there's at least several dozen in the world who are as bad or worse.

One of the mysteries of life, I suppose.

UPDATE: Nathan Newman has more. Apparently there's a "Lefties Against Castro" petition circulating. Add your name to the list!

Kevin Drum 12:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 13, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE UN AND IRAQ....The topic of the 60 Minutes Clinton & Dole debate tonight was whether the UN should be involved in rebuilding Iraq. Bob Dole, unsurprisingly, was opposed. Humanitarian aid, sure, but helping to set up a government? Not a chance. We don't want "Kofi Annan's crowd" messing things up.

Now, it's true that the UN has its problems, and I certainly know that conservatives just generally despise the UN, but this got me thinking. What exactly do they have against letting the UN have a say in rebuilding the Iraqi government? How would they mess it up? By proposing tax rates that were too progressive?

What's the deal here?

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THE NEOCON AEI GRAND PLAN....Phil McCombs has a pretty interesting article in today's Washington Post about the whole neocon agenda for international affairs. The interesting thing, however, is that he never uses the word "neocon." It's the same cast of characters, but in his article they've all morphed into members of the AEI mafia:

You could see it one recent morning as 20 protesters marched in front of the nondescript downtown Washington office building where the American Enterprise Institute is located.

Their chant, reminiscent of the Vietnam era: "Hey hey! Ho ho! Richard Perle has gotta go!" Perle is an avuncular guy based at AEI whose job is to sit around and think, and talk with other thinkers -- like Cohen and Woolsey -- about global strategy. Which is just what he's doing inside, in a "Black Coffee Briefing" on "The Road to War and Beyond."

....In short, if there's a new American Imperium, the AEI group is its intellectual Praetorian Guard. Some 20 AEI scholars serve in the Bush administration, and though Cohen isn't on today's panel, he's a member of AEI's Council of Academic Advisers, present in spirit.

McCombs also gives us a good rundown of the whole "World War IV" meme that's so popular these days.

(What's that? Did you miss a war during your American history class? No, no, not at all, it's just that all the cool kids know that the Cold War was World War III, which upgrades our current War on Terror to World War IV. It's an easy mistake to make, so don't blame yourself for not getting it, but you better read McCombs' article if you want to catch up in time for the final.)

Kevin Drum 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE "HUMAN RIGHTS EXCEPTION"....Mickey Kaus asked the other day if there should be a "human rights exception" to the general rule that you don't start a war unless someone else starts it first. It is questions like this that make it so frustrating to me that left and right are so far apart these days.

The reason for this frustration is that I think the answer to his question is yes. I would be delighted to see the civilized world take a stronger stand against brutal, dictatorial regimes like Saddam Hussein's. There's no sophisticated thinking behind this, either. It's just that I don't like torture, repression, and mass murder, and I do like democracy, religious tolerance, and personal freedom. And these are things I feel strongly enough about that I'm willing to impose them by force on the occasions where it seems feasible to do so.

The obvious question, of course, is: who gets to decide when a regime is bad enough that it ought to be forcibly removed and replaced by something (hopefully) better? I take it as a given that organizations with power should not be solely in charge of using their power. That's why like everyone I'm in favor of civilian control of the military and city council control of local police forces. It's not that I'm anti-cop, it's just that I recognize that the kind of people who are good at wielding power are not the same people who are good at deciding when and how to wield it. They need oversight.

The same applies rather obviously to international affairs. Just to take the Middle East as one example, American backing for Israel, though laudable on many grounds, has been so one-sided that it's been ineffective in mediating an end to 50 years of bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians; we supported the Shah of Iran with disastrous consequences; we supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran; and we supported the Mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, a splinter of which eventually became the Taliban. All of these seemed like defensible short-term decisions at the time, but the longer term effects have been catastrophic.

On the other hand, when we are part of a genuinely effective multilateral effort World War I, World War II, the Cold War we've done quite a bit better. It's unfortunate, then, that anti-war liberals seem to put rather too much stock in the UN, an organization that has too many institutional barriers to action to be an effective multilateral force, while conservatives disdain any kind of multilateral body that might genuinely constrain American use of force.

We seem to be at an impasse these days and I wonder where the statesmanship will come from to break it? Oddly enough, in the same sense that only Nixon could go to China, the statesmanship could come from George Bush.

But what are the odds?

Kevin Drum 3:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WAS SADDAM A PAPER TIGER?....Even by his usual standards, this piece by Glenn Reynolds last week was remarkably self-serving:

Totalitarian regimes always give the appearance of strength. In part this is because totalitarian regimes live and die by appearances....

You'd think that journalists and intellectuals, who as a class pride themselves on the ability to look beyond appearances to substance, would be the last ones to be fooled by totalitarian bluster. But, again and again, they've fallen for the appearance of strength, while disdaining the messiness of bourgeois, commercial, free Western civilization. Why are they so easily fooled? I can't help but feel that it's because many of them, at some level, want to believe in the power of tyranny.

For the past year, it's been Glenn and the pro-war forces that have been unceasing proponents of the idea that Saddam Hussein's regime was a mortal threat to the Middle East, the United States, and the world at large. The anti-war forces, by and large, argued that 12 years of sanctions had left him weak and not much of a threat to anyone. So who was fooled?

This week Glenn seems to have completed his transformation into the Rush Limbaugh of the blogosphere. Like the piece above, in which he "can't help but feel" that journalists and intellectuals are really motivated by sympathy with murderous dictators, Instapundit has turned into an orgy of innuendo and name calling, with anti-war activists saddened because they "didn't get the oceans of civilian blood [they] wanted," smug remarks about how the BBC "has shot itself in the foot" simply for reporting the looting in Baghdad that everyone is reporting now, and snide comments about scare-quoted "neocons," as if these folks don't really exist and it's shocking to suppose that anyone has ever wanted this war to expand beyond Iraq.

Glenn's schtick has always been a bitter and cynical one, but the end of the war seems to have been a watershed for him. Like Rush with his "stack of stuff," Instapundit has turned into nothing more than a clearinghouse for bile, with post after endless post explaining that anyone who disagrees with him is really motivated by a seething hatred of America and a desire to see everything that is good and true torn limb from corrupt limb. The level of rage and contempt that it takes to continue extracting pleasure from banging out this kind of stuff on a daily basis baffles me.

Kevin Drum 1:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE MORTGAGE INTEREST DEDUCTION....PART 2....On Friday I blogged about the mortgage interest deduction and how it was basically a scam that doesn't really help home buyers. Today I've got a bit more detail, courtesy of a real live economics type person, showing that it does help some, but not that much. Warning: I highly recommend that you skip this post.

OK then, here's a simplified partial equilibrium analysis of what happens:

  • Before the mortage interest deduction was in place, supply and demand intersected to produce an original price for a home. That's in orange in the chart at the right.

  • After the deduction was put in place, the demand curve moved up and to the right, indicating increased demand due to the subsidy of the tax break. The intersection with the supply curve happens at a higher quantity, so more houses are built. However, because of the subsidy caused by the tax break, the price the buyer pays is different from the price the seller gets. The seller actually gets a somewhat higher price than under the original model, and the buyer pays a somewhat lower price. In other words, they split the difference.

Bottom line: the mortgage interest deduction does cause the quantity of housing to increase and it does save home buyers some money, it just doesn't save them as much as they think. The actual amount of the savings depends on the slope of the supply and demand curves, how far the demand curve moves, and a bunch of other stuff. As my correspondent points out, this is an undergraduate level analysis, and the graduate level analysis ain't going to happen. At least, not on this blog.

(And since several people have asked: the effect of the mortgage interest deduction on the rental market is quite complex, and it's not clear exactly what the end result is.)

Anyway, this is all blather. As Matt Yglesias points out, no one in his right mind will ever suggest getting rid of mortgage interest deduction. Even if you could figure out a way to do it without hurting anyone, it sure wouldn't benefit anyone, so where's the support going to come from? In the end we're stuck with a "middle class" tax break that actually favors the rich disproportionately (they have bigger houses so they get a bigger tax break, and of course those too poor to buy a house in the first place get nothing). Why does this sound hauntingly familiar?

Kevin Drum 11:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE DISAPPEARING IRAQI ARMY....South Knox Bubba asks exactly the question that's been on my mind lately:

Where is the Iraqi army? It is estimated they have over three million men of military age fit for duty. Recent estimates by Jane's put their regular army and Republican Guard troop strength at approx. 400,000. In addition, it has been estimated that they had 650,000 reserves and up to 60,000 paramilitary.

....Have they all really just thrown down their weapons and faded back into the population? (My guess is that some of them are probably the looters, by the way). That's a scary thought. Can we really say they are defeated if they're just hiding? Remember Lexington and Concord?

SKB has more, but the basic question is: why didn't they fight? Entire divisions got annihilated without a single American casualty. And where are their weapons? There's either something scary going on here or else there's a truly fascinating story waiting to be told.

And what about the WMDs? I still think we're going to find some, but as Jesse points out, General Amer Hammoudi "7 of Diamonds" al-Saadi, Saddam's science advisor, has given himself up and says there are no WMDs. What's the point of lying about it now?

Mysteriouser and mysteriouser....

Kevin Drum 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A LIBERAL LEXICON....Everybody always complains about the other side using broad brushes against their own side, stuff like "Liberals think that...." or "Liberals just want to...." The question is, what do people really have in mind when they say "liberals"? It could be any of the following:

  • Democrats

  • The university professoriate

  • Op-ed writer types

  • Actual high ranking politicians

  • Atrios

  • Hollywood stars

  • Indymedia/Democratic Underground denizens

  • Greens

  • Lefty bloggers

  • Anyone to the left of Douglas MacArthur

So when you get into a discussion that goes something like this:

OTHER GUY: I hate liberals, they just want to [fill in the blank]....

YOU: What liberals are you talking about? Nobody I know supports [blank].

Just replace "liberal" in those two sentences with choices from the list above. It will make the whole conversation go a lot easier.

Kevin Drum 10:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TRADING CARDS, PART 2....I knew someone would come through. Thanks to reader David Phillips, here are the three not-so-bad-after-all Iraqis who made the list of 55 bad guys but didn't get playing cards of their own:

26. Nayif Shindakh Thamir -- BP Chmn & Cmdr BP Militia - Salah ad Din Gov.
34. Husayn Al Awawi -- BP Chmn & Cmdr BP Militia - Ninawa Governate
35. Khamis Sirhan al Muhammad -- BP Chmn & Cmdr BP Militia - Karbala Governate

Why them? Who knows.

And here's a PDF of the entire deck. Print 'em out and make your own! Of course, it seems to indicate that there are actually 56 playing cards.....

Kevin Drum 10:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 12, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TRADING CARDS....OK, so we've got these playing cards with pictures of Iraq's most wanted baddies. That's fine, kind of a cute idea, but why 55 cards? You've got your normal 52 cards, and as the picture below shows, they're also using the two jokers, but what's the 55th one? Is it that weird card that always has the rank of poker hands? Or the copyright card? Or what?

UPDATE: Ah, here we go: there are three jokers in the deck.

UPDATE 2: The 7 of diamonds has turned himself in. But this story deepens the mystery further: it says, "Each deck has two Jokers, one showing Iraqi military ranks and the other, Arab tribal titles." That's 54 cards.

This story lists every one of the cards, but there are only 54, and once again the two jokers are said to have military ranks and tribal titles. So that means there are only 52 actual faces.

What's the deal here? Is the Pentagon being coy about this for some reason, or is the press so incompetent that they can't even get a simple story like this right?

UPDATE 3: OK, I'll be damned. Here's the official DoD list of 55 baddies, and here's the official DoD picture of all the playing cards. Unless I'm blind, there are 52 people on the cards plus two jokers with titles and ranks and one blank card. So out of the 55 official baddies, who are the three who didn't get put on a card? And why?

Kevin Drum 9:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A TALE OF TWO MODERATES....Looks like those fabled moderate Republicans are holding firm after all:

Senate Republican leaders Friday unexpectedly pledged to limit President Bush's tax cut to $350 billion, less than half the amount he had proposed to try to spur the economy.

....Angry House GOP leaders held a news conference to accuse Senate Republicans of violating an agreement to postpone a final decision about the tax cut's size.

....The dispute within the GOP's congressional ranks provided a rancorous, divisive coda to a day that should have been a legislative triumph for Republicans....House Republicans' sense of betrayal was so bitter that they said the Senate's action threw the party into disarray just as Congress was preparing to advance several core elements of the president's domestic agenda. "This goes right to the heart of our ability to work together," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). "This is pretty serious and has serious long-term implications."

....But as Senate GOP leaders struggled Thursday night to round up the votes to pass the compromise, they ran into stalwart opposition from two key moderate Republicans, Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine. They remained committed to a tax cut of no more than $350 billion, and wanted assurances the reduction eventually worked out between the House and Senate would not exceed that amount.

How about that? Democrats are doing better at their filibuster of Miguel Estrada than the Republicans are in getting their tax cut passed. Who would have guessed it three months ago?

With any luck, George Bush will take his usual mature approach to "betrayals" like this and will refuse to invite Voinovich and Snowe to his next birthday party or something. Maybe they ought to have a little talk with Jim Jeffords.

Kevin Drum 4:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A TALE OF TWO TOMS....House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay on April 3:

Nothing is more important in the face of war than cutting taxes.

House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay on April 12:

Unfortunately in this town we have people who will take advantage of even a war situation. We have people in this town that just cannot stop their appetite for spending.

Gee, Tom, it's just terrible all those people who take advantage of war for political purposes, isn't it?

Give me a break.

Kevin Drum 4:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IS SADDAM HIDING OUT IN RUSSIA?....Arab News gives us the latest buzz in the Middle East about why Baghdad fell without a fight:

One theory is that Condoleezza Rice, in her meeting with Russian officials, was told that Saddam would be allowed to go into exile to Russia on condition that he ordered his officers not to resist and thus allow US forces an easy victory. This theory, along with many others, is all over Arab websites and Saudi gatherings.

That's the internet for you. Any bets on whether we start getting rumors of sightings of Saddam sunning himself at some dacha on the Black Sea?

The rest of the story is about Al Jazeera. Apparently the Arab world is pretty honked off that they made it sound like Iraq was putting up a stiff resistance:

All along, both channels in their analysis were telling their viewers in the Arab world that the south had not fallen to the American and British forces, even a couple days before the capital itself fell. Reports continued about how pockets of resistance were giving the invading forces a hard fight and that Iraqis had not given up their positions in the city....Now that Baghdad has fallen, Saudis are in a dilemma. They are feeling betrayed by their Arab satellite channels who had kept them believing that the Iraqi resistance did have a chance to whip the American forces, they are also confused.

Them's the breaks. Fox News may be slanted too, but they had the good fortune to be on the winning side. And we all know who writes the history books.

Kevin Drum 4:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CNN AND IRAQ....Here's a little story about how blogging can change your view of events. Maybe.

Eason Jordan, the chief news executive at CNN, wrote an op-ed yesterday in the New York Times about the problems CNN has had reporting news from Iraq over the past 13 years. He provided several examples of stories that were spiked because it would have put their own reporters in jeopardy if they had reported them:

For example, in the mid-1990's one of our Iraqi cameramen was abducted. For weeks he was beaten and subjected to electroshock torture in the basement of a secret police headquarters because he refused to confirm the government's ludicrous suspicion that I was the Central Intelligence Agency's Iraq station chief. CNN had been in Baghdad long enough to know that telling the world about the torture of one of its employees would almost certainly have gotten him killed and put his family and co-workers at grave risk.

My first, top-of-the-head thought when I read this was to shake my head over what a horrible position CNN had been in. Obviously you don't want to be responsible for putting your own people at risk of torture and death, but on the other hand Iraq is an important place and CNN was surely right to want to keep their Baghdad bureau open. This is the kind of decision all of us hope we never have to make ourselves.

I thought nothing more about it, but as I cruised through the blogosphere during the day I saw that this had become a big deal. Blog after blog was apoplectic about Eason's story. There are way too many comments to link to here, but the general tone was that (a) CNN was deliberately trying to hide evidence of torture by Saddam's regime, (b) they should have just pulled out of Baghdad, and (c) how can we ever trust anything they say again?

What was more surprising to me was that all these comments were on righty blogs, despite the fact that this hadn't initially struck me as a left-right kind of story. So I thought about it some more. Here are a few comments:

  • The critics have a point: CNN didn't make it clear in their earlier reporting that they were constrained in what they could tell. This surely hurts their credibility.

  • On the other hand, reporters frequently slant stories in order to protect access to sources. CNN's actions may seem more egregious in the aftermath of a war, but this desire to protect access is pretty fundamental to journalists everywhere. This isn't really big news.

  • I imagine every news organization did pretty much the same thing that CNN did. The only difference is that they haven't fessed up to it yet.

  • CNN made a judgment that being able to report from inside Iraq was worth the downside that the realities of the situation imposed on them. Considering how important a story Iraq is, it's not clear to me that this was the wrong decision.

  • Stories of Iraqi torture and other atrocities were widely reported. It's not as if CNN had an exclusive story and chose to bury it.

Long story short, the value of the blogosphere to me was that it provided a view that hadn't occurred to me, and one that I think was worth making. At the same time, however, it strikes me as overblown, mostly an attempt to prove that CNN is some kind of liberal shill which strikes me as odd given the breathless pro-war tone of their coverage over the past few weeks.

Journalistic objectivity is a worthy goal in many ways, but whenever you read or listen to the news you should be aware that reporters are only as good as their sources and frequently tilt their reporting to protect access to those sources. That's just the way the game is played.

UPDATE: On the other hand, it's true that in this interview from last October Jordan pretty clearly tries to claim that CNN wasn't shading the truth just to please Saddam. Still, if you read the whole thing Jordan talks about "the realities on the ground," about government censorship, about some of the things they did that got them kicked out of Iraq on occasion, and about his contention that "some light is better than no light whatsoever."

CNN may have made the wrong call, but I'm still skeptical that, as Matt Welch puts it, "'news bureaus' in Baghdad and other totalitarian capitals (Havana, to name one) are actually propaganda huts, churning out what CNN producers call 'sanctions coverage' (pieces on the awful humanitarian toll of international economic sanctions), while refusing to report the awful truth." I'm sure every journalist in these countries has to make compromises, but would we really be better off if we had no reporting from there at all?

Kevin Drum 1:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DAILY PRAYER....To wind up a week of posting about atheists, loons, and conservatives, we have this delightful little story from the LA Times today:

An atheist who sought to pray during City Council meetings for deliverance from "weak and stupid politicians" received the blessing of the Utah Supreme Court on Friday.

....Among other things, the prayer asked for deliverance "from the evil of forced religious worship now sought to be imposed upon the people ... by the actions of misguided, weak and stupid politicians, who abuse power in their own self-righteousness."

My kind of guy.

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A TALE OF TWO PHOTOS....A couple of days ago I posted two photos of the statue toppling in Baghdad. One is the scene on TV, a closely cropped shot that seems to show a large crowd, while the other is a wide angle shot posted on IndyMedia that shows the square virtually empty, with no more than a hundred Iraqis present.

Josh Chafetz today prints an analysis from reader M.D. suggesting that it's the wide angle shot that's deceptive, not the television shots. To make a long story short, M.D. says three things:

  • In the wide angle shot, the statue is obviously gone, so this picture was taken after the statue was toppled.

  • A CNN view from before the statue was toppled shows people in the background. They aren't there in the wide angle shot, so clearly the wide angle shot was taken after the statue was toppled.

  • This CNN view of the toppling in progress shows a bright sky. The wide angle shot shows a darker sky, so it must have been taken after the statue was toppled.

I don't really have any big axe to grind here, but the evidence M.D. presents is pretty iffy. Clearly, yes, the statue is gone, so the wide angle picture was taken after it came down. But how long after?

The people in the background would have run across the street as soon as the statue hit the ground, so that doesn't mean much, and the color of the sky is also hard to draw conclusions from. The reddish cast in the wide angle photo is indeed suspicious, but color cast is notoriously tricky in photographs, especially in the vicinity of sunset, and the statue toppling happened 40 minutes before sunset. Likewise, the whitish sky in the TV image doesn't mean much either. TV cameras are extremely light sensitive and show a much brighter sky than the human eye sees (check out a televised golf tournament that's running late someday to see this for yourself).

None of this is very definitive, so it's still possible that the wide angle photo was taken after the crowd had dispersed. The real question is whether the statue is on the ground in the wide angle photo, and it's hard to tell. If it is, then it's an honest picture. If it's not, then it means it was taken long after the statue had been dragged completely away by the crowd.

What's really frustrating about all this is what I was originally complaining about: the role of the media. None of us should have to be doing half-assed amateur analysis of this, but a moderately thorough search of news sites shows nothing except closely cropped photos of the scene. This series from the BBC is about the best I could find, and #8 in the series (shown at right) pretty clearly shows a group of no more than 100-200 Iraqis standing around the statue as it fell (you can see the edge of the crowd, so that's probably all there was).

Bottom line: I'm still inclined to think that the TV shots (and everyone else's) were deliberately cropped to make the crowd seem bigger, either for propaganda purposes or simply because photo editors generally like dramatic, closely cropped photos. On the other hand, I can't see the statue in the wide angle Indymedia photo, so it might not be honest either. Or maybe the picture is just fuzzy and I can't see it through the crowd. I dunno.

But why do I have to guess? Why doesn't our media just tell us?

If anybody knows the source of the Indymedia photo, let me know and I'll check into this further.

UPDATE: Ben Longman has some screenshots of the BBC coverage of the statue toppling as well as some real-time commentary on his blog. He emails:

Now it could be that the soldiers surrounding the square weren't letting anyone through, but your Indymedia shot is not far off, even if half the people had left. The BBC did pan in and out during quiet periods because it turned around a couple of times to look at some ministry in flames. The crowd was always quite modest.

UPDATE: It looks like (a) the IndyMedia photo was deceptive, but (b) the crowd is still probably no more than 200-300 people. The definitive analysis is here.

Kevin Drum 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 11, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE GREAT MORTGAGE TAX DEDUCTION SCAM....I've gotten a few emails asking why Marian and I pay so much in taxes. The short answer is that we have no kids and no mortgage, and thus don't benefit from either of these common deductions.

This is sad, of course, but at least it gives me an excuse to complain about the great mortgage interest deduction shell game, a grand con in which middle class taxpayers are convinced they are getting a break from Uncle Sam. But it ain't so.

If there were no mortgage interest deduction, what would happen? Let's take a look at how house prices are set for a single individual:

  • You decide how much you can spend. Let's say it's $1000 per month.

  • You figure out how much you can bid based on your maximum monthly payment. Of course, you include the tax break you're going to get, so you figure you can afford a gross payment of $1,300 per month, which works out to a bid of (let's say) $200,000.

  • You bid $200,000, it's accepted, and shortly thereafter you move in.

But what if there were no mortgage interest deduction? You can still afford a net payment of only $1000 per month, and since everything else is equal, that equates to a bid of $160,000. So you bid that.

Now spread this out to the entire house-buying public. Everyone would be bidding less than they do now, and since supply and demand determines house prices, the price of houses would come down. That $200,000 house would be a $160,000 house.

The net result is that under the current system you pay a higher mortgage but lower taxes. Without the mortgage deduction, your taxes would be higher but your mortgage would be lower. So who benefits? Not you: you're paying the same net amount either way. Rather, the beneficiary is the housing industry and the original landowners, who are able to charge artificially inflated prices thanks to government tax breaks.

Remember this the next time you think you're paying low taxes because you just deducted twenty grand in mortgage interest on your 1040. You are paying lower taxes, but you're also paying a higher mortgage than you should. You get nothing out this deal, Uncle Sam gets lower tax receipts, and builders make out like bandits.

I have no idea whether pointing this out is a liberal idea, a conservative one, a libertarian one, or what. But it's the truth. We should phase out the mortgage interest deduction and reduce actual tax rates instead of continuing the shell game. Write your congressman.

UPDATE: Two things. First, I am reliably informed that this analysis is sort of correct, but not completely. If I learn more, you'll be the first to hear it. LATER: I've learned more. Here it is.

Second, several people have written to ask how the mortgage interest deduction could be eliminated. After all, current homeowners would lose a bundle. My guess is that you'd need either a slow phaseout of the deduction or else you'd have to grandfather existing mortgages, or perhaps a combination of the two. In addition, since sellers would take a big hit on the selling price, you might need some kind of one-time tax rebate to compensate them.

Or something. I'm not sure what the answer is here, but tax policy guys like Max are a bright and sneaky bunch and I'll bet they could come up with something that was tolerably fair.

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TORTURE AND SADDAM HUSSEIN....Commenting on this much blogged story about how CNN spiked stories occasionally in order to protect its own reporters in Iraq, Mickey Kaus makes this odd statement:

This Eason Jordan piece is pretty amazing, and suggests that what some conservative friends have been telling me may turn out to be true -- that the human rights case for ousting Saddam could turn out to be strong enough to compensate even for a U.S. failure to find WMD. ... Mickey's Assignment Desk #1: Should there be a "gross violation of human rights" exception to the generally-accepted ban on trans-border aggression, in addition to a "genocide" exception?

Now, I read Jordan's op-ed and found it very far from "amazing." In fact, what he said about the barbarous and routine human rights violations of Saddam's regime was common knowledge (and surely "human rights violations" is really far too antiseptic a phrase to describe it). Was there ever any question about the stomach turning accounts of torture and sadism committed by Saddam, his relatives, and his henchmen?

Whether there should be the "human rights exception" that he suggests (and who should decide when it applies) is an open question. But I can't believe that this is actually a brand new thought from anyone who's been paying even the slightest attention to the events of the past 12 years.

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OIL WELL FIRES....Ken Layne asks an interesting question about Halliburton's $7 billion contract to fight oil well fires in Iraq: what's the deal? After all, there aren't any oil well fires in Iraq at the moment. And are there any plans to ever let the taxpayers know about the actual details of this contract?

On a related note, does anyone know what happened to the human shields? Did they just slink out of town? Are they going to be rounded up and tried en masse for treason? Or what?

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CONSERVATIVE EXTREMISTS....Digby makes a good point in response to a post of mine yesterday:

Every political party has its fringe. In a two party system, the coalition in each is huge and represents a wide range of opinion....White supremacists, Christian Reconstructionists, militias, neo-confederates and anti-immigrant bigots represent the extremist fringe of the Republican party and I would suggest that their activities would be far more repulsive to most middle of the road Americans than some theatrical kids at a protest rally --- if they heard about them constantly.

Quite aside from any question of just how liberal or moderate you happen to be personally, this is something that's puzzled me a bit: why do conservative extremists get so little attention? I'm not sure the answer to it is all that obvious, but here are a few thoughts off the top of my head:

  • Lefty protesters want to be noticed by the world. They want to upset comfortable middle class suburbanites. That's the whole point. Neo-confederates and militia members, by contrast, mostly keep to themselves. They bitch and complain and hold rallies and send out email blasts, but mostly to each other, so it's a subculture that most of us never really hear about.

  • It's a perverse effect of the fact that most reporters really are urban liberals. The liberal protesters are their kids and their friends' kids, so they know what they're doing and it's easy for them to report about it. Backwoods Klan rallies, on the other hand, might as well be primitive Amazonian tribes by comparison, and require anthropological persistence and undercover cleverness to root out. These things are hard to report.

  • For some reason, conservative extremists are written off as dinosaurs whose day has passed, and therefore not to be feared. Liberal extremists, on the other hand, do seem scary because it seems much more likely that someday they might get what they're asking for.

As a piece of anecdotal evidence here, my mother once told me that during the early 50s she (and her fellow liberal college students in Southern California) had no idea of how blacks were treated in the South. It simply never got reported. Sure, Jim Crow was common knowledge, but the brutal miscarriages of justice, the wholesale refusal to allow blacks to vote, and the miserable conditions of their daily lives were not. Until the media picked up the story, there was little chance of getting broad support for civil rights reform.

Digby's main point is that people like me should stop worrying about our own extremists. They're here, they've always been here, and they aren't going away. Rather, we should be working harder to expose conservative extremists and forcing the Republican party to either embrace them or repudiate them.

OK, I can buy that. Now all we have to do is figure out how.

Kevin Drum 3:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THOSE CRAZY VOLOKHS....Sheesh, porn, vibrators, male vibrators, obscene material that promotes racial subordination....The Volokh Conspiracy is hopping today. I guess when Eugene tells everyone it's not a family blog, all hell breaks loose.

Anyway, just to pick one thing to comment on, how about this. Congress has passed a new law banning misleading domain names "with the intent to deceive a minor into viewing material that is harmful to minors." Here's one piece of the relevant section:

(d) For the purposes of this section, the term "material that is harmful to minors" means any communication that --

(1) taken as a whole and with respect to minors, appeals to a prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion....

Excretion? What's up with that? I mean, the last time I looked kiddie TV was so full of fart and poop and pee jokes that it even makes me a little queasy. Or is there a whole subgenre of excretion porn that I am blessedly unfamiliar with?

UPDATE: A reader who may or may not wish to be publicly identified with this, answers my question about excretion porn:

Yes. Be grateful that you attended college before it was possible to have a roommate who had both a disturbing interest in such things and the ability to instantly access it from the dormroom computer you share with him.

Additionally, trying to explain the above situation to your girlfriend when she stumbles upon the link in the History section of your browser when she's checking her email is one of those aspects of modern life that I could do without.

That's shocking. He has to share a computer?

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FUN WITH TAXES....I'm about to drop off our taxes at the post office, but before I stuffed the forms in their respective envelopes I decided to add everything up and see how much we paid this year. If my arithmetic is reliable, the combination of payroll taxes and federal income tax that we paid amounted to 33% of our income. (Add in state income tax and it comes to 39%.)

So I forget: as a liberal, am I supposed to think this is too high or too low? And why do I suspect that I'm actually paying a higher percentage of taxes than the millionaires are?

Oh yeah, it's because I am.

Now, God knows that I don't mind paying my fair share of our war in Iraq, and I surely don't want to be accused of class warfare, but don't you suppose that the rich ought to pay at least as much as the well-off-but-not-rich (like me) and perhaps just a tad more than two percentage points higher than the average schmoe?

Nah, I guess not. That's why we need to cut dividend taxes. We're taxing the rich too highly, destroying their incentive to start new dotcoms. It's enough to bring tears to your eyes.

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Today is portrait day. Jasmine is on the left, Inkblot is on the right. (But you knew that already, didn't you?)

Today's bonus cat is a poem, Philosophy Killed the Cat, from reader Ian Davis. And on the more general animal front, A Skeptical Blog warns us not to buy our kids cute little bunnies for Easter. At the very least, read his words of warning first, straight from the mouth of a certified rabbit lover who owns (by my count, anyway) eight rabbits at the moment.

Finally, do you wish you could have cat pet blogging day for your own lovable little critters? Now you can! Jay and Jane at The Daily Rant are planning Pet Blogging Day for this Monday, so if you want your pet to get its rightful due, go read the rules (yes, there are rules) and then send them a picture or two this weekend. Apparently Jay is whining about the lack of dog entries, so all you dog lovers out there should take special note.

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OH? DO SUVs USE OIL TOO?....So here we are spending a hundred billion dollars invading Iraq in order to stabilize the Middle East, the world's primary source of oil, but back home the idea of reducing dependence on foreign oil is getting a chilly reception. Mostly from Republicans, of course:

The House on Thursday thwarted an effort to force automakers to raise the fuel economy standards for SUVs and other vehicles as it moved toward approval of a sweeping energy bill.

....The 268-162 vote against the stricter rules came during a daylong debate on a Republican-drafted bill that, among other provisions, would provide $18 billion in tax breaks to encourage more energy production and conservation.

....Opponents argued that the tougher standards would lead to smaller, lighter and less-safe vehicles and would cost the U.S. auto industry jobs. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said mandating a tougher fuel standard would be comparable to "treating obesity by mandating smaller pant sizes."

No, Mike, it would be like treating obesity by getting people to eat less, a proven strategy. Giving people tax breaks to eat less, on the other hand, would rightfully be considered a rather dubious plan, wouldn't it?

Talk about your folks whose only tool is a hammer. Is it now official Republican theology that tax breaks are the singular solution to every single problem there is?

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APPLE TO BUY UNIVERSAL?....The Los Angeles Times reports today that Apple is considering entering the music business by buying Universal Music Group for $6 billion. This is good news for Vivendi anything would be good news for Vivendi but I'd like to go on record right now as saying that if this goes through it will go down in history as one of the dumbest acquisitions ever made. And there's some pretty stiff competition in that category.

Kevin Drum 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GOOD TIRES....As I was picking up some Chinese food for dinner last night, it occurred to me that my car is two years old and I've never put air in the tires. I suppose the dealer might have done it the last time I took the car in, but even that was over a year ago.

What's the deal? Have tires really gotten that much better? Are nitrogen and oxygen molecules bigger than they used to be? Is it global warming?

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JESSICA LYNCH UPDATE....From the "totally unsubstantiated but what the hell" department, here's something from the comments section over at Road to Surfdom about the discovery and rescue of Jessica Lynch:

The day of Pte Lynch's rescue, a BBC journalist on BBC World TV reported that the raid on the hospital was to check out military activity there, but when helpful Iraqi soldiers told them about a POW in bed and dead POWs in the morgue and buried in the garden they raced off to find them. Afterwards they doublechecked for military activity and found an empty command centre complete with 3-dimensional terrain maps etc. But all personnel had gone. Still they'd rescued Pte Lynch and 11 cadavers.

The day after, at 03.30 am GMT (7.30 am in Iraq), another BBC journalist on BBC World TV reported that US military analysts who had examined the video made of the raid recognised the helpful soldier who'd sent them hareing off for Pte Lynch and the corpses. It was Saddam's brother-in-law and military Commander of southern Iraq - General 'Chemical' Ali himself.

The story was never repeated on BBC. Suddenly somebody reported about the helpful lawyer, Mohammed. And someone told the press that it was now a primary objective to "get" 'Chemical' Ali.

Whether he was killed in Basra as claimed has not been confirmed. "Mohammed" has disappeared. And the press aren't allowed anywhere near Pte Lynch.

This story isn't over.

Gerard Mulholland,
British ex-pat in Paris, France

Hmmm.....

Kevin Drum 9:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 10, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

LIBERALS AND SOCIOBIOLOGY....In an effort to further annoy Atrios on the subject of nature vs. nurture, here's an article by Melvin Konner that appeared in The American Prospect a few years ago on the subject of liberals and sociobiology. It does a very good job of summarizing the 25-year debate on the subject and, I think, hits just the right tone in explaining both the strengths and weaknesses of biological and evolutionary explanations for human behavior.

As an added bonus, he even works in references to Thomas Hobbes and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom have influenced my thinking on the subject of human nature and the purpose of government. (Someday I'll tell you my Jefferson story, but not today....) And he explains why, far from rejecting sociobiology on ideological grounds, liberals might very well embrace it:

Personally, I favor political economies like those of northern Europe over the one we have now in the United States, and I have voted that preference to whatever extent possible for more than three decades. Around halfway through that period, I concluded that the neo-Darwinians had a very useful way of looking at evolution, and I accepted it. Why didn't it change my vote?

First of all, because my political views are based as much on "ought" as on "is." I support liberal economic programs because I want to live in a decent community. My definition of "decent" doesn't depend on one or another theory of evolution. But in addition, because I do see human nature as an obstacle to decency, I support programs that buffer us against the loss of it. Newt Gingrich and Milton Friedman must have a far more sanguine view of human nature than I do, or they would surely not be heartless enough to want to give it the free rein of an unalloyed market economy.

(Emphasis mine.)

Atrios is quite right that sociobiology should not be used as an excuse to justify pseudo-scientific racist theories, but it can provide insights into why we do the things we do. The whole article is well worth your time.

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TEARING DOWN THE STATUE....I'm hesitant to throw any cold water on the fully justified euphoria that many of us feel about the fall of Baghdad. It's happened quickly and with remarkably little bloodshed, and ending Saddam Hussein's barbaric rule is cause for cheer.

But it's hard to ignore the duplicitous role of the media in hyping yesterday's main Kodak moment: the destruction of the statue of Saddam in central Baghdad. The camera shots all gave the very deliberate impression that this event was played out in front of a huge mob of cheering Iraqis, and these video images were played incessantly, at least three or four times an hour.

But as the photo below shows, the truth was rather different: there was a gathering of at most a hundred, and more likely only a few dozen Iraqis present in the square for this event. I don't blame the government for staging something like this, but the job of the media should be to explain the reality of what's going on, not simply act as cheerleaders for whatever the Pentagon tells them. There are some serious questions about how quickly and easily we will be able to gain control of Baghdad, and a lot of this depends on just how friendly the populace turns out to be toward us. Hopefully things will go well, but the media should be giving us the best information possible about the reaction of the Iraqi people, not deliberately cropping their images in a Pollyannaish effort to make things look more cheerful than they really are.

(Via Atrios and Indymedia.)

UPDATE: Is it possible that it's the wide angle photo that's actually the deceptive one? I think it's unlikely, but there's more analysis here.

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MR. MULTILATERAL....The Los Angeles Times conducted an interview with Colin Powell yesterday and printed it in today's edition. Here's an excerpt about how we're dealing with North Korea:

A: Our position is clear. We want to enter into a multilateral dialogue with North Korea and with other interested nations....It is South Korea that has an agreement with North Korea for no nuclear developments on the peninsula. It is China who has a solid, strong policy of no nuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Japan feels the same way. So do we. So does Russia. So therefore Mr. Multilateral wishes to deal with this in a multilateral setting....

Huh? Who the heck is "Mr. Multilateral"?

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WOMEN AND LIBERAL MAGAZINES....Ampersand wants to know why there are so few female writers working for liberal magazines. Is it because there are so few female editors?

That doesn't sound quite right to me, but it's probably part of the explanation. Still, there has to be more to it than that. I imagine the preponderance of war news partially explains the dominance of men on newspaper op-ed pages, but that doesn't seem like it explains anything about their dominance of magazines. Maybe men are just by nature bigger assholes, and this makes for more interesting writing. Maybe there are just fewer women who feel like mouthing off in print. I dunno.

(And I wonder how conservative magazines fare? It would be rather embarrassing if they did a better job publishing women than liberal magazines, wouldn't it?)

UPDATE: Jeanne d'Arc emailed me to add some insight into this issue:

Madeleine Bunting did a study for the Guardian immediately after 9/11 and found that the percentage of bylines by women dropped drastically. She was looking both at news pages and editorial pages. Part of the drop could be explained by the fact that journalists with backgrounds in military matters suddenly were writing a large percentage of the stories, and there just aren't many women specializing in military affairs.

What fascinated me, though, so much that I still remember it more than a year later, is that the women also had far fewer bylines in commentary, and many editors said that women they specifically asked for a piece turned them down, while male writers rarely turned them down. Many women said they didn't feel they had anything adequate to say. The reason it stuck in my head is that it confirmed my personal experience that many men I knew, in the wake of 9/11 felt a great need to expound on their political points of view, to explain things, and to demonstrate that this kind of thing never would happen if everyone saw things their way (and that attitude seemed true of men on both the left and right), while women seemed less sure of what they believed, more questioning, and more inclined to just shut up and wait for some sense to emerge.

I don't think those are innate characteristics (picking up on your nature vs. nurture post as well), but I think that a difference between the way most men think and the way most women think exists. Newspapers and magazines aren't comfortable with questions; they want confident answers. And that tends to favor male writers although obviously there are many confident, even over-confident female writers (Ann Coulter, anyone?) and many probing male writers who tend toward reflection rather than assertion (one of my favorites is Richard Rodriguez).

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NATURE VS. NURTURE....Comment-less Matt Yglesias makes a good point today that I have also found myself amused by in the past. The question is whether being gay is in the genes or caused by upbringing:

Republicans opted for upbringing by a 61-39 margin whereas Democrats chose innateness 66-34. I think it's interesting that liberals who tend to resist genetic explanations of behavior like it when it comes to homosexuality where it's thought to make the case for gay rights stronger.

I've mentioned before the fact that many liberals mightily resist the idea of biological causes of behavior, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, for mostly ideological reasons. Most conservatives, on the other hand, mightily resist the idea that people are products of their environment, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, also for mostly ideological reasons. But just as both sides are willing to change their tune on federalism whenever it suits them, so are they willing to change their tune on nature vs. nurture when their normal stance doesn't support their preferred policy goal.

What makes this especially silly is that the real answer to this question is in little doubt: it's both. There are almost certainly complexes of genes that make one more or less likely to become gay, and there are almost certainly environmental cues that make it more or less likely that these genes will be expressed.

But that's so boring, isn't it? And what's even worse is that, as with most of the ideology tied up in nature/nurture arguments, this whole question is wildly misplaced. Whether homosexuality is innate or not, the only real question is whether it's behavior that we approve of. If it's not, then who cares if it's innate? If there were genes for murder, we still wouldn't approve of murder. Likewise, if we do approve of it, then who cares if it's mostly a matter of upbringing?

The question of the biological sources of behavior is an interesting area of scientific study that will have considerable impact on us in the future. But it says nothing at all about what kinds of behavior are acceptable, and it is unwise to try and support moral arguments using scientific evidence that might change tomorrow. Both sides in this absurd war should learn that.

UPDATE: As usual, Kieran Healy sums up the whole situation better than either of us, and in far fewer words.

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By: Kevin Drum

HUMANITARIAN RELIEF....One of the things that I'm less than sanguine about in postwar Iraq is the state of humanitarian relief, and it's something I'm puzzled by. We've been planning this war for six months, it's gone pretty much the way we expected, and yet we seem unprepared for the scale of humanitarian aid that's required. Why?

It might be nothing more than the usual chaos at the beginning of any operation like this, but I wonder if there's more to it. Did the Bush team expect that in the end they would get UN approval for this operation and that the UN would be doing the humanitarian followup? Perhaps when it finally became clear that UN approval wasn't coming, they kicked off plans for the postwar relief efforts, but by then it was too late and Bush didn't want to delay the war while the relief plans were ramped up.

Just a thought.

Kevin Drum 10:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE END OF WAR?....Chris Mooney today:

I must confess I am ecstatic at what has happened. It seems to me that this war, thus far, has proved the critics largely wrong. Sure, there were civilian and military casualties, but we knew there would be, and they have been moderate in number. This is no "holocaust" -- it is a war of liberation, as the images of Iraqis toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein make painfully clear.

I suppose that now, more than ever, I remain of the generation who observed Kosovo, Afghanistan, and now Iraq, and who believes that the United States, despite its many flaws, can be a great source of good in the world.

I think this is right. I've always felt that the postwar reconstruction was much more important than the war itself, and I'm far from sanguine about how this will go, but the fact is that the war itself has gone about as well as could be expected. And no matter what happens next, Iraq will surely be a better place with Saddam Hussein gone.

I remain disturbed by the tone of the pro-war camp, which seems to feel that America now has the right to invade any country with a nasty dictatorship, but even given that, I think it's good to keep things in perspective. As Chris says, despite our flaws, American power has been used far more often in a good cause than otherwise.

Now it's time to move on, and it's time for the administration to prove that it means what it says: we're going to rebuild Iraq, we're going to keep order, we're going to put in place a better government, not just a friendlier dictatorship, and we're not going to use Iraq as a launching pad for further wars. I also hope to see some aggressive use of diplomatic pressure to encourage our Mideast allies (as well as enemies) to incrementally open up their societies, and a full-bore effort to try and resolve (or at least improve) the current Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

Time will tell.

Kevin Drum 10:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE AGONIST....In case you just got back from a vacation on Mars, the blogosphere had its own mini-scandal a few days ago. Sean-Paul Kelley, who runs The Agonist, has been providing hyperactive coverage of the war since it started three weeks ago and has gotten quite a bit of attention for this. He's also become one of the most popular blogs around, receiving as many as 100,000 visits a day.

On Monday, Wired revealed that Sean-Paul had been using lots of verbatim information from Stratfor, a subscription service, without crediting them. In fact, in a couple of cases he deliberately sourced Stratfor information to "a little birdie" and to "a Turkish friend." Stratfor has settled this amicably, but what do the rest of us think?

Basically, this: Sean-Paul did something wrong, he knew it was wrong, and he should be ashamed of himself.

And what should happen to him? I'd say that the usual punishment for lying (and getting caught) is public humiliation and loss of credibility, and this is exactly what's happened. Justice, therefore, has been done. Does it reflect badly on the blogosphere in general? Only if you take blogging more seriously than I do. Should bloggers have a code of ethics? It is to laugh. I mean, we all know already that lying is a bad thing, right?

I'd like to add one more observation, too: my original reaction to this was a bit muted because, after all, everyone knows that by their very nature blogs are aggregators. It was inherent in the form that all of Sean-Paul's information came from other news sources, not from personal reporting, and for that reason I originally had a hard time putting this incident into the category of full blown plagiarism that people like Stephen Ambrose and Doris Keans Goodwin have been accused of. What makes it more serious, however, is that he sourced most of his information (CNN, Iraqi TV, "a reader in comments," and so forth) but failed to source Stratfor, and apparently only Stratfor. I think some perspective is still called for here, but it's pretty obvious that there was some deliberate and persistent deception here.

POSTSCRIPT: I used to read The Agonist before the war and enjoyed it, but when it went into hyper-war mode I stopped. I just wasn't interested in 24/7 war coverage, so I haven't read the site for three weeks now. However, he's been on my blogroll for a while, and I think it's probably appropriate to remove him at this point.

UPDATE: There's one more lesson from all this: in the internet age you just can't expect to get away with this stuff. Google makes it too easy to find original sources and there are too many people reading too many things. I've caught people doing this kind of thing before (in other circumstances), and it's just childishly easy. So don't do it, OK?

Kevin Drum 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BASEBALL UPDATE....Reader Keith Luckenbach alerts me to this charming piece of baseball news:

The Hall of Fame president, a former official in the Reagan administration, canceled a 15th anniversary celebration of "Bull Durham" because of anti-war criticism by co-stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.

"We believe your very public criticism of President Bush at this important -- and sensitive -- time in our nation's history helps undermine the U.S. position, which ultimately could put our troops in even more danger. As an institution, we stand behind our President and our troops in this conflict."

The Hall of Fame doesn't want to be associated with anyone who doesn't support the president? When did I miss the part where baseball became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican party?

Robbins' reaction: "You belong with the cowards and ideologues in a hall of infamy and shame."

Luckily for me I gave up on baseball back in 1994, so I don't have to go to all the time and bother of insisting on a boycott or anything. But these guys really need to grow up.

UPDATE: Edited to remove references to Major League Baseball, which, I am informed, has no official relationship to the Hall of Fame.

Kevin Drum 8:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 9, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WATERLOGGED....Remember the army chaplain who was offering baths to dusty American soldiers in his 500-gallon pool if they agreed to be baptized? Eugene Volokh reprints a letter today indicating that if the facts of the story are correct, Llano's church condemns his actions.

Good for them. I hope they look into the facts of the matter and take the proper disciplinary action if it's warranted. And I still want to know what the army thinks of all this.

Kevin Drum 6:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ON THE OTHER HAND, IT'S NOT LIKE BUSINESS CAN GET ANY WORSE....Josh Chafetz is right: this has got to be one of the worst-timed ad campaigns in history.

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TIDBITS ABOUT THE WAR....I was poking around in the Washington Post poll vault this afternoon, and while I didn't find what I was looking for, I did run across a few recent poll questions that I thought were interesting for one reason or another. Here they are:

Question 12. Have the antiwar demonstrations in the United States and other countries made you more likely to (oppose) the war, more likely to (support) the war, or haven't they changed your opinion of the war one way or another?

            Oppose     Support     No change     No opinion
3/23/03 7 20 71 2

So for what it's worth, it looks like the demonstrations were actually counterproductive. I don't suppose that means they shouldn't have taken place, but it's too bad there wasn't a better way to appeal to all those centrists who were uncertain about the war in order to gain support for a more patient, multinational effort.

Question 13. Which better expresses your own opinion - People have a right to demonstrate peacefully against the war and it's a sign of a healthy democracy when they do so; OR, in wartime it's better for the country to appear united, so opponents of the war should not hold antiwar demonstrations?

              Right to      Should not         No
demonstrate demonstrate opinion
3/23/03 60 37 3

Question 14. (IF SHOULD NOT DEMONSTRATE) Do you think antiwar demonstrations should or should not be permitted as long as the United States is at war with Iraq?

            Should be     Should not be        No
permitted permitted opinion
3/23/03 53 45 3

If you put these two questions together, it means that 16% of Americans think that anti-war demonstrations should have been illegal while troops were in the field. Crikey.

Question 17. Who do you think should take the leading role in rebuilding Iraq and helping its people set up a new government there after the war - the United States or the United Nations?

            United     United      Neither      Both         No  
States Nations (vol.) (vol.) opinion
3/27/03 31 61 3 3 2

That's interesting. Even given George Bush's wartime popularity and the generally dim view Americans have of the United Nations, nearly two-thirds still think the UN should lead the rebuilding effort, not the United States.

Question 11. Do you think the United States will be able to justify this war ONLY if it finds weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical or biological weapons, in Iraq; or do you think the United States will be able to justify this war for other reasons, even if it does NOT find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

            Justify only     Justify even      Neither/No         No
if find WMD if no WMD justification opinion
4/3/03 22 69 6 3
3/20/03 35 53 7 6

Wow. Only about a third of Americans ever cared about the WMD argument in the first place, and in the space of only two weeks that percentage dropped by 13 points for no apparent reason except that we weren't finding any.

I haven't seen a poll that asked this question, but I wonder what most Americans considered the main reason for going to war with Iraq? If it wasn't WMDs, what was it? And if it was really just general revulsion with Saddam Hussein's regime, then getting the public whipped up for another campaign against Iran or Syria or whoever might be alarmingly easy, mightn't it?

Kevin Drum 5:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FIGHTING LIBERALS....Michael Tomasky writes in The American Prospect today about how "reasonable" Democrats helped Rupert Murdoch assemble his grand conservative media empire. Basically, he says that we were so dedicated to being fair and open minded that we let Murdoch do his thing even though it was demonstrably bad for Democrats:

There's a lesson in this, and in the whole tale, for our side. Tolerance for other views has been part of the very essence of liberalism since John Stuart Mill. Read Lionel Trilling's brief introduction to The Liberal Imagination: He fretted not that conservatism might one day overtake liberalism (the notion was laughable in 1949) but that conservatism was so weak that liberalism would grow flaccid from its ideas not facing rigorous-enough scrutiny from the other side (which happened, in certain respects).

Well, this isn't 1949, modern conservatism is not founded on toleration for other points of view, and Mr. Murdoch has an empire that's just getting up a head of steam (FOX News Europe? FOX News India?) and that's out to smash everything we believe. We need to quit being so damn reasonable about it.

Now, as it happens, in the same way that I think the ACLU was right to support the Skokie marchers, I think it's right for Democrats to support tolerance of other viewpoints even if they hurt us. But that's a quibble, and Tomasky's overall point is well taken: it's time for mainstream Democrats to stop being such wallflowers.

This is something that I think got missed in the extremism vs. moderation kerfuffle a couple of weeks ago. My problem is with extremist liberals who seem to go out of their way to alienate Middle America highly public vomit-ins, tree spikings, trips to Baghdad without ever thinking about what effect this might have on acceptance of the liberal agenda in general. However, I decidedly don't have a problem with honest partisans who bang the liberal drum loudly and without compromise. That's why I like Atrios so much, it's why I like the fact that Democrats are showing some spine by filibustering Miguel Estrada, and it's why Paul Krugman is my favorite columnist. They aren't engaged in dumb street theater that accomplishes little except making liberals look scary, but they are loud, cranky, partisan, sometimes obnoxious, and they get under conservatives' skins. And good for them for being that way.

We should remember that we lost only a couple of Senate seats in the 2002 elections, not exactly a massive repudation of the party's policies, and poll after poll shows that the American public basically supports moderate Democratic positions on most social and economic issues. There's no question that the party needs a tougher and more coherent message on national security if it wants to have any chance of winning in 2004, but if we can manage to get our act together on that a longshot, I admit there's nothing about the rest of our agenda we need to apologize for or back away from. Americans like fighters and they like winners. Democrats should start acting like both.

Kevin Drum 3:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GDEL AND GOD....Via Kieran Healy, I took the Battleground God test to find out whether my religious beliefs are internally consistent. It turns out that about half the people who take the test do pretty well in this regard, so it's actually no great shakes to come out with a good score.

Still, it's kinda fun, and helps get your mind of war, SARS, and neocon grand plans. In the end, I took one "direct hit" based on these two questions:

Question 10
If, despite years of trying, no strong evidence or argument has been presented to show that there is a Loch Ness monster, it is rational to believe that such a monster does not exist.

Question 14
As long as there are no compelling arguments or evidence that show that God does not exist, atheism is a matter of faith, not rationality.

I answered True to both questions, and the test makers said this was inconsistent:

Earlier you agreed that it is rational to believe that the Loch Ness monster does not exist if there is an absence of strong evidence or argument that it does. No strong evidence or argument was required to show that the monster does not exist - absence of evidence or argument was enough. But now you claim that the atheist needs to be able to provide strong arguments or evidence if their belief in the non-existence of God is to be rational rather than a matter of faith.

I guess this is right, but I wonder. The Loch Ness monster is an ordinary physical being, and it's reasonable to believe that if it existed it could be discovered by ordinary physical means. Therefore, if these means have been tried and failed, the monster is probably a fable. A belief in the physical existence of the Loch Ness monster is almost certainly inconsistent with a belief in the laws of physics.

But even as an atheist myself I understand that the nature of God is rather different. Nobody has ever suggested that physical tests could detect the existence of God, so the fact that these tests don't in fact detect God doesn't really prove anything, does it?

I'm perfectly happy to base my nonbelief on the lack of plausible physical evidence for God's existence, but it still seems like an example of one of Gdel's undecidable questions. Both belief and nonbelief are consistent with all the other axioms of the world, so you can choose whichever one you want. To that extent, belief and nonbelief are simply matters of one's worldview or faith not something that's really amenable to rational argument.

POSTSCRIPT: Another way of putting it: in the first question, I think an unstated assumption is that the laws of physics completely describe the world. In the second question, however, that is most decidedly not an assumption. In fact, it's the very question at hand, and I doubt that there are any purely rational grounds for insisting on it one way or the other. A supernatural God doesn't seem necessary to me to explain the world, but "not necessary" is hardly proof of nonexistence. And I say this having been brought up in perhaps the most spectacularly internally consistent religion ever conceived....

Kevin Drum 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SARS....Charles Murtaugh is trying to find some good news about the SARS epidemic, but admits that it's pretty difficult given the increasingly bleak news from Asia. However, today he thinks he's found one small ray of hope about just how deadly this disease really is.

Of course, as he notes, this could change over time. I wouldn't plan any trips to Asia just yet.

Kevin Drum 10:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POSTWAR IRAQ....It looks like the war in Iraq is all but over. There could still be some surprises left, but basically we've won. This was accomplished a bit more quickly than I thought and with fewer casualties, which is good news. Even on the Iraqi side, I think we're going to find that casualties were kept remarkably low.

As I mentioned a week ago, this makes me wish all the more that liberals and armchair generals had kept a lower profile about Donald Rumsfeld. It seems likely that Rumsfeld really did originally want a war plan with far fewer troops, which might have been disastrous, but, you know, woulda, coulda, shoulda. The fact is that in the end we apparently had enough to do the job, and that means that the carping of the past couple of weeks just makes Rumsfeld look even better than he would have. As I said last week, it's another unfortunate tactical error by the good guys, who were just a bit too eager to cut Rumsfeld down to size.

The hard part starts now, of course, as we try to figure out what to do with postwar Iraq. Megan McArdle has a couple of good preliminary thoughts on the matter here and here, and Josh Marshall has a whole bunch of good posts up right now on this and related matters. Just start here and scroll down.

UPDATE: For what it's worth, and in the same vein, I'd advise pro-war folks to go a little easy on early pronouncements that Iraqis are jubilant to see our tanks rolling through Baghdad. It's early days, and things could still turn ugly down the road. Just a thought.

Kevin Drum 9:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THOMAS MCLAUGHLIN UPDATE....Here's the latest on Thomas McLaughlin, the Little Rock teenager who was harassed by his teachers and made to read Bible verses after they discovered he was gay. The Pulaski School District has apparently decided to stonewall the case, so the ACLU is suing:

The lawsuit contends that school officials violated Thomas McLaughlin's rights to free speech, equal protection, and privacy, and that they violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment by preaching to him and forcing him read the Bible as punishment.

...."Our demands are fairly simple. The district needs to acknowledge students' First Amendment right to talk about their sexual orientation during non-instructional time," said ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project staff attorney Leslie Cooper, adding, "We want the district to expunge Thomas's disciplinary record, and we want them to say in their district policies that they won't violate the Constitutional rights of lesbian and gay students."

Good for them, and yet another reason why everyone should become a card carrying member of the ACLU.

By the way, this is an example of what I'm talking about when I suggest that the subject of gay rights has some possibilities as a secondary issue in a presidential campaign. Events like this, I think, show liberals in the best possible light protecting ordinary people against the intolerance of fundamentalist conservatives and might very well appeal to moderate voters while at the same time causing cracks in the Republican party. If George Bush were miraculously forced to take a stand on this, for example, what choice does he have? Side with the ACLU, in which case he really pisses off his Christian right base, or back the school district, in which case he's exposed as a narrow-minded bigot. That sounds like a corner that it's worth at least trying to back him into.

Kevin Drum 8:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 8, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WAR, PHASE II....Max Sawicky, at the end of a post about good and bad reasons to be either for or against the war, says:

Alternatively, does anyone adhere to the theory that the U.S. should upset every absolutist applecart in the Mid-East? On to Syria, Iran,....? That to me is so loony I don't feel it's even worth the time to argue.

The problem is that Max inexplicably leaves out the primary argument of the pro-war party: we're fighting Saddam because he poses a security risk to the United States. As near as I can tell, the answer to Max's question is: yes, lots of people adhere to that theory, on the basis that all these countries pose a threat to the U.S. It may be loony, but I'm guessing it won't be long before we start hearing it. We'd better start sharpening our arguments now.

Kevin Drum 8:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAYS IN THE ARMY....Via OxBlog, a rare occasion when I agree with Andrew Sullivan:

More good news from Southern Iraq, where the Brits seem to be doing a fantastic job. One question: how did they manage not to collapse as a military force? After all, they allow openly gay soldiers in their units, thus undermining unit cohesion, destroying morale, wrecking troops' privacy and making it impossible to fight. A miracle against all the odds, I suppose.

Isn't it about time for the U.S. military to join the 21st century too?

Kevin Drum 8:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BLOG POWER....Via Electrolite, check out this truly remarkable story of how AccordionGuy's life was saved by his blog. And we all know that Matt Yglesias' blog has helped him get a job at The American Prospect. Blogs have power!

My blog has not produced anything nearly so dramatic, but this morning it did provide an electric little moment of coincidence, and although this is entirely personal and probably of little interest to anyone, it's my blog and I'm going to write about it anyway. Besides, my mother reads this blog and she'll be interested.

Anyway, at the right is a picture of my study, and as you can see one of its dominating features is a poster of the Danish film director Carl Theodor Dreyer looming over me. Although not well known among casual moviegoers, Dreyer was an extremely influential early director whose most famous work, The Passion of Joan of Arc, was the first film to make extensive use of closeups. Premiered in 1928, it's also considered the last of the great silent works.

If you look closely, you'll see that the poster dates from 1967 and was part of an exhibition about Dreyer at the Danish art museum Louisiana. I have this poster because in 1967 my family was in Denmark and we went to this exhibit. In fact, we went there in the company of Carl Dreyer himself. (My mother tells me that, somewhat amusingly, Dreyer was able to wander around an exhibit of his own lifework without being recognized by anyone.)

Why? Because my father was a professor of (among other things) film history and criticism and had been a longtime correspondent with Dreyer. In 1966 he decided to write a biography of Dreyer, and a year later, after he and my mother had spent a year learning Danish, he took a sabbatical and we all decamped to a rented house in the town of Kge, about 30 miles south of Copenhagen. While there, my parents spent their time at the Danish Film Museum researching Dreyer's life, watching his films, interviewing Dreyer, and traveling around Europe.

The biography was duly written but never found a publisher. In 1991 my father died, but several years later, while in conversation with the director of the Danish Film Museum, my mother decided to shop the book around once again. She found a publisher, spent a few weeks in Denmark updating the material, and in 2000 it was published by Scarecrow Books. In fact, for a mere $45, you too can now own My Only Great Passion, the only full-length biography of Dreyer in English. (But not the autographed copy that I own!)

OK, so what about this coincidence I promised you? Here it is: this morning I got an email from Richard Einhorn, who runs the blog Tristero. He and I exchange emails frequently, and today he wrote to tell me that since I had mentioned here that I like classical music, maybe I'd be interested in his composition Voices of Light, which is available from Sony Classical.

Huh? You're that Richard Einhorn? You see, Voices of Light is an oratorio written to accompany Dreyer's Joan of Arc, so I've been familiar with Einhorn's name and work for quite a while but never put the two together until now. Likewise, it turns out that Richard has read my parents' book but had never connected the authors back to me. (Apparently he skipped the dedication: "For Karen, Kevin, and Stephen, who loved plser and wienerbrd." That's me, my sister, and my brother, who tagged along in the back seat of a VW bug as we traipsed around Europe that year.)

I'm pretty skeptical about the allegedly revolutionary power of blogs, but they certainly can provide odd moments of personal connection. A couple of former classmates have gotten in touch with me after discovering the blog, a distant cousin of mine reads it, and now this. So anyway, go buy the book and the CD, or better yet (since I'm sure Richard's royalties are the same either way), buy the DVD of Joan of Arc and watch it to the accompaniment of Voices of Light. You'll surely be a better person for it!

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SPAM UPDATE....I just got some spam that said:

Earn extra income doing anything you like!

That's my kind of spam. No screwing around, no Liberian ministers, no hair loss remedies, just the ability to make money doing anything I want.

I suppose the killjoys out there are going to tell me this is too good to be true. Sigh.

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SADDAM AND WMDs....I would like to join Tim Dunlop in ganging up on Matt Yglesias over this post of his today:

The other day I saw someone all upset by some kind of poll indicating that most American don't think we need to find any WMDs in Iraq for the war to have been justified. I found myself actually agreeing with this proposition whether or not the invasion was a good idea has almost nothing to do with whether or not we find WMDs.

This is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom, I'm afraid, but it doesn't hold up to a moment's scrutiny. Let's consider the reasons for going to war with Iraq that George Bush gave in his State of the Union Address earlier this year:

  1. Saddam Hussein is brutal, thuggish dictator.

  2. He supports terrorist organizations that pose a threat to the United States.

  3. He has defied a long string of UN resolutions.

  4. He possesses weapons of mass destruction that pose an immediate threat to the stability of the Middle East.

Here's the problem: how do you decide which countries the United States is going to declare war on? There's a long list of countries that fit items #1 and #2, and there are quite a few that fit #3 as well (although the United States surely has no authority to unilaterally enforce UN resolution without the concurrence of the UN itself in any case).

Only when you put the first three together with #4 do you have a defensible case for removing Saddam Hussein from power, and George Bush knows it: out of the 1,200 words in his speech devoted to Iraq, virtually all of them addressed the subject of WMDs and the fact that Saddam was hiding them from inspectors. So if #4 isn't true, then it means that we went to war either (a) just because we felt like it, or (b) based on wildly faulty intelligence. This is exactly the fear of both the American left and most of the rest of the world.

As I've mentioned before, it's unlikely that this will ever be resolved. We will probably find just enough evidence to convince the hawks that Saddam did indeed have WMDs, but not enough to convince anyone else that he posed a serious threat. And even if we find nothing, the idea that it's all been secretly spirited away to Syria is already making the rounds, and will probably become the new and improved conventional wisdom among the hawks very shortly. We'll know for sure that this is the case if intelligence reports from "sources within the administration" start popping up suddenly suggesting that Saddam's weapons are now in Syria and pose a serious threat to the stability of the Middle East that can only be solved by marching on Damascus etc. etc.

Then again, maybe we'll find the swimming pools of anthrax, we'll cooperate with the UN on humanitarian aid, we'll install a genuinely reformist government, and then we'll leave in a couple of years. Hope springs eternal here in sunny Orange County.

Kevin Drum 10:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IT DEPENDS ON WHAT THE DEFINITION OF "VITAL" IS....Hmmm, the New York Times now charges for articles more than 30 days old, the LA Times requires annoyingly lengthy registration, and the Washington Post website was down when I checked it. So the LA Times it is!

The subject is the United Nations. George Bush has agreed with Tony Blair that the UN should play a "vital role" in postwar Iraq, but like Bill Clinton before him, Bush seems to have his own peculiar definitions for the words he uses:

"A vital role for the UN," Bush explained, "means (providing) food, that means medicine, that means aid, that means a place where people can give their contributions, that means suggesting people for the (Iraqi interim authority)."

Surely I'm not the only one who considers that just a bit short of "vital"?

I'll admit that the question is a difficult one. Given George Bush's run-in with the UN, it's not really reasonable to expect him to suddenly embrace the idea of the UN having much say in postwar Iraq, regardless of whether or not it's a good idea. And, as Tony Blair is learning, Bush really doesn't care much about his opinions unless they match his own.

But what should the UN itself do? Given that they opposed the war and will have no say in how postwar Iraq is to be run, it's hardly reasonable to suggest that they should be eager to have all the scutwork (and expense) of humanitarian aid dumped on them. Even UN bashers must realize that the U.S. can't go around the world waging wars of its own choosing and then expecting the UN to clean up after it.

The problem, of course, is the usual liberal one: the UN is populated by lefty do-gooders, and in the end, even though they hate it, they'll probably cave in because they hate to see human suffering continue. This seems to be the fate of liberals everywhere, and as admirable as it is, you have to wonder if it does the cause any good in the long run. It's hard not to think that the UN has a choice of either standing up to the U.S. and telling it to clean up its own wars, or else truly falling into the irrelevancy that George Bush has so heartily wished upon it.

Kevin Drum 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THREE STRIKES....Sam Heldman is outraged by the Supreme Court's latest decision in State Farm v. Campbell. Why, he asks, is a high jury award in a tort case unconstitutional simply for being out of line with the severity of the infraction, while 25-to-life isn't unconstitutional for someone who's stolen some golf clubs?

Well, Sam has settled down and had the night to think it through, and this morning he writes that he's even more outraged.

Me too. California actually has one of the more draconian three-strikes laws in the country, where you can indeed get a life sentence for a third infraction that's not very serious. Generally, the 8th Amendment requires that punishment not be outrageously disproportionate to the crime, but the Supreme Court has nonetheless ruled that California law in this regard is just peachy. When it comes to torts, however, apparently they feel differently. As Sam puts it, why do they show "blatantly greater solicitude for corporations than for people"? Why indeed.

Kevin Drum 9:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ART NEWS YOU CAN USE....Michael Blowhard rather amusingly surveys porn on the internet.

Friedrich Blowhard rather amusingly surveys the newest piece of architecture in Los Angeles.

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April 7, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TEN QUESTIONS....Brian over at bmoeasy asked me ten questions, and I gave him ten answers. You can read them all here.

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ANTI-WAR PROTESTS....To those of us who are not simply insane warhawks, our common sense reaction to the size of the anti-war protests has been "Jeez, that's a lot of people." Sure, more people watch Survivor than march in protests, but it takes a lot of energy and a lot of anger to get most of us off our butts and onto the streets. Survivor only requires a flick of the index finger on the remote.

That's common sense, but Kieran Healy has, um, sources, and they tell him that the common sense view is, in fact, absolutely accurate: those anti-war protests are really big. You can read all the details here, but the bottom line is that these protests are unusually large and should be taken seriously.

POSTSCRIPT: And an observation of my own: unlike the big Vietnam protests, the current protests aren't just made up of students. There are lots of middle class protesters involved too, and my gut feel is that these might very well be the biggest gatherings of middle class protesters ever. Something to think about.

UPDATE: Since I've gotten a couple of comments about this, I'd just like to say that no, not all pro-war partisans are "insane warhawks." However, a number of bloggers have spent an amazing amount of energy (a) questioning the patriotism of protesters, (b) insisting that the turnouts for protests really weren't that big, and (c) literally frothing at the mouth about continued opposition to the war. Those are the people I'm referring to.

Moving along, Megan McArdle has a different take on my comment about middle class turnout. She thinks it's a bad thing because it shows that the anti-war movement is basically being run by aging hippies and has failed to appeal the young, surely a core constituency for any protest movement. Could be, could be. She also thinks the Gulf War I protests were bigger, which doesn't sound quite right to me, but since Kieran's data only goes through 1975 so far, that could well be true.

Kevin Drum 7:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY....Via Jim Miller, here's a short Washington Post article on one of my favorite hobby horses, the unreliability of eyewitness testimony:

The researchers prepared a 60-second videotape purportedly showing a man on a roof dropping what appears to be a bomb down an air shaft. They showed the tape to 253 volunteers, who were then asked to pick out the bomber from six photographs. Unknown to the volunteer witnesses, a picture of the actor playing the bomber was not in the array. Nevertheless, every volunteer picked a suspect.

After making their choice, some were told they made the right choice, some told they made the wrong one, and some were told nothing. They were then asked how well they remembered what they saw in the video.

The people who were told they picked the right suspect had much greater confidence in virtually all aspects of their recollection, and 23 percent said they were at least 90 percent sure of details. Those given no feedback were much less confident, with only 2 percent saying they were at least 90 percent sure.

It is simply astounding the faith we put in things that we've "seen with our own eyes," despite mountains of evidence that eyewitness identification has an accuracy rate barely better than chance. Reforms in the criminal justice system wider use of videotape, double blind lineups, warnings to juries can't come soon enough. It is a travesty of justice that we continue to rely so heavily on eyewitness testimony even though everyone involved in the process, including cops, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, knows better.

Kevin Drum 4:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WAR REPORTING....Mac Diva is disappointed that Matt Yglesias took a job with The American Prospect. Not that she doesn't wish him well, mind you, but she wishes that he had instead tried to find a job as a mainstream newspaper reporter. But is this a fate worse than death?

Mainstream journalists are not popular in the blogosphere, though there are quite a few of us with that job description under our belts at one time or another. Reporters are perceived as incompetent or sometimes just plain dishonest. The woeful performances of the Washington Post's Susan Schmidt and Peter Baker last week did nothing to improve the profession's image in Bloggersville or elsewhere.

Now, I'm quite happy that Matt will be doing advocacy journalism, but Mac is right about the general contempt that TV and newspaper reporters are held in, and it's too bad. The fact is that newspaper reporters work under enormous constraints: they have to write quickly, they have to write about a lot of different things they are not experts about, and they have to write for an audience with a short attention span. These are all inherent in the job, and it's quite true that taken together they place practical limits on just how expertly crafted the average newspaper story can be.

Still, even given all that, what's really remarkable is how good the top newspapers are. I can read blogs and listen to CNN all day, but when I open up the Los Angeles Times the next morning, the view of the war I get is nothing short of phenomenal. There's good reporting, good analysis, great photos, maps, diagrams, feature stories, and on and on and on. There's really nothing like it anywhere else.

Sure, sometimes they say battalion when they mean brigade, and their knowledge of military history and practice is less sophisticated than John Keegan's, but give 'em a break. If you ever try it yourself, you'll find out just how hard it really is.

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ICE CREAM REVIEW....My favorite flavor of ice cream is rocky road, so this weekend I bought some Hagen Dazs rocky road. It's really weird stuff. The ice cream itself is fine, but instead of having little bits of marshmallow strewn randomly throughout, it has great big globs of marshmallow stuck more or less in the center. Unless you're careful, you either get a spoonful of chocolate ice cream with an occasional nut in it, or else a spoonful of marshmallow with a bit of chocolate ice cream in it.

Very odd, and not recommended. I just thought I'd warn anyone out there who also happens to be a rocky road fan.

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2003 PULITZER PRIZES....The 2003 Pulitzer Prizes have been announced. The Boston Globe won the top prize for their stories about sexual abuse by priests, the Washington Post won three prizes, including one for international reporting, and my hometown Los Angeles Times also won three, including the national reporting prize for a series of stories about problems with the Harrier jet. Oddly, the Washington Times got shut out.

Robert Caro won the biography prize for Master of the Senate, part 3 of his (allegedly) 4-part biography of Lyndon Johnson. In a lot of ways, I actually thought Master was the weakest of his books because it took so many long and unnecessary detours as it meandered through the decade of the 50s, but who cares? Caro deserves a second Pulitzer regardless, so I'm glad he got it this year.

The LA Times summary, unsurprisingly headlined "L.A. Times Wins Three Pulitzer Prizes," is here. The Post summary, unsurprisingly headlined "Washington Post Wins Three Pulitzers ," is here.

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GO DEMOCRATS!....I don't know about y'all, but I've been pretty depressed lately. The news from around the world is just endlessly discouraging, the economy kind of sucks, our country seems be descending into a seething rage aimed at pretty much everything, Ted Barlow is on hiatus, and George Bush is likely to be our president for six more years.

Or maybe not. Over at The American Prospect, Mary Lynn F. Jones says that Bush is toast in 2004. She doesn't actually convince me, as it turns out, since I don't agree that economic issues are going to overshadow national security issues two Novembers from now, but what the hell. I'll take all the cheery news I can get, and this is the best stab at it I've seen recently.

UPDATE: Hey, Ted is back too! Maybe things are looking up!

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STUPID SECURITY....Over at Winds of Change they have links to the winners of Privacy International's contest for the most inexplicable, intrusive, counterproductive, annoying, and egregious security measures put in place around the world since 9/11. That's five separate categories for you, with multiple winners in each category.

My favorite so far is the woman who wasn't allowed to visit her son in prison because she wasn't wearing a bra. However, I haven't read them all, so there may be even more ridiculous ones lurking further on in the list of winners. Check it out, and then decide whether to laugh or cry.

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THE PERFECTIBILITY OF MAN....By coincidence, I've run across several conservative commentators lately claiming that the reason liberals are fundamentally mistaken in their worldview is because of their belief in the perfectibility of man. This naivet, presumably, accounts for our unending efforts to make the world a better place through social legislation.

This strikes me as odd, however, because when I examine my own beliefs, I find just the opposite. I'm a liberal precisely because I have a rather dim view of human nature. I am, I suppose, a neo-Hobbesian of some kind, and I fully agree that life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short.

The thing is, I think that's a bad thing, and, like Hobbes, I believe that the purpose of government (and civilization in general) is to force people to act like decent human beings even if they don't want to. Ronald Reagan's claims notwithstanding, all of human history leads to the conclusion that not only can you legislate morality, it's actually the primary purpose of governments everywhere. The other tasks of central governments tend to be little more than glorified bookkeeping.

But maybe that's just me. Is it true that most liberals hold their beliefs because of a fundamental conviction that most people are good and will work to become better on their own if you give them a chance? Or are there lots of other liberals like me who believe that the veneer of civilization is thin indeed and that we fundamentally become better people only when the social contract itself becomes stronger, more liberal, and more compelling?

To put it as baldly as possible, it seems to me that most people only become better if they are kicked, prodded, and ultimately dragged kicking and screaming to do so. Given this, we agree amongst ourselves to form a government that will force betterment on us since human nature is too weak and frail to expect us each to do it on our own. Thus is human progress slowly but surely made.

Anyone else feel the same way? Just curious.

Kevin Drum 11:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COMPROMISE....Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, guest blogger Eric Muller made a comment that caught my eye today. In a post about the University of Michigan affirmative action case that was argued before the Supreme Court last week, he made a side comment about another case in which the court was asked whether a child could be allowed to testify via closed circuit TV. Anton Scalia, he said, made an interesting point:

He pointed out that the state really had two strong interests in the case: protecting the child, and convicting the defendant. The state was, in effect, pretending that the only way it could protect the child from psychic trauma was to let him testify from a remote location. But Justice Scalia pointed out that this was not so: if the state really wanted to protect the child, it could just not call him as a witness at all. The state was really trying to achieve both of its interests at the same time, and at the expense of the defendant's constitutional rights. What the state needed to do, Scalia argued, was choose. If it couldn't protect the child and convict the defendant, it needed to choose which one meant more to it.

This actually strikes me as typical of Scalia's black-and-white view of the law and one that doesn't stand up to even mild scrutiny. Why does it make any sense that when there are two opposing rights (or interests), you should be forced to make an exclusive choice between one or the other? Given that both interests are important, why is it philosophically improper to make small compromises that allow both interests to be mostly served, rather than discarding one interest entirely in favor of the other?

Far from being "brilliant," this kind of thing strikes me as being at the heart of fundamentalism of all kinds: no compromise is ever possible, and the world is always viewed in the most Manichean terms possible. It may well be that remote testimony is a bad idea, but the best argument for this is simply that the right to face your accuser is far more important than the state's interest in getting child molesters off the street. Scalia's suggestion that compromise is ipso facto wrong in the face of two competing interests seems like the poorest possible justification.

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WAR UPDATE....It looks like we really are in the heart of Baghdad now, and so far the news is pretty good. Iraqi fighting is pretty sporadic, and external signs really do seem to indicate a regime that's close to collapse.

It's too soon to tell for sure, of course, especially since everyone has said all along that this would be the hard part of the war. Still, it's cause for cautious optimism.

Kevin Drum 10:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEFICITS....The administration tells us today that it doesn't like deficits:

Reducing the deficit is a "high priority, but not the first priority," said White House budget director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr.

If deficit reduction is a high priority with these guys, I'd hate to see their idea of a low priority. And small government? Not such a high priority either:

The resolution initially written by the House Budget Committee called for eliminating the deficit in seven years. But to do that, and still make room for most of Bush's tax cut, the panel called for big domestic funding cuts, including $470 billion from such programs as Medicare, veterans benefits and farm aid.

Moderate Republicans rebelled, forcing GOP leaders to restore money for Medicare and veterans, whittling the savings to $265 billion.

At least we know their top priorities for budget cutting, if it ever comes to that: Medicare and veterans. And if they end up cutting farm aid, they'll merely be reducing the enormous farm windfall that they themselves put in place only a year ago.

In the short term, none of this probably matters. After all, running a deficit is probably helpful in kick starting the flat economy. But it can't go on forever unless we want to end up like Europe, paying the price of economic growth because we're unwilling to address long term structural deficits through either tax increases or budget cuts. Republicans, of course, no longer like to eat their vegetables, so it will undoubtedly be up to some future administration of Democratic grownups to solve this problem. 2004 would be a good time to start.

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April 6, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

DUE PROCESS....Dammit, another American citizen is being held without charges, without bail, without a public hearing, and in a secret location. TalkLeft has the details.

There's nothing more corrosive to the constitution than this. Nothing.

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ANTI-NEOCON?....OR ANTI-SEMITE?....Last month I wrote a piece asking how to write about neocons without being thought anti-semitic (here, with followups here). My phrasing of the question was poorly chosen, which in turn meant the answers were not very helpful, and that's too bad because I can now say that this question feels much more vital to me. This is because (a) the more I learn about the neocon agenda, the less I like it and the more I want to tear into neocons in general, and (b) it's clear that many people try to turn off this discussion by tarring anti-neocons like me as anti-semites.

I've been cross-posting some of my Calpundit pieces to the Command Post, and yesterday I posted there about the latest LA Times poll, along the way mentioning how this affected the "neocon grand plan." Aside from the usual conservative vitriol toward anyone who thinks American power should be used sparingly, there were these two responses in comments:

Calpundit - you forgot to call the neocons a "cabal of neocons" so that everyone could wink, wink, nudge, nudge understand what you mean.

And this:

Bill Kristol is a very VINDICATED man right now. At least we can be thankful that you refrained from calling him a Zionist. You're so subtle.

At this point all I can do is echo what Jim Henley said a couple of weeks ago:

Public Notice - If you seriously maintain that "neoconservative" is a code word for "Jewish," you are an ass. The only question is whether you're an ignorant ass, one who somehow missed a thirty-year-plus intellectual tradition and yet feels unaccountably qualified to comment on political matters, or a dishonest ass.

William Kristol can't plead ignorance. Some of the rest of you may have had an excuse. No longer.

That's my motto from now on.

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TV REVIEW....Man, the warhawks must be going bananas if they watched 60 Minutes tonight. First a story from Jordan about Arab rage against the United States, then a segment picking apart Ahmed Chalabi, Donald Rumsfeld's favorite Iraqi exile, and finally a piece about the 1200 Muslims that John Ashcroft detained in solitary confinement after 9/11 without trial and without access to counsel. Andy Rooney finished up with some serious whining about the White House's salesmanship of the war. (There was also a fairly balanced segment about postwar reconstruction costs.)

And here was the Dole vs. Clinton "debate":

DOLE: We should support our men and women in uniform.

CLINTON: You betcha. No debate there.

That was exciting.

Kevin Drum 7:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE NEOCONS....Tom Spencer and Atrios both responded to my post yesterday about the neocon grand plan with a bit of gloating that, while perhaps not pretty, is understandable. I'm going to write more about this later, but for now I just want to throw out a few miscellaneous observations:

  • Atrios is quite correct to say that recognition of the neocon grand plan is now conventional wisdom. If you doubt this, just go to Google News and enter "neoconservative." You will be rewarded with a vast number of recent articles about what the neocon plan is, who's behind it, and how it affects administration policy.

  • Still, even with the neocons clearly in the ascendent, there's a very interesting open question about their ranks: does it include George Bush?

    The jury is still out on this. For starters, there's no question that Bush was not a neocon when he ran for president. For example, take a look at the original 1997 signatories of the Statement of Principles for the Project for the New American Century, a key neocon group, and you'll find Jeb Bush's signature (and Dick Cheney's and Donald Rumsfeld's) but not George Bush's. In fact, it's pretty safe to say that George Bush really didn't have any settled ideas at all about foreign policy before he became president. What's more, while he certainly turned far more hawkish after 9/11, there are still influential people around him, including Colin Powell, Karl Rove, Tony Blair, and George Bush Sr., who aren't neocons. The neocons have a lot of clout in the administration, but at the same time I think there's a real battle going on around George Bush. It's not entirely clear yet who the winner is going to be.

  • And the most important question of all: will the American public support the neocon grand plan? Until now, the neocon movement has been mostly an inside the Beltway phenomenon, but that's about to change. What's going to happen when ordinary people start discovering that these people aren't just generic "Reagan hawks," but the purveyors of an enormously expansive and dangerous policy to reshape the world using American power?

    Americans have traditionally been tolerant of projecting power around the globe in small doses, but our basic temperament, even during the Cold War, was still fundamentally isolationist. Will the American public be willing to support the neocon agenda, massing hundreds of thousands of troops in nearly continuous combat and suffering thousands of losses via both terrorism and conventional war, all for a piece of desert halfway around the globe? Let me ask it another way: how long did ber-hawk Ronald Reagan stay in Beirut?

I don't know the answers to these questions, and I admit that my faith in the American people has been shaken by recent poll results. Still, we're in the middle of a war, and the tendency to rally around the flag is understandable. But once the war is over, will the neocons win the war for Bush's soul? Will the American public sign on? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Sam Rosenfeld at the Columbia Political Review's blog, The Filibuster, thinks (a) Bush is a neocon, and (b) the American public is not. Probably. His full take is here.

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ATHEISM AND EVOLUTION....In a comment over at Matt Yglesias' site about the latest efforts of yahoos in Tennessee to pretend that creationism is science, molecular biologist Charles Murtaugh says:

There are two forms of evolutionary thinking in this country, a scientific one which is largely uncontroversial, but understood by relatively few laypeople, and a pseudo-religious one which serves as a bulwark to atheists, as an alternative to religion. And a lot of people who support the teaching of evolution, in my experience, don't know shit about the science, but they just need it to be true because they don't want to believe in God.

Now, it's true that most people don't understand the intricacies of base pairs and population genetics. On the other hand, most people don't understand general relativity either. I certainly don't, since I lack the requisite background in tensor analysis, and yet I believe it anyway. I believe it because it is the virtually unanimous view of those who are qualified to judge such things, and listening to people we trust is how we make up our minds about most of the things we believe in. Given the constraints of our three score and ten, what other choice is there?

This is seemingly sufficient explanation for a widespread belief in evolution too, and yet here we have the fairly common view expressed that a lot of people believe in evolution simply because they don't want to believe in God. This despite the fact that every poll I've seen indicates that no more than about 5% of the population is atheist.

Why is this such a common view among religious people? Why do they insist rather desperately, I think that they are under some kind of persistent assault from atheists when, in fact, 19 out of 20 people you run into on the street believes in God? When Congress approves virtually unanimously a declaration that the words "under God" should stay in the Pledge of Allegiance? When we live in an era sometimes called the fourth great religious revival and in which church attendance is at an all time high?

Why? Why do they feel so angry, so suspicious, and so besieged?

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SOLDIERS AS CIVILIANS....Via Road to Surfdom comes this Newsday article about American soldiers dressed as civilians:

The Pentagon on Friday defended the use of some civilian clothes by U.S. special operations forces, a tactic used to help them blend in with the local population.

....Asked at a Pentagon press conference why it is OK for American commando troops to take off their uniforms, but a crime when the Iraqis did it, Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said she thought American forces wear something that distinguishes them from civilians, but deferred the question for a later answer.

A week ago I suggested that Iraqi soldiers dressing as civilians was not really very surprising, and that we might even do the same in a similar situation. Mark Kleiman batted me down, and I immediately admitted I was wrong: if this rule isn't followed then the result is (potentially) mass civilian slaughter.

But apparently I wasn't wrong: not only are we perfectly willing to disguise soldiers as civilians, but we're willing to do it in far less perilous circumstances than the Iraqis find themselves in. The outcome, of course, is to encourage the Iraqis to shoot at their own civilians since they can't tell them apart from U.S. special forces, potentially resulting in you guessed it mass civilian slaughter.

So: can anybody on the pro-war side of the blogosphere explain to me why this is OK for us, but not for the Iraqis?

UPDATE: Chris Bertram points to this Al Jazeera report on the same subject. They make the distinction between "perfidy," which is illegal, and "guerilla tactics," which are allowed under the Geneva Convention. It's an interesting non-U.S. perspective on the issue.

UPDATE 2: Mark Kleiman has more on the subject. I have a sneaking suspicion that he might be drawing the lines a little too fine in his post, but I can't really say why. I'll have to think about it some more. On the other hand, we both agree that if special forces dressed as civilians are killing Iraqi soldiers, this is pretty much the moral equivalent of what we're accusing the Iraqis of doing.

Kevin Drum 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHO'S RIGHT?....WHO'S WRONG?....Max Sawicky tots up the claims of the pro-war and anti-war sides from the vantage point of, um, two weeks of war and concludes that the anti-war partisans have the advantage so far.

I'm inclined to agree, but with the caveat that it's far too early to tell. I will say this, however: if it turns out that Saddam has no significant WMD capability and please don't insult our intelligence by claiming that it's all been spirited away to Syria then the pro-war folks will have been flatly wrong. No matter what they say now, this was the primary excuse for the war and they know it.

I won't mourn the fall of Saddam in any case, but we damn well better find those swimming pools of anthrax that W and his gang have been promising us.

Kevin Drum 11:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOW'S THE WAR GOING?....Today's news:

  • David Blunkett, a senior minister in Tony Blair's government, says he hopes we don't find any WMD in Iraq. And if his hopes come true? We will have "a very interesting debate." Well, we certainly ought to if that turns out to be the case, but I have a sinking feeling that we won't.

  • The righty blogosphere is up in arms over this BBC article claiming that George Bush is a religious man. The article says that (a) Bush thinks he was "called by God" to lead this war, (b) this kind of talk bothers many members of the American clergy, (c) most mainstream U.S. churches, including Bush's, oppose the war, (d) one-third of Americans belong to evangelical churches, (e) 59% of Americans believe the Book of Revelations will come to pass, (f) many of these people will interpret an American victory as divinely ordained, and (g) George Bush might be one of them.

    Can someone explain to me exactly which part of this is either untrue or unfair? Pro-war partisans might not like to see this side of Bush get a lot of publicity, but the BBC is merely stating something that has already been widely reported. Reporting the facts, even if they are inconvenient, does not make the BBC biased.

  • Baghdad is now "surrounded." But yesterday we had advanced to "the heart of Baghdad." Did we retreat during the night?

    And no, this is not just snarky nitpicking. This "heart of Baghdad" stuff was released by the Pentagon and widely reported yesterday, and it appears to simply be untrue. In fact, a BBC reporter in Baghdad said he'd looked around from the highest building in the city (his hotel) and seen nothing. Far from being biased, it looks like the BBC, which apparently is fed up with the obvious dissembling they get from Pentagon briefings, was the one reporting the unvarnished truth.

UPDATE: The LA Times, apparently also annoyed at being mislead, explains what really happened in their top story this morning:

Spokesmen for the U.S. Central Command initially said American forces had reached the "heart" of Baghdad and intended to stay. But later they backed off, saying the troops had reached the suburbs, not the city center, and were not trying to occupy the capital. There were reports early today of large-scale U.S. troop movements on the outskirts of the city.

I just don't understand this. From a military perspective, the war is going pretty well, and the tank attack in Baghdad yesterday had a sort of Doolittle raid bravado about it that makes good copy. So why lie about it?

Kevin Drum 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 5, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

NORTH KOREA....Reader James Lucky sent along a link to this slide show of a recent tourist excursion to North Korea. The photos and text are by Olivier Mirguet, and they are eerie and oddly compelling. Take a couple of minutes and flip through them.

The pictures are part of a site called foto8, and their home page has links to some other photo journals as well, including one of Iraqi Kurdistan. It's interesting stuff.

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PETERS ON RUMSFELD....Ralph Peters, a military analyst generally respected by both left and right, isn't impressed with Donald Rumsfeld:

The least credible version of the war - at least outside of the Arab media - is that repeated daily in the Pentagon. While there should be no doubt that American and allied armed forces are winning impressively, OSD's adherence to a party line of almost Stalinesque rigidity becomes more untenable with each press briefing.

....As it became evident that more ground troops would have been a great help to the campaign, the secretary of defense denied any responsibility for capping troop levels. This is breathtaking: the first-ever doctrine of secretarial infallibility. It is a display of moral cowardice by an arrogant man who was dangerously wrong.

("OSD" is the Office of the Secretary of Defense.)

Peters is quite clear, and rightly so, I think, that we will win the war. However, he's equally clear that he thinks Rumsfeld was badly mistaken in promoting an amateurish strategy that involved ridiculously low troop levels, and he calls the final operational plan an "ill-tempered compromise."

Coming from a guy like Peters, this is a pretty searing indictment of Rumsfeld. Things don't look good for him.

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TRIVIA TIME....What common name has the most number of common nicknames? I nominate "Margaret":

  • Marge

  • Margie

  • Maggie

  • Mag

  • Peg

  • Peggy

  • Meg

  • Greta

Is there another common name that has a greater number of common nicknames? Variant spellings (Peggy, Peggie) don't count, and uncommon nicknames don't count either.

And while we're at it, what common English word of more than three letters has the highest ratio of consonants to vowels? I can think of a common nine-letter word with only one vowel. Is there a longer one?

UPDATE: Lots of nominations for Elizabeth: Liz, Liza, Lizzie, Eliza, Beth, Bess, Bessy, Betty, Betsy, Libby, Liddy, and possibly others depending on how you count.

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THE NEOCON GRAND PLAN....I've been talking frequently about the "neocon grand plan" lately, and it occurs to me that some of you might not really know what I'm talking about or why I think it's so scary. Two months ago I didn't know what this was all about, and some emails I've gotten make it clear that I'm not the only one.

So: "neocon" does not just mean "really conservative," and it doesn't merely mean "hawkish conservative" either. Rather, it's a specific group of people with a specific plan for, among other things, what they want to do about the Middle East. Here is Josh Marshall's description of the neocon agenda from his recent article in the Washington Monthly, "Practice to Deceive":

The hawks' grand plan differs depending on whom you speak to, but the basic outline runs like this: The United States establishes a reasonably democratic, pro-Western government in Iraq--assume it falls somewhere between Turkey and Jordan on the spectrum of democracy and the rule of law. Not perfect, representative democracy, certainly, but a system infinitely preferable to Saddam's. The example of a democratic Iraq will radically change the political dynamics of the Middle East.

When Palestinians see average Iraqis beginning to enjoy real freedom and economic opportunity, they'll want the same themselves. With that happy prospect on one hand and implacable United States will on the other, they'll demand that the Palestinian Authority reform politically and negotiate with Israel. That in turn will lead to a real peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. A democratic Iraq will also hasten the fall of the fundamentalist Shi'a mullahs in Iran, whose citizens are gradually adopting anti-fanatic, pro-Western sympathies.

A democratized Iran would create a string of democratic, pro-Western governments (Turkey, Iraq, and Iran) stretching across the historical heartland of Islam. Without a hostile Iraq towering over it, Jordan's pro-Western Hashemite monarchy would likely come into full bloom. Syria would be no more than a pale reminder of the bad old days. (If they made trouble, a U.S. invasion would take care of them, too.) And to the tiny Gulf emirates making hesitant steps toward democratization, the corrupt regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt would no longer look like examples of stability and strength in a benighted region, but holdouts against the democratic tide. Once the dust settles, we could decide whether to ignore them as harmless throwbacks to the bad old days or deal with them, too. We'd be in a much stronger position to do so since we'd no longer require their friendship to help us manage ugly regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria.

As Josh puts it, this has enough surface plausibility that you might be thinking, "That plan's just crazy enough to work." The problem is that the neocons' plan is based almost entirely on the aggressive and unilateral use of American military power, essentially trying to build democracy and liberalism at the point of a gun. In other words, a sort of updated version of the Vietnam-era domino theory based on an endless series of wars in the Middle East.

This is not, I think, something the American public wants to sign up for, and for good reason: it would involve America in decades of cultural warfare in the Middle East that would almost certainly fail in its objective. Terrorism levels would increase, lots of Americans would die, and most important, it wouldn't work. At best it would turn the entire Middle East into a sullen, oversized version of what Palestine is now, and at worst it would embroil the entire region in constant war and turn virtually the entire world against us.

Read all of Josh's article for more. As good as it is, however, I have to say that I don't think the definitive neocon story has been written yet for a wide audience. It's still a story waiting to be told, and when it's done right and in the right place I think it could have an enormous impact on the public. This is what the 2004 election should be all about.

Kevin Drum 6:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EUROPEAN TEETH....Today Glenn Reynolds is reduced to mocking Europeans because their teeth aren't as good as ours. Unfortunately, although he spent the few seconds necessary to read Megan McArdle's post asking why European teeth are in worse shape than Americans' despite their access to national health care, he didn't spend the few extra seconds it would take to read the comments, which provided the answer: they aren't.

Mark, an actual European, explains:

I'm going to re-emphasise this. This isn't about dental hygiene; despite the relentless jokes and Austin Powers, Europeans have teeth as healthy as Americans, and generally visit dentists as often. They just haven't succumbed to the cosmetic dentistry thing, not even many television and movie stars. My wife and I always talk about David Bowie in terms of "Old Teeth" vs "New Teeth" eras. Old teeth was pre 1996 (approx) when he suddenly appeared overnight with a set of American style tombstones.

He also says this:

  1. All European countries have permanently, heavily, fluoridated systems. This does massively reduce dental cavities but does stain teeth. Certain bleaching products widely available and used in the US are illegal in the EU as they contain substances only available under prescription.

  2. Non Emergency Dental care is not covered under most European health systems.

  3. A quick walk round your local trailer park should quickly disabuse you of the belief that the American poor have better teeth than the English middle classes.

As a famous blogger likes to say, you really need to read the whole thing if you want to understand what's going on. The world cannot be explained by cliches from American movies, no matter how tempting it may be to think so.

Kevin Drum 11:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LIVING IN SIN....Originally via Hesiod, the Bismarck Tribune reports on North Dakota's attempt a few days ago to remove an obsolete law that prohibits unmarried people from living together:

Advocates of repealing the law say it is almost never enforced, and that doing so would require unorthodox police work.

"You're going to have to hire the sex police to get the pictures," said Sen. Linda Christenson, D-Grand Forks. "This is such an intrusion into the privacy of people's relationships and living agreements, that the only way to (prove a crime) is to grossly cross over the boundaries of privacy."

Unfortunately, the Republican party has a different idea of "obsolete" and "privacy" than most of us do. On April 1, North Dakota's Republicans voted 21-10 to keep the laws on the books, while the Democrats voted 10-5 to get rid of it. One independent voted with the Democrats, so the final tally was 26-21 to keep the law in place.

"It stands as a reminder that there is right, and there is wrong," said Sen. John Andrist, R-Crosby. "Just because something can't be enforced, I don't think it necessarily means that we should feel compelled to take a position to take it off the books."

....Andrist said he hopes enforcement isn't vigorous, but the law needs to stay to send a message. "I think we need to set the standards for what we think is right and wrong," he said. "Whether it's enforced or not is secondary."

Note to all libertarians: please remember this story the next time you say there's really no difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to privacy and civil liberties issues.

Kevin Drum 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WELCOME TO MT. PLEASANT....Via Julian Sanchez, check out this charming story of how one DC cop deals with non-English speaking immigrants:

The daughter says the officer yelled at him "Speak English, don't speak in Spanish." Muz reiterated that he didn't speak English, and the offer allegedly told him "I don't care."

Laura says the officer then screamed at her father to give her his license, and the ten-year-old girl, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, translated for her father "daddy, give me the license." Laura says the officer then went berserk.

....Ten-year-old Laura says she then told the officer "my father doesn't speak English." The officer told Laura to "shut up." She says the officer then returned her attention to Mr. Muz, and started laughing at him while putting his license in front of his face, saying: "This license is in English, not Spanish. You're supposed to speak English." Mr. Muz responded that he only spoke a little bit of English.

You really need to read the whole thing to get the flavor of the encounter. It's just horrific.

Kevin Drum 10:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BATHING FOR CHRIST....May I please join the chorus of people whose jaws are hanging open after reading this story? Via Atrios, the San Jose Mercury News reports on a special brand of war profiteer:

In this dry desert world near Najaf, where the Army V Corps combat support system sprawls across miles of scabrous dust, there's an oasis of sorts: a 500-gallon pool of pristine, cool water. It belongs to Army chaplain Josh Llano of Houston, who sees the water shortage - which has kept thousands of filthy soldiers from bathing for weeks - as an opportunity.

"It's simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized," he said.

....First, though, the soldiers have to go to one of Llano's hour-and-a-half sermons in his dirt-floor tent. Then the baptism takes an hour of quoting from the Bible.

....He calls himself a "Southern Baptist evangelist," and justifies the war and killing with a verse from the Gospel of Matthew, which he often recites: "Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's."

Why does this guy have 500 gallons of water? Why is he allowed to proselytize on the government's dime? Why does the army put up with this?

This guy must be reading a different version of the Bible than I read when I was a kid. He's a disgrace to Christians everywhere.

Kevin Drum 10:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE POLLS....I don't want to be responsible for a mass wave of people jumping off buildings after they read about the poll results below, so I should add that there were a couple of pieces of good news:

  • Two-thirds of Americans think we should kill Bush's tax cut entirely. You know, wartime and all.

  • Most of the poll respondents think the UN should take the lead role in postwar Iraq.

Sorry, that seems to be it for good news today. Full poll results are here.

Kevin Drum 10:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE LATEST POLLS....It's predictable that support for the Iraq war has risen since the war started, but even so the latest Los Angeles Times poll is just depressing:

Most Americans now express support for an expansive U.S. role in the Middle East, with....half endorsing military action against Iran if it continues to develop nuclear weapons, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll.

....More than three-fourths of Americans including two-thirds of liberals and 70% of Democrats now say they support the decision to go to war. And more than four-fifths of these war supporters say they still will back the military action even if allied forces don't find evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

....Americans are divided almost in half when asked whether the United States should take military action against Syria, which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has accused of providing Iraq with military supplies. Syria has denied the accusation. But 42% said the United States should take action if Syria, in fact, provides aid to Iraq, while 46% said no.

With a mere whisper from Donald Rumsfeld, apparently, Americans are now in favor of expanding the war to Syria and Iran, and virtually none of the war supporters even pretends to care whether Saddam really had WMDs in the first place.

So maybe I'm wrong. Not only would Americans not be scared off by the neocon grand plan if they knew about it, they might even think the neocons were a little too prissy in their goals.

And elsewhere in the Times, it looks like we can add Saudi Arabia to the list:

Young Saudis Eager to Battle Americans

"Here, 60 people I know have already gone to Iraq, and more will go if they can. Not only me. Everyone in my age and group," said a 17-year-old student who would give only his first name, Badr.

....At the Al Rajkhi mosque in the heart of the city, hundreds of men listened to Sheik Suleiman Alwan's booming voice as he condemned the war:

"Since the 11th of September, the Americans have been fishing in murky water. They called Muslims barbarians, Tatars. They called them every ugly name they could think of.

"But look at them now, what they're doing. The American Army and government -- are they doing any better? Are the blood and the organs of Iraqi people less precious, or are they children of a different God?"

Bill Kristol must be a very happy man right now.

Kevin Drum 10:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANALYZING BUCKLEY....Yesterday I wondered aloud what William F. Buckley's latest column was all about. Reader Jon Malkin suggests the following:

I think it's an attempt at computer-generated column writing. Specifically, I think it's n-gram column generation. The program analyzes his previous columns to get the probability of each word given the previous two, three, or four words, and then uses that information to generate new sentences.

On the other hand, uggabugga doesn't think there's any mystery about the column at all, and has a nice little chart that explains the whole thing.

Kevin Drum 9:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 4, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

REPORTING THE WAR....Arthur Silber complains today about confirmation bias:

Since the war began two weeks ago, I have noticed the following (it began well before then, but has become much more noticeable recently): almost every strongly prowar blog that I read references many stories which support the rosiest scenarios about how this war will play out, and what will happen in a post-war Iraq (and beyond). Similarly, most antiwar blogs I read link to many stories raising questions about the positive scenarios, stories which may show serious troubles arising, both now and in the future.

This is pretty obviously true, but in a way I think it might be exactly backward. The main thing I've noticed has been the insistence of everyone that all the other guys are biased. Conservatives insist, for example, that the BBC is little more than a communist propaganda tool, while liberals kvetch about the cheerleading on CNN.

But Arthur's right: as I mentioned in my post about Robert Fisk a few days ago, you shouldn't ignore news just because you don't like it. It might be true anyway. And if you want to know how the war is going, check out Fox, CNN, and the BBC and then split the difference. You'll probably get pretty close.

Kevin Drum 3:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GIBBERISH....Can someone please tell me what the hell this William F. Buckley column means? It just sounds like gibberish to me. Until the last line, that is...

It would be nice if Chirac were to appear in due course at the White House, drop his pants, and wave his white under drawers, surrendering to the superior statesmanship of President Bush.

...at which point it leaves gibberish behind and tries to imitate the sophisticated humor of South Park. I thought WFB was supposed to be an intellectual?

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Reader Peter Jung sends us this story from the Queensland Courier-Mail about a five-year-old girl who rescued her kitten from a (thankfully non-poisonous) local viper:

Marlie Coleman did not think twice about taking on the scrub python when it wrapped its jaws around her kitten Sooty in their Cairns backyard earlier this year.

The sharp-toothed python let go of the kitten, but attached itself to Marlie's lip, hanging on until her mother heard the screams and shook it off.

As you can see from the photo on the right, viper-feline relations are considerably better here at CalPundit HQ. In fact, Inkblot feels his safest when he's curled up on the couch in the cold-blooded emprace of our pet python. On the left, the all-too-warm-blooded Jasmine is poised to attack some freshly planted catnip.

And reader Douglas Reynolds writes: "Your affinity for cats I don't get, they always seemed like such Republican animals...." Well, let's see: cats are sneaky, self-indulgent, demand attention, and don't realize just how good they have it thanks to the hard work of those around them. So, um, yeah, I guess I see your point.

Today's bonus cats come from Kip of Long story; short pier, who posted a link last Friday to this graphically entertaining scrapbook of his cats, Ranger and Kali. Check it out.

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE TIMETABLES OF WAR....Tim Goodman in the San Francisco Chronicle says that CNN knew when the war would start two weeks ahead of time:

On March 4, according to a source at CNN, the brass in Atlanta knew it was happening March 19 and wasn't being too tight-lipped about it. The source, who requested anonymity, told The Chronicle on March 4 that executives there said the war "had been scheduled" for March 19 and plans were under way.

It probably doesn't matter that someone leaked this to CNN although it certainly seems like poor operational discipline, doesn't it? but if this is true then it means that all the "diplomacy" that was going on between March 4th and March 16th was just a sham.

Sure, we all suspected as much, but not quite this baldly. I wonder if we'll hear more about this?

Kevin Drum 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DIPLOMACY BASHING....This is truly a trivial observation, but read this sentence written by Patrick Belton at OxBlog:

Putin is responding to several weeks of having Ambassador Sandy Vershbow (full disclosure: a former boss of mine, and one of the few bright gems of the Foreign Service) telling him in detail about all the economic sticks which the U.S. could apply to Russia.

Don't worry about the substance of the sentence, just that fact that Sandy Vershbow is a "bright gem of the Foreign Service."

Here's my question: why do I read stuff like this so often? As near as I can tell, the world is full of people who are contemptuous of government agencies and government employees, but they always make an exception for their own friends and for people they themselves have worked for. To a man, these folks are portrayed as islands of sanity in an otherwise hellish sea of indolence and backstabbing.

It's a remarkable coincidence, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PING PONG SOCCER DIPLOMACY....Mooraq over at the International Sentinal has an idea for the neocons about how to reshape the world. One word: soccer.

I dunno, though, Mooraq, I've seen the aftermath of some of those international soccer matches, so this might not be such a great idea. Haven't soccer fans been known to destroy entire stadiums over a yellow flag?

UPDATE: I take it all back. Apparently Mooraq is prescient.

Kevin Drum 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRIENDS AND ALLIES....Hussein Ibish has an op-ed in the LA Times today in which he claims that Lt. Gen. Jay Garner is singularly unsuited to running postwar Iraq because he's too overtly pro-Israel. I don't know if his argument holds water, but a couple of paragraphs in his piece made me shake my head:

The management of the port of Umm al Qasr, one of the few places in Iraq under complete Western control, has produced a split between British and American authorities. The British view is that the Iraqi manager, who has been in his position for years, is capable of doing the job. Our government insisted, however, in providing a lucrative contract to run the port to Stevedoring Services of Seattle.

Australia has expressed concern that its existing wheat contracts with Iraq will be transferred to U.S. interests.

This appears to be the pattern set for most such arrangements in Iraq, with not only allies, the United Nations and major nongovernmental organizations frozen out of the process but with local Iraqis as well, in favor of American corporations.

This is now the second time I've read something like this, and it just doesn't make sense. Even if you agree that we should punish everyone in the world who didn't support us in the war, shouldn't we be going out of our way to pay close attention to those who sent troops to fight by our side? The Bush administration should be bending over backwards to demonstrate that good things happen when you're a U.S. ally, but instead they seem to be engaging in the same highhanded behavior that's been their trademark all along.

Punishing France for its opposition might be childish and shortsighted, but punishing Britain and Australia is just perverse. What are these guys thinking?

Kevin Drum 9:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REBUILDING IRAQ....Warren Vieth has a very good article in the Los Angeles Times today about the cost of postwar Iraqi reconstruction. Bottom line: it's going to be a lot more expensive than you think.

Iraq will emerge from the war a financial shambles, many economists say, with a debt load bigger than that of Argentina, a cash flow crunch rivaling those of Third World countries, a mountain of unresolved compensation claims, a shaky currency, high unemployment, galloping inflation and a crumbling infrastructure expected to sustain more damage before the shooting stops.

And the more oil Iraq produces to pump up its earnings, the more likely it becomes that prices will fall, leaving it no better off than before.

"Clearly, it's a basket case," said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. "Once you start talking about it, you see what an impossible situation it is. I don't think the Bush administration is anxious to have that conversation."

Read the whole thing to get the grim financial details.

Now, even the moderate, non-France-bashing CalPundit is willing to concede that paying off the Iraqi debt to France from weapons sales is probably a pretty low priority. And war reparations to Iran and Kuwait might get put on the back burner too.

Still, the overall picture is grim, and if we truly want to rebuild Iraq into a stable nation state instead of simply installing a not-unfriendly client government and then leaving, it's going to set us back a few dollars. It sure is too bad we did this against the wishes of the entire world, thus forsaking our best hope of getting financial help with this, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 3, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL SECURITY....National security is likely to be the most important issue in the 2004 campaign, and it's also the single biggest vulnerability of the eventual Democratic candidate for president. So what should a Democratic national security plan look like?

Even if I could do it, it's impossible to spell out a detailed policy prescription in a blog. But it's an important discussion to have, and I'd like to list at least the broad outlines of a realistic liberal approach to national security in the post 9-11 era. Some of this will appeal to other liberals, some of it won't, but at least we should start talking about it. Here are six points to think about:

  1. Any sensible policy needs to have both short term and long term components, and in the short term we need to accept the fact that the military sometimes has a role to play. As unpalatable as this is to some liberals, there are trouble spots in the world that are simply not amenable to friendly persuasion.

  2. Terrorism is a global problem and it calls for global solutions: we need allies to provide intelligence information, police assistance, forward bases for our military, overflight rights, and an endless array of other help. We are far safer and more effective acting with friends than we are acting on our own, and our next president needs to be someone who understands this and has the grit and persistence to forge the alliances that George Bush is either unable or unwilling to. In the end, just as we won the Cold War by banding together with likeminded democracies, we will win this war the same way.

  3. At the same time, we can't fall prey to the idea that terrorism can be defeated primarily via intimidation and military force. Israel and the surrounding Arab states have been trying out this theory for the past 50 years and the results are plain: countries can be defeated in war and subjugated, but terrorists can't be. Oppression simply makes them even more furious and desperate, and unless you think you can kill all the terrorists in the world and experience says that you can't you need a long-term plan that involves more than just endless war.

  4. Rich countries rarely go to war against each other, and while there are occasional exceptions, rich societies rarely breed large and persistent terrorist movements. Therefore, if we truly want to be safe from terrorism in the long term, we need a foreign policy aimed at making poor countries rich. Tolerance and democracy will follow. This is an enormously sensitive and difficult problem, and I don't pretend to know how to attack it, but it's imperative that it be our goal. Nothing else will work.

  5. On the domestic front, we need to spend money more wisely. Missile defense is an expensive boondoggle, a holdover from an era in which Soviet ICBMs were the biggest threat to our country. Threats today are far more likely to arrive on a container ship than on the tip of a missile, and this is where we should be spending our resources. George Bush has been spectacularly negligent in attending to the real risks of homeland security Jonathan Chait's New Republic article is a good place to start for details on this and the successful Democratic candidate needs to propose an expansive and toughminded plan for domestic security to replace the quickie coat of paint that the Bush Administration has gotten away with so far.

  6. Finally, we need to accomplish all this without feeling like we have become a country under siege. John Ashcroft's assault on the constitution and Tom Ridge's endless orange alerts need to be exposed for the scaremongering that they are, and the INS' hamhanded assault on Arab Americans as a way of covering up their own incompetence needs to be halted. We need to stop scaring our own people, and instead get down to the serious and difficult work ahead.

Republicans and their neoconservative brethren have a foreign policy that is seemingly based on the naive idea that having the world's biggest military machine and using it frequently will make us safe from terrorism. It won't instead it will simply make us hated and isolated. Democrats need to expose this for the reckless folly that it is and offer up a comprehensive plan in its place that offers genuine hope for the problems of the real world, not the fantasy solution of democracy at gunpoint favored by the Bush administration. It's time to get started.

UPDATE: Point 4 has been edited slightly to remove some ambiguities.

Kevin Drum 11:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE 2004 CAMPAIGN....In reponse to some email I got about my proposal that gay rights might be a useful campaign platform for the Democrats in 2004, I should clarify a bit: I'm certainly not suggesting that it be the centerpiece of anybody's campaign. National security is almost certain to be the primary issue of the campaign, whether anyone likes it or not, and economic issues will also be front and center. But I do think that as a secondary issue it has some possibilities. It likely wouldn't hurt with any Democratic core constituencies, it might appeal to suburban moderates, and it could bring out some serious foaming at the mouth among the paleo-Republican crowd. It's just a thought.

(Of course, what we really need to make this work is some nice, modest war hero who comes out of the closet after the war is over and then gets discharged because of it. It would also be nice if this person had a chest full of medals. And it would be really nice if our hero was a Republican who then decided to switch to the Democrats and spoke at our convention. Dreams, dreams....)

Of course, there are times when I wonder if any of this policy stuff even matters. In truth, most elections seem to be decided in favor of whoever seems like a more likeable person. In the last 50 years, the only exception I can think of to this rule is Nixon and, maybe, Carter. But Carter wasn't really unlikeable, and he had the tailwind of Watergate anyway.

So what does this mean? Among the serious candidates, the likeable ones seem to be Dean and Edwards, whereas Kerry, Lieberman, and Gephardt are all either stiff or else not very sincere sounding. So that's it: we have a choice between the governor of Vermont and a first term senator. More discussion of this between me and Jesse Berney of Wage Slave Journal is here.

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WE RULE, YOU PAY....Treasury Secretary John Snow says the rest of the world should help pay for post-war Iraq reconstruction:

Speaking to the Orlando Chamber of Commerce, Snow noted that he will meet other G7 finance ministers in Washington next week....and that reconstruction would be on the agenda.

"We want to make sure other countries help us," Snow said in response to questions after a luncheon address.

Do these guys have moxie or what? We're fighting a war the rest of the world opposes, we're refusing to give them any say in how Iraq will be governed after the war is over, and we're insisting that all the reconstruction contracts should go to American firms.

But even so, we want them to help pay for it. Even if you're pro-war, doesn't this seem just a little....arrogant?

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT SHE SAID....Megan McArdle has the goods on the Washington Post today. The results aren't pretty.

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THOSE DAMN FRENCH, PART 43....National Review Online reports that Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) is standing up for our troops:

"To force the relatives of our servicemen and women fighting the war in Iraq to mourn their loss under a headstone supplied by a company with French allegiance is an insult that no American soldier or their family should be forced to endure," McInnis wrote in a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi released Wednesday.

Actually, it turns out the headstones come from the Georgia Marble Company in, um, Georgia, which is owned by a French parent.

But what's really odd is that the NRO piece is written like an AP dispatch, which leaves one to wonder: do they approve of McInnis' action or not?

UPDATE: A reader points out what I missed when I skimmed through the NRO story:

McInnis represents the Western Slope of Colorado where one of the country's largest marble quarries is (in of all places, the town of Marble). My sense is that he is recommending that we start buying the marble from the quarry that just happens to be in his district. This is simple opportunism, not any kind of patriotism.

There's a lot of that going around: Qualcomm is still badgering Donald Rumsfeld to use its (incompatible) cell phone technology in Iraq, something that even ex-Qualcomm war hawk Steven Den Beste thinks is a dumb idea. The LA Times has the full story today.

Kevin Drum 11:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EYE OF THE BEHOLDER....According to Glenn Reynolds, one of the protests pictured below was "rather limp," while the other, being held today, seems to be a pretty good showing, all in all.

It's funny, though, to my inexpert eye they seem remarkably similar. What do you suppose the difference is? And can you guess before you click the links to find out?

Kevin Drum 10:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE CUNNING PLAN....Remember all those Andrew Sullivan-ish bloggers (like, for example, Andrew Sullivan) who claimed that every seeming misstep by the Bush administration over the past nine months was actually the result of a concealed but devious master plan? You know, they tricked the Democrats into calling for a congressional vote, they tricked the liberals into demanding we go through the UN, etc. etc.

So why the silence now over Rumsfeld? It's tailor made for these guys: all those leaks from the Pentagon and planted complaints from front line troops were cleverly designed to get the media all psyched up for some good Rumsfeld bashing but then the rug got pulled out from under them when the whole strategy worked! It's genius!

Of course, you have to say that now if you want any credibility, not after we win. So here's your chance, and I'm offering it up for free.

The sad part is that the administration including Rumsfeld almost certainly miscalculated a lot of things, especially the joy with which Iraqis would greet us as liberators, something that is likely to haunt us in post-war Iraq. On the other hand, we are going to win the war, and probably in fairly short order. So even if it wasn't a devious plot, liberal hand wringers are going to come out of this whole affair looking pretty weak.

Another tactical error by the good guys. Sigh

Kevin Drum 9:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 2, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THINKING ABOUT 2004....All this talk about moderation vs. extremism has got me mulling over political strategy for the Democrats, so I think I'll do a little thinking out loud about it just to clear my head a bit. Besides, it keeps my mind off the war.

We Democrats have a real uphill battle in 2004, and to have any chance of winning I think we need three things: (a) a positive domestic policy proposal of some kind that can become a real rallying cry for the party, (b) some way of instilling genuine fear toward some aspect of Bush administration policy, and (c) a serious and credible national security plan.

We all have our favorite domestic policy proposals, but here are a few that I happen to like for one reason or another:

  • Gay rights, including support for federal employment protection, civil unions, and gays in the military. I like this for a few reasons: (1) Fighting unwarranted discrimination is a core part of the liberal agenda. This is our fight. (2) It's a cause that's moving in the right direction. Public opinion has been shifting toward increased tolerance of gays slowly but surely for 30 years, and we might be at the right moment in history to really win a serious mandate for legislative change on this issue. (3) The main opponents are going to be the Christian right, which holds out the hope of causing a real rift in the Republican party. It's also likely to bring out the worst kind of homophobic rhetoric among the opposition, which in turn makes the Republican party look scary and intolerant to the average voter.

  • Social Security and tax reform. I think it's well past time to abandon the fiction of a Social Security trust fund and admit the reality: Social Security and Medicare are simply federal programs that are paid for out the general fund. We should propose that the payroll tax be done away with and the revenue replaced by changes in the income tax, with the overall goal of making funding for Social Security both more secure and more progressive. This ought to have a lot of appeal to moderate voters once they figure out how much they pay in payroll taxes, and could be a tough proposal for Republicans to fight.

  • National health insurance. I think this is inevitable, and I'd like to see us start talking about it again. Unfortunately, I suspect that the American public is not yet pissed off enough about healthcare to make this a winner. It's a good idea, but maybe not for a few more years yet.

Next, we have to find some way of making Republicans look scary. I'm not quite sure what the right issue is for this, but the more I read about the neocon agenda, the more I think this might be the one to target. After all, Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in 1964 by making him look like he was set to plunge us into World War III, and I suspect that a really vigorous campaign to associate the administration with the neocon program might do the same in 2004.

This has to be done in a credible way so that it doesn't just sound like liberal carping about the use of military force, but I bet some smart strategist could figure out how to do this. There's plenty of scary stuff on the record about the neocon plan, and attacking it would either force Bush to repudiate it, which would hurt him with some of his core supporters, or else accept it and end up looking reckless and war hungry. I'm not sure the neocons realize just how scary their plans sound to moderate voters, so this has the potential to be a winner.

Finally, whoever wins the Democratic nomination desperately needs to be credible on national security and needs to have a plan that distinguishes him from the Bush administration. Somehow, in easily digestible soundbites, it needs to include an attack on Bush's homeland security record, a compelling argument for multilateral cooperation, and a sense that the candidate truly takes the threat of terrorists and rogue states seriously. Unfortunately, I suspect this rules out people like Howard Dean, even if he does get lots of applause from Democratic activists, and limits the serious candidates to people like Kerry, Edwards, and maybe Lieberman.

So that's it, a little bit of thinking out loud about 2004. We now return you to your regularly scheduled war.

UPDATE: More here.

Kevin Drum 8:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PSYCHOANALYZING THE FRENCH....Megan McArdle asks: "what were the French thinking?"

Leaving the moral question of the war aside, why did they block us so completely at the UN? Let's look at the results: the US has walked away from the UN, and probably severely damaged its power. Since the UN Security Council veto is main source of France's geopolitical power, this is very bad for France. It's also walked away from France, certainly damaging Franco-American relations. Attempting, and failing, to block us markedly diminished the perception of French power....Overall, not a result you'd think anyone was looking for.

Oddly enough, I think the answer is pretty simple: they just fucked up.

Americans tend to look at everything through the lense of anti-Americanism, but in this case it's the wrong lense. France has adopted a strategy of intense bullying within the EU for well, pretty much forever. They routinely demand special treatment in everything from farm policy to trade policy to monetary policy to practically every other policy you can imagine. They bully, they bluster, they refuse to back down, they threaten to bring everything to a halt, and you know what? It works. Within the EU, this policy has produced immense payoffs for France.

Unfortunately for the French, George Bush is a bully too, and the United States has a history of being every bit as intransigent as France. Jacques Chirac must have figured that he could stare us down, as he and his predecessors have done so often within Europe, but he couldn't. In other words, he fucked up.

So that's that. A more interesting question, I think, is what did they want? If they expected us to blink eventually, what price were they hoping to get us to pay once we had backed down? I confess that I really can't figure that one out, but they must have had something in mind. What do you suppose it was?

Kevin Drum 7:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHOOTING THE MESSENGER....Judy Keen's profile of George Bush in USA Today has come in for much ridicule due to its exceptionally fawning tone, and rightfully so. On the other hand, I guess everyone deserves a puff piece once in a while, and this is Bush's for April.

Here's the paragraph that struck me the most:

News coverage of the war often irritates him. He's infuriated by reporters and retired generals who publicly question the tactics of the war plan. Bush let senior Pentagon officials know that he was peeved when Lt. Gen. William Wallace, the Army's senior ground commander in Iraq, said last week that guerrilla fighting, Iraqi resistance and sandstorms have made a longer war more likely. But Bush has told aides that he wants to hear all the news from the front good and bad.

Let me get this straight: he was "peeved" when Wallace said Iraqi tactics made a longer war more likley, but he also says he wants to hear all the news, "good and bad."

I can tell you from experience that you can't have it both ways. If you get peeved when people come through the office door with bad news, they're going to stop coming. After all, Bush is the boss, and no one wants to make the boss mad.

Or is it that he just doesn't want the public to hear the bad news?

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AHMED CHALABI REDUX....Looks like I may have spoken too soon about Ahmed Chalabi's position in post-war Iraq. The LA Times says today:

On new postwar Iraqi leadership, the Pentagon is now making decisions that could virtually ensure that Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi National Congress leader who fled Iraq in 1958, becomes the transitional leader after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, U.S. officials say.

"Chalabi is the Pentagon's guy, and the Pentagon is in charge," an administration official said.

If this is true, it's really not good news.

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BILL KRISTOL, CALL YOUR OFFICE....Is Tony Blair a neocon? Apparently not!

Britain will have "nothing whatever" to do with any military action against Syria or Iran, according to Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary.

....Interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Straw said: "Iran is a completely different country and situation from Iraq. Iran is an emerging democracy and there would be no case whatsoever for taking any kind of action."

....Mr Straw was asked whether he was worried that an impression was being created that once Iraq had been tackled, Syria and Iran might be next in line. The Foreign Secretary said: "It would worry me if it were true. It is not true, and we would have nothing whatever to do with an approach like that."

For all the Andrew Sullivan-ish talk about how the planning for this war has been the result of a deviously concealed master plan, what's really remarkable is just how wide and deep the disagreement about it has been within the administration and its allies and how much this disagreement has been the true driver of its lurching quality over the past nine months. There's always a certain amount of this, of course, and the Bushies have done a pretty good job of presenting a single face in public, but I sure wish I could be a fly on the wall during some of the internal discussions. There's a real battle going on there for the heart and soul of George Bush, and it's not clear yet whether anyone has won.

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SHORTER 24....Our story so far: a nuclear bomb has been detonated in the desert outside of Los Angeles (thanks, Jack!), and we have reason to think this was the work of three Muslim countries. Seasoned 24 fans never really believed any of this because, after all, this is 24 we're talking about and anyway, they kind of gave the game away when they started torturing the NSA director and discovered that he knew about the whole thing.

So anyway, last night we learned for sure that the evidence implicating the Muslims has been faked. The reality is that the whole thing was planned by some folks who wanted us to start a huge war in the Middle East.

I think Richard Perle was behind it. Those 24 scriptwriters really know their neocon politics, don't they?

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SMOKING AND HEART ATTACKS....CNN has an intriguing article today about a study in Helena, Montana, which suggests that heart attacks in the city decreased after a smoking ban was put in place. Of course, the study has its critics:

Greg Straw, who runs the Montana Nugget Casino....dismissed the idea that the ban was linked to a decline in heart attacks. "I think that absolutely has nothing to do with the smoking ban," he said.

I'm glad to see that a casino owner is considered an expert in epidemiology.

What's funny is that the authors admit that because Helena is a small city (population 26,000), the results are only suggestive and need to be replicated on a larger scale before they are taken seriously. They suggest New York City, which recently passed a smoking ban.

But why New York? California has had a statewide indoor smoking ban for years, so there ought to be plenty of data available. And since it's statewide, you don't have to worry about the possibility that smokers all just "went outside city limits" to light up.

So how about it, guys? How about a study of the Golden State if you want to back up your claims?

UPDATE: The Angry Bear says that this news is probably too good to be true. A quick look at California data suggests there's no effect.

Kevin Drum 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HSDB....I tend not to mock other bloggers on this site and virtually never fellow liberals, I might add, just as an out-of-the-blue aside to all my lefty friends but sometimes playground humor seems the only reasonable response to someone who has gone off the deep end. That "someone," of course, is Steven Den Beste, who seems to live in a fictional but internally consistent universe of his own making here in sunny Southern California.

Today's contribution to Den Bestian mockery is to rescue from the oblivion of Matt Yglesias's comment section this example of Haiku Steven Den Beste, an alternative to the popular but more prosaic Shorter Steven Den Beste:

Master strategist
Plots his next move carefully:
I will eat the French

This is courtesy of Randy Paul, who runs Beautiful Horizons, a blog dedicated primarily to Latin America, an area of the world not getting a lot of attention at the moment.

Next up: Steven Den Beste in sonnet form.

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DIVIDEND TAX CUTS: JUST ANOTHER WAY WE CAN ALL HELP LITTLE JESSICA....Reader Shelley Cole draws my attention to this headline in the Chicago Tribune today:

New tax-cut argument: It's for the soldiers
Bush's tax cuts have been under fire by critics who assert the nation cannot afford to give up revenue at the same time it engages in a war whose duration and costs are unknown. But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the cuts are needed specifically "so that when our men and women in the military return home, they'll have jobs to come home to."

The Tribune reports that Democrats have "scoffed" at this, as well they should. Sounds to me like Ari's boss is getting desperate.

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WAR REPORTING GONE BAD....The Los Angeles Times printed a front page correction today admitting that one of its photographers had altered a photo that appeared in the paper on Monday. The photographer, Brian Walski, apparently liked the martial look of the soldier in the top picture, but preferred the pleading expression of the man with the child in the middle picture, so he Photoshopped the two together to make the bottom picture, which is the one that appeared in the Times. The giveaway, apparently, was the small, dark face just to the left of the soldier's knee in the composite picture, which also appears just to the right of the soldier's knee.

When asked about it, Walski fessed up and the Times fired him. They are to be commended for being so forthright about admitting this, but it just goes to show that having an editor might not be all it's cracked up to be. Aaron Brown, take note.

Picture 1
Picture 2
Composite Picture
Kevin Drum 10:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CUTE LITTLE GIRLS....Virginia Postrel now with permalinks! doesn't like the way the news channels are treating Jessica Lynch:

Reporters on Fox News Channel and MSNBC are displaying an exceedingly annoying habit of referring to Pfc. Jessica Lynch as just "Jessica" in news stories, the better to tug the viewers' paternal/maternal heartstrings. But Jessica Lynch is not the little girl who fell down the well. She is a U.S. soldier serving in harm's way. If you're old enough to be a POW, you're old enough to be referred to as "Private Lynch." Even if you're female.

This has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time in an entirely different area: tennis. Despite tennis' status as the ur-feminist sport (remember Billy Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs in 1973?), TV announcers routinely refer to the men as Sampras, Agassi, Hewitt, etc., while the women are Lindsey, Serena, Venus, and Anna.

No, this doesn't happen all the time, and yes, certain players (mostly ones with hard-to-pronounce first names) seem to be exceptions, but it happens often enough. If it were just the Williams sisters that suffered from this, you could almost understand. After all, they're so damn good that they play each other all the time, and you can hardly call a Serena vs. Venus match by referring to both of them as Williams. But you can sure do it when one of them is playing Jennifer Capriati.

Tennis announcing on TV isn't one of the most pressing problems of the feminist cause, but it's a place to start. And "Private Lynch" would be a good next step.

Kevin Drum 9:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRAQI EXILES....Finishing up his doctoral dissertation really seems to have freed up Josh Marshall's typing fingers for more important tasks, like blogging about the war. Today he takes on Ahmed Chalabi, head of a group of Iraqi exiles that the neocons have spent the last decade slobbering over like lovestruck teenagers. Chalabi seems to have a knack for telling these guys exactly what they want to hear which, naturally, involves him as the head of a new and improved Iraq and they've mostly fallen for it. The Iraqis want us to go in! They will hail us as liberators! Saddam is weaker than you think!

All I can say is, I'm glad the CIA won this argument. Chalabi has always struck me as little more than a self-important blowhard, and giving him any kind of serious role in post-war Iraq would probably be disastrous. He's still going to get more than he deserves, probably, but at least his dreams of becoming the American sponsored Raj of Baghdad seem to be coming to nought.

(Jeez, what's the world coming to when you count on the CIA to be the voice of moderation? But that's where things seem to have headed over the past few years.)

Kevin Drum 9:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 1, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

COOL EXPLOSIONS....From the always valuable Space.com, here's a series of pictures from the Hubble telescope of V838 Monocerotis, a peculiar exploding star about 20,000 light years from earth. (Great name, too, isn't it?) What's peculiar is that while it has indeed exploded, it's not a supernova and has stayed cool the entire time. Astronomers are stumped about what's going on, but in the meantime you can read about it and see some additional pictures and explanations here.

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WAR ON THE CHEAP....A few days ago I was musing about why Donald Rumsfeld was so determined to wage such a cheap war on Iraq. Why not send in another couple of divisions and spend $150 billion instead of $75 billion? Who cares, really?

Mickey Kaus has been musing about this too, and comes to one of the same conclusions I did: he wants it to be cheap because he wants to fight a whole bunch of these wars. It's the neocon grand plan, after all.

The difference between Mickey and me, though, is that when Mickey gets paranoid, he goes whole hog. Check it out here.

(And why is it that kausfiles doesn't have permalinks, anyway? You'll just have to scroll down to "Kf gets paranoid" for this one.)

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias ups it a notch and gives Mickey a run for his money. But he says he's just kidding. Really.

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DEFICITS UNLIMITED....Brad DeLong helpfully posts a Wall Street Journal article today that would otherwise be available only to subscribers. The subject is "dynamic scoring," the theory that says tax cuts raise economic growth and therefore pay for themselves (or at least partly pay for themselves). The killjoys at the Congressional Budget Office have never been willing to play this game, so recently the Bushies installed their own guy there so that CBO could produce authoritative sounding confirmations that tax cuts were good, good, good.

The new team tried nine different economic models to try and make their case, but surprise! it turns out there's no free lunch after all. Click here for the dreary details.

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WHEN DO WE GET TO DECLARE VICTORY AND GO HOME?....David Frum thinks we liberals are attaching too many conditions to declaring victory in the war against Iraq:

The allies win ONLY IF they (1) overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime and (2) find Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and (3) do so with minimal casualties and (4) also with minimal Iraqi casualties while (5) being hailed and welcomed by the Iraqi population and (6) without upsetting Arab public opinion too much also (7) without irritating the European allies too much and now (8) without any alterations of their original plan.

OK, I'm willing skip point #8, but the first seven seem pretty reasonable, don't they? In fact, except for the part about not annoying Europe where the plan actually seems to be to cause as much annoyance as possible these conditions all seem to be pretty much part of the grand Cheney/Rumsfeld/neocon plan. I don't think we liberals had anything to do with it.

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PUT NOT YOUR FAITH IN MODERATE REPUBLICANS?....Tapped and Matt Yglesias are both skeptical that moderate Republicans will have much success in actually moderating the Republican agenda this term. Considering their abysmal track record at this, I have to agree.

On the other hand, as this LA Times piece points out today, moderate Republicans have cut the tax bill in half and have also joined with Democrats to defeat the Arctic drilling proposal. What's more, tort reform is in trouble and, as this article implies, a compromise proposal on smallpox vaccinations probably would have passed with moderate Republican support if the GOP leadership had allowed it to come to a vote. So maybe the moderates really are starting to feel their oats.

(As an aside, the Republican smallpox proposal would have paid $50,000 per year in lost wages up to a maximum of $262,100. The Democratic proposal would have paid $75,000 per year with no cap. This really doesn't seem like a helluva compromise for the Republicans to make, does it? How many people are they expecting to keel over from this vaccine, anyway?)

The Times attributes the success of the moderate Republicans to three factors: (a) moderate Democrats are really, really pissed off after Bush campaigned vigorously against them in 2002, so Democratic solidarity is at an all-time high, (b) George Bush, the salesman-in-chief, is too busy with Iraq to schmooze congressmen, and (c) Bill Frist's leadership team is still finding its legs. On the third point, however, you really need to consider the source:

"The problem is less at the White House than it is here," said Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, who stepped down as GOP leader in December under fire for racially tinged remarks. "We're the ones who cast the vote."

He would feel that way, wouldn't he?

UPDATE: More info on the smallpox thing. The Bush adminstration wants to innoculate 450,000 health workers, and this article says that vaccinations are expected to cause "one to two deaths and several dozen to a hundred serious illnesses per million." Both the Republican and Democratic proposals treat death the same, so the only difference is in compensation for illness.

Assume the high figure of one hundred illnesses per million. This means we'd expect 45 people to get ill out of 450,000. Under the GOP proposal, this would cost $11.8 million. The cost of the Democratic proposal is harder to calculate, but let's figure that the average length of a payout for a smallpox illness is 10 years (for some it would be one year, for others it might be 50). The total cost would then be $33.7 million. Are they really holding up this entire program because they're quibbling over a difference of at most $22 million?

And there's more: according to this AP report, "the Democrats would guarantee the money, while the Republican bill would force this program to compete for funding each year." Isn't that great? The Republican proposal would compensate people, but every year it might decide to stop. That's what's called compassionate conservatism, folks.

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CALLING A TRUCE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS....I asked drug policy expert Mark Kleiman what his actual drug policy was he's never outlined it before for us bloggers and he answers here. He doesn't explain his positions, he just lists them, but he does provide links to a short article on the same subject, as well as Against Excess, his book about drug policy.

The first line of Against Excess is, "This is a book without a clarion call," and that characterizes his approach. Drug use does cause societal problems, he says, but at the same time the current "war on drugs" simply isn't working. His answer is not a single sweeping prescription, but rather a certain amount of increased tolerance, some changes in both punishment and propaganda efforts, some higher taxes, and a mix of other recommendations. Mark has shifted my thinking a bit on the drug problem, so this is recommended reading.

And teenagers nationwide will applaud his final recommendation: we should abolish the age restriction on alcohol. Does that mean it's OK let my neighbor's ten-year-old drink a can of my beer?

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SHUT UP, AARON....Dan Drezner is right, this is pretty funny.

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MEDICAL MALPRACTICE....Dwight Meredith has a couple of good posts up on medical malpractice reform. In the first one, I learn that the lone Democrat to support caps on pain and suffering awards ("noneconomic damages"), my own Dianne Feinstein, has withdrawn her name from the bill. Why? Because she wanted to compromise on a cap of $500,000 with a $2 million limit under certain exceptional circumstances.

Apparently, though, this ran into problems not just with Republican ideologues, but with doctors too. This really doesn't make sense, as Dwight points out, since if a $500,000 cap won't keep premiums down then there's no real reason to think that a $250,000 cap will work either. (On a related point, we've had a $250,000 cap in California for two decades, and it hasn't been adjusted for inflation since the day it was passed.)

In his second post he addresses the complaint of a reader from Nevada who asks, "If you live in Las Vegas and you can't find an OB because they've all left town, will you wave these stats around when you are in labor in a crowded ER?" But as Dwight points out, Nevada already has a cap on noneconomic damages. And the hellhole of Florida, frequently trotted out as another problem area, also has caps. So if it hasn't worked in those two places, why should it work anywhere else?

My reading on this admittedly confusing subject has led me to believe that there are some reasonable things that could be done to reform medical malpractice and lower premiums for doctors. But as near as I can tell, damage caps aren't one of them. However, they are easy to explain and easy to demagogue about, and I suspect that's why Republicans keep flogging them.

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INTERRACIAL DATING....This may be old news to some, but I spent the morning reading the Economist since blogger is, once again, FUBAR, and discovered something I didn't know.

Remember the Texas sodomy case that was argued before the Supreme Court last week? Here are the basic facts of the case:

A panicky neighbour had just called to say that a man with a gun was going crazy in John Lawrence's apartment. But when police burst in they found, not a crazed gunman, but Mr Lawrence and his friend Tyron Garner having sex. Relieved and no doubt red-faced, the cops might have slipped away. Instead, they arrested the two men under Texas's rarely-enforced Homosexual Conduct Law and held them overnight in jail.

But why did a panicky neighbor call? And why did the cops arrest them instead of just slipping away?

Like I said, this might be old news to some, but this article is the first one I've read that had a picture of the two men involved. Do you notice anything, um, distinctive about them that might have caught the eye of a nosy neighbor and a couple of Houston cops?

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LIMITED WAR....The Economist weighs in on the willingness of Americans to accept casualties in war:

History teaches that Americans are prepared to accept and inflict massive casualties in pursuit of victory (witness the campaign against Japan in the second world war). But as both the Vietnam quagmire and the first Gulf war suggest, they are much more nervous about backing a government perceived to be pursuing half-hearted aims.

I've seen this sentiment (or variations on it) a lot, but it strikes me as seriously misguided. I don't think Americans are unwilling to support limited wars, they're just unwilling to support wars that don't seem entirely justified. After all, the Cold War was the granddaddy of limited wars, but it maintained very broad support for over 40 years. The reason is simple: most Americans truly believed that communism posed a threat to the United States.

Conversely, a lot of Americans simply decided that Vietnam wasn't much of a threat to the United States, and this had nothing to do with the fact that the war was allegedly a limited one (a proposition, by the way, that owes more to Pentagon propaganda than to actual reality). I suspect that the same is true of Iraq, and this means that while backing for the current war is broad, it's also very shallow. The only thing that really keeps support high is the mistaken notion that Saddam was associated with the 9/11 attacks the real reasons for the war are simply too subtle for most people to grasp and I think it would crumble to pieces at the first sign that it required serious sacrifice on the part of America.

This is why it's so important for the administration to keep the neocon grand plan out of the public eye. As Tom Friedman learned on Oprah, once middle America gets a whiff of this, the game is over and the neocons are going to get sent packing.

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AFFIRMATIVE ACTION....The Supreme Court is hearing the University of Michigan affirmative action cases today, and to prepare for the event the LA Times ran a couple of op-eds on the subject on Monday. After reading them I had an idea for a post I wanted to write, but it would have been a real munge of disconnected ideas on reparations, diversity, the meaning of merit, etc. etc.

However, I was saved from writing it -- and you from reading it -- by the discovery of a genuinely interesting report from The Century Foundation about alternatives to affirmative action. The authors, who pulled together a ton of longitudinal data and compared it to polling data on public support for various forms of racial preferences, came up with some compelling support for an alternative to the typical race-based affirmative action programs used today in higher education.

The problem is basically this: standard issue affirmative action is based simply on ethnicity. If you're black or Hispanic, for example, you get extra credit when you apply for university admission. Although this achieves the admirable goal of helping disadvantaged minorities, the problems are multiple: (a) the public doesn't support it, (b) it violates the principle that we should try to be a race neutral society, and (c) most of the benefit goes to minority students from well off families. Plus, as Sam Heldman says, the Supreme Court is likely to find it unconstitutional.

So what to do? One popular idea is to guarantee university admission to the top 10% of every high school class. The authors investigated this plan, however, and concluded that it has a problem: too many unqualified students are admitted and the dropout rate is high. The point, after all, is not to simply admit students from underrepresented classes, it's to see them through to graduation. If graduation rates are low, then the policy is a failure.

Instead, they recommend another approach that's gotten some attention recently: preferences for students from low income families. I've been skeptical of this approach in the past simply because it's inefficient, requiring large interventions in order to obtain minimal amounts of racial diversity. In other words, too little racial bang for the preferential buck. But the Century Foundation report concludes otherwise: giving preference to low income students would produce almost as much racial diversity as we have today. Thus, in order to maintain today's standards of racial diversity, only a modest additional amount of traditional affirmative action would be required.

And it turns out that this approach is actually fairer than pure merit-based approaches since it's more likely to find the truly talented kids. Think of it this way: one kid has been to weight training all his life and can bench press 200 pounds. The second kid has never had any training and can bench 180 pounds. If you provide them both with four years of weight training, which one is mostly likely to be able to bench 250 pounds when the program is over? If you're smart, you'll put your money on the second kid even though his initial "test score" is lower. Despite the difference in scores, he really is the more naturally talented of the two.

The conclusion of the Century Foundation report is good news on several fronts. First, according to polling data the public supports both the inherent fairness of preferences for low income students as well as the idea of modest amounts of race-based affirmative action. It's only substantial racial preferences that most people object to.

Second, it promotes economic diversity as well as racial diversity. This by itself is a positive development.

And third, it works. In the computerized simulations run by the authors, students chosen this way have graduation rates that are actually higher than those chosen purely by test scores and high school GPAs. By analogy with the weight training example, this makes considerable sense: after all, a kid who lives in a crappy neighborhood and goes to a crappy school but still scores, say, 1100 on his SATs, is probably every bit as naturally talented as one who attended a top high school and scored 1200. Provide the first kid with a good education, and he's likely to shine.

I like this idea a lot, and I hope their research holds up. I mostly like it because it moves the debate away from the same stale issues we've been discussing for decades now, and suggests a way out that is both effective, fair, and likely to be widely supported. It will be interesting to see how much attention this report gets.

Kevin Drum 6:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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