Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 31, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

VIETNAM VS. IRAQ....Is Iraq a quagmire like Vietnam? Hell, according to John O'Sullivan at NRO, even Vietnam wasn't a quagmire like Vietnam:

[The Tet Offensive], in addition to being a strategic defeat for the Vietcong, was also ample justification for America's Vietnam intervention on both humanitarian grounds.

But that is not how it was presented to the people by the U.S. media at the time. As the late Peter Braestrup demonstrated in his magisterial study, Big Story, the mainstream U.S. media depicted Tet as a severe defeat for the United States and as the beginning of an endless quagmire for American forces. That became the conventional wisdom of both the media and political elites. And as a result, the North Vietnamese eventually triumphed on the only battlefield where the United States could be defeated the American home front.

It was all just media spin? Talk about revisionist history.

1967 was the year of the "light at the end of the tunnel." LBJ and Robert McNamara kept telling us that North Vietnam was on the ropes, that the war was winding down, and that our boys would soon be coming home.

Then came Tet. It was indeed, as everyone agrees, a military debacle for the Viet Cong, but although the Tet Offensive did little objective damage, it did show that North Vietnam had plenty of fight left. Public opinion turned not because of media spin, and not because anyone mistakenly thought it was a massive defeat for U.S. forces, but because it demonstrated that our leaders had seriously deceived us about the course of the war. We had been led to believe the war was almost over, but in fact it was just getting started.

And the lesson? Wartime leaders need to tell the country the truth about how things are going and how long our troops are going to be fighting. If there really is a parallel between Vietnam and Iraq, that's where it lies.

Kevin Drum 4:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POINDEXTER TO RESIGN....The infamous futures market in terrorism may or may not have been a good idea, but it turns out that it's had one positive effect: the resignation of John "Technically I'm Not A Felon" Poindexter from his position as head of the Pentagon's Information Awareness Office.

It's about time. After all, just how often to you have to demonstrate appallingly poor judgment before the Bush administration finally decides you're no longer welcome?

Kevin Drum 4:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEAN AND ISRAEL....As long as I'm kicking Howard Dean, there was one sentence in his speech that just floored me:

While we focused on Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was neglected. The President, despite knowing how critical his personal involvement was, refused to engage for over two full years, squandering the momentum he inherited from the Clinton administration.

Momentum? WTF was Dean smoking when he said that?

Look, I give Clinton credit for doing everything he could to make the 2000 summit work, but he failed. The intifada was in full swing by the time Bush took office and Sharon beat Barak bloody in the Israeli elections just a couple of weeks later. Things spiraled completely out of control in the ensuing months.

Maybe Bush should have engaged earlier, but the only momentum bequeathed to him by Clinton was barreling headlong in the opposite direction of peace. So what was Dean talking about?

UPDATE: OK, I'm maybe half convinced that I overstated things. I well remember the last ditch Taba negotiations right before Clinton left office, but my impression of them was that they were pretty hopeless and Clinton was just keeping them going because well, because why not? The horse might learn to sing, after all. However, perhaps there was more progress being made there than I thought.

On the other hand, I think some of the commenters on this thread might be remembering those negotiations a bit too fondly. It's possible they were going a little better than I recall, but I honestly don't think there was a whole lot of serious momentum there. What's more, once Sharon got elected I'm not sure there was an awful lot Bush could do. The whole situation sure seemed pretty hopeless to me at the time.

Kevin Drum 3:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOWARD DEAN ON NATIONAL SECURITY....Yesterday I noted in passing that while the DLC attacks on Howard Dean were probably misguided, I think the DLC is basically right that Dem candidates need to have a better national security story if they want to have a chance of beating George Bush. Matt Yglesias responded with a suggestion that in addition to good policies, Dems also need some good sound bites.

Now, I've made casual comments like this before about the Democrats in general and Howard Dean in particular, and have gotten a number of comments in return telling me that I really ought to go look at Dean's official position statements before I criticize him. This is obviously a fair comment, so today I hopped over to his website and did just that.

Luckily for me, Dean gave a major address to the Council on Foreign Relations just a few weeks ago that outlined his thinking on national security. Unluckily for Dean supporters, my reaction is short and pungent: it stinks.

(I'll explain this, of course, but first a note to Dean's legion of fans before they descend on my comment section: I admit that my reaction might be unfair. It might also be overly harsh. But I am a veritable Mary Poppins compared to the gang of Republican fixers and spinners who are going to light into Dean if he wins the nomination, so consider this nothing more than a popgun shot across the bow.)

I'm going to focus on one part of Dean's speech. After a long warmup that includes some moderately effective rhetoric about the challenges we face and how Bush has muffed them, he finally gets around to specifics:

As President, I would set four goals for American leadership:

First, defeat the threat posed by terrorists, tyrants, and technologies of mass destruction.

Second, strengthen our alliances and ensure Russia and China are fully integrated into a stable international order.

Third, enlarge the circle of beneficiaries of the growing world economy.

And fourth, ensure that life on our fragile planet is sustainable.

Already I'm skeptical. It's not that I disagree about points 2-4, it's just that I don't think they make a very credible national security presentation. What people want to know is what are you going to do about terrorism during the next four years?

In fairness, that is Dean's #1 point, so let's take a look at how he expands on that:

In this fight, it is essential that America lead by example and exercise power responsibly. Only in that way can we hope to eliminate support for the next generation of extremists who regard our culture and our actions not simply with envy or jealousy but with a deep-seated hatred over the manner in which we conduct our affairs.

The Clinton administration was committed to military engagement with friends and allies around the world, helping to train and equip these countries so that they were better prepared to work with the U.S. in shouldering this burden. As President, my administration would redouble these efforts.

Here at home, we need a real commitment to homeland security....

[282 words follow about shoring up homeland security.]

I'm sorry, but this is just pathetic. A few pro forma words about being responsible and working with our allies, and that's it? Followed by a quick jump to homeland security?

What does he think about military transformation? Relations with Saudi Arabia? The neocon domino theory? Reform of the CIA? Etc. etc.

Fairly or not, Dean more than anyone has to prove that he's not just a squishy peacenik who doesn't really know anything about national security issues. And while I realize that campaign speeches aren't white papers, this was a major address to a serious audience, so I assume he put a good deal of thought into it and consulted with foreign policy experts in its preparation. If he had any major proposals for actively fighting terrorism he would have mentioned them, but I don't see much there, and I don't see any sound bites that he could extract from this speech either.

This kind of thing might sound good on the blogosphere, but if Dean wins the nomination he's going to get pummeled on this stuff starting next summer and BushCo's phasers are going to be set firmly on obliterate. He'd better have a bit more to say than this, or else we'll be scraping him off the floor come November.

POSTSCRIPT: All the usual disclaimers apply. It's early days. This speech was for a professional audience, not the general public. Dean might propose other ideas and hone his prose over the next few months. The mood of the country might move in Dean's direction if postwar Iraq bogs down. Bush might get involved in some major gaffe. And it's not fair that Republicans largely indulge in platitudes themselves and it doesn't seem to hurt them.

All true. I just wouldn't count on any of these things actually producing a victory, that's all.

UPDATE: And please don't tell me that George Bush sounded similarly clueless in 2000. I know that. But national security wasn't front and center in 2000 and it is today and Bush has plenty of credibility on the subject, whether he deserves it or not. Them's the breaks, and you'd better have some real firepower if you want to fight back.

Kevin Drum 3:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

YOUR RAISE: NADA....THE BOSS' RAISE: 84%....The Guardian reports that even over in socialist Britain executive pay is up. Way up:

Boardroom pay rose seven times as fast as average earnings last year, with the senior directors of the UK's biggest 100 companies receiving an average 23% rise.

....Last year's 23% rise is higher than the 17% recorded by the Guardian survey for the year 2001. A year earlier the rise was 28%.

Too lazy to do the math to figure out what that means? No problem, that's what I'm here for: that's an 84% increase over the past three years.

84%.

And this is during a time when the share prices of these companies have fallen by 50%, workers are being laid off to cut costs, and corporate earnings have been anemic.

When are shareholders and workers going to start seriously revolting against this kind of obscenity? Isn't the law of supply and demand not to mention being paid for performance supposed to apply to executives too?

Kevin Drum 12:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A DIFFERENT VIEW ON THE WMD HUNT....Yesterday the Washington Post reported that we were making no progress on finding either WMD or WMD programs. Today, presumably based on different sources, CNN takes a somewhat more optimistic view:

[David] Kay and Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, the head of the Pentagon's Iraq Survey Groups, met for three hours behind closed doors with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee....Kay and Dayton were due to also brief the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday afternoon....Sources told CNN the men were to make the following points:

  • No confirmed chemical or biological material is in hand. Although they have tested suspect material, "there is nothing you could take to court," said one source.

  • More leads have emerged since the deaths of Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein.

  • The conclusion that Iraq had an "active WMD program" is based on recent interrogations of Iraqi regime officials, as well as documents that the United States has seized. Those documents, the sources said, show that Iraq had plans to destroy weapons stockpiles quickly; shift dual-use plants from weapons to commercial production as part of a deception effort; and reconstitute its weapons if it had to destroy them in the face of inspections or a U.S. attack.

Offering one example, one official said a document was found a few weeks ago that detailed how a dual-use commercial chemical plant might operate. The document specified in detail how equipment should be shifted to weapons production.

So who's right? Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HOW FAST IS THE ECONOMY GROWING?....The BEA announced today that GDP increased 2.4% in the second quarter. That's better than predicted and generally good news.

However, General Glut points out an interesting anomaly. First, here's how the increase was calculated:

  • First quarter GDP was $9,552 billion

  • Second quarter GDP was $56.1 billion higher.

  • That's an increase of .587%.

  • Multiply by 4 (actually a bit more than 4) to get the annualized rate and it's a 2.36% increase, which gets rounded off to 2.4%

But here's an interesting factoid: the war in Iraq provided a one-time spike in defense spending (and therefore GDP) of about $40 billion, all of it deficit spending. Without the war, GDP would have increased by only $16 billion, an annualized rate of .67%. That's not so hot.

So, um, are we going to have another war this quarter to keep the numbers up?

UPDATE: As it turns out, this crude analysis overstates the effect of the war. More details here.

Kevin Drum 11:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAY MARRIAGE AMENDMENT....Glenn Reynolds wonders whether a smart politician would really want to put his reputation on the line over a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage:

Most Americans, I think, are increasingly comfortable with gay people, but not as comfortable with the idea that gayness itself is truly acceptable. That's changing, but the process is still underway. That means that there's a lot of support for non-discrimination, but a lot less support for things seen as "mainstreaming" gays, or at least gayness. On the other hand, I suspect that this ambivalence translates into weak support for affirmative action against gays, too, but I don't know how that would shake out in terms of a battle over a constitutional amendment.

I'm not sure anyone else does, either, which makes me doubt that canny politicians would want to bring this to a head. But I could be wrong.

I think I would guess differently. Although passing a constitutional amendment would be difficult, social conservatives must realize that this is their last chance since public opinion is obviously trending against them. Right now they control the House, the Senate, and the presidency, and if they're ever going to pass a gay marriage amendment, now's the time. Ten years from now it will be out of the question.

So....I wouldn't be surprised if there's a big push for this. Whether President Bush will end up supporting it I don't know, but luckily for him he doesn't have to take any official action on it and thus might be able to weasel around on it.

UPDATE: Of course, canny politicians might also decide that it's just a good grandstanding move. There's only a miniscule chance of such an amendment passing, since all it would take is 12 13 states to block passage, but they might figure that forcing Democrats to oppose it was good politics. And they might be right....

UPDATE 2: Jay Caruso and I sort of agree on this. Hey, there's a first time for everything!

What's ironic is that, as Jay points out, I've been saying for a while that gay rights are a winning issue for Democrats. But what I really said was that gay rights of all kinds are a winning issue with the single exception of gay marriage.

So what do we get as an issue? Gay marriage. Go figure.

(For what it's worth, my view is that the Democrats should all oppose gay marriage but favor civil unions, which gives them a good reason to oppose a constitutional amendment. I think civil unions are a perfectly good compromise, and the battle really ought to be fought on grounds of insurance benefits, inheritance rights, etc. If we can leave the emotionally charged issue of "marriage" out of it, I still think all this stuff favors Democrats.)

Kevin Drum 9:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 30, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

HOW MANY CANDIDATES?....We still have ten days to go before the filing deadline, and already 123 people have taken out papers to run for governor in the recall election.

Time for a pool: how many people will be on the final ballot? I've got dibs on 300. The glory of a prominent mention here on Calpundit goes to whoever gets closest.

Kevin Drum 10:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IS TONY BLAIR A WAR CRIMINAL?....Via Michael Totten, the Telegraph reports that the Athens Bar Association has filed a lawsuit in the new International Criminal Court against Tony Blair accusing him of "crimes against humanity" in connection with the Iraq war. (George Bush was not named because the United States is not a signatory to the ICC treaty.)

This is little more than idiotic grandstanding, and the Telegraph warns us not to take it too seriously:

The case is highly unlikely to reach court since it can act only in cases where national courts are unable or unwilling to pursue abuses. The ICC already has more than 500 complaints to review, at least 100 involving the war in Iraq.

As we know all too well here in America, pretty much anyone can file a lawsuit, and courts have to review them all regardless of how frivolous they are. My money says this suit and others like it get dismissed pretty quickly.

Kevin Drum 10:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE HUNT FOR WMD PROGRAMS....Terminology update: we're no longer looking for weapons of mass destruction that was all just a misunderstanding, apparently we're looking for weapons programs. But apparently that's not going too well either according to officials who have been briefed on the progress so far:

The sources said four senior scientists and more than a dozen at lower levels who worked for the Iraqi government have been interviewed by U.S. officials under the direction of the CIA. Some scientists have been arrested and held for months, others have made deals in return for information and at least one has agreed to be interviewed outside Iraq.

No matter the circumstances, all of the scientists interviewed have denied that Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program or developed and hidden chemical or biological weapons since United Nations inspectors left in 1998. Several key Iraqi officials questioned the significance of evidence cited by the Bush administration to suggest that Hussein was stepping up efforts to develop new weapons of mass destruction programs.

Before long, George Bush is going to be reduced to saying that what we're really looking for is evidence of "a strong desire on Saddam's to start thinking about weapons again someday."

Unfortunately, it's a poor jest. At the end of the day, if it turns out there's no WMD and there isn't even any credible evidence of WMD programs, then just what the hell were our intelligence agencies doing? I can't think of another intelligence failure of this magnitude anytime in recent history.

Why do I have the sinking feeling that someday, when the definitive histories of this era finally get written, it's going to turn out that the sum total of our WMD evidence was the say-so of Ahmed Chalabi and his buddies? Man oh man oh man, I sure hope there was more to it than that, I really do....

Kevin Drum 10:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CARNIVAL OF THE VANITIES....The 45th edition of Carnival of the Vanities is being hosted this week by Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. Check it out.

Kevin Drum 4:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH FALLING IN POLLS....There are a few bits of interesting polling data that have come out recently. First off is the July poll from PIPA (Program on International Policy Attitudes), which shows some dramatic changes in attitudes toward the war over the past three months:

  • Support for the UN taking a lead role in Iraq is up from 50% to 58%.

  • The number of people under the misimpression that we have found WMD in Iraq has declined from 34% to 21%

  • The number of people who flatly say the war was a bad idea has increased from 22% to 32%.

  • 40% say the recent controversy over uranium has lowered their confidence in the president, and 50% say they will be more wary in the future if he says a country has a secret WMD program.

Overall, Bush is still getting modestly positive ratings for his handling of Iraq, but those ratings are clearly declining and the recent controversies seem to be part of the reason.

In another report based on the same data, PIPA reports that "swing voters" are much more negative than the overall populace:

  • 46% say President Bush is handling Iraq poorly (vs. 33% of all voters)

  • 72% think the rebuilding is going badly (vs. 57% of all voters)

  • 51% say the war was unnecessary (vs. 44% of all voters)

  • 53% think Bush was being misleading during the runup to war (vs. 36% of all voters)

This is important stuff since it's those centrist voters that are going to make the difference in the 2004 election. Needless to say, these attitudes will change once Bush starts campaigning, but overall it's still positive news for Democrats.

Meanwhile, Ruy Teixeira reports on another pair of polls with good news for Democrats:

Democrats are now favored by 17 points over Republicans on the economy. Thats up from a 1-point Democratic disadvantage in January. The Democrats also have increased their margin on the federal budget deficit from 4 to 13 points over that same time period. Their margins on unemployment (+19), education (+12) and, significantly, prescription drugs for older Americans (+22) remain impressive, despite Republican attempts to co-opt the latter issue.

Furthermore, while Democrats remain behind on foreign affairs, they have shaved that deficit from 17 to 5 points. Similarly, while still behind by 15 points on the situation with Iraq, that deficit has declined from 24 points in January.

....These findings are underscored by results from the latest Democracy Corps survey. According to the Democracy Corps data, Bushs approval rating is now 55 percent, down 6 points from their poll last month. His margin over an unnamed Democrat for reelection in 2004 is 6 points, down from 11 points last month. And the classic right direction/wrong track question has flipped from slightly positive to 6 points negative (43 percent right direction/49 percent wrong track).

It's important that the polling deficit on foreign affairs and Iraq continue to drop. However, to really make any headway is going to require the Democratic candidates to offer up some good, positive proposals on national security and foreign affairs, and so far I haven't seen it.

A note to my more liberal readers: The DLC may be taking the wrong tack in its criticisms of Howard Dean, but we shouldn't let that blind us to the essential correctness of their views on national security. Dean and the others really need to get their act together on this if they want to have any chance of beating George Bush in 2004.

POSTSCRIPT: As usual, take all these poll results with a grain of salt, especially the PIPA survey, which is done over the internet. (Their methodology is sound, but it's still an internet poll.) These polls represent good news for Democrats, but there are a few bits of bad news in there as well and the results are far from conclusive. In any case it's a long time until election day.

Kevin Drum 3:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PRESIDENT SPEAKS TO THE PRESS....So what does our president think of gay marriage? Not much, of course, but here's a more specific reply from his press conference today:

Yes, I am mindful that we're all sinners, and I caution those who may try to take the speck out of their neighbor's eye when they got a log in their own. I think it's very important for our society to respect each individual, to welcome those with good hearts, to be a welcoming country. On the other hand, that does not mean that somebody like me needs to compromise on an issue such as marriage. And that's really where the issue is heading here in Washington, and that is the definition of marriage. I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman. And I think we ought to codify that one way or the other. And we've got lawyers looking at the best way to do that.

Um, "one way or the other"? I mean, I appreciate the New Testament warmup and all, but exactly what kind of codification are you thinking of? There's only one kind I can think of that's likely to pass constitutional muster.

And then there was this about Saddam's WMD:

And in order to placate the critics and the cynics about intentions of the United States, we need to produce evidence. And I fully understand that. And I'm confident that our search will yield that which I strongly believe, that Saddam had a weapons program.

Apparently (a) it's official that we're only looking for weapons programs, not actual weapons, and (b) we're only going through the motions to placate critics, not because we really think it's any big deal. Glad we got that straight.

And then there's this

Now, I know....that there's a level of frustration by some in the media. I'm not suggesting you're frustrated. You don't look frustrated to me at all.

I'll leave analysis of that as an exercise for the reader.

Kevin Drum 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TIMES OPENS COMPLAINT DESK....Based on the recommendation of a team that included three outside journalists, the New York Times has agreed to hire an ombudsman who will have "license to write about issues of our coverage, and to have those independent, uncensored commentaries published in our pages."

Finally, someone for Andrew Sullivan to direct his complaints to.

Kevin Drum 12:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOW ARE THINGS GOING IN IRAQ?....Tacitus links to an optimistic report of how the occupation is going in the town of Fallujah:

In the turquoise-domed Abdelaziz Samarrai mosque, prayer leader Mekki Hussein Kubeisi used to rail against the presence of U.S. troops in this city. On Friday, he urged hundreds of men in ankle-length tunics to be patient and not to tolerate people who resort to violence.

At city hall, the U.S.-endorsed mayor, Taha Bedawi, said residents have become much happier because they dont see as many American Army vehicles on the streets.

The tension is reducing every day, he said. We are seeing a change. People are starting to realize that the soldiers are not here to occupy Fallujah forever theyre here to help us rebuild.

Generally speaking, I think hawks are off base when they complain that the media present an overly bleak picture of how things are going in Iraq. Overall, things really have been pretty bleak and confused for the past few months, and reporters are just passing along what they see. The hawks may not like this, but they shouldn't kid themselves that things are really hunky dory and it's only media bias that prevents us from seeing how great things are.

Still, it's worth noting that there are plenty of positive stories about Iraq too. I linked to a couple of them last week, and this is another one. Overall, things are bound to be pretty dicey in the immediate aftermath of any war, and it's important to judge our progress by a fair metric. This means not pretending that every American death is a sign of impending doom, but also not pretending that the media is deliberately hiding the joy of the Iraqi people at being invaded by a Christian superpower that they've hated for decades.

It's hard enough figuring out the right thing to do even if we try to stay objective about the facts on the ground. We shouldn't make things even harder by deliberately avoiding them.

Kevin Drum 10:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PERVERSE INCENTIVES....Instapundit weighs in with a typically sober assessment of the Pentagon's decision to kill its "terrorism futures market":

THE IDIOTS WIN A ROUND: Faced with know-nothing criticism from members of Congress, the Pentagon has abandoned its plans for a "futures market" to predict terror.

....Did the Congressional critics know about any of this stuff? Fat chance. Do they care that they were responding lamely and out of ignorance? Nope. Does it matter that this sends exactly the wrong signal to the Pentagon about the consequences of efforts to find original ways to fight the terror war? Yes. Will the members of Congress take any responsibility for that? Nope.

Since no one in the pro-war camp seems to understand the actual issue here, let me take a stab at it. The problem isn't that the Pentagon's idea wouldn't work that's an empirical question that can only be answered with actual research the problem is the perverse incentives it supplies. Suppose, for example, that a terrorist killed Dick Cheney and a couple of days later there was a photo of some guy in the New York Times grinning because the government had just sent him a check for $10,000 thanks to his shrewd investment. Does it still sound like a good idea?

Do we really want to create a government sponsored market that creates a whole class of people who are actively rooting for terrorist events to occur? Remember, there are some things that are bad ideas even if it turns out that they work well for their ostensible purpose. It's the law of unintended consequences, something that Paul Wolfowitz apparently understands better than the blogosphere.

(And given his recent experience with it, I suppose that comes as no surprise....)

UPDATE: Brad DeLong has some expert commentary, although it's more about whether the plan would actually work, not about the issue I raised.

Kevin Drum 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 29, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

OSAMA VS. SADDAM....Via Tom Spencer, an NBC report suggests that as early as spring of 2002, only a few months after the defeat of the Taliban, the war against al-Qaeda was already being compromised by preparation for war in Iraq:

There were decisions made, says Flynt Leverett, a former director at the National Security Council in the Bush White House, to take key assets, human assets, technical assets, out of theater in Afghanistan in order to position them for the campaign to unseat Saddam.

....NBC News has learned that in one still-classified incident in Yemen, commanders wanted to engage what sources call a viable mission against an al-Qaida target. After all, in the past they had used the missiles on the remotely piloted drones to strike at terrorists. But in this case, because of the Iraq war, there was not a Predator they could use. The al-Qaida target got away.

Whats more, members of the CIAs elite special activities division and the Armys entire 5th Special Forces Group (Green Berets), whod hunted down hundreds of al-Qaida terrorists, were pulled out of Afghanistan. The 5th, based in Fort Campbell, Kent., specializes in the Middle East and Central Asia. These soldiers are the ones who speak Arabic and Central Asian languages.

....Rick Francona, a retired Air Force colonel and an NBC News analyst, says that another valuable resource in the war against al-Qaida was a high-tech surveillance plane called the RC-135 Rivet Joint. Its not just the platform itself, its the linguists that man the platform, Francona says. They were being really overworked.

A squadron of the RC-135s was deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, says Air Force spokeswoman Beth Kelly, but they stopped prowling the skies over Afghanistan in May 2002....I dont think there is any question that the effort against al-Qaida was degraded, Francona says.

Food for thought. It's hard to say how much of this was the result of normal duty rotation and routine force deployment decisions, but Leverett's descriptions are disturbing.

It's been apparent for some time that much of al-Qaeda and possibly Osama bin Laden himself escaped capture because we committed too weak a force to Afghanistan, but that kind of criticism is always all too easy to make in hindsight. However, if that weakness was actually the result of a deliberate decision to refocus on Iraq before the job in Afghanistan was finished, it displays astonishingly poor judgment. I hope we see a followup to this.

Kevin Drum 11:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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VALERIE PLAME UPDATE....We all remember Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose cover was blown by two "senior administration officials," right? Well, what exactly was her job, anyway? Josh Marshall adds a few details today in his column in The Hill:

My sources tell me that Plame formerly worked abroad under nonofficial cover and has more recently worked stateside. Her position today may be less sensitive than it was when she worked abroad. But she still works on WMD proliferation issues. And, at a minimum, any operation that she may once have been involved in is probably now fatally compromised, any company which provided her cover is now exposed.

Josh mentions that a couple of senators have asked for an investigation, but wonders if that's really necessary:

Lets be honest. We dont really need any investigations, with all their depositions and fancy lawyers and public grandstanding. If the president wanted to, he could wrap this up with a few quick phone calls. So why doesnt he?

Good question.

Kevin Drum 9:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"FUCK" VS. "APPLE PIE"....I admit it: I have a weakness for the word "fuck." Today, via Unfogged, I learn of the 2003 Legal Document of the Year award from The Smoking Gun, awarded to Colorado public defender Eric Vanatta for his brief in defense of a high school student accused of calling his principal "a fucker, a fag, and a fucking fag." It apparently so impressed the Smoking Gun judges that they decided to announce their winner even though, technically, there are five months left in the year.

In his brief, Vanatta appeals to history, linguistics, popular culture, Google searches, legal opinion, and, finally, to appropriateness:

Fuck is certainly a controversial word that may be appropriate in certain venues and locales (Florida Elections Commission, speed eating contests, public defender offices) and may be inappropriate in others (weddings, Chuck-E-Cheese pizza parlors, district attorney offices). Some people may believe it is always inappropriate. But in all but a very few circumstances, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits our government from making that determination. This case falls outside of those very limited circumstances and as such, no conviction can result from Mr. X's alleged statements.

As they say, read the whole thing.

POSTSCRIPT: I am in no way defending the right of high school students to swear at their principals, or of their right to be defended using tax dollars better spent defending murderers and crooks, or anything else for that matter. OK? But it's a pretty funny document and Eric Vanatta deserves a wider audience than just a local judge.

In any case, the kid copped a plea and Vanatta never got a chance to argue his motion. But I'll bet the judge had a laugh or two.

Kevin Drum 5:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MICHAEL VS. ARIANNA?....You know, usually when people get divorced they confine themselves to arguing over custody of the kids and who get the cuisinart. Here in California, they run against each other for governor.

Sheesh.

Kevin Drum 4:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GAY MARRIAGE....Eve Tushnet writes to draw my attention to MarriageDebate.com Blog, which, while it has the disadvantage of sounding like a failed dotcom, has the non-dotcommish virtue of being clear in its mission: to debate marriage. In particular, gay marriage.

The site is run by Maggie Gallagher, and although Maggie herself opposes gay marriage Eve suggests that the site is "about 50/50 pro-con" and "passionate but respectful." I'm not sure I can agree with the 50-50 description, since with the exception of one valiant trooper named Dale Carpenter the posts seem to be pretty heavily opposed to gay marriage, but the tone is indeed sober and nonconfrontational. Check it out for yourself if the topic interests you or if you want to contribute.

As for me, I don't blog on this kind of thing much because it's hard to think of anything to say that's not just a gussied up emotional reaction. Basically, I favor gay marriage because it just doesn't bother me and I can't think of any good reason to deny it to anyone. There's no telling why, really, and I'd have a hard time trying to invent an intellectual superstructure to justify my instinct.

Conversely, even among social conservatives it's considered gauche these days to say flat out that homosexuals are yucky, but to my ears the arguments against gay marriage mostly sound like attempts to search out plausible intellectual arguments that, at their core, say exactly that. Gay marriage is bad because (a) it will lead to polygamy, (b) gays make lousy parents, (c) it will make marriage less attractive to virile straight guys, (d) it violates a biological imperative, etc. etc. These mostly seem rather desperately plucked out of the air, rather than the result of any serious analysis.

In a nutshell, social conservatives argue that gay marriage will rend the fabric of society in various ways, but it strikes me that this is one of a handful of issues in which, ironically, the actual damage is not caused by some objective harm to society but by the very fact that conservatives themselves insist on fighting the change tooth and nail. Just as the civil rights movement of the 60s turned sour largely because southern conservatives fought so bitterly against it, the same thing is happening here.

On the other hand, if they could just relax and realize that gay marriage or no, the kids will be fine, the institution of marriage will be fine (despite the, um, rather substantial damage it's taken from heterosexuals for the past few decades), and bridal magazines will continue to publish thousand-page spring issues, then, in fact, everything would probably turn out fine.

Not that I think there's any chance of that happening, mind you....

Kevin Drum 4:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CALIFORNIA DREAMING....Justene Adamec emailed last night to draw my attention to Tom McClintock, a Republican candidate for governor in the recall election. Justene warns that he "swings right" on social issues, but for now I'm willing to ignore that and just examine what he has to say about the budget. After all, that's issue #1.

Justene says she likes his specifics, and here they are:

The moment I have taken the oath of office, I'll sign the order to rescind the illegal tripling of California's Car Tax. If this governor can claim that he has the authority to raise the car tax by fiat, then by God I'll claim the same authority to lower it right back down by fiat.

I'll then sign a stipulation to the Superior Court in Pasadena in the case I filed last year to void the $42 billion of outrageously priced electricity contracts that Davis approved. Those contracts were negotiated under a clear legal conflict of interest by Davis' chief negotiator. This governor won't stipulate to these simple facts because it would require him to admit wrongdoing. I'll certainly admit Davis has done some things wrong!

Then I will sign a third document, calling a special session of the legislature to deal with our Workers Compensation insurance crisis. They will have 30 days to enact Arizona's Workers Compensation lawslashing workers comp costs by 2/3. And if they fail in 30 days, I'll take it to the ballot and let them explain to the people why they refused to act while our job market was collapsing.

Mark me down as unimpressed. Item #1 will actually widen the budget deficit. Item #2 depends on the judge ruling in our favor, which isn't likely even if McClintock does take the bold step of criticizing his predecessor, and will be tied up in appeals for years in any case. So it does nothing. And item #3, while it addresses an important issue, has very little to do with the budget.

Then, in another speech, he sets out in more general terms his can-do credentials for fixing the budget:

I set only two requirements for my vote on this budget: it must be balanced and it must not require tax increases.

Earth to McClintock: that's been the Republican position since last June and it hasn't worked. McClintock is surely right that the budget process is seriously broken and we need to start fixing it now, not continue putting it off forever. But I would take his toughminded stance a lot more seriously if it was accompanied by a proposed budget that included no tax increases, no borrowing, and $38 billion in spending cuts. If you're a straight talking guy and that's your position, after all, then let's see your straight talking budget. As far as I'm concerned, if you talk big but don't have the courage to show us your plan, warts and all, and then base your campaign on it, you're just another Sacramento shill.

UPDATE: On the other hand, let's give equal time to Democratic shilling. This column by Daniel Weintraub suggests that despite appearances the current budget plan actually includes virtually no spending cuts at all. For example, due to arcane allocation rules, the vehicle fee increase has been counted as a spending cut. (No, I refuse to try and explain. Read Weintraub if you want to know more.)

I just hate California politics. I always have. National politics is bad enough, but Sacramento is just a cesspool, and it seems virtually impossible to ever get a straight answer about anything. I can't figure out what's really going on with the budget, but for the record here's my best guess: (1) spending really did skyrocket starting around 1998-99, (2) the dotcom bust hurt us worse than most states for obvious reasons, and (3) we lost a fair chunk of change due to gaming of the energy system. But I might change my mind tomorrow if I learn something new.

Kevin Drum 12:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL SECURITY?....OR WHITE HOUSE CONVENIENCE?....Gee, it looks like everyone wants the classified portion of the 9/11 report to be declassified:

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister will meet today with President Bush to mend relations strained over the war on terrorism and to ask Bush to declassify portions of a congressional report that many believe implicate Saudi officials in the Sept. 11 attacks, diplomatic sources said Monday.

Prince Saud al Faisal traveled from Riyadh specifically to hand-deliver a written request that Bush declassify portions of the report pertaining to Saudi Arabia so Saudi officials can respond to them, according to sources familiar with the visit.

The Saudis want it declassified, Congress wants it declassified, and congressmen who have seen the classified section don't seem to think there are any legitimate national security reasons not to release it.

That leaves the White House all alone. What are they afraid of?

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PATRIOT UPDATE....Here's some good news. It looks like PATRIOT II is dead:

The sequel dubbed Patriot Act II by critics but never officially proposed by the department would have made it easier to hold suspects and deny them bail and included provisions that would set up a DNA database for people associated with terrorist groups and lift court orders barring police from spying on dissidents, among other features.

But the recent release of a joint congressional report investigating the Sept. 11 attacks and the nearly 900-page document's portrayal of the intelligence community as stunningly inept in tracking down clues before the attacks has given some members of Congress pause about giving the same agencies much new clout.

The Justice Department already seems to be adjusting its sights. One person familiar with the department's agenda said the original Patriot II proposal is now "dead."

In addition, an amendment that would eliminate the "sneak and peek" searches authorized in the original PATRIOT Act seems to be gaining ground. As one unnamed Democrat put it, "I had no idea that we had so many Republican friends on this issue. It shows a lot of discontent on their side."

Good for them.

Kevin Drum 9:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 28, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

INTELLIGENCE GATHERING IN IRAQ....OK, I just put two and two together. As usual, it was only after about the third time that I saw this article blogged that something finally clicked. Thanks, Mark.

Here's what clicked. A few days ago I linked to a Dan Drezner post in which he suggested that the attack on Uday and Qusay Hussein was good news because it was evidence of a "shift in intelligence-gathering" that would serve us well in the future. His optimism was prompted by this Washington Post story:

After weeks of difficult searching for the top targets on the U.S. government's list of most-wanted Iraqi fugitives, U.S. military commanders two weeks ago switched the emphasis of their operations, focusing on capturing and gathering intelligence from low-level members of former president Saddam Hussein's Baath Party who had been attacking American forces, according to military officials.

...."You get a tip, you pull a couple of guys in, they start to talk," a Central Command official said. Then, based on that information, he continued, "you do a raid, you confiscate some documents, you start building the tree" of contacts and "you start doing signals intercepts. And then you're into the network."

And here's today's story:

In addition, there is general agreement among Army leaders here that in recent weeks both the quality and quantity of intelligence being offered by Iraqis has greatly improved, leading to such operations as the one last Tuesday in Mosul that killed Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay.

Col. David Hogg, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, said tougher methods are being used to gather the intelligence. On Wednesday night, he said, his troops picked up the wife and daughter of an Iraqi lieutenant general. They left a note: "If you want your family released, turn yourself in." Such tactics are justified, he said, because, "It's an intelligence operation with detainees, and these people have info." They would have been released in due course, he added later.

These stories were both written by Thomas Ricks.

This is, to say the least, disappointing. At first we're led to believe that we're gaining ground in Iraq due to a simple shift in tactics, but a few days later we learn that what this really means is that we're kidnapping families and holding them hostage in order to increase the "quality and quantity of intelligence." This may seem like a good idea in the world of 24, but in the real world it's a war crime. It should end right now, and I hope everyone who linked to the first article links to the second as well and denounces these tactics as unworthy of us. The world should know that we're better than this.

Kevin Drum 6:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FIGHTING TERRORISM....Over on Winds of Change recently I left this comment in response to Michael Totten:

Serious people understand how complex this problem [i.e., terrorism] is and how many different things need to come together for us to win. The unserious ones are the people who think that a bigger military is going to do the job.

Sending the marines in is easy and feels good. But if you're really serious about winning the war, you need to go far, far beyond that.

Michael replied, "Yes I very much agree that we need to go far beyond using only the military."

But today, via Matt Yglesias, I see that Michael has a TechCentralStation column in which he explains his skepticism about the Middle East "road map" and suggests a different approach:

The first phase should be simple. Terrorism must be punished. And anti-terrorism must be encouraged. The Palestinian Authority should be given one last chance to eliminate terror. And if the PA refuses, the U.S. must do the following:

  • Classify the Palestinian Authority as a terrorist organization.

  • Declare "regime change" in the West Bank and Gaza the official United States policy.

  • Support to the hilt every anti-terror operation by Israelis short of war crimes.

The first phase would not be complete until the enemies of peace are defeated, deported, imprisoned, or killed. These include Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Yasser Arafat's Fatah, the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It may also include the Palestinian Authority.

Since all it would take for the PA to fail its "one last chance" is a single extremist lunatic, I think we can take it for granted that Michael's alternate plan would quickly come into effect and he knows it. And while Michael does say that there would be subsequent phases in which we would dictate the terms of a Palestinian democracy, that only comes later. In the here-and-now, there's little question that his plan relies entirely on a massive application of military force, and the followup depends on a continuing military presence as well.

So back we come. It's one thing to simply disagree: perhaps hawks like Michael think fighting terrorism is primarily a military operation and perhaps I don't. But why say that you agree that we should "go far beyond using only the military" and then write a lengthy piece in which you advocate a solution that includes nothing else?

I keep running into this problem when I engage with hawks. I'm moderately hawkish myself, but that doesn't make me blind to the reality that massive military force is neither practical nor sufficient to solve the problem of terrorism unless you're advocating a war of total annihilation. Most hawks say they aren't, and claim that of course they understand that there are important non-military aspects to this fight and that I shouldn't make a straw man of their arguments. But when they put words to paper, all I ever hear about are plans for massive military reprisals if terrorism doesn't stop right now.

If Michael thinks the solution to Palestinian terrorism is a replay of World War II all-out war followed by a lengthy occupation in which we impose a system of government and dictate national boundaries fine. But let's not pretend that's anything but a purely military solution, OK?

Kevin Drum 4:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS....Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has broken his promise to abide by the tradition that it takes a two-thirds majority to debate a bill in the Texas Senate. What a surprise. I always thought conservatives were supposed to cherish traditions, like the one that says redistricting is done once per decade, for example, but they seem rather unfond of tradition these days.

Anyway, leaving the state to prevent a quorum is a Texas tradition, and since Governor Rick Perry has called yet another special redistricting session and Dewhurst has thrown in his lot with the Tom DeLay brigade, the Democrats have all decamped to Albuquerque.

It's not just California that's having all the fun these days.

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RECALL ROUNDUP....For California readers, here's the latest on the recall:

  • Justene Adamec links to California Insider, who reports that Arnold is definitely not running.

  • A New York Times op-ed (and why do I have to read the New York Times to find this out?) points out something interesting. There are two questions on the recall ballot:

    First, do you want to recall Governor Davis? Second, assuming a majority of voters support the recall, whom do you want elected in his place?

    By law, only voters who answer the first question can have their vote for a candidate in the recall election counted. Those who would prefer not to vote on the merits of the recall face a dilemma: they must either vote on the first question against their will, or forgo their chance to vote for a candidate.

    The authors suggest that this is unconstitutional, something that I'll have to defer to Eugene Volokh about, I suppose, but it does seem odd, doesn't it? In any case, it's good to know.

  • On a lighter note, New York Times reporter Charlie LeDuff went the extra mile and tried to contact Californians who happened to be named Gray Davis and Bill Simon to find out if they were planning to run:

    Consider this possibility: If voters choose to remove Mr. Davis, the second question on the ballot asks for his replacement. Governor Davis may not appear on that part of the ballot, by virtue of the state Constitution.

    But this does not prevent Gray Davis not the governor, but a private citizen from Contra Costa County from doing so. He could, by advantage of his shared name with the Democratic incumbent and the mass confusion his candidacy would cause, find himself the governor-elect on Oct. 8. Mr. Davis, the citizen, was away on business and could not be reached for comment on any political aspirations.

    Bill Simon, the corporate recruiter from central Los Angeles and a Democrat, could pull votes away from Mr. Simon, the Republican millionaire from west Los Angeles who was the loser in the last race for governor, through simple slight of name. Not that he would. He does not support the recall effort.

    "I may or may not be a huge fan of Gray Davis, but that's not the point," says Mr. Simon, a Democrat who worked as deputy staff secretary to President Jimmy Carter. "Six months from now, does someone go out and spend another million to throw this election out? That's not how the Republic was built."

    Now that's good journalism.

Next up: with Arnold out, will Richard Riordan run?

Or how about me? All I need is either (a) 100 people to chip in $35 apiece or (b) 100 people to collect 150 signatures apiece. But before anybody gets started on this, my first order of business to to change my name to Arnold Schwarzenegger....

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DO NOT PASS GO....TalkLeft reports today that a full 1% of American adults are in prison. What's more, 10% of the country's black male population between the ages of 25 to 29 is in prison.

Lovely.

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NO, REALLY, I THINK DACHSHUNDS ARE REALLY CUTE....Asta, a half-dachshund who is the official mascot of AtlanticBlog, has declared war on me over this post. But it's just a misunderstanding. I didn't mean that dachshunds were dispensable, just that baby dachshunds are really small. I mean, if that fish had swallowed a German Shepherd, then I would have been impressed.

The killer fish in question was German, by the way, and anywhere else in the world perhaps a vicious giant catfish would have been hunted down and destroyed. However, as AtlanticBlog points out in another post, the Germans are really, really serious about protecting their, um, wildlife.

Marian would definitely not be pleased if this particular regulation ever made its way to Irvine.

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GEORGE BUSH VS. THE WORLD, PART 2....By coincidence, South Knox Bubba points today to a Joe Klein column in Time on the same meme I mentioned last night: George Bush's lack of interest in actual facts. As Klein says, it's not that Bush lies, it's "weirder than that":

The President seems to believe that wishing will make it so and he is so stupendously incurious that he rarely makes an effort to find the truth of the matter. He misleads not only the nation but himself. Every worst-case Saddam scenario just had to be true, as did every best-case post-Saddam scenario.

Bush's talent for self-deception extends to domestic and economic policy. He probably believes that he's a compassionate conservative, even though he has allowed every antipoverty program he favors to be eviscerated by Congress. This week's outrage is the crippling of AmeriCorps, which he had pledged to increase in size. He probably believes that his tax cuts for the wealthy will help reduce the mammoth $455 billion budget deficit (which doesn't include the cost of Iraq), even though Ronald Reagan found that the exact opposite was true and had to raise taxes twice to repair the damage done by his 1981 cuts.

Yes, I realize this kind of analysis is completely subjective, but Bush's ability to unblinkingly endorse policies that simply won't do what he (says he) wants them to do is hard to explain any other way.

What originally brought this to mind was a conversation I had a few days ago about my old company. It turns out they're shuffling their board of directors around and decided to add a financial analyst to the board, apparently because they remain convinced that their low stock price is a purely financial phenomenon. If they can only get better analyst coverage or repackage their story a bit, the stock price will go up.

It's a remarkable bit of self-deception, since even a nodding familiarity with the company (and the world at large) would convince you that their stock price will go up only when the actual performance of the company improves. But they just refuse to accept that.

And this reminded me of George Bush. He is incurious about the real world and surrounds himself with people like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes who feed his preconceptions and decline to challenge him. He famously decides whether he likes people within minutes of meeting them, and convinces himself that anyone who disagrees with him is not worth listening to. And he is stubborn to the point of bullheadedness, refusing to ever admit that a plan isn't working or that a different approach might be necessary.

If it were only tax cuts at stake here, I wouldn't be that worried. Tax cuts can always be repealed if things get out of hand. But it's more serious than that, and conducting the war on terror as if facts on the ground don't matter is not something that can simply be repealed in a few years by a more openminded administration. By then it might be too late and instead of a few thousand Americans dead, it might be a few hundred thousand or a few million.

We've been lucky in the past. FDR was able to moderate Churchill's stubborness and insist on opening a second front. JFK kept his advisors calm during the Cuban Missile crisis. In this administration Colin Powell appears to be the voice of reason, and I hope he's enough. The stakes are simply too high to keep ignoring the real world. Way too high.

UPDATE: A corollary to this is the Bush administration's well known dislike for scientific information that conflicts with its policy desires. Tapped has a good post about this today.

Kevin Drum 10:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DARPA MEETS NOSTRADAMUS....What's the best way to predict the likelihood of a terrorist event? Amy Sullivan reports that the Pentagon thinks the market can tell us:

DARPA has launched a pilot program that creates a financial market based on various possible terrorist events -- including the overthrow of the King of Jordan, the assassination of Yasser Arafat, a biological weapons disaster -- in an attempt to predict their occurrence. The initial funding for financial Web site, which will begin accepting bidders on August 1, was a mere $750,000, but DoD is currently asking for an additional $8 million to expand the program.

Jeez, talk about faith in the power of the free market. In the same vein, maybe instead of employing civil engineers to design our bridges, we should just let the public pick a design via auction. That's assuming, of course, that you don't mind your bridges being suspended by an invisible hand.

As Amy points out, DARPA is famed for funding rather, um, experimental projects. But even so, aside from the fact that markets are generally thought to be best suited to allocating resources, not predicting the date of World War IV, surely they realize the diplomatic implications of this? "Wonder how the King of Jordan is going to feel when he finds out his American buddies are letting people buy shares in the possibility that he will be overthrown?" Amy asks.

Well, we could ask him. Then again, maybe we could just run a market to predict his answer.

Amy promises more on this later. I can't wait.

UPDATE: Via email, Ogged of Unfogged points to this New Yorker article about "decision markets" that suggests the DARPA scheme isn't that farfetched.

That's true, and even though I already knew that I guess the chance to make fun of DARPA was too good to pass up. However, the article actually raises an interesting question: what if the DARPA plan works? What if it actually provides better predictions than expert analysis?

The New Yorker points to several markets that apparently do work better than the experts, but I note that in all these cases the experts continue to make their own predictions regardless. Why? Maybe the lesson of all this is that we need to have fewer experts....

UPDATE 2: More on this from AP.

Kevin Drum 9:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JUSTICE IN INDIANA....Darnell Williams is on death row in Indiana, and his attorneys want to perform a DNA test to try and establish his innocence. Last week the Indiana Supreme Court said no:

The justices ruled that, in the context of his trial as a whole, the blood evidence Williams seeks to retest was not that important. Not so important, in any event, that his execution should be delayed.

Oops, did I say his attorneys? I meant the prosecuting attorney:

I strongly disagree. As the lawyer who prosecuted him, I saw and heard every bit of the trial, and I knew then and still think now that the blood evidence in question played a big role in his death sentence. For that reason, I joined his attorneys in asking for the DNA retest.

The resistance of the legal community to making DNA testing routine is simply astonishing. This man is on death row, both the defense attorneys and the prosecuting attorney agree that a DNA test ought to be performed on a piece of critical evidence, but the court won't let them. It would probably take all of a week or two and cost a few thousand dollars.

Nor is there a chance that allowing this will open the floodgates for every prisoner in the state to demand DNA testing. After all, everyone knows that the tests are reliable and highly accurate, so there's not much point in demanding a test if you know that you really are guilty.

DNA testing is routine in active cases, and there's no reason not to use improved modern techniques in older cases as well, especially capital ones. After all, what are they afraid of? That they might find out he didn't commit the crime after all?

UPDATE: Unlearned Hand adds something I didn't know: if you are exonerated of a crime, your felony conviction still isn't expunged. So even if you've been found actually innocent, you still have a criminal record.

That's unbelievable. If a court finds you not guilty, regardless of whether it's now or 20 years from now, you shouldn't have a felony conviction on your record. How on earth does a rule like that stay around?

Kevin Drum 9:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 27, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

GEORGE BUSH VS. THE WORLD....Brad DeLong links to an AP story suggesting that if you challenge George Bush's worldview with accurate information, you're sent packing:

Lindsey, while chairman of Bush's National Economic Council, suggested in September that the cost of war with Iraq could range from $100 billion to $200 billion....Zinni, a retired Marine general who was Bush's Middle East mediator, angered the White House when he told a foreign policy forum in October that Bush had far more pressing foreign policy priorities than Iraq and suggested there could be a prolonged, difficult aftermath to a war. He was not reappointed as Mideast envoy. Shinseki, then-Army chief of staff, told a Senate committee in February that a military occupying force for postwar Iraq could amount to several hundred thousand troops.

As the article notes, "These men are no longer in the picture."

Now, everyone has an ideology, and everyone has preconceived notions of what works and what doesn't. That's just part of being human.

But a hallmark of good managers is that they are willing to look at real-world data honestly and eventually adjust their thinking if the data requires it, even if it's painful or embarrassing to do so which it usually is. In my business, that means cancelling a product that was your idea in the first place, or admitting that sales was right about that trade show you made them go to. If you're the president of the United States, it might mean reconsidering the notion that bankrupting the country is a good idea.

Bad managers are either unwilling or afraid to do this. They either insulate themselves, or ignore the data when it's given to them, or deliberately choose to interpret the data in perverse ways. This is how George Bush strikes me. He simply doesn't care about whether things really work or not, or what the true effect of his plans is going to be, or what the data says. He just charges ahead because he's absolutely sure that his instincts are all he needs.

The real world eventually has its way, of course. The only question is how long it takes, and how much damage gets done in the meantime.

Kevin Drum 10:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHORTER KIERAN HEALY....James Joyner summarizes Kieran Healy's review of The Elements of Mentality thusly:

The book purports to Explain Everything but, according to Kieran, fails.

Another dream shattered.

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MAKING RACE GO AWAY....Jeanne d'Arc brings to my attention something about the Gray Davis recall that I heard in passing yesterday but didn't quite absorb:

The recall won't be the only thing on the ballot. Ward Connerly's suspiciously financed anti-affirmative action "racial privacy initiative" qualified last year to go on the ballot in the March 2004 primary. The initiative would stop state and local agencies from collecting racial statistics, except for medical research.

However, since we now have an election scheduled for October, the Connerly initiative has been moved up.

As Jeanne points out, although the initiative sounds superficially appealing, its actual result is to make racism disappear as if by magic regardless of whether it's really gone or not. Racial profiling? Gone! Pay discrimination? Never happened! Driving while black? Prove it! Like Winston Smith attempting to change reality simply by altering records, Connerly apparently thinks that race problems can be made to go away simply by forbidding the government to talk about them.

Jeanne also wonders about the effect of this initiative on the recall itself: "Will the threat to affirmative action bring out progressives who won't rush to the polls only to support Davis?" That's one possibility, but another is that it might bring out the angry white males who hate Davis in even larger numbers.

In any case, it certainly changes the political calculus of the election.

POSTSCRIPT: There are some things the initiative won't do. The LAPD, for example, tracks race every time it stops someone as part of a federal consent decree designed to reduce its history of racial profiling. Since that's a federal agreement, it would not be affected by the initiative.

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SAUDI BASHING....Matt Yglesias thinks Glenn Reynolds is right to "consistently point out that the Democratic Party could get a lot of mileage from criticizing the Bush administration's coddling of Saudi Arabia." Bob Graham has been pushing this line pretty hard, and the idea that we should get tough on Saudi Arabia seems to have considerable support on both the left and the right on the blogosphere. This is an issue I need to learn more about.

The problem is, I can't help but think that as emotionally attractive as this idea may be, it's fundamentally barroom talk. It's like that hardy election year perennial, promising to "get tough" with China, which magically disappears whenever a challenger takes office and starts seriously looking at the upsides (minimal) and downsides (substantial) of actually doing anything to make good on his promise.

Now, there's no question that we would all like Saudi Arabia to stop subsidizing Wahabbist extremism and do more to clamp down on terrorist activity within its borders. On the other hand, "getting tough" with Saudi Arabia might have just the opposite effect:

  • Whatever their faults, the House of Saud is basically friendly toward the United States. Destabilizing them has a very high probability of bringing to power someone even worse from a U.S. perspective. Much worse, in fact.

  • We could send in troops, of course, but surely no one is seriously considering that? Aside from the fact that we're stretched thin already, it's hard to imagine anything we could do that would stir up more hatred toward us in the Arab world. An American presence in Mecca and Medina would set the entire region in flames.

  • Economic sanctions are a possibility, but the Saudis, needless to say, can fight back. They depend on oil money, to be sure, but even so they can probably withstand a decrease in oil revenue far better than the industrialized world can withstand oil at $100 a barrel. The Saudis are instinctively committed to stability, but piss them off enough and they might decide to fight back.

With the exception of the GCC states, which are small and mostly take their cues from Saudi Arabia anyway, the United States has no friends in the Arab world. And while we may be powerful, I really don't think we can take on the entire Middle East all by ourselves if every single country in the region is our sworn enemy.

Saudi bashing might feel good, but my instinct tells me that it's mostly uninformed and counterproductive, and I'd just as soon the Democrats avoided it. It truly would be purely partisan posturing that accomplishes nothing except undermining U.S. objectives.

Of course, there are various levels of getting tough, and some may be more workable than others. I think I'll read up on this subject a bit more.

UPDATE: Speaking of Bob Graham, did you know that he's one of the Washington Post Grahams? I didn't.

UPDATE 2: In comments, John points out that Jordan and Egypt are both friendly powers. I'm not entirely convinced of the reliability of either of these countries, but it's a fair point.

Kevin Drum 11:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ANOTHER CONSPIRACY THEORY....I've been emailing with Tom Maguire quite a bit over the Valerie Plame affair, and he's made the point to me that perhaps the media isn't really very excited about looking into the whole thing. After all, what's in it for them to track down a leaker in the White House?

The media prefers its sources to feel chatty and expansive. If one consequence of the sort of investigation that would resolve this is a silent White House, journalists, at least collectively, may prefer to let this go.

I told him I didn't think much of this, figuring that the thrill of breaking a good story was more than enough compensation for the temporary chilling effect it might have on off-the-record sources.

Yesterday, however, Mark Kleiman, who's also been following this story closely, edged toward agreeing with Tom:

I hate to endorse the MinuteMan's cynical assertion that the story won't be covered because the people who should be covering it are too busy sucking up to their sources and don't want to help stir up a leak hunt when they rely on leaks for their livelihood, but that explanation is looking better every day the Times and the Post act as if this story wasn't there.

Since Josh Marshall is part of the DC journalism community, I think it's time for him to weigh in with an opinion. My theory is that getting a good story pretty much trumps any other concern, and the relative silence on this one has simply been because no one has managed to track anything down. But it's been the better part of two weeks now, and it does seem a bit peculiar that the combined forces of American journalism haven't been able to come up with anything. How about it, Josh?

Kevin Drum 10:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 26, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WINNING BY A HAIR....With one ceremonial stage to go, the Tour de France has covered 2,109 miles and Lance Armstrong is leading Jan Ullrich by 76 seconds.

In other words, Lance Armstrong's average speed for the entire race has been 26.35 mph and Jan Ullrich's has been 26.34 mph. That's what I call a close race.

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FLOODING THE ZONE....Matt Yglesias thinks it's odd that the usual crew of New York Times bashers are oddly uninterested in the fact that during the runup to war Judith Miller hyped WMD stories endlessly and has turned out to be completely wrong. Why, one might even conclude that Miller was flooding the zone with this stuff simply as a personal vendetta, rather than doing her job as an objective reporter.

Matt is too gentlemanly to name names, but presumably he's talking about blogosphere stars Glenn, Andrew, and Mickey, who have indeed pretty much ignored Miller's obsessive reporting. Shouldn't they be calling for her resignation?

Kevin Drum 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DE LAY OF DE LAND STAYS THE SAME....FOR NOW....Hey, it looks like Tom DeLay's effort to redistrict Texas so it's more to his liking has failed. Apparently it couldn't get enough Republican votes to pass, so everyone is going home.

Charles Kuffner has the details.

Kevin Drum 3:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NO MORE CHADS: IS ELECTRONIC VOTING THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE?....Bev Harris at Black Box Voting has been leading the charge against electronic voting machines for quite some time and linked recently to this "scathing" report on the risks of electronic voting from computer scientists at Johns Hopkins and Rice universities. The report also got some coverage in the New York Times a couple of days ago, and it looks like the issue might start getting some more mainstream attention.

The basic problem is this: if voting is completely computerized, how do you know if the computer makes a mistake? This has given rise to some conspiracy theorizing that doesn't strike me as very serious, but conspiracies aside it is true that complex computer systems inevitably have bugs and security holes. For this reason, I'm skeptical of electronic voting even if I don't think the Republican party is surreptitiously buying up voting machine companies and deliberately corrupting their software.

Glenn Reynolds thinks the answer is simple: sure, get rid of punch cards, but replace them with paper ballots that are read by specialized scanners. I agree with him. This is known as "mark sense" technology, which I have a lot of experience with (it's basically the same as the Scantron cards used for multiple choice tests), and it's robust, simple to use, and highly reliable. What's more, it leaves behind paper ballots that can be checked in case a manual recount is needed or if someone suspects that the computer has miscounted.

But I'll also add one other comment, especially since I took a shot at this last month: if we do move toward completely electronic voting, I can't think of a better candidate for open source software. Legislation should mandate that the source code for these machines or at least the critical portions of it be open for inspection. This has become fairly common in security applications, where it's generally agreed that the best way to ensure there are no security holes is to let a legion of experts try to find them. If you can't hack the system when the source code is public, then you just can't hack the sytem.

UPDATE: South Knox Bubba, who knows from computers, says we should support the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003. Write your congressman!

Kevin Drum 11:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE NEOCON ARGUMENT....A quick addendum to the post below. Former CIA director James Woolsey is a charter neocon, and in the Guardian on Sunday he outlined at length the basic neocon argument about the Middle East. Here are a couple of excerpts about how he views the war on terrorism:

America and the western world are at war with 'fascist' Middle East governments and totalitarian Islamists.....[The parallels with the Cold War are:] that it will last a very long time - decades; that it will sporadically involve the use of military force, as did the Cold War in Korea for example; but that an important component would be ideological. I would add that, just as we eventually won the Cold War - and when I say 'we' here, I always mean Britain, the United States, the democracies, our allies - it was in no small measure because, while containing the Soviet Union and its allies militarily and with nuclear deterrence, we undermined their ideology.

....We are going to do things that are effective against terrorism, and which may involve steps like special scrutiny of Wahhabi-backed charities, for example, that would not have happened prior to September 11. We also have to realise who we are. We are not a race or a culture or a language. We are creatures of fourth US President James Madison's Constitution and his Bill of Rights. We can never forget that.

....If one starts out from the proposition that this is a task for America, Britain or others to accomplish principally with military forces, we will fail. We have to take a much longer view, and, for example, pay attention to the brave newspaper editors - such as one in Saudi Arabia who recently took on the religious police and got himself fired by the Interior Minister Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz. There are similar brave reformers in Egypt and other countries who are effectively the green shoots springing up through the pavement, indicative of a growing approach, a growing openness in much of the Muslim world to democracy and liberty.

....As we undertake these efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere, occasionally by force of arms but generally not, generally by influence, by standing up for brave students in the streets of Tehran, we will hear people say, from President Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt or from the Saudi royal family, that we are making them very nervous. And our response should be, 'Good. We want you nervous. We want you to change, but realise that now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, the democracies are on the march. And we are on the side of those whom you most fear: your own people.'

I'm excerpting this not because I agree with everything Woolsey says, but because he summarizes the neocon case pretty well and because I think he correctly emphasizes that military power as in the Cold War should be used infrequently. The main weapon in this war is influence, not tanks.

But I'm also linking to it to make the point that it's George Bush who should be giving speeches like this, and giving them frequently. Will it make things harder in some ways? Yes. But if if this is truly what Bush believes, then he needs to forthrightly try to convince America and the world that it's the right thing to do.

If you think the neocon formulation is an abomination, you should be in favor of Bush putting his cards squarely on the table because it gives you your best chance of fighting it. However, if you agree with Woolsey's general argument you should also be in favor of having the president make the case personally and passionately. Everyone can tell the difference between someone who genuinely believes in a cause and someone who doesn't quite have the courage to risk saying what he really means. It's only the former who can rally long-term commitments from their countrymen and the world.

Kevin Drum 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE REAL REASON FOR WAR....I promised I was going to comment on the "Bush lied about the real reason for war" argument that Dan Drezner brought up the other day, and today is the day. Here's the background: basically, Dan pointed out that there is a moderate consensus of both left (which disapproves) and right (which approves) that the real reason for war was not WMD or UN resolutions or any of that. The real argument for war was the neocon contention that the Middle East is an economic backwater ruled by medieval theocracies that has become a breeding ground for high stakes terrorism. Someone needs to set them on the path to democracy, tolerance, and economic growth, and that someone is us.

Dan has since weighed in on this himself, and it turns out that he's written almost exactly what I would have written. Almost, but not quite, that is, so let me amplify.

First, Dan correctly identifies two concerns about all this: (a) is it ethical, and (b) is it practical?

On the ethical question, he says that there were a lot reasons for war, so Bush really didn't do anything wrong by emphasizing one aspect over another. I think that's close to right, although I also think he carries the argument a bit too far in two ways. First, he cuts Bush too much slack on the "other" reasons for war, namely Saddam's WMD making him a serious threat to the United States, since this has turned out so far to be largely unfounded. Second, I think he gives Bush too much credit for occasionally talking about the "real" reason. He never explicitly did, aside from infrequent and pro forma praise of democracy and freedom.

If it turns out that Bush flatly lied about Saddam's WMD, that's inexcusable. But assuming he didn't, then emphasizing a simple argument like that versus the more complex neocon one isn't exactly uncommon in politics. Given what we know now which, admittedly, could change I can't get very excited about the proposition that he did anything seriously wrong here.

Then there's the practical aspect, and on this I think Dan is exactly right: by not leveling with the public about his goals and the difficulty of reaching them, he risks losing support for them in short order.

It doesn't take much historical hindsight to see this point. In World War II, for example, our goals were clear: unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan. Everybody knew it, the public bought into it, and we were willing to stick it out until we accomplished it. Likewise, in the Cold War, presidents from Truman forward were explicit about our long-term goals of containment and were consistent in their argument that we were fighting an entire worldview, not just a single country. They were honest about this argument because they truly believed it and thought it was right, and despite the fact that it probably made the conflict more difficult for the United States it was this honest conviction that made the Cold War widely accepted. Because of this we kept up the fight for over 40 years and eventually won.

Compare that to Vietnam. The goals were never clear and successive presidents misled the country about how long we would be there, how hard it would be, and what it would take to win. The result is that public support eventually waned and in 1975 we pulled out in defeat.

This is why supporters of the neocon agenda should be very, very nervous about the fact that George Bush never explicitly talks about their plan. It means that either he doesn't really believe in it himself, or that he thinks the public wouldn't support it if they knew about it. If either of these is true, there is virtually no chance of pulling it off.

This is, unfortunately, the worst of all worlds. I think the neocons in general are woefully naive about the limits of American military power to reshape the world, but at the same time I have considerable sympathy for their general view that the only answer to 21st century terrorism is economic growth and liberalization in the Middle East and Africa. The neocon plan might work, but it will certainly fail if the American public loses interest in the project because it never knew that's what it was signing up for in the first place.

As Matt Yglesias points out, there's no way to know for sure what Bush himself thinks, but if he does view this as a multi-decade struggle, he'd better take to the airwaves and start preparing people. My best guess right now is that he thinks it's a long-term fight but the American public thinks we were over there just to get rid of Saddam Hussein. That's a potentially deadly combination.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, it's worth mentioning that I most definitely don't accept Steven Den Beste's crude view that the president shouldn't tell the American public about his larger goals because "They don't need to know, and can't be trusted to know." This is not a specific operational aspect of war that needs to be kept secret from our enemies, it's an argument about the overarching principle behind American policy and America's place in the world for the next several decades. If the American public and the world can't be trusted with that, we should just pack up and go home. Steven should be ashamed of himself for writing such a thing.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy is unimpressed with Dan's argument. If Bush lied about WMD then I think Kieran's argument is absolutely correct. However, although he may have pushed the envelope harder than he should have, and should properly be held to account for that, I think Bush truly did believe that Iraq possessed large quantities of WMD. Time will tell.

Kevin Drum 10:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRAQ AND AL-QAEDA....A few days ago I referred to a UPI story claiming that the congressional 9/11 report had concluded there was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Today, UPI published a retraction:

Prior to the report's publication, a person who had read it told UPI that it showed U.S. intelligence agencies had no evidence linking Iraq to the 9-11 attacks or to al-Qaida. In fact, the issue is not addressed in the declassified sections of the report.

One other person who has seen the classified version of the document told UPI subsequently that the Iraq issue is not addressed in the still-classified section, either. "They didn't ask that question," the person said.

Huh? They didn't ask that question? Doesn't that seem like something they should have expressed an interest in?

And who the heck was UPI's source? What kind of source makes an error like that about a document that's going to become public the next day?

Kevin Drum 9:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 25, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

MAN BITES DOG....Actually, fish bites dog. Sort of:

A giant catfish that ate a dog and terrorized a German lake for years has washed up dead, but the legend of "Kuno the Killer" lives on.

A gardener discovered the carcass of a five-foot-long catfish weighing 77 pounds this week, a spokesman for the western city of Moenchengladbach said on Friday.

Kuno became a local celebrity in 2001 when he sprang from the waters of the Volksgarten park lake to swallow a Dachshund puppy whole. He evaded repeated attempts to capture him.

It was a only a dachshund? And a puppy at that? So what's the big deal?

Kevin Drum 9:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOUSING BUBBLE?....We all like weird little economic mysteries, don't we? Especially when they include the opportunity for some crude Republican bashing?

The graph on the right, courtesy of the Progressive Review, shows that housing appreciation has been far higher in states that voted for Gore compared to states that voted for Bush. We already know that blue states tend to have stronger economies and generate more tax revenue than red states, and now it turns out that your housing investment does better in blue states too.

Why is this? Perhaps because appreciation is higher in urban areas, and urban areas tend to vote Democratic? Because liberal states tend to generate higher income growth, which in turn means that more high income families are bidding for houses? Because liberal states have artifically restricted the growth of housing stock, thus driving up prices?

Or maybe it's just because skyrocketing home prices are un-American?

I don't know either, but like the Progressive Review, I welcome your theories. In the true spirit of petty partisan demagoguery and amateur asset pricing analysis, I know we can solve this mystery.

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BAKER HEADING TO IRAQ?....More changes due for Iraq?

The White House hopes to persuade former secretary of state James A. Baker III to take charge of the physical and economic reconstruction of Iraq as part of a broad restructuring of post-war efforts, administration sources said today.

Under the plan, L. Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, would focus on rebuilding the country's political system. The new structure is still in the discussion stages, and a source close to Baker said he has not accepted the job.

I was mulling over this story during lunch, trying to figure out what it means, and I'm having a hard time. Baker is obviously a very senior guy, he has lots of international experience, and he's practically the Bush family consigliore, so in some way it makes sense that he might be chosen to head up Iraq.

The problem is, he's not being chosen to head up Iraq. He's being chosen for a very specific role: "physical and economic reconstruction." As far as I know, Baker has no expertise in this area at all, so it's hard to see what he brings to the table. Wouldn't a better choice be some high profile executive who's actually had a lot of experience bossing big infrastructure projects? Or maybe a Wall Street economic guru?

The only thing I can figure out that's unique to Baker is that he's completely loyal to the Bushes. There must be something about Bremer that Bush doesn't like, so he wants to get somebody over there that he completely trusts, someone that he knows won't be pursuing an agenda of his own.

That's the best I can come up with at the moment anyway. Unless, of course, Bremer is just completely screwing things up and Bush is getting set to throw him overboard.

Aside from the obvious jokes about sending Baker over there to supervise Iraqi elections, does anyone have any other ideas?

UPDATE: In the ten minutes it took me to write this, the Washington Post replaced this story with a completely different version that (a) doesn't include my excerpt above, (b) plays down the whole Baker angle, and (c) suggests that Baker's role would be focused only on restructuring Iraq's debt.

Now I'm even more confused....

UPDATE 2: Uggabugga has both the original Post story and the updated version here.

Kevin Drum 4:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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I'LL ONLY GO AWAY IF YOU ADD A FEW MORE ZEROES....Ampersand has a cartoon up today that shows enormous insight into the way American CEOs are compensated these days. Check it out.

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HOWLING AT THE PRESS....Today, Bob Somerby manages to write an entire column without once mentioning Al Gore's treatment in the 2000 campaign. On the other hand, he does continue his odd crusade against the press for making a big deal out Uranium-Gate:

[David Ignatius'] reporting tends to suggest that Bushs 16-word statement may have been accurate. That is, it may be true that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa.

We have cited this possibility many times, and many mailers have misread our claim. We have never said that Bushs claim was technically accurate; indeed, were not sure what that claim would mean in this context. (When Bush said learned, he vouched for the accuracy of the Brit intel. We were among the first to make this pedestrian point, although readers continue to lecture us on it.) No, we havent said that the statement was technically accurate; we have said that the statement may simply be true. That is, it may be true that the Iraqi government was trying to acquire uranium in Africa.

What to say about this? Of course it might be true, but that's not the point. We now know that George Bush's own head of intelligence sent multiple memos and made at least one call to the White House last October telling them that the claim wasn't true. That's a lot of effort, and Tenet must have been pretty serious about this to follow it up repeatedly and in writing.

It's really not plausible that over the course of three months everyone who saw those memos just forgot about them, and this means that, regardless of whether the claims eventually turn out to be true, the White House decided to put them in the State of the Union address despite the fact that at the time the CIA felt there was nothing to them.

Why did the president ignore the advice of his own head of intelligence? Why did he feel that it was so important to include a paragraph about nuclear weapons in the speech, even though the CIA thought there was nothing to it?

Why?

Kevin Drum 3:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KEEPING AN EYE ON LIBERALS....Hmmm. Maybe this is why Atrios stays anonymous:

Ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, reports have circulated that the U.S. airline security apparatus is targeting political activists for strict scrutiny and special searches, sometimes forcing them to miss flights.

....[Barbara] Olshansky has firsthand knowledge of the government policy: She says that she's been subjected to strip- and full-body searches every time she's flown since 9/11, even though she has no criminal record. Last November, she told Salon that she had been strip-searched on four flights she'd made on business; this week, she reported that she was specially targeted again for a search in February while trying to board a plane with her husband for a vacation trip to Puerto Rico.

The article says that in addition to keeping a "no-fly" list of potential terrorists, documents released in a recent court case indicate that the TSA keeps a second list of "selectees" who are subject to strict security checks. Nobody know what it takes to get on this list, nobody keeps track of how often the wrong people are hassled (because there's "no pressing need to do so"), and there's no way to get taken off the list.

For all my right wing buddies out there, this is why we liberals distrust the Bush administration's balancing of civil rights with necessary law enforcement. It's not that we don't agree that increased vigilance against terrorism is reasonable, it's just that this doesn't seem to be the real motivation behind a lot of the things law enforcement does these days.

The FBI has a long history of keeping secret lists like this, and oddly enough it's mostly liberal activists who end up on them. Better keep your head down, Atrios.

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WATER SHORTAGE....The Talent Show points out today that Ann Coulter's grasp of reality has apparently taken such a beating that she doesn't realize that, yes, it is possible to run out of water.

Trust me, Ann, you learn these things living in California.

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Over on the left is Inkblot in his favorite postion: rolled over on his back waiting for someone to come along and scratch his tummy. It usually works. On the right, Jasmine is also showing off her tummy to the world, but her attitude is look-but-don't-touch when it comes to belly rubbing.

Poor Inkblot is spending most of his time this week trying to escape from his mean parents who keep sticking a mean eyedropper into his mouth and squirting mean refrigerated liquid into him. HE...DOES...NOT...LIKE...THIS. But it's for your own good, Inkblot! (And how many times have you heard that before?) Ah, well, it's nothing serious though, and he'll be better in no time. The medicine, oddly enough, seems to smell like bananas. Why couldn't they make it smell like tuna?

BONUS CAT: Head on over to Late Night Thoughts and read all about Lost-and-Found. It's the all too common story of how a cat worms its way into your heart despite your best efforts.

Kevin Drum 11:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 24, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON THE MISSING WMD....So what really happened to the WMD? Here's Bill Clinton a couple of days ago:

When I left office, there was a substantial amount of biological and chemical material unaccounted for. That is, at the end of the first Gulf War, we knew what he had. We knew what was destroyed in all the inspection processes and that was a lot. And then we bombed with the British for four days in 1998. We might have gotten it all; we might have gotten half of it; we might have gotten none of it. But we didn't know.

Digby blogged about this a couple of days ago, but it didn't really sink in until I read this transcript: maybe the 1998 bombings destroyed all the WMD that was left at that point. And maybe Saddam never reconstituted his WMD programs.

This poses a perplexing problem. Donald Rumsfeld has already admitted that we didn't really have any new intelligence about Saddam's WMD programs, and it's possible that we destroyed all his existing stocks in 1998. So when we demanded that Saddam account for the missing WMD, maybe he really couldn't, because he wasn't the one who destroyed it. We were.

Clinton thinks we did the right thing in Iraq because we didn't know for sure, and in a post-9/11 world we couldn't take any chances. Maybe. But if the president's case for war had relied on (a) the mere possibility that some amount of WMD had survived the 1998 attacks and might not have deteriorated by now, (b) a lack of evidence one way or the other about any ongoing programs, and (c) the proposition that we couldn't take any chances over this even though we didn't know much of anything would he have gotten much support?

Again, maybe. You never know. But it sure would have been a lot dicier, wouldn't it?

UPDATE: Then again, this guy says all the WMD was taken to the Beka Valley in Lebanon a month before the war, and we're going to dig it up right before the elections. Works for me.

UPDATE 2: Or this: maybe it really doesn't matter because WMD wasn't the reason for the war anyway. Dan Drezner says he's going weigh in on the merits of lying about the reason for war tomorrow, and I might too. It's an interesting topic.

Kevin Drum 9:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LOGIC 101....The Catholic Church opposes abortion. The Pope opposes abortion. So it stands to reason that if someone opposes abortion, and you oppose their nomination to the appeals court, you must be anti-Catholic.

No, really. Tapped has the story.

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DECONSTRUCTING THE BLOGOSPHERE....Randy Barnett has what? Retracted? No. Clarified yes, that's it clarified his suggestion that liberals live in a socially-constructed fantasy world. Today he admits that his examples of this weren't too good, pleads time pressures, and promises to do better in the future. Oh, and the right does pretty much the same thing.

I'm glad we've got that squared away since I'm pretty sure the computer I'm typing on right now is, in fact, a product of consensus reality. But his piece reminded me of an observation about political blogging (and reading political blogs) that I've been meaning to make for a while: namely, that it can warp your view of the world.

On a broad scale, of course, there is the banal, but still true, observation that blogging is overwhelmingly dominated by educated white men and therefore not a very good reflection of society in general. But in addition, there are three very specific observations I'd like to add about political blogging:

  1. The political center is barely represented at all in the blogosphere. In the real world, for example, I'm pretty solidly liberal, whereas in the lefty blogosphere I'm about as moderate as it gets. This is entirely understandable, of course, since people who don't have strong opinions aren't very likely to spend lots of their time spouting off those opinions on the internet, but it makes it all too easy to forget that these centrists nonetheless exist.

  2. Libertarian views are wildly overrepresented. This is also not surprising since blogging by its nature appeals to technically savvy people, and it's a truism that technophiles tend to be a pretty libertarian leaning bunch.

  3. The Christian right is completely absent. I really don't know why this is, but I can't think of a single prominent political blog that represents the Christian right, and this means that the blogosphere is missing a pretty sizable segment of the political spectrum.

So what's my point? Just this: reading lots of blogs can (a) convince you that your opposites are all absurd extremists, (b) give you the vague impression that libertarian views are the natural starting point of most political arguments, and (c) prevent you from really noticing that the Christian right is a major force in the political universe.

I'd argue that Randy let all these things affect his judgment. He has easy access to plenty of extremely liberal blogs, and therefore sees nutball opinions just often enough to convince him that they're common. He has libertarian leanings, and therefore doesn't notice that a lot of libertarian-oriented arguments sound pretty weird to ordinary people. And he never sees the Christian right on the blogosphere, and therefore doesn't see the nutballs on that end of the spectrum on a daily basis.

Bottom line: don't let this happen to you! Whenever you get depressed/depairing/royally pissed off from reading blogs, take a walk and have a chat with your neighbors. The comment threads of LGF and Atrios may not quite be solipsistic fantasies, but they're a poor mirror to the real world.

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VALERIE PLAME: HERE TO STAY?....Via the MinuteMan, we get some sharp criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the Valerie Plame affair from an unexpected source. Donald Luskin, NRO's resident Paul Krugman stalker, says it's a big deal, whether conservatives want to admit it or not:

This story is just not going to go away, despite the big-press silence this week. Based on my conversations in the last 36 hours with Washington contacts, here's how I'm very sure it's going to turn out -- and it will hinge on two key questions.

Was Plame really a covert operative? Yes, but this will be difficult to officially confirm and there will be debates as to just how covert she really was, and what real harm was done by outing her.

Who outed her, the White House or the CIA? Both. Both are understandably furious with Wilson -- the White House for the embarrassment he has caused and for what they see as his disingenuous and partisan statements in the media. But outing Ms. Plame was not to punish Wilson, but to refute him: Ms. Plame's involvement in Wilson's selection for the Niger assignment trivializes him, makes him seem less an expert and more of a hack on a nepotistic boondoggle. The administration officials who spoke to the press probably weren't even thinking about outing Ms. Plame, as such -- after all, Wilson had effectively already done that when he outed himself by going public with his CIA-sponsored work. And therein lies the reason why the CIA is furious at Wilson -- what he has done is an enormous breach or protocol and security.

Luskin must be dead serious about this: he even mentions Paul Krugman in a tone that is barely non-derogatory. (Of course, he wrote several hundred derogatory words about Krugman's mention of Plame in a previous post, and then later had to add several hundred more saying, essentially, that Krugman was probably right. So maybe he'd already had his fill of Krugman bashing for the day.)

I'm surprised this story isn't getting more attention, although I can see that unless you have some very good sources it's probably pretty hard to add anything new. But I agree with Luskin: I don't think it's going away, and the longer the White House stonewalls, the worse it's going to get. Something big is bound to break on this story sooner or later.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias reports that Chuck Schumer is also on the case, and since he's got a big mouth that should help things along nicely.

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JOSEPH WILSON ON THE DAILY SHOW....I am informed via email that Joseph Wilson, the man at the heart of the uranium scandal and, incidentally, Valerie Plame's husband will be on the Daily Show tonight. Jon Stewart is a better interviewer than most of the alleged pros out there, so it might be worth watching. Check your local listings.

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MEDICAL MALPRACTICE: A CONVERT TELLS HER STORY....Like many states, Florida is in the grips of the dreaded medical malpractice "crisis," so their legislature is holding hearings. But with a twist:

The state Senate, in a rare state of alertness, held two days of hearings with the unusual proviso that witnesses testify under oath.

....What happened after that "was pretty scary," said Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, the Senate minority leader.

"People who had testified before us on previous occasions got up there and told us different things."

The president of the state's largest malpractice-insurance company said no, insurers didn't need a cap on jury awards to be profitable. A state regulator said no, there hasn't been an explosion of frivolous lawsuits.

A state insurance regulator surprised senators by saying he often depended on insurance companies' information when deciding whether to raise rates. "So you rely on the fox to guard the henhouse," grumbled Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale.

And guess what? Contrary to stories of doctors quitting the business, the number of licensed doctors is increasing. A Health Department official said new applications for new medical licenses in Florida rose from 2,261 in fiscal 2000 to 2,658 in fiscal 2003.

Via the Bloviator, we learn that Medpundit, who used to read this kind of stuff and dismiss it as partisan propaganda, is taking a second look (link bloggered; look for "Road to Damascus Moment"):

Yesterday, I discovered that the rate for my insurance went up again, by $6,000. In May, a year's worth of coverage from my current insurance company was $8,000 a year. In June, the price went up to $15,000 a year. Now, in July, they're saying it's $21,000 a year.

.... it strains belief to think that the insurance company has to increase premiums by several thousand dollars a month to make ends meet. We live in a litiginous world, but the jury awards and lawsuits haven't been exploding at that rapid a rate.

Indeed they haven't.

It's puzzling to me that the medical industry is in bed so tightly with the insurance industry. I mean, I realize that doctors are naturally going to hate trial lawyers, but these periodic malpractice crises are so obviously manufactured, and the premium increases so obviously unrelated to actual increases in payouts, that surely more doctors ought to be suspicious that maybe the insurance companies really aren't their friends? It does indeed strain belief to think that payouts have spiked so viciously just in the past year that an insurance company would have to raise rates 150% in the course of two months.

Doctors need to wake up. And legislatures ought to make testifying under oath standard practice.

UPDATE: Dwight Meredith has a few more details.

Kevin Drum 10:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TIME FOR A NEW GOVERNOR?....The whole Uday/Qusay story was practically ignored by the LA Times today, overshadowed by a banner headline announcing that the recall campaign against Gray Davis has officially qualified for the ballot. It looks like we'll have an election sometime around the end of September.

Which means I now have to come to grips with what to do. On the one hand, I'm inclined to vote against the recall because it's a lousy piece of partisan hackery and I really don't want people to get the idea that they can mount a recall campaign anytime a governor has low approval ratings.

On the other hand, it's a done deal now and Davis is a dork, so why not go ahead and kick him out and vote for whoever I think is best?

Of course, it's possible that Republicans will make it easy for me by not running anyone worth voting for. Say, Darrell Issa, just to pick a name out of a hat.

Too bad it looks like Dick Riordan won't run. I would have voted for him in the general election, and he probably would have won. But Davis was way too crafty to let me have that choice. Maybe Arnold, then? I wonder how T3 is doing?

Decisions, decisions....

Kevin Drum 9:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 23, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SHIT, MEET FAN....If Josh Marshall and Chris Nelson are to be believed, the shit is about to hit the proverbial fan this week. After two weeks of softening up George Bush's credibility via African uranium and the ever changing explanations for it, we're now set for brand new battles on two fronts:

  • First, Josh links to a UPI story saying that the congressional 9/11 report, due to be released tomorrow, will show that we knew all along that Saddam Hussein had no connection to al-Qaeda:

    Former Democratic Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who was a member of the joint congressional committee that produced the report, confirmed the official's statement.

    Asked whether he believed the report will reveal that there was no connection between al-Qaida and Iraq, Cleland replied: "I do ... There's no connection, and that's been confirmed by some of (al-Qaida leader Osama) bin Laden's terrorist followers."

    ...."The reason this report was delayed for so long -- deliberately opposed at first, then slow-walked after it was created -- is that the administration wanted to get the war in Iraq in and over ... before (it) came out," he said.

    "Had this report come out in January like it should have done, we would have known these things before the war in Iraq, which would not have suited the administration."

    George Bush, of course, repeatedly said otherwise. In his State of the Union address, for example, he said "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda."

    This is no minor "16 words." The al-Qaeda connection was key to Bush's case, and if it turns out that he knew it was dubious in the extreme but kept repeating it anyway, he's in big trouble.

    UPDATE: UPI has since retracted this story.

  • Second, Josh reprints a few bullet points from today's Nelson Report suggesting that the CIA is about ready to declare war on Bush and the entire neocon establishment:

    The Iraq/Niger debacle is but one of "a whole series of stories which are ready to break", a source told us today, adding, "I've never seen such hostility and disdain as now being expressed between the White House and the CIA. Never"

    ....Three weeks ago, this source speculated that it would be "difficult" for Bush to fire the senior officials responsible, for obvious reasons, since they would include Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Rice, at a minimum, and that Tenet seemingly had so ingratiated himself at the personal level, he could escape punishment.

    -- today, while no one wanted to speculate about Rummy and Cheney, in the absence of new disclosures, disparate Administration sources confirm that it is "generally accepted" that Tenet will be fired from the CIA, if only because of what he started last week.

    Apparently the neocons aren't taking this lying down. Nelson says that if Tenet is fired, they have a whole bunch of folks they'd like to see moved into senior positions.

Stay tuned.

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DEAD OR ALIVE?....I guess I'm not the only one asking why helicopter gunships and rockets were used to annihilate the Hussein brothers instead of tactics designed to take them alive:

At a news briefing today, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, squirmed his way past that question repeatedly. It was, he said, the decision of the commander on the ground based on the circumstances and his judgmentand it was the right decision. But was it? Who beside the sons might have better information about the one HVT that really matters, Saddam? The whole operation was a cockup, said a British intelligence officer.

....Against such lightly armed resistance, couldnt a siege or even a teargas attack have done the job more efficiently, and perhaps captured the [brothers] alive? Sanchez repeated his mantra that the local commander made the right decision and he wasnt going to second-guess it. But a total of 200 heavily armed U.S. troops, backed by missiles, armored personnel carriers and helicopters? An officer at the scene made the improbable claim to a NEWSWEEK reporter that tear gas might have hurt neighbors. As it was, there were no reported civilian casualties with the much heavier weaponry; the house, which belonged to a prominent local sheik, was set well away from others. Bollocks, said one former Special Forces soldier. A SWAT team could have taken them. It didnt need a company.

I don't have the expertise to have an opinion on this, but the whole thing does seem a bit peculiar.

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CASUAL RACISM....Hey, remember that judge who asked a Lebanese-American woman if she was a terrorist when she appeared in court to fight a pair of parking tickets? Rob Dougherty brings us the good news that he's accepted a lifetime ban from the bench.

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BUY LOW, SELL HIGH....More evidence that Steve Case really is (or was, anyway) the smartest man in the tech industry.

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WHO TURNED IN UDAY AND QUSAY?....One of the curious things about the killing of Saddam's two sons was that they were hiding out in Mosul, a city right on the border of the Kurdish north and probably not the best hiding place in the world for Saddam loyalists. So why were they there? The Washington Post has the story:

Nawaf Zaidan Nasiri answered the front door of his elegant mansion 24 days ago, and greeted a nightmare.

Standing there, he told his neighbors Tuesday, were the two sons of Saddam Hussein, Qusay and Uday, Iraqs second- and third-most wanted fugitives, asking Zaidan to repay years of privilege and favors they had doled out to him.

"I answered the doorbell and there they were, right in front of my face," Zaidan told his neighbor, Mukhlis Thahir Jubori. "They asked to stay in my house and I could not refuse them. This is a disaster for me."

But sometimes disasters can turn into blessings:

U.S. military spokesman said they were acting on a tip. They said a "walk-in" came to them Monday night with information about the Hussein brothers location. They have not identified the informant, but they said the $15 million bounty on the Hussein brothers heads will be paid.

Thahir and the cleric, who has known Zaidan since he was a boy and was friends with his father, said they strongly suspect that Zaidan was the informant. They said the $15 million temptation was probably too much to resist after the two fugitives had been hiding out in his house for more than three weeks.

That sounds about right. Live by treachery and corruption, die by treachery and corruption.

It does bring up a question, though. Granted, this is not the kind of operation you can second guess from six thousand miles away, but I'm a little surprised we didn't make more of an effort to take them alive. If it really was Zaidan who betrayed them, surely it would have been possible for him to allow special ops teams into his house to take the the Hussein sons without a fight? You'd think it would have been worth trying since they surely would have been worth interrogating at length.

I imagine there's a story behind that. Perhaps we'll hear it sometime over the next couple of days.

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TAP DANCING ON THE GREENS....Hey, how about some of that good old time Green Party bashing? Here's Michael Tomasky today:

Here they come again. As if the last two and a half years have been some sort of game show with no real consequences for America and the world, the Greens signaled at their national committee meeting this weekend that they have every intention of running a presidential candidate in 2004.

It might be Ralph Nader, they say, or it could be Cynthia McKinney, the former congresswoman from Georgia. But short of a megalomaniac whose tenuous purchase on present-day reality threatens to cancel out every good thing he's done in his life, or a discredited anti-Semite, they'll settle for someone less distinguished.

....So here's a thought for an enterprising Democratic candidate: Attack Nader right now, and with lupine ferocity. Say he's a madman for thinking of running again. Blast him especially hard on foreign policy, saying that if it were up to the Greens, America would give no aid to Israel and it would cease to exist, and if it were up to the Greens, America would not have even defended itself against a barbarous attack by going into Afghanistan.

You know what? He's probably right.

By happenstance, I just finished that biography of Henry Wallace that I've been reading, which means I just finished reading about the 1948 election. We all know that Strom Thurmond ran in that election and what a pity that he didn't win, eh? but Henry Wallace also ran that year. He was the head of the Progressive Party and ran on a pure liberal New Deal platform, but one that also advocated engagment with the Soviet Union instead of a Cold War.

Here's what happened: Harry Truman, who was unloved, unwanted, and considered too soft on communism, was able to spend a good deal of his time attacking the Progressives. Result: by having an ultra-liberal party to his left, he was able to paint himself as a moderate and, more importantly, as tough on communism. Looky there, he said, all the appeasement loons are in Wallace's party! We Democrats repudiate them and have no place for them.

In the end, all but a million people who had planned to vote Progressive ended up voting Democratic instead, and Truman won the election. Lesson: having a party to your left can actually help by buffing up your centrist credentials even if you run on a basically liberal domestic platform (which Truman did). However, for this to work you have to attack the lefty party and clearly disassociate yourself from them.

As Tomasky puts it, having a Democrat do a Sister Souljah moment on the Greens could be a terrific move. Anybody listening?

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PROGRESS IN IRAQ?....So was the death of Saddam Hussein's sons good news? Or will it just bring on more terrorist attacks than ever? Dan Drezner is (apparently) agnostic on the question of its immediate effect, but thinks there's some very good news hidden in the backstory:

My answer is yes [i.e., this is good news], not because of the attack itself but rather the shift in intelligence-gathering that preceded it. The Washington Post has an excellent story on how this shift in tactics may be creating a tipping-point phenomenon among the Iraqi populace.

That's an interesting point, and I hope he's right.

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TORT REFORM....Frivolous lawsuits? Dwight Meredith says that, in fact, most of them never see the light of day: "They lose on motions to dismiss. They lose at summary judgment. They suffer directed verdicts. They lose before juries and they lose on appeal."

However, sometimes frivolous suits can serve a purpose even if they have no chance of winning, and today he provides a couple of good examples. Oddly, they don't come from the usual ambulance-chasing suspects....

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DEFERRED TAXES UPDATE....Last month I mentioned an analysis that suggested Social Security wasn't really in big trouble because we would soon start benefiting from $12 trillion in tax revenues from baby boomer IRA accounts. There was plenty of money for Social Security without raising taxes.

Sounds good, but via Max Sawicky I see that Michael Boskin, the author of the analysis, now says that a programming error led to a "considerable overstatement" in the first draft of his study.

Easy come, easy go.

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VALERIE PLAME STORY HEATING UP....The Valerie Plame story started slowly but is now finally picking up steam. Bush Wars has a good roundup of the latest:

  • Senator Dick Durbin plans to call for an investigation. He also took to the Senate floor to "lash out" at the White House for charging that he had disclosed classified information last week.

  • White House spokesperson Scott McClellan, despite having a week to prepare for this, gave a pretty pitful performance yesterday when asked about the Plame affair. Asked if someone in the administration outed Plame's CIA role, he said only, "That is not the way this President or this White House operates," while basically admitting that no one had bothered to investigate yet.

The good news is that this story is finally breaking into the open, which means it's likely to get further investigation.

In the meantime, Mark Kleiman has a lot to say about this, including a call for a special prosecutor, and the MinuteMan has a timeline of the whole affair. And the news pages of the New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post? So far, nada. Time to wake up, guys.

Kevin Drum 9:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 22, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

"SEXED UP"....I wrote a longish post last night about the whole Andrew Gilligan/David Kelly/"sexed up" dossier affair over in Britain, but I ended up deleting it. It just turned out to be too hard to figure out any kind of reasonable point to make about the whole thing.

However, today the Guardian answered a trivial but eminently blogworthy! question that piqued my curiosity while I was doing some of my research: where did the term "sexed up" come from?

First, here's what BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan originally said on the Today show on May 29:

I've spoken to a British official who was involved in the preparation of the dossier and he told me that in the week before it was published, the draft dossier produced by the intelligence services added little to what was already publicly known. He said:

"It was transformed in the week before it was published to make it sexier. The classic example was the claim that weapons of mass destruction were ready for use within 45 minutes...."

The words "sexed up" were never used, and yet every single news articles uses them, and even puts them in quotes. Why?

Here is the Guardian's explanation:

At the last count, the phrase "sexed up" had been used in 545 articles, formed the basis of 22 newspaper headlines and been the subject of countless readers' letters since Andrew Gilligan's infamous story broke on May 29.

Within hours it had become a favourite phrase of writers and subeditors and entered the journalistic vernacular. But Gilligan never actually uttered the phrase he has become famous for - in fact, the first mention came from John Humphrys.

Gilligan had quoted his source as saying the Iraq dossier "was transformed in the week before it was published to make it sexier". Little more than an hour later Humphrys was quizzing the armed forces minister, Adam Ingram, on the allegation that the report "was produced, it went to No 10, it was then sent back to be 'sexed up' a little".

Even Humphrys appears not to have been entirely clear about the phrase's origins - "I'm using not my own words but the words of our source, as you know," he told Mr Ingram.

I guess that answers that.

There's really not much meat to the whole controversy, by the way. Gilligan says that in his May 29 broadcast he accurately quoted Kelly, a Ministry of Defense official who was involved in writing the September dossier that had allegedly been "sexed up." When questioned, Kelly said he didn't really say exactly that, but since he's now dead there's no way of proving it one way or the other.

On the other hand, one thing this kerfuffle shows, yet again, is that coverups and shifty explanations are usually worse than the initial misdeeds themselves. Nobody can ever prove that Gilligan misquoted Kelly, but thanks to a raggedy defense by the BBC they can prove that the BBC lied about several specific claims: among other things, prior to Kelly coming forward, the BBC said that Gilligan's source was a "senior intelligence official," denied that he worked for the Ministry of Defense, and implied that he had been one of the primary writers of the dossier. All of those things are false.

Best guess at this point? (1) Gilligan probably quoted Kelly accurately. (2) Kelly tried to downplay it when he was questioned. (3) The government acted abysmally in fingering Kelly and putting him under an unnecessary spotlight after he came forward. (4) The BBC shot itself in the foot very badly in their various defenses of Gilligan.

Of course, none of this matters, since the entire affair is simply a proxy for whether you think the BBC is either (a) inexcusably biased against the Iraq war and this is just one of a thousand examples, or (b) the BBC was the only news outlet with the integrity to report the war honestly, free of the propaganda spewed forth by the U.S. military. Take your pick.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, other news outlets have also reported that the September dossier was beefed up under political pressure. What really made the difference in this case was that Gilligan also claimed that Kelly told him the name of the person who insisted on the beefing up: Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's director of communications. It was this allegation that really started the war between Blair and the BBC.

Kevin Drum 7:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE STARS ARE LIKE GRAINS OF SAND....REALLY....We now know how many stars there are in the universe:

The figure -- 7 followed by 22 zeros or, more accurately, 70 sextillion -- was calculated by a team of stargazers based at the Australian National University.

Speaking at the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union meeting in Sydney, Dr Simon Driver said the number was drawn up based on a survey of one strip of sky, rather than trying to count every individual star.

Ah, excellent. I woudn't have tried to count every individual star either. Especially given this:

The actual number of stars could be infinite he said.

My first thought was that surely no astronomer would actually say something like that, but it turns out he did, sort of:

"This is not the total number of stars in the universe, but it's the number within range of our telescopes, said Simon Driver of the Australian National University. "The real number could be much, much larger still -- some people think it is infinite."

Who thinks that? Last I heard, the best guess for the number of protons in the universe was 1076. Surely there can't be more stars than protons, right?

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MORE URANIUM FALLOUT....Another warm body walks the plank. Condoleezza Rice's deputy is taking the blame for the State of the Union fiasco:

Stephen Hadley, deputy national security adviser, said he should have deleted a reference to Iraqi attempts to buy African uranium from Bush's State of the Union speech in January, because the CIA had asked him to remove similar language from an October speech by the president.

....He said he had failed to recall the CIA objections, which were included in two memos and a telephone conversation with Tenet in the days before Bush outlined his case against Iraq in an Oct. 7, 2002 speech in Cincinnati.

Hadley said the CIA memos which had been sent to him were found over the weekend. White House officials had previously said they had not been informed of CIA doubts over the claim. Tenet last week acknowledged that his agency had cleared the State of the Union speech and should have removed the claim.

Gee, I wonder if they searched Condi's office to find out if she got those memos?

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BIDEN VS. DEAN....Ezra Klein has an analysis over at Not Geniuses of the possibility of Joe Biden running for the Democratic presidential nomination, and emails to wonder what I think of it.

Basically, Ezra thinks that Biden, as a nice hawkish centrist, would be able to beat the rest of the mainstream field early on and then duke it out with the good doctor down the stretch as the Anybody-But-Dean candidate. Biden thinks he would be able to beat Dean in such a contest, while Ezra thinks Dean would kick his ass. (And Ezra better think that, since he's working for the Dean campaign.)

So what do I think of that? Beats me, really. I mostly just have a dim memory of Biden running in 1988, and while I imagine that 16 years is long enough to put paid to the whole plagiarism scandal that sunk him that year, my recollection is that he wasn't really setting anyone on fire that year anyway. If I can be a bit mean, he's sort of like the Lamar Alexander of the Democratic party: he seems good on paper, but on the campaign trail he somehow ends up looking a bit ridiculous for some reason.

Anyway, check out Ezra's post and decide for yourself. I'd be curious to hear what commenters old enough to remember the 1988 campaign think about all this.

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REPUBLICANS FINALLY STAND UP FOR GAY RIGHTS!....Fox News reports that Republicans well, "one Republican" anyway is outraged over Pete Stark's homophobic outburst last week:

"'You little fruitcake, you little fruitcake, I said you are a fruitcake,'" [Rep. Kenny] Hulshof, R-Mo., read from the unofficial transcript.

Stark directed the word considered by some to be a gay slur at Republican Rep. Scott McInnis, who is married and by all accounts not gay.

Republican sources also claim that during the chaotic scene in the committee, Stark fired another gay slur in the direction of Chairman Thomas. The word is too vulgar to print in full, but the last half of it is "sucker."

Now, one Republican wants to know where is the outrage at the Democrat for his seemingly intolerant remarks.

Oh please. Everybody knows that "cocksucker" is just a codeword that allows baseball managers to be ejected from games. And "fruitcakes" well, those are the guys with the tinfoil hats, which seems to be a fairly accurate description of Bill Thomas, the guy it was directed at. In fact, apparently even Republicans are now "quietly whispering" that perhaps Thomas is something of a fruitcake.

And who is this Republican who's so eager to see a gay slur in all this? Why, none other than Palm Beach congressman Mark Foley, who, as we all know, is a wee bit sensitive about the proposition that being gay is a slur. Time to get a new schtick, congressman....

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PAUL KRUGMAN AT PLAY....I don't really have any good reason for posting this, but since all us liberals love Paul Krugman, I thought I'd post this picture of what he looks like when he's not writing shrill and wildly unfair attacks on Republicans for the New York Times.

Anyway, that's PK and his wife Robin on their vacation this year, a walking tour of France. Doesn't he look relaxed? And like a really nice guy too? Don't you wish you could take an economics class from someone like him?

And yet conservatives seem to hate him so. I guess appearances can be deceiving....

UPDATE: uggabugga has the real story behind Krugman's vacation.

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TELEMARKETING SCHIZOPHRENIA....Tyler Cowen, who consistently writes posts over at the Volokh Conspiracy that I have a hard time making sense of, has one today about a possible downside of the telemarketing Do-Not-Call list recently started up by the federal government:

Take those people who have put themselves on the list. Do they really not want to be called? Maybe they are afraid that they really like being called. That they will buy things. That they will be impulsive.

Arguably those people have a rational controlling self, and an impulsive buying self, to borrow some language from Thomas Schelling. Why should we assume that the rational controlling self is the only one who counts (do you really want a life devoid of spontaneity?)? Why should our government be in the business of altering this balance in one direction or the other? Isn't the market a better mechanism for balancing the interests of the conflicting selves?

I'd venture to guess that on virtually every subject imaginable a lot of us have conflicting feelings. Every once in a while I feel like killing someone, for example, but I'd just as soon not let the market sort out my conflicting feelings on that. (Actually, more to the point, I'd just as soon not let the market sort out your conflicting feelings on that.)

Anyway, to answer Tyler's question: yes, that's exactly right, and it's why telemarketers hate the Do-Not-Call list. It's well known in the sales world that people with low sales resistance go out of their way to try and avoid salespeople, and those are precisely the people you most want to talk to. The telemarketers are well aware that the Do-Not-Call list is going to cost them millions of their very best prospects.

I think I can live with that. Unfortunately, via the Conservation of Annoyance Law, I imagine they'll make up for it through a massive increase in internet pop-up ads or something similar....

Kevin Drum 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SQUAWKING....I skimmed through the paper pretty quickly this morning without finding an awful lot of interest, but for fellow Californians or anyone interested in random political idiocy a bunch of Democratic legislators had a nice long discussion yesterday about deliberately holding up the California budget because it might help them politically. Unfortunately, they were talking into a live microphone:

The conversation was transmitted to roughly 500 "squawk boxes" around Sacramento that political staff, lobbyists and reporters use to listen in on legislative proceedings.

...."Since this is going to be a crisis, the crisis could be this year," Goldberg said, according to a transcript. "No one's running [for reelection]. And maybe you end up better off than you would have, and maybe you don't. But what you do is you show people that you can't get to this without a 55% vote."

....After about 90 minutes, a staffer interrupted to alert lawmakers that their meeting was not private at all:

"Excuse me, guys, you can be heard outside," an unidentified staff member said.

"Oh [expletive], [expletive]," Goldberg said.

"The squawk box is on," the staff member said. "You need to turn it off right there."

"How could that happen?" Goldberg said.

I guess the advanced technology of a "squawk box" was a little too much for them.

Kevin Drum 9:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SADDAM'S SONS DEAD?....U.S. troops may have killed Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, in a firefight today.

Does that mean we're getting closer to Saddam himself?

Kevin Drum 9:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 21, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

NORTH KOREA UPDATE....It looks like we're finally ready to talk to North Korea:

U.S. officials have indicated to Asian allies they would open with discussion of how the administration could reassure North Korea it does not face a U.S. invasion and then move toward what one official called a "whole gamut" of issues between North Korea and United States, such as providing energy and food aid if the North Korean government meets a series of tough conditions, including progress on human rights.

....A White House official, however, disputed any notion the administration had shifted in its public refusal to negotiate with North Korea. "As we have said many times, we will not submit to blackmail or grant inducements for the North to live up to its obligations," he said.

You know, I'm glad to see that we're finally making moves in the right direction, so I guess I shouldn't complain. But "we will not...grant inducements for the North to live up to its obligations"? North Korea has been asking for a nonagression pact forever, and if we give it to them that's definitely an inducement to live up to their obligations. The ability of the Bush administration to call black white and up down and get away with it is truly astonishing.

Of course, none of this would matter if we hadn't removed all possible wiggle room for ourselves with our macho posturing six months ago, but better late than never. At least we're talking. Maybe.

Kevin Drum 9:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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VALERIE PLAME UPDATE....A few days ago I blogged about a David Corn column in The Nation in which he suggested that the White House had exposed Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative in order to discredit Wilson himself. But Corn's column was hedged and it was unclear exactly who exposed Plame and exactly what Plame's role at the CIA was. Today, Wilson provides some additional information:

In an NBC News exclusive, Wilson says his family is the subject of a smear campaign. Wilson tells NBC News the White House deliberately leaked his wifes identity as a covert CIA operative, damaging her future career and compromising past missions after he criticized the administration on Meet the Press and in the New York Times.

So according to Wilson, his wife was a covert operative, and it was White House officials who outed her.

If Wilson's charges are accurate, this is ugly, very ugly....

UPDATE: Paul Krugman picks up on the Valerie Plame story in his Tuesday column.

Kevin Drum 9:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SADDAM'S NUKES....Via the MinuteMan, here is George Bush on December 31, 2002 talking about Saddam Hussein and his nuclear weapons:

QUESTION: Sir, why should we be more worried about Saddam Hussein, who has no nuclear weapons, than Kim Chong-il, who is unstable and does have nuclear weapons?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think it's important to remember that Saddam Hussein was close to having a nuclear weapon. We don't know whether or not he has a nuclear weapon. We do expect him to disarm his weapons of mass destruction, that's what we expect.

Nobody and I mean nobody thought that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon at that time. The most hawkish possible analysis from anybody at that time suggested that maybe Saddam could have a nuke by the middle of this decade if he got his hands on fissile material. And President Bush knew it.

So why was he pretending otherwise?

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By: Kevin Drum

THE CASE FOR WAR....Dan Drezner says he's not too worked up about the uranium brouhaha because it wasn't a big part of the reason he supported the war. Kieran Healy says fine, but it was a big part of the reason the president supported the war, and if the president's case for war was built on a series of untruths then that's something we should all get worked up about.

Today, Dan decides to take the afternoon off and let other people defend him, but he does say this:

I will, however, make one additional suggestion. The power of the critique against Bush would be strengthened if it could be shown that a significant fraction of the American public -- as well as the legislative branch -- supported action against Iraq only because of the claim that Hussein's regime had an active nuclear weapons program.

Now, Dan's skepticism on this point might be correct, although the Bush administration's apparently obsessive desire to make sure the word "nuclear" got into his speech even as all the evidence of Saddam's nuclear program was melting away leads me to believe that they thought it made a difference.

Still, there's a much bigger point that Dan doesn't address: we haven't found any WMD. I'd say that a significant fraction of both the American public and the legislative branch did support action against Iraq because they thought Saddam had chemical and biological weapons that posed a significant threat. The importance of the uranium controversy, therefore, is that it is slowly getting people to look behind the curtain of the broader WMD charges, and what they're seeing doesn't look too good. If it turns out that the entire WMD edifice was built on shaky and panicky non-intelligence, that's going to make all the difference in the world.

Of course, all the results on that aren't in yet, and we may yet find something. I'm willing to give it until September.

Kevin Drum 2:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

F-15s FOR ICELAND....The Bush administration wants to remove the last of our fighter jets from Iceland:

Pentagon officials contend the planes, remnants of an operation started four decades ago to guard the North Atlantic against a Soviet threat, no longer need to be based in Iceland and can be used better elsewhere. But Iceland, which has no military, regards the aircraft as essential to its air defense and, even more important, as a symbol of a U.S. commitment to defend the nation.

....While U.S. officials argue that the threat in the North Atlantic is no longer what it was during the Cold War, Icelandic officials warn of leaving their country without any air defense.

"September 11th wasn't supposed to happen, either," Agustsson said. "An enemy always looks for the weakest link."

The background here is murky, and it could be that the Bushies really did screw up the diplomatic spadework on this. It would hardly be a surprise.

But surely I can't be the only one who thinks that if Iceland feels like (a) they are the weakest link in NATO, and (b) they need military protection, then maybe they ought to have a military of their own? I mean, I'm happy that they've pledged $4 million in reconstruction assistance to Iraq, but I'm sure we'd also be willing to sell them a few F-15s of their own if they really think they need them.

Kevin Drum 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERIA....Amy Sullivan reports that Tucker Carlson, Al Sharpton, Cornel West, and Alan Dershowitz are all headed to Liberia. That's quite an eclectic group. I wonder if they'll have anything interesting to say when they get back?

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHUCK HAGEL COMES ON BOARD....Via Tapped, I see that Chuck Hagel, a generally respected Republican, isn't happy with the administration's stonewalling over Uranium-Gate:

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN's "Late Edition" the intelligence flap "is bigger, wider, deeper than just about one person."

"To just throw George Tenet's body from the train and say, 'That takes care of the problem,' I don't think is the way to do this," Hagel said.

Hagel pointed to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney as part of the process that led to Bush including the report in the annual presidential address.

This whole controversy is about genuinely serious stuff, not just partisan bashing, so it's good to see that there are also Republicans who are concerned about whether our intelligence services are doing an adequate job, whether the NSC is doing its job, and whether the Iraqi threat was really as overwhelming as George Bush said it was.

Good for Hagel for being willing to raise these questions.

Kevin Drum 10:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FIGHTING TERRORISM....I'd like to follow up a bit on my post earlier this morning about increasing the size of the Army. It actually gets right to the heart of one of my primary disagreements with the hawks in both the administration and the blogosphere.

My question is this: we have the biggest military establishment on the planet by far. We spend more on national defense than the rest of the planet combined. Our technology is almost infinitely advanced beyond anyone else and our lead is accelerating. If this isn't enough to fight global terrorism, what is?

See, I simply don't understand how conventional military force is supposed to win the war on terror. It's great for invading countries, but even the most hawkish hawks can't seriously suppose that we can increase the size of the Army enough to invade any more countries beyond Iraq, can they? Especially since they disdain the idea of cooperating with other countries.

But we still hear the usual arguments: we're desperately short of aircraft carriers. We spend less than 4% of GDP on defense and could easily afford to spend more. We're stretched thin in Iraq.

But in what way would another couple of carrier groups help the war on terrorism? Or a missile defense system that doesn't work? These kinds of things can help with conventional military assaults, but that's not primarily what we need to fight terrorism.

So why don't we hear about alternatives? If Donald Rumsfeld, for example, proposed a fifth branch of the military solely dedicated to fighting foreign terrorism, that might be an interesting idea. Special ops, intelligence, economic interdiction, and so forth all in one integrated command structure. I don't know that it's a good idea, mind you, but at least if I heard it I would think that he was truly trying to address the threat of terrorism, not just jawboning to build his empire and satisfy the appetites of the service chiefs.

This is yet another cultural gulf, I suppose. Conservatives seem to me to be stuck on the idea of building up our conventional military forces in the vain hope that we can somehow control the world and become safer through sheer force of arms. I, on the other hand, would like to calm down and hear some new ideas designed to truly solve the problem. Threatening to invade Iran might sound awfully muscular, but it's a pipe dream and it wouldn't work anyway.

How about some real suggestions? Both liberals and conservatives are welcome to propose some.

UPDATE: Tapped weighs in here, suggesting that Donald Rumsfeld's personnel reforms should be given a chance before we think about increasing troop strength. I'm OK with that, but I still have my doubts that using conventional military forces to invade countries is really an effective way of fighting terrorism in the first place.

Kevin Drum 10:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PIGEONHOLING MICKEY....Is Mickey Kaus a liberal who provides a dose of tough love to fellow liberals? Or is he really just a conservative in sheep's clothing? LA Observed has some observations.

Kevin Drum 9:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ONE DOWN, TWO TO GO?....Tacitus thinks we need to increase the size of the army:

File under "barn door closed, horses gone": do we need a bigger military? After all, we've got, er, three whole brigades untasked. Legislators need to stop waiting for the DoD self-analysis wheels to turn and simply mandate a force increase, particularly for the Army. If Iranian and North Korean reactors are coming online, there will be work to do shortly.

Say, um, Tacitus, buddy, do you really mean that? My back-of-the-envelope guess for an invasion of Iran is about a million troops, and maybe another half a million for North Korea assuming the South Koreans are on board. Are you seriously suggesting that we ought to be thinking about occupying these two countries in the near future?

Then again, why not? Apparently the Pentagon is thinking that way too:

Still, [Douglas Feith] and other Pentagon officials said, they are studying the lessons of Iraq closely to ensure that the next U.S. takeover of a foreign country goes more smoothly.

"We're going to get better over time," promised Lawrence Di Rita, a special assistant to Rumsfeld.

I really wish you guys would keep this stuff to yourself. I like it a lot better when it's just conspiracy theorizing from the left.

Kevin Drum 8:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 20, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

POSTWAR IRAQ....If you're in the mood for some good news about postwar Iraq, the LA Times has a pair of stories today that you should read: one that says things are going pretty well in the Kurdish north, and one that says things are going pretty well in the city of Basra.

Unfortunately, the basic story here is that (a) things were going pretty well in the Kurdish north anyway, and (b) Basra is under British control. Still, good news is good news, and as the stories indicate, even if Baghdad is a different kettle of fish there are lessons that can probably be learned from these success stories.

Kevin Drum 3:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GEORGE BUSH'S REAL PROBLEM....Do people really care whether or not George Bush manipulated intelligence to build a case for war? Bush supporter Emily Sims says no:

"I don't care about it at all," says Sims, while her mother and sister nod in agreement, "because we don't know anything about this [classified] intelligence. We can't know, as ordinary citizens, and we don't want to know -- it's scary -- and that's why we have leaders, and they worry about that for us. I trust him to lead. I trust that he's doing good things in the Oval Office and not bad things, if you know what I mean.

This trust in Bush is clearly at the core of his appeal, but despite Sims' enthusiasm that trust is slipping. The most dramatic evidence of this is the latest Zogby poll, which asked respondents if they were in favor of re-electing George Bush or electing someone new. In just the past five weeks, Bush's re-elect number has dropped from 49%-38% a delta of +11% to 46%-47%, a delta of -1%. That's a 12 point drop.

Why the dramatic decline? By themselves, the missing WMD and a few mistaken assertions are probably not enough to hurt Bush as long as his supporters continue to think that he was dealing with the American public in good faith. However, "good faith" is the key here, and what can hurt him are the ongoing revelations indicating that he's been choosing his words a little more carefully than an honest man should need to. More from Zogby:

When asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for President Bush in the next presidential election if weapons of mass destruction are never found, an overwhelming majority (75%) of respondents said it would make no difference. One in five (20%) said they would be less likely to vote for him, and 5% said they would be more likely to support him.

This is important. The 75% who say the WMD doesn't matter are simply the hardcore Bush supporters and Bush haters. But of that middle 25%, 20% of them say they are less likely to vote for him if the WMD isn't found. That's a huge number when you consider that presidential elections are normally decided by only a few percentage points, and my guess is that it's based as much on questions of Bush's honesty as it is on the WMD itself.

That growing doubt about Bush's honesty is what the president's supporters are really concerned about, and that's why they pretend to think that Democrats are loons for continuing to press their doubts over George Bush's trustworthiness. Don't listen to them.

POSTSCRIPT: Just as a point of curiosity, why do you suppose that 5% of the country says that they would be more likely to vote for Bush if WMD is never found? Does that make any sense?

Kevin Drum 3:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FORGED DOCUMENTS UPDATE....So who was it that forged those Nigerien documents that started this whole mess? It's a bit of a sideshow, to be sure, but today we get a step closer to the answer. Apparently they came from an Italian journalist named Elisabetta Burba, although her ultimate source is still unclear:

Corriere della Sera, an Italian daily, quoted Elisabetta Burba as saying her source "in the past proved to be reliable." Burba, who writes for the weekly Panorama, refused to reveal her source.

"I realized that this could be a worldwide scoop, but that's exactly why I was very worried," Burba was quoted as saying. "If it turned out to be a hoax and I published it, I would have ended my career."

....Corriere della Sera quoted the journalist as saying she went to Niger to try to check out the authenticity of the documents. Burba told the paper that she was suspicious because the documents spoke of such a large amount of uranium 500 tons and were short on details on how it would be transported and arrangements for final delivery.

On her return, she said, she told Panorama's top editor that "the story seemed fake to me." After discussions at the magazine, which is owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Burba brought the documents to the U.S. Embassy.

"I went by myself and give them the dossier. No one said anything more to me, and in any case the decision not to publish it was already taken with no further way to check out the reliability of those papers, we chose not to risk" it, she said.

I suppose Burba will talk eventually, or else someone else will ferret out the truth. Still, it gives you pause for thought that an Italian journalist who very much wanted to believe the documents nonetheless quickly concluded that they were fakes, while the CIA apparently didn't figure it out for several months and even then not until the IAEA told them.

This does not give one tremendous confidence in the analytic powers of our intelligence services, does it?

Kevin Drum 11:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE ON KRISTOL....While complaining about Democrats' alleged lack of seriousness, Kristol makes this observation:

Not that anyone in the Democratic party is prepared to defend Saddam's deposed regime, mind you. Or dares to propose that Iraq is worse off now that Saddam is gone. Or that America is worse off now that Saddam is gone. Or that the Middle East is worse off now that Saddam is gone.

Um, is that the new standard for foreign wars these days? That they more than likely haven't made things any worse?

That seems like sort of a low bar to me.

Kevin Drum 9:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THANKS FOR THE ADVICE, BUT....Conservatives are justifiably tired of the "Bush is dumb" meme, but they have a stale and self-serving meme of their own that they really ought to put to bed. It goes something like this: "Bush is unbelievably clever and all his missteps are really just part of a cunning plan to trap Democrats into self immolation."

Uh huh. Via James Joyner, I see that Bill Kristol plays this to the hilt in the latest issue of the Weekly Standard (the title of his piece is "Bush Suckers the Democrats"), in which he tries rather pitifully to pretend that the uranium controversy is solely about 16 little words in the State of the Union address, not about the broader issue of whether George Bush pushed us into war based on wildly inflated estimates of Iraqi strength. He ends with this:

God knows the Bush administration is not beyond criticism for either its prewar planning or its execution of postwar reconstruction efforts. And it would be a valuable contribution to our politics if such criticism were mounted by the Democratic party--acting as an intelligent, loyal opposition. But it's a free country, and if the Democrats prefer instead to act as a pathologically disgruntled lunatic fringe, then it'll be their problem more than anyone else's.

Certainly the White House won't think it a problem. That muffled sound you hear coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the sound of George W. Bush chuckling at the success of his nefarious scheme. Misunderestimated, once again.

Isn't it funny? Every time the Democrats actually attack vigorously and seem to be doing some real damage, why, they're completely missing the point! They really ought to be attacking something else! The usual candidates for attack by some odd coincidence are things that are even more hawkish and conservative than George Bush himself is willing to advocate (nuking Mecca, calling for the dismemberment of the UN, increasing the military budget 50%, etc.).

Sad, isn't it, that Democrats are attacking the president for the peccadillo of starting a war against a country that turned out to pose little or no threat to anyone? And sadder still that Democrats can't be an "intelligent, loyal opposition" like the Republicans always were when they were in the minority, isn't it? Sad indeed....

Kevin Drum 9:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 19, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

YET ANOTHER, UM, BREAKDOWN IN COMMUNICATION....Oliver Willis brings us a brand new example of a George Bush war claim that he didn't bother running by the CIA. I hardly need to add that it turned out not to be true, do I?

Something tells me that the nation's press corp is now busily engaged in reviewing every single speech that George Bush and the rest of his administration made from September forward. I wonder what they'll find?

Kevin Drum 10:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT DID DICK CHENEY KNOW AND WHEN DID HE KNOW IT?....Last week, while Time and Newsweek were featuring Iraq and Uranium-Gate on their covers, U.S. News & World Report decided to go instead with the 100th anniversary of the airplane. This week, in an effort to make up for this appallingly poor news judgment, their cover features....a ranking of the best hospitals in the United States.

Sheesh. On the other hand, they do have an interesting tidbit in the current issue about the person who, despite almost certainly being right in the middle of the uranium controversy, has so far managed to keep his hands remarkably pristine Dick Cheney:

U.S. News has learned that a document prepared by Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, at almost exactly the same time as the State of the Union address omitted any reference to Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium from Niger. The chronology of events is puzzling--even to insiders: On Saturday, January 25, just three days before the address, officials gathered in the White House Situation Room to vet intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs and its links to terrorism. Libby made the presentation. After several hours, Libby summarized the conclusions of the meeting and turned them into a written case for war against Saddam.

Libby's document was sent to Secretary of State Colin Powell; it was intended as the "script" for his presentation to the United Nations on February 5. The puzzler: The charge that Iraq sought uranium from Niger was not in Libby's paper. Why not? "The agency had so discredited it," says one participant, "they didn't want to bring it up."

Puzzling indeed. If I were President Bush, I'd be pissed. Apparently Cheney and Libby figured that Powell was too smart to let the uranium claim sneak into any speech he was reading, but that Bush would happily recite whatever they put in front of him. That's not a very pretty picture, is it?

Kevin Drum 9:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AUSSIE INSULTS....The actual subject of this post over at Road to Surfdom is of no interest at all, but it did provoke a remarkably vitriolic comment thread. Today, commenter Geoff Honnor collected a definitive list of the insults exchanged amongst the participants, and I felt that it ought to be displayed and saved for posterity. Here it is:

Pea-heart.
Nerd-infested rantblabber.
Disgruntled Underachievers Club.
Lord of the Flies.
Wingnut.
Lonely little loser.
Total and complete wussbag.
Get a goddamn life or get back under your rock.
Heartless hypocrites.
Sociopathic
Patronising
Glass jaw
Desperate
Insecure
Paradigm (pet hate of mine)
Dog whistler
Lame Jokester
Bitchy
Ridiculous evasion.
Selective compassion.
Grub
Prick
Undeserving father.
Privileged, private school, white male heterosexual, WASP, eastern suburbs pro-scribbler, right winger.
Anti-Americanism.
Little Big Man.
Hole digger.
Mate of George Bush (may not necessarily be taken as an insult, of course)
Offensive
Moral equivalence
moral non-equivalence
Goose
Gosling
Right Whinger
Mediocre trollop (ironic usage)
Timmmeee!
Sad, withering little psyche
Lefty compassion (ironic usage)

This is a bit more colorful and sprightly than the average American insult exchange, don't you think? Thanks, Geoff, for performing this valuable piece of cultural anthropology for us.

Kevin Drum 4:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HARASSED GAY STUDENT WINS SETTLEMENT....Here's some good news. Remember 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 ACLU sued the Pulaski County School District and yesterday they settled the case:

A teenager disciplined by his school district for talking about being gay will get $25,000, an apology from school officials and his disciplinary record cleared.

....A general condition of the settlement requires that the school district not disclose a student's sexual orientation or punish a student for talking about his or her sexual orientation outside the classroom.

The ACLU hopes other schools will learn from the suit, said Rita Sklar, who directs the ACLU in Arkansas.

"Public schools aren't above the Constitution," she said, "and they can't get away with silencing gay students and violating their rights."

This was a pretty disgusting case and I'm glad that the school district finally came to its senses. It's not quite up there with Lawrence v. Texas, but it's still a step in the right direction.

Kevin Drum 2:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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16 QUESTIONS....Howard Dean's "16 Questions for the President" is a clever play on the infamous 16 words, and it turns out it's a pretty good list too. Good for him for asking these questions, and good for him for keeping his eye on the bigger picture of the overall administration case for war.

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THE THREAT OF TERRORISM....This excerpt from James Lileks was posted at Instapundit yesterday and subsequently picked up by a bunch of other bloggers as well. Here's what he says:

[Tony] Blair is, at heart, a socialist; Ive no time for half the stuff he wants and most of the stuff hed agree to. But hed get my vote. We can argue about the shape and direction of Western Civ after weve made sure that such a thing will endure.

I dunno. I take terrorism seriously, and I also take seriously the threat of terrorists and unstable states getting hold of weapons of mass destruction. But what can you say about this kind of talk? Do Lileks and the rest of the prowar crowd seriously think that Osama and his ilk have made it doubtful whether western civilization will endure?

To me that just sounds crazy, and I guess maybe that's at the core of the schism in America today. Lileks and his compatriots think the terrorists have the power to bring western civilization to its knees, whereas I think of them as simply a threat that we will rather quickly and efficiently dispatch. They may be scary, but in terms of actual power they are the merest flea on the back of the United States and the rest of the western democracies.

I wonder what it is that causes such vast gulfs in instinctive reaction between people who probably more or less agree on the actual nature of the threat itself?

Kevin Drum 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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URANIUM UPDATE....Here's the morning roundup on uranium, along with a few comments:

  • The Washington Post reports that the Bush administration released eight pages of the October National Intelligence Estimate on Friday, "including various findings supporting Bush's charges against Iraq." It's funny how top secret documents can be rather quickly and easily declassified when they contain information that supports the administration, isn't it? How about releasing the other 82 pages?

  • According to the Post, neither Bush nor Condoleezza Rice read the entire report. I'm fine with Bush not reading it all, but Rice? Isn't that her job?

  • Yesterday's briefing was conducted by a "senior administration official" who insisted on remaining anonymous. That's really annoying. Basically, there are now a few hundred people in Washington who know who it was, but they all have to pretend otherwise and they can't tell the rest of us. Sheesh.

  • Josh Marshall has a transcript of the briefing session and says that the big news is that the White House is now denying that anyone in the administration ever changed the language of the State of the Union address based on CIA doubts. As Josh points out, "That directly contradicts what Alan Foley is reported to have said in Wednesday's closed-door hearing in the Senate."

    However, as Josh also points out, and as you can see for yourself if you take a look at the transcript, the White House's case is now so completely impenetrable that it's hard to know for sure exactly what they're claiming.

By the way, in case you haven't figured this out yet, your best sources for Uranium-Gate information are the Washington Post and Josh Marshall. Between the two of them, you won't miss much.

And for your weekend amusement, below is a screen shot from the White House website showing President Bush hard at work reviewing the State of the Union speech line by line, word by word. Click for more!

UPDATE: How embarrassing I didn't notice that I was originally using a picture from the 2002 State of the Union address. Everything is now fixed and fully up to date. Thanks, Howard.

Kevin Drum 10:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BALANCING THE BUDGET....Could we balance the budget if we just reined in all that wasteful spending so beloved of congressmen through the ages? Dwight Meredith says no.

He's right. I'm all for cutting back on pork and frivolous spending, but that doesn't even come close to balancing the budget. As Dwight points out, if you really want to balance the budget you can either raise taxes or you can make serious cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Everything else is just picking nits.

Kevin Drum 9:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PROPERTY IS THEFT....OR IS IT THE OTHER WAY AROUND?....The RIAA, following up on its ominous threats of a couple of weeks ago, is now issuing a blizzard of subpoenas compelling internet providers to release the names and addresses of people who have been making songs available for sharing over the internet:

The RIAA declined to say Friday how many subpoenas it plans to obtain although court officials said they were issuing them at the rate of about 75 a day. Nor was it clear whether the record companies would sue every person identified through the subpoenas.

"What we don't know is whether the numbers will eventually slow," said Sarah Deutsch, associate general counsel of Verizon Communications Inc., which has received about 150 subpoenas, or whether the blitz is "the beginning of something we'll be seeing for a long time."

One thing seems certain: The RIAA has no plans to send warning letters to the people it targets. Instead, they will simply be sued.

This will undoubtedly set off a technology war as people try to keep their files online anonymously, but I have a feeling that, when push comes to shove, the RIAA strategy will be fairly successful. Why? Because it's going to scare people.

See, over at the Volokh Conspiracy a few days ago, Tyler Cowen was musing about why people think it's OK to steal music but not, for example, OK to steal food. This prompted much learned discussion, but I think this is a case where the correct explanation is also the simplest and most obvious one: it's because people don't think they can get caught stealing music. If it ever became clear that you could take bread from supermarkets with absolute impunity, the theft rate would skyrocket.

This is a dim view of human nature, I know, and most of you are probably sure that you wouldn't start stealing bread even if you had a cloak of invisibility, but I don't believe you. Sorry. Most of us might obey the law due to long and dreary socialization, but at the core of that socialization is the fear of being hauled off to jail by burly guys in blue uniforms. Those burly guys are apparently about to start showing up at your computer, and I suspect that socialization is not far behind.

(Not sure you want to take my word for this? According to the LA Times article linked above, 68% of teenagers say they would stop downloading music "if there were a serious risk" of being fined or jailed. Any further questions?)

Kevin Drum 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ROMAN HOLIDAY....While discussing Howard Dean's electability, Matt Yglesias, tanned and rested and back from Italy, says:

Half of campaigning is misrepresenting your opponent and getting away with it.

Indeed, but what's the other half?

And speaking of Matt, it's good to see you back and blogging away about politics and war and yada yada yada, but, um, what about Italy? Are you going to tell us anything about your trip?

Did you get drunk on lots of Italian wine? Make love to beautiful Italian women? Leak forged Nigerien documents to Italian newspapers?

Don't worry, you can tell us. We'll keep it a secret.

Kevin Drum 9:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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UPROAR IN THE HOUSE....Just in case anyone missed this while giggling at the antics in the House yesterday, here's what started the fracas:

The seeds for Friday's dust-up, the most vitriolic in years in the House, according to longtime observers, were sowed the night before when [Ways and Means chairman Bill] Thomas circulated the Republican draft of a pension-reform bill shortly before midnight and scheduled a committee vote for the morning.

When Democrats arrived Friday for the committee's deliberations, they demanded more time to study the bill. They repaired to the committee library immediately behind the main hearing room, leaving only Stark in the larger room to try to delay the Republicans from acting on the bill.

I'm curious: what do conservative bloggers and commenters think about this? In recent years, House Republicans have routinely prevented Democrats from seeing proposed legislation, and this was just a particularly egregious example. Surely no one can defend Thomas' action in demanding an immediate vote on a 91-page bill without even giving Democrats a chance to read it, let alone debate it.

Right?

Kevin Drum 9:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 18, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TONY BLAIR'S SOURCE....Who was Tony Blair's "entirely separate and credible source" for the Niger uranium allegations? All we know is that according to one British official it was "based on intelligence from a third country that was reliable."

General Glut takes a look at the pieces and concludes that the most likely source is Israeli intelligence. I'm not sure if his case his convincing, but it's at least suggestive. Take a look and decide for yourself.

And as long as you're over there, check out this interesting post. According to Le Monde (quoting La Repubblica), Silvio Berlusconi personally called George Bush three days before the State of the Union address to hawk the Niger documents that we now know were forged. Maybe they can discuss it next week when Berlusconi is scheduled to pay a visit to the Crawford ranch....

Kevin Drum 10:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JOSEPH WILSON ARTICLE....The original New York Times article by Joseph Wilson that kicked off the uranium scandal has now disappeared into the Times' archives. For future reference and undoubtedly in violation of both U.S. and international copyright laws I am reprinting it here. It seems like an important historical document, and I want to be able to refer to it in the future.

So here it is.

(Odd little note: I copied this from the International Herald Tribune site, and it's been slightly edited from the original: there's no mention of "drinking mint tea." Why do you suppose they cut that out?)

What the U.S. envoy who went to Niger didn't find

Joseph C. Wilson IV
Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?

Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

For 23 years, from 1976 to 1998, I was a career foreign service officer and ambassador. In 1990, as charge d'affaires in Baghdad, I was the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam. (I was also a forceful advocate for his removal from Kuwait.) After Iraq, I was President George H.W. Bush's ambassador to Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe; under President Bill Clinton, I helped direct Africa policy for the National Security Council.

Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That's me.

In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the CIA that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake - a form of lightly processed ore - by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990s. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story.

After consulting with the State Department (and through it with Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to Niger), I agreed to make the trip. The mission I undertook was discreet but by no means secret. While the CIA paid my expenses (my time was offered pro bono), I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the U.S. government.

In late February 2002, I arrived in Niger's capital, Niamey, where I had been a diplomat in the mid-1970's and visited as a National Security Council official in the late-1990's.

The next morning, I met with Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick at the embassy. The embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger's uranium business, so I was not surprised when the ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq, and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington. Nevertheless, she and I agreed that my time would be best spent interviewing people who had been in government when the deal supposedly took place, which was before her arrival. I spent the next eight days meeting current and former government officials and people associated with the country's uranium business.

It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.

Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger's uranium business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister and probably the president. In short, there's simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired. (As for the actual memorandum, I never saw it. But news accounts have pointed out that the documents had glaring errors - they were signed, for example, by officials who were no longer in government - and were probably forged. And then there's the fact that Niger formally denied the charges.) In early March, I arrived in Washington and promptly provided a detailed briefing to the CIA. I later shared my conclusions with the State Department African Affairs Bureau. There was nothing secret in my report.

Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in U.S. government archives confirming my mission. They should include the ambassador's report, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a CIA report summing up my trip, and an answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally).

I thought the Niger matter was settled and went back to my life. I did take part in the Iraq debate, arguing that a strict containment regime backed by the threat of force was preferable to an invasion. In September 2002, however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a "white paper" asserting that Saddam and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium from an African country.

Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.

The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them. He replied that perhaps the president was speaking about one of the other three African countries that produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia. At the time, I accepted the explanation. I didn't know that in December, a month before the president's address, the State Department had published a fact sheet that mentioned the Niger case.

Those are the facts surrounding my efforts. The vice president's office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government.

The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses. (It's worth remembering that in his March "Meet the Press" appearance, Cheney said that Saddam was "trying once again to produce nuclear weapons.") At a minimum, Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president's behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted. I was convinced before the war that the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam required a vigorous and sustained international response to disarm him. Iraq possessed and had used chemical weapons; it had an active biological weapons program and quite possibly a nuclear research program - all of which were in violation of U.N. resolutions. Having encountered Saddam and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.

But were these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America's foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information. For this reason, questioning the selective use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq is neither idle sniping nor "revisionist history," as Bush has suggested. The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.

The writer, U.S. ambassador to Gabon from 1992 to 1995, is an international business consultant.

Kevin Drum 10:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE CASE FOR WAR....Joe Rospars examines the current status of the case for war with Iraq. Unfortunately and I say this as a former supporter of the war and one who still sometimes thinks it was a good idea I'd say he pretty much nails it.

The evidence currently at hand suggests that Saddam Hussein was not a danger to the region but might have become one sometime in the next 5-10 years. But if the standard for preemptive war is merely that someone might become a danger in the next 5-10 years, we've got a mighty long list of countries to go after....

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POLITICS IS A DIRTY BUSINESS....So you think politics has been getting steadily nastier for the past decade, do you? Well, check out this 1940 speech by vice presidential candidate Henry Wallace, who was, relatively speaking, a rather cerebral, nonpartisan, and gentlemanly fellow:

Most Republicans may not realize it, but their party is the party of appeasement in the United States today. I do not wish to imply that the Republican leaders are willfully and consciously giving aid and comfort to Hitler. [No, no, of course not, Henry....] But I wish to emphasize that replacement of Roosevelt, even if it were by the most patriotic leadership that could be found, would cause Hitler to rejoice.

The headline in the Des Moines Register the next day was:

Nazis Prefer GOP

Hah! Take that, Republicans! And you thought Willie Horton was bad....

UPDATE: On the other hand, I have to admit that this really does seem to set a new standard for incivility.

UPDATE 2: Fox News (here) and Salon (here) have somewhat more entertaining versions of what really happened:

Apparently believing he had heard a challenge from a Republican, [congressman Pete Stark] said, "You little wimp. Come on. Come over here and make me. I dare you."

Laughter rippled through the room as Stark added, "You little fruitcake. I said you are a fruitcake."

Stark's remarks were directed to Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., a 50-year-old Colorado Republican who later said the 71-year-old Stark "threatened me with physical harm. It was entirely appropriate for the chairman of that committee to call the sergeant-at-arms and the Capitol Police so order in the committee could be maintained."

"I fully intended to defend myself," McInnis added later.

Oh my.

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RORSCHACH TEST....I had a (very short) conversation with a friend recently about parking spaces for compact cars. Horrible things, we agreed, a blight on western civilization. Whose fault are they?

My immediate reaction was that the answer was obvious: shopping centers are required by law to have a certain number of parking spaces, and compact spaces are a devious way of keeping parking lots small while still meeting the legal requirements.

My conservative-leaning friend had exactly the opposite instinctive reaction: he figured they were probably mandated by lefty city councils trying to promote the purchase of clean, economical compact cars.

Neither of us, of course, had any idea what the real answer was. What do you think?

UPDATE: A quick Google search suggests the correct answer. This article is typical.

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WHERE'S THE WMD?....Asked about the infamous 16 words and how they got into the State of the Union address, White House press spokesman Scott McClellan asked everyone to take a step back yesterday:

You have to go back to the bigger picture. That was one piece of a much broader case against Saddam Hussein....

That might be good advice, so let's ask the broader and far more important question: where is the WMD?

I'm reminded of this by a couple of things. First, I noticed this sentence about special ops teams in Iraq from Max Boot's article "The New American Way of War" in Foreign Affairs (summary only online):

They had been operating in Iraq for several months, focusing especially on the search for weapons of mass destruction and missile launcher sites in western Iraq.

I had forgotten about that, but he's right. In addition to the UN inspectors, who may have been doing an inadequate job in the view of the Bush administration, we had our own troops searching for WMD in Iraq for several months before the war. But they came up empty handed. Did that cause any doubts in Washington?

Today in the Globe and Mail, Canadian analyst Sunil Ram goes further and says directly that Iraq didn't have a nuclear program and didn't have chemical or biological weapons of any significance either. What's more, he said American officials had been told this in early 2001:

"The people doing the presentation were weapons inspectors and former weapons inspectors and senior members of (U.S. government) agencies," Mr. Ram said in an interview.

....The conclusion they reached, he said, was that "Iraq's nuclear weapons program (didn't exist) because (the Iraqi government) had dismantled it."

He said the message of experts at the meeting was heard loud and clear by many U.S. military and political officials.

....The Washington meeting dealt specifically with nuclear weapons, but Mr. Ram said it also addressed chemical and biological weapons to a smaller extent. Even there, he said, the danger to the world from such weapons was dismissed by the presenters.

If there were such weapons in Iraq at that time, he said, "they were negligible in quantity and militarily meaningless."

After 9/11, however, apparently the Bush administration no longer wished to believe this.

So: where is the WMD? In March Donald Rumsfeld said not just that Iraq had WMD, but pointed out their exact location:

We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.

So it's not the entire country we need to search, it's just the areas around Baghdad and Tikrit. Except that there's nothing there.

I have long thought that Saddam did indeed have chemical and biological weapons and that the Bush administration is genuinely surprised that we haven't been able to find them. But the more I read, the more I wonder about that. I wonder if the intelligence regarding those weapons was far less compelling than we've been led to believe and the Bushies aren't quite as surprised as they pretend to be.

This is indeed the bigger picture. But it looks no better for the Bush administration than the 16 words. In fact, it looks considerably worse.

UPDATE: Tim Dunlop suggests that Sunil Ram's recollections are not entirely accurate. After looking at a transcript of the conference's keynote address, he says:

Yes, it definitely puts a huge question mark over Saddam's nuclear capability, but it leaves no doubt that he was trying to pursue such devices, as he was other weapons, including conventional weapons. It also indicates that they thought inspections were essential to confirm their intelligence reports.

He also thinks that the Bushies really did think their suspicions about WMD were correct and really are surprised that they haven't found any yet. Despite what I said above, I imagine he's probably right about that.

Transcripts of the entire conference are here.

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....My mother just got back from Hawaii where she apparently spent most of her time trying to lure cats into her room with saucers of milk so in honor of her return this week's cat blogging features the CalMom's cats: a rare photo of the reclusive Lucy (on the left) and a not-so-rare photo of the lovely Cadbury preening in front of the piano (on the right).

BONUS CATS: First, for the over-18 crowd, we have Live Nude Cats. Don't say you weren't warned. Then we have the heartwarming tale of Gizmo, a 6-week-old kitten rescued from solitary confinement after being arrested by the New York transit police. Finally, CNN reports on the latest consumer electronics fad from Japan: a device that translates meows and purrs into human language.

BONUS DOGS: We're all for equal time for the opposition here at Calpundit, so for you dog lovers out there we have Pathological Dog Adoration Alert from Rachel Lucas today. And Stephen Green, taking a break from his cookbook, has pictures of his 17-week puppy Xander. Even for a cat guy like me, Xander is almost intolerably adorable.

I'm off for some more blood tests and an X-ray now. Back later.

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WMD GOSSIP....Nothing really new this morning on the WMD front, but we do have some gossip:

  • David Kelly, who the British government has fingered as the person who told the BBC that Tony Blair "sexed up" an Iraq dossier, went missing a couple of days ago. Today police found a body that matches Kelly's description a few miles from his home.

  • The White House was so angry over Jeffrey Kofman's story on ABC News about poor morale among U.S. troops in Iraq that it alerted Matt Drudge to the fact that Kofman is both gay and Canadian. A twofer!

    Coming on the heels of the smear campaign against Joseph Wilson, this is all starting to sound rather Nixonian, isn't it? These guys are getting desperate.

However, if you're in the mood to send an email to the White House to complain about this, you might want to think twice.

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July 17, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WHITE HOUSE IN "BATTLE MODE"....Man, the press is finally calling them the way they see them. This is from Friday's Washington Post:

Administration officials acknowledged yesterday that their damage control efforts over President Bush's use of tainted intelligence have been inadequate, and said they plan to put out additional facts in coming days.

....That would represent a change in tack. Bush's staff, during his campaign and in the White House, has typically handled controversies by trying to ignore them on the assumption that reporters and the public eventually would be distracted by other issues.

Sure, it's only on page A12, but it's a start! Read the whole story for more.

And prepare yourself for an epic blizzard of "additional facts" coming from the White House over the next few days. Should be fun.

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WE'RE #1....James Joyner thinks we've finally reached the point where we're spending more on defense than the entire rest of the planet combined, and he's got the numbers to prove it.

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TIMELINE UPDATE....In a story dated yesterday, AP reported that the CIA didn't get hold of the forged Niger documents until after the State of the Union speech in January.

Today, the Washington Post reports that that isn't quite right:

The State Department received copies of what would turn out to be forged documents suggesting that Iraq tried to purchase uranium oxide from Niger three months before the president's State of the Union address, administration officials said.

The documents, which officials said appeared to be of "dubious authenticity," were distributed to the CIA and other agencies within days, but the U.S. government waited four months to turn them over to United Nations weapons inspectors who had been demanding to see evidence of U.S. and British claims that Iraq's attempted purchase of uranium oxide violated U.N. resolutions and was among the reasons to go to war. State Department officials could not say yesterday why they did not turn over the documents when the inspectors asked for them in December.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm having trouble keeping up with the changes to the party line. It seems to change hourly.

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"MYSTERY OFFICIAL" REVEALED....So who is the "mystery official" who insisted on including the uranium allegation in the State of the Union address even though the CIA said it was dubious? The invaluable Josh Marshall, who subscribes to the invaluable Nelson Report, says that Chris Nelson knows the answer.

That answer is here, along with some speculation that (a) the CIA is really fed up, (b) Tenet is no longer willing to take the fall alone, (c) Condi Rice now has some difficult questions to answer, and (d) even Republicans are now starting to take this seriously.

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LEFT HAND, MEET RIGHT HAND....What the hell? Apparently part of the campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson's Niger report is to point out that he never even mentioned the notorious forged documents in his report. What a boob! Time magazine puts it this way:

Government officials also chide Wilson for not delving into the details of the now infamous forged papers that pointed to a sale of uranium to Iraq. When Tenet issued his I-take-the-blame statement on the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium connection last week, he took a none-too-subtle jab at Wilson's report. "There was no mention in the report of forged documents or any suggestion of the existence of documents at all," Tenet wrote.

But today we get this:

The CIA did not receive the now-discredited documents that were a key source of the Bush administration's claim that Iraq sought uranium in Africa until after President Bush's State of the Union address, U.S. officials say.

So which is it? Is Wilson a boob for not checking out the documents, or did we not even get our hands on the documents until February 2003?

If the order of the day is to discredit Wilson, shouldn't these guys at least be checking with each other first to make sure they keep their stories straight?

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BACK FROM ITALY....Matt Yglesias wishes the world to know that he is back and blogging up a storm. Consider the world notified, Matt.

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NAACP UPDATE....The three Democratic candidates who were blasted by NAACP President Kweisi Mfume for missing a forum on Monday have been pounded into submission after being allowed to make amends on Wednesday:

Following [Dennis] Kucinich's five-minute speech, the moderator goaded him to offer an official apology, saying: "We have heard the explanation, does the congressman need to say something else?"

Kucinich replied: "I'm very sorry I wasn't able to be here, amazing grace, how sweet it is, once was lost, now I'm found."

I'm sorry, but regardless of whether the candidates were right or wrong, this is revolting. A display of raw power is one thing, but publicly treating presidential candidates like small children "does the congressman need to say something else?" is beyond the pale. They should be ashamed of themselves.

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WHO'S THE "MYSTERY OFFICIAL"?....Things seem to be closing in. CIA chief George Tenet testified before a Senate committee yesterday and said, first, that he was out of the loop:

CIA Director George J. Tenet told the Senate intelligence committee yesterday that his staff did not bring to his attention a questionable statement about Iraq seeking uranium in Africa before President Bush delivered his State of the Union address.

...."Members were stunned," one Democratic senator in the meeting said, "because he said he basically wasn't aware of the sentence until recently."

But then he said he was in the loop and knows who was pushing to have that sentence in the speech in the first place:

Sen. Dick Durbin, who was present for a 4 1/2-hour appearance by Tenet behind closed doors with Intelligence Committee members Wednesday, said Tenet named the official. But the Illinois Democrat said that person's identity could not be revealed because of the confidentiality of the proceedings.

....Durbin, appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," said that Tenet "certainly told us who the person was who was insistent on putting this language in which the CIA knew to be incredible, this language about the uranium shipment from Africa."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded by basically calling Durbin a liar.

So: Tenet didn't know the uranium claim was dubious, but he did argue to have the claim watered down and does know who he was arguing against.

This is becoming a very tangled web.

Kevin Drum 8:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 16, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

"NOT BEYOND THE BOUNDS OF POSSIBILITY"....Remember that little misunderstanding about Iraq buying uranium from Niger? Sure you do. Well, the CIA may have backed down from that claim, but Tony Blair is sticking to his guns:

I stand by entirely the claim that was made last September....We know in the 1980s that Iraq purchased from Niger over 270 tons of uranium, and therefore it is not beyond the bounds of possibility let's at least put it like this that they went back to Niger again. That is why I stand by entirely the statement that was made in the September dossier.

That's reassuring, isn't it? I guess "not beyond the bounds of possibility" is now the standard for arguments in favor of going to war.

Tony Blair is in a lot of trouble.

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QUESTION OF THE DAY....What's the largest U.S. city that's not part of the interstate highway system? Answer here.

NOTE: This answer comes us to us courtesy of the residents of this benighted city themselves. I have no independent verification of whether they are correct or not. Alternate candidates with populations over 440,000 are welcome.

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ABUSE OF POWER....Valerie Plame is an energy analyst for a private firm. She is also the wife of Joseph Wilson, the former diplomat who sparked off Uranium-Gate ten days ago with a New York Times article saying that he had investigated the Niger uranium claims last year and found them wanting.

On Monday, Robert Novak wrote this in his syndicated column:

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report.

Today, David Corn asks a question in The Nation:

Did senior Bush officials blow the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security--and break the law--in order to strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others?

....The sources for Novak's assertion about Wilson's wife appear to be "two senior administration officials." If so, a pair of top Bush officials told a reporter the name of a CIA operative who apparently has worked under what's known as "nonofficial cover" and who has had the dicey and difficult mission of tracking parties trying to buy or sell weapons of mass destruction or WMD material. If Wilson's wife is such a person--and the CIA is unlikely to have many employees like her--her career has been destroyed by the Bush administration. (Assuming she did not tell friends and family about her real job, these Bush officials have also damaged her personal life.) Without acknowledging whether she is a deep-cover CIA employee, Wilson says, "Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career. This is the stuff of Kim Philby and Aldrich Ames."

....Bush and his crew abused and misused intelligence to make their case for war. Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation's counter-proliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score. It is a sign that with this gang politics trumps national security.

This just gets uglier and uglier, and I hope the mainstream press having finally smelled blood will follow this up. If Corn's accusations are true, this is an appalling abuse of power by the administration that not only blows an agent's cover, but reduces the effectiveness of an important CIA program and makes it harder for the CIA to recruit similar agents in the future.

I hope they think it was worth it.

UPDATE: Time magazine has more background on the White House campaign to discredit Wilson here.

UPDATE 2: Mark Kleiman ruminates a bit on what this might all mean, and he's not pleased at the possibilities.

You know, GM would have survived Ralph Nader's crusade against the Corvair if only they hadn't sent a private investigator after him and then lied about it. I have a feeling the Bush administration might not have learned this lesson.

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"MISTAKEN ESTIMATES"....Speaking of Kenneth Pollack....

Pollack has an article about Persian Gulf security in the current issue of Foreign Affairs and I note with amusement the following paragraph:

As for Iran, according to the latest estimates of U.S. intelligence and even of the International Atomic Energy Agency, its nuclear program has gone into overdrive and unless stopped -- from inside or outside -- is likely to produce one or more nuclear weapons within five years. (Of course, the mistaken estimates of Iraq's nuclear program over the last 20 years reinforce the uncertainty underlying all such assessments.)

Yes indeedy.

UPDATE: This has been corrected based on an email from Foreign Affairs. The online version from which I originally copied the excerpt says "within a decade." The print version, which is correct, says "within five years." (The online version has since been corrected.)

This is actually kind of ironic since I first read it in the print edition but cut and pasted the text from the online edition. I didn't even notice that they were different.

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OUT OF IRAQ BY NEXT YEAR?....Paul Bremer is ready to move on:

Now that the governing council has been seated, Bremer told journalists, the next task facing Iraq is the creation of a constitution "written by Iraqis for Iraqis." The council is expected to name a constitutional conference by September, and experts have said it might take a year to write the country's new basic laws.

"Once approved, democratic free and fair elections will be held in Iraq for a fully sovereign Iraqi government, and then our job is over," Bremer said.

....When asked about a timetable for an end to the occupation, Bremer said: "The timing of how long the coalition stays here is effectively now in the hands of the Iraqi people. It's up to them.

"My personal preference is that it should happen as quickly as it can consistent with writing a good constitution largely because then I get to go home," he said.

I don't want to make too much out of a single quote, but this really doesn't sound like the kind of thing Bremer should be staying. I don't think there are any serious analysts who believe that the United States can successfully rebuild a stable Iraq within a year, and I don't understand why Bremer would be building false hopes that this might be the case.

I hope this isn't motivated by a desire to be largely finished with the occupation before next year's election.

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STEM CELLS...."Lie" is such an ugly word, but Chris Mooney reminds us today that George Bush was seriously, um, bending the truth back in 2001 during his famous stem cell speech. Here's what he said:

As a result of private research, more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist. They were created from embryos that have already been destroyed, and they have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research.

But as Timothy Noah points out in Slate, at the time Bush made this statement the actual number of usable stem cell lines was....one.

At least it wasn't zero. That means he was closer to the truth with stem cells than he was with Iraq's WMD....

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NO KUFFNER TODAY....Charles Kuffner emails to say that his site is down due to a domain registry screwup. He'll be back eventually, but there's no telling when....

UPDATE: He's back!

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THE IRAQI NUCLEAR BOMB PROGRAM....Josh Marshall reminds me today to link to this very interesting analysis by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post today. You should read the whole thing carefully, since you have to pay attention to really follow the argument, but the gist of it is that evidence for Saddam Hussein's nuclear programs kept dwindling away last year as the various allegations were checked out. By the time George Bush gave his State of the Union address, the African uranium and the aluminum tubes were all that were left, so despite the fact that both pieces of evidence were highly questionable, they stayed in the speech.

Pincus' timeline is provocative, but it also piqued my curiosity: even if the specific evidence in the State of the Union speech was dubious, what was the general prewar assessment of Saddam's nuclear bomb program? Should George Bush have been talking about it at all?

So I pulled my copy of The Threatening Storm off the shelf and reread the section on nuclear weapons (pp. 173-175). It's unequivocal: writing in late 2002, Kenneth Pollack says there is a "consensus" that Iraq has an active nuclear program; it employs as many as 14,000 workers; experts "unanimously" agree that Iraq is working to enrich uranium; and Iraq might be able to build a bomb as early as 2004.

But unlike chemical and biological weapons, which might yet be found, a nuclear program is too big to hide. If we haven't found it by now, it just doesn't exist, and that means that something that was "unanimously" agreed upon in late 2002 has turned out to be flatly wrong.

By the end of January, with UN inspectors roaming freely around Iraq, the evidence for a nuclear program was dwindling fast. For some reason, though, Bush's advisors felt that chemical and biological weapons weren't enough for his State of the Union speech, so they seized on what little was left in order to keep the threat of nuclear bombs alive. That's bad enough, but even worse is how the collective intelligence agencies of the world misjudged what was happening in Iraq so badly. This isn't a small point of interpretation, it's a case of absolute certainty about a massive technical and industrial program that turned out to be complete fiction.

How did that happen?

Kevin Drum 10:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE NUANCES OF GEORGE BUSH....Max Boot writes about the uranium scandal today in the LA Times. We get the usual talking points intelligence is by nature fragmentary, Clinton bombed an aspirin factory, it was only 16 words, etc. and then this:

This administration never pretended that it had firm intelligence that Hussein was about to attack the United States.

Don't you just love the oh-so-careful wording here? The implication is that Bush never oversold the case against Iraq at all and certainly never claimed the United States was in any real danger from Saddam Hussein. Unless, of course, you count things like this from the now infamous State of the Union address:

It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes.

It's undeniable that Bush never flatly claimed that an attack against the United States was only days away, but surely Boot's statement is, um, just a teensy bit disingenuous anyway? Does anyone seriously doubt that George Bush was the cheeleader-in-chief for the notion that that United States and the world were in grave and immediate danger from Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction?

Conservatives sure are getting good at Clintonian levels of hyper-legalistic word selection, aren't they? Care to try again, Max?

Kevin Drum 9:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 15, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

MORE SPINNING....Oh, please, not again:

In a new dispute over interpreting intelligence data, the CIA and other agencies objected vigorously to a Bush administration assessment of the threat of Syria's weapons of mass destruction that was to be presented Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

....U.S. officials told Knight Ridder that [Undersecretary of State John] Bolton was prepared to tell members of a House of Representatives International Relations subcommittee that Syria's development of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons had progressed to such a point that they posed a threat to stability in the region.

....Bolton's planned remarks caused a "revolt" among intelligence experts who thought they inflated the progress Syria has made in its weapons programs, said a U.S. official who isn't from the CIA, but was involved in the dispute.

....The first U.S. official said that after months of complaining about pressure to skew their analyses, rank-and-file intelligence officials "have become emboldened" by the recent public debate over Iraq.

"People are fed up," he said.

Well, I'm fed up, that's for sure. What the hell is going on in the Bush administration?

Kevin Drum 8:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SENDING TROOPS OVERSEAS....In what might be a first for me, I recommend "Rules for Intervention," an article by National Review editor John O'Sullivan. Aside from a couple of gratuitous swipes at liberals it is National Review, after all it's a pretty good summary of how we ought to judge whether or not to intervene in foreign conflicts. I don't agree with every single thing he says in particular, I think I'm a little more open to purely humanitarian interventions than he is but overall he seems to hit the right tone.

UPDATE: On the other hand, this nitwit at NRO seriously thinks that we ought to put Ronald Reagan on the $2 bill. I've got no problem with the aircraft carrier in fact, I think it's appropriate given Reagan's support for the military but dumping Thomas Jefferson and putting Reagan in the same company as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, and Andrew Jackson? Have these people no shame at all?

UPDATE 2: Greg Wythe offers his own views on O'Sullivan's article and asks for some debate. So head on over and give him some.

Kevin Drum 8:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NORTH KOREA UPDATE....Is North Korea close to building a nuclear bomb? The White House says no:

Senior officials said the North Koreans may have been bluffing, in an attempt to extract concessions from the United States when they made the claim last week in talks with U.S. diplomats.

Tests for a telltale gas that is produced when plutonium gets reprocessed so far have been inconclusive. Still, the intelligence community monitors the situation closely, administration officials said.

I hardly need to say that it's difficult to know what to make of this. Given the administration's obvious willingness to publicly spin intelligence information, should we believe this or not? Are the North Koreans really bluffing, or is the administration downplaying the North Korean threat because that's the convenient thing to do?

In either case, while Bush fiddles, former defense secretary William Perry, who has stayed quiet until now, thinks Pyongyang is burning:

Only last winter Perry publicly argued that the North Korea problem was controllable. Now, he said, he has grown to doubt that. "It was manageable six months ago if we did the right things," he said. "But we haven't done the right things."

....In a two-hour interview in his office at Stanford University, Perry said that after conversations with several senior administration officials from different areas of the government, he is persuaded that the Korea policy is in disarray. Showing some emotion, the usually reserved Perry said at one point, "I'm damned if I can figure out what the policy is."

Nor, having had extensive contacts with Asian leaders, does Perry believe that the multilateral diplomatic approach is working. "I see no evidence of that," he said. "The diplomatic track, as nearly as I can discern, is inconsequential."

From his discussions, Perry has concluded the president simply won't enter into genuine talks with Pyongyang's Stalinist government. "My theory is the reason we don't have a policy on this, and we aren't negotiating, is the president himself," Perry said. "I think he has come to the conclusion that Kim Jong Il is evil and loathsome and it is immoral to negotiate with him."

Unfortunately, this sounds plausible. The unwillingness of the administration to do anything even talk with North Korea really does seem to be based more on personal pique than on a sober assessment of what's best for the United States.

Why has Bush gotten a pass on this from the conservative establishment? Hell, even Clinton did something, while Bush has literally done almost nothing for nine months now, seemingly happy to let the situation fester away until eventually we will be backed into a corner with no options left.

Is that what he wants?

Kevin Drum 8:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CLAM CHOWDER WITH DICK....Kris Lofgren had dinner sort of with Dick Gephardt today and blogs about it here. Kris is definitely a true believer in the Gephardt freight train.

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DEFICITS FOREVER....The OMB released new estimates for this year's federal budget deficit today. Here's the lead from the New York Times story:

The White House today projected a $455 billion budget deficit in the current fiscal year, by far the government's largest deficit ever and $150 billion higher than what the administration predicted just five months ago.

This is followed by a torrent of figures showing that this deficit is one of the biggest ever. However, while the fact that OMB estimates have changed so drastically in only five months might be a bit disturbing, the size of the deficit really isn't. In fact, considering the continuing flatness of the economy, a bigger deficit than expected is probably good news.

For the real news, you have to go to the Washington Post:

The federal government will pile up $1.9 trillion in new debt over the next five years and will still be running an annual deficit of $226 billion by 2008, long after White House economists assume current war costs have subsided and the economy has recovered, the Bush administration projected today.

....[The deficit] is expected to rise to $475 billion in fiscal year 2004, even without additional costs for the occupation of Iraq. The deficit is then expected to dip swiftly to $213 billion in 2007 before rising again in 2008, the last year of the White House forecast.

This is the real problem, especially since I assume that even these figures are based on the usual overoptimistic growth projections. By 2007 the economy should be booming and the government should be planning to run modest surpluses to cool things down a bit. Instead, it's deficits forever, because seemingly nobody in this administration cares a whit about anything beyond the next election.

That's the real problem. The Post got it right.

Kevin Drum 7:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PARALLEL LIVES....I'm currently reading a biography of Henry Wallace, the New Deal acolyte who ran for president in 1948 on the short-lived Progressive Party ticket. Earlier in his career he was editor of a popular farm journal and Secretary of Agriculture for FDR.

Farming, which had been in crisis in America throughout the 1920s, became catastrophic during the Depression, and as Secretary of Agriculture Wallace was convinced that the only way to solve the crisis was to reduce output so that prices would rise. To do this, he implemented a (then radical) plan to pay farmers to take acreage out of production.

However, he was also a corn researcher (sort of a corn obsessive, actually), and was the original promoter of hybrid corn, an invention that boosted corn yields from 24 bushels per acre to 31 bushels per acre and eventually to over 100 bushels per acre. Hybrid corn was a wild success, and by 1999 the company that Wallace founded was purchased by DuPont for nearly $10 billion.

So Wallace the politician was dedicated to cutting farm output, while Wallace the businessman was dedicated to increasing yields. As the book finally notes on page 150, "He recognized the paradox. But he could never resolve it."

It's an interesting example of the way that we all compartmentalize our lives.

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"A VITAL PART OF THE CULTURE OF AMERICA"....Adam Kushner tells us today about Bob Graham's latest attempt to win red state votes. I have a feeling it's not going to work.

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THE HUMAN BRAIN: OBSTACLE TO SUCCESS?....I was browsing through this week's issue of the Economist over lunch and read a long essay about the current state-of-the-art thinking on what makes great companies great. This has been a recurring and favorite topic among business management gurus for at least the past two decades.

(The essay is here, but don't bother clicking on it unless you're a subscriber. Yes, that means you, you slack jawed yokel, you.)

Ahem. Anyway, it turns out that while trendy management technologies are all very well, which trendy management technology you adopt doesn't really matter. However:

....it matters very much, though, that whatever technology you choose to implement you execute it flawlessly.

Aha! So that's what I've been missing. Gotta get me some of the flawless execution. Unfortunately, in the next paragraph my betters at McKinsey explain what my problem is:

One thing standing in the way of the flawless execution of clear strategies, writes Charles Roxburgh in the latest issue of McKinsey Quarterly, is the human brain.

Yep, the human brain. That's the kind I have, all right. (Unless Brad DeLong decides to upload my consciousness into a canary someday, of course.)

Once again, this essay confirms my belief that there is actually not one single thing that great companies have in common. In fact, this essay could almost be a Harvard Case Study in the use of the phrase "on the other hand." There is practically nothing in it that isn't either contradicted or hedged within a couple of paragraphs.

So save your money on all those business books out there and just follow Kevin's ever-so-simple rules of good business: manage for profitability, treat your employees as if someone were filming a documentary of you, don't let your hopes and desires color your view of distasteful reality, and never ever put off difficult decisons just because they are going to be personally painful.

Now go out and make some money.

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DISRESPECTFUL OR JUST OVERBOOKED?....NAACP President Kweisi Mfume is upset that not all the Democratic presidential candidates showed up at an NAACP forum Monday:

The head of the civil rights group lambasted the no-shows Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Reps. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio declaring each of them a "persona non grata" in the African American community.

"Your political capital is the equivalent of Confederate dollars," NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said.

That's pretty over-the-top rhetoric, and the LA Times story has some interesting background to all this, especially the complaint by the candidates that it's simply impossible to attend all these events:

Recent forums have been hosted by abortion-rights activists, environmentalists, labor unions and Latino leaders, among other groups. Several of the candidates are set to appear today before a gay rights organization in Washington.

"You cannot go to all these things," said Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff for Gephardt's campaign. "You could do two to three a week, every week, and do nothing else."

OK, I can buy that, but I still have a couple of questions for the no-shows:

  • Maybe you can't attend them all, but the NAACP? Shouldn't that be in your top ten somewhere?

  • Surely these events are scheduled months in advance, so how is it possible that these guys had "scheduling conflicts"?

The Times mentions that this is just part of a larger issue that blacks are feeling increasingly taken for granted by Democratic party leaders. That's a story I'd like to hear more about.

Kevin Drum 12:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REVISIONIST HISTORY....I gotta tell you, it's hard to keep up with things right now. Take off a couple hours for a visit to the doctor and you miss stuff like this from our president yesterday:

The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region.

What does he mean, Saddam "wouldn't let them in"? I'm trying to figure out some charitable interpretation of this, but I just can't. What the hell is he talking about?

James, this is why I think the president should speak to the press a little more often. Sure, the press plays gotcha too often, but, like you, I want to know what Bush thinks in very broad terms. And it really does make a difference if in very broad terms the president of the United States is under the peculiar impression that there were no inspectors in Iraq.

Doesn't it?

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IT WASN'T US....Via Pandagon, France says the uranium info didn't come from them:

"Contrary to the insinuations which appeared in the British press, France is not behind the intelligence published in the British dossier dated September 24, 2002 and relative to the nuclear program of Iraq," the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Italians deny it too.

In a sense, though, it really doesn't matter where the information came from or whether the British are standing behind it. The CIA has already said they don't believe it, and they didn't believe it back when the president made his State of the Union claim either. So regardless of what the British think, the fact remains that the president of the United States ignored the conclusions of his own intelligence service because he was desperate to scare the American public into thinking Saddam had a nuclear bomb program.

So what else should we take a jaundiced look at, now that it's clear how the Bush team was operating? The LA Times puts it well in their lead editorial today:

The most sweeping assessment of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's intentions was contained in October's CIA report "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction." In it, the CIA made a number of allegations about Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological and ballistic missile programs. The key judgments:

  • If left unchecked, Baghdad would probably have a nuclear weapon this decade. If it got enough "fissile material," i.e. uranium, it could build a bomb "within a year."

  • Baghdad had begun renewed production of chemical warfare agents, including mustard, sarin and VX gases.

  • Every aspect of Hussein's biological weapons programs was "active and most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War."

  • Baghdad was developing missiles capable of delivering weapons payloads, including biological agents, to other nations.

Today, on its Web site, the best the agency can muster is a few pictures of suspected mobile weapons labs. Given this paucity, the jump in the level of CIA alarm from 2001 to 2002 is puzzling. In 2001's report, the CIA told Congress: "We believe that Iraq has probably continued at least low-level theoretical [research and development] associated with its nuclear program." The 2001 report also said "we are concerned that Iraq may again be producing [biological weapons] agents." Last year, the assertion of such a program was categorical.

The CIA was right to be concerned about Iraq's intentions, but in 2001 it was not describing an imminent threat to U.S. security. It is far from clear that Congress or ordinary Americans, not to mention the British government, would have supported war [merely] to oust a nasty dictator. That is the administration's real problem.

That's exactly right: knowing what we know now, would the American public have supported this war? That's starting to look more doubtful every day.

Kevin Drum 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PARSING THE PRESIDENT....Megan McArdle has a warning for the president's critics:

When the president's critics are reduced to quibbling over grammar, the battle is lost. This scandal may hurt the president, as the clever arguments about the meaning of the word "is" hurt Clinton. But I think it has far greater potential to damage the opposition, who, by engaging in such arguments, make themselves look like pettifogging quibblers out to injure the president by any means necessary.

I think there's some truth to this. A certain amount of guffawing over the administration's hyper-technical word parsing is certainly justified, and there's nothing wrong with pointing out that their "explanations" for the uranium gaffe seem to change almost hourly. However, we should all keep in mind that the primary issue is the overall pattern they have shown of justifying a preemptive war on what now looks like very dubious intelligence. That's a real issue, it's an important issue, and it should stay front and center.

Kevin Drum 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 14, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE 20TH HIJACKER....Zacarias Moussaoui, the "20th hijacker," was arrested prior to 9/11 on immigration charges. He had been taking flying lessons throughout 2001 and has admitted to being an al-Qaeda member. And although he adamantly denies that he was involved in the 9/11 hijackings, the government says he was.

Is he guilty? Maybe. But since it's not a sure thing by any stretch, Moussaoui ought to have a chance to prove his innocence.

Today, however, concluding a long-running dispute, the government refused a judge's final order upheld by an appellate court to allow Moussaoui to call a witness in his defense: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the self-described planner of the 9/11 attacks, who is currently being held in an undisclosed location overseas. bin al-Shibh is critical to Moussaoui's defense because the government claims that he's the one who wired money to Moussaoui and other 9/11 hijackers.

The upshot is that the judge is likely to dismiss the charges against Moussaoui and the government will move the trial to a military tribunal, where the rules are more to their liking.

I understand that the government has legitimate national security concerns here, but it's still hard for me to believe that this is happening. He might not be guilty, after all, and that's what a trial is supposed to establish. But if he truly isn't guilty, how can he possibly prove it if he's not allowed to call the witnesses that are part of the government's own case?

This whole thing is way too much like the Salem witch trials for my taste, where guilt is preordained and nothing a defendant can say will prove otherwise. I don't have much sympathy for Moussaoui, who's certainly an al-Qaeda terrorist of one kind or another, but considering what we've learned lately about the quality of U.S. intelligence in matters like this, I'm also not inclined to simply accept the government's word that he was a participant in the 9/11 conspiracy. Moussaoui should be allowed a fair trial.

Kevin Drum 10:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ORANGE COUNTY GETS ITS 15 MINUTES....Check it out! Fox has a new series coming soon:

The O.C., otherwise known as Orange County, California, is an idyllic paradise a wealthy, harbor-front community where everything and everyone appears to be perfect. But beneath the surface is a world of shifting loyalties and identities, of kids living secret lives, hidden from their parents, and of parents living secret lives, hidden from their children.

Yep, that's what it's like here. Eat your hearts out, everyone else.

POSTSCRIPT: In real life, though, here's what it takes for us to get mentioned on CNN....

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BLOGGING OR BANJO PRACTICE?....YOU MAKE THE CALL!....Instapundit writes today:

SPEED LIMITS KILL, according to this piece in The New York Times.

Sam Heldman, whilst pondering whether to give up blogging for good next week, demurs:

There's only one little problem: the linked article says exactly the opposite....There is literally no sentence in the article that says anything like "SPEED LIMITS KILL," or even (less colorfully) that death rates are lower if speed limits are higher.

Jeebus, Sam, you call yourself a lawyer? Why look right here in the seventh paragraph:

For Ross -- and I've heard of experts who agree with him -- unrealistically low speed limits widen the gap between law-abiding slowpokes and the restless majority, resulting in lots of risky passing maneuvers and general chaos.

See? Ross "a friend of mine," according to the author vaguely implies that "unrealistically low speed limits" might cause some bad stuff to happen. Maybe even death! It's right there in black and white.

I dunno, Sam, I think you'd better keep blogging for another year until you get the hang of it. It's obvious you need more practice.

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WORLD OPINION....Last week the Pentagon was moving forward with plans to finally bring the 3rd Infantry Division home from Iraq. Not anymore:

In a major reversal forced by the growing insurgency against U.S. forces in Iraq, the Pentagon announced today that more than 10,000 soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division will not be coming home by the end of September.

....The announcement dashes the hopes of thousands of Army families who had begun to rejoice that after long separations in some cases 10 months they would be reunited. The division has suffered 36 deaths more than any other unit in the war and some of its troops have been in the region since September.

I'm not sure what happened between last Thursday and today, but maybe this had something to do with it?

After weeks of high-level discussions with the United States, India today rejected an American request to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, saying it would only consider doing so under an "explicit" U.N. mandate.

The announcement following a cabinet-level security meeting this afternoon was a setback to the Pentagon's efforts to bolster its forces in Iraq with contributions from allies. For the past several weeks, India has been seriously considering the deployment to Iraq of a full army division -- about 17,000 men -- which would have been the second-largest foreign contingent in the country after that of the United States.

I know the warhawks delight in mocking the rest of the world and insisting that we don't need their permission to invade other countries, but there's a price to be paid for this attitude. This is it.

Kevin Drum 4:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CAKEWALK?....I forgot to blog this article from the Kansas City Star this weekend, so I'll make up for it now. The basic story: unlike World War II, in which "American planners plotted extraordinarily detailed blueprints for administering postwar Germany and Japan," Pentagon planners for Gulf War II didn't bother with all that fiddly planning stuff because they were convinced that postwar Iraq could be quickly brought under control by their pet exile, Ahmad Chalabi:

The officials didn't develop any real postwar plans because they believed that Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops with open arms and Washington could install a favored Iraqi exile leader as the country's leader. The Pentagon civilians ignored CIA and State Department experts who disputed them, resisted White House pressure to back off from their favored exile leader and when their scenario collapsed amid increasing violence and disorder, they had no backup plan.

...."It was very clear that there was an expectation that the exiles would be the core of an Iraqi interim (governing) authority," retired U.S. Ambassador Timothy Carney said. He was in Iraq in April to help with postwar reconstruction.

Once Saddam's regime fell, American authorities "quickly grasped" that Chalabi and his people couldn't take charge, Carney said.

However, the Pentagon had devised no backup plan. Numerous officials in positions to know said that if Pentagon civilians had a detailed plan that anticipated what could happen after Saddam fell, it was invisible to them.

Read the whole story to get the background on the intense level of mistrust between the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House that led to this fiasco. And then say a little prayer that the ideologues have truly been sidelined and Paul Bremer can pick up the pieces and put Iraq back together again.

Kevin Drum 3:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AVOIDING THE PRESS....Nick Denton makes a small but illuminating point today:

George Bush is famously reluctant to go on foreign trips. Commentators have usually drawn the conclusion that he's insular, but there's another reason why the president should avoid travel. He's actually had to answer questions.

It's true. I know that all presidents try to avoid the press when something embarrassing is going on, but Bush's inaccessibility is simply stunning. The only time American reporters ever get to talk to the man is when he's in a foreign country.

With that, I will now take the opportunity to repeat my suggestion for a constitutional amendment from last March....

Kevin Drum 10:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POSTMODERN INTELLIGENCE....Adam Kushner at the Flibuster alerts us to this line in a Wall Street Journal editorial today about the uranium scandal:

Intelligence is supposed to be a tool of policy, not a determiner of it.

It's hard to understand the mindset of someone who would write something like this. To be sure, policymakers are the ones who direct intelligence agencies, but that's not what's at issue here. The question is, once they've been directed, and once they've come back with a judgment, and once they've thrashed everything out time and again and nonetheless stuck to their guns on that judgment should policymakers then override them? Because that's what happened in this case.

It's almost beyond belief that the WSJ pretends that it's the Bush administration critics who are politicizing intelligence in this case. That is, it would be beyond belief to anyone who's unfamiliar with the daily assaults on intellectual honesty that make up the WSJ editorial page. After all, today's editorial finishes up with this:

Especially after 9/11 and in a world of WMD, the U.S. needs intelligence analysts willing to question their own assumptions, as well as policy makers willing to help them do it.

How much plainer can they be? Policymakers unhappy with the truth need to be willing to "help" intelligence analysts question their assumptions. The Orwellian overtones are hard to miss.

Kevin Drum 9:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEW TIMES EDITOR....Bill Keller, who lost out to Howell Raines for the editorship of the New York Times a couple of years ago, is about to get his star turn. He was named executive editor today.

I wonder how long it will take before Andrew Sullivan turns on him?

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July 13, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

GOOD NEWS IN IRAQ?....Tacitus thinks the inauguration of the Iraqi governing council this weekend is good news and speaks well for Paul Bremer's ability to get all the important parties in Iraq to work together. Time will tell, of course, but he makes a good case.

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WHO, ME?....Via Eschaton, here's an exchange between Tim Russert and Donald Rumsfeld this morning on Meet the Press. The topic surprise! is uranium:

MR. RUSSERT: But the very next day, Mr. Secretary, this is what you said, talking to the press on January 29th: "[Saddams] regime has the design for a nuclear weapon ... and recently was discovered seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

SECY RUMSFELD: And right before it, I said, as the president said, and right after it, I said as the president said. I was simply repeating what the president had said.

I get it: he was just relying on the President of the United States! It's not really fair to hold him accountable for that, is it?

Now, this would be just an amusing little cheap shot except for the fact that the push to oversell the uranium story almost certainly came from the intelligence analysts at the infamous Office of Special Plans. And the Office of Special Plans, as we all know, works for none other than Donald Rumsfeld.

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WHY THE URANIUM MATTERS....The fundamental conservative response to Uranium-Gate has been that anti-war partisans are blowing a single sentence out of all proportion. As Condi Rice put it:

It is ludicrous to suggest that the president of the United States went to war on the question of whether Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Africa. This was a part of a very broad case that the president laid out in the State of the Union and other places.

She's right, of course, but at the same time she's rather studiously missing the point. The uranium story is important not because it was a linchpin of the administration's argument for war, but simply because it's a smoking gun.

In 1987, with Iran/Contra closing in, Ronald Reagan and his advisors were genuinely afraid of the possibility of impeachment. And why not? After all, no one seriously doubts that Reagan knew what was going on. But in the end, John Poindexter took the fall, no smoking gun was ever found, and the Democratic Congress never brought charges.

Flash forward to 1998. Conservatives had been convinced for years that Bill Clinton lied and abused his position relentlessly. But their furious assaults went nowhere until they found a stained dress. Then, despite the fact that sex with an intern was surely the least of all the charges against him, impeachment became a reality.

In both cases, everyone who was paying attention knew what was going on. Both Reagan and Clinton lied about what they did and didn't know. The only difference was the smoking gun.

Likewise, Bush's problem is not that a single 16-word sentence of dubious provenance made it into his State of the Union address. His problem is that he promised us that Saddam was connected to al-Qaeda, he promised thousands of liters of chemical and biological weapons, he promised that Saddam had a nuclear bomb program, and he promised that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators. But that wasn't all. He also asked us to trust him: he couldn't reveal all his evidence on national TV, but once we invaded Iraq and had unfettered access to the entire country everything would become clear.

But it didn't. We've had control of the country for three months, we've had access to millions of pages of Iraqi records, and we've captured and interrogated dozens of high ranking officials. And it's obvious now that there were no WMDs, no bomb programs of any serious nature, and no al-Qaeda connections.

So while the uranium is only a symbol, it's a powerful one. George Bush says we live in an era of preemptive war, and in such an era lacking the plain provocation of an attack how else can the citizenry make up its mind except by listening to its leaders? In the end, we went to war because a majority of the population trusted George Bush when he presented his case that Iraq posed an imminent danger to the United States and the world.

Uranium-Gate is a symbol of that misplaced trust. If George Bush's judgment had been vindicated in Iraq, a single sentence in the State of the Union address wouldn't matter. But it hasn't, and he deserves to be held accountable for his poor judgment by everybody who believed him.

And that's why those 16 words matter.

Kevin Drum 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WOLF AND CONDI....Josh Marshall caught Wolf Blitzer's interview with Condoleezza Rice this morning. His verdict: "pathetic."

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BRING 'EM ON....Over at Eschaton, Leah points to an interesting online poll from Army Times asking for reaction to Bush's "Bring 'em on" statement. Here's the response so far:

  • 41% think it showed resolve and confidence.

  • 57% said it was irresponsible.

It's an online poll, of course, and doesn't really mean much, but I'm still surprised by the results. My first thought was that maybe Army Times polls are magnets for feisty liberals who like to skew the results, but a quick look at the results of previous polls doesn't bear that out. The results seem more or less legit.

I never served in the military, but I would have expected that most military folks would kinda like "bring 'em on" as a sign of defiance and fighting spirit. But maybe not. Maybe those soldiers out there are really professionals who want to do their jobs, avoid stupid risks, and know that their enemies shouldn't be mocked or taken lightly.

And maybe Bush should knock off the macho posturing. It might be making him fewer friends than he thinks.

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WHO WANTS TO RUN CALIFORNIA?....With the recall seemingly a done deal, should a Democrat run against Gray Davis? After all, lots of Republicans are running and Davis is unpopular enough that he could well lose.

Personally, I still can't figure out why anyone would want to be governor of California at the moment, but hey, that's just me. So who should run? Mark Kleiman has a very good rundown of the Dem possibilities and Virginia Postrel adds her choice here (and incidentally defends her from charges of being a bitch).

Any other ideas?

Kevin Drum 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

URANIUM-GATE LIVES!....Ouch. This is the cover of Time magazine this week. And here's the text:

The controversy over those 16 words would not have erupted with such force were they not emblematic of larger concerns about Bush's reasoning for going to war in the first place. Making the case against Saddam last year, Bush claimed that Iraq's links to al-Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) made the country an imminent threat to the region and, eventually, the U.S. He wrapped the evidence in the even more controversial doctrine of pre-emption, saying America could no longer wait for proof of its enemies' intentions before defending itself overseasit must sometimes strike first, even without all the evidence in hand.

Much of the world was appalled by this logic, but Congress and the American public went along. Four months after the war started, at least one piece of key evidence has turned out to be false, the U.S. has yet to find weapons of mass destruction, and American soldiers keep dying in a country that has not greeted its liberators the way the Administration predicted it would. Now the false assertion and the rising casualties are combining to take a toll on Bush's standing with the public.

The cover of Time ought to shove this whole sordid mess right into the faces of Mr. and Mrs. America, shouldn't it?

Please forget everything I said about this controversy lasting only a few more news cycles it's got legs aplenty now. Thanks, Time.

Kevin Drum 11:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TIME TO PARTY!....Dotcom bust? What dotcom bust?

Close your eyes and it feels a little like 1999, that giddy, amazing, lost moment when Silicon Valley was the most important place on Earth and just about everyone in it was happily adding a zero or two to his or her net worth.

The stock prices of unproven Internet companies that no one has ever heard of, such as PacificNet Inc. and EuroWeb International Corp., are once again doubling in a single day. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index is up 56% from a five-year low reached in October. Insiders are happily selling shares, cashing in options that recently were fit only for making paper airplanes. Call a chic Bay Area restaurant such as Delfina or Betelnut or Greens on a typically dead night like Monday and you will be told, simply and sweetly, no table, no way. The hottest car is a $50,000 Hummer.

How to explain this? According to William Cockayne, a Silicon Valley think tanker, "Part of the advantage of Silicon Valley is that it has no memory. That's how it can continue to innovate. But that's also its Achilles' heel it will continue over the next 10 years to do the same things wrong again."

Sure, but they've forgotten already? I mean, we've had plenty of tech booms and busts before, but they've been spaced out approximately once per decade. This boom seems to be starting up before the 2001 crash is even cold in its casket.

Still, I guess optimism is a good thing, and the additional capital gains taxes will certainly help out California's budget crisis. Being the cautious guy that I am, however, I think I'll hold onto my wallet just a little while longer.

Kevin Drum 10:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON BRIGHTS....Dean Esmay appropriately chooses Sunday to defend the "bright" meme. "I quite like having a single word with positive connotations that doesn't carry so much baggage," he says.

I don't really have a dog in this fight, but since "bright" got trashed so thoroughly in my comments yesterday, I figured it was only fair to link to the case for the defense. One thing in Dean's post did catch my eye, though, and that was his annoyance at Daniel Dennett's claim in his original article that politicians like President Bush engage in "bright bashing." He wants some examples.

Glad to oblige. Here's one:

Sherman: What will you do to win the votes of the Americans who are Atheists?

Bush: I guess I'm pretty weak in the Atheist community. Faith in god is important to me.

Sherman: Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are Atheists?

Bush: No, I don't know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.

Sherman (somewhat taken aback): Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church?

Bush: Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on Atheists.

That's George Bush Sr. in 1987, but I assume he counts as a politician "like President Bush"?

Granted, that's one guy and he was probably provoked by the reporter for American Atheist, but it does go to show that there's not much political downside to bashing nonbelievers. On a more general note, anyone even roughly my age or older will remember that for a long time "godless communism" was such a common phrase in America that it was almost as if "godless" was communism's first name. There was never much doubt about where atheists stood in the conservative pantheon.

I've certainly never felt browbeaten because of my (non) beliefs, but that's because I usually just stay quiet about the subject and Dennett's whole point is that perhaps we shouldn't have to. What's more, I have to say that I've been prosyletized many a time by friends and neighbors and silently wondered how they would react if I turned the tables and started aggressively passing out atheist tracts and begging them to reconsider their faith. I'm guessing that while it's luminous faith that motivates them, they would consider me "smug and arrogant." At least, that's what they seem to think of Daniel Dennett....

Kevin Drum 9:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 12, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

YUMMY SACRAMENTO POLITICS....Hard as it is to believe, it looks like the California legislature is set to make a budget decision even worse than anything they've done yet: no tax hikes (yay Republicans!) but no further program cuts either (yay Democrats!). Everyone wants to go home, so instead we'll just borrow the money! All $10 billion of it. The kids can pay it back eventually, right?

Joel Kotkin of Pepperdine University has the right call on this:

These are the most gutless, useless politicians I have seen for as long as I have been watching. I think they should be ashamed of themselves, and I think their mothers should disown them.

Come on, Joel, don't hold back. Tell us what you really think....

Kevin Drum 10:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SADDAM AND OSAMA....Enough about the uranium. The real reason we invaded Iraq was because of Saddam Hussein's ties to al-Qaeda, right? Umm....

"There was no significant pattern of cooperation between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist operation," former State Department intelligence official Greg Thielmann said this week.

Intelligence agencies agreed on the "lack of a meaningful connection to al-Qaida" and said so to the White House and Congress, said Thielmann, who left State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research last September.

Another former Bush administration intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed there was no clear link between Saddam and al-Qaida.

"The relationships that were plotted were episodic, not continuous," the former official said.

Considering that Iraq is a big, Arab country that hates the United States, the thing that's always struck me is how little connection there was between Saddam and al-Qaeda. My guess is that the CIA has a pretty thick dossier on al-Qaeda connections for practically every country in the Middle East, and while there was almost certainly some al-Qaeda activity in Iraq, the astonishing thing is that it was so miniscule.

Back to the drawing board, I guess. It sure would be helpful for W and the gang if they could actually dredge up a bit of WMD out in the desert somewhere, wouldn't it?

Kevin Drum 10:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SPEECHWRITING 101....So how did all this speechwriting stuff really go down, anyway? Here's a best guess from Ray McGovern, a longtime CIA analyst who is now a part of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity:

This stuff doesnt all get written in one week. It was all throughout the spring and summer that this stuff was being collected. When the decision was made last summer that we will have a war against Iraq, they were casting about. Youll recall White House Chief of Staff Andy Card saying you dont market a new product in August. The big blast-off was Cheneys speech in Nashville, I think it was Nashville anyway, on August 26. He said Iraq was seeking materials for its nuclear program. That set the tone right there.

They looked around after Labor Day and said, OK, if were going to have this war, we really need to persuade Congress to vote for it. How are we going to do that? Well, lets do the al Qaeda-Iraq connection. Thats the traumatic one. 9/11 is still a traumatic thing for most Americans. Lets do that.

But then they said, Oh damn, those folks at CIA dont buy that, they say theres no evidence, and we cant bring them around. Weve tried every which way and they wont relent. That wont work, because if we try that, Congress is going to have these CIA wimps come down, and the next day theyll undercut us. How about these chemical and biological weapons? We know they dont have any nuclear weapons, so how about the chemical and biological stuff? Well, damn. We have these other wimps at the Defense Intelligence Agency, and dammit, they wont come around either. They say theres no reliable evidence of that, so if we go up to Congress with that, the next day theyll call the DIA folks in, and the DIA folks will undercut us.

So they said, What have we got? Weve got those aluminum tubes! The aluminum tubes, you will remember, were something that came out in late September, the 24th of September. The British and we front-paged it. These were aluminum tubes that were said by Condoleezza Rice as soon as the report came out to be only suitable for use in a nuclear application. This is hardware that they had the dimensions of. So they got that report, and the British played it up, and we played it up. It was front page in the New York Times. Condoleezza Rice said, Ah ha! These aluminum tubes are suitable only for uranium-enrichment centrifuges.

Then they gave the tubes to the Department of Energy labs, and to a person, each one of those nuclear scientists and engineers said, Well, if Iraq thinks it can use these dimensions and these specifications of aluminum tubes to build a nuclear program, let 'em do it! Let 'em do it. Itll never work, and we cant believe they are so stupid. These must be for conventional rockets.

And, of course, thats what they were for, and thats what the UN determined they were for. So, after Condoleezza Rices initial foray into this scientific area, they knew that they couldnt make that stick, either. So what else did they have?

Well, somebody said, How about those reports earlier this year that Iraq was trying to get Uranuim from Niger? Yeahthat was pretty good. But of course if George Tenet were there, he would have said, But we looked at the evidence, and theyre forgeries, they stink to high heaven. So the question became, How long would it take for someone to find out they were forgeries? The answer was about a day or two. The next question was, When do we have to show people this stuff? The answer was that the IAEA had been after us for a couple of months now to give it to them, but we can probably put them off for three or four months.

So there it was. Whats the problem? Well take these reports, well use them to brief Congress and to raise the specter of a mushroom cloud. Youll recall that the President on the 7th of October said, Our smoking gun could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. Condoleezza Rice said exactly the same thing the next day. Victoria Clarke said exactly the same thing on the 9th of October, and of course the vote came on the 11th of October.

This is part of a long interview, and the whole thing is worth reading. McGovern is pretty unhappy about the politicization of the intelligence agencies under George Bush.

POSTCRIPT: By the way, note that McGovern apparently thinks that CIA knew the Niger documents were forgeries back in October. However, this appears to be just speculation on his part.

Kevin Drum 9:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TIMELINE UPDATE....Did Tenet/Powell/Cheney/Rice/Bush really believe the Niger story? Ever? It looks like probably not:

CIA Director George J. Tenet successfully intervened with White House officials to have a reference to Iraq seeking uranium from Niger removed from a presidential speech last October....

Tenet argued personally to White House officials, including deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, that the allegation should not be used because it came from only a single source, according to one senior official.

So what happened? How come it magically reappeared in January?

"The information was available within the system that should have caught this kind of big mistake," a former Bush administration official said. "The question is how the management of the system, and the process that supported it, allowed this kind of misinformation to be used and embarrass the president."

Yep, just your typical bureaucratic snafu. Nobody was actually pushing to having this in, you see, it was just something that got lost in the shuffle. Except for this:

Administration sources said White House officials, particularly those in the office of Vice President Cheney, insisted on including Hussein's quest for a nuclear weapon as a prominent part of their public case for war in Iraq. Cheney had made the potential threat of Hussein having a nuclear weapon a central theme of his August 2002 speeches that began the public buildup toward war with Baghdad.

Cheney? Dick Cheney? Oh yeah, maybe he did have something to do with it. Guess we should look into that. We'll let you know if anything turns up....

Kevin Drum 9:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TAXING TIMES....Two years after leaving her previous job, Marian finally got the closing payout from her 401(k) account today. It came to $4.94.

But: the feds withheld 99 cents of that, leaving us with only $3.95, barely enough for lunch at McDonalds. I'm telling you, we are taxed to death in this country, just taxed to death.

Where do I sign up to become a conservative?

Kevin Drum 8:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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URANIUM-GATE TIMELINE....I'm a little confused about something. Remember those forged documents showing that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger? Here's a quick timeline:

February 2002: The CIA has the documents in house and sends Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate. He reports back that the allegations seem unlikely.

October 2002: The CIA writes a National Intelligence Estimate stating that "the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in I.N.R.'s assessment, highly dubious."

March 2003: The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that the documents are crude forgeries. Colin Powell says it's news to him: "It was the information that we had. We provided it. If that information is inaccurate, fine."

So here's what I'm confused about: did Colin Powell really believe the documents were genuine when they were handed over to the IAEA? Did anyone?

The story we're being told is that everyone thought the documents were genuine until March, when the IAEA discredited them. But if that's the case, then why did the CIA's October 2002 report say that the uranium claims were "highly dubious"? And why didn't Powell mention them in his UN speech in February? If those documents were for real, surely they were enough of a smoking gun that the CIA would have considered the uranium allegations credible, right?

Can anyone help me out here?

Kevin Drum 8:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MILITARY TRIBUNALS....A table is worth a thousand words. From this week's Economist, here's a comparison of the Pentagon's new military commissions with various other courts. Not a very pretty picture.

And don't forget: even if a suspect is miraculously acquitted in one of these courts, they still won't be released. That is a "separate determination," according to the folks running these show trials.

This is disgraceful. Our children are going to look back on this the same way we look back on Japanese internment camps and McCarthy-era loyalty oaths.

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DOES URANIUM HAVE LEGS?....Maybe I spoke too soon. Even after George Tenet's Shogun-like dive onto his sword yesterday, the question remains: who put the uranium sentence into the State of the Union speech in the first place? Here is what Tenet says, after a bunch of background material explaining that for the entire previous year the CIA had known the uranium claims were highly suspect:

The background above makes it even more troubling that the 16 words eventually made it into the State of the Union speech. This was a mistake.

Portions of the State of the Union speech draft came to the C.I.A. for comment shortly before the speech was given. Various parts were shared with cognizant elements of the agency for review. Although the documents related to the alleged Niger-Iraqi uranium deal had not yet been determined to be forgeries, officials who were reviewing the draft remarks on uranium raised several concerns about the fragmentary nature of the intelligence with National Security Council colleagues. Some of the language was changed. From what we know now, agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct i.e. that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa. This should not have been the test for clearing a presidential address. This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches, and C.I.A. should have ensured that it was removed.

As a number of bloggers have noted, if the CIA, both in its official National Intelligence Estimates and in private conversations was saying that the uranium sentence didn't belong in the speech, then who was arguing to keep it in? As the New York Times says today:

The uranium charge should never have found its way into Mr. Bush's speech. Determining how it got there is essential to understanding whether the administration engaged in a deliberate effort to mislead the nation about the Iraqi threat.

That's exactly right, and it's important to remember that while the uranium claim is only one small detail, this entire scandal hinges on the much larger problem that no WMD has been found in Iraq. If it weren't for that, nobody would care.

But the fact is that there's no WMD, and that calls into question the Bush administration's entire argument for war. We need some more answers about that.

Kevin Drum 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SPEAK LOUDLY AND CARRY A SMALL SCHTICK....The LA Times has a profile of Howard Dean this morning that focuses on Dean's centrism:

"A lot of us laugh and say, 'Howard, we hardly knew you,' " said Elizabeth Ready, the state auditor and a liberal Democrat. Added Bob Sherman, a Democratic lobbyist, "The Howard Dean I see running for president is a lot different than the Howard Dean who ... governed Vermont. He was a moderate."

....Indeed, as he seeks the White House, Dean makes no secret of his more conservative side. He boasts of repeatedly balancing Vermont's budget, even though state law allows deficit spending. He touts his friendly relations with the National Rifle Assn., saying gun control is an issue best left to each state. He expresses mistrust of the left and right, describing himself as a centrist. "I have always been very skeptical of ideologues," he said.

I have a feeling we're going to see a lot more of this as Dean tries to get the message out that just because he's anti-war doesn't make him a lefty radical. Luckily, there's plenty of time left to do this.

Kevin Drum 10:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 11, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

BRIGHT....It looks like this "bright" meme is going to get a serious airing here in America. That is, if having an op-ed in the New York Times counts as a serious airing. Daniel Dennett writes:

What is a bright? A bright is a person with a naturalist as opposed to a supernaturalist world view. We brights don't believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny or God. We disagree about many things, and hold a variety of views about morality, politics and the meaning of life, but we share a disbelief in black magic and life after death.

....Most brights don't play the "aggressive atheist" role. We don't want to turn every conversation into a debate about religion, and we don't want to offend our friends and neighbors, and so we maintain a diplomatic silence.

But the price is political impotence. Politicians don't think they even have to pay us lip service, and leaders who wouldn't be caught dead making religious or ethnic slurs don't hesitate to disparage the "godless" among us.

From the White House down, bright-bashing is seen as a low-risk vote-getter. And, of course, the assault isn't only rhetorical: the Bush administration has advocated changes in government rules and policies to increase the role of religious organizations in daily life, a serious subversion of the Constitution. It is time to halt this erosion and to take a stand: the United States is not a religious state, it is a secular state that tolerates all religions and yes all manner of nonreligious ethical beliefs as well.

There's also a call for "bright rights," a euphonious phrase if ever there was one.

Anyway, I'm ready to sign up, but if "bright" goes the way of "gay" and "queer," we'd better think up some other word for "lots of light" since this one will shortly become useless in its traditional meaning. But I guess that's the least of our problems, no?

Kevin Drum 10:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TENET TAKES THE FALL....CIA Director George Tenet has officially taken the fall for Uranium-Gate:

"These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president," Tenet said in a statement released after Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, blamed the miscue on the CIA and members of Congress called for someone to be held accountable.

...."Officials who were reviewing the draft remarks on uranium raised several concerns about the fragmentary nature of the intelligence with National Security Council colleagues," Tenet said. "Some of the language was changed. From what we know now, agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa."

"This should not have been the test for clearing a presidential address," the statement continued. "This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was removed."

That's probably the end of the controversy, and if they'd fessed up earlier this whole thing never would have gone anywhere in the first place.

Now, it's still the case that the administration's arguments for war were exaggerated, and it's equally the case that the CIA is the last agency that should take the blame for this, but none of that matters. Others in the administration possibly including Bush probably knew that the uranium charges were bogus, but with Tenet taking the bullet there will never be a smoking gun to prove it, and that's what it takes. Anything less will inevitably be written off as just the usual partisan bickering.

Unless something big turns up, this controversy will now die and Bush is off the hook.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall thinks there's more:

But all of this begs the obvious and singularly important question: the charge is that CIA didn't push hard enough to keep bogus information out of the president's speech. Who was pushing on the other side? Who was pushing to keep the bogus information in? And why?

Well, we already know who, and we know why. And while that kind of stuff is interesting to news junkies, it's pretty meaningless to the general public. I just don't think there's enough oxygen left to keep this going.

UPDATE 2: I guess I'd better clear up my meaning here. I'm not suggesting that (a) I'm never going to write about this story again or (b) that the general topic of missing WMD and how Bush led us into war is a dead letter. I'm just predicting that Tenet's confession will take the air out of the sails of this particular story and it will die. I hope I'm wrong, but my rational side tells me that it has only a few news cycles left.

Kevin Drum 6:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE TROOPS....EVER MORE TROOPS....The LA Times is reporting today that Donald Rumsfeld has ordered a radical shift in miltary manpower, telling the service chiefs to reduce their dependence on reserve troops so that they can mobilize for a major war within 15 days. This is apparently a reaction to the growing problems in postwar Iraq:

Before and during the war, Army officials had planned for no more than 50,000 soldiers to still be in Iraq at this point. But 148,000 are there, and with attacks against them growing in number and sophistication, senior Pentagon officials say they expect troop numbers in the country to remain at or near the same level for years to come.

...."The type of war that we're in, the war on terrorism, is going to be something that is going to require long-term commitments of our armed forces. And the way that we're structured right now is to have conflicts where you send people over, they fight, and they go home," one Pentagon official said. "The war on terrorism is a much longer, twilight struggle."

The good news is that the Bush administration seems to be slowly accepting the fact that the neocon fantasy of liberating a joyous Iraqi population was just that a fantasy and is now showing a willingness to stick it out in Iraq in large numbers. That's good to hear.

But the bad news is in that second paragraph: their acceptance of the difficulty of nation building doesn't seem to have dimmed their enthusiasm for using the U.S. military to solve all the world's problems. I realize that Republicans are supposed to be the party of steely eyed confrontation with harsh reality and all, but even so their lack of nuance these days is just scary. Got a domestic problem? Write an IOU! Got a foreign problem? Throw troops at it!

It's pretty clear, I think, that the neocons were wrong about the ease of rebuilding Iraq and equally wrong about Iraq being the domino that would topple dictatorships throughout the Middle East. So why do they have any credibility left on their more basic contention that we can fight terrorism with regular army tactics, and the more the better? It's baffling.

Kevin Drum 4:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GENERAL CLARK....I've been skeptical about Wesley Clark for a while now, unsure of why he was generating so much buzz even though his policy leanings are close to a blank slate. Somehow, just being a leftish-leaning general didn't seem like enough to me. So when reader Kevin McCormack recommended Tom Junod's profile of Clark in this month's Esquire, I decided to print it out and read it over lunch.

Now, the profile itself, I thought, wasn't really very good. It's written in what I've come to think of as "glossy magazine standard," meaning that it's bright and absorbing and fun but after you're done you realize that you didn't learn all that much. It's sort of like a heavily padded term paper, except the padding is done by an extremely talented and experienced pro.

That aside, however, there were a couple of excerpts that I found interesting. First is this one, which is basically why I haven't taken Clark seriously so far:

They will come at him, of course. Once he announces, they will come after him. General Wesley Clark? Isn't he the guy on TV? Isn't he one of those retired generals Rummy talks about? Wasn't he disliked by his own service? Wasn't he forced to retire? Wasn't he a little....reckless over there in Kosovo

That's exactly what I think will happen, and I have a feeling that Republicans will be able to paint him not as a toughminded former general, but as a general who turned sort of soft and batty and had to put out to pasture. The question is, can Clark overcome that?

The second excerpt has nothing to do with his political chances, but I found it both insightful and refreshing:

Once, the U. S. Army tested a thousand of its officers to see how well they extrapolated future trends from current patterns. The general, long before he was a general, finished first, and now, when he articulates the principles that would inform the creation of his political platform, he does so in terms of "outcomes" five, thirty, and a hundred years in the future. For your five-year outcome, you concentrate on rebuilding the economy. For your optimum thirty-year outcome, education. And for your optimum hundred-year outcome, the entire institutional environment. And you start now.

This isn't brilliantly original or anything, but it is well put and shows an appreciation of reality, not just partisan slogans. I like that a lot.

I also like the fact that Clark understands the single most important aspect of American culture today: fear. We are afraid of so many things, frequently with little reason, and our media and our politicians feed this fear relentlessly. If Clark is able to meet that head on and run a campaign built on fighting fear instead of giving in to it, he might be able to tap into something truly potent.

Still, I think healthy skepticism is in order. Junod acknowledges the Clark buzz but never really provides a good sense of what causes it and whether it has any sticking power. After all, it's easy to be enthusiastic about somebody who gives a good speech and hasn't yet said anything you disagree with, but eventually Clark will have to propose a healthcare plan and a tax plan and a dozen other plans, and each one of them will reduce his support a bit and give his opponents new handles with which to attack him. So for now, I'll wait and see.

POSTSCRIPT: If you're wondering what I mean by "glossy magazine standard," this is it:

Look into his eyes. They're not eyes so much as scanning devicesnot quite predatory, no, but sort of an odd combination of jittery and calm, of patient and imploring, alert and exhausted, set back there in the hollows and shadows of his lean, handsome, deliberate face.

At first, you just skip past this stuff, but when you actually think about it you start to wonder how the hell do they make this stuff up? Seriously, can you imagine yourself ever looking into somebody's eyes and coming up with that paragraph to describe them? Me neither.

Kevin Drum 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....No, I don't know what they're looking at, but Inkblot and Jasmine are clearly intent on something in these pictures. A small bug? A small stick that their peanut sized brains have interpreted as a bug? Who knows.

Today's bonus cats come from Rob Booth, a libertarian Republican from Houston. He's not all bad, though, because he's also a tech writer and a "little nutty" about cats. Hey, me too! Anyway, Rob has four cats for us today, ranging from about the size of a small peach to the size of a large meatloaf. And there's a story, too!

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SOCK PUPPETS....Charles Kuffner has dug up the photograph he was looking for on Monday. Here's the caption:

Democratic supporters in the state House gallery donned white socks as hand puppets to mock Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, as he debated his redistricting plan Monday. Every time King spoke, the little white mouths flapped.

Go take a look. If you're a Democrat, it's hilarious. If you're not, it's yet another example of the breakdown of civil discourse in modern society and the juvenile antics of liberal handwringers.

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CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MEMORIES....Jim Capozzola writes a bit sadly today about the closing of the first Christian Science church in New York. The congregation has been dwindling he says 20 attendees was a good showing back when he attended and they are joining forces with the Second Church of Christ, Scientist down on 68th Street.

I know how he feels. Christian Scientists have never been proselytizers and their ranks have been shrinking for years. The branch I grew up in, First Church of Garden Grove, was sold years ago and is now home to a Korean congregation of some kind. My mother is still an active member of the church, but my teenage relations with Christian Science theology were a bit, um, contentious, and I stopped attending around age 16 or so through sheer force of obnoxiousness. I've only attended once since then, on the occasion of my mother's maiden service after she was elected First Reader. (No clergy in Christian Science churches, just a First Reader and a Second Reader. Very democratic.)

Christian Science is a pretty radical theology though hardly original once you figure out what it is, and in my case I didn't figure it out, despite years and years of Sunday School, until my father explained it sort of accidentally one day. Frankly, I'm not sure which was worse: knowing or not knowing.

In any case, none of it stuck. But I can still name the Seven Synonyms for God. Most of them, anyway....

Kevin Drum 10:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IT JUST NEVER ENDS, DOES IT?....Republicans are proposing yet more tax breaks for those who need them least, but you have to read the fine print to learn about it. Nathan Newman has the details.

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AIDS FUNDING....Here's a minor little example of why it's so important to understand motivation in politics:

A new law signed by Bush in May created the global AIDS initiative and pledged $3 billion a year for five years, a total of $15 billion. Now Bush and top Republicans say $2 billion will suffice in the next fiscal year, with more to come later.

....Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee, defended the House approach, saying Congress and the administration would raise spending totals in coming years to meet the $15-billion goal.

Kolbe, a leading Republican advocate of AIDS relief, said the administration wouldn't be able to spend effectively any more than $2 billion in the first year.

"I just don't think it's realistic to assume we will spend that much more in this first year," Kolbe said. "Let's do it and do it right."

What to think? If you believe that Bush is sincere, this makes perfect sense. Maybe we really can't ramp up spending that fast without wasting a lot of it.

But if he's not, then it's just a cynical effort to get public credit for being compassionate without having to follow through on it.

Which is it?

Kevin Drum 9:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 10, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ANYONE KNOW A GARDENER?....This is totally off the wall, but....

Do I have any readers in the general vicinity of Irvine who could recommend a gardener? I'm told it should be someone who knows perennials, but at this point I have a feeling we'd settle for anyone.

If you know of someone, please leave a comment or send me email. Thanks.

Kevin Drum 10:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BLOGGING POLITICIANS....The Guardian reports today on Stuart Bruce, the first local councillor in Britain to start a weblog:

"I'm chasing up the six new litter bins which we'd been promised would be put up in April," a recent entry records. "There is also a need for grass cutting, hedge trimming and a general clean-up in the village."

Mr Bruce admits that it makes boring reading for outsiders. "But that's not the point," he says, "it's about local issues - that's what local people are interested in."

A blog with comments sounds like a terrific idea for a local politician. I wonder how many local politicos in America do this?

Like so many of us, Bruce has recently switched off Blogspot. His new blog is here.

Kevin Drum 10:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PAIN AND SUFFERING....James Joyner, commenting on a Michael Kinsley piece on tort reform in Slate, has this to say:

The current system is indeed a lottery, although not the kind one wants to win, because some victims get a huge settlement and others get nothing, owing to the vagaries of the jury pool and the ability of their attorneys to invoke sympathy.

An ideal system would pay all compensatory damages (that is, make people financially "whole") and pay all like victims a similar amount for pain and suffering.

I would take the idea of pain and suffering caps in malpractice suits a lot more seriously if:

  • Proponents would stop treating the $250,000 figure as if it were part of the Ten Commandments. That number was originally picked out of a hat in California in 1975 and hasn't been adjusted since.

  • The cap were indexed for inflation. If that had been done in California, the current cap would be nearly $1 million.

  • The cap were calculated on an annual basis. How about a cap of, say, $50,000 per year instead of a single number that's the same regardless of whether the pain lasts for five years or 50?

Pain and suffering are very real, and as Kinsley points out, very few of us would voluntarily trade the money for the pain if we were given a choice. But even so, since James' solution doesn't seem to be in the offing, I don't think I would have a real problem with caps if they were calculated fairly and truly designed to make equitable payouts to all. Unfortunately, demonizing juries and portraying victims as opportunistic greedheads seems to win more votes than genuinely trying to solve the problem.

Kevin Drum 8:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YET MORE ON THE NIGER URANIUM....I didn't really intend to become obsessed with the WMD hunt this evening, but the news just keeps rolling in. The latest comes from David Martin of CBS:

Senior administration officials tell CBS News the Presidents mistaken claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa was included in his State of the Union address -- despite objections from the CIA.

....CIA officials warned members of the Presidents National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.

The White House officials responded that a paper issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion: "Iraq has ... sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." As long as the statement was attributed to British Intelligence, the White House officials argued, it would be factually accurate.

Once again, we have the White House acting like a five-year-old. No, scratch that. More like a too-clever-for-his-own-good 15-year-old. "All we did is say that the British said it, and they did, so technically it's completely true."

What's the definition of "is"?

Kevin Drum 8:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEMOCRATIC BALLS....Over at Needlenose, Swopa notes that the Democratic presidential candidates seem to have grown some cojones recently, and wonders if it has anything to do with the surprising second quarter fundraising success of Howard "I'm Mad As Hell" Dean.

Maybe so, maybe so. Of course, I imagine that the ongoing problems in Iraq combined with the public unraveling of the administration's WMD stories might have something to do with it too....

Kevin Drum 6:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE LATEST WMD EXCUSE....I am slowly detecting a new meme developing in the great WMD debate. The latest from the Wurlitzer is that no, there was no real evidence of WMD after all, but Saddam used to have WMD so we figured he still had it.

Donald Rumsfeld kicked things off yesterday with this:

"The coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq's pursuit" of weapons of mass destruction, Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We acted because we saw the evidence in a dramatic new light -- through the prism of our experience on 9-11."

Over at NRO James Robbins continues the meme, telling us that maybe Saddam didn't try to buy uranium from Niger anytime recently, but he sure did it back in the 1980s:

Saddam was a major buyer of African uranium in the years before the Gulf War; based on recent discoveries we know he retained a capability to reconstitute his nuclear program when the opportunity presented itself; and it would be reasonable to assume that he would seek replacement uranium for the hundreds of tons destroyed in earlier rounds of inspections. That is not intelligence so much as inference, but if one accepts the model, it is easy to see how someone might be overly eager to accept supporting evidence from a foreign intelligence service.

Tony Blair makes a similar claim here. And Glenn Reynolds links approvingly to Right Wing News, which tells us that Saddam had WMD programs back in 1998 and that pretty much everyone agreed that he must therefore still have had them in 2003. So why pick only on President Bush?

Glenn himself, on the other hand, takes a much more direct approach to the whole thing:

I probably should take these more seriously, just because the mainstream media are pretending to. But it's the same bogus crap from the same desperate people, who -- as Randy Barnett notes here -- want to blur the line between "mistakes" and "lies" in a way that they certainly never did during the Clinton Administration.

It's partisan backstabbing, pure and simple, and it doesn't deserve to be taken seriously.

Hmmm, all the probative evidence has gone missing all of it and the fact patterns increasingly indicate that the administration knew that its testimony was, um, something less than the whole truth. You'd think a law professor might indeed think that deserved to be taken seriously.

Given this latest batch of explanations, it looks like we're being told that we went to war based not on any particular evidence, but rather on the simpleminded inference that because Saddam was a bad guy who built WMD five years ago, then he must have been building WMD last March too. For chrissake, folks, a five year old child could do better than that. The administration's story must really be on the verge of crumbling if this is what they're reduced to.

Kevin Drum 5:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YELLOWCAKE-GATE UDPATE....It's getting awfully hard to keep up with the Niger-Uranium story. Here is Colin Powell's version from earlier today:

And at the time of the President's State of the Union address, a judgment was made that that was an appropriate statement for the President to make....Subsequently, when we looked at it more thoroughly and when I think it's, oh, a week or two later, when I made my presentation to the United Nations and we really went through every single thing we knew about all of the various issues with respect to weapons of mass destruction, we did not believe that it was appropriate to use that example anymore. It was not standing the test of time.

This is getting ridiculous. Powell's statement is only open to three interpretations:

  1. Something happened between January 28 and February 5 that made the Niger story less credible.

  2. Nobody "really went through" all the claims in the State of the Union address.

  3. The claim was known to be bogus when Bush made it, but he went with it anyway.

I don't think anybody believes #1, but if that's the excuse then I think we all deserve to hear a bit more about what supposedly happened during that week to weaken the intelligence. #2 is barely credible either, since the speech was vetted by the CIA, Pentagon and State Department, and in any case seems almost as bad as deliberate deception. So that leaves #3.

The noose is tightening.

UPDATE: On the other hand, Tony Blair is hanging tough, claiming that Britain has evidence that the United States doesn't:

The government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, however, has stood behind its September conclusion that Iraq "sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" for a possible nuclear weapons program despite the release of a report by a British parliamentary commission this week that challenged the allegation and, in effect, Bush's decision to include it in his address.

British officials have insisted that the Bush administration has never been provided with the intelligence that was the basis for the charge included in the Blair government's September intelligence dossier.

It would be nice to know just what evidence they have, wouldn't it?

Kevin Drum 4:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE TRUMAN SHOW....This is interesting: a librarian at the Truman Library has discovered a previously unknown diary that Truman kept in 1947. Here's the entry for July 25, recounting a conversation with Dwight Eisenhower:

Ike & I think MacArthur expects to make a Roman Triumphal return to the U.S. a short time before the Republican Convention meets in Philadelphia. I told Ike that if he did that that he (Ike) should announce for the nomination for President on the Democratic ticket and that I'd be glad to be in second place, or Vice President. I like the Senate anyway. Ike & I could be elected and my family & myself would be happy outside this great white jail, known as the White House.

Different times. Is it even conceivable that a president today would voluntarily step down because he doesn't much like being president and it might be best for the country anyway? Nope.

(The story also mentions some anti-semitic entries in the diary. However, I don't know enough about Truman to know if this is news or not.)

UPDATE: More excerpts here.

Kevin Drum 4:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LIBERIA....In today's Washington Post, noted conservative humanitarian Pat Robertson sticks up for Liberian strongman Charles Taylor:

In recent broadcasts of his cable TV show "The 700 Club," watched by an estimated 1 million households, Robertson has defended Taylor as a fellow Baptist and Liberia's "freely elected" leader. The "horrible bloodbath" taking place in Liberia, he has repeatedly said, is the fault of the State Department.

"So we're undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country. And how dare the president of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, 'You've got to step down,' " Robertson said to his viewers on Monday.

But Steve over at Begging to Differ thinks Robertson is missing a teensy weensy little point and links to this article in the Post on December 30 of last year:

An aggressive year-long European investigation into al-Qaida financing has found evidence that two West African governments hosted the senior terrorist operatives who oversaw a $20 million diamond-buying spree that effectively cornered the market on the region's precious stones.

Investigators from several countries concluded that President Charles Taylor of Liberia received a $1 million payment for arranging to harbor the operatives, who were in the region for at least two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The terrorists moved between a protected area in Liberia and the presidential compound in neighboring Burkina Faso, investigators say.

Why does Pat Robertson hate America?

Kevin Drum 11:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WILLIAM PRYOR....Chris Mooney has a good post today about wingnut appeals court nominee William Pryor. I think he's right about the strategy behind his nomination, too: there's no way Bush can think that Pryor will ever be confirmed, but since Democrats can't filibuster everyone, his rejection will lead to an easier path for other conservative but not quite insane nominees.

And Sam Heldman links to an op-ed by conservative lawyer Bruce Fein lashing out at at Judge Roy "Ten Commandments" Moore for his refusal to admit that the First Amendment applies to states as well as Congress. Sam says:

Though Fein doesn't mention it, among the Republicans who have remained publicly silent on the point -- and the Republican who by all rights should have been the most vocal on it -- is Bill Pryor, Alabama's Attorney General. Pryor's official website still includes no mention of the 11th Circuit's decision, many days after the issuance of that decision. And he has not publicly decried the intimations by Chief Justice Moore that Moore might not obey the 11th Circuit's mandate. Instead, Pryor has (according to the Mobile newspaper -- scroll down to last item) hid behind some patently absurd assertion that he shouldn't discuss the case because it might yet go to the Supreme Court. If there is any chance that any Republicans on the Judiciary Committee plan to do anything other than blind adherence to party politics, they should consider Pryor's silence in light of Fein's essay.

Just remember: if Pryor gets confirmed he could be your next Supreme Court justice. Doesn't that thought send chills up and down your spine?

Kevin Drum 10:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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9/11 INVESTIGATION....Apparently Congress is just about ready to issue the 9/11 report that it's been fighting with the Bush administration over:

The report will show that top Bush administration officials were warned in the summer of 2001 that the al Qaeda terrorist network had plans to hijack aircraft and launch a "spectacular attack."

[Staff director Eleanor] Hill would not discuss details of the report, but said it will contain "new information" about revelations made last year, when the joint House-Senate investigation held nine public hearings and 13 closed sessions.

It's also going to provide further evidence for Saudi funding of terrorism.

Former congressman Tim Roemer says the report will be a "well-written narrative that will be summer reading for adults the way Harry Potter is for kids." I guess we'll see about that, won't we?

Kevin Drum 10:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WE'RE #6!....Exciting news! Among cities with a population over 100,000, Irvine is the sixth fastest growing city in the country. I guess that helps explain the continuing buoyancy of housing prices here.

And how is your city doing? Complete details from the census bureau are here.

Rank

Place

July 1, 2002

April 1, 2000

Numerical Change

Percentage Change

1

Gilbert, Ariz.

135,005

109,920

25,085

22.8

2

North Las Vegas, Nev.

135,902

115,488

20,414

17.7

3

Henderson, Nev.

206,153

175,750

30,403

17.3

4

Chandler, Ariz.

202,016

176,652

25,364

14.4

5

Peoria, Ariz.

123,239

108,685

14,554

13.4

6

Irvine, Calif.

162,122

143,072

19,050

13.3

7

Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

143,711

127,743

15,968

12.5

8

Chula Vista, Calif.

193,919

173,566

20,353

11.7

9

Fontana, Calif.

143,607

128,938

14,669

11.4

10

Joliet, Ill.

118,423

106,334

12,089

11.4


Kevin Drum 9:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 9, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE LEFT WILL RISE AGAIN!....In the Washington Post today, David Von Drehle writes about the resurgence of the left in the Democratic party:

They do not call themselves "liberals" anymore; the preferred term today is "progressives." But in other ways, they are much the same slice of the electorate that dominated the Democratic Party from 1972 to the late 1980s: antiwar, pro-environment, suspicious of corporations and supportive of federal social services.

In recent weeks, the progressive left has: lifted a one-time dark-horse presidential candidate, former Vermont governor Howard Dean, into near-front-runner status; dominated the first serious Internet "primary"; and convened the largest gathering of liberal activists in decades.

The liberal MoveOn.org is the fastest-growing political action committee in the Democratic Party. Left-leaning labor leaders, such as Andrew L. Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, are taking a more assertive part in mapping the all-important union role in party operations.

There's nothing really new here for blog readers, but it's a decent summary of what's going on and what the fight is about. And here's the good news:

The result: Activists who are normally prone to in-fighting -- "the Democratic Party is Yugoslavia," in the words of one party veteran, recalling years of internecine squabbles -- are instead trying to pool their energy to present a clear alternative to the man they despise [George Bush].

When you clear away all the underbrush, I think this is far and away the most important thing that's happening right now. Regardless of whether a "progressive" Howard Dean or a "DLC" John Edwards wins the nomination, I think the mood of the party is to close ranks and vigorously support our candidate no matter what. That's something we haven't seen for a while, and it's well past time to see it return.

Kevin Drum 10:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IS BUSH VULNERABLE?....Based on a new Pew Research poll, Amy Sullivan urges Dems not to give up in the face of the Bush juggernaut:

Bush's overall job performance rating is down 14 percent from just a few months ago. Sixty-two percent of Americans think he could be doing more to help the economy (up from 53 percent in May). A whopping 72 percent think Bush isn't doing enough about health care problems. And while 61 percent said they thought the effort in Iraq was going "very well" in April, only 23 percent say the same today. This is not a Teflon-coated president, people. He's vulnerable.

Unfortunately, the poll isn't quite as encouraging as Amy suggests. In fact, the subhead of the press release announcing the results is "Dem Candidates Stir Little Enthusiasm," and although it's true that only 23% say things in Iraq are going "very well," 75% say they are going either very well or fairly well. And there's this:

There are no signs that the public's unease over developments at home and abroad are providing the Democrats with much political momentum. In fact, the Democratic Party is losing its historic advantage over the Republicans on health care. By 38%-31%, the public favors the Democrats as the party best able to reform the health care system. That is the smallest edge the Democrats have held on this measure since October 1994 (41%-34%), after the demise of the Clinton administration's controversial national health care proposal.

Whew! Sorry about that. I didn't mean to be discouraging, but it's always best to face up to what you're up against. And overall, I agree with Amy: it's still early days, and a lot of the issues that favor Democrats aren't going to start resonating until the primary season really starts heating up. As the Pew survey shows, Bush's numbers are heading down and he clearly has some weaknesses that can be exploited. If we pick the right candidate it's going to be a close fight next November.

Kevin Drum 10:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PARALLEL UNIVERSES....Daniel Davies joins the Crooked Timber gang today and celebrates the occasion with a genuinely eccentric post.

Anyway, I can't make any sense of it, and I'm pretty sure that Canberra is the capital of Australia, but beyond that you're on your own. Uqbar is explained here.

Kevin Drum 8:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE LAKER DYNASTY....This is unbelievable. The Lakers, suffering from the ignominy of not winning the NBA title this year, are now ready to add Karl Malone and Gary Payton to their lineup. Both players are apparently willing to take pay cuts in the neighborhood of $30-40 million in order to play for a championship team.

So: Shaq, Kobe (assuming he's not in jail), Payton, and the Mailman. Crikey. I'm a Laker fan, and even I think that's unfair.

I guess that mean Phil Jackson is probably going to stick around for another season or two, eh? The rest of you poor saps should probably just stay home for the next couple of years.

Kevin Drum 7:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YES, HE GETS IT....Tim Rutten writing in the LA Times today about Michael Savage and the SCLM:

MSNBC, mired in last place among the three cable-news networks, and by all indications bereft of purpose or professional compass, has been trying to save itself by morphing into a kind of Fox News Lite less news, more nasty right-wing chat masquerading as redress for the rest of the media's alleged liberal bias.

Well said.

Kevin Drum 6:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YELLOWCAKE UPDATE....Yesterday I wrote a post about a story in Capitol Hill Blue in which a "CIA advisor" named Terrance J. Wilkinson claimed that he was present at White House briefings where George Bush was told that the Niger uranium story was bogus.

"I'm not sure how seriously to take this," I wrote, and it turns out that the answer is, "Not at all." Writing in Capitol Hill Blue today, publisher Doug Thompson says, "I've been had big time." Wilkinson is a fake and the briefings never took place.

Kevin Drum 4:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANN AND MICHAEL....You know, conservatives have actually been pretty good over the past few days in their willingness to disown Ann Coulter and Michael Savage. They deserve credit for this.

Which makes it all the more unfortunate that media critic Brent Bozell had to ruin their streak with this childish "But they do it too!" column about l'affaire Savage. Says Bozell:

Wishing death on people hasn't always been a damaging career move. In fact, if you wish death on conservatives, there's no problem at all.

How pathetic.

Kevin Drum 3:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GOLDEN IDOLS....Did you know that Turkmenistan's president, Saparmurat Niyazov, has installed a golden statue of himself in his capital that rotates with the sun? Me neither.

UPDATE: In comments, Lisa Williams points out that he has also renamed the 12 months of the year, including one after himself and one after his mother.

Kevin Drum 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LEGALIZING COCAINE....Mark Kleiman writes today that legalizing cocaine is a bad idea because it would put a lot of coke dealers out of work and would devastate the earnings of crack whores.

OK, OK, perhaps I'm oversimplifying a bit here, but he really does say that. Good thing he's not running for president, isn't it? Wouldn't you just love to be in charge of creating the TV ads for his opponent?

On a more serious note, Mark is basically making the argument that legalizing cocaine would cause cocaine use (and cocaine addiction) to rise, which is clearly a bad thing. He has certainly convinced me that this must be true, but it still leaves the basic cost-benefit analysis open since we don't know how much cocaine use would rise.

My problem is that the devastation and cost of our current drug regime is so bad that it's hard to imagine that legalization would, on balance, make things worse. That might just be a failure of imagination on my part after all, no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse but I still need some persuasion on this point. In fact, Mark himself, although he favors other policy measures, admits that:

Legalization at a low price would probably succeed in reducing overall crime, and might well be a substantial boon to poor minority neighborhoods now wracked by cocaine dealing, though at what would very probably be a very high cost in increased cocaine abuse. It is even possible, though I doubt it, that low-price legalization would represent a net improvement over today's version of prohibition.

Has anyone done a serious (but not too horrifically lengthy) policy analysis that compares the cost of increased cocaine use with the benefits of legalization? And is there anything close to a consensus view on this within the drug policy community? Back to you, Mark....

UPDATE: John Isbell reminds me to remind my readers that Mark is a public policy professor at UCLA and specializes in drug policy. I couldn't resist having a little fun with him, but his opinions on this subject should be taken seriously.

Kevin Drum 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JESSICA LYNCH: FEMINIST PAWN OF THE WASHINGTON POST?....It looks like the Army is about to make it official. Tomorrow they are issuing a report about what really happened to Pfc. Jessica Lynch:

The Army's 15-page report officially will debunk accounts that Pfc. Lynch emptied two revolvers at her attackers and was shot and stabbed before being taken prisoner of war. In fact, she was riding in a Humvee that was struck by a projectile during a frantic attempt to escape the ambush. She suffered "horrific injuries," said Pentagon sources familiar with the report.

....Pfc. Lynch also was pulled from the wreckage and taken to [a Nasiriyah] hospital. "Lynch survived principally because of the medical attention she received from the Iraqis," one source said.

The original heroic version of the story was reported by the Washington Post, and Kathryn Jean Lopez of NRO asks:

Could the story they painted been motivated by their agenda vis--vis women in the military? Shocking, I know.

Is that going to become the official conservative spin for this? That the Post was just promoting its radical feminist agenda?

Do conservatives have some gigantic brain trust buried deep inside a mountain near Cheyenne that comes up with this stuff? I mean, first we get David Warren's peculiar thesis that when George Bush said "Bring 'em on" he was really just trying to shoo terrorists away from civilization and over to Iraq. Now K-Lo absolves the military of misleading the media about Lynch by proposing a tortured right-wing fantasy about the Post's secret feminist conspiracy.

Sigh. I guess tomorrow we'll find out whether this trial balloon manages to spread throughout the blogosphere. I can't wait.

Kevin Drum 10:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PROTESTS IN IRAN....Student leaders in Iran have called off today's demonstrations due to threats of massive reprisals, a fact that I learned only on the blogosphere. Jeff Jarvis comments, "There is surprisingly -- shockingly -- little coverage of the events," and I have to agree. A quick web check of the LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN turned up nothing. I realize it's not necessarily the biggest story of all time, but you'd think they'd have something on their front pages about all this.

I've read conflicting reports over the past few days about how effective these protests are and whether foreign support for them is a good idea, and I have to confess that I don't know enough about the whole thing to have an opinion. It would be nice if the mainstream media helped me out a bit here.

However, the mainstream media isn't the only place to go these days. If you want to read more, IranMania has a good roundup of today's events and Winds of Change has lots of links.

Kevin Drum 10:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HYPER-NATIONALISTIC BLONDES....Via Asymmetrical Information, I learn that the original Axis of Evil is falling apart at the seams. Just a few days after Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi compared a German member of the European Parliament to a Nazi prison guard, a minister in Berlusconi's government has called Germans "hyper-nationalistic blondes" and accused them of being rowdy beach invaders.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reacted by cancelling his Italian summer holiday.

But here's the best part: the minister in question, Stefano Stefani, is the tourism minister. I predict a sudden uptick in German holidays in sunny Spain this year....

Kevin Drum 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MIRROR, MIRROR, ON THE WALL, WHO'S THE NET SAVVIEST OF THEM ALL?....Chris Mooney points to today's Lycos 50 column, which is all about the Democratic presidential candidates and asks the question, who's the most popular on the internet these days? Why, Howard Dean, of course!

How popular on the Internet is Dean these days? More popular than Madonna, Dr. Phil, or Alyssa Milano.

Hmmm, is that the best they could do? I mean, at least I've heard of Madonna and Dr. Phil, but who's Alyssa Milano?

Anyway, it's no surprise that Dean has "left his competition in the dust when it comes to online popularity," since he's the only one of the bunch who's really using the internet much at all. But the list also reminds me of what a tiny crowd we news junkies are: Dean may lead the presidential wannabe pack, but he doesn't even register in the overall Lycos Top 50, ranking behind Neopets, Metallica, FAFSA, and other pop culture icons. At this point, there really aren't very many people who care about anybody who's running for president.

The column doesn't give exact rankings for each of the contenders, but here's the list in order of internet popularity:

1. Gov. Howard Dean
2. Sen. John Kerry
3. Gen. Wesley Clark
4. Sen. John Edwards
5. Rep. Dennis Kucinich
6. Sen. Bob Graham
7. Rev. Al Sharpton
8. Sen. Joe Lieberman
9. Rep. Dick Gephardt
10. Sen. Carol Mosley Braun

Kevin Drum 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 8, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

INTERVIEWS AND INTIMIDATION....Asked about efforts to root out Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction back in January, George Bush had this to say:

The inspectors are there to verify whether or not he is disarming. You hear these reports about Iraqi scientists being interviewed, but there's a "minder" in the room.

He was quite right to be concerned about intimidation from minders, of course, and later in the month, under pressure from the U.S. and the UN, Iraq began allowing private interviews.

Now let's flash forward to today, where former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean is in charge of investigating the 9/11 attacks. Apparently minders are now in vogue:

Mr. Kean said that commission members were unhappy that some agencies they cited the Justice Department in particular had insisted on having monitors present at all commission interviews with their respective officials. That can foster a chilling sense of "intimidation" among witnesses, Mr. Kean said.

Indeed it can, as both George Bush and Saddam Hussein knew very well just a few short months ago. I wonder what it is that John Ashcroft is afraid of?

(Anyway, doesn't this whole business of "minders" sound a bit Stalin-esque? It kinda reminds me of all those "political officers" they had sprinkled throughout the military to keep an eye on the officers. Brrrr.)

Kevin Drum 6:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JOHN EDWARDS UPDATE....I've mentioned before that I think the Democratic race is down to Kerry, Dean, and Edwards, and apparently William Saletan agrees. In Slate today he makes the case for Edwards:

A year ago, Edwards batted his eyelashes and talked down to audiences like an oily courtroom lawyer. He hedged his statements in a way that suggested ignorance or cowardice. No more. If Dean's strength is speaking bluntly to the right, Edwards, like Joe Lieberman, has shown a facility for speaking bluntly to the left. In Concord, he stiff-armed a series of demands. Would he support medical marijuana? Not until the scientific debate was resolved. Would he denounce Israeli atrocities? He rejected the premise. Would he repeal the USA Patriot Act? "You need to know I voted for it," he told the questioner.

Of course, as Saletan notes, Edwards has been speaking pretty bluntly to the right recently too, and, like me, he thinks Edwards' themes resonate pretty well:

At the Concord event, two caught my eye. One is the sense of honor on which the free market relies. As Edwards put it, "This is about a real belief in capitalism. It's a belief that our markets can do well, but in order for them to do well, we need honesty, we need truth, we need responsibility." The other is the work ethic, which Edwards reinforced as he proposed college subsidies for students who work 10 hours per week. "The work won't hurt 'em. It won't hurt 'em a bit," he argued as the audience laughed. "This will make them appreciate their college education."

Edwards may not be absolutely everything I'd like in a candidate, but who is? Overall, he sounds pretty good to me, and I think he might sound pretty good to a lot of other people too.

Now, let's hear a bit more about his foreign policy, OK?

Kevin Drum 5:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CRISIS....Public Citizen, a consumer group founded by Ralph Nader, helpfully takes a look at the latest statistics on medical malpractice for 2002 compared to 2001. The highlights:

  • Total number of payouts (both judgments and settlements): down 8.2%.

  • Total dollar amount of payouts: down 6.9%.
    When adjusted for inflation: down 11.2%.

  • Average payout: up 1.4%.
    When adjusted for inflation: down 3.3%

  • Number of payouts over $1 million: down 11.5%

It's kinda hard to see the crisis, isn't it? And harder still to see the case for a massive intervention in the malpractice insurance market from the current gang of free market fundamentalists running the country.

Then again, maybe the Bush administration isn't really the small-government-red-tape-cutting-free-market enthusiasts they pretend to be....

Kevin Drum 3:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MUTUAL FUND MADNESS....The Economist writes about the dismal performance of actively managed mutual funds this week:

Between 1984 and 2002, the return on Standard & Poor's 500 index was 12.9% a year, according to DALBAR, a mutual-fund research firm. Over the same period the average equity mutual fund returned 9.6% a year, calculates John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, a low-cost mutual-fund company; but the individual investor in equity mutual funds got an annual return of only 2.7%, because of switching. To give an idea of what those numbers mean, $10,000 invested in the S&P 500 in 1984-2002 would have grown to $89,000, but the average mutual-fund investor's $10,000 would have grown to just $16,200.

Now then, what was that you were saying about privatizing Social Security....?

Kevin Drum 2:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TREASON....Via Tom Bevan at RealClear Politics who laments the generally hysterical tone of political commentary from both left and right these days I learn that even David Horowitz thinks Ann Coulter has flipped out. After listening to her dodge Chris Matthews when he asked her if John F. Kennedy committed treason, he says:

This exchange made me extremely uncomfortable. When somebody as smart and as gutsy as Ann Coulter equivocates over so direct a question Was Jack Kennedy a traitor? -- you know (and they know) that something is very wrong with the position they are defending.

....Why is she equivocating about Jack Kennedy anway? Kennedy was not only not a traitor, he was not even a weak anti-Communist, as she claims. He was arguably stronger than Eisenhower or Nixon in prosecuting the Cold War.

Actually, though, it's too bad to see that even conservatives are attacking Coulter since it means she'll probably have to tone down her next book. I was looking forward to the third volume in her series in which we learn that Democrats from FDR forward have all been secret child molesters. Now I'll never get to read it.

Kevin Drum 12:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CROOKED TIMBER....What do you get when you combine Kieran Healy, Chris Bertram, Brian Weatherson, and two Farrells? Answer: Crooked Timber, a new group blog and the lefty answer to the Volokh Conspiracy. Update your bookmarks.

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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UPDATE: This story has turned out to be fake. More details here.

YELLOWCAKE-GATE UPDATE....I'm not sure how seriously to take this, but Capitol Hill Blue reports that Bush definitely knew the Niger uranium story was bogus before he used it in his State of the Union address:

An intelligence consultant who was present at two White House briefings where the uranium report was discussed confirmed that the President was told the intelligence was questionable and that his national security advisors urged him not to include the claim in his State of the Union address.

"The report had already been discredited," said Terrance J. Wilkinson, a CIA advisor present at two White House briefings. "This point was clearly made when the President was in the room during at least two of the briefings."

Bush's response was anger, Wilkinson said.

"He said that if the current operatives working for the CIA couldn't prove the story was true, then the agency had better find some who could," Wilkinson said. "He said he knew the story was true and so would the world after American troops secured the country."

I don't know who Terrance J. Wilkinson is, and a quick Google search didn't bring up anything relevant. Hopefully someone else will have a chat with Wilkinson and confirm whether there's anything to this story.

Kevin Drum 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YELLOWCAKE-GATE....In his State of the Union address in January, George Bush said:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

This was based on some documents showing that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger. However, those documents were crude forgeries, and in any case it now turns out that the CIA had sent Africa expert Joseph Wilson to Niger nearly a year before to investigate these claims. On his return he reported that there was nothing to the allegations:

The ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington. Nevertheless, she and I agreed that my time would be best spent interviewing people who had been in government when the deal supposedly took place, which was before her arrival.

I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.

Despite Wilson's conclusion, the administration's party line on African uranium has been (a) nobody knew about Wilson's report, and (b) there was other evidence about uranium purchases anyway.

Today, the White House finally admitted that the "other evidence" was bogus too:

"There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa," the statement said. "However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made."

In other words, said one senior official, "we couldn't prove it, and it might in fact be wrong."

That leaves only the implausible statement that even though Wilson was dispatched to Africa specifically to look into the Niger connection at the instigation of the vice president's office, in the entire year between then and the State of the Union address not one single senior administration official heard about his conclusions. Wilson doesn't think much of this possibility:

...there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally).

As usual with this administration, this question could be quickly answered by releasing the relevant documents. However, also as usual with this administration, they have refused to do this, based on the usual claims that it might endanger national security.

At this point, though, it's pretty obvious that national security has nothing to do with it and the only thing that an investigation into the Niger fiasco would endanger is the president's credibility and his reelection hopes. It's time for the Washington press corps to wake up and start doing some real reporting.

Kevin Drum 10:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 7, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ANOTHER BRITISH INVASION?....My sister's favorite newspaper, the Guardian, is planning to start up a U.S. spinoff:

Its tentative form is as a weekly magazine, quite unlike any other weekly magazine that has been started in the U.S. in the past generation. Not only is it about politics (Rusbridger is looking to launch in the winter to cover the presidential-primary season), but the magazinemeant to be 60 percent derived from the Guardian itself, with the rest to come from American contributorshas a great deal of text unbroken by design elements.

....Rather than a lot of readers at a small price, the idea is fewer readers at a greater price....Against the trend of all other commercial media (wherein the price the consumer needs to pay or is willing to pay gets progressively lower), the job here is to make the magazinethe writing, the attitudes, the opinions, the contentworth more by being better, smarter, more exclusive.

dKos is enthusiastic:

Bringing the Guardian to these shores -- a publication that has far more cachet post-war than our resident left mags like the New Republic or the Nation. The former is no longer "lefty" by any stretch of the imagination, and the latter is largely irrelevant (flame away, Nation fans).

....We need a quality print periodical that can provide the intellectual foundation for the liberal agenda (much as the Weekly Standard has done for the Right). The Guardian would be perfect.

But James Joyner isn't convinced:

I disagree, as might be expected, that there is a dearth of leftist opinion writers available in the US market....The op-ed pages of the major newspapers are filled with liberal pundits. Ditto ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC.

....There is probably no leftist magazine comparable to Weekly Standard--but there are no other conservative magazines with that much influence, either. National Review's heyday has long passed. And even the Standard is influential primarily because they signed up already-established writers and have managed to leverage their influence into the television arena, where Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol are regularly seen. Indeed, the actual readership of any of those magazines is rather small and relegated almost entirely to the true believers.

But after reading about the Guardian's plans and then reading all the commentary about it today, I'm left with one nagging question: exactly what kind of magazine is it supposed to be? Of course it will tilt leftward, but is it a news magazine, a sort of lefty Economist, or is it truly a political magazine, a British version of The New Republic?

This is an important distinction. A lefty Economist would be a useful addition to the American media scene, a serious newsweekly that provides lots of straight news but provides it from a lefty perspective. That's something we don't have. On the other hand, if it's mostly geared toward political analysis and opinion, I'm not sure I see the point. Aside from a bit of distance from the hurly burly and a more international flavor neither of which seem all that useful in an American political magazine I doubt very much that the Guardian can provide anything that we don't already get from the Nation, TNR, or the American Prospect.

A lefty (but nonpolemical) news magazine would be something to look forward to, but it's not clear if that's what we'll be getting. So for now, I'm going to hold onto my enthusiasm until I hear more.

POSTSCRIPT: On the other hand, if they want to build up some buzz by inviting a few lefty bloggers to fly over for a look, my passport is up to date and my calendar is open....

Kevin Drum 9:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HITLER VS. STALIN....Who's faster, Superman or the Flash? Who's stronger, the Thing or the Hulk?

Well, who knows. But now, via Pandagon, we have a comic book answer to that age old question: who was the badder guy, Hitler or Stalin?

It's translated from the Russian (which might give you a clue about who the badder guy turns out to be), and the translators provide this warning:

The comics 2000 by Alexey Lipatov. Please don't steal too hard. It upsets the artist.

Joseph Stalin is & TM by the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks). Inappropriate usage will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law with expelling from the Party and ten years of hard labor.

Adolf Hitler is & TM by the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Inappropriate usage will be reported to the appropriate authorities. We cannot guess what they are gonna do, but it will definitely be something unpleasant as well.

Like Pandagon, I have no idea what this is about. But it provides a few minutes of mindless entertainment if you're in the mood for that kind of thing.

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AND WE WANT TIME AND A HALF FOR....UM, ER....Need further evidence of the wide cultural and political divide between the United States and Europe? No, I didn't think so, but here it is anyway: Britain's GMB trade union is campaigning to decriminalize prostitution and unionize sex workers:

Ana Lopez, of the International Union of Sex Workers, is a GMB branch secretary. She believes that the sex industry should only be viewed as a labour issue, and supports decriminalisation of all prostitution. The IUSW even believes that "pimps may be necessary for protection since most of the police fail to do this for sex workers".

Lopez acknowledges that most women in prostitution, especially those on the streets, would face difficulties joining a union, mainly because the majority would not wish to give their names and addresses, and do not want to be labelled prostitutes.

Yeah, that could be a problem.

I'm all in favor of decriminalizing prostitution, and hell, I suppose prostitutes would even be good candidates for unionization. But can you imagine a union or much of anyone else leading a campaign like this in America?

Me neither.

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MICHAEL SAVAGE FIRED....MSNBC has finally fired Michael Savage. Charles Kuffner has the story.

Still, I'm confused. Apparently MSNBC's management decided that Savage had crossed a line when he told a gay caller, "You should only get AIDS and die, you pig." How exactly does that differ from his usual fare?

Oh well, I guess we should count our blessings regardless. Now he can go back to his radio cesspool and rant about how he's been a victim of the liberal media elites that are choking off free expression in this country. I'm sure his listeners will eat it up.

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IS SADDAM BACK?....How did I miss this news on Friday? Apparently al-Jazeera has aired a tape that was purportedly recorded by Saddam Hussein a couple of weeks ago. It calls on Iraqis to resist U.S. occupation.

(Oh yeah, it was the 4th of July. I didn't bother reading any news that day.)

Anyway, like all these tapes, this one is filled with background noise and is of very poor quality. Nonetheless, the CIA says that "it's most likely his voice."

But why are these tapes always of poor quality? According to this latest one, it's just really hard to get good recordings of deposed dictators: "People have been asking why they haven't heard the voice of Saddam Hussein. We face a lot of trouble in getting our voice to you even though we have been trying."

What trouble? A $30 tape recorder will make a pretty good quality recording, and it's certainly easy enough to be sure to include some details in the message that make it clear when it was recorded. But they never do.

So I will remain mildly skeptical until we learn more. At the same time, however, it looks like the mere suspicion that Saddam might be back is causing problems:

"You can't speak now, just like you couldn't speak during Saddam's time," said a math teacher who would identify himself by only his first name, Rami, which "would not be enough for them to catch me."

Another man, a student named Khalid, refused to speak about Hussein in front of his friends. "Things are getting worse, not better," he said. "Everyone is afraid."

Some Iraqis said recent attacks against people who have been working with U.S. troops and the U.S.-led civilian occupation authority have further stoked public anxieties and prompted some to question whether they should continue cooperating with Americans.

....Then, after walking around the store to make sure no one was listening, he ventured another thought: "You know, if he comes back, he won't just be the old Saddam," he said. "He'll be 10 times the Saddam we knew."

Well, maybe. That's what Napoleon thought too, after all, and it didn't work out so well for him. Still, it would be nice avoid a rerun of Waterloo, even if we do end up on the winning side.

Kevin Drum 11:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OR, YOU COULD JUST LOOK AT MY PICTURE....Moshe Koppel says his software can determine if this blog is written by a man or a woman. How? Just by looking at the word usage:

Koppel's group found that the single biggest difference is that women are far more likely than men to use personal pronouns-''I'', ''you'', ''she'', ''myself'', or ''yourself'' and the like. Men, in contrast, are more likely to use determiners-''a,'' ''the,'' ''that,'' and ''these''-as well as cardinal numbers and quantifiers like ''more'' or ''some.'' As one of the papers published by Koppel's group notes, men are also more likely to use ''post-head noun modification with an of phrase''-phrases like ''garden of roses.''

There are many, many caveats to all this, so read the whole article if you're interested. In the meantime, I'm going to try and cut down on my use of post-head noun modifications with an of phrase.

Kevin Drum 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CALIFORNIA BUDGET UPDATE....Speaking of the California budget....

Last night we had a super-special Sunday meeting of the legislature so that the Republicans could introduce their plan to close the budget gap without raising taxes. You see, they've been fighting their rear-guard battle against Gray Davis for months now without actually having a budget plan of their own to put to a vote, but last night they finally did. So what kind of cuts were in their plan? According to the LA Times:

The Republican plan would cut all state funding for abortions....

At that point I just laughed. Of course it would. What else did I expect? Then:

It would do away with the Seismic Safety Commission, whose role is to protect the public from earthquake hazards. And it would reduce by 60% the budget for the California Youth Authority, the agency responsible for disciplining youthful offenders.

Other cuts included eliminating health care clinics for American Indians (saving $6.5 million); withholding the $50 monthly payment to poor, blind men and women to help feed their seeing-eye dogs; doing away with medical evaluation of low-income children ($51 million); and ending a program that pays for the burial of foster children.

They're proposing to eliminate dog food for blind people? I can see the TV ads already.

What makes this even more puzzling is that surely all this stuff can't add up to more than few hundred million dollars, compared to a budget gap of about $10 billion (I think). It sure would be nice if someone had a nice website somewhere comparing the various plans and showing what cuts and what tax increases had been proposed by the various sides. Does anybody know of one?

Kevin Drum 8:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 6, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE CALIFORNIA BUDGET CRISIS....The Hartford Courant ran an article yesterday that provides a pretty balanced look at the California budget crisis and what caused it. Basic points:

  • Yes, spending went up a lot.

  • However, California was recovering from rock-bottom spending in the early 1990s. Everyone voted to increase spending, not just Democrats.

  • Even with the increases, California is still right around the middle in terms of state spending compared to state income.

  • Proposition 13 has made the situation much worse because it forces California to rely disproportionately on income and capital gains taxes.

It's a good summary. But why do I have to go to the Hartford Courant to read it?

As for why we can't seem to resolve our budget mess, that's the result of a witch's brew of extremists safely ensconced in gerrymandered districts, term limits keeping a perpetual crew of amateurs in charge, a ridiculous two-thirds requirement to pass a budget, and the California Republican Party's insane hatred of Gray Davis. If you're interested, here's a pretty decent description of the Golden State's dysfunctional politics.

Don't you wish you lived here?

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PRESCRIPTION DRUG HELL....Over at Eschaton, Lambert points to a USA Today article that demonstrates what a huge win the prescription drug bill is for the pharmaceutical industry. Naturally, pharmaceutical companies win because they get to sell more drugs, but they also win because the Republican plan ensures that the government won't do anything so nasty as trying to negotiate lower prices:

Pharmaceutical-makers already have averted what they feared most: a single new bloc of 40 million consumers with the market power to dramatically drive down prescription prices and industry profits. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill bar the government from getting involved in price negotiations.

But both bills break the nation into 10 or more regions where private insurance companies would offer coverage for prescriptions. Rather than negotiating with the government, the pharmaceutical industry would deal with an array of insurers, each with thousands of clients, rather than millions. The extra costs would be paid by taxpayers and consumers.

"It's manageable for them," says Scott Kay, an industry analyst for Banc of America Securities. "It's not government-run, and that's a home run for them."

I still support the plan, because I think it's a lot easier to expand and fix it later than it would be to pass a better bill from scratch sometime in the unknown future. But it sure shows one of the (many) ways in which modern Republicans instantly roll over and abandon the principle of making government lean and mean whenever doing so might hurt one of their big corporate campaign contributors.

(And yes, the prescription drug plan might help George Bush's reelection, but we probably could have had universal healthcare 30 years ago if we hadn't been worried about Richard Nixon's reelection. If it's the right thing to do, we should support it regardless of whose plan it is.)

Kevin Drum 10:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BRING 'EM ON....The silliness over "Bring 'em on" is really getting out of hand. I mean, it was a dumb thing to say, but all Bush meant using his usual frat boy phrasing was that we're plenty tough enough to beat Iraqi guerrillas if they decide to take us on. Pretty clearly, the president of the United States wasn't issuing an invitation to terrorists to attack our troops.

At the same time, neither was his statement part of some clever master plan to redirect terrorists away from the United States and get them to play in Iraq instead, as Glenn Reynolds appears to believe:

You may have noticed that although people are upset about acts of terrorism this weekend in Russia and Iraq and Pakistan, there were no attacks in the United States.

I wonder if he even realizes how silly something like that sounds? Of course there were no terrorist attacks here this weekend. There never are. You can click here to see graphically just how rare terrorist attacks in the United States are, both pre and post 9/11.

Kevin Drum 4:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEPOTISM....Writing in this month's Atlantic, Saul Bellow's kid says nepotism is good! As long as you follow the Three Laws of Compassionate Nepotism, that is.

Armed Liberal thought he must have been missing the joke, but he wasn't. Bellow is serious.

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TAKING AIM AT THE DLC....A reader points to this article by Benjamin Ross in Dissent in which he claims that the DLC is repeating the mistakes of the McGovern coalition of 1972. I don't really know enough about the internal politics of the Democratic Party to be able to judge how good his argument is, but since the DLC has been writing memos going after Howard Dean for being a latter day George McGovern, it seems only fair for someone to return fire.

The article isn't all that long, so after you've read it come on back and leave a comment. Does Ross make sense or not?

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MODERATION....Warning: this turned into a rather long and rambling post, and no, I'm not entirely sure what my point is. Sorry about that, but read on anyway....

Yesterday I blogged about an internet poll that matches up your policy preferences with those of the presidential candidates. The comments were enlightening, I thought, especially the conversation about what a "moderate" liberal is these days.

I described myself as being in the leftward 20% of the country, for example, which provoked two quite opposite responses. One commenter was "dumbfounded" that I thought of myself as anything but a centrist liberal, calling my positions "common sense," while another suggested that I'm "perceived as a left wing nut case by most American voters."

So which am I? Centrist or nut case? To answer this, let's take a look at a few distinctions that I think are important, as well as a look at the real world and where we bloggers stand in it.

First, there's a difference between policy moderation and rhetorical moderation. John Kerry, for example, is probably about as liberal as Howard Dean if you look at his actual policy positions, but Dean uses more fiery rhetoric. Likewise, aside from a regrettable weakness for sarcasm, my writing tends to be pretty sober compared to someone like Atrios. But on actual political positions, we're fairly close.

Then there are the various types of moderation. Here are a few:

  • Genuine moderation, in which your opinion is truly somewhere between the extremes. This probably describes my position on gun control, for example.

  • Compromise moderation, where your position is extreme but you're willing to compromise if you think it might put to rest a contentious issue. That would describe my view on abortion if I thought that the pro-life forces would ever be willing to accept a compromise. (And hold your comments on this, please. I'm well aware that they aren't, so there's really no point in compromise on our side.)

  • Real world moderation, in which you realize that your position simply isn't supported by very many people, so you don't talk much about it. That would describe my position on most religious matters.

So what does it all mean? Just how liberal am I, really? Here are a few answers:

  • From a policy perspective, I'm pretty liberal. If you're not sure you believe this, keep in mind that the blogosphere does not represent the country as a whole. Libertarians, for example, are vastly overrepresented, as are activists on both sides. The country is not as hawkish as the warbloggers might make you believe, and Howard Dean is not as popular as the lefty blogosphere would have you believe. So while I may be fairly moderate from a lefty blog perspective, I'm pretty solidly liberal from a real-world perspective anywhere outside of Marin County or the Upper West Side.

  • My views have changed over time. Twenty years ago, for example, I didn't think of income inequality as a huge problem. Today, after two decades of widening inequality, skyrocketing CEO compensation, and steady reductions in the real minimum wage, I think it's something to worry about, and this makes my economic outlook more liberal than it used to be. Overall, however, my views have probably stayed pretty steady, while the country has moved considerably rightward. So while 20 years ago I would have put myself in the leftward third of the country, today I'm probably in the leftward 20%.

  • From a blog writing perspective, I'm quite moderate. I believe pretty strongly in trying to persuade, not hector, and in trying to form alliances to get things done. Did Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election in 2000? Probably, but I don't really care. If you're willing to vote for the Democratic candidate in 2004, then I'm on your side, and we can sort out our differences later.

So why talk about all this? I guess I just think that regardless of your political or strategic views (solidify the base vs. reach out to moderates, for example), it's important to understand electoral reality. A clear-eyed look at polling data puts my political views pretty far to the left, and if you think of me as only barely a liberal at all, that means you're even farther to the left. That's fine, but you should understand exactly what that means and whether it's likely that you can rally very many voters to your banner. A strategy for winning elections depends on an understanding of reality, not on wishful thinking about whether the rest of the country would really be on our side if only Bush & Co. would stop lying about us.

That's important, because right now I just want to get George Bush out of office. No third party has been successful for the past century and a half in America, and our electoral system makes it highly unlikely that one will be successful in the next century and a half either. That means finding a Democrat who's reasonably in tune with what we want but is still centrist enough to have a chance of winning a nationwide election given the realities of where the political center is these days. I may be more moderate than, say, Ampersand, Jeanne d'Arc, or the Daily Kos crew, but I'll make common cause with them any day. I hope they feel the same way.

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BLOGGING KEVINS....Are Kevins taking over the world? Kevin Aylward has July's installment of Blogging Kevins so you can judge for yourself.

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WIMBLEDON UPDATE....It's true that mixed doubles isn't especially competitive these days, but even so it was remarkable to watch 46-year-old Martina Navratilova team up with Leander Paes to win her 20th Wimbledon title today. She is truly one of the all-time greats.

Kevin Drum 11:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 5, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

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WHAT UNIVERSITY WAS THIS, ANYWAY?....Steve Gilliard at Daily KOS yesterday:

My niece, who is all of six, asked me why we celebrate Independence Day. Our family are more Thanskgiving people, but I did my best, having majored in the subject in college.

Steve majored in Independence Day in college? Talk about your declining educational standards....

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MORE HARRY POTTER....What's the difference between the British and American editions of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? Via Charles Kuffner, here is an excerpt from page 205 of the British edition:

"Anyway, it's a nightmare of a year, the fifth," said George. "If you care about exam results, anyway. Fred and I managed to keep our peckers up somehow."

And here it is in the American edition (at the bottom of page 226):

"Anyway, it's a nightmare of a year, the fifth," said George. "If you care about exam results, anyway. Fred and I managed to keep our spirits up somehow."

Aside from typographical and spelling conventions, another big difference appears to be length: 766 pages for the British edition vs. 870 pages for the American edition. More pages means a higher printing cost, so I wonder why the publishers felt they had to use a larger type size in America than in Britain?

(It's worth noting that not quite every slightly risque passage got excised from the American edition. There was one passage that surprised me a bit in a children's book, but unfortunately I can't remember what it was. If anyone knows what I'm talking about, leave an excerpt in comments.)

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HANDICAPPING THE DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES....Via Julian Sanchez, here's a genuinely interesting little internet poll: you answer some questions about your policy preferences and it tells you which presidential candidates match your views most closely. Here are my results (restricted to major party candidates):

1. Kucinich, Cong. Dennis, OH - Democrat (87%)
2. Kerry, Senator John, MA - Democrat (76%)
3. Dean, Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat (67%)
4. Lieberman Senator Joe CT - Democrat (66%)
5. Gephardt, Cong. Dick, MO - Democrat (66%)
6. Sharpton, Reverend Al - Democrat (65%)
7. Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat (61%)
8. Graham, Senator Bob, FL - Democrat (50%)
9. Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol IL - Democrat (44%)
10. Bush, George W. - US President (15%)

That's interesting. Pragmatist that I am, I don't really care how much I agree with Kucinich since I don't think he has a chance of winning either the nomination or the election, but the fact that John Kerry is the highest ranked of the major candidates makes me think I need to take a little closer look at him, even though he doesn't do much for me personally. At the same time, the candidates ranked #3-7 are bunched so closely that from a personal policy preference point of view there probably isn't much real difference between them.

All the usual caveats about internet surveys apply here, of course, and I don't know how accurate this one really is. However, I did have to shake my head at this question:

4. Federal funding of "corporate welfare", which has been defined as "special government subsidies or benefits that are targeted to specific industries or businesses" should be (a) increased or (b) decreased.

Who's going to answer "increased" to a question worded like that?

And finally, what's up with the 15% of issues that I supposedly agree with George Bush on? I wish the survey told me which issues those were so that I could be sure and change my mind about them....

UPDATE: It's worth mentioning that a high ranking for a candidate isn't necessarily a good thing here. I want a candidate who can win, and I'm well aware that my political views are pretty far from the political center. In that sense, the fact that Kerry matches my views so closely might actually mean he's less electable than people think.

UPDATE 2: Based on comments, it looks like something may be a bit fishy with this poll. Kucinich seems to come out awfully high for practically anyone to the left of George Bush, so the test might be skewed in his favor somehow. Take it with a grain of salt.

Kevin Drum 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GREENS....A couple of days ago I was reading a post by Ampersand in which he reprinted a memo suggesting that Greens needed to form a coalition with Democrats if they wanted to have any real influence in policymaking. Now, I'm not sure the idea of Ralph Nader as Secretary of Labor is going to fly, but it was this sentence from the memo that really caught my eye:

In 1994, when I was State Chairman in NM and managed the Statewide campaigns, Kent Smith, the CA GP's Galactic Ambassador, said to me what I was not yet ready to hear....

The California Green Party has a Galactic Ambassador?

Kevin Drum 10:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOT DOG EATING....For the sixth time in seven years, Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi has won the Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest. What's worse, he won by an enormous margin and he wasn't even really trying.

It is disturbing that in a country of nearly 300 million people, a place where hot dogs are as American as hot dogs, hot dog eating has fallen to such a sorry state. And while it's true that this decline began under the Clinton administration, it is under the negligent handling of the Bush administration that it has been allowed to fall to its current catastrophic levels.

Democrats have proposed a toughminded and fiscally responsible $20 million program that would make our woefully outgunned hot dog eaters into a world class team once again, a sum that's easily affordable for a country as rich as ours. But the Bush administration, having passed over a trillion dollars of tax cuts since they took office, now claims that we can't afford this. The question they should be asking is, can we afford not to do this?

Hot dog eating is at a low ebb in this country, but there's no reason we have to accept mediocrity. The Democratic proposal is both affordable and necessary, a first step toward a time when our hot dog eaters can once again stand up and proudly say to the world, "Bring 'em on."

Call your congressman.

Kevin Drum 10:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SILVIO BERLUSCONI UPDATE....Henry Farrell points us to the latest chapter in the Silvio Berlusconi farce today. The Germans say Berlusconi apologized (privately), Berlusconi says he didn't. In fact, not only didn't he apologize, he said, but he was the aggrieved party.

Then, in an effort to ensure that he looks as ridiculous as humanly possible in this little spat, he recast his suggestion that MEP Martin Schulz would make a good Nazi with a suggestion that he would make a good sitcom Nazi:

"His way of going on and the tone of his voice reminded me of the television character Sgt Schulz of Hogan's Heroes, the series in which Sgt Schulz shouted and ranted a lot but in the end turned out to be kind-hearted," said Mr Berlusconi.

I'm not sure which is worse, the fact that Berlusconi compared the real Schulz to a fictional Schulz or the fact that the prime minister of Italy is familiar with Hogan's Heroes.

Kevin Drum 9:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 4, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY INDEPENDENCE DAY CAT BLOGGING....Happy 4th of July from the patriotic cats here at Calpundit World Headquarters!

Plenty of bonus cats today, too. First, courtesy of frequent commenter Edub, is this worldwide map of library cats. My nearest cats appear to be Dewey, over in Mission Viejo, and Megan and ALIS, in Silverado Canyon. Click the map to find your nearest literary feline!

Elsewhere, Andrea Harris' cat likes her new shoes although Andrea herself seems somewhat less sure about them. And Lance Arthur at Just Write begins this post with "I have pissed on my cat. There, I said it." Decide for yourself if you want to read the rest.

And since Independence Day brings out warm feelings in everyone probably even in the Brits, who are happy to see the back of us we'll finish up with a picture of Cleo, a beautiful black lab courtesy of Steve over at Begging to Differ. (See, Bill, there's room for everybody in the revolution!)

Happy 4th, everyone!

Kevin Drum 10:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HARRY POTTER UPDATE....Having finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which was pretty good, I thought, better than the previous two I am confirmed in my belief that the most interesting character in the series is Severus Snape. I am very much hoping that by series' end JK Rowling will have provided us with a genuinely interesting (and non-cliched!) backstory for Snape.

Kevin Drum 9:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SO COLD....The temperature in our freezer was down to -1 F this morning. Chilly in there.

Kevin Drum 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TOO MANY SECRETS....Time to rev up the secret trials:

President Bush designated six suspected al Qaeda terrorists as eligible for trial before military tribunals yesterday, bringing the United States to the brink of its first prosecution of enemy prisoners since the aftermath of World War II.

Government officials who announced the president's action declined to name the six men, to describe the timeline for moving their cases forward or to say where they might be tried, though some officials said the site almost certainly will be the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

....The United States has turned to military tribunals to conduct the prosecutions in part because the proceedings can be held under extraordinary security, sometimes even with judges' names withheld. The trials can be closed to the public when classified information is discussed, and, in contrast to federal criminal courts, the normal rules of evidence are relaxed. The rules generally favor the prosecution.

The government's position, of course, is essentially that if we knew what they knew, we'd agree with this decision. However, over at the Volokh Conspiracy Philippe de Croy points out that the Bush administration's track record of using secret information wisely has not been so good. "Sorry, fellas, but Im fresh out of free passes," he says.

Me too.

Kevin Drum 9:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 3, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

DURABLE GOODS PURCHASES ARE UP IN JULY!....I may talk a good Bush-bashing game, but out in the real world I'm doing my best to pump up the economy and help our president win a second term. Last week I got a new air conditioner for my car admittedly, not exactly a voluntary purchase on my part and today our new refrigerator came. It's a high-efficiency model, which means it should pay for itself! In about a century or so.

Anyway, it recommends a temperature of 37 degrees for the refrigerator, which seems about right, and 0 degrees for the freezer. Zero? Do they control the refrigerator in Fahrenheit and the freezer in Celsius?

Nope, it's all in Fahrenheit. But doesn't 32 degrees below freezing seem awfully cold? Our old one sure didn't get that cold.

Oh well, I'm sure they know what they're doing. And while flipping through the owner's manual to make sure this was all correct, I came across the following list of "sounds that are normal":

  • HUMMM... WHOOSH...

  • Whir!

  • CLICKS, POPS, and CHIRPS

  • Water Sounds

That's good to know.

Kevin Drum 5:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DO NOT CALL....On Tuesday I hopped over to the website for the National Do-Not-Call Registry and registered my phone number. I normally get about half a dozen telemarketing calls a day, but yesterday I only got two and today I've only gotten one. Is this just a coincidence, or does the registry really work that fast? If it does, hooray for big government!

If you haven't signed up yet, the website is here and it only takes a minute to register. Alternatively, you can call (888) 382-1222.

UPDATE: Hold on a second. After writing this post, I realized that I never got the confirming email you're supposed to get, so I re-registered. Sure enough, this time I got an email about 30 seconds later, clicked the link, and confirmed the registration. My registration on Tuesday probably didn't even take effect.

I guess that means "coincidence" is the leading candidate here....

Kevin Drum 4:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BASHING BUSH....Over at Eschaton, Leah points to a Seattle Times article indicating that Paul Bremer has requested 50,000 more troops in Iraq. The Bush team, however, doesn't want this request to become public since it would make clear how badly they botched their postwar planning. Leah comments:

I suspect that all critiques of how we're failing to secure the peace and begin to move towards democracy in Iraq will be treated as if they're calls to retreat. Even questions about those cancelled elections can be characterized as attempts to rush the process so we can get the hell out of there.

We need some thinking about how to continue the critique, without finding that we're playing Karl's game.

That's my two cents. Tell me yours.

OK, I will. On this specific subject, I think that Democrats simply need to be very clear that they don't want to see us withdraw from Iraq, but that they do think foreign policy should be run by someone with a track record of good judgment. Say plainly that you want us to win this war and stamp out terrorism, but that Bush has shown that he's just not up to the job.

More generally, a significant part of any successful Democratic attack on Bush has to go straight to the subject of judgment and competence. It would look something like this, I think:

  • He said his tax cuts would create jobs. They didn't.

  • He said his stem cell plan would allow research on debilitating illnesses like Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease to proceed. He was wrong.

  • He said he would find Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. He failed.

  • He said Saddam Hussein had WMDs that posed an imminent threat to the security of the United States. It wasn't true.

  • He said the Iraqis would greet us a liberators and laughed at the army when they said we'd need several hundred thousand troops to occupy Iraq. The army was right, he was wrong.

You can add your own favorites, but you get the idea. The message ought to be that even if you agree with Bush's goals, he's demonstrated over and over that his policies won't get us there. So instead of reelecting a guy who keeps making mistakes and trying to clean up after them, let's elect someone who can get the job done on the first try.

Kevin Drum 4:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND THE BOARD....Via Unfogged, the Progressive Review prints a transcript of a very amusing speech given by David Rubenstein of The Carlyle Group a couple of months ago in which he explains how George W. Bush became a member of the Carlyle board of directors as well as how he became no-longer-a-member of the Carlyle board of directors:

When we were putting the board together, somebody [Fred Malek] came to me and said, look there is a guy who would like to be on the board. He's kind of down on his luck a bit. Needs a job. Needs a board position. Needs some board positions. Could you put him on the board? Pay him a salary and he'll be a good board member and be a loyal vote for the management and so forth.

I said well we're not usually in that business. But okay, let me meet the guy. I met the guy. I said I don't think he adds that much value. We'll put him on the board because - you know - we'll do a favor for this guy; he's done a favor for us.

We put him on the board and [he] spent three years. Came to all the meetings. Told a lot of jokes. Not that many clean ones. And after a while I kind of said to him, after about three years - you know, I'm not sure this is really for you. Maybe you should do something else. Because I don't think you're adding that much value to the board. You don't know that much about the company.

He said, well I think I'm getting out of this business anyway. And I don't really like it that much. So I'm probably going to resign from the board.

And I said, thanks - didn't think I'd ever see him again. His name is George W. Bush. He became President of the United States. So you know if you said to me, name 25 million people who would maybe be President of the United States, he wouldn't have been in that category. So you never know. Anyway, I haven't been invited to the White House for any things.

Of course, it's also worth mentioning that in 1990 George W. Bush was the son of the president of the United States, and three years later he wasn't. That might have had just a little something to do with the timing of both his hiring and firing, don't you think?

Still, this story gets straight to the thing that has always puzzled me the most about George Bush: how did he do it? I mean, in 1998 he had been (charitably) a mediocre businessman followed by four years as governor of Texas, a pretty undemanding position. Sure, he was named Bush, but even so, how did he become the frontrunner so fast? He wasn't even the most highly regarded member of the Bush family, for crying out loud.

It really is a mystery how addicted we Americans are to electing presidents with so little national experience. It's not clear that this has done us any harm, mind you, but it's still a bit odd.

Kevin Drum 3:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSHONOMICS....Not for the first time, Brad DeLong is puzzled by the fact that the Bush administration is manifestly pursuing economic policies that won't help the economy much, despite the fact that a good economy would be a considerable benefit to their reelection hopes. (Oh, and good for the country, too!)

I figure there are five possibilities here:

  1. Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, they really do believe that their policies will provide a strong short-term stimulus to the economy. After all, they believe in creationism, so why not this?

  2. They are so ideologically wedded to lowering taxes on capital that they'd rather cut taxes than stimulate the economy, even at the possible risk of losing the election.

  3. They take the principled view that the president doesn't actually have any effect on the economy at all, so why not just do what they want anyway and hope for the best?

  4. On a related theme, they figure their reelection depends only on whether people think they've tried hard. As long as the public sees plenty of activity, they will forgive a lack of results.

  5. Karl Rove believes that Bush's reelection primarily depends on fundraising. Cutting taxes on the rich brings in lots of campaign cash, and that's all that really matters.

I'm sure there are other possibilities too, but that's all I can come up with off the top of my head. The part I can't figure out is, which of these possibilities is the scariest?

Kevin Drum 2:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"BRING 'EM ON"....I'm so used to President Bush making dumb off the cuff remarks that I guess yesterday's dumb off the cuff remark just didn't bother me that much. In fact, I really only have two questions about the whole thing:

  • I watched the clip on TV and what Bush said about those guerrilla bad boys was, "Bring 'em on." However, in some reports he was quoted as saying, "Bring them on." Question: is it OK to correct his choice of words like that?

  • All right thinking Democrats, I'm sure, agree with Dick Gephardt's weariness over Bush's "phony, macho rhetoric." Question: what does the rest of the country think? I'm genuinely curious to see if someone conducts a poll about the response to this, because I have a feeling that macho rhetoric goes over pretty well with an awful lot of people.

My own poll shows that the country is 100% disgusted with Bush's remark, but my poll consisted of watching Marian's reaction to the TV clip. So, you know, I'm hoping for something with a little less margin of error. Surely Fox News will do a poll about this, even if no one else does?

Kevin Drum 12:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEMOCRATIC FUNDRAISING....Daily KOS has the lastest fundraising estimates for the Democrats, and it's nice to see it all in one place. There's only one thing he forgot to do: add it all up.

The individual numbers look awfully bad when you compare them to George Bush's easy fundraising romps recently, but the Democratic total for the quarter is a fairly healthy $30 million. There's no question that Bush and the Republican are going to outspend the Democrats by a lot, but even so, $30 million 16 months before the election isn't bad.

At this point, based on both the campaign trail and the fundraising numbers, I'm ready to join Brian Linse and declare that the serious field is now Kerry, Dean, and Edwards. Nobody else has a real chance.

UPDATE: By they way, does anyone know how that $30 million compares to the April-June time period in 1991? I don't know where to look that up, and I'm curious.

Kevin Drum 11:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANOTHER LOVE NOTE FROM THE DLC....A few weeks ago the DLC's Al From and Bruce Reed lit off a little nuclear torch aimed at Howard Dean, pissing off all manner of Democrats and assorted liberals in the process. Today in the LA Times they repeat almost exactly what they said back then:

Every weekend, yet another special-interest group hosts a candidate forum to pressure the presidential candidates into praising its agenda. Some of the candidates seem intent on running applause-meter campaigns, measuring success by how many times they tell the party faithful what they want to hear.

....Ironically, party activists are out of line not only with their party's historic tradition but with their fellow Democrats. In 1996, a survey by the Washington Post compared the views of delegates to the Democratic convention with those of ordinary registered Democratic voters. They might as well have come from different parties. On every single social and economic issue, the views of the registered Democrats were closer to those of all registered voters than to those of Democratic delegates.

Almost two-thirds of Democratic delegates wanted to cut defense spending; most registered Democrats did not. A majority of Democratic delegates opposed a five-year time limit for welfare benefits; two-thirds of registered Democrats supported it. Democratic delegates were split on the death penalty; registered Democrats favored it by a margin of more than 2 to 1.

Now, candidates of either party making the rounds of interest groups during primary season is hardly cause for alarm, and considering the positions that most of the major Democratic candidates have taken, it's hard to see why the DLC is so concerned about a return to McGovern style liberalism. What's more, even those 1996 polling numbers they cite aren't really that scary: they show that Democratic delegates are somewhat more liberal than Democrats as a whole, but not wildly so. I imagine that exactly the same is true on the Republican side.

I don't mind that the DLC is pushing on the Democratic candidate to be tougher on foreign policy. That's a perfectly defensible position, and one that makes sense. But what I do mind is that they seem unable to write an op-ed with the goal of bringing both activists and the rank and file together. Instead, their piece is overtly dismissive, seemingly telling activists to just get out of the party and go vote for Nader. What's the point of that?

Republicans do a much better job of supporting their activists and making them feel wanted, but without letting them take over the party. Why can't the DLC do the same?

Kevin Drum 11:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAY MARRIAGE....A couple of days ago I suggested that gay marriage was "political dynamite" and that both Democrats and Republicans probably wanted to avoid the issue altogether. Writing in the Los Angeles Times today, Nick Anderson reports that this is exactly what they're trying to do:

Bush and the major Democratic presidential candidates agree on a central point: They do not support granting same-sex couples the right to marry in the United States.

The Republican incumbent and most of the Democratic candidates also agree on something else: They would rather change the subject.

That may prove impossible. Pending court cases in Massachusetts and New Jersey are testing whether same-sex marriage should be legal in those states. Gay and lesbian couples have been trekking northward to Canada to wed since same-sex marriages became legal in that country last month. They are now returning to their homes in the United States, and many may soon be pressing for U.S. recognition of their Canadian status.

It's ironic, really: after several months of suggesting that gay rights was a great subject for Democrats in 2004, the only gay rights issue that's actually hit the mainstream is the very one that I sort of hoped would stay on the back burner.

Well, as Harold Macmillan said, the hardest part of politics is "events, dear boy, events," and if this is the subject du jour, then it's the subject du jour. So what to do about it?

It's easy for me to say this, since I'm not the one running for president, but with gay marriage now on the table I think there's only one principled stand for a candidate to take: this is a state matter and has nothing to do with me. Next question.

Heh heh, just kidding. Here's what I'd really like to hear from a Democratic candidate who expects my vote:

  • I'm opposed to any kind of constitutional amendment or federal involvement in this issue.

  • Everyone needs to calm down. This is primarily a legal issue, not cultural Armageddon, and gays should have the same property rights, inheritance rights, etc. as anyone else.

  • States should be free to define marriage any way they wish, and other states should respect that.

In other words, I'd like to see someone have the courage to come out in favor of permitting gay marriage. But the key to acceptance, I think, is to try and reframe the issue: it's not that big a deal, there's really nothing to be afraid of, we should act like adults instead of unthinkingly giving in to inchoate fears of "ickiness," and it's fundamentally unfair to deny legal protections to gay couples and their children.

Sadly, I don't expect to hear anything like this from any of the major candidates. Too bad.

UPDATE: In comments, Brent points to this NPR transcript in which Howard Dean comes within a whisker of saying the same thing as me:

Q: As governor of Vermont, you passed legislation legalizing civil unions between couples of the same sex. Would you recommend that to other states or propose it as a national policy?

DEAN: I would certainly recommend it to other states, but you can't propose it as a national policy. I think the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and I think anything, any national civil unions act would be unconstitutional. That is not the prerogative of the federal government, that is the prerogative of the states. What I would do....is two things. First of all, if a state had a civil unions statute or a domestic partnership statute, we would recognize that federally so that people who enter into those arrangements can have the same legal rights at the federal level that I have: hospital visitation, insurance, inheritance rights, there are 1,500 rights that you can only have if you're married and since gay people can't get married that needs to be remedied, because I believe that every American ought to be equal under the law, and that's what we do in Vermont.

I'm not sure how the gay community generally feels about this, but if "civil union" includes all the legal rights of marriage but is just called something else, then I'm fine with that. In popular parlance, it will become "marriage" pretty quickly.

Kevin Drum 9:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 2, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

HOWARD DEAN....In the very best spirit of citizen bloggers, here is an account of a day with Howard Dean. It's written by Marc Levitt, who volunteered to chauffer Dean around New York a couple of days ago.

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HOORAY FOR BILL!....Condoleezza Rice assesses Bill Clinton's foreign policy:

'President Clinton did a great service to the world in trying to make this work at Camp David. Everybody in our administration admires what he did and admired it at the time.'

She went on to describe the 1994 Clinton-era agreement aimed at freezing North Korea's plutonium-producing nuclear energy programme as 'probably the exactly right thing to do' at the time.

Hmmm, has anyone informed the VRWC of this new talking point?

Kevin Drum 11:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE ART OF DIPLOMACY....Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been on trial pretty much forever on various charges of bribery and corruption, but ever since he became prime minister he's been pushing through bills that would exempt him from prosecution. He succeeded in passing the last of these, thus making himself completely and entirely above the law, a few days ago, just in time for the beginning of Italy's presidency of the EU.

Happy days, right? Not quite. In his first appearance as president of the EU, a German member of the European parliament criticized Berlusconi's extensive ownership of Italian media companies and Berlusconi lost his cool:

"Mr. Schulz, I know there is in Italy a man producing a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I would like to suggest you for the role of leader. You'd be perfect,'' Berlusconi exclaimed to jeers in the chamber.

What a disgusting thing to say. Italians everywhere must be cringing.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell has some additional background on this plus some analysis of whether it matters. Short answer: yes it does.

Kevin Drum 9:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSINESS FRIENDLY HEALTHCARE....Who's in favor of the prescription drug benefit currently wending its way through Congress? Seniors, obviously, since they will have to spend less on drugs. And drug companies, of course, since they get to sell more drugs.

But it turns out that a big chunk of the business community is in favor too:

The bills to provide drug benefits through Medicare that were passed by the House and the Senate last week offer some of the country's largest employers a long-sought prize: shifting at least some of their burden of soaring drug costs to the federal government.

....The 28,000 employers who provide drug benefits to retirees are spending $22.5 billion this year for their former employees' prescriptions, according to a study by Hewitt Associates, a consulting firm, and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This doesn't surprise me at all. In fact, I've wondered for a long time why proponents of single payer healthcare haven't been more successful in getting the business community on their side. Sure, it's "socialized medicine," and God knows we hate anything that reeks of socialism in America, but healthcare is one of the biggest pains in the butt that American businesses have to put up with, and they hate it. Costs keep going up, regulations are fierce, employees gripe about it incessantly, administration costs are high, and the payback for all this is exactly zero.

I don't know the history of healthcare reform well enough to know the answer to this, but it sure seems as if some nice, moderate, business-friendly Democrat could craft a plan that would have widespread support in the business community and thus hive off some support from moderate Republicans as well. Of course, that's a perfect description of Bill Clinton, and he couldn't do it, so maybe there's more to it.

Whatever it is, though, I can't think of it. I'm surprised the business lobby hasn't been pushing on this all along.

UPDATE: Of course, it would need one of those cool names that Newt Gingrich was so good at coming up with. "The Socialized Medicine Act of 2003" wouldn't do, for example, but maybe "The Business Freedom and Health Bureaucracy Reduction Act of 2003" would play well. How about it?

UPDATE: James Joyner suggests that we might be closer to universal healthcare than we think:

It seems to me that we're about 2/3 of the way there now. Currently, the elderly, the poor, the active military, some disabled folks, and most government workers get free or heavily-subsidized government health benefits. Once the working middle class realize they're paying for everyone else, it won't be hard to persuade them to make the system universal.

As I recall, federal and state governments already account for nearly half of all healthcare spending in the country. We may not be quite 2/3 there, but we're halfway there anyway.

Kevin Drum 9:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ZIP CODE ANNIVERSARY....Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the ZIP Code, and the LA Times blurb about this reported the following postal fact:

In 1963, the Post Office Department delivered 68 billion pieces of mail to 188 million customers at fewer than 60 million addresses. Today, the U.S. Postal Service delivers 203 billion pieces to 291 million Americans at more than 141 million addresses.

So the population of the U.S. has increased 55% over this period but the number of addresses has increased 135%. That seems like a pretty big difference, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 8:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 1, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TIM HENMAN: THE HAROLD STASSEN OF WIMBLEDON?....The Guardian asks today about British tennis hero Tim Henman, "Can he do it?"

Short answer: no. Long answer: read the story and find out. The Brits sure are hard on their sports icons, aren't they?

(Looking at the current draw, he really ought to at least get to the finals this year. But he probably won't. The Brits may be hard on their sports icons, but they seem to be remarkably clear-eyed and resigned to the truth too.)

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OPPOSITES....Do opposites attract? New science says no!

The theory that opposites attract is a myth, say a group of U.S. scientists who have found men and women are more likely to choose partners who are similar -- or they believe are similar -- to themselves.

Both sexes are most likely to attract individuals who look like them and have the same wealth, social status and share the same outlook towards family and fidelity, the new research suggests.

Well, that's fine, I never believed all that "opposites attract" nonsense anyway. But even so, check out the methodology for this study:

The results were based on questionnaires by 978 students aged between 18 and 24. Respondents were asked to rank the importance they placed on 10 attributes in a long-term partner.

The students were then asked to rate themselves based on the same attributes.

You've got to be kidding. These guys are pronouncing on "preference for long-term partners" based on a single self-reporting survey given to a highly nonrepresentative group of socioeconomically elite 20-year-olds? With not even a nod to what preferences people display in the real world and what the long-term outcomes of those preferences are?

Crikey. I could probably do research on my blog as good as this.

Kevin Drum 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE GREAT WMD HUNT....This has been blogged all over the place, but it deserves every bit of attention it's getting. So here again, in case you haven't seen it yet, is Time magazine's description of the WMD hunt in Iraq:

Meeting last month at a sweltering U.S. base outside Doha, Qatar, with his top Iraq commanders, President Bush skipped quickly past the niceties and went straight to his chief political obsession: Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Turning to his Baghdad proconsul, Paul Bremer, Bush asked, "Are you in charge of finding WMD?" Bremer said no, he was not. Bush then put the same question to his military commander, General Tommy Franks. But Franks said it wasn't his job either. A little exasperated, Bush asked, So who is in charge of finding WMD? After aides conferred for a moment, someone volunteered the name of Stephen Cambone, a little-known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. "Who?" Bush asked.

The problem here isn't that Bush doesn't know who Stephen Cambone is, the problem is that he had no idea even in general terms who was responsible for finding WMD. Doesn't this make it pretty obvious that the WMD hunt is a bit less than a high priority for him?

After all the crap that Howard Dean got for not knowing to the nearest percent how many American troops were stationed overseas, you'd think a few more people would have picked up on this. But that would only happen if we had, you know, a liberal media....

Kevin Drum 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE FREE MARKET AT WORK....Over in The Corner yesterday, Jonah Goldberg spent four or five posts desperately trying to find a "practical" solution to telemarketing calls that doesn't involve government regulation. He is "ideologically torn" here, acknowledges that "many Americans just want to make the phone stop ringing" here, continues to beg someone anyone! to provide a "politically workable solution" here, and agrees that the do-not-call registry is just another case of nanny-state-ism here.

Poor Jonah, all this angst over a minor government program that allows people to express their preference about the free market in junk telemarketing calls. You know, from watching The Sopranos I've learned that apparently there's also a "market" (in New Jersey, anyway) for "bumping off" people, and it works pretty efficiently. Unfortunately, the damn feds keep interfering in this industry, causing all manner of market distortions for Tony Soprano and his business associates. Damn shame, that.

Sarcasm aside, though, there's a serious point here and Goldberg himself realizes it:

From internet porn in libraries to spam to telemarketers, technology is exposing the ossified nature of government bureaucracy. What I'm interested in is whether or not there is a realistic political strategy for keeping Americans from demanding that the government fix these new problems. If that's possible, then government can be shrunk over time as the society outgrows it. Unfortunately, I'm not optimistic about the project's chances.

The fact that Goldberg even bothers writing about this shows the ridiculous lengths to which conservative ideology goes in its efforts to deny that there is any legitimate form of human decision making other than free market forces. Yesterday's exchange is just a micro example of the bankruptcy of this view, and a rather desperate attempt to avoid the obvious conclusion that the easiest, best, and cheapest way to deal with this problem is, indeed, the ossified bureaucracy of the federal government.

(And I wonder if Goldberg knows it? A few days ago he suggested that social conservatives should just give up the fight on gay marriage, and now he's admitting that the free market doesn't seem to have a solution for everything. Perhaps the NRO Borg is losing its grip on him?)

Kevin Drum 11:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EQUALITY FOR ALL....Mindles Dreck agrees that gays and straights should be treated the same. But since gay marriage is such a hot button, he suggests we take a different tack to achieve equality: let's get rid of straight marriage!

Something tells me that's not going to fly. Next.

Kevin Drum 10:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OCCUPYING IRAQ....David Adesnik thinks things aren't as bad in Iraq as some people are making them out to be. He suggests that the guerrilla threat isn't really all that serious which might be true and then says:

Without sounding like a kneejerk reactionary, I would like to suggest that the American media -- including moderate, mainstream, responsible publications such as the WaPo -- are still imprisoned in a Vietnam mindset. In contrast to those conservatives who constantly attack the mainstream media, I do not believe that this Vietnam mindset is part and parcel of a pervasive but unacknowledged left-liberal agenda.

But I think he may be missing the real point. In the same piece David suggests that the Washington Post's headlines on Iraq are rather too negative, so I wonder what he thinks of this one today?

Troops' Mission Impossible

It doesn't get much more negative than that, does it? But the story, I think, highlights the real problem: not the guerrilla warfare per se, but the fact that American reservists can't be kept in Iraq forever:

"U.S. officials need to get our [expletive] out of here," said the 43-year-old reservist from Pittsburgh, who arrived in Iraq with the 307th Military Police Company on May 24. "I say that seriously. We have no business being here. We will not change the culture they have in Iraq, in Baghdad. Baghdad is so corrupted. All we are here is potential people to be killed and sitting ducks."

...."There's a rumor going around that we'll be here for two years," Spec. Ron Beach said.

Others rolled their eyes and shook their heads. "You can put me up in a five-star hotel, and I'm not going to be here for two years," said Sgt. Jennifer Appelbaum, 26, a legal secretary from Philadelphia.

This is the real problem: the idea that they might be there for two years is just a "rumor." The usually plain spoken George Bush and the even plainer spoken Don Rumsfeld are unwilling to flatly tell the troops (and the country) that two years is pretty much the minimum time they're going to be there. Aside from vague pronouncements that we'll stay in Iraq "as long as it takes," Bush has simply been unwilling to prepare both the American public and the troops in Iraq for a long, hard occupation. The obvious conclusion is that he's not really committed to such a thing.

A reader wrote to me the other day, "I'm not worried about the commitment of the Bush team on this." I am. Why else would a two-year occupation be nothing more than a rumor?

Kevin Drum 9:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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