Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 31, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

CALIFORNIA POLITICS....When it comes to the California recall, Hugh Hewitt sure does like blogs:

The blogs continue to outperform print and electronic media, with Kausfiles and Dan Weintraub having set a standard of relevance and timeliness that the dinosaurs can't begin to hope to match....[Blogs] provide everything the interested reader needs to know, and do so hours if not days before AM catches up. (AM = ancient media.)

Can we get serious, Hugh? I like blogs too, but with the exception of the 1977 Oui interview hardly the shining high point of recall reporting practically everything reported by blogs is taken from the much maligned AM in the first place. Hugh may feel that the mainstream media isn't paying enough attention to the issues he wants them to pay attention to, but everyone feels that way, don't they? Bottom line: blogs can serve an excellent role in highlighting issues and rounding up news on a topic, but if you want to know the basics of what's going on, AM has the story hours if not days before the blogs do.

(And anyway, if you're going to be a blog triumphalist, shouldn't you at least have permalinks and archives?)

On the other hand and this may seem a bit odd I think he's got a point with this:

The underlying story of the recall remains largely unexplored by all media, new and old. That story turns on these questions: Is the California legislature churning out a large number of new and very radical statutes, judging by the standards at work in the other 49 states? Does the California legislature appear to have even a minimal grasp on economics, or does it seem to act as though there is no such thing as a business climate? Do special interests dominate Sacramento to an extent unparalled in other state legislatures, with the result that enormously unbalanced legislation is arriving on Gray's desk (and has been for five years) without the ordinary moderations enforced by two-party rule?

Now, I'm not sure this is actually the underlying story of the recall, but it is one of the underlying stories of the state and it deserves attention. However, the problem is not, as Hugh seems to imply, that California is a monoculture Democratic state lots of states have governors and legislatures of the same party and it's not a problem that suddenly cropped up five years ago when Gray Davis got elected. It's a problem caused by too many inexperienced, highly ideological legislators on both sides of the aisle who have no reason to ever compromise on anything.

We could do two things that would go a long way toward solving this problem:

  • Extend term limits from 6 years to 12. This would still prevent people from making careers out of politics but would provide a more experienced legislature that understands the issues better, understands the legislative process better, is less dependent on lobbyists and staff, and builds better relationships across party lines.

  • Provide for nonpartisan redistricting based on some fairly stringent rules that prevent gerrymandering. This might or might not change the balance of the legislature (it would still be heavily Democratic no matter what), but it would eliminate many of the non-compromising extremists from both parties who are currently electable only because they live in ultra-safe, highly gerrymandered districts.

Back to you, Hugh.

Kevin Drum 5:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SHAKESPEARE FOR DUMMIES....While the Cornerites are generally little more than annoying and childish, they do have their moments. Read this post first, and then scroll up to John Derbyshire's response here. It's a pretty good laugh.

Kevin Drum 3:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORALITY AND FOREIGN POLICY....Tacitus, commenting on Howard Dean's policy changes, says that maintaining the American embargo on Cuba is a "moral litmus test of American foreign policy." I've got a couple of questions about that.

First, which regime would you consider more odious, Cuba's or China's? Cuba's or Saudi Arabia's? Cuba's or Vietnam's? Should we have trade embargoes with all those other countries, or just with Cuba? Why?

Second, does the actual effect of a policy make any difference at all? Not only has the embargo against Cuba been rather obviously unsuccessful, there's considerable evidence that it's actually helped Castro stay in power.

Foreign policy should have a moral component. Unfortunately, post-9/11 conservatives have developed the idea that U.S. foreign policy should be based solely on a moral component, with the result, I suppose, that eventually our entire foreign policy will be as dysfunctional and contrary to American interests as our Cuba policy is today.

Even JFK admitted that the rest of the world found our Cuba obsession "slightly demented," and the rest of the world was right. The world does not exist on a unidimensional moral line, and after 40+ years it's time to try something different, something that might actually work and might actually improve the lives of Cubans. That's the moral thing to do.

Kevin Drum 3:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

"PUZZLED"....From the LA Times this morning:

After months of appeals from U.S. and U.N. leaders, key foreign governments including Russia, China, France and Germany remain adamant that they will not contribute in those areas, U.S. officials say.

The issue has taken on new urgency in recent days as the Bush administration has begun preparing a supplemental budget request that officials say could reach as much as $3 billion. U.S. officials had expected that renewed Iraqi oil exports would help finance reconstruction, but exports have rebounded more slowly than expected, at least in part due to looting and sabotage.

The anticipated budget request is alarming lawmakers, who see it as evidence that the burden on U.S. taxpayers will far outstrip expectations.

...."We are really puzzled on how to get more aid from these countries, when they have been refusing now for such a long time," the official said.

I know this is beating a dead horse, but what on earth are the Bushies thinking? They started a war no one else wanted, they treated anyone opposed to the war as virtual traitors to humanity, and they are still insisting that America needs to be 100% in charge of everything that goes on in Iraq.

But despite all that they're "puzzled" about how to get the rest of the world to pony up to help us out of our mess? Even though the rest of the world warned us repeatedly about the likely result of our adventure? What planet are they living on?

For chrissake, we told the rest of the world to go to hell before the war, and they haven't forgotten. They aren't going to bail us out unless we give them considerable authority over the reconstruction effort, and they might not help us even if we do. We're on our own.

The Bush administration has been incompetent and arrogant throughout this entire effort. Their prewar conduct seemed almost deliberately designed to make sure the rest of the world was against us, they were criminally negligent in their postwar planning, and George Bush personally has shown immense cowardice by consistently refusing to prepare Congress and the American public for the real cost and length of the war. He's paying the price for that cowardice now, as he watches support for the reconstruction dwindle because its expense, length, and cost in lives is taking most people by surprise.

It's pretty obvious why liberals should oppose George Bush's reelection, but the fact is that conservatives ought to oppose him too. His incompetence and cowardice have betrayed the very things they claim to stand for.

Kevin Drum 2:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TESTING, TESTING....What the heck is this?

Kevin Drum 2:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 30, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

FOOTBALL UPDATE....Wow. Either USC deserved better than #8 or else Auburn deserved worse than #6. I'm not sure which it is maybe both? but that was certainly one fine opening game for the men of Troy.

Kevin Drum 6:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BROODING TEENAGERS....Via The Daily Rant, here's a Newsweek story about Brian Robertson, a high school senior who wrote a story featuring masked teenage commandos, a group of students that sets bombs around the building, and rooftop snipers firing at cops and bystanders below. Unfortunately, it turns out that excercising your literary 2nd amendment rights can get you thrown into jail in Oklahoma:

Prosecutors concede theres no evidence that Robertsons work was anything but a disturbing burst of creativity. But they say criminal intent isnt required to prosecute someone under the planning a violent act law, which was enacted by the state legislature in June 2001 following school shootings at Colorados Columbine High School and elsewhere.

Nope, no censorship based on content there. Still, it's not porn, it's not wartime sedition, and it doesn't present a clear and present danger, so with the ACLU on the case it seems unlikely that Oklahoma's law will pass constitutional muster. I doubt Robertson will spend a day in prison.

Given that, here's the part that really bugs me:

Oklahoma isnt the only place where authorities have started scrutinizing students writing for signs of trouble. In the past four years, juveniles have been suspended, expelled and arrestedthough not prosecutedin Virginia, Wyoming, Arkansas, California and Texas, among other states, for penning dark poems, short stories and essays. School administrators say theyre simply trying to prevent a repeat of the Columbine scenario.

This is absurd. Brooding teenagers are a dime a dozen, and trying to rid our schools of them is a ridiculous overreaction that doesn't do a thing to make anyone safer.

Everywhere you look, it's either overreaction or underreaction. Is it just the curse of humanity never to get things right?

Kevin Drum 2:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EXILE UPDATE....Last week the LA Times ran a story suggesting that before the war the CIA and the Pentagon had been duped by phony WMD stories from Iraqi exiles, especially exiles associated with Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. Today, Josh Marshall dredges through his memory banks to bring us the backstory to the whole CIA/Pentagon/INC relationship.

It's worth reading, but I have to love his concluding paragraph:

A real investigation into this long sordid history is what we need. Not just one into the White House's handling of the lead-up to war, but everything. The CIA, the INC, the Clinton administration, the defectors, the WMD evidence or lack thereof. Everything. We've got many of the big players in custody now and lots of the former regime's archives. They may not be telling us what we want to hear about weapons of mass destruction. But there are any number of other questions and mysteries they should be able to clear up. The point wouldn't be to find bad-acting, mistakes or incompetence (though I'm sure we'll find plenty of each), but to get as close as we can get to a reliable understanding of our Iraq policy since the close of the Gulf War. No agency involved in this history is going to be capable of the objectivity and distance required to do the job right.

Unfortunately, a real investigation would almost certainly reveal a "deeply flawed culture" within the entire administration, and we can't have that, can we? Why, people might start to get ideas....

Kevin Drum 2:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHITHER THE SHUTTLE?....The LA Times has a good story about the shuttle report today. It makes a couple of points that I think have been overlooked in the rush to condemn NASA's "broken culture." First, there's the problem with the very nature of the shuttle itself:

"I believe the shuttle is inherently unsafe," retired NASA mathematician and rocket engine expert Jud Lovingood said this week. "We have proven that and there are more problems waiting to jump out. It is too complex. It is 1970s technology."

Lovingood's view was widely endorsed in interviews with members of Congress, space policy experts and space engineers.

Second, blaming culture is something of a cop-out:

Some outside critics also take sharp exception to the board's emphasis on NASA's culture as a cause of the accident. Blaming the agency's culture casts responsibility on a vague concept rather than on the errors of individuals, the lack of technological expertise in the space agency and the failure by Congress to provide funds after NASA leaders warned that safety was deteriorating.

"Culture is amorphous," said John Pike, executive director of the think tank GlobalSecurity.org. "Nobody owns a culture. Culture is the easy way out."

It's a cliche but true nonetheless that engineering projects can be fast, cheap, or good. You can have any two, but not all three, and the shuttle is no exception. If you want high reliability (good) and frequent launches (fast), it's going to be expensive. Unfortunately, the people who are really responsible are in denial about this:

[Rep. Dana] Rohrabacher also takes a dimmer view of the shuttle's safety than the board does, but he praised Gehman's work and said he believes NASA's deeply flawed culture, rather than inadequate funding by Congress, was at the root of the Columbia tragedy.

Sure, Dana. Congress has been consistently warned about inadequate shuttle funding for the past two decades and has ignored it the same way that NASA managers ignored safety warnings from their line engineers. Apparently NASA isn't the only government body with a flawed culture.

I don't doubt that NASA has management problems that need to be addressed, but trying to pin the blame solely on that is delusionary. Contrary to the mantra of the 80s, quality and safety aren't free, and that's nowhere more true than with a fundamentally rickety, complex, and ancient vehicle like the shuttle. We should either acknowledge the risks of the shuttle program and fund it adequately given its age and complexity, or we should dump it. Anything else is just asking for another disaster.

Kevin Drum 10:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 29, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TIME TRAVEL....Over at Crooked Timber, Brian Weatherson starts his most recent post this way:

Im teaching a freshman seminar on time travel at Brown this year....

Hot damn! When I was in school they taught Newtonian mechanics to us freshmen, and even at that we struggled with it. But today they teach the frosh time travel? I mean, you'd think it would at least be a graduate seminar, wouldn't you?

Then he continues:

....so Ive been watching a lot of time travel movies as preparation.

Um, time travel movies? Is that why today's kids are so much more advanced than my generation? Because they watch movies instead of reading textbooks with all those hard to understand equations and things?

What's that? It's a philosophy class? Oh.

But let's help Brian out anyway. What's your favorite time travel book/story/movie etc? I'm very fond of Robert Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps," a perfect little gem of time travel paradoxes. And of course, RAH also wrote The Door Into Summer, notable because the hero is so dedicated to his cat that he makes sure to take him along into the future. How can you lose with a combination of time travel and feline adoration?

Other recommendations?

Kevin Drum 9:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EMULEX....The Likely Story says that "Emulex is Arnolds Enron." Say what? What's an Emulex?

Well, whatever else it is, it's the company that employed both my wife and me from 1984 to 1992, and we still have friends who work there. Beyond that, however, these days Emulex is apparently also a hotbed of contributions to Arnold's campaign. Is this because they're hoping Arnold will be more sympathetic to their request for favorable tax treatment than the current administration?

Beats me. But I hope that I won't someday have to tell people that I used to work for the Enron of California....

Kevin Drum 4:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Are we ready for our closeups? Of course we are! Now, can we please get back to sleep?

BONUS CAT FACTOID: David Bernstein says, "It's hard to be a cat lover in Israel." He blames it on weak civil society. Sort of.

UPDATE: And be sure to click here to read about (and see pictures of!) the Sjostrom family's new 10-day-old kitten, rescued a day before it would have starved and died. Professor Sjostrom obviously has a much softer spot in his heart for cats than he likes to let on. Mazal Tov to you, Bill.

Kevin Drum 10:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE UNFAIRNESS IN THE WORLD....This is for my friend, Professor Marc:

Recently Mr. Hamermesh, a labor economist at the University of Texas at Austin who has long studied beauty and labor markets, wrote a paper with an undergraduate economics major, Amy Parker, that investigates the effect of beauty on a particular measure of performance: teaching evaluations for college professors.

....They asked six undergraduate students to rate the photographs of the professors on a 10-point scale and used the average measure as a beauty score. The student ratings on the beauty scale were highly correlated with one another, suggesting that they were measuring the same aspects of appearance.

According to the economists' statistical analysis, good-looking professors got significantly higher teaching scores. The average teaching evaluation was 4.2 on a 5-point scale. Those at the bottom end of the attractiveness scale received, on average, a teaching evaluation of about 3.5, while those on the top end received about 4.5.

Perhaps universities should start adding bonus points to student evals for professors who don't measure up on the hunk/babe scale.

UPDATE: Invisible Adjunct and her commenters have more to say about this.

Kevin Drum 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BOMBING IN IRAQ....A bomb exploded in a mosque in Iraq today, killing 75 people, including Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, a moderate Shiite leader who has been cooperative with U.S. forces. al-Hakim's brother is part of the 25-member governing council.

Juan Cole says it is "clear that this bombing was the work of Saddam loyalists." I wish we had a better idea of just how strong these remnants of the Baathist movement are these days. For all the talk about how we're making progress, they sure seem like they're still able to cause an awful lot of damage.

Kevin Drum 9:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DON'T CALL ME, I'LL CALL YOU....Warning! Sunday is the deadline to sign up for the telemarketing Do-Not-Call list. If you don't register, you have to wait until next year before you can get your calls blocked.

To register, either call 888-382-1222 or surf over to www.donotcall.gov.

So far 41 million households have registered to have calls blocked. That's about 16% of all the phone numbers in America, or nearly 40% of all households, which is probably a better way of looking at it. That's one popular program.

Curious to see how your state is doing? Click here.

Kevin Drum 8:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE....This weekend, BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan was removed from his reporting duties so that he could spend 100% of his time preparing for possible testimony in front of the Hutton inquiry. Today, Tony Blair's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, resigned due to the stress that his job puts on his family.

Needless to say, neither action had anything to do with the "sexed up" controversy. Nope, nothing at all.

Kevin Drum 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 28, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

IN DEFENSE OF BIAS....I don't really want to pick on David Adesnik, but, um, I guess I'm going to anyway. Today he writes that Howard Dean is the victim of liberal bias at the New York Times, and as happens so often when I hear charges like this, I think that David is paying too little attention to a key point.

The story in question is a profile of Howard Dean, and aside from making the common mistake of thinking that the reporter also wrote the story's headline (this never happens headlines are written by the copy desk), David objects to her use of the word "rabid" to describe Dean's supporters, the phrase "Birkenstock liberals" in another place, and several other instances where the reporter made some judgments about the nature of depth of Dean's support.

But here's the thing: this is a feature story, not a piece of hard news. Stories like this are supposed to rely on the reporter's personal observations and on the colorful and necessarily subjective details that they record. Sure, this means their point of view comes across, but that's deliberate. It makes the story more lively and readable, and without it feature writing would be dull indeed.

What's more, I think that hypersensitivity to wording choices in a story like this does a real disservice to readers because it reinforces the cult of objectivity that has such a stranglehold on American journalism. It punishes reporters for trying to tell us what they really think is going on, instead rewarding a lifeless who-what-where-when-why-AP-style-quotes-from-both-sides style of writing that does no one any good. Top reporters are supposed to be smart and savvy, and we should encourage them to make more use of their sharp eyes and good instincts, not less.

Besides, liberal bias is the least of the problems in our major media. Al Franken put it pretty well yesterday:

"There are so many other biases in all the mainstream media: pack mentality. Sensationalism. Sex. Conflict. Getting it cheap. Getting it first instead of getting it right." To ask whether the establishment press has a liberal bias "is like asking whether al Qaeda uses too much oil in their hummus."

This is exactly right. What reporters really want is their byline on the front page above the fold. Everything else is secondary.

Kevin Drum 10:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BOOTS ON THE GROUND....The headline in today's New York Times is "General in Iraq Says More G.I.'s Are Not Needed," but if you read closely that's not exactly what General John Abizaid really said:

"You can't underestimate the public perception both within Iraq and within the Arab world about the percentage of the force being so heavily American," the general said in an interview here at his headquarters.

....Rather than increasing the American force, General Abizaid said the priority should be to increase the size of the reconstituted Iraqi security services now at about 60,000 people....

So it's not that we don't need more troops as Donald Rumsfeld keeps insisting it's that we don't need more American troops. An All-American occupying force, you see, lacks the legitimacy that it needs in the Arab world.

That sounds familiar, doesn't it? Of course, Iraqi security services aren't the only way to internationalize the force, and General Abizaid, not being a stupid man, knows it. Let's pick up that paragraph where we left off:

....the priority should be to increase the size of the reconstituted Iraqi security services now at about 60,000 people and to persuade other nations, particularly Muslim countries, to contribute military forces like military police, special operations forces and civil affairs specialists.

...."A campaign plan exists, but what we need to do is sharpen it up," the general said. "There's a need for a synchronization of effort, not only by the United States, but the international community and coalition forces."

....General Abizaid said any sticking points were likely political rather than military, saying, "There are innovative ways of working the chain of command that are acceptable from a military point of view and a unity of command point of view."

This is rather plainly stated, isn't it? We do need more troops, we ought to have a multinational force, and the military has no problem with this. All it takes is for George Bush to get over those "political" sticking points and do his job. Now would be a good time to start.

POSTSCRIPT: The more I think about Rumsfeld's recent comments, the more they piss me off. Here's what he said three days ago:

There are some recommending that more U.S. forces go in. I can tell you that if Gen. Abizaid recommended it, it would happen in a minute. But he has not recommended it.

Technically that's true: Abizaid doesn't want more U.S. forces. But he does want more forces.

Crikey. Can you trust a thing these guys say without parsing every single phoneme to within an inch of its life?

Kevin Drum 8:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RAZORS AND BLADES....A couple of years ago I bought a Minolta Magicolor 2200 color laser printer. It's a monster that draws so much power the lights dim when I turn it on (literally), but for a thousand bucks I can't really complain too much.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I ran out of magenta toner, so I replaced it. Then, no surprise, the black, yellow, and cyan cartridges needed to be replaced. Then the fuser oil roller and the OPC drum kit. Holy cow! Over the course of three weeks I spent $686 on consumables. Still, expensive though it might have been, at least it was cheaper than buying a new printer.

Now even that cold comfort has been denied me. I was in my local CompUSA the other day and discovered that the Magicolor 2200 is now available for only $699 (after rebate), so for $13 more I could have simply purchased a whole new printer. In fact, since there wouldn't have been any shipping charge for the printer (the only way to get all the consumables is directly from Minolta), a single complete replacement of the consumables actually cost more than buying a brand new printer.

I know these guys make most of their money from consumables, but this is ridiculous.

POSTSCRIPT: I was also amused or perhaps something stronger to note that "automatic color matching" was one of the selling points pasted onto the front of the printer that I saw in the store. I can't really complain much about the printer considering its rock bottom price, but color matching is not its strong point. This is really noticable when printing black and white photos, which come out with a distinct blue tint half the time, a distinct red tint half the time, and no tint at all once in a blue moon. The choice seems to be random, and the fact that every once in a while it prints neutrally proves that it can do it if it's so inclined. Sadly, calls to tech support have been of no avail. (Big surprise, that, eh?)

UPDATE: Oh hell, Amazon sells it for $599. Sheesh.

Kevin Drum 4:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NORTH KOREA UPDATE....So, um, I guess the negotiations with North Korea aren't going too well:

North Korea told a six-nation conference that it has nuclear weapons and has plans to test one, a U.S. official said Thursday.

....The remarks by North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il set a negative tone at the conference and raised questions about the success of the negotiations, which were scheduled to conclude Friday morning.

Kim at one point accused delegates from Russia and Japan of lying at the instruction of the United States when they tried to point out positive aspects of the American presentation, according to a U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United States has always talked about a "red line," a point beyond which it can't allow North Korea to go. This line has shifted considerably, but it's hard to imagine that testing a nuclear bomb wouldn't go way over it. Unlike Stanley Kurtz, however, my guess is that if they do test a nuclear weapon, we won't go to war. We'll just move the red line once again to, say, exploding a nuclear weapon in someone else's country.

Then again, it wouldn't surprise me if this was just more bluster and the North Koreans don't actually have anything at all. Our own intelligence agencies don't seem to have much of a clue about what's really going on, so how can I?

Kevin Drum 12:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CAESAR'S WIFE AND ALL THAT....The head of Diebold, a company that makes voting machines, is apparently a diehard Republican:

Wally O'Dell, CEO of Diebold Inc., this week sent out letters to central Ohio Republicans asking them to raise $10,000 in donations in time for a Sept. 26 Ohio Republican Party event at his home.

....In his invitation O'Dell states his support for the Republican Party and notes he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President next year."

That's an unfortunate choice of words, isn't it?

You know, I don't actually think O'Dell has any intention of trying to rig Diebold's voting machines in George Bush's favor, but you'd think the CEO of a voting machine company might profitably decide that being nonpolitical was the better part of valor.

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"I HAVE A DREAM"....Allen Brill of The Right Christians reminds us that today is the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. To commemorate, Rev. Brill, who is dedicated to reminding us that Pat Robertson and his ilk don't represent all or even most Christians, has an annotated version showing the source of many of Dr. King's images and phrases. Go read it.

Kevin Drum 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WAR AND GROWTH....Matt Yglesias links approvingly to the revised GDP growth figures for Q2, but notes that part of the growth was due to a big increase in defense spending and wonders if this is sustainable. That's a good question, and the answer is no.

In fact, it might be worse than it appears. I touched on this subject a few weeks ago, and I want to touch on it again with some back-of-the-envelope figures. Here's what the official GDP figures look like:

  • Q1 GDP = $9,552 billion.

  • Q2 GDP: $9,625 billion.

  • That's an increase of $73 billion, or .76%, or 3.1% per year.

But here's the thing: we spent $40 billion on the Iraq war last quarter, and a best guess is that $24 billion of that showed up as increased GDP. In other words, aside from the one-time war expenditure, core GDP growth was only $49 billion.

If we use this $49 billion figure and assume that Q3 growth will be about the same as Q2, here's what the revised "non-war" GDP trendline would look like:

  • Q1: $9,552 billion.

  • Q2: $9,601 billion.

  • Q3: $9,650 billion.

Basically, the war was just a blip, and one that didn't really have any permanent effect on the rest of the economy. Thus, in Q3 we should expect to return to the baseline "non-war" trendline, which means a GDP figure of $9,650 billion.

Unfortunately, the official comparison will be to the artificially high Q2 figure of $9,625 billion. That produces a growth rate of .26%, or about 1.0% per year.

Now, this almost certainly overstates the problem, since war spending won't stop instantly. What's more, core GDP growth might be higher than it was in Q2, and the ever increasing federal deficit will provide some stimulus too. Still, given the statistical anomaly here, it seems as though next quarter's growth figures could be more anemic than people are predicting.

Since I'm not an economist, I might be all wet about this. But even so I'm surprised this hasn't gotten any attention at all. Shouldn't something like this have an impact on GDP projections?

Would any real economists care to jump in and explain whether there's anything to this?

Kevin Drum 10:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GET OUT OF MY FACE....The state of California has finally passed a sorely needed financial privacy bill:

The new law will enable consumers to block the sale of their personal financial information by banks, credit card companies and other businesses. Consumer groups praised the measure by state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) as a landmark victory in the fight to safeguard such information and deter identity theft.

Huzzah! It's only a small step, but at least it's a step in the right direction. You see, it's not the unending collection of personal information that's really the main threat to privacy in the United States, it's the ability to amalgamate it all in one place and sell it to the highest bidder that's the real danger. This bill puts a few roadblocks in place to keep that from happening.

Unfortunately, we're not out of the woods yet. The Bush administration, anti-federalist to its core whenever its corporate donors tell it to be, is all set to override the will of the people here in California:

House Resolution 2622 approved last month by the House Financial Services Committee and supported by the Bush administration and business groups would bar any financial privacy controls that are tougher than those established by Congress under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Needless to say, barring any rules "tougher" than the FCRA is like barring all paper products tougher then a Kleenex. How about if the feds adopt our rules instead?

(The California bill, by the way, does serve to show the occasional virtues of the ballot initiative. Gray Davis vetoed a similar bill last year, and signed it this time only because supporters were threatening to make an initiative out of it. Sometimes a little fear can go a long way.)

Kevin Drum 8:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 27, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WESLEY CLARK UPDATE....In the New York Times today, Michael Janofsky reports that Wesley Clark is going to run:

"It's safe to say he wants to run," said a longtime friend who has had frequent political conversations with General Clark. "But he approaches this like a military man. He wants to know, Can I win the battle? He doesn't want to have a situation where he could embarrass himself, but I'm absolutely certain he wants to run."

...."He is going to do it," said another of General Clark's friends. "He's just going back and forth as to when" to announce.

In an interview from his office in Little Rock, Ark., General Clark said today that he intended to announce his decision whether he would run in two weeks or so.

....A possible date for an announcement is Sept. 19, when General Clark, who has been highly critical of Bush administration foreign policy, is scheduled to deliver a speech at the University of Iowa. The subject is "The American Leadership Role in a Changing World."

The clock is ticking....

Kevin Drum 10:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WMD? WHAT WMD?....Was the Pentagon duped by all those Iraqi defectors turned over to us by Ahmed Chalabi? Maybe so:

Although senior CIA officials insist defectors were only partly responsible for the intelligence that triggered the decision to invade Iraq last March, other intelligence officials now fear that key portions of the pre-war intelligence may have been flawed.

As evidence, officials say former Iraqi intelligence operatives have confirmed since the war that Saddam's regime sent "double agents" disguised as defectors to the West to plant fabricated intelligence. In other cases, Baghdad apparently tricked legitimate defectors into funneling phony tips about weapons production and storage sites.

....There is growing concern, said another U.S. intelligence official, that "people were just telling us what we wanted to hear."

...."We were prisoners of our own beliefs," said a senior U.S. weapons expert who recently returned from a stint with the survey group. "We said Saddam Hussein was a master of denial and deception. Then when we couldn't find anything, we said that proved it, instead of questioning our own assumptions."

These defectors were a key part of the WMD case made by the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, despite warnings from conventional intelligence sources i.e., people who actually had significant experience with real intelligence that Chalabi and the defectors were not reliable. In fact, as we now know, the "dot connecting" done by the OSP was almost completely useless.

This leads to an interesting question: Does the OSP still exist? If so, why?

And one unrelated observation: this may seem like mere hometown boostering, but a few times a month the LA Times produces a really good Iraq-related story like this that nobody else has. Their reporting from Liberia has been first rate too. I know the registration is a pain, but if you really want to follow the news from a variety of sources, you ought to go ahead and register. You're missing out if you don't. (And you can always enter phony information on the registration form, just like I did....)

Kevin Drum 10:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ARITHMETIC....Here's something that happened to me over a decade ago. It happened so long ago that I've halfway convinced myself it didn't actually happen, but I'm curious to see if it rings any bells with anyone else.

I was chatting with the 3-year-old daughter of some friends, and we got to talking about numbers. Could she count? Oh yes: she got all the way up to 20, which I thought was pretty good for a 3-year-old. Could she add? It turned out that she could. 2+2: no problem. 3+5: sure. 8+6: you betcha. This didn't qualify her as the next Isaac Newton, to be sure, but it still seemed startlingly good for such a young girl.

Then a couple of years later I was talking to her again. Could she count? Sure, she could still count. How about addition? No dice. Oh, she could do 2+2, but that was about it. On the higher numbers she couldn't do a thing. She was a typical pre-kindergartner.

This has puzzled me ever since. Did I imagine it? Or was she genuinely able to do more arithmetic at age 3 than at age 5? Has anyone else ever run into something like this?

Kevin Drum 7:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT DID YOU DO DURING THE WAR, DADDY?....Mark Kleiman reviews the bad news coming out of Iraq and says:

For now, I'm holding on to my view that war was the least bad option, but I have to admit I'm now holding on by my fingernails. A year from now, I may well remember having been against the whole business from its inception.

I have a feeling he might not be alone.

The real shame is that it's possible not a certainty, by any means, but possible that if the president had been someone more patient, more open to accepting facts at odds with his worldview, and more willing to insist on realistic plans and straight talk from his subordinates, that an invasion of Iraq would have worked out for the best.

Instead we got George Bush, a man who considers his eighth grade history class to be all he needs to know about how the world works. Sigh.

Kevin Drum 11:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LYING LIARS....Are presidents all a bunch of lying sacks? According to Washington Monthly, yes they are.

But what you really want to know is which one is the biggest lying sack, right? Here's a hint: the winner, with a combined score of 3.6, scored worse than his father.

(By the way, they also allow you to rate the presidents yourself. Have fun!)

Kevin Drum 10:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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STILL SOME WORK TO DO....Racism? A thing of the past. And everybody loves Martin Luther King these days, right?

Apparently not quite everybody. South Knox Bubba explains.

Kevin Drum 9:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PAKISTAN: NUKE SUPPLIER TO THE WORLD....This is comforting news:

Iran has admitted for the first time that it received substantial foreign help in building a secret nuclear facility south of Tehran that is now beginning to enrich uranium....

While Iran has not yet identified the source of the foreign help, evidence collected in Iran by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency implicates Pakistani companies as suppliers of critical technology and parts, officials familiar with a U.N. investigation of Iran's program said yesterday. Pakistan is believed by many proliferation experts to have passed important nuclear secrets to both Iran and North Korea. Pakistan has denied providing such assistance.

...."The notion that Pakistan wasn't involved is getting less and less tenable," said Henry D. Sokolski, a top nonproliferation official in the Pentagon during the George H.W. Bush administration. "Some might make the claim that this was something that happened in the past. But it wasn't all that long ago."

So, um, what exactly does "not all that long ago mean"? September 10, 2001?

Kevin Drum 9:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PLEASE FEEL SORRY FOR ME....Poor Gray Davis. I guess at some level you have to feel sorry for the guy if he's reduced to this:

"I have plenty of regrets," Davis said. "But you know leadership is being positive and optimistic and always seeing the glass half full. Even if you have doubts you can't convey those doubts because you can't lead."

Davis added, "I regret deeply that people are out of work. I feel very badly about that. I don't think I caused it, but I know that I get the blame because I'm the leader. I regret deeply that people are paying more for electricity now than they were three or four years ago. But we had a lot of obstacles. I won't run through those again, but at least our lights have stayed on.

"I regret that in some cases, bills I signed didn't turn out as well as I thought they would. But at the time I thought I was doing the right thing. But it didn't work as well. But as a leader, I can't just say I'm full of doubt and regret. Then no one will rally behind you when you say we have to go in this direction."

....Pressed further, he finally said: "I take responsibility. Just blame me. Blame me. I'm captain of the ship."

Translation: yes, I suck, but I don't think I suck quite badly enough to be recalled.

On the other hand, Davis has collected $2.4 million in the past few weeks for the anti-recall campaign, compared to $418,000 for the pro-recall campaign, so I guess we can all dry our tears.

Here are the fundraising numbers for the rest of the wannabes. Note that these numbers include only contributions over $1000:

  • Cruz Bustamante: $526,000

  • Arianna Huffington: $222,000

  • Tom McClintock: $325,000

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger: $3.2 million

  • Peter Ueberroth: $2.4 million

The only surprise here (for me, anyway) is Ueberroth's healthy fundraising number. He may not be doing too well in the polls a mere 7% in the most recent survey but with money like that he's likely to stay in the race and continue to be a factor.

Kevin Drum 9:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 26, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ARAB DEMOCRACY....Greg at Begging to Differ has an example today of democracy at work in the Arab world. It's real democracy too: the winner won by a vote of 52% to 48%.

Now all we have to do is get them to expand the concept a bit.

Kevin Drum 10:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YEP, THAT'S HOW WE DO IT....Kieran Healy says he's a sociologist, but apparently he knows a bit about high tech marketing too....

Kevin Drum 9:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CONFERENCE ATTENDING ADVICE....Dan Drezner offers some advice today on attending political science conferences, and then asks:

Does this apply to non-poli sci conferences?--ed. My hunch is yes, but having never attended other ones, I won't swear to it.

Well, I've attended plenty of tech conferences and I'd say his advice holds up pretty well. The main change I'd make is to move his point #5 up to #1 and then bold it and put it in italics.

Oh, and on point #2, I'd say just the opposite: drink lots of fluids so that you have to go to the bathroom frequently. At least it gets you off the floor once in a while.

So, um, anyway, it's true that I never thought much of all those tech conferences I had to go to. How could you tell?

Kevin Drum 9:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PAYING FOR IRAQ....Donald Rumsfeld may be sticking to his story that we don't need more troops in Iraq, but Paul Bremer says we sure do need more money:

Iraq will need "several tens of billions" of dollars from abroad in the next year to rebuild its rickety infrastructure and revive its moribund economy, and American taxpayers and foreign governments will be asked to contribute substantial sums, U.S. occupation coordinator L. Paul Bremer said yesterday.

....A State Department official said the Bush administration is preparing to seek a "huge" supplemental spending bill from Congress. Administration sources also said the U.S.-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority is running so low on funds that the White House is considering seeking an emergency infusion next month to cover the organization's bills.

I note that there's no mention of exactly how we're planning to get foreign governments to chip in for this enterprise. Time to get out the checkbook credit card.

Kevin Drum 9:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POSTWAR IRAQ....Max Sawicky has taken a pledge to "avoid trivia, partisan invective, and inter-blog backbiting." What's more, he says, "I really mean it."

Sure, Max. My guess is that he cracks before the month is up. The rest of you can record your guesses in comments.

All of which is neither here nor there, really, except to say that while the New Max may be serious, nonpartisan, and sober, he's also now a bit more circuitous than us loyal readers are used to. I was puzzled about what prompted this post, for example a lesson in always following links, I suppose, or else a lesson in not writing posts that depend on following links in order to make sense until I read Fred Hiatt's column in the Washington Post this afternoon. He's talking about Howard Dean's views on the Iraqi occupation:

"Now that we're there, we're stuck," he said. Bush took an "enormous risk" that through war the United States could replace Saddam Hussein and the "small danger" he presented to the United States with something better and safer. The gamble was "foolish" and "wrong." But whoever will be elected in 2004 has to live with it. "We have no choice. It's a matter of national security. If we leave and we don't get a democracy in Iraq, the result is very significant danger to the United States."

Max suggests that this makes no sense. If it wasn't worth it to go to war in the first place, why is it worth it to continue the occupation? You're either opposed to the whole neocon nation-building agenda or you're not.

This is something worth writing more about, but for now I just want to point out that Dean's position is hardly unreasonable. You might, for example, think that shoring up the foundation of a house is not worth the cost or the risk, but once the shoring is in place and the house is resting on it, you'd better not take it out. The risk of withdrawl is dramatically higher than the risk of leaving things alone in the first place.

In the same way, opposing the original invasion of Iraq probably posed only minor dangers. Our freedom of action would have remained, and we could have removed Saddam from power later if he ever became a serious threat. However, now that we've removed the Iraqi government and committed the U.S. to rebuilding the country, the danger of pulling out is arguably quite a bit greater. For starters, it would leave a vacuum that might very well be filled by a regime even more dangerous than Saddam Hussein's.

There are some good and serious arguments to be made on both sides of this question. But to suggest that the rationale for a candidacy like Dean's "nearly crumbles" unless he agrees to bug out of Iraq is sophistry. Fair or not, he has to play the hand he's dealt, and the reason to vote for him as with any candidate is if you think his overall judgment going forward will be better than Bush's.

Of course, that's a bit of a low bar, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 6:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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VALERIE PLAME UPDATE....Who was it that outed Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent? Robert Novak said only that it was two "senior administration officials," but Joseph Wilson himself hasn't pointed a specific finger.

Until now. I didn't notice the significance of this last week (sorry, Natasha!), but last night Mark Kleiman linked to Pacific Views, which has a snippet from a public panel in Washington last Thursday in which Wilson participated. Here's what he said:

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Assuming what Robert Novak said about your wife was true....can we expect the FBI to give a complete unhindered investigation into that?

WILSON: [Long statement in which he says, basically, they're professionals and will do a professional investigation. Then:] At the end of the day, it's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.

"Senior administration official" is a term of art, and Karl Rove is certainly a member of that elite group. Will the FBI be knocking on his door soon?

NOTE: Wilson's quote has been corrected fom Natasha's handwritten notes via a video of the event here.

Kevin Drum 3:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WAR! WAR! WAR!....Noted gay marriage expert Stanley Kurtz turns his eyes away from the bedroom and opines today on what we can expect from this week's negotiations with North Korea. He says there are only three options:

We can try to pressure the Chinese to force regime change, but the Chinese will not act unless they are convinced that America will otherwise go to war with North Korea. We can interdict North Korean shipping and trade in hopes of reducing their exports of nuclear materials. But...the interdiction itself, if it is reasonably effective, may lead to war. Finally, we can go to war with North Korea.

Translation: We can threaten to go to war, we can goad the other guys into war, or we can simply go to war.

Well, hell, if those are the only options, why screw around? Let's just go to war, and the sooner the better.

Of course, if building nuclear bombs is sufficient reason for the United States to go to war, then we'd better invade Iran while we're at it. And since Pakistan's government isn't likely to be friendly toward us forever we might as well clobber them too. No point in leaving this mess for our grandchildren to clean up.

Question for Stanley: should these three invasions be done conventionally? With what troops? Or should we minimize American casualties by first softening up Pyongyang, Tehran, and Islamabad with nuclear strikes?

Just curious.

Kevin Drum 2:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BAD MANAGEMENT AT NASA?....The final report on the space shuttle tragedy was released today. Here's the Washington Post headline:

NASA Culture Blamed For Columbia Disaster

Jeez, I could swear that this is exactly the same headline used for stories about the Challenger explosion two decades ago. Sure enough, it is:

In a report that cited disturbing "echoes" of the shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, investigators said, "NASA's organizational culture had as much to do with this accident as foam did."

....At a news conference, some of the board members referred to the Challenger disaster and subsequent calls for increased emphasis on safety at the space agency. "It didn't get fixed last time," said Steven B. Wallace. "There has to be a different approach."

...."These repeating patterns mean that flawed practices embedded in NASA's organizational system continued for 20 years and made substantial contributions to both accidents."

This has now happened twice, and both times the investigating commissions have come to the same conclusion, so obviously there's something to this. And yet, there's a tiny niggle in the back of my mind that can't help but wonder if NASA is really any worse than any other large bureaucracy, the main difference being that their failures are considerably more spectacular than most. After all, how many organizations wouldn't end up looking awfully bad if they were put under the same kind of microscope as NASA? How about yours?

In the end, maybe space flight is just inherently dangerous, and we should get used to the fact that we're simply not willing to spend the kind of money it would take to avoid disasters altogether. As Maj. Gen. John Barry said, "NASA had conflicting goals of cost, schedule and safety," but this is hardly something unique to the space program. It's just a fact of life.

I'm just musing here, not really expressing any opinions. But I'd sure want to know more about how NASA's record stacks up against similar organizations before I went too far overboard in joining the piling on. Has anyone ever done such a comparison?

Kevin Drum 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BBC BASHING UPDATE....Instapundit happily quotes the Guardian today, which suggests that today's testimony in the Hutton inquiry shows that BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan was full of shit:

The claim that Iraq could deploy "chemical and biological munitions" within 45 minutes was made in a classified email issued by a member of the joint intelligence committee (JIC) - but with both sender and recipient blacked out for security reasons.

....That revelation, presented on day nine of the inquiry by Sir John Scarlett, the chairman of the JIC, appears to blow out of the water the original suggestion by BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan that the claim was made up.

Now think what you will about Gilligan and the BBC, but this is just plain wrong. Here's what Gilligan said on BBC radio on May 29:

The information which I'm told was dubious did come from the information agencies, but they were unhappy about it because they didn't think it should have been in there. They thought it was not corroborated sufficiently and they actually thought it was wrong. They thought the informant concerned had got it wrong.

And here's what he said in his Mail on Sunday column a couple of days later:

I asked [David Kelly] how this transformation happened. The answer was a single word, 'Campbell.'

What? Campbell made it up? 'No, it was real information. But it was included against our wishes because it wasn't reliable.'

How much clearer can things be? Gilligan never suggested the claim was "made up," and he specifically acknowledged that it came from British intelligence. And despite the fact that Scarlett is swearing up and down that nobody nobody! raised any objections to the material in the dossier, we already know that's not true. The Hutton inquiry found out on its very first day that two senior intelligence officers had grave doubts about some of the material in the dossier. What's more, the 45-minute claim was single sourced, it was added at the last minute, and it turned out to be completely wrong.


Kevin Drum 10:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 25, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TAX CUTS WITHOUT DEFICITS....Brad DeLong links today to an article by Martin Feldstein in which he tries to outline ways to stimulate the economy without increasing the long-term deficit. If I've read it correctly, this is the relevant sentence:

[A] temporary rise in the tax depreciation rate and the resulting tax cut are automatically offset by lower depreciation and therefore high tax liabilities in later years.

OK, I'll buy that. Allow United Airlines to depreciate 80% of the cost of their new airplanes right away and it amounts to a stimulative tax cut. But if they depreciate 80% now, they'll have only 20% to depreciate in the future and that automatically leads to higher taxes in years to come. Very good.

But are there other similar proposals that have this kind of automatic balance built in? Feldstein mentions some revenue-neutral tax jiggering that could be stimulative, but that sounds like fairly ordinary tax policy stuff to me.

The reason I ask is that I often read articles where the author says "We need to do X" and then gives an example of how to accomplish this an example that's frequently very clever indeed. Unfortunately, it often turns out that the example given is the only one the author knows about, and it's obviously not enough to solve the entire problem. In this case, to create a broad-based stimulus package that doesn't lead to persistent deficits we'll need more ideas than just the depreciation proposal. What are they?

On a slightly different topic, Feldstein also mentions something else that I guess I knew but had never quite put my arms around:

The current relatively low rates of inflation and correspondingly low nominal interest rates restrict the ability of central banks to stimulate the economy.

I guess this is yet another reason that mildly high inflation is a good thing. If inflation is running at, say, 4%, then an interest rate of 1% translates into a real rate of -3%. Highly stimulative. But if inflation is running at 2%, then the real interest rate is only -1%. Nice, but maybe not enough to really kickstart the economy.

It's funny, but after all those years of worrying about inflation, it really does seem as if there are an awful lot of good reasons to try and target an inflation rate of 4% or perhaps even a bit higher. The question is, once you let the 4% genie out of the bottle, can you keep it under control? There's the rub....

Kevin Drum 10:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FUNNY BOOKS....I'm not sure why this was on my mind today, but I got to thinking about funny books. I think the funniest book I read in the 90s was Al Franken's Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, and my pick for the 70s would be Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

I'm pretty hard pressed to remember a really funny book from the 80s, though. Maybe it just wasn't a funny decade.

At any rate, I like funny books. Who doesn't? So how about some suggestions? Not amusing books, or wry books, or books that gave you a good chuckle. Real laugh-out-loud books that can still make you giggle just by thinking about them.

Let's hear it.

Kevin Drum 9:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MUSING ABOUT CLARK....Josh Marshall examines the possibility of a Wesley Clark candidacy and tries to answer the question, "Why?" I think he gets it about right:

By the normal laws of political gravitation, [Howard] Dean's sustained surge should have forced a coalescence around one of the several more-centrist-minded establishment candidates....But that clearly has not happened.

....Now, why hasn't that coalescence taken place? I think the answer is elementary. None of the current candidates has passed the audition for the job. Lieberman's campaign is generally believed to be moribund (and I like the guy). Edwards has gone absolutely nowhere. Gephardt has bet everything on getting the support of organized labor. But if he gets it, it'll basically be a mercy ... well, I don't want to be off-color. But, you know what I mean. Kerry is basically the establishment front-runner at the moment. But it's an extremely anemic frontrunnerdom. He's basically the front-runner by default because all the other potential frontrunners who haven't caught fire are doing even worse than he is.

Compare this to Eric Alterman's impression of John Kerry from a recent fund-raising breakfast:

I came away with the strong impression that hed make a first-rate president in every way but I have trouble imagining how hes going to get there. He is articulate, intelligent, well-prepared, thoughtful and has some really good ideas, particularly on health care. But he has zero personal charisma and jes folks communication skills, which Bush has in abundance.

Now, I think you can make a pretty good case that it's way too early for an "Anybody But Dean" campaign to start up. That kind of thing doesn't usually get rolling until someone's won at least a primary or two.

But the rest of it rings true. The hard truth, I think, is that Lieberman and Gephardt are known quantities who have lost before and don't inspire confidence that they won't lose again if they go up against Bush. Kerry probably deserves better, but fairly or not he comes across as wobbly and a bit too self-conscious about fine-tuning his positions. Edwards has charisma, but just hasn't caught on I'm not entirely sure why.

So if you're a pro, what choice do you have? Either Dean whose national security weakness scares a lot of people or a candidate who seems unlikely to catch on with the electorate. It's Hobson's choice.

Enter Clark, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the national scene. He's a bit of a cipher, which means he doesn't have any serious political baggage. He's got charisma and can compete well with Bush in reaching out to Middle America. He's apparently got good liberal cred. And he's got the contacts to put together a pretty good national security team.

Is it too late? I don't think so. Sure, the other candidates have been raising money for a while, but if Clark entered the race he'd get a lot of good press for free, especially since the Dean story has now been done and the press corps is looking for something new to write about. If he could convert that into some decent poll numbers he'd start to attract both money and endorsements. It's doable.

And there's one more thing. As we all know, Clark is only the second most famous Arkansas native on the national scene, and the real wildcard is whether he could wangle the endorsement of the #1 Arkansan. If he could manage that, I'll bet the nomination would be his in a walk.

Kevin Drum 9:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GEORGY FOR GOVERNOR....Expanding the limits of blogs once again, Priorities & Frivolities interviews one of the, um, longshot candidates for governor, Georgy Russell. Money quote:

It's an interesting commentary that the media chose to focus on the thong, when there was so much else on [my] website! They put me between Mary Carey and Angelyne in Newsweek. :-)

Gotta work on those soundbites, Georgy!

Like Arnold, it turns out Georgy didn't vote in the last election. I smell a scandal here....

Kevin Drum 4:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PROTECTING YOU FROM YOURSELF....Security expert Bruce Schneier recently sent me a copy of his new book, Beyond Fear, no doubt hoping I would review it on my site and thus send it rocketing onto the bestseller list. No luck on that, since I haven't finished it yet, but I just have to share this paragraph about cell phone "security":

Nokia spends about a hundred times more money per phone on battery security than on communications security. The security system senses when a consumer uses a third-party battery and switches the phone into maximum power-consumption mode; the point is to ensure that consumers buy only Nokia batteries.

Don't you just love that? And what kind of pseudoscience doubletalk do you suppose they trot out to explain this policy?

Anyway, I don't know yet if the book is any good, but this anecdote itself has been worth the price.

UPDATE: OK, one more excerpt:

Did you ever wonder why tweezers were confiscated at security checkpoints, but matches and cigarette lighters actual combustible materials were not? It's because the tobacco lobby interjected its agenda into the negotiations by pressuring the government. If the tweezers lobby had more power, I'm sure they would have been allowed on board, as well.

I don't know about the book as a whole yet, but the anecdotes are pretty good so far.

Kevin Drum 11:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FIXING CALIFORNIA....California is a mess. The LA Times ran a pretty sensible editorial on Sunday suggesting some needed changes, but unfortunately it didn't pander enough to dreamland sensibility for Matt Welch's taste. What's up with that, Matt?

The Times made six suggestions, four of which Matt derides as wildly out of touch with the California electorate. Here is Matt's paraphrase, with commentary on each one from yours truly:

  1. Repeal term limits.

    Along with gerrymandered districts (#2 on the Times list), term limits have been one of the prime contributors to legislative extremism and gridlock in California. Legislators don't understand the process, never learn to compromise, and don't care much about any of it because they can only serve a few terms anyway. Result: a legislature full of zealots who are entirely at the mercy of lobbyists and staff members.

    Repealing term limits or, better yet, keeping them but extending them is a good idea. This is an experiment that's failed utterly.

  1. Amend Proposition 13 to allow for more taxation.

    The Times thinks Prop 13 should be amended to change the rules for taxing corporate property, not residential property, and this makes all sorts of sense. Prop 13 allows property to be re-assessed only when it's sold, but corporate property is virtually never sold and selling the company that owns the property doesn't count as selling the property itself. Result: corporate property is increasingly taxed at a fraction of one percent of its actual value, while residential property is taxed at close to the full 1%. Why should residents pay higher rates than corporations?

  1. Make it harder to exercise direct-democracy instruments such as recalls and ballot initiatives.

    The initiative process in California hasn't been a grass roots process for a long time. Most of the time, it's simply the handmaiden of corporate interests who have the money to buy the signatures they need and the money to advertise heavily for whatever special treatment they're angling for.

    This is hardly a secret, and it's one of the reasons I almost never vote in favor of ballot initiatives. My favored solution, rather than simply increasing the number of signatures required, would be to prohibit paid signature gatherers, thus forcing ballot initiatives to be genuine grass roots efforts. (Unfortunately, I'm not sure if that would pass constitutional muster.)

  1. Reduce the two-thirds voting requirement that prevents Democrats from unilaterally raising taxes.

    Supermajorities should be used only for extraordinary activities. The two-thirds requirement Matt is talking about here is for the most ordinary activity you can think of: passing an annual budget.

    Virtually the only way to get a budget passed in California these days is to simply buy off everyone in the legislature, which leads to ballooning budgets (that is, even more ballooning budgets than we'd have anyway) and endless giveaways. Hell, this year's budget, the one that those fiscally responsible Republicans refused to pass if it contained even one cent of tax increases, finally got passed only by giving those same Republicans $100 million of extra spending they wanted. Thanks, guys.

    If Californians really don't like the budgets the Democrats pass, they can vote them out of office. That's democracy.

The Times isn't running for office, and kudos to them for acting like grownups and telling the truth about what needs to be done in California, even if Californians don't want to hear it. Matt, you should have kept your LA Times cynicism in check this time. Kevin Drum 11:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 24, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WMD HUNT UPDATE....Scott Ritter has a disturbing story to tell in the New York Times today. The Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate at Jadariyah was the repository for every Iraqi government record relating to its weapons programs. As such, even if the records there were nothing more than a collection of Iraqi falsifications, it was still a trove of useful information and protecting it should have been a high priority. But according to directorate officials Ritter has talked to, it wasn't:

On April 8, they say, the buildings were occupied by soldiers from the Army's Third Infantry Division. For two weeks, the Iraqi scientists and administrators showed up for work but, according to several I have spoken to, no one from the coalition interviewed them or tried to take control of the archive.

Rather, these staff members have told me, after occupying the facility for two weeks, the American soldiers simply withdrew. Soon after, looters entered the facility and ransacked it. Overnight, every computer was stolen, disks and video records were destroyed, and the carefully organized documents were ripped from their binders and either burned or scattered about. According to the former brigadier general, who went back to the building after the mob had gone, some Iraqi scientists did their best to recover and reconstitute what they could, but for the vast majority of the archive the damage was irreversible.

Why was this allowed to happen? Was it deliberate, or was it part of the "untidyness" that Donald Rumsfeld used to brush off questions after the war was over? Ritter doesn't know and can't guess, but maybe somebody ought to ask.

Kevin Drum 11:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HEADLINE OF THE YEAR....I know it's only August, but surely this candidate is going to be hard to beat in the Headline of the Year competition:

'Spare us from butt-numbing Hoon'

(Geoffrey Hoon is Britain's Minister of Defense.)

Sadly, the story itself doesn't entirely fulfill the promise of the headline, since it turns out the actual quote isn't quite what the headline writer said it was:

After Geoff Hoon said he would only appear on the Today programme if he could attack the BBC's claims about the September dossier, Kevin Marsh, the programme's editor wrote in an email: "There is nothing to be gained from subjecting the long-suffering British public to yet another... butt-numbing smokescreen..."

Still, it's a pretty good headline, isn't it? And it just goes to show the wonderful stuff you get when you have a judicial inquiry that's allowed to subpoena personal emails.

Kevin Drum 11:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POSTWAR IRAQ....Matt Yglesias is concerned about whether George Bush is really committed to success in postwar Iraq. He's not the only one: Republican senators appear to be worried too.

Bush's conduct toward Iraq continues to be something that I just shake my head over. He lost my support before the war because I eventually became convinced that he wasn't serious about postwar reconstruction. After the war, it became clear that my suspicions were well grounded and that virtually no serious postwar planning had been done. And now, his continuing refusal to admit that we need more troops in Iraq or to make any effort to rally the country behind the time and money it will take to do the job right is simply inexplicable.

Obviously he realizes that failure in Iraq would be an enormous blow both to the U.S. and to the war on terrorism. And he or his advisors, at any rate must realize that we can't do it with the troops and funding we have in place now. There's just too much contrary evidence for him not to realize that.

So what is he doing? His reluctance to involve the UN or the rest of the world is at least understandable given his worldview, but his reluctance to do anything just boggles the imagination. Even accepting the world on his terms, his actions make no sense.

At this point, I simply have no idea what he's up to. He's in the process of losing the war he was so eager to fight six months ago, a loss that could have a devastating impact on American security, and he doesn't show any signs of caring. He's seemingly more interested in protecting his tax cuts than he is in making sure that our victory in Iraq remains a victory.

What can he possibly be thinking? Snarky comments aside, does anyone have any ideas?

Kevin Drum 10:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EXPLAINING ARNOLD....Kieran Healy, responding to Brad DeLong, responding to Dan Weintraub, tells us about some academic research that might explain why Arnold Schwarzenegger is so popular.

Then he changes his mind and decides that the research results actually don't apply here, but what the hey it's pretty interesting research anyway, so why waste all that good blogging? He then on his own, without benefit of research gets what I think is the right answer:

The mere fact of not knowing anything about Arnie makes him a more attractive candidate. Uncertainty about Schwarzenegger not only makes him look good, but it encourages people to discount what they already know about the other candidates. Better the devil you dont know than the devil you do.

I've seen this so many times that I have no problem at all believing that this is what's going on. Time and again, when I've been in meetings where we're evaluating candidates we know (good candidates, mind you), the conversation keeps coming around to the person's faults, which loom far larger than their virtues and usually far larger than they should. And even if those faults aren't really all that devastating, the more you talk about them, and the more you think about them, the worse they seem.

But a person you don't know is a whole different story. For a while, at least, you can optimistically convince yourself that the person has no faults at all. It's like magic.

Arnold's problem, of course, is that there are still six weeks to go, and we're bound to learn more about him during that time no matter how hard he tries to remain a cipher. Then again, I suppose he's lucky it's only six weeks....

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman has more on Schwarzenegger vs. Bustamante.

Kevin Drum 9:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FACTOID OF THE DAY....Question: where did the word "blog" come from. Obviously it's a contraction of "weblog," but who did the contracting?

Answer: Tom Mangan is a word geek who has run a website for copy editors for years. According to Tom, who recently converted his site into a blog, the word "blog" was coined by Peter Merholz around May 1999.

I'm not sure if this is common knowledge or not, but it was news to me.

POSTSCRIPT: I happen to like the word "blog" myself, but I gather that a lot of people don't. If you feel strongly about it, this is your chance to sound off.

ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: I just feel like mentioning that Tom's blog desperately needs comments, since arguing about word usage has kicked off some of the longest comment threads I've ever had. Apparently he tried to add them, but failed (permalinks bloggered). Get off blogger, Tom!

YET ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: As long as I'm on the subject, Tom links to a couple of hilarious cartoons (if you're amused by surly copy editors, anyway): Bob's Quick Guide to the Apostrophe and Bob's Quick Guide to Its and It's. Check 'em out.

Kevin Drum 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HUTTON INQUIRY UPDATE....I'm still not ready to write anything lengthy about the Hutton inquiry into the death of David Kelly. Little tidbits come out every day, and it's going to be impossible to draw any conclusions until the testimony is finished. (A quick summary timeline of the whole affair is here.)

However, it's worth noting that while the BBC took some hits during the first week of the inquiry, when Andrew Gilligan and other BBC worthies testified, the government is taking it on the chin pretty badly now that it's their turn in the dock. The Telegraph has the results of an ICM poll today showing that 67% of the public thinks the government deceived them about WMD, 61% think they embellished the dossier, and 58% trust Tony Blair less than before. (36% trust the BBC less than before.)

Next week will be more government testimony, including Tony Blair himself, so it's likely that the government's position will deteriorate even further.

For those keeping score at home, here are the key questions that are part of the inquiry. (The inquiry is allegedly tasked only with investigating David Kelly's suicide, but these questions are the ones that everyone is really interested in.) I've also included my current guesses about each question, although it's too early for any of them to be firm.

  • Did the government "sex up" the dossier? Yes, probably, although this hinges very much on just what "sex up" really means. They were obviously pretty heavily involved in the final two weeks of drafting, and seem to have been entirely responsible for the foreward, which highlighted the "45-minute" claim.

  • Specifically, was Alastair Campbell responsible for sexing it up over the objections of intelligence officials? He certainly had a role in the drafting, but this question is unlikely to get firmly answered.

  • Even more specifically, did Campbell have anything to do with adding (or highlighting) the claim that Saddam could launch WMD-equipped missiles within 45 minutes? I haven't heard any persuasive evidence one way or the other on this question yet. There's been credible testimony that senior intelligence agents objected to at least some parts of the dossier, including the 45-minute claim, but there's also been testimony that Campbell had nothing to do with inserting it. My guess is that Campbell didn't insist on having the claim included, but probably did have a hand in giving it considerably more attention than it deserved.

  • Did Andrew Gilligan accurately report what David Kelly told him? I think that Kelly really did say the stuff Gilligan reports him saying, so to that extent I think the answer is yes. However, it's possible that Gilligan used some dodgy wording that made Kelly's words more damaging than they really were. My guess: Kelly did say that Campbell was responsible for sexing up the dossier, but he didn't say Campbell was specifically responsible for inserting the 45-minute claim. Gilligan made it sound as if Kelly said both things.

    (However, this is an especially tricky area. In a tape recorded interview, Kelly did tell another reporter, Susan Watts, the following about who was responsible for the 45-minute claim: "All I can say is the Number 10 press office....But I think Alastair Campbell is synonymous with that press office because he's responsible for it." So it's quite possible that when Kelly muttered "Campbell" to Gilligan, he was referring to both the general embellishing of the dossier and the 45-minute claim.)

  • Was David Kelly a reliable enough source to be quoted in a report that had no other sources? Generally, yes. Kelly was a highly placed expert who played a fairly important role in drafting and reviewing the dossier, and had been a reliable source in the past. Whether he was a reliable source specifically for the Campbell accusation is harder to pin down.

  • Did the BBC misrepresent the nature of Gilligan's source? Yes, they seem to have. Before Kelly's name became public, they said that their source was an intelligence official and that he didn't work for the Ministry of Defense. Both are untrue.

  • Did the government surreptitiously plan to force Kelly into the open as Gilligan's source? We'll hear more about this question this week, but so far the answer appears to be yes.

In the meantime here's a question for any British readers who might have been following this whole affair more closely than me. My understanding is that Gilligan's original report on BBC radio alleging that the government "sexed up" the dossier was never that big a deal. After all, apparently there really were some senior intelligence officers who objected to the 45-minute claim, and at least one other reporter repeated this charge without getting into trouble. What really got everyone upset was Gilligan's implication that it was specifically Alastair Campbell who insisted on including the 45-minute language.

But that charge was made in Gilligan's column in the Mail on Sunday. So my question is this: why did Campbell go after the BBC rather than the Mail? Did Gilligan ever repeat the accusations about Campbell on the BBC? Surely the BBC can't be held acountable for a sloppily worded story that they didn't edit themselves, can they?

Anyway, I feel like I'm missing something here. Does anyone know what?

Kevin Drum 3:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WINDOWS SECURITY: AN OXYMORON?....Rob Pegoraro has a pretty good column in the Washington Post today about the security holes built into Windows that makes it so vulnerable to worms and viruses. Virus writers don't target Windows just because it has the biggest installed base, he says, but also because Windows is inherently more vulnerable.

I think he underestimates the network effects inherent in Windows' huge installed base, but he still makes some good points about Microsoft's poor design decisions. At the same time, he also chides users for not keeping their systems up to date:

Part of this is users' fault. "Critical updates" are called that for a reason, and it's foolish to ignore them. (The same goes for not installing and updating anti-virus software.)

The chance of a patch wrecking Windows is dwarfed by the odds that an unpatched PC will get hit. And for those saying they don't trust Microsoft to fix their systems, I have one question: If you don't trust this company, why did you give it your money?

Microsoft, however, must share blame, too. Windows XP's pop-up invitations to use Windows Update must compete for attention with all of XP's other, less important nags -- get a Passport account, take a tour of XP, hide unused desktop icons, blah, blah, blah.

In this case, I think he's actually letting Microsoft off the hook too easily. Here's my story:

A couple of weeks ago I heard about the Blaster worm and decided to get the patch. No dice: I couldn't install the patch unless I first installed Service Pack 1. That didn't look too bad, though, so I went ahead and clicked "Install."

Looks can be deceiving. The 3 MB file turned out to be only the loader for another file that weighed in at 30MB. On a dial-up connection, which is what most people have, that would have taken an hour and a half to download.

But hey, I'm one of the fortunate few, so while it was annoying that it was much bigger than I expected, it only took about 10 minutes to download.

Then 10 minutes to do a system check.

Then 10 minutes to install.

Then 10 minutes to clean up.

Then 10 minutes to shut down and reboot a couple of times.

And when it was finally all done, and I had spent an hour on something that I thought would take five minutes, my connection to the internet was hosed and I couldn't go back to the Microsoft site to get the patch I wanted in the first place. By the next morning, when I finally got my internet connection back up, I wanted nothing more to do with this, especially since SP1 mysteriously screwed something up that makes it more difficult than before to switch email accounts in Outlook.

(Actually, what it really did was change a default setting that made it impossible to switch accounts. Microsoft doesn't seem to understand that 90% of its users have no clue how to fix something like this.)

Anyway, after reading up on Blaster I discovered that you're safe as long as you're running a firewall, which I am. It turns out I didn't need the patch in the first place.

So yes: considering the amount of crap that Windows pesters us with every day, yet another "critical" update just isn't likely to sink in. And even if it does, I try to avoid Microsoft patches anyway. Pegoraro might think that "The chance of a patch wrecking Windows is dwarfed by the odds that an unpatched PC will get hit," but my experience is considerably different. These days, unless I have a problem so serious that I just absolutely have to install a patch, my motto is to leave well enough alone and pray that things continue working.

There's not much that Microsoft can do to prevent people from opening email attachments, but there's a lot they could do to make Windows PCs more secure, easier to update, and less tolerant of aberrant behavior. The bottom line, though, is that they just don't seem willing to do it.

POSTSCRIPT: Feel free to do all the Microsoft bashing you want in comments, but please don't turn it into yet another tiresome Windows vs. Mac thread. Most of us Windows users actually have excellent reasons for our choice of operating system, and hearing about the alleged superiority of Macs for the thousandth time won't change that. So please please please: just don't do it. OK?

POSTSCRIPT 2: That goes for Windows vs. Linux too.

Kevin Drum 12:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PORN IS A VIRUS....So how did the SoBig F virus spread so quickly? After all, everyone knows not to open unknown email attachments, right?

Maybe they do, but downloading unknown porn is a different matter altogether:

FBI investigators have now tracked down the source of the virus, known as SoBig F, to a porn website in Phoenix, Arizona. It was put on the net in the guise of a photograph posted in an adult 'newsgroup', a forum where users post messages and pictures. When people clicked to download the picture their computers unwittingly became infected and spread the virus which emailed copies of itself from their accounts.

Porn has always been the soft underbelly of the internet. And just think of the ammunition this is going to give to the Falwells and Robertsons of the world. It's a hard sell these days to convince people that porn inevitably leads to lechery and a dissolute life, but now they can say that porn leads to the destruction of the internet. Hallelujah!

Kevin Drum 11:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE WEB CONSTRUCTION OF GENDER....Via Unfogged, I came across The Gender Genie, a web version of an algorithm that is alleged to have 80% accuracy in detecting whether a piece of text was written by a man or a woman. (The algorithm itself is described here.)

So I fed in some of my blog posts. It said I was mostly female.

Then I fed in a few of Jeanne d'Arc's blog posts. She's female too.

Next I tried Matt Yglesias: female. Steven Den Beste: female. Max Sawicky: mixed. Glenn Reynolds: mixed. Jane Galt: male.

I can think of two possible explanations. The first is that blogging, by its very nature, is personal and interactive, and thus fundamentally feminine in nature. This strikes me as horseshit unsupported by any evidence, however.

The other is that the algorithm is actually no better than flipping a coin. As you can see from the screen shot above, which shows that its predictions are successful 49.83% of the time, this seems like a much better explanation. But at least it has a sense of humor.

(By the way, this post that you're reading right now is, according to the algorithm....strongly male! Go figure.)

POSTSCRIPT: For what it's worth, I note that the algorithm is allegedly for use with fiction. I don't know why, but perhaps it just doesn't work well for nonfiction. I also note that it's extremely sensitive to the use of the word "the" (strongly male) and the word "with" (strongly female). Keep that in mind if you feel the urge to change the tone of your writing someday.

UPDATE: In comments, one of the authors of the Gender Genie warns not to take the 49% figure too seriously:

Those stats, by the way, are not to be trusted. They're entirely user-dependent, and users have been much more motivated to let it know when its wrong.

That sounds reasonable, although I'm curious if it's just a guess or if they actually have some evidence for thinking that.

Kevin Drum 11:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 23, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE PROOF THAT LIBERALS ARE BETTER THAN CONSERVATIVES....Every year the Princeton Review ranks American colleges on several dozen measures, and every year nobody cares about any of these measures except one: what's the top party school in the country? So let's get that out of the way:

  1. University of Colorado, Boulder

  2. University of Wisconsin-Madison

  3. Indiana University - Bloomington

  4. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  5. Washington and Lee University

  6. The University of Texas at Austin

  7. The University of the South

  8. DePauw University

  9. St. Bonaventure University

  10. University of Florida

Note that there's not a single college on this list west of the Rockies. We West Coasters have long been slandered as just a bunch of laid back slackers, but it's pretty obvious that it's actually the Midwest and the South who are the problem children, isn't it?

Conversely, the school with the hardest studying students is Lotus Land's very own Caltech, with Scripps also making the list at #6. By contrast with the party animals, virtually all of the hard studying colleges are on the East and West coasts.

The conclusion is obvious: blue states are earnest and hard working, red states are drunken party animals who shouldn't be trusted with the car keys. That kinda takes the mystery out of why they vote Republican, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 2:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE NEWS CYCLE....This guy does cartoons from a conservative perspective, but I thought "The Lifecycle of a News Story" was pretty funny anyway.

For that matter, his look at the Democratic candidates was kind of funny too. And heck, so was this. Switching from text to cartoons was a good move.

Of course, if you want over-the-top liberal political cartoons with no apologies, Political Strikes is just a click away.

Kevin Drum 11:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEWSPAPER BLOGS....I'm experimenting with something new over on the sidebar: newspaper blogs. Just below the regular blogroll there's now a list of blogs written by major daily newspaper reporters and officially hosted by their newspaper.

I've started with three:

I'm not really endorsing the quality of these blogs (since I haven't read any of them for long) and I don't know how long I'll keep this up, but I thought it might be interesting to track the evolution of "official" reporter-based blogs in daily newspapers. I'm sure there are others out there that I don't know about, so if you know of one please leave a comment or send me email and I'll add it.

NOTE: I realize there can be a thin line between a blog and a daily column that happens to be online. (Which is Eric Alterman, for example?) So, since it's a judgment call and all that, I'll decide who qualifies based on well, nothing, really. I think I'll just go with the "I know it when I see it" standard. Nonetheless, decisions of the management are final....

Kevin Drum 10:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SURFING IN TIKRIT....OK, I'm finally convinced. Things must be going pretty well in Iraq if we can open up an internet cafe in Tikrit:

Tikritis enthusiastically welcomed the Internet cafe.

"Before, we had no free e-mail, no chat, no good information, no connection with the world," cafe user Asim Abdullah said. "We were in a big jail."

Some in Tikrit told of how they occasionally used to circumvent Saddam's restrictions -- at risk of punishment.

Naji Dawood Khalid, who works at the new cafe, said at the previous government-controlled Internet office on the same site, he would allow some trusted friends to surf more freely.

"But they were watching in Baghdad and they would call and say 'Computer No. 11 is using a bad site' so it was a big risk. Once, they cut my wages by half and threatened to put me in jail," he said.

At the same time, the story also notes that the opening of the cafe has been delayed several times, including once last week, because of attacks from anti-American guerrillas. So there's still plenty of work to do.

Kevin Drum 10:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RECALL UPDATE....AP is reporting that Bill Simon has dropped out of the recall race. That's good news for Arnold, since Simon's share of the vote will almost certainly go to him, and it will also put pressure on the other Republican candidates to drop out as well.

On the other hand, despite the waffly nature of this LA Times story, a poll showing only 50% in favor of the recall is bad news for Arnold. That's down from previous polls I've seen, which placed recall support in 60+% territory, and Gray Davis hasn't even begun to do any serious campaigning or advertising yet.

However, note this:

Republicans appear far more energized by the election than Democrats. Republicans make up 35% of registered voters in the state, while Democrats constitute 45%. However, the Times poll suggests that a disproportionate number of Republicans are likely to actually vote in the election, accounting for 43% of the turnout, with Democrats making up 45%.

"The recall seems to have mobilized the Republican Party base, while Democratic voters are not as enthused at this point," said poll director Pinkus. "For Davis to beat the recall, he must do more to excite his own troops to come to his rescue."

I think this is yet more evidence that anger is a very effective political tool, and one that Republicans use very effectively. It's true that inchoate temper tantrums are self-defeating, but anger that's well channeled and directed at a specific source can work very well. Sure, it takes the right kind of person and the right kind of issue to make electoral anger work, but I continue to think that Democrats shouldn't be afraid of using it, no matter how many Republicans earnestly warn us away from the briar patch that they pretend has hurt their party so badly.

UPDATE: Robert Tagorda correctly points out that I overstated the benefit to Arnold from Bill Simon dropping out, since some (maybe most) of his vote will go to Tom McClintock, the other right winger in the Republican crowd.

Kevin Drum 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 22, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

EDITORIAL BLOGGING....Here's an interesting thing: the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News has started a blog, and today they went public with it. This really opens up the editorial-writing process to the public, so you can see what kinds of discussion go on between the ed board members before (and after) editorials are published.

Editorial page editor Keven Ann Willey explains here:

There aren't many if any editorial boards in the country blogging yet. It's a delicate thing, blogging our opinions in ways we hope will help clarify and enhance not confuse and degrade what we do and why we do it. The entries on the blog represent the individual views of board members, for example, not necessarily the board's collaborative view. But it's those individual views that are so important to shaping the collaborative view that you read on the editorial page of the newspaper each day.

This should indeed be an interesting experiment. Transparency is sort of a double-edged sword when it comes to editorial writing, and this could easily come to grief the same way that seeing a sausage made can make a vegetarian out of you. I have a feeling the result might very well be more outrage over the paper's editorial positions as readers peruse the blog and confirm in their own minds all the horrible biases that their fevered imaginations could only suspect before. Familiarity breeds contempt, and all that.

My (tentative) prediction: groups who oppose the Morning News' positions will start banging away at them, using comments from the blog as proof of editorial perfidy and moral unclarity. Hastily dashed off blog posts will come back to haunt them, and soon the Morning News will begin a policy that all blog posts have to go through an editor before they are published. The spontaneity of the blog will die, and eventually, in a flurry of public recriminations and backbiting, the blog itself will die too.

Then again, maybe not! Scenario B is that this is the wave of the future, and by next year no one will take an editorial page seriously unless it also runs a feisty and combative blog that takes on all comers and wears its biases proudly. After all, wouldn't you like to see the New York Times try something like this?

Kevin Drum 9:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ROY MOORE SUSPENDED....After Chief Justice Roy Moore refused to obey a court order to remove his Ten Commandments monument, Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor said the rule of law had to be upheld, the other eight Supreme Court justices overruled Moore and ordered the monument removed, and now an Alabama judicial commission has suspended Moore. Good for them. Moore has made a laughingstock out of Alabama for too long, and it's nice to see that the rest of official Alabama has finally had enough of his ridiculous shenanigans.

Kevin Drum 8:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SLIPPERY AND FISHY....Here's the headline at MSNBC today:

Bush takes credit for salmon revival

You betcha, and I take credit for the nice sunny weather we're having here in Southern California. Needless to say, it turns out that Bush had nothing to do with increasing the salmon population:

Everyone agrees that the primary reason for the recent abundance of salmon is a dramatic improvement in ocean conditions. Because of global weather patterns and regional current cycles in the Pacific, fish biologists say that the ocean off the coast of Washington and Oregon has become a far more nutritious and healthful place to be a salmon than it has been since the late 1970s.

What's more, despite spending billions of dollars to increase returns of wild salmon, the increase in the salmon population is almost entirely made up of hatchery salmon.

What's next? Will the Bush administration take credit for the lack of earthquakes in California this year? Because, you know, we haven't had any.

UPDATE: MSNBC has changed the headline on their story to "President Defends Economic Plan," and the story itself has been heavily modified too. How annoying.

Kevin Drum 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JUDGE TO FOX: DROP DEAD....A federal judge told Fox News today not to let the courthouse door hit them on their corporate ass when they slink out of the building. Their suit against Al Franken's use of "fair and balanced" in the title of his new book is "without merit, both factually and legally."

Actually, that sort of describes the whole network, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, thanks to Fox's almost Biblical display of inanity, Franken's book is now ranked #2 at Amazon. Buy it by itself, or bundle it with Big Lies for only $34.94!

Oh, and just one more thing. This whole escapade was apparently the brainchild and I use both the word "brain" and the word "child" advisedly of Fox whiner-in-chief Bill O'Reilly, who was unhappy at Franken's verbal assault on him at the Los Angeles BookExpo, televised on C-SPAN last May. Result: O'Reilly looks like a petulant adolescent and Franken probably earns an extra million bucks or so in book sales. Who knew C-SPAN had such power?

UPDATE: Here's the full version of the AP report linked above. It turns out that Fox did some rather heavy snipping of AP's prose.

UPDATE 2: Fox has now reposted the AP article. It still isn't complete, but it's more complete than it was before.

Kevin Drum 2:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POWERS OF 10....I've had a bunch of milestones this week. Today is my one-year blogging anniversary, my traffic has suddenly jumped to over 10,000 visits per day, and yesterday I had my one-millionth visitor.

It seems like I ought to have something pithy and original to say about all this, but I can't really think of anything. It's been fun, though. Many thanks to everyone who stops by, and especially to everyone who takes the time to leave comments.

And now, I think I'll celebrate by going out to lunch. Remember to vote Democrat in 2004!

Kevin Drum 1:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT SCRABBLE BLOGGING....This is how Scrabble gets played here at Calpundit HQ. Jasmine likes to meander around, but eventually curls up somewhere that has maximum distraction value. Inkblot doesn't interfere with the action as much, preferring the box to the actual game. Unfortunately, since he's an economy size cat, he sort of overflows when he tries to nap in the box. I'm sure it will someday explode from this kind of abuse.

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PAGING REAL CONSERVATIVES....I've mentioned before that standard issue (i.e., non-libertarian) conservatives are in short supply among bloggers, and more specifically that the Christian right is nowhere to be seen here in the political corner of the blogosphere. That's too bad, because it means there's no one around to argue in favor of Judge Roy Moore's defiance of a federal court order to remove his beloved Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building.

Or, even worse, this:

Moore's supporters in the House of Representatives, led by U.S. Rep. John Hostettler (R., Ind.), introduced a measure to prevent the use of federal funds to implement the Eleventh Circuit's order. Identifying the Ten Commandments case by name, Hostettler's bill would prohibit the Justice Department from using any part of its appropriation "to enforce the judgment" against Moore. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives, 260-161, with Republicans voting 210-13 in favor.

Is there anyone in the political blogosphere who supports this? If there isn't, it's a real case study in the insularity of the blog world, because out in the real world there's an awful lot of people and 260 congressmen who apparently think it's just dandy.

Kevin Drum 9:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GRADING IRAQ....Tom Bevan takes on the idea that the bombing of the UN building in Iraq is good news because it demonstrates the desperation and weakness of the anti-U.S. forces in Iraq:

The core of the hypothesis, at least in my mind, is that the success of our policy in Iraq is demonstrated by the simple fact that the terrorists are not able to attack the targets they want to in the way they want to attack them. That fact, in and of itself, proves the terrorists are operating from a position of weakness.

I'm not really sure what the point of this is. Of course the terrorists are operating from a position of weakness. That's practically the definition of terrorism. Anyone with a serious military capability chooses other ways to fight.

Bevan goes on to say the UN bombing shows specific weakness because it was a lousy target. What they'd really like to do, for example, is assassinate Paul Bremer, but they're too weak to do that. Instead, they're reduced to attacks with little symbolic value.

I'm not sure I buy that either, but in any case if bombing the UN isn't really a serious setback, what would count as a setback? Responding to Josh Marshall's request for benchmarks, Tom says our policy in Iraq is failing when terrorists can successfully prevent us from:

  • keeping schools and hospitals open

  • continuing to establish a functioning form of representative government for the Iraqi people

  • conducting military and security operations

  • continuing to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure

  • winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people

That's as good a set of benchmarks as any. Let's keep our eye on them.

Kevin Drum 9:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 21, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

CONSERVATIVES IN ACADEMIA....John Lemon has perused the voluminous and, um, candid comment thread to this post and now has a reply on his blog. The conscience of an (academic) conservative is here.

By the way, Dan Drezner really needs to check out John's blog. If he doesn't repond soon, we may have another John Hinckley on our hands....

Kevin Drum 9:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NO MORE SAMPRAS....Pete Sampras is retiring. He hasn't played a tournament for the past year, but he's been dithering ever since about whether or not he was planning to play again. He'll make his retirement official on Monday, the first day of the U.S. Open.

By my (possibly inaccurate) count, this means that there is only one serve-and-volleyer among the top 32 seeds at the Open. An era has truly ended.

I'm sorry to see Sampras go, but it's been fun watching him for the past decade. He was one of the best.

Kevin Drum 5:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHUT UP!....Brad DeLong says:

[My] children routinely use the "mute" button on the remote to silence TV commercials, for no reason other than that they are annoying.

If they are representative of the younger generation, the effectiveness of TV advertising is about to take a *big* dive.

I dunno about that. My grandmother, who was born on a farm in Colorado in 1897, used to have a cord that plugged into the earphone jack of her TV, and it had a switch on the other end that you could use to turn the sound on and off. She always muted the commercials, and this was back in 1965. At the time, we grandkids thought this was some kind of peculiar old-person habit, like playing canasta and reading Reader's Digest.

So maybe Brad's kids are just into some kind of retro thing. Beside, Tivo is going to make this all obsolete anyway, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 5:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AOL JOURNALS ARE UP AND RUNNING....AOL's entry into the blog world, AOL Journals, is up and running. John Scalzi is their blogger-in-chief, joining the highly select group of people who are actually paid to blog.

This is great news, of course, since that increases my chances of someday being paid to do this from about .0001% to .00015%. However, I do have a complaint: apparently AOL Journals don't allow you to leave comments unless you first sign in with an AOL screen name. I don't have one, of course, and don't really want to get one. Is this an attempt to wall off AOL blogs from the rest of the world, or what?

I would have left this comment on John's blog, but, um, I couldn't....

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TACITUS ROUNDUP....Tacitus on the pro-war wing of the blogosphere:

On the subject of the bombing of the UN compound, let me also say that a great deal of the rhetoric coming from the blogospheric right -- mostly from self-described "anti-idiotarians," which is a self-nullifying label if there ever was one -- was a pathetic disgrace. If your first reaction was to crow about it, or to whip up a monologue on the irony of it all, you have my pity. I spent part of my day yesterday drafting condolence letters to the families of the dead; let me assure you that whatever the glaring flaws of the United Nations, those folks there were doing more for a free Iraq than you and I hunched behind our terminals stuffing our faces with Cheetos. So quit with that crap.

Well said. And Tacitus again on the likely Israeli reaction to the Jerusalem bus bombing:

On the one hand, you want to give the PA, and Abu Mazen in particular, a chance to show it can effectively govern. On the other hand, why should Israel suffer for someone else's learning curve?....We know where this is going to end -- Israel is going to hit back, and hard, and the PA will use it as an excuse to do nothing, again -- but I confess it would be interesting if Sharon simply held back and dared Mazen to make good.

Yep. After all, several decades of hitting back hard hasn't really worked, has it?

I completely sympathize with the horrors that Israel endures with every Palestinian suicide bomber, honest I do, but after 30+ years they've finally managed to (sort of) sideline Yasser Arafat and now have a PA leader who at least seems to genuinely agree that the violence needs to stop, even if he doesn't yet have the power to stop it himself. But surely no one thought he'd be able to dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad within a few months, did they?

The extremists on both sides have always had the power to derail any steps toward peace. Isn't it time to stop acknowledging that power by giving them exactly the reaction they want?

Kevin Drum 10:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FLYPAPER....Dan Drezner takes on the "flypaper theory" today. When President Bush said "Bring 'em on," was it really part of a devious plan to attract hordes of terrorists to Iraq so they'd all be in one convenient place where we could smash them to bits?

Dan isn't buying. Frankly, though, I think he's too nice about it: this "theory" is so cockamamie that it belongs with the tin foil hat brigade. I have no love for neocon foreign policy, but even I don't think they're so cynical and amoral as to concoct a strategy deliberately designed to radically destabilize a country and get lots of U.S. troops killed a strategy, I might add, that even a cursory glance at birthrates tells you would never work anyway. They can grow 'em faster than we can kill 'em.

It's time for everyone to grow up. The UN bombing in Baghdad doesn't necessarily mean that Iraq is on the verge of a meltdown, but it sure isn't good news either. The Bush administration better have a better plan for handling it than what they've shown so far.

Kevin Drum 10:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DO I NEED TO HAVE A CHAT WITH MOM?....Hmmm, is new Chicago Tribune blogger Eric Zorn really my long lost twin brother? ArchPundit reports, you decide.

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JOHN LOTT UPDATE....Glenn Reynolds wrote a short post about John Lott yesterday, and this has prompted Lott to respond on his website to the charges by Ayres and Donohue that his more-guns-less-crime hypothesis is based on coding errors caused by faulty data entry (it's the 8/20/03 entry).

Unfortunately, as Tim Lambert points out, Lott evades the issue. He complains that Ayres and Donohue erred by saying they had downloaded his data from his website. In fact, he fedexed it to them. He says the corrections only apply to a few hundred data points out of 70,000. He says he's unconvinced that A&D showed that more guns cause more crime. He says they misstate a claim about a different study. And finally he says that their language is intemperate.

The one thing he doesn't do is something that he could presumably do with little more than a touch of a button: rerun his very own regressions on the corrected data. Ayres and Donohue claim that if you do that, Lott's results go away and concealed carry laws have no effect on crime rates. (Actually, A&D say that crime rates go up but the effect is small, so statistically they are saying that concealed carry laws have no effect on crime.)

In their original article, Ayres and Donohue weren't talking about anyone else's studies, and they weren't doing a literature review. They were specifically finding fault with the regressions that Lott ran. If he thinks they're wrong, all he has to do is rerun the regressions and publish the results.

Why won't he do that?

Kevin Drum 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 20, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SUCCESS IN IRAQ....Josh Marshall asks today: what are the criteria for success in Iraq? I remember asking this question back in February, right at the time I was wobbling on my support for the war, but since it was before Calpundit had comments there was no response aside from a few emails.

The question is obviously even more germane now than it was then, so I'm going to reprint the post now. I'm curious to see what the response is.

I might write it a bit differently today than I did six months ago, but I think it's best just to reproduce it exactly as I wrote it then. Here it is.

Let's take it as given that one result of the war will be a relatively swift regime change in Iraq, with Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants either captured or killed. As nice as that might be, however, I think there's a bipartisan consensus that there are several other outcomes we would also like to see. For example:

  • Introduction, to at least some extent, of democratic institutions in Iraq.

  • Rapid reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure and introduction of market reforms, food aid, and medical aid.

  • A clear demonstration to the world that Iraq did indeed have the hidden WMDs that we said they had.

  • Continued protection of the Kurds and other ethnic minorities in Iraq.

  • At some level, evidence that Western values introduced in Iraq are starting to make inroads in the rest of the Middle East.

And then there are the possible disasters that a war might bring:

  • A serious uprising of the "Arab street" that ends up promoting increased terrorist activity.

  • Additional wars in the Middle East, whether they involve us or not.

  • Pursuit of WMDs by countries like Iran or Syria, which don't currently have them.

  • A serious attack, possibly nuclear, on Israel.

  • An interruption of the Mideast oil supply, either via embargo or war, that causes a serious recession in the rest of the world.

So I have this question: if you're in favor of war, is anything more than regime change needed for you to consider it a success? And would any of the disasters on the bottom list convince you that it was, in the end, a failure?

For anti-war partisans, the question is the opposite. How many of the items on the top list would have to happen to convince you that the war, in fact, turned out to be a positive development?

To put it more simply, what are the criteria for success? Does moral clarity begin and end with forcibly removing Saddam Hussein from power, or is there more to it?

Kevin Drum 10:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CONSERVATIVES IN THE ACADEMY....I happened onto a new blog today run by the pseudonymous John Lemon, "a conservative academic working at a major university west of the Mississippi." Why the pseudonym? He explains here:

Although I am tenured, well-published and an outstanding teacher, I still choose life in a closet as I have more goals that I wish to accomplish in the academy.

Still not clear? Here's why:

I was once warned that no Republican would ever get tenure in this department -- I assume that can be generalized to all sorts of other unpleasantries.

I have heard this kind of thing vaguely before, and I'd like to know if it's true. Note that I'm not interested in whether certain corners of the academy are predominantly liberal. I'm sure they are, but you could say the same thing in the opposite direction about, say, the upper ranks of the military or the executive suites of Fortune 500 companies. What I'm interested in is whether it's really true that there are cases of conservatives/Republicans who have been denied tenure solely because they are conservatives/Republicans.

As contrary evidence, I note that John Lemon himself "slipped under the radar," and I also note that my own blogroll has several conservative/libertarian academics, including Sjostrom, Drezner, Reynolds, and the entire Volokh crew. All of them seem to be doing fine.

Anecdotal evidence doesn't prove anything of course, but I'm not sure how to go about finding out if there's any systematic evidence to back up this contention. If there is, it's disgraceful and it should stop, but if there's not, then conservative academics should stop retelling urban legends about how they are victimized by their radical leftist peers.

Any ideas out there from the legions of academe who read this blog?

Kevin Drum 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"NEVER SAY NEVER"....Big time screwup for Arnold today. Here's what happened.

This morning, Arnold revved up his "Economic Recovery Council" and suggested that he would solve the budget problem through spending cuts alone:

Cuts are necessary, Schwarzenegger said, but only because money is not being spent wisely and he reiterated his commitment to education, saying that it would not be on the table for these cuts.

Good luck! Once you remove education, there's about $50-60 billion left in the budget, and it needs to be cut about $25 billion or so to get into balance. Even the Terminator can't pull that off.

Still, here in the land of make believe it's the politically expedient thing to say, and he should have stuck with it. But he didn't.

He was fine at first in his prepared remarks, striking a very Bush-like tone: "I will not raise taxes," he said firmly. But later, questioned by reporters, he sounded more like Bush Sr.: "Never say never but I am in principle against taxing."

Bad move, Arnold! Warren Buffett's Prop 13 musings have already gotten him into trouble with the right-wing tax jihadists, and "Never say never" definitely will not calm them down. Quite the opposite, in fact, and I expect Bill Simon and Tom McClintock to very shortly make that phrase as famous as "Hasta la vista, baby."

If this is a taste of how Arnold performs when he's questioned by real reporters, he could be in big trouble.

Kevin Drum 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JUDGE OKs RECALL....As expected (well, as I expected, anyway) the ACLU has lost its challenge to the recall election. They were arguing that punch-card ballots discriminated against minorities because they were used mostly in minority-heavy urban counties, but the judge ruled that Californians have "a strong public interest in promptly determining whether a particular elected official should remain in office" that outweighed any possible but unintentional discrimination.

Things aren't quite finished yet, though. The ACLU says it might appeal, and there are still a few other miscellaneous cases wending their way through the courts. None of them seem likely to succeed, though.

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CLARK IN 2004?....Donna Brazile, the ber-Dem insider who ran Al Gore's campaign in 2000, thinks that Wesley Clark has decided to run for president and will make his announcement at the end of the month.

I have no idea if Brazile has inside information, but she's a seriously plugged-in person whose opinion is worth passing along. So I am.

POSTSCRIPT: Clark booster Matt Stoller alerted me to this. Matt runs the Clark Sphere, your source for all things Clark.

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By: Kevin Drum

BUDGET DAYDREAMS....A couple of weeks ago I said I'd vote for anyone for governor who could produce a reasonably plausible budget plan for California. Cruz Bustamante and Peter Ueberroth stepped up to the plate yesterday.

The results are not pretty. To begin with, both addressed only the $8 billion shortfall that's left over from the plan that finally got passed last month. That's like playing tennis without a net, but even at that neither one came up with a plan that even passes the laugh test.

In addition to a few reasonable proposals, Bustamante's plan includes a change to Prop 13, which requires a constitutional amendment that he knows perfectly well would never pass (he wants to treat corporate property differently than residential property, which is a good idea, but it still wouldn't pass). He wants to raise cigarette taxes by $1.50 a pack. And he wants to "close loopholes."

In the savings category, we have "unspecified" spending cuts and a "crackdown" on Medi-Cal fraud. Yawn. And there's more: after all this fine work closing the budget gap, he would then raise spending by about $4 billion.

Ueberroth's plan, believe it or not, is even worse. In his dreamworld, we would collect an extra $5 billion via a "tax amnesty," we would sell some unspecified state assets ("An auction would be a whole lot of fun"), we would renegotiate state employee contracts (he thinks the unions would happily go along), and we would make unspecified spending cuts. He wants to crack down on Medi-Cal fraud too, although he thinks he can save three times as much as Bustamante can in this area. Amount of reality in this plan: almost none. Amount of pie in the sky: lots.

This is just pathetic, and is further evidence of the dreamland that California is living in. It's simply impossible for a politician to suggest a combination of tax hikes and serious spending cuts that has any chance of winning approval.

And you want to hear what's even more pathetic? The best and most realistic budget plan I've heard so far was Gray Davis' very first budget proposal back in December of last year. And he's getting recalled.

Kevin Drum 10:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQI TERRORISM....Matt Yglesias notes a popular meme developing that says the bombing of the UN building in Baghdad, far from indicating a meltdown in Iraq, is actually an indication of desperation on the part of whoever it was that did it. (The Ba'athist underground? Al-Qaeda? Someone else? Nobody knows, but whoever it was, they only did it because they had run out of other options.)

There's a broad sense in which this is true, of course. Terrorism is seldom a genuinely potent military tactic, and you generally don't resort to it if you have the power to do something more effective.

At the same time and this point is so banal I'm almost afraid to make it this is the Middle East we're talking about. Israel has spent 50 years fighting terrorists using means far more punitive than anything the United States is willing to bring to bear, and it hasn't slowed down the terrorists even a tiny bit. Terrorism is not a last resort in the Middle East, it's a standard form of warfare.

So desperate they may be, but don't make the mistake of thinking that means our enemies are at the end of their rope. The evidence, I think, points in exactly the opposite direction.

On a broader note, there's a thin line between showing confidence and underestimating your enemy, and I fear that many pro-war partisans may be crossing over it. At every stage, the Bush team has shown precious little understanding of how difficult the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq would be, and as near as I can tell they're continuing down this path. If they don't face reality soon, it's going to be too late.

Kevin Drum 10:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE REDISTRICTING NONSENSE....Via Atrios, I see that yet another state wants to do a mid-decade redrawing of congressional districts. I hardly need to mention that it's Republicans who want to do it, do I?

Republicans this year have figured out a whole bunch of new things. You can redistrict in the middle of a decade. You can recall a governor for a mere couple million dollars paid to signature gatherers. You can stack the federal judiciary by throwing out the traditional blue slip rules.

What to do? Since Republicans apparently have no intention of stopping this game of political destruction, do Democrats have any choice except to follow suit? Surely there's a state somewhere that can be redistricted in the Democrats' favor? Maybe it's time to show that two can play at this game.

Kevin Drum 9:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 19, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

BAGHDAD BOMBING VIDEO....Via Josh Marshall, CBS News has some video from a cameraman who was inside the UN building in Baghdad when the bomb went off. It's about five minutes long and not for the squeamish, but if you want to know what it's like being in the middle of a suicide bombing, this is (hopefully) as close as you'll ever get.

To view it, go to the CBS News site and then click on "CBS News camera captures explosion, aftermath" at the top left of the page. If the link is gone, click here to go directly to the video. You'll need the RealMedia player to watch it.

UPDATE: Thanks to Chris K in comments for the direct link to the video.

Kevin Drum 10:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE....Via James Joyner, I see that Alex Frantz has some advice for the Presidential Prayer Team on the correct wording of a constitutional amendment on marriage. Here's my analysis of Alex's four-part proposal as it relates to my own personal marriage:

  1. Part 1 is fine. Part 2 is fine too, although I have a feeling Marian might not be too excited by it. You know how women are.

  2. Part 1 would cause some serious problems for us. Well, for Marian, anyway. Part 2 isn't so hot either.

  3. This one is OK.

  4. This hasn't come up yet, but if it does someone is going to have to track down my brother. But it sounds like he can probably afford the price in any case.

Is three out of four good enough?

POSTSCRIPT: On a serious note, Alex's post reminds me of a theological question I'm curious about. Anyone who actually knows anything about Christian theology should feel free to jump in.

Here's the question: what part of the Bible in the New Testament, I assume removes the obligation of Christians to obey the million and one rules in Leviticus and elsewhere? You know, the dietary stuff, the sexual restrictions, etc. etc. And have all the Old Testament rules been superseded by the New Testament, or only some of them? What's the deal?

Just curious.

ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of James, he's hosting Carnival of the Vanities this week. Check it out.

Kevin Drum 8:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SLOW NEWS DAY?....Has everyone gone nuts today? Let's start with the right.

In Big Lies, Joe Conason says:

If your workplace is safe; if your children go to school rather than being forced into labor; if you are paid a living wage, including overtime; if you enjoy a 40-hour week and you are allowed to join a union to protect your rights -- you can thank liberals. If your food is not poisoned and your water is drinkable -- you can thank liberals.

Megan McArdle mocks Conason's sentiments, Julian Sanchez says, "Golly, thanks liberals! I'd been under the misguided impression that these things were primarily made possible by technological development and economic growth, but it's good to be set straight," and Instapundit links approvingly.

But folks, liberals really did fight for all these things, and conservatives really did resist them and a lot of other things as well. Would they have happened anyway eventually? Maybe. But communism would probably have eventually fallen on its own too, and that doesn't stop conservatives from deifying Ronald Reagan and calling Democrats traitors. Hell, even Conason's rhetoric is pretty unexceptionable in this passage, so I'm not quite sure why the conserva-tarian crowd is getting so bent out of shape about it.

And now the left: what's up with all the mockery about Bush morphing "major combat operations" into "major military operations"? It's true that the guerrilla war in Iraq seems to be worsening, but I have to say that I have a hard time faulting Bush's language on this. His policies, sure, but his language was actually pretty carefully chosen, and the fact that he's acknowledging the ongoing fighting is to his credit, even if it has come a little later than it should. The difference between "combat" and "military" is pretty trifling, I think.

Must be something in the water today.

POSTSCRIPT: While we're on the subject of Bush's aircraft carrier speech, however, the book I'm currently reading reminds me of the last time a U.S. naval vessel flew a big banner that said "Mission Accomplished": it was in 1982, when the Manitowoc left Beirut with 800 U.S. marines. We were a little premature that time too.

UPDATE: Bush really did say "major combat operations" in his May 1 speech, and it was reported that way by the media, but apparently the headline on the press release was originally "Combat Operations In Iraq Have Ended" and has now been changed to "Major Combat Operations In Iraq Have Ended" on the White House website. Or so it appears (although it hasn't been changed here.) If they really have been running around changing the website, I guess that deserves a bit of mockery.

Kevin Drum 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COAL MINERS FOR BUSH....I went over to the new Bush/Cheney campaign website today and clicked on the button to become a Bush Team Leader. Don't worry, I resisted the temptation to sign up, but I was fascinated by the different "Coalition Groups" that I could select.

Hispanic, Catholic, Veterans, Youth? No problem. Home Schoolers and Pro-Life? Hey this is America and these are Republicans.

But Coal-and-Steel? Farmers and Ranchers? These stick out like a sore thumb as the only industry groups on the list, and I have to wonder if Bush really intended to make it that obvious that the farm and steel tariffs he put in place last year were just craven attempts to win a few extra votes in 2004. Wouldn't discretion be the better part of valor here? Or at a minimum, shouldn't they at least throw in a couple of other industries just to confuse people?

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COMMUNISTS IN THE GOVERNMENT!....Leon Trotsky's great-granddaughter is the new director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Mark Kleiman approves.

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BANKRUPTCY AND DIVORCE....John Quiggin makes a thought-provoking observation today: the number of people who declare bankruptcy in America is now greater than the number of people who get divorced:

If this trend continues (and since debt is growing more rapidly than ever), bankruptcy must become a very common life experience. In fact, it seems reasonable to project a situation in which most people go bankrupt at some time in their lives, and a significant number go bankrupt more than once. Obviously the social stigma that is still attached to bankruptcy would have to dissipate, just as it has with divorce.

Society has survived the advent of routine divorce and no doubt it will survive the advent of routine bankruptcy....

Here's the odd thing: I know lots of people who have gotten divorced, but I don't know anyone who's gone through bankruptcy. Does that mean that bankruptcy is stratified by class and region in some way, and doesn't affect my social circle much? Or have more of my friends declared bankruptcy than I know?

Hmmm, bankruptcy as common and as socially accepted as divorce. Gotta think about that a bit.

Kevin Drum 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ARCHIVE QUERY....I just noticed something: the MSNBC bloggers, such as Eric Alterman and Glenn Reynolds, don't seem to have archives. After a week or two, their stuff just disappears.

Does anyone know if archives are available for these guys?

Kevin Drum 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IT'S TIME FOR GUN PARTISANS TO DUMP JOHN LOTT....I have been deeply remiss in not following up on the John Lott saga. Sorry. Luckily, Tim Lambert, as always, has been on the case.

Back in January we were all focused on the question of whether John Lott conducted an actual survey in 1997 (as he says he did) or whether he just made the whole thing up. I thought the fact patterns indicated that Lott was lying, but Tim, the acknowledged expert in Lott stalking, was more cautious. There was, after all, a guy in Minnesota David Gross who said he remembered being part of the survey.

At the time, Tim thought it unlikely that Lott had conspired with Gross, but a couple of months ago he changed his mind. It turns out that Gross is not just a gun owner, but has been the guiding force behind a bill to allow Minnesotans to carry guns in public:

For Gross, now in private law practice in a St. Louis Park, passage of the law has been somewhat of a crusade. He insists it has little to do with guns and everything to do with the Constitution. "Does my right to defend myself end at my front door? I dont think so." The fight has cost Gross financially and professionally. He estimates that his battle has cost him $1 million in lost salary and benefits. He also lost the stature he had in the city attorneys office.

As Tim says, "It seems way too much of a coincidence, not just that someone with this much of a motive should happen to have been surveyed, but that the only person to have come forward should be such a person."

The latest entries on Tim's blog are about Lott's miscoded data. Apparently Lott has tacitly admitted the coding errors and has corrected them on his website. However, he hasn't re-run his regressions with the corrected data, which would show that his own data offers no support for the more guns, less crime hypothesis.

It's one thing that Lott is still revered by the NRA, but why does the mainstream media still give him the time of day? He's rather plainly a liar, and such an obvious one that it's hardly a partisan attack to say so.

And why haven't Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds been following this? The Bellesiles defenders eventually faced up to the mountain of evidence against him and admitted that his book was bogus. When will the gun partisans finally do the same with Lott?

Kevin Drum 11:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POLITICS HERE AND ABROAD....The Hutton inquiry into the Andrew Gilligan/David Kelly affair is proceeding apace in Court 73 in London, and loads of fascinating details about the build-up to war are seeing the light of day for the first time. I'm waiting a bit before I draw any firm conclusions about what happened, but in the meantime I'd like to make an observation about how the inquiry highlights some rather startling differences between political culture in the U.S. and Britain.

Yesterday, the headlines blared "No. 10 Knew Iraq Was No Threat!" based on this email from Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff:

The dossier is good and convincing for those who are prepared to be convinced. [But] the document does not demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam.

Yowza! But here's the next sentence in the email:

In other words, it shows he has the means, but it does not demonstrate that he has the motive to attack his neighbours, let alone the West.

And today another Powell email was read in court that said, "We need to do more to back up assertions....You need to make it clear that Saddam could not attack us at the moment."

Leave aside for a moment whether this shows that Blair & Co. exaggerated the Iraqi threat. Instead, consider that Powell and presumably Blair were actually concerned not just with evidence that Saddam had WMD, but with whether he had either the intention or capability of using it. And they assumed their constituents would care too.

In the United States, Saddam's intentions never even made it into the wide public debate. They were just taken for granted and the debate focused solely on his actual possession of WMD. In Britain, not only were his intentions not taken for granted, they were actually seriously considered at the highest levels.

Frankly, I can't even imagine a conversation like that happening in the White House.

And there's more. Consider the Hutton inquiry itself. David Kelly killed himself on July 18th, Lord Hutton was chosen to lead an inquiry within days, the inquiry opened on August 1st, and it was taking evidence by August 11th. Hutton is apparently widely respected, has been given a wide remit to conduct the inquiry as he sees fit, and posts all the evidence in the case on the Web daily. All this despite the fact that Tony Blair controls Britain's government even more firmly than George Bush controls America's.

And here's the most surprising thing: my impression from following the testimony is that the inquiry is taken seriously by everybody, no one is refusing to testify, and to a degree the witnesses are all telling the truth.

This is really remarkable. In America, there would likely have been no inquiry at all since the minority party couldn't force one. If there were an inquiry, it would take months to get underway and would be headed by a Republican stalwart. The government would cooperate as little as possible. And it would be painfully obvious from the testimony that the witnesses were interested solely in protecting the president and themselves.

In America, the culture of politics has become so debased that we all take it for granted that investigations are little more than political shows and that no one is ever really telling the truth. I'm not suggesting that Britain is a paradise of integrity and public service, but they seem not to have fallen nearly as far down the well of cynicism as we have. I wonder why?

Kevin Drum 10:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 18, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

JUST DOING OUR BIT FOR THE GRID....We used 371 kilowatt hours of electricity last month. That's down 26% from the year before!

So, you know, if there are any blackouts here on the west coast this summer, don't blame us.

Kevin Drum 10:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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I GUESS HE'S A BIG PICTURE GUY....Our wartime president demonstrates his keen grasp of the military operations he is overseeing in Afghanistan:

"We've got about 10,000 troops there, which is down from, obviously, major combat operations," he said.

....In fact, the 10,000 troops in Afghanistan represent the highest number of U.S. soldiers in the country since the war there began. By the time the Taliban government had been vanquished in December 2001, U.S. troops numbered fewer than 3,000 in Afghanistan. And three months later, in March 2002, when the last major battle against remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda took place in eastern Afghanistan, about 5,000 U.S. troops were in the country.

As I recall, Howard Dean got pilloried for being about 10% off in his estimate of U.S. troop strength in Iraq. Do you think we'll see the same reaction to the guy who actually is president for not even knowing if U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan is up or down compared to a year ago?

No, I didn't think so.

Kevin Drum 10:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JUDGES DO THE TALKING TODAY....The Justice Department has granted "pre-clearance" for the recall election to the four counties that require it. That's one court case out of the way.

Meanwhile, in the ACLU case, the judge said he would require "convincing evidence" that punch-card ballots were unfair and said he would hand down a ruling by Wednesday. If he clears the election, I think that's the final judicial hurdle (although the ACLU might appeal, of course).

Kevin Drum 10:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IS ARNOLD A BULLY?....PART 2....Earlier this morning I asked if Arnold Schwarzenegger was a bully. Robert Tagorda says the answer is "yes, sort of." However:

I have no way to determine whether he "derives an ugly sense of pleasure in others' discomfort," although articles that have appeared in Premiere seem to suggest that it's plausible. I doubt, however, that any of these tendencies will come out in public during the election. We might see leaks about Arnold denigrating campaign underlings, but I'd be shocked to see him unload on a reporter, even in the midst of a strenuous Q&A.

This suggests a brilliant campaign strategy for somebody: figure out a way to keep needling Arnold on a regular basis until he finally blows up. After all, it only needs to happen once!

On another recall note, the political mavens at RealClear Politics now have a special California Recall Page, complete with the latest headlines and latest polls. Check it out if you just can't get enough of recall madness.

Kevin Drum 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SCHOOL DAZE....James Joyner reminds me today of this story, which I meant to link to a couple of days ago but didn't: Bridget Green, the valedictorian of Alcee Fortier Senior High School in Louisiana, failed to graduate because she couldn't pass the high school graduation exam.

The nickel version of the story is that she received an A in her Algebra 2 class and top grades in the rest of her subjects, but failed the math portion of the graduation test. You can check out sample questions from the test here.

This is all bad enough how could someone who failed a 10th grade level math test get an A in algebra? but I'd like to focus on one other aspect of this affair. Here are a couple of quotes from the Times-Picayune story:

Principal Harvey Cyrus: "I was shocked. I just can't understand it."

Karen Alexander, Green's guardian: "How were we to know that anything was wrong, that she wasn't going to pass this test?"

Now, Alexander's point is well taken: if Green was getting high grades, how could they have known she was failing?

Well, here's how: she had already failed the math portion of the graduation exam four times, including once earlier in the year when she was getting those As. When she failed again in June, it was her fifth time. So here you have a girl who, despite being one of the brightest students in the school, had failed a math test that requires only a 35% score to pass. That should have alerted both her teachers and her family that something was wrong.

There's not much question that something was seriously amiss with the grades Green received in her algebra class, but there's also something amiss with the fact that her guardian seemingly didn't realize there was a problem. So while I'm more than willing to join in the chorus of condemnation aimed at the school, I'm disturbed that parents are so often let off the hook in these kinds of stories. Every teacher I know says parent participation is one of the most critical aspects of school success, and it strikes me that Green's family may bear a share of the blame here.

Kevin Drum 3:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BLAP...."Code of Ethics" turned out to be a little more judgmental and punitive sounding than she intended, so Justene Adamec has instead published BLAP, or Blogging Loosely Applied Practices. Head on over to her site if you want to read them (or if you have some additional suggestions).

One of her consensus suggestions, by the way, is that bloggers should have a comment policy prominently displayed for all to see. I don't, so here it is: I don't really have one.

Actually, that's not completely true. I certainly recommend that everyone stay civil, but I guess the only real rule I have is to refrain from vicious personal attacks. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does it can spiral out of control pretty fast.

So stay cool, OK?

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By: Kevin Drum

IS ARNOLD A BULLY?....Mickey Kaus on Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Schwarzenegger's reputation, meanwhile which I've heard from one reliable source, one eyewitness ultra-reliable source, and one unreliable Premiere article is this: He bullies people "below the line." That is, he bullies the technicians, costumers, etc. who aren't billboardable talents. Is it to get his way? No he's the star and he's going to get his way anyway. It's from an ugly sense of pleasure in others' discomfort....Will this unpleasant character trait come out in the campaign? Schwarzenegger may learn, as Howell Raines learned, that it's harder to get away with being a bigshot prick than it used to be.

When Mickey starts comparing you to Howell Raines, things are really not going your way, are they?

So how about it, Robert? You're our resident Arnold psychoanalyst. Is he a bully?

Kevin Drum 10:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

INSIDER SELLING....I continue to be worried about the economy for a variety of reasons, one of which is that the stock market seems like it's still overvalued. Brad DeLong provides further evidence on this score from the Wall Street Journal:

According to Thomson Financial, the dollar ratio of insider transactions in July was $32.21 in sales for every $1 in purchases, the highest monthly reading since May 2001. July marked the third consecutive month the ratio topped 20 to 1, a bearish level that hasn't been sustained for such a period since July through September 2000.

This is just one piece of data and its predictive power isn't completely clear, but I strongly doubt that corporate insiders are selling stock "just because they need the money." Rather, they are afraid that their growth prospects aren't as rosy as the stock market thinks.

So who has a better idea of what a company's growth prospects really are, insiders or the investment community as a whole? That's actually not clear, since in my experience insiders are often more nervous than they should be about their ability to make their growth goals, but it's still a signal worth paying attention to.

UPDATE: In comments, theCoach responds to my remark about the stock market being overvalued by asking for a chart of historic price/earnings ratios. Happy to oblige.

You can see the problem. The chart below shows P/E ratios for the Standard & Poor's 500 for the past 34 years, and while there's lots of variation, the average sustainable value seems to be a bit under 20. During the dotcom bubble P/Es peaked at around 28, but then, instead of dropping back to 18 (or even undershooting) after the bubble burst, they dropped to only about 22. P/Es have since gone back up and are now somewhere around 25 (the exact number depends on how you calculate it).

As with insider selling, this is just one data point and there are people who think the market has fundamentally become able to sustain a higher P/E average over time. Maybe so, but that's what they thought in Japan in the 80s too....

Kevin Drum 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SPINNING SPINSANITY....What's up with Spinsanity? Instapundit pointed to a couple of posts this morning accusing Bush critics of playing fast and loose with the facts, so I clicked the links to see what's up.

Answer: nothing. The first post is just a shot at what they consider rhetorical excess by Molly Ivins and Jesse Jackson. Fine. We won't call the Republicans Jacobins anymore if they'll stop calling us unpatriotic, OK?

The second post is more substantive, but it's so wildly offbase as to be comical. Their complaint is about an op-ed written by Peter Zimmerman in the Washington Post last week. Zimmerman thinks Bush misled the nation about Saddam's nuclear program:

And if Mr. Bush had not held out the threat of Iraqi nuclear weapons "within months," it is doubtful that Congress would have given him a blank check.

Here's what Bush actually said:

I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied -- finally denied access, a report came out of the Atomic -- the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], that they were six months away from developing a [nuclear] weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need.

Spinsanity is upset because Bush never said the exact words "within months." He said "six months away."

Are they kidding? This is like ticketing a jaywalker while someone is robbing a bank down the street. Sure, Zimmerman should have used the exact words, but the fact is that he let Bush off easy. Not only did Bush say that Saddam was mere months away from getting nuclear weapons, he also clearly implied that this was true in 1998, when the report in question was actually referring to 1991 and specifically said that as of 1998 Iraq's nuclear program appeared to be dead.

Spinsanity knows this perfectly well, since they wrote about it at the time, and they also know perfectly well that Bush never corrected his statement. In fact, his spokesmen contorted themselves practically into pretzels in an effort to avoid fessing up.

Given the fact that Zimmerman was quite correct in pointing out Bush's deceit, why would Spinsanity hang an entire article on a minor misquote that in no way misrepresents the president's actual intentions?

Get serious, guys.

Kevin Drum 9:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 17, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WAITING FOR CLARK....Wesley Clark says he has an "enormous hunger for leadership" and will decide whether to run for president within the next few weeks. I guess that means it's time for me to start reading his book.

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQI OIL UPDATE....Here's a report on the Iraqi oil situation that has me scratching my head:

The U.S.-led occupation authority in Iraq has abandoned plans to create an international advisory board to oversee the country's battered oil industry, opting instead to give Iraqi technocrats a freer hand to chart their own course.

....The move could disappoint those who viewed the ouster of Saddam Hussein as an opportunity to set Iraqi oil policy on a pro-American course, open the nation's oil sector to Western companies and reduce the influence of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries on world oil production and prices.

...."Once we got in here and got to know the folks in the Oil Ministry and the employees at the oil companies, it became obvious that the expertise was already there," said [an American] official, who requested anonymity. "So the advisory board just became unnecessary."

Is this good or bad? What implications does it have? Is it related to the oil pipeline bombings this weekend?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions, so I shall wait for those wiser than me to sally forth with their opinions.

UPDATE: That didn't take long. Here is Jeanne d'Arc's opinion....

Kevin Drum 9:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SIMON SAYS: GO NEGATIVE!....Bill Simon is planning to start running radio ads tonight:

"The ad will say Californians are already facing a tripling of the car tax and now Arnold Schwarzenegger's top economic adviser is suggesting a tripling of the property tax," [spokesman K.B.] Forbes said. "We're looking for a strong face-to-face debate on this issue."

Attaboy, Bill, don't attack Gray Davis or the Democrats, attack one of your fellow Republicans. And it goes without saying that you should attack him in the most incendiary and unfair way possible, thus making both of you look completely unfit to be governor.

I like it!

Kevin Drum 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TERRORISM UPDATE....Fun factoid of the day: the least likely place in the world to suffer a terrorist attack is North Korea. Now that's damning with faint praise.

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BIAS AT THE BBC?....Josh Chafetz has a cover story in the latest issue of the Weekly Standard titled "The Disgrace of the BBC." Basically, it makes the familiar point (familiar to readers of hawkish bloggers anyway) that the BBC is irretrievably anti-American, anti-war, and resolutely unfair and unbalanced.

I don't watch the BBC here in Irvine although that doesn't seem to stop most of its critics so I don't have any special axe to grind about whether or not the BBC is fair or accurate or balanced or not. But I do have a few general comments:

  • I would be very cautious about accepting views of the BBC from American hawks, who seem to view any deviation from the war party line as an anti-American, pro-Saddam tirade. The problem is that whenever I check up on a charge of BBC bias such as declining to call the invasion of Iraq "liberation" I'm usually struck not by the blatant bias on display, but rather by just how subtle and trivial the alleged bias is.

    Josh, for example, provides several examples of anti-war bias, but only a couple of them really hit home. The others are just garden variety mistakes, which are common in war reporting, or things that, far from showing bias, actually seem more true than false. Jessica Lynch's rescuers, it's true, didn't fire blanks, but on the other hand it really was "one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived." Even the British military liason thought so. And Andrew Gilligan, when he reported that he didn't see any American tanks in central Baghdad on April 5, was quite correct to say that the army had a habit of making "premature announcements" about such things. In fact, this particular story, which was played up in newspapers around the country, was premature. All that happened that day was a single lightning thrust that lasted a couple of hours, and it was several more days before Baghdad was entered in force.

    In fact, given that he has months and months of round the clock coverage to choose from, Josh's examples are remarkably thin. When you get to the point of complaining that the BBC uses quote marks to indicate that somebody said something namely that the U.S. government reported that Uday and Qusay Hussein were dead you're really scraping the bottom of the barrel. And incorrectly pretending that these were "scare quotes" doesn't make your case any better.

  • Like Josh, I've been following the Andrew Gilligan/David Kelly affair pretty closely, and I'd be a lot more careful about drawing conclusions than he is. (Summary of events from the Guardian here and from the BBC here in case you haven't been following it.) Josh seems to rather credulously assume that Kelly was telling the truth when he denied saying the things that Gilligan quoted him as saying, but the fact is that Kelly had enormous incentive to lie about this. He gave an anonymous interview and said things he shouldn't have, and then got caught. Of course he's going to claim that Gilligan misquoted him.

    We will never know for sure what Kelly said or whether Gilligan quoted him accurately since there's no recording of the interview and Kelly himself is dead. However, there's evidence that corroborates Gilligan's story and calls into question Kelly's veracity: it turns out that Kelly said similar things to BBC reporter Susan Watts, who called him the next day to follow up on Gilligan's claims, and then denied saying those things when he testified before parliament. (A transcript of the conversation is here and Kelly clearly does say the things that he denied saying.) Kelly is obviously far from a reliable source in this matter.

  • Josh is quite right to say that the BBC lied about the source of Gilligan's quotes. They claimed repeatedly that their source didn't work for the Ministry of Defense and was an intelligence officer. In fact, Kelly did work for MoD and wasn't an intelligence officer. They obviously lied to make it appear that their source was more highly placed than he was.

  • Although Gilligan may be coming under some deserved criticism for his "flawed reporting" and "loose use of language," it's worth noting that once you separate the wheat from the chaff the basic facts actually seem to back up his story a fact that Josh glosses over rather hastily. The 45-minute claim in the dossier was dodgy, intelligence sources did point this out at the time, and Kelly also implicated Alastair Campbell to BBC reporter Susan Watts, not just to Gilligan. (She decided not to use the allegation because she considered it just a "gossipy aside.")

    Gilligan may have overplayed his hand, and the BBC certainly went over the line in defending him, but so far the actual charges Gilligan made seem to be holding up pretty well.

It is no doubt true that especially in the case of war the BBC does not automatically assume that everything the U.S. government tells them is ipso facto true. However, that's neither a sign of anti-American bias nor sloppy reporting. So while Josh manages a couple of glancing blows, when you dig below the surface his case turns out to be a pretty thin gruel. Caveat emptor.

Kevin Drum 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PEOPLE POWERED HOWARD....Marcus Ehrlander writes to say that he's written the first Howard Dean folk-protest song, "People Powered Howard." Sample lyric:

People Powered Howard,
What can you do for me?
We ain't votin for no coward,
Or no son of corporate greed!

OK, one more:

Tackling Hegemony!
In the 21st century!
He's the guy for you and me,
People Powered Howard!

If you're ready for more, click here to listen to the whole thing.

Kevin Drum 10:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 16, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

GETTING OUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT....Hey, that big blackout makes it more important than ever to pass the president's energy bill, right? So important, in fact, that in order to get it passed George Bush has agreed to jettison the portions related to upgrading the power grid.

I'm glad to see that the ANWR drilling jihad takes precedence over actually solving real world problems. Sheesh.

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IRAQI METAPHORS....Thomas Friedman has a column today in which he seems as he often does to be constructing an entire theory based on a single person telling him something he's already eager to hear: Iraqis resent the other Arab regimes, the American occupation is a dandy thing, in 10 years Iraq will be the next Hong Kong, etc. etc. Well, fine. But check out this quote:

"Iraq is going to be the Arab libido," a Lebanese aid worker in Baghdad said to me. "You know, when you have those naughty dreams that you can't tell anyone about and then suddenly you're on the couch talking about them that's going to be Iraq." It's going to be where all the taboos that are not supposed to be spoken, get spoken. Indeed, they already are.

Am I the only one who finds this an unlikely reaction from a Lebanese aid worker in Baghdad? That's a hellaciously strained metaphor for someone to come up with in casual conversation and, frankly, it doesn't even really make any sense.

In fact, what it really sounds like is the kind of tin ear metaphors that abound in Friedman's own writing. And so I'm forced to wonder: what did that Lebanese aid worker really say before his words got filtered through the Friedman metaphor processor? It sure doesn't sound like your typical man-in-the-street kind of conversation to me.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias once took a class co-taught by Friedman, and he has some thoughts about Friedman's reporting too.

Kevin Drum 9:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PAY YOUR TAXES!....Tax protesters are an industrious lot and they can regale you with a million and one theories about why they (and you) aren't required to pay taxes: the 16th amendment was never properly ratified, paper money isn't real money and therefore can't be taxed, wages aren't income, and on and on.

One of their favorite tropes, however, is that there's no actual U.S. law that says you have to pay federal income tax. There are endless reams of laws describing the taxes to be paid, mind you, but nothing that flatly says you have to pay. As you might expect, this theory has about the same success in court as all the others: namely, none.

Until now:

Last week a jury in Memphis acquitted a woman of criminal charges arising from her refusal to pay federal income taxes on $920,000 she earned from 1996 to 2001. The basis for her refusal, which the jury apparently found sufficient, was that the Internal Revenue Service hadn't showed her where in the law it says she had to pay.

She wrote the IRS a letter in 1995, she said, demanding an answer to her question, and when none was forthcoming, she filed W-4 forms indicating she didn't owe tax. The IRS eventually brought criminal charges of tax evasion and filing false W-4s. If she had been convicted by the federal court jury, she would have faced up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

So here's my question if there are any tax attorneys or IRS employees out there reading this: why doesn't the IRS ask Congress to add a section to the tax code that says plainly that tax obligations aren't voluntary? I realize that it's all there already and courts have upheld the requirement to pay taxes hundreds of times (see here if you're interested in details), but why not just bite the bullet and add some simple paragraph that can be sent to tax protesters and displayed to juries? Would this cause some subtle problem that's not obvious to me? Or what?

Does anybody happen to know?

Kevin Drum 8:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REAL CAMP GRANADA....I've never understood the attraction of Allan Sherman myself, but I know he has a considerable fan following among many of my friends. If you're one of them, the LA Times today has a long feature story about the real origin of the song "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh."

It turns out that Allan Sherman's son really did go to camp, he really did hate it, and Times reporter Paul Lieberman was there with him. Here's the link if you want the whole story.

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THE NEOCON PERSUASION....What is a neocon? Different people have different ideas, and it's not necessarily true that the neocons themselves can define it best. Still, Irving Kristol is widely regarded as the founder of the neocon movement, so surely his considered views on this are worth hearing.

In the Weekly Standard this week, Kristol takes a crack at defining the neocon "persuasion," something that he says since the mid-70s has been "one of those intellectual undercurrents that surface only intermittently." Here are the bullet points, first for domestic policy:

  • Economic growth is of paramount importance, and cutting taxes is the way to get it. Budget deficits aren't that big a deal.

  • It's a good idea to limit the size of the welfare state, but big government is inevitable in modern society. It's not worth getting too alarmed over.

  • Neocons are united with "religious traditionalists" over concern with the rising vulgarity of American culture. This includes issues of education, regulation of pornography, relations of church and state, etc.

And then there's foreign policy:

  • Patriotism is good, especially in a nation of immigrants.

  • World government is bad because it leads to tyranny. Anything that even points in the general direction of world government "should be regarded with the deepest suspicion."

  • We need to clearly understand who our friends are.

  • We have acquired sort of accidentally a uniquely powerful military, and we are obligated to use it whether we like it or not.

  • Our national interest should be broadly defined and aggressively pursued. "The United States will always feel obliged to defend, if possible, a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces, external or internal."

To summarize: neocons want to cut taxes, team up with the religious right to maintain traditional cultural values, and aggressively defend democracy and American interests in the broadest possible sense.

There's no telling whether non-neocons would accept this as a fair description, or even whether other neocons would agree with it, but at least it's a start. What's more, Kristol is pretty optimistic about the future of neoconservatism:

By one of those accidents historians ponder, our current president and his administration turn out to be quite at home in this new political environment, although it is clear they did not anticipate this role any more than their party as a whole did. As a result, neoconservatism began enjoying a second life, at a time when its obituaries were still being published.

That part, at least, is hard to argue with.

UPDATE: I wanted to present Kristol's views here without comment, athough needless to say they deserve plenty of comment. Brad DeLong gets the ball rolling.

Kevin Drum 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RECALL MADNESS....For the first time in the recall election, a federal judge has held up election preparations. Monterey County is one of four counties in California that are required to get "pre-clearance" for changes in voting procedures because of problems in previous elections, but the Justice Department has not yet approved their voting plan, which includes a reduction in the number of polling places from 190 to 86. Because of this, a judge on Friday ordered Monterey Country not to send absentee ballots to people living overseas.

However, the judge also said he was very reluctant to interfere with the election and it's likely that the Justice Department will issue clearance shortly, so my guess is that this is not likely to turn into a permanent holdup.

A more likely source of problems for the recall is next week's case in Los Angeles, in which the ACLU is challenging the use of punchcard ballots. It begins on Monday.

In other news, a California Field Poll found 25% of registered voters favoring Cruz Bustamante followed by 22% for Arnold Schwarzenegger. None of this means much before all the advertising has started, but it's still a significant gain for Bustamante, who was only polling about 15% support last week.

Finally, there was a minor dustup when Warren Buffett was quoted as suggesting that California ought to raise its property taxes. He's right, of course, especially for corporate property taxes that are scandalously low due to a loophole in Proposition 13, but one wonders why he would say something so dumb anyway. Property taxes can only be raised via initiative, which is obviously not going to happen in a state where Prop 13 is more popular than the Bill of Rights, so what's the point of suggesting it?

On the other hand, it did give aid and comfort to Bill Simon and Tom McClintock and the rest of the ultra-conservatives who have basically destroyed the Republican party in California over the past decade. It's a very peculiar misstep from a smart man.

Kevin Drum 10:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 15, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

FRANCE BLOCKS LOCKERBIE DEAL....Now that the U.S. has finally signed a deal with Libya that lifts sanctions in return for compensation for the Lockerbie bombing, France is blocking the agreement unless they get a similar deal for the bombing of a UTA flight a year later:

Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Thursday that France had told the US and Britain that it would use its veto at the UN Security Council to block the resolution unless Libya boosts the amount of compensation it is paying for the 1989 bombing of a French UTA airliner.

'The threat has been made and it is still there,' one official said. 'They're trying to get a better deal for their own people by punishing the Pan Am 103 families and it's absolutely outrageous.'

'Blackmail is an ugly word, but that's what the French are doing,' a second official said. 'They are holding the Lockerbie deal hostage.'

It's hard to figure out what's going on here. These negotiations have been going on for years, and if the French intended to block any deal that didn't include increased payouts for the UTA bombing they've had plenty of time to make that clear. So why bring it up now?

I've been reading lately that the French are trying to patch things up with the U.S., but I guess they've abandoned that strategy, haven't they? It's hard to think of anything they could do to sour relations with the U.S. even further, but this is it.

POSTSCRIPT: Before anyone says it: yes, I can easily imagine the United States doing something essentially identical. But then I've long thought that one of the reasons France and America are at each others' throats so often is because we're so similar to each other: blunt, militaristic, hard bargaining, culturally arrogant language snobs monolinguists. How could two such countries ever love each other?

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CHAOS!....Dan Drezner thinks the world press is a bit too eager to shout "Chaos!" while describing the east coast blackout. I dunno, though. Here's Drudge's front page at the moment, and he's as American as apple pie.

(I might add that, for the British press at least, headlines tend to be a little overwrought anyway regardless of subject matter. "Rage over [insert subject here]" is a pretty common headline, for example, and usually turns out to mean that a couple of schoolteachers in Milton Keynes are circulating a petition to keep Wal-Mart from opening up a store in the area.)

In a slightly more serious vein, President Bush was here in the land of rolling blackouts today in fact, he had lunch at a Hyatt a couple of miles from my house, complete with ANSWER protesters and everything and had this to say at one of his stops:

"I view it as a wake-up call," Bush told reporters during a visit to the Santa Monica mountains, adding that the massive blackout was "an indication we need to modernize the electricity grid."

....The industry needs about $50 billion to $100 billion in new investment, according to the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry funded group in Palo Alto, California.

Meanwhile, Nora Brownell, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said, "It's very clear this is not about deregulation. It's about investing in the transmission system."

I'm certainly curious to see what Bush comes up with. After all, the east coast had a big blackout in 1965, and another one in 1977, both under intervention-happy Democratic administrations, and I don't recall the federal government stepping in to help the utilities upgrade their grid. And of course, here in California we had a spot of trouble recently over electricity and George Bush was rather famously unsympathetic to our plight.

You don't suppose that Bush would agree to interfere in the operation of the free market by funding a multi-billion dollar bailout for his pals in the power business, do you? All in the name of national security, of course.

Nah, couldn't happen.

Kevin Drum 3:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....On the left, we see Inkblot guarding the house against intruders. What a good cat! But who is he guarding us against?

Moments later it all becomes clear: we are keeping a sharp eye out for tabby cats. Luckily, around here anyway, tabby cats know exactly how much attention to pay to this kind of thing.

(Make no mistake: Inkblot is big and dumb, but petite little Jasmine is the alpha feline around here. Inkblot occasionally goes nuts and starts chasing her around the house, but he never lays a paw on her. The opposite, however, is not true. Jamine is one cat who can take care of herself.)

Kevin Drum 11:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU!....Jane Finch might not have the most important story about the blackout, but she certainly has what's probably the most pathetic lead.

Kevin Drum 10:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FEDERALISM AT WORK....Tapped has an interesting blurb about Ben Chandler, a Democrat who's running for governor in Kentucky. It's too early to draw any conclusions, of course, but he seems to be doing pretty well by hold on to your hats attacking President Bush.

If he manages to win by savaging Bush's wretched economic program, and if Arnold wins in California by proposing a sensible budget plan, it might mean that Bush is more vulnerable to (a) angry attacks and (b) evidence of his fiscal incompetence than Republicans would have us believe.

Time will tell. As always, the states are laboratories for testing out ideas. We'll see how this one flies.

Kevin Drum 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FAIRLY BALANCED....Everyone's at the fair today! The Iowa State Fair!

  • On the left, John Kerry chats at the fair while balancing a corn dog in his hand.

  • In the center, Howard Dean works at the fair while balancing a pork chop on the grill.

  • On the right, Dennis Kucinich gives a speech at the fair while balancing on a bale of hay.

Looks like everyone is fair and balanced today!
Kevin Drum 10:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION....Does convicted FBI spy Robert P. Hanssen remind you of anyone? Here's the conclusion of an internal investigation:

The report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine also found that Hanssen, who compromised some of the United States' most vital intelligence and military secrets, repeatedly advanced on the career ladder despite weak performance, poor management skills and awkward relations with colleagues. One supervisor called him the "strangest person" he had ever encountered at the FBI.

Those white boys can get away with just about anything at the FBI, can't they?

Think that's an unfair shot? Here's what Mickey Kaus said about Jayson Blair last May:

Why isn't the basic Jayson Blair story obvious from the NYT's lengthy account--namely, an underperforming and unready reporter was promoted in January, 2001, over the objections of one of the editors who knew him best, because of his skin color.

Will Mickey read the Justice Department's lengthy account and come to the "obvious" conclusion: that Hanssen survived despite "weak performance [and] poor management skills" due to his skin color? After all, if this so patently obvious when it's a black guy, why isn't it equally obvious when it's a white guy?

Make no mistake: affirmative action for whites exists just as surely as it does for blacks. It's not formalized into special programs it doesn't have to be but it exists nonetheless. And it allows low-performing mediocrities to get promoted over and over and over.

In the case of black affirmative action, the most recent result was some badly reported stories in the New York Times. In the case of white affirmative action the result was hundreds of our country's secrets being sold to the highest bidder and the deaths of three American spies.

Which one do you think is worse?

Kevin Drum 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A TOASTY SUMMER FOR GRAY DAVIS....The LA Times reports that Gray Davis' backers are getting nervous:

"Right now, we're at the stage of encouraging our members to vote no on the recall," said Bill Allayaud, political director for the Sierra Club, which has 200,000 members in California. But, he added, "the Sierra Club is going to consider endorsing other candidates. It's hedging your bets, really. If this recall is going to go through, the Sierra Club has an opinion on who would be best for the environment."

Similarly, the board of directors of the California Teachers Assn. has scheduled a special meeting next week to discuss recall strategy, including the question of whether to endorse an alternative to Davis, said Barbara Kerr, president of the union. A special committee will present various options to the board.

This doesn't surprise me a bit, and I expect that panic will be setting in shortly. It's pretty obvious that Davis is toast, and once that fact sinks in completely his supporters are going to bolt. They'll pretend not to, of course, but bolt they will.

Kevin Drum 8:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 14, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ARNOLD UDPATE....A few miscellaneous musings about the Arnold campaign:

  • Hugh Hewitt claims that "some Sacramento whispers have AS's internal polls approaching 60%." That sounds like a big stretch to me, but I thought I'd pass it along anyway.

  • Armed Liberal has some thoughts, one of which is that "Arnie is a rich white guy who lives in Brentwood, and....it won't be hard to paint him as a guy who sees Latinos as gardeners and blacks as drivers." He has some suggestions about what he needs to do about that.

    Now, there's no question that Arnold has racial baggage: he supported Proposition 187, he's hired a bunch of Pete Wilson's campaign people, he's got the whole Nazi father thing to deal with, and he belongs to U.S. English, a group that advocates making English the official language of the United States. But even so, I wonder if that's really such a big problem.

    The thing is that the dynamics of the recall race are wildly different from a normal race: Arnold doesn't have to win 50%, he only has to win 20-30%. This means that from a hardnosed electoral standpoint, he might decide he doesn't need the minority vote. He's not going to do anything to deliberately annoy them, of course, but he might figure that Cruz Bustamante has the minority vote sewn up anyway, so he might as well skip the whole thing and just concentrate on appealing to the Prop 187 crowd.

    At any rate, if I were a heartless campaign consultant with ice water running through my veins, that's what I might recommend. Here's how we'll know if that's the strategy: if he comes out in favor of Proposition 54, I think that means he's basically given up on actively trying to win the minority vote.

  • Barry Ritholtz thinks that bringing Warren Buffett on board is a huge coup that insulates Arnold from budget sniping from both the left and the right:

    Buffet is all about postponing fun, and taking your medicine now. He has a very, very long time horizon. We can expect to hear about Buffetts own economic agenda of value, moderation, anti-tax giveaways over the next 12 months. That likely means spending cuts, tax hikes and service cut backs for California. And because he's Buffett, he may very well get a free pass on them. If Warren says we need a tax increase, well then, Hell, we must need a tax increase. California may not realize it yet, but they are staring down the barrel of some bad tasting fiscal medicine. Dont expect Warren to sugar coat the nasty stuff.

    That makes some sense to me. If Buffett recommends tax hikes and service cuts, Arnold is covered. After all, who's going to argue with Warren Buffett?

Finally, CNN was reporting this afternoon that Arnold's campaign is actively trying to get some big time Republicans to convince his opponents to drop out of the race. I imagine this is his most important job at the moment. As long as there are four Republicans in the race, I doubt he can win. If there are only two, he's a shoo-in.

Kevin Drum 7:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SNEAKY STRIKERS....Ha ha. Via Nathan Newman, I learn that Verizon got all geared up for a strike, spent millions to bring in strikebreakers, and then the union decided to keep on working. How dare they? Here's how the Village Voice put it:

Instead of walking out, the phone company unions went into a labor version of rope-a-dope, the brilliant Muhammad Ali boxing tactic of covering up and burrowing down while your opponent uselessly flails about, unable to land a solid blow. Replacement workers remained holed up in their hotels, representing a hefty added payroll as regular union workers went about their normal routines.

So instead of a frontal attack, the union is using guerrilla warfare instead. And of course when Verizon finally sends the strikebreakers home, the union still has the option to cause maximum havoc by calling a strike if negotiations are still going badly.

Clever of them, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 5:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GOP COST CONTAINMENT....The Republican Party has decided to save money by outsourcing their fundraising to low-cost overseas workers:

This is the first time such a project has been handed out to a company outside the US. The market research and public relations companies engaged by the party usually undertake such projects.

HCL eServe has put in place a team of 75 people to work on the project out of its call centres in Noida and Gurgaon [a few miles outside New Delhi]. According to industry sources, the number of seats could be ramped up depending on the success of the campaign. These operators are required to call up people in the US seeking their support for President George W Bush and a donation for the Republican cause.

I know that conservatives are opposed to the minimum wage and all, but you'd think they could see their way clear to keeping these jobs in the hands of loyal American Republicans, what with that $150 million they're planning to raise for a primary race with no opponents.

Why does the Republican Party hate America so?

UPDATE: Ah, hell, this story is from last January. I'd still like to know why they're doing this, though.

Kevin Drum 4:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLACKOUTS....Wow. Massive blackouts along the Eastern seaboard from Toronto to Maryland, and as far west as Detroit.

UPDATE: More from Instapundit.

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By: Kevin Drum

SHOWDOWN AT THE COURTHOUSE....Southern Appeal reports that Judge Roy Moore has (unsurprisingly) refused a court order to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building. Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, currently fighting for an appeals court judgeship against charges that he is too ideological to enforce laws he disagrees with, says he'll enforce the law even though he disagrees with it:

In this controversy, I will strive to uphold the rule of law. We have a government of laws, not of men. I will exercise any authority provided to me, under Alabama law, to bring the State into compliance with the injunction of the federal court....

Smart move, although I'm a little puzzled by what "any authority provided to me" means. I think a crane and a big truck are probably the required authority in this case, and hopefully Pryor will put his money where his mouth is and get them over there. It's the right thing to do.

And will it help with his Senate battle? Probably not, but you never know.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias says you really have to catch Moore's rant on TV to get the full flavor of the guy. I should add that Moore is Alabama's Chief Justice, an elected position, and his angry rants are what put him there. Maybe Howard Dean should take lessons?

Kevin Drum 2:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE TEXAS MIRACLE....Via Tom Spencer, this New York Times article is a pretty good summary of the scandal over the "Texas Miracle":

Robert Kimball, an assistant principal at Sharpstown High School, sat smack in the middle of the "Texas miracle." His poor, mostly minority high school of 1,650 students had a freshman class of 1,000 that dwindled to fewer than 300 students by senior year. And yet and this is the miracle not one dropout to report!

Nor was zero an unusual dropout rate in this school district that both President Bush and Secretary of Education Rod Paige have held up as the national showcase for accountability and the model for the federal No Child Left Behind law. Westside High here had 2,308 students and no reported dropouts; Wheatley High 731 students, no dropouts. A dozen of the city's poorest schools reported dropout rates under 1 percent.

....In February, with the help of Dr. Kimball, the local television station KHOU broke the news that Sharpstown High had falsified its dropout data. That led to a state audit of 16 Houston schools, which found that of 5,500 teenagers surveyed who had left school, 3,000 should have been counted as dropouts but were not. Last week, the state appointed a monitor to oversee the district's data collection and downgraded 14 audited schools to the state's lowest rating.

...."This isn't about educating children," Dr. Kimball said. "It's about public relations."

If Houston officials were interested in accountability, he said, they would assign him to a high school to monitor the dropout data that he has come to understand so well. Instead, after he blew the whistle on Sharpstown High, he was reassigned, for four months, to sit in a windowless room with no work to do. More recently, he has been serving as the second assistant principal at a primary school, where, he said, he is not really needed. "I expect when my contract is up next January, I'll be fired," he said. "That's how it works here."

For the district as a whole, the reported dropout rate was 1.5%, while experts estimate that the actual rate was about 40%. That's not exactly a small mistake.

This deserves more attention. Anyone who has spent any time at all in management knows that whenever you set up goals and the systems to measure them, you also spend a lot of time talking about how the goals can be met and whether the system can be gamed.

All managers talk about this. It's practically an obsession, in fact, because it's such common knowledge that measurement systems often flounder on the fact that there are ways to meet numeric goals without actually meeting the goals themselves: you can change definitions, you can refuse to accept low-performance students who might drag down your average, you can outright cheat, etc. As Ken Lay demonstrated, there are plenty of ways to make numbers look good even when the company is going down the tubes.

Any manager interested in genuine progress, therefore, monitors the numbers carefully and looks for signs that the system is being gamed. It defies reason that an experienced administrator like Rod Paige didn't recognize an enormous discrepancy like this, and since all this happened while he was superintendent of the Houston school district it's hard to avoid the conclusion that either (a) he knew this was going on, or (b) he simply didn't care as long as the numbers made him look good.

This scandal reflects directly on Paige's character and judgment, and it reflects especially badly on a man who has made "accountability" a cornerstone of educational policy. In any system of goals and metrics, the public should be absolutely certain that the person responsible for implementing them is genuinely trying to improve actual performance, not simply trying to make the numbers look good.

Rod Paige is apparently not such a man. He should not be running the Department of Education.

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TAKING THE TROOPS FOR GRANTED....Can anyone explain this?

The Pentagon wants to cut the pay of its 148,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, who are already contending with guerrilla-style attacks, homesickness and 120- degree-plus heat.

....Imminent danger pay, given to Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force members in combat zones, was raised to $225 from $150 a month. The family separation allowance, which goes to help military families pay rent, child care or other expenses while soldiers are away, was raised from $100 a month to $250.

Last month, the Pentagon sent Congress an interim budget report saying the extra $225 monthly for the two pay categories was costing about $25 million more a month, or $300 million for a full year. In its "appeals package" laying out its requests for cuts in pending congressional spending legislation, Pentagon officials recommended returning to the old, lower rates of special pay and said military experts would study the question of combat pay in coming months.

Putting aside partisan wrangling for a moment, this just doesn't make sense on a whole bunch of different levels:

  • Obviously, it's lousy PR. You start a war, your troops are in imminent danger from guerrilla attacks, it's 120 degrees in the shade, and you decide to cut their pay.

  • It doesn't amount to much. Rumsfeld has already testified that the occupation is costing about $4 billion a month, so $25 million is just a drop in the bucket. Specifically, it's .6% of the cost of the occupation.

  • It hurts recruiting. It's hard enough to sign up new recruits already for our thinly stretched army, so why do something like this?

  • It's the wrong thing to do. Is there any doubt that the vast majority of Americans fully support the higher pay rate for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? I doubt it.

This is really inexplicable. On top of so many other things the Bush administration has done, it demonstrates a casual and uncaring attitude toward the actual people in the military that's truly mysterious. What's going on?

UPDATE: Bound in a Nutshell reports that the Pentagon has apparently backed down on this. Good.

Kevin Drum 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHITHER IOWA?....Over at the Washington Post today there's an audio report from Mark Leibovich about all the Democratic candidates showing up at the Iowa State Fair. They spend their time eating corn dogs, pretending to be interested in tractors, and playing the harmonica. (Yeah, apparently Howard Dean plays the blues harmonica.)

But I've got a serious question for the political junkies out there. I understand why New Hampshire is so important, but what's the deal with Iowa? It's a caucus, not a primary, and everyone knows perfectly well that it's just one long pander-fest to agricultural interests. So why is it that more candidates don't simply declare that they aren't going to play in Iowa and then spend their time elsewhere? After all, as long as their intentions are known, they won't take any hits in the press for losing.

Does it go beyond Iowa? Is skipping Iowa a slap in the face to the entire midwest? Why don't they all just concede Iowa to Dick Gephardt and move on?

Kevin Drum 9:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CAMPAIGN DIRT....I imagine that digging up dirt is going to be Job 1 for a while here in California. The LA Times does its part today with stories on Arnold Schwarzenegger's Nazi dad and Arianna Huffington's failure to pay state income tax for the past two years.

There's nothing very remarkable about the Nazi story except that (a) Gustav Schwarzenegger was a Nazi, and (b) the Times actually sent a couple of reporters to Vienna to check out the Austrian archives for this story.

The Arianna story is slightly more interesting: she claims that expenses have offset income for the past two years, and thus she's paid very little in the way of taxes. "I'm a working woman and my income fluctuates," she explained.

Uh huh. But it does show a considerable contrast with Arnold's business acumen, since she reported income of negative $2.67 million last year. The story also allows the reporters to keep the Arianna and Michael show alive, with Michael taking some swipes at Arianna for the large (and tax free) child support payments that he makes to her.

And that's your dirt for the day.

POSTSCRIPT: Has anyone noticed that all the titillating stories are from California right now? The recall, Kobe, Laci Peterson it's all California all the time. I hope the rest of you guys are grateful to us for providing you with so much entertainment.

Kevin Drum 9:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 13, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

INTERESTING CONSERVATIVES....I've gotten a couple of emails recently asking me for names of good conservative blogs. This seems like a good blog topic itself, but I'm a little reluctant to publish my choices because (a) I read lots of conservative blogs and I don't want to piss off all the folks I leave off, and (b) I know I'll get lots of shit in comments asking how I can possibly recommend a complete asshole like [fill in the blank].

But what the heck. I remember asking the same question myself several months ago, and I figure some people might be interested in what I've found since then. So with that out of the way, here's my top ten in alphabetical order. These folks are all conservative, conservative leaning, or libertarian in various degrees.

  • Asymmetrical Information. Jane Galt and Mindles Dreck, both from New York (or thereabouts). Jane is a former socialist turned libertarian I think and frequently has interesting points to make about economics, statistics, and the media. Mindles works in the financial industry.

  • AtlanticBlog. Bill Sjostrom, an American economist living in Ireland. He takes his shots at me, but he has an acerbic, curmudgeonly style that gives me a laugh and he happily owns up to his prejudices. He also owns a very nice dog. On the down side, he has a regrettable inability to recognize the perfection of feline nature.

  • Daniel Drezner. U of Chicago political science professor. He writes knowledgably about foreign affairs and maintains a pretty fair approach to analyzing events. I frequently use him as a sort of touchstone to ensure that I haven't gone completely off the liberal deep end.

  • Outside the Beltway. James Joyner, "sardonic book editor, poli-sci Ph.D., and former army officer." James is a moderate conservative, finds lots of interesting things to link to, and keeps a light tone. Sort of the Matt Yglesias of the right.

  • OxBlog. Josh Chafetz, David Adesnik, and Patrick Belton, all graduate students at Oxford (although I believe Josh is the only one actually resident at Oxford at the moment). They mostly blog about foreign affairs, where they're all on the hawkish side, but have varying ideologies on domestic affairs. Aside from a peculiar fixation on Maureen Dowd, they write solid stuff that's frequently provovative.

  • Virginia Postrel. She's famous, so you already know about her. She has a pretty light touch when it comes to pushing libertarian views, and she frequently has insights that I don't find anywhere else.

  • Priorities and Frivolities. Robert Garcia Tagorda, aka Boomshock, a fellow Southern Californian and Dodger fan. (Except he's a real Dodger fan, not a namby pamby I-watch-them-when-they-make-the-playoffs fan like me.) He's generally very solid and interesting, and he's been blogging up a storm on the recall lately.

  • RealClear Politics. Tom Bevan and John McIntyre, a couple of conservatives from Chicago who write exclusively about politics. They go a little off the rails sometimes, especially when the subject is Paul Krugman, but what the heck. As I continue my seemingly fruitless quest to understand how conservatives think, reading this site sometimes helps.

  • Tacitus. A very conservative guy with a good military background. He definitely doesn't go off the rails, is good at keeping things in perspective, and pays attention to the facts on the ground, even if they don't always support his point of view. Fun fact: given the choice of Russian or French, he has chosen to learn Russian. This is inexplicable.

  • Volokh Conspiracy. A large group of scholarly types, mostly of the conservative/libertarian bent. The ringleader is Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA. The site has so many contributors now that it's gotten a bit unwieldy, but on the plus side that means there's always plenty of new material, and a pretty fair amount of it is stuff you won't find elsewhere.

This hardly needs saying, but I'll say it anyway: almost by definition, I rarely agree with these folks. But I think they all represent the conservative viewpoint pretty well, they're definitely not idiots, and they frequently have interesting things to say.

And remember, although reading your opposites isn't as comforting as sticking with your own kind, you should do it anyway. Sometimes you might be surprised to find a compelling argument you've never thought of, and even if you're absolutely sure that will never happen, it's always good to keep up with your enemies. Knowledge is power.

Kevin Drum 10:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POOL RESULTS....We have a winner! The Secretary of State has announced that the official candidate count for the recall election is 135, which means that after all the ups and downs of the past few days the winner of the Calpundit pool is the same person it appeared to be four days ago: Jesse B, who guessed 123 candidates. So here's your prominent mention, Jesse:

Jesse B. is the winner of the Calpundit pool!

Second place goes to Craigie, who guessed 155. Congratulations to all who participated, and don't despair if you didn't win. We might get to do this all over again if a Republican wins the recall!

Kevin Drum 6:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REPORT FROM BAGHDAD....Salam Pax writes today about a press conference held by Iraq's "new one-month-president":

The press guy, at the request of the conference, was telling journalists that the instantaneous translation thingy has two channels; channel one for Arabic, channel two for English. I would like to add another channel: channel three for the truth. It keeps repeating one phrase: "We have no power, we have to get it approved by the Americans, we are puppets and the strings are too tight." I feel sorry for the guys on the council, some of them are actually very good and honest people and they have been put in a very difficult situation.

Getting into the press conference was a trial itself, he says, since "as an Iraqi I get treated like shit." On his blog, he expands on the problems Iraqi reporters face:

G. my friend got beaten up by US Army last night, he was handcuffed and had a bag put on his head. he was kicked several times and was made to lie on his face for a while. All he wanted to do was to take pictures and report on an attack, he works for the New York Times as a translator and fixer. He got more kicks for speaking english.
his sin: he looks Iraqi and has a beard.
story will be told, I need to get him drunk enough to get the whole thing out of him he doesn't want to talk.

Since the U.S. Army is currently fighting a guerrilla war against Iraqis, it's easy to understand why they are extra cautious around them. But it's a Catch-22, isn't it? By responding this way, we're also losing the support of even moderate Iraqis who are otherwise glad we're there, and eventually it becomes a vicious downward spiral that's impossible to stop.

It's maddening to hear this stuff. I sure wish I had more faith that the administration really had a workable plan for all this. Unfortunately, I don't know which pill to swallow to give me that faith.

Kevin Drum 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AFGHANISTAN....There's been a fair amount of coverage of the increasing violence in Afghanistan, but I'm surprised that this development hasn't gotten more attention:

The Taliban has wrested control of most of Zabul province in southeastern Afghanistan for the first time recapturing a province since being ousted from power by the US military in November 2001 geopolitical analytical firm Stratfor reported.

....The advance also underscores the stalemate between the United States and its Afghan allies against the Taliban. It indicates that the alliance formed in early 2002 between the Taliban, al Qaeda and Hizb-i-Islami the party led by Afghan war lord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is paying off for the militants, Stratfor said in a report.

It said Zabul is of strategic and military importance for a number of reasons. Taking Zabul cuts off US troops stationed to the south in Kandahar from the bulk of US troops located to the north toward Kabul, it said, and given that Helmand and Oruzgan provinces to the north of Zabul already are Taliban strongholds, the group can better try to isolate US and local provincial troops in Kandahar and eventually attempt to retake Kandahar as well.

Apparently the Taliban and al-Qaeda are now strong enough to retake an entire province, and it's a province that's strategically located on the main road between Kandahar and Kabul.

I wish I knew enough to have a better idea of what this means, but it sure looks as though we just don't have enough troop strength in Afghanistan to hold onto the country. Since al-Qaeda really does have a strong presence both there and in Pakistan as opposed to Iraq, where they've never had any real strength this seems like seriously bad news.

Kevin Drum 4:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SADDAM'S NUKES....Back in October, as you may recall, the administration put together a National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that Saddam Hussein was actively reconstituting his nuclear program. Of course, there was also a now-infamous footnote saying that there was some disagreement over this, but the Bush administration has argued that the disagreement was from only one source, the State Department, and everyone else signed on to this conclusion.

In particular, that conclusion was supported by the Department of Energy, considered the primary expert in technical issues regarding nuclear proliferation. Today, though, via Josh Marshall, comes an article by Paul Sperry of WorldNetDaily suggesting that DOE wasn't really on board after all:

Thomas Rider, as acting director of Energy's intelligence office, overruled senior intelligence officers on his staff in voting for the position at a National Foreign Intelligence Board meeting at CIA headquarters last September.

...."Senior folks in the office wanted to join INR [the State Department's intelligence arm] on the footnote, and even wanted to write it with them, so the footnote would have read, 'Energy and INR,'" one official said. "But when they were arguing about it at the pre-brief, Rider told them to 'shut up and sit down.'"

...."The debate over whether Baghdad was trying to acquire nuclear weapons pretty much came down to the [aluminum] tubes," said one Energy official. "Yet even though DOE voted against the tubes, Rider still argued that the program was being reconstituted."

"But if the tubes are out, and if the African search for uranium is out, and if all the construction activity at the old nuclear sites turned out to be nothing, then what's the evidence?" he said. "It was just taken on faith."

And Rider's reward for shutting up his technical analysts and playing along? A $13,000 bonus in February "for exceeding performance expectations as head of the intelligence office."

That makes sense only if "performance" was defined as supporting the president's views, as opposed to actually providing intelligence that was correct. Maybe somebody should ask for that bonus back.

POSTSCRIPT: It's worth mentioning, perhaps, that unlike Josh I do check out WorldNetDaily periodically. Yeah, it's run by a nutball, but every once in a while they come up with something interesting. This is a case in point.

UPDATE: In comments, Apostropher gets right to the heart of the matter:

It's the little details that are the most damning here. Rider served as acting intelligence chief for nine months, stepping down in February just before the invasion was launched. Prior to that, he was an HR manager with no intelligence experience. So, he was installed as intelligence chief at the beginning of Bush's march to war, overruled the guys who have spent their careers assessing these sorts of situations and knew the administration's nuke claims were pure crap, got paid twenty large, and then stepped down once the war was a fait accompli.

Hmmm, maybe he should start writing this blog....

Kevin Drum 3:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLEVER CREATIONISTS....Via Matt Yglesias, I learn that the infamous Texas schoolboard has once again prevailed on a textbook publisher to make a change to a high school biology textbook that favors the teaching of creationism. According to Brian Leiter, the source of Matt's post, the change was made to one of the chapter review topics in Johnson and Raven's Biology. Here's the before and after:

Original Topic

Revised Topic

20. Finding and Communicating Information. Use the media center or Internet resources to learn about the condition on Earth that scientist think existed before life formed. Identify which compounds Miller and Urey formed in their experiment...

20. Finding and Communicating Information. Use the media center or Internet resources to study hypotheses for the origin of life that are alternatives to the hypotheses proposed by Oparin and Lerman. Analyze, review, and critique either Oparins or Lermans hypothesis as presented in your textbook along with one alternative hypothesis that you discover in your research.

At first glance, this doesn't sound so bad. Oparin and Lerman have hypotheses about the chemical origin of life, but this is still a considerable scientific mystery and surely there are others, too. Right?

Indeed there are, but the point of this wording change is painfully obvious: to open up the discussion to alternatives that include creationism and its bastard cousin, Intelligent Design. It's cleverly worded, but the intention is plain.

If you live in Texas, call Holt, Rinehart and Winston, the publishers of the textbook, and demand that this change be removed. Here's the person to contact:

Michael Brawley
email: mbrawley@hrw.com
Phone: 800-242-5479 extension 1175

Do it today.

Kevin Drum 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ARNOLD UPDATE....Warren Buffett has signed on to advise Arnold Schwarzenegger on financial and economic topics. Who knew they were pals? Not me.

This should be a positive thing for Arnold. On the other hand, reshuffling his campaign staff and hiring a bunch of Pete Wilson's friends is more problematical. Wilson has a large reservoir of unpopularity in the state, especially among minorities, and this might backfire. Hopefully his campaign gurus can make up for this by being really good campaign gurus.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NYT OP-ED SUMMARY....I don't read Maureen Dowd, and I only occasionally read Thomas Friedman, but I read both of them today and they both had interesting things to say. Dowd strikes a well deserved blow at the recent explosion of campaign weblogs:

The most telling sign that the Internet is no longer the cool American frontier? Blogs, which sprang up to sass the establishment, have been overrun by the establishment.

In a lame attempt to be hip, pols are posting soggy, foggy, bloggy musings on the Internet. Inspired by Howard Dean's success in fund-raising and mobilizing on the Web, candidates are crowding into the blogosphere spewing out canned meanderings in a genre invented by unstructured exhibitionists.

It could be amusing if the pols posted unblushing, unedited diaries of what they were really thinking, as real bloggers do. John Kerry would mutter about that hot-dog Dean stealing his New England base, and Dr. Dean would growl about that wimp Kerry aping all his Internet gimmicks. But no such luck.

Instead, we have Travels with Tom, Tom Daschle's new blog recounting his annual August pilgrimage around South Dakota. Trying to sound uninhibited, he says he has "no schedule and no staff" and promises readers "amazing experiences" with "fascinating people."

I completely agree. Blogs fundamentally exist because they are personal, snarky, sarcastic, and don't really care if they piss people off. (In fact, that's kind of a bonus.) No politician in his right mind can afford any of that, of course, so instead you get bland campaign pronouncements that happen to be presented in narrow columns on the internet instead of in press releases. Big deal.

(Howard Dean is the exception to a degree but I suspect that as his campaign goes mainstream the blog might get toned down. All it will take is one embarrassing controversy caused by the blog and Joe Trippi will tighten the screws.)

Friedman, who was recently robbed on the main road into Baghdad, is afraid that things are going badly wrong in Iraq:

First, there's a word I've heard here that I did not hear on two previous visits since the war: "humiliation." This is an occupation. It may have come with the best of intentions, but nobody likes to be occupied. I just watched a scene at the checkpoint at the July 14 Bridge, which leads to the huge U.S. compound in the heart of Baghdad. U.S. soldiers kept telling Iraqi women who were coming to work for the U.S. forces! that they could not enter because no female U.S. soldiers were available to search them. It is 120 degrees here. To wait in line for 30 minutes and then be told you have to go across the city to a different gate produces humiliation and rage, and eventually grenades tossed at Americans. I saw it in the eyes of those Iraqi women and their husbands as they drove away.

....We have planted many good ideas and programs here, but the ideas will not be heard and the programs will not flower without more money to create jobs, more troops to protect the electricity and more time to train Iraqis so U.S. troops can get off the streets, and without a U.S. advisory team here dedicated to stay. There is no continuity. U.S. advisers come for a few months, then leave, and their replacements have to start all over.

It would be a tragic irony if the greatest technological power in the history of the world came to the cradle of civilization with its revolutionary ideas and found itself defeated because it couldn't keep the electricity on.

Sure, it's just one guy's impression, and maybe the robbery rattled him, but I've been hearing a lot more bad than good out of Iraq lately, and trying to blame that on a liberal press rooting for us to fail is little more than a sad and desperate attempt at make believe. Every day is precious in Iraq right now, and the longer the Bush team puts off making hard decisions the worse things are going to get.

Kevin Drum 10:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONGESTION CONFUSION....Back in February London introduced a congestion charge in an effort to cut down traffic in the city. Cameras were placed on roads coming into London and drivers were charged 5 per day to come in.

I predicted doom and gloom and was surprised when everything seemed to go well during the first week. Today, however, I've discovered that the system is going through a few more teething pains than I realized.

Traffic has indeed been reduced, but it's been reduced by a whopping 16%, not the 10% that was expected. Not only has that hurt businesses in central London, but it means less revenue is being raised than originally thought. The original projection was 200m a year, later reduced to 100m-130m, and then cut again in June to 65m.

What's worse, at least from a PR standpoint, is that the private company contracted to operate the program, Capita, isn't making any money. In fact, they're losing money and recently received a bailout of 31m. This appears to be due to a combination of fewer drivers and fewer fines: Capita runs the system and earns its keep by fining drivers who refuse to pay, but legions of drivers are apparently engaging in massive civil disobedience and refusing to pay, assuming that eventually they'll be left alone. The cost of running down the scofflaws has proven to be higher than the revenue from the fines.

So how will this play out? If British drivers decide to start paying up after all and Capita gets its equipment working properly, then revenues should increase. But if drivers learn that it's impossible to track down everyone who refuses to pay and the boycott becomes more widespread, it could end up like prohibition.

This whole thing originally seemed like a great application of free market principles, but one of those principles briefly forgotten in the late 90s is that revenues need to exceed costs. Will congestion charges be the next big thing, or the next dotcom bust? Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 9:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 12, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

RECALL UPDATE....Disappointing recall news tonight: many of the fine citizens who turned in papers to run for governor have been found wanting. The Secretary of State's latest count is 131 confirmed candidates with 40 more still under review, so the maximum will be a piddling 171 candidates.

The final candidate list will be announced Wednesday. Then all we have to do is print ballots in seven languages, get statements from all the candidates, print up the voter pamphlets, recruit poll workers, fight some court battles, and we're all ready to go!

In other musings, it occurred to me today that Proposition 54, the initiative that's also on the ballot, is going to have an interesting effect. Prop 54 would ban government agencies from collecting racial data and it's certain to be a hot button among minority voters. So will Arnold come out for it or against it? It's one thing to be vague about balancing the budget, but he's hardly going to be able to avoid a straight answer on this. My guess is that he loses votes either way....

Kevin Drum 9:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DO THE RIGHT THING....Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is planning to announce on Thursday whether or not he will obey a court order to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building. James Joyner, responding to a suggestion that Bill Pryor is likely to condemn him if fails to comply, says:

...I'm not too sure. For one thing, Pryor's job is to enforce the law of Alabama, not federal judicial pronouncements. For another, this would be hugely unpopular with his electoral base and not only kill his political future in Alabama but possibly even hurt President Bush in the Deep South. And it wouldn't even help Pryor get confirmed to the 11th Circuit as it would be dismissed as pandering to Congressional Democrats.

OK, but how about doing it because it's the right thing to do? Shouldn't that be reason enough?

Kevin Drum 9:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DECISION TIME FOR GEORGE BUSH....Dan Drezner says that humanitarian success in postwar Iraq is essential, but that it requires a bigger peacekeeping force than we have now. So we can either go to the UN and try to get help from other countries or we can develop and train our own peacekeeping force. And that's a dilemma that George Bush doesn't seem willing to face:

What's becoming increasingly clear to me is that the administration has yet to solve this particular dilemma -- and that this will have disastrous implications for Iraq.

What's worse, Dan says, is that all this is happening in the middle of a guerrilla war, so refusing to increase U.S. troop strength is almost certain to end in disaster:

Paul Bremer thinks the coalition successes in Iraq are being underplayed, and he's probably right. No matter what those successes are, however, rising discontent in Baghdad and Basra are not a recipe for success. Until the administration renews its commitment to a free and stable Iraq, things will fall apart.

Unlike Dan, I think a better answer than more U.S. troops is to compromise with our allies so we can get more foreign help with Iraq. But I think we both agree that it has to be one or the other. The longer we dither and refuse to face this problem squarely, the worse it's going to get.

Kevin Drum 7:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NAMING NAMES....Fred Kaplan has an interesting, even courageous, piece in Slate today dealing with a subject that drifted out of my memory long ago: those intercepted telephone calls that Colin Powell played for the Security Council in his February presentation.

Like Kaplan, I considered those calls the most compelling part of Powell's presentation. After all, what possible meaning could you reasonably ascribe to them other than an effort to hide chemical and biological weapons from inspectors? Today, Kaplan goes back and revisists those calls:

This was by far the most persuasive part of Powell's briefing. At the time, I called it a "smoking gun," writing, "Assuming the tape is genuine and the translation correct, here is the evidence that a) the Iraqis possess illegal weapons; (b) they are deliberately hiding them from the inspectors; and c) they are not likely to give up the weapons on their own."

I still stand by the logic of that sentence, but I would like to italicize those first few words: "Assuming the tape is genuine" Given all the shenanigans that have been revealed since the war endedthe forged letter about uranium from Niger, the fictitious claim in Britain's intelligence dossier that Iraqi troops could fire chemical shells with 45 minutes' notice, and all the restit can no longer be assumed that the tape is real or that the people speaking on the tape are who Powell said (and no doubt thinks) they are.

Kaplan thinks the White House should reveal who the officers in the conversation were, since unmasking them would no longer put them in danger:

These tapes form the last shred of possible evidence that Iraq might have had chemical or biological weapons in the past nine monthsthat, in other words, the war had any legitimate cause. If the officers were real, name them.

Now that he's reminded me of it, I'd like to know more too. Unfortunately, I'm sure that neither Kaplan nor I will get any satisfaction on this score.

POSTSCRIPT: Since someone is bound to make a snarky remark about it, here's the final paragraph of my post that I linked above:

If your opposition to war is based on the idea that Saddam does indeed possess illegal weapons but it's best to leave him alone anyway, well and good. But if it's based on the idea that the administration is lying and none of this stuff exists, you should tread carefully. I think it's pretty likely you will be proven wrong shortly.

No, that hasn't turned out to be one of my better predictions, has it?

Kevin Drum 5:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE LANGUAGE POLICE....I know that language mavens can be kind of cranky sometimes, but Robert Hartwell Fiske is really pissed:

This new slang-filled edition of the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary does as much as, if not more than, the famously derided Webster's Third International Dictionary to discourage people from taking lexicographers seriously. "Laxicographers" all, the Merriam-Webster staff remind us that dictionaries merely record how people use the language, not necessarily how it ought to be used. Some dictionaries, and certainly this new Merriam-Webster, actually promote illiteracy.

Several years ago, the editors of The American Heritage Dictionary caused a stir by deciding to include four-letter words in their product. Since the marketing strategy of including swear words has now been adopted by all dictionary makers, Merriam-Webster, apparently not knowing how else to distinguish its dictionary from competing ones, has decided to include slang words in its eleventh edition.

Now, I'll admit I'm surprised that MW's editors say "accidently" is an acceptable spelling, but on the other hand the word "peruse" surely does mean "to read over in a casual manner," doesn't it?

We're not going to solve this debate here, of course, but Fiske seems to have really jumped the shark on this. The MW 11th is hardly the first dictionary to include slang terms, and while we can debate which words have gained common usage and which haven't (I would certainly vote against "alright," for example, but am willing to concede my decades-long battle against it because, after all, it's been a decades-long battle and I seem to have lost) but it's awfully hard to defend Fiske's version of maximalist prescriptivism, which would inevitably result in the language ayatollahs turning English into the equivalent of Latin or classical Arabic.

Then there's this:

Of course, it's in the financial interest of dictionary makers to record the least defensible of usages in the English language, for without ever-changing definitions--or as they would say, an evolving language--there would be less need for people to buy later editions of their product.

So dictionary makers aren't simply lazy postmodern slackers unwilling to offend their readers by laying down some rules, they are actively trying to undermine the English language for the sake of filthy lucre.

Sheesh. But then again, he's also under the impression that the word "dis" evolved because "Americans are increasingly monosyllabic." But that's ridiculous. Everyone knows this most classical of words has been around for 700 years....

Kevin Drum 4:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A SENSITIVE INDICATOR....Brad DeLong talks today about which industries are most cyclical and therefore most sensitive to downturns and upturns in the economy:

Spending on durable goods is even more cyclical: you can postpone purchases of durables when cash is tight during a downturn, and accelerate durables purchases when cash is plentiful. Spending on capital goods to make durable goods is even more of a business-cycle roller coaster: businesses will buy the capital goods needed to make durables only when they find that high demand for the durable goods they make has brought them to the limit of their capacity.

And the most cyclically-sensitive sectors of all--the tip of the whip that is the business cycle--make the equipment needed to make the capital goods that firms purchase in order to produce durable goods.

OK then: durable goods spending is cyclical. Equipment to make durable goods is even more cyclical. Equipment to make the equipment to make durable goods is even yet more cyclical.

You can guess my question, can't you? What about the guys who make the equipment to make the equipment to make the equipment? Is that the tip of the tip of the whip?

POSTSCRIPT: On a serious note, Brad was linking to an article suggesting that the fortunes of semiconductor equipment maker Applied Materials might be a good leading indicator of the strength of the economy. They will announce second quarter results later today, and apparently the word on TheStreet.com is that "the feebleness of the recovery is becoming apparent and nobody expects Applied to spring any big upside surprises for the quarter now under way." Too bad.

UPDATE: Applied Materials ended up announcing earnings of 5 cents a share. This story says that's a penny better than expected, while this story says it's a penny worse than expected. So you can flip a coin (a penny, presumably) to figure out whether this is positive or negative news.

Kevin Drum 10:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YET ANOTHER DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE?....Via Pandagon, the Boston Globe is reporting that Wesley Clark is getting ready to run for the presidency:

Clark, who has never held elective office, increasingly sounds like a candidate, mixing bristling attacks on President Bush's Iraq policy with criticism of the nation's growing budget deficit. Last week, volunteers said, he sent word to supporters to "crank up" their efforts, while he confers with his family before making a final decision.

....Clark has begun to showcase his political instincts. Last week, in an interview with National Public Radio, he called Bush's decision to invade Iraq without international support "one of the greatest strategic blunders the American government has made since the end of the Cold War."

He has also moved beyond the realm of national security. Speaking on CNN, he recently blasted the Bush tax cuts, saying the growing deficit means "that the federal government can't do the kinds of things for America that Americans expect it to do. . . . That's things like taking care of our retirement security and Social Security."

...."We are preparing for what we think is going to be a campaign starting around Labor Day," said Susan Putney, the volunteer director in New Hampshire of the Draft Clark Campaign.

His book is next on my reading list. I'm curious to see what it reveals about Clark both as a general and as a person.

Kevin Drum 10:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOW MANY TROOPS?....Michael O'Hanlon sounds an oft-heard theme these days in the LA Times today. We need more boots on the ground in Iraq, and that means a bigger army:

Rumsfeld's instincts are laudable in many ways. The defense budget is already growing enough without increasing it further through added personnel. And the armed services do need to be pushed to innovate, privatize and reform their practices.

But Rumsfeld goes too far when he claims that we can get by with no additional soldiers in today's U.S. Army. Even with more allied help which Rumsfeld isn't doing enough to recruit we are likely to need at least another division within a year. That's about 15,000 soldiers; accompanying support troops will double that number. Given our all-volunteer force, we need to start recruiting now.

I'm at a bit of a loss to figure out what's going on here. The arguments in favor of increasing the size of the army are fairly straightforward: experience tells us that we're going to need a lot of troops in Iraq for many years to come, and even a cursory look at rotation schedules demonstrates that we're going to be hard pressed to maintain an adequate presence.

It's true that Donald Rumsfeld has been a pretty consistent advocate for a smaller, "transformed" military that reacts more nimbly and makes use of better technology instead of massive numbers. Still, the requirements of an occupation, as opposed to a shooting war, are unarguably personnel heavy.

So I can't help but wonder if there's a bit of Brer Rabbit involved in this: deny the need for more troops, wait for Democrats to attack because, after all, that's what Democrats do to Republican secretaries of defense, then "reluctantly" give in to Democratic calls for a bigger army.

I'm not sure exactly where I come down on this issue myself, but there seems to be something a little odd about the debate. I'll keep an eye on it.

Kevin Drum 9:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 11, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

RECALL UPDATE....OK, here's the official orthogonally mapped alphabetical order for the recall ballot:

R, W, Q, O, J, M, V, A, H, B, S, G, Z, X, N, T, C, I, E, K, U, P, D, Y, F, L

The way this works is that all the candidates are ordered using this pseudo-alphabet. In Assembly District 1, that's the order they appear. In District 2, the top guy goes to the bottom. Repeat. By the time you get down to District 80 on the Mexican border, person #80 heads the ballot.

All clear? Good. Now then, how many candidates will be on the ballot? Earlier today the number bandied about was either 193 or 195 depending on who you listened to. Right now, however, the Secretary of State lists 132 confirmed candidates and 115 more under review, for a possible total of 247. This might change by the time you click on the link, but that's what it said at 10 pm.

So don't count your chickens yet. The winner of the Calpundit pool is still up for grabs (except for you losers who chose one and two-digit numbers), and there probably won't be an official winner until Wednesday. You'll just have to be patient.

UPDATE: And as long as we're doing recall FAQs, here's a common one: what happens if Gray Davis resigns? Answer: the recall goes forward as planned. Just thought I'd make sure everyone knows that. This freight train isn't stopping for anyone.

UPDATE 2: And another one: why the weird random pseudo-alphabetical order for listing candidates? Answer: because several years ago some guy sued the state, claiming that research showed the first person on the ballot got an extra 5% of the vote just for being first. So now it's random.

Too bad that guy didn't sue the state of Florida while he was at it.

Kevin Drum 10:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WATCHING THE WATCHMAN....Poor old Donald Luskin. Even when he's right, he makes an idiot of himself.

Here's the background: in Paul Krugman's column last week he said that California's spending growth between 1989-90 and 2002-03 was 10% after adjusting for inflation and population growth. Luskin says that's not true: Krugman's source actually pegs the growth at 13.4%.

Now, in the context of what Krugman was saying, rounding off to 10% isn't that big a deal, and it doesn't change the essential correctness of the point he was making. Still, 13% is the right number, and Krugman should have used it. Score one for Luskin.

But then, apparently swept away by the excitement of finally finding a genuine inaccuracy in one of Krugman's columns, Luskin pulls a full frontal Dowd by demanding that the New York Times publish a retraction:

And when will it correct Krugman's flatly deceptive claim that this growth "was simply a matter of keeping up with the population and inflation," when calculations of real per capita growth, by definition, already take those factors into account?

Goodness. Would Paul Krugman "flatly" claim that California's spending growth was a simple matter of keeping up with population and inflation? Of course not. Here's what Krugman said:

As analysts at the nonpartisan California Budget Project point out, real state spending per capita was only 10 percent higher in 2002-03 than it was in 1989-90 that is, most of the spending growth was simply a matter of keeping up with the population and inflation.

Ah, so "most" of California's spending growth was due to inflation and population gains. And indeed it was. Total spending growth during that period was about 130%, and 13.4% is a small fraction of that. (As it happens, this is actually not a very compelling argument on Krugman's part, but it is the argument he made.)

So why did Luskin decide to leave out the word "most"? And when will he apologize for deliberately misquoting Krugman?

Answers are left as exercises for the reader.

UPDATE: Weirder and weirder. Luskin emails Glenn Reynolds to say that of course he understood exactly what Krugman was saying, but many other people were confused and Krugman ought to write more clearly. So maybe it doesn't require a correction at all.

Well, fine. But if he understood what Krugman was saying, why did he write the paragraph above? And why did he Dowdify the quote?

UPDATE 2: In comments, Sam Jackson points out that about $4 billion of California's "spending increase" is actually just weird accounting: vehicle fees were reduced in the 1990s, and the state reimbursed local government for the lost revenue. Although this is actually a tax cut, here in Lotus Land it is counted as a spending increase. If you remove this, the real per capita spending increase is ta da! about 10%, so it appears that Luskin doesn't even get credit for the alleged arithmetic error. Poor guy.

Kevin Drum 9:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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UNFAIR AND UNHINGED....It's good to see that Fox News can take a joke:

Fox News Channel has sued liberal humorist Al Franken and the Penguin Group to stop them from using the phrase "fair and balanced" in the title of his upcoming book.

Filed Monday in Manhattan, the trademark infringement lawsuit seeks a court order forcing Penguin to rename the book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." It also asks for unspecified damages.

I had no idea that Roger Ailes' minions had such tender sensitivities. Luckily, I imagine that the fair use provisions covering parody will keep Franken and his book safe. At least, I hope so.

Kevin Drum 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AVOIDING THE TRUTH....Over at the Weekly Standard, a well-known liberal rag, Irwin Stelzer rips into George Bush:

President Bush's compassion now impels him to give tax refunds to people who pay no taxes; free prescription drugs to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, whose children will no longer be burdened with inheritance taxes; subsidies to already-rich farmers to produce outrageously expensive ethanol to add to gasoline; free insurance protection to utilities that own nuclear plants; tariff protection to inefficient steel companies; and subsidies to auto and coal companies to do research they would otherwise have to pay for out of their sales receipts. It almost--but not quite--makes one pine for the days of that cheapskate, Bill Clinton.

I have a feeling it might have been the editors who inserted that "but not quite" in the final sentence, because that opening paragraph was just the rhetorical equivalent of Stelzer clearing his throat. There's no shilly shallying anywhere else in the column, which reads like a tactical nuke lobbed straight at the heart of the administration's never-never land approach to Iraqi reconstruction:

But let's be wildly optimistic and assume that...profits from Iraqi oil sales come to $20 a barrel. A bit of arithmetic shows that those sales would yield well under $20 billion a year, about enough to cover current outlays on our troops for four months.

....Bremer, in what may be his ticket out of Baghdad and into the private sector with Lindsey, knows this: "We are going to have to spend a lot more money than we are going to get revenue, even once we get oil production back to prewar levels." Which means that Wolfowitz is either innumerate (unlikely), or is being economical with the truth when he says, "We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."

....So there you have it: a foreign policy that promises enormous long-run benefits, but requires enormous short-term outlays, for most of which the administration has refused to budget.

It's no surprise that a Weekly Standard writer thinks we should demonstrate a firm commitment to Iraqi reconstruction, but it is a little surprising to see such an extended blast aimed at Bush and Wolfowitz, and it's really surprising to see them publish a suggestion that we ought to raise taxes to pay for postwar costs.

Stelzer suggests a $5/barrel tax on imported oil, but let's look at it another way. We raise about a trillion dollars a year via personal income tax, so if it's really going to cost $100 billion a year to occupy and rebuild Iraq, that means we would need to raise income tax rates by about 10% to pay for it. George Bush, like LBJ before him, probably knows this would never fly, so, again like LBJ, he's simply doing everything he can to put off the day of reckoning.

But how long can this last? Bush has already begun arousing suspicions even in middle America that you have to listen to his words mighty carefully to discern the truth, and this is a reputation that's hard to shake off once it takes hold. Just ask LBJ's ghost. If Bush earns the dubious distinction of being as straight a shooter as his Texas predecessor, I wonder if he'll suffer the same fate?

Kevin Drum 3:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FISCAL CONSERVATISM....Serious question: Arnold is reportedly socially liberal and fiscally conservative. I think that socially liberal is something we all understand, and I know that I used to understand what fiscally conservative meant too things like restraining spending, keeping inflation under control, and balancing the budget. But what does it mean today?

Does it just mean being in favor of cutting taxes come hell or high water? Or is there more to it?

Is this a term that we should just get rid of once and for all?

Kevin Drum 12:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RECALL POWERBALL!....It's time for the lottery! That is, the recall lottery, where we pull letters out of a basket to find out the order of the candidates on the recall ballot. Since being 100th out of 195 could be a serious problem, this is no small thing.

And here we go: R....W....

Complete results later!

UPDATE: H, B, and S are all grouped together in the middle of the ballot, so that takes care of Huffington, Bustamante, Schwarzenegger, and Simon. They'll all appear in roughly the same spot on page 7....

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AFGHANISTAN....The New York Times reports on changes in Afghanistan:

NATO took command of the 5,000-strong international peacekeeping force in the Afghan capital on Monday, a historic move that marks the alliance's first operation outside Europe since it was created 54 years ago.

The alliance took over from Germany and the Netherlands, which have jointly led the International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, since Feb. 10.

This gives me a chance to ask a question. For several months us liberal types have been urging President Bush to swallow his pride and ask other countries for help in Iraq. This means the UN or NATO or, possibly, both.

Conservatives have savaged the idea, saying that the U.S. would inevitably lose control, the UN/NATO bureaucracy would muck things up, and the whole process would become too politicized to have any chance of success. James Joyner has an example of this argument posted today.

So what I want to know is this: what about Afghanistan? Is it OK to have foreign countries helping us there? Or was it a mistake not to keep control in our own hands?

In terms of the war on terrorism, my guess is that Afghanistan is actually more important than Iraq. It was, after all, the home of Osama bin Laden, and its long border with Pakistan continues to be one of the most active hiding areas for Islamic terrorists there is. Stabilizing Afghanistan and encouraging a tolerant democratic government there is surely one of the most important tasks we have.

So should we kick NATO out of Afghanistan? Or should we invite them into Iraq?

Or are you guys going to invent some subtle but crucial difference between the two to justify whatever it is you wanted to do in the first place?

Kevin Drum 10:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MINIMUM DECENCY....Douglas MacKinnon, Bob Dole's former press secretary, takes his fellow Republicans to task for opposing a small increase in the minimum wage:

I'm a Republican with a somewhat unusual perspective on this issue: I grew up in abject poverty and was homeless a number of times as a child. Poverty has never been an academic or partisan issue for me. It destroys the human spirit, creates crime, divides classes, fosters misunderstandings and, worst of all, crushes innocent children.

....Americans who exist below the poverty line do so mostly because of accidents of birth or circumstances beyond their control. Instead of the Hamptons, they were born in Harlem. Instead of order, they are surrounded by dysfunction. Until you've been there, you have no idea of the pain, humiliation and hopelessness. The poor in the United States are not "non-persons." They have the same hopes, dreams, fears and integrity that the well-to-do have. All they lack is enough money to care for their children and themselves.

The minimum-wage hike is not much but, below the poverty line, every penny counts. The Senate should strip it out of the foreign aid authorization bill and approve it immediately. Morally, it is the right thing to do. As a Republican, I would say that to represent the majority, we must serve the majority. We must be there for those in need.

We, as a people, are better than this.

In any version of compassionate conservatism in which the "compassionate" part was more than 1% of the mix, this would be a no-brainer. Democrats eventually accepted the need for welfare reform, so why can't Republicans accept the need to treat the working poor with minimal decency? Instead, they nod approvingly as the minimum wage drops 40% over the past 35 years.

These aren't welfare bums getting huge government handouts that we're talking about, these are the people who want to work, the people that conservatives are supposedly trying to encourage. So why don't they put their money where their mouths are?

Can there ever be a decent Republican party while they oppose simple acts of decency like a (barely) livable minimum wage? I doubt it.

Kevin Drum 10:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHEAP RACISM....Dammit, dammit, dammit.

Nathan, knock off with the "whiff of racism" you detect in Arianna Huffington because she said she'd drop out of the race if Dianne Feinstein ran, but she's not dropping out for Cruz Bustamante:

Does Arianna want to not only be the Nader of the election, but be seen as a racist spoiler as well? Someone who supported the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which took food stamps away from legal immigrants, cannot credibly claim a progressive reason to help defeat a latino Democrat for office.

This stuff makes us look like idiots, as bad as the Republican morons who are currently trying to push the line that Senate Democrats are anti-Catholic because they oppose William Pryor.

Just stop it.

Kevin Drum 9:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RECALL UDPATE....133? 155? 158? The LA Times reports today that the number of candidates appears to be nearing 200. Stay tuned for official results!

Elsewhere, the Times reports that Schwarzenegger invited Time and Newsweek to photograph him, but "refused to talk to their reporters." Apparently it didn't do him any harm since both magazines splashed him all over their covers this week. I know I shouldn't be surprised at this, but I would have thought that both magazines had (barely) enough integrity left to refuse to run a cover story on a politician unless he agreed to talk to them. I guess not.

You can run, Arnold, but you can't hide. You're going to have to start answering questions one of these days.

Kevin Drum 8:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 10, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

MATH CAN BE FUN!....I can't say just how good or bad the questions on most standardized tests are, but Mike T at Gorilla-A-Gogo has some relevant experience although perhaps "experience" is too kind a word and he says we should all be scared, very scared....

Kevin Drum 8:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE CRAZINESS....Another thing that drives me crazy: the administration's apparent belief that occupying Iraq would be relatively easy because the Iraqis would greet us as liberators. Here is Rod Nordland, Baghdad bureau chief for Newsweek:

ROD NORDLAND: I mean, they are still laboring under the delusion that most Iraqis are glad to have them here, and I think that's one of the reasons that they are [misreading the mood of Iraqis].

....TERENCE SMITH: You say the troops were laboring still under the -- what you called the delusion that the Iraqis are happy to have them there. You've concluded it truly is a delusion?

ROD NORDLAND: No, I don't have any doubt about that at all. I mean, there's a bit of schizophrenia. The Iraqis are glad to see the end of the Saddam Hussein regime and they're glad to see a change in government, but that does not mean that they're happy with the American occupation. And just the contrary, I think. And they're growing more and more unhappy with it.

Lord almighty, they still believe this? There are many things about war that are intensely complicated, but there are also some things that aren't, and this is one of them: people don't like being invaded by foreign countries. They especially don't like being invaded by enormous superpowers with cultures, religions, and beliefs that they have hated all their lives.

In the long run, the administration's fudging of the WMD intelligence is a mere nitpick compared to their stubborn refusal to work on a timetable that might have gotten our allies on board with our war plans, their criminally negligent lack of postwar planning, and their blinkered acceptance of the delusional neocon view that the United States can unilaterally change the culture of the Middle East via military power.

It's remarkable. I assume that George Bush and his advisors truly want to make America safer and the Middle East less dangerous, but at every step of the way they have followed plans that ensure almost exactly the opposite. It's the flip side of their domestic policy, where they have singlemindedly pursued strategies almost perfectly designed not to help solve the real problems the economy faces.

I'm not sure there's been a president in my lifetime who so obviously doesn't care about the actual facts of a situation before he formulates policies. I wonder if he even knows?

Kevin Drum 5:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MARKETING OF WAR....Last night I mentioned this Washington Post article that lays out in considerable detail the administration's persistent efforts to link Saddam Hussein to a nuclear weapons program even as the evidence for such a program was crumbling nearly as fast as the hawks could make their case to the TV cameras. Today moderate conservative James Joyner demonstrates why pro-war partisans drive me nuts even though I'm very nearly on their side:

This is classic national security decision-making in action. Given imperfect intelligence as well as a reasonable belief that a regime means us harm, the safe course is not presuming the least compelling case supported by your intelligence.

But that's not what the administration did. They took imperfect intelligence and I think we're being generous here and used it to justify invading and occupying a foreign country. That's a little different than "not presuming the least compelling case."

This is what makes me crazy. I agree that Saddam Hussein was unstable and dangerous, and I don't mourn his loss. What's more, I think even hardcore liberals accept the idea that in the wake of 9/11 we should be more aggressive in reacting to ambiguous intelligence information.

But it's clear that the Bush administration, far from simply being a bit more vigilant in connecting the dots, deliberately misled the country. After all, the al-Qaeda connections don't exist and the WMD isn't there.

And yet conservatives blithely dismiss this. It's a good thing that Saddam is gone, so it just doesn't matter that our intelligence data was lousy and the administration concocted a story with only the flimsiest relationship to reality. It doesn't matter because George Bush is a good guy and we trust him.

But why trust an administration that so obviously doesn't care about the facts on the ground? Sure, this time they did something you approve of, but maybe next time they won't.

Isn't that something to be worried about?

Kevin Drum 4:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BEATING THE BUSHES....Kevin Phillips, who's always always worth listening to, has an interesting op-ed in the LA Times this morning. Although he thinks that Howard Dean's chances of winning either the nomination or the election are slim, he points to three previous candidates who made their marks primarily by hammering angrily at the incumbent: Eugene McCarthy, Ross Perot, and Newt Gingrich. None of them won the White House, Phillips says, but two of the three wounded the incumbent enough that he failed to get reelected.

Phillips makes a point that I think is important: the attacks on the president by Dean and others may not seem like a winning strategy right now Republicans have certainly told us that often enough but those attacks do have the effect of chipping away at Bush. It may be slow, but some of the attacks are hitting home, and if we keep them up Bush is going to be a seriously damaged goods by next summer.

Phillips believes that Bush has three serious vulnerabilities:

  • Misleading WMD statements before the war combined with Bush family coziness with the Saudis that have lead to coverups of Saudi participation in 9/11.

  • Bush's blinkered view, also inherited from his father, that tax cuts should heavily favor investors. The resulting jobless recovery should be easy pickings for any halfway decent Democratic candidate.

  • Bush's pandering to the religious right: "Next year's Democratic nominee could win if he or she is shrewd enough to force the president to spend the autumn of 2004 in the Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago suburbs defending his stance on creationism, his ties to flaky preachers and the faith healer he's appointed to an advisory board for the Food and Drug Administration."

It's thought provoking stuff.

Kevin Drum 10:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RUNNING DOWN THE CANDIDATES....The LA Times, being the paper of local record that it is, has procured statements from most of the candidates for governor. A sampling:

  • Winner of the "Sign from God" Award:

    Howard Allen Gershater, owner of two hearing aid stores
    If I'm supposed to run for this office, please let there be some sign....At that very instant, this giant comet streaks across the sky and the comet is as bright as can be for five seconds....OK, thank you, I got the message.

  • Winner of the Karen Drum "How Come Single People Never Get Anything?" Award:

    Richard Gosse, educator
    "Fairness for singles" that's my platform....Someone has to stand up for the 34% of the population that is single and neglected by the politicians.

  • Winner of the "Obviously Not Paying Attention to California Politics" Award:

    Joe Guzzardi, adult education teacher
    I'm running because I'm very disappointed. In the 15 or so years since I returned to California, no politicians have been willing to discuss the impact of illegal immigration on California....

  • Winner of the "Making the Best of No Qualifications" Award:

    David Kessinger, paralegal
    I'm good at balancing the budget. I live relatively comfortably on $10,000 a year.

  • Winner of the Richard Nixon Memorial "I Have A Secret Plan" Award:

    Shu Yih Liu, CEO of Stuttz automobile company
    California has list its chi its aura and I have the solution. As soon as I am in the position to do so, I will announce plan to solve the problems in California.

  • Winner of the "Oh, That's Federal Law?" Award:

    B.E. Smith, disabled veteran
    I would like to stop the war on drugs. If I get elected I will pardon all people convicted in California under drug laws....

  • Winner of the "Eternal Optimism" Award:

    Mathilda Karel Spak, hopsital volunteer
    With my experience at [nearly] 101 years old, I can outlive all of them.

I have to admit that Guzzardi is my favorite. No one in California has been discussing the impact of illegal immigration? Has this guy been living under a rock?

On the other hand, it turns out that Irvine has its very own candidate too: Iris Adam of the Natural Law Party, who wants to infuse "coherent consciousness" into the political process. She's got my vote.

Kevin Drum 10:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 9, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

YELLOWCAKE UPDATE....Although the CIA and eventually George Bush have agreed that the State of the Union address should not have included allegations that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa, Britain has stood by the charge, saying it has independent evidence that has not been shared with the United States. But what was that evidence?

The only hint they have given as to its nature is that it concerns a visit to the country by an Iraqi representative in 1999. "Former Niger government officials believed that this was in connection with the procurement of yellow cake [uranium]," according to [Foreign Secretary Jack] Straw.

Today, the Independent claims that this evidence is also crumbling:

The man who made the trip, Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq's former ambassador to the Vatican, told The Independent on Sunday: "My only mission was to meet the President of Niger and invite him to visit Iraq. The invitation and the situation in Iraq resulting from the genocidal UN sanctions were all we talked about. I had no other instructions, and certainly none concerning the purchase of uranium."

Mr Zahawie, 73, speaking to the British press for the first time, said in London: "I have been cleared by everyone else, including the US and the United Nations. I am surprised to hear there are still question marks over me in Britain. I am willing to co-operate with anyone who wants to see me and find out more."

Zahawie describes his trip in detail in this story, and of course it's hard to say how seriously to take it. After all, he'd likely deny any involvement regardless of what his instructions had been.

Still, it's an interesting development. Apparently Uranium-gate isn't quite dead yet.

UPDATE: Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus have a long story in the Washington Post today showing the evolution of the Bush administration's claims that Saddam had an active nuclear program. It's good stuff.

Kevin Drum 9:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CANDIDATE COUNT....The preliminary count of candidates for governor is 133. The list is here, and includes 50 Democrats, 40 Republicans, 34 Independents, 4 Greens, 2 Libertarians, 2 Peace & Freedom, and 1 American Independent.

But what you're all really wondering is: who wins the Calpundit pool for guessing the number of candidates? This is unofficial, of course, but so far the winner appears to be one Jesse B, who guessed 123. Not bad! Official results will be announced as soon as the Secretary of State provides a final list.

UPDATE: As of Sunday morning, The LA Times is now reporting 158 candidates, and AP says 155. Stay tuned!

Kevin Drum 8:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOG RECOGNITION....John Cole is running a "best blogger" contest. This wouldn't normally be noteworthy, but he's distinguished himself by coming up with quite a few amusing categories. Go check it out and, if you're so inclined, email him your votes.

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By: Kevin Drum

HANDICAPPING THE RECALL....One of the rules of real punditry is not to make predictions, but where's the fun in that? So let's make some predictions in the recall election.

First off, with a respectable Democrat in the race, I think the recall with succeed. My prediction is that it will get 55-60% of the vote and Gray Davis will get tossed out.

Second, I don't think the courts will stop the election.

And third, I think Cruz Bustamante will be our next governor. Let's take a little closer look at that.

Although Arnold is a formidable candidate, I think he's going to be less formidable as time goes on. His past is going to get dredged up and it's going to turn some voters off. He's going to have to answer questions, and his answers won't please some people. And there are interest groups out there that are going to target him. He's going to have a tough time, even if he can monopolize the television coverage, and I think he's going to discover that big time politics is a rougher business than making movies.

So here's how I think it's going to play out. I figure that about 40% of the state will refuse to vote for anyone but a liberal or a Democrat. With John Garamendi out of the race, that means the only lib/Dem candidates are Cruz Bustamante and Arianna Huffington. I think Bustamante will get about 33% of the vote and Huffington will get about 7%.

Another 55% will go to Republicans, and here's how I tote them up:

  • Schwarzenegger: 25%

  • Bill Simon: 12% (lots of name recognition, plus some sympathy votes)

  • Tom McClintock: 7% (gets the hardline conservative vote)

  • Peter Ueberroth: 5% (gets the moderate "competence" vote)

  • Everyone else: 6%

Finally, minor party candidates and weirdos will get about 5% of the vote.

The wild card in all this is whether Schwarzenegger is able to convince his Republican opponents to bow out and support him. McClintock is such an ideologue that I don't think he'll drink the Kool-Aid, but Ueberroth might if his poll numbers look lousy a month from now, and Simon might too if it becomes clear that he can't win. If Schwarzenegger and McClintock end up as the only serious Republicans, Schwarzenegger wins.

As for turnout, my guess is that it turns out to be a wash. Lots of angry Republicans who want to get rid of Gray Davis will come to the polls, but I think they're going to be balanced by a lot of angry Democrats who think the GOP is trying to hijack the election. So turnout won't be skewed enough to make the difference.

So: on October 7, Cruz Bustamante becomes governor of California, three years earlier than he expected. I hope he knows what he's doing.

UPDATE: Sheesh, it's only been ten minutes since I posted this and I'm already thinking I probably got some of this wrong. Hell, I'm almost certain that I got some of this very, very wrong. I guess real pundits don't say stuff like that, either.

Kevin Drum 4:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CALIFORNIA: STILL BETTER THAN TEXAS....Comrade Max says the California economy is doing just fine. Our growth rate is higher than average, personal income is OK, and jobs aren't leaving the state.

This is all basically correct. We do have plenty of problems in California workers comp is broken, the tax system is a mess, and our legislature is so polarized that we literally can't pass a budget, let alone a good one but at the same time the economy is still fundamentally sound. When the tech sector picks up, California will be hopping again.

In the meantime, enjoy the show and hope really hope that when it comes to politics California is not leading the nation, as it so often does. You may think that national politics is awfully partisan and dirty these days, but it's nothing compared to California. If California partisanship spreads to Washington, you're all going to find yourselves pining away for the relative civility of the Clinton impeachment years.

Kevin Drum 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HI....Here's the cover of the State Department's new Arabic language "lifestyle" magazine, now on sale throughout the Middle East:

The premiere issue of the glossy, full-color 72-page monthly appeared in July with a cover story on the experiences of Arab students in American colleges and shorter articles on yoga, sandboarding, singer Norah Jones, Arab American actor Tony Shalhoub and marriage counseling -- the latter story illustrated with a photo of Dr. Phil McGraw, the Oprah-spawned TV tough-love guru.

It doesn't contain a word about the American invasion of Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Afghanistan or al Qaeda. Nor will future issues. The magazine's editors and its State Department funders plan a resolutely apolitical magazine.

"This is a lifestyle magazine," says Fadel Lamen, Hi's Libyan American managing editor. "It's a new phenomenon in the Arab world to do a lifestyle magazine that doesn't touch on the political."

I guess this is a good idea, although somehow I just know that it won't be long before the magazine commits some inadvertant but huge gaffe that requires Colin Powell to undertake a month of shuttle diplomacy to settle down. My prediction: it will be a single sentence buried in a seemingly innocuous blurb about some celebrity who turns out to have said some nice things about the IDF five years ago.

One thing that does strike me, however, is that America's problem in the Middle East (at least among young people) isn't really with American lifestyle or culture. I've seen numerous surveys to that effect, anyway, so I wonder if this is really addressing a major problem. Still, marketing is all about campaigns. There's no single thing that does the trick, and I imagine this magazine should be a perfectly servicable component of a larger PR offensive.

One question, though: isn't $2 a little pricey for Damascus and Baghdad?

Kevin Drum 11:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 8, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SNAPPED....Getting tired of all those hawkish liberals who their hearts filled with sadness are giving up on the Democratic party? Well, now we have a convert in the other direction:

As for current events, I've finally snapped under the strain: despite my agreeing with many of his principles, and at least one or two of his policies (if not with their stated rationales), I've recently concluded (well behind the curve set by Helen Thomas) that George W. Bush really is the worst...president...ever.

Yay! And Charles is prognosticating that we'll have a high-profile convert to join him soon (although I'm a bit less confident than he is).

Anyway, someone from the Dean/Edwards/Kerry/whatever campaign should perform an in-depth interview with Charles and figure out what made him snap. We need more people like him, many, many more....

Kevin Drum 7:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BIONIC PROFESSOR....Henry Farrell is unhappy at the prospect of transhumanism:

It isnt the prospect of brain-machine interfaces, Singularities, telomere hacks and the like, few of which are likely to be with us anytime soon, if at all. Its the underlying philosophy behind this geek aesthetic - the idea of the self as a sort of infinitely extensible meccano-set, where you can plug in new bits and pieces all the time, just because its cool. And, in the best of all possible worlds, keep on doing this forever. Myself, Id rather be dead.

Now that seems a little drastic, doesn't it? Although I suppose we can accomodate you, Henry, if you continue your stubborn rejection of the new world order.

As for me, out of all the wonderful science fictiony possibilities here, the one that really tickles me is the idea of a language chip. I would so much like to be able to travel anywhere I want, and just insert the appropriate chip for every country in order to speak the language fluently. Don't ask me why, but that's what I want.

As for objections to transhumanism, I don't really have any on a personal level. It sounds pretty cool, although I imagine I'd refrain from being an early adopter. However, if any of this stuff really does become technically feasible, I think the bigger worry is being forced to adopt it. You wish to be a professor of comparative political economy, young man? Sorry, we only consider applicants who have undergone PfizerSoft's Ten-Trax personality implant.

That would be a problem, wouldn't it? Still, I suppose our grandchildren will just scoff at such quaint concerns about the social order. After all, I understand that many universities actually employ women as professors these days, and what would our ancestors have thought of that?

Kevin Drum 7:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGERS UNITE!....YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE EXCEPT $500....Yesterday I got an email announcing a blog conference in Boston in October. Over the past decade I've probably received about a thousand emails touting various conferences and trade shows, and since this one is in Boston, costs $500, and doesn't sound very interesting anyway, I deleted the email and proceeded with my day.

Other bloggers, however, declined to have such a milquetoasty attitude. Tom Tomorrow said the event rated just slightly above waking up in a hotel room bathtub full of ice with his kidneys missing. Teresa Nielsen Hayden performed a full fisking of the invitation and twitted the organizers for insufficient dedication to egalitarianism. Atrios wonders why they didn't invite Kos to speak (although he inexplicably fails to put in a plug for me). Jesse thinks it's just ego stroking, and Elayne says there's nothing "mere" about $500.

I guess I can understand. I too sort of feel like a conference about blogging is like having a conference about pencil sharpening. And while it would be interesting to meet Josh Marshall, he didn't call me when he was out in California a couple of months ago, so the heck with him.

Besides, there's a better way. In fact, I hosted my very own blog conference a couple of weeks ago, and a very pleasant affair it was. Everyone got to meet my cats, Marian got to show off her salad making talents, and all it set us back was the cost of some frozen hamburger patties and a few bottles of beer. (I even had a theme: "Beer, Burgers, and Bush Bashing." Nice alliteration, no? Have I told you all that I'm a marketing whiz?) The Harvard guys ought to try my model and just make their affair a potluck or something.

I do wonder about one thing, though:

This is a users conference. Technology is important, but at this conference the people who make the products are here to listen, to learn how people use the software, and to learn how we can improve it.

What software? You mean like Blogger and Movable Type? Jeez, you type some words in a box, press the "Save" button, and your words show up on the web. What's to talk about?

Kevin Drum 5:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PRECEDENT?....I'm confused. The California Supreme Court has tossed out Gray Davis' pathetic attempts to prevent the recall from going forward, but in the LA Times today Richard Hasen suggests that Davis might yet prevail in federal court because California still uses punchcard voting machines in some precincts but not in others:

During the 2000 election controversy, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Bush vs. Gore that it is a violation of the equal-protection law to value one person's vote over that of another. After that case, voting rights organizations challenged punch-card voting in four states, including California.

California settled its suit and agreed to phase out punch-card voting by March 2004. Illinois did not settle, and a federal district judge held that the use of punch-card voting indeed constitutes an equal-protection violation under Bush vs. Gore.

Now it's true that Bush v. Gore was partly decided on equal protection grounds, but even the Supreme Court itself realized how risible those grounds really were. So risible that they specifically excluded the possibility of using their decision as a precedent in other election cases:

Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.

So while it's possible that a federal judge could rule that the selective use of punchcard ballots violates equal protection, they couldn't base that decision on Bush v. Gore, could they?

But even more to the point, where's the Volokh Conspiracy in all this? Shouldn't they be analyzing the law for the rest of us?

Kevin Drum 4:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ARNIE....Why do British newspapers keep referring to Arnold Schwarzenegger as "Arnie"? The only Arnie I know is Arnold Palmer, and I've never heard Schwarzenegger called that.

Is this really his nickname in Europe? Or have I just never heard this before?

Kevin Drum 3:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....On the left, Inkblot is playing with the camera. He probably thinks his reflection in the lens is some kind of genetically altered mouse. Jasmine, on the right, merely gazes at the camera imperiously.

BONUS MAMMALS: Tomorrowlands.org brings us his pick for winner of the California recall. And if you're tired of cats a concept that's beyond my feeble comprehension, I'm afraid Europundit is trying to use up his bandwidth with pictures of his sister's rabbits.

Kevin Drum 12:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRAQ AND AL-QAEDA....Sometimes it's hard to know what to say. Is Al Gore really getting smacked around because he said that "false impressions" had gotten into the public mind before the war, among them the idea that Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda? Is Fred Barnes really claiming that Bush never said any such thing?

Apparently so. This is just pathetic.

Jesse has more.

Kevin Drum 10:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 7, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SHORTER REPUBLICAN ADVICE....There's been a real outpouring of Republican advice to Democrats lately. I don't doubt that it's all heartfelt, of course, and I do like to keep up with this kind of stuff, but it's been hard. There's just so much of it.

But there's good news: it turns out that after you've read the first few they all start sounding suspiciously uncannily similar. So for all you Democrats who don't have the time to wade through them all, here is Shorter Republican Advice:

  • Republican interest groups are good, but Democratic interest groups aren't. You need to abandon all the groups who actually provide time and money to your campaigns or else nobody will ever take you seriously.

  • You are all much too angry these days and will end up like Darth Vader if you don't control your hatred. You know what happened to Darth Vader, don't you? You will earn much more respect if you adopt a moderate tone that doesn't run the risk of driving your base into a dangerous frenzy of activity.

  • George Bush is a very popular man, and attacking a popular man only makes you look bad. You should therefore refrain from any personal attacks especially those surprisingly effective attacks on his casual relationship with the truth that might succeed in making him less popular.

  • Polling data is deeply misleading. The fact is, Americans do not like Democratic positions on healthcare, civil rights, gun control, abortion, education, or the economy. The wise Democrat will see through the illusion and adopt Republican viewpoints on all these matters.

  • You should stop questioning the war. Loyal oppositions don't question war, and Americans don't like disloyalty.

Thanks, guys!

Kevin Drum 10:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

$75 MILLION TO DEFEAT BUSH....A couple of months ago George Soros decided to end his philanthropical mission to Russia, where he has spent $1 billion over the past 15 years:

I feel now the battle for an open society has got to be fought in the United States because the United States is inarguably the dominant power in the world. It sets the tone, it calls the tune for the way the rest of the world is going.

Today he put his money where his mouth is:

Labor, environmental and women's organizations, with strong backing from international financier George Soros, have joined forces behind a new political group that plans to spend an unprecedented $75 million to mobilize voters to defeat President Bush in 2004.

Welcome home, George.

Kevin Drum 9:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A FESTERING SORE....Those of you who aren't from California may be wondering why Cruz Bustamante decided to break Democratic solidarity and enter the recall race. By way of explanation, here's a blast from the past that explains the close and friendly relationship between Bustamante and Gray Davis:

....there is no love lost between the lieutenant governor and governor.

After their public falling-out in 1999 over Davis' decision to mediate parts of Proposition 187 left unresolved, Bustamante called the ballot measure to deny illegal immigrants services "morally indefensible."

In a move Davis' staff claimed was unrelated, the governor's office repossessed parking passes assigned to the lieutenant governor's staff.

Here in California, you do not take away a man's parking pass. You'd think a native like Davis would understand that.

Kevin Drum 9:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JUDGING JOHN....Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein is not very happy with John Ashcroft:

I guess this will ruin my chances of a federal judgeship (hah hah) but the Ashcroft Justice Department is turning into a disaster. Let's see: little respect for state sovereignty (medical marijuana, same sex marriage, etc.), attempts to deny American citizens charged with terrorism-related offenses and arrested on U.S. soil access to federal courts, use and abuse of antiterrorism statutes for unrelated law enforcement purposes, and, as Instapundit reports, a nascent crackdown on that ever-present threat to American society, the pornography industry, in the middle of what is supposed to be a war on terrorism. Geez. At least judicial nominations seem reasonably sound, though I can't say I've followed them closely.

One question: with a record like that, what makes him think that Ashcroft's judicial nominations are likely to be sound?

Kevin Drum 9:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AN ODD PROCUREMENT....This story is just plain strange:

In Iraq, a nation awash with hundreds of thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, the U.S.-led occupation authority is planning to buy and import 34,000 more of the ubiquitous weapons to equip a new Iraqi army.

....Yet U.S. forces who seized control of Iraq in April have discovered vast stockpiles of new, never-fired AK-47s, which U.S. military officials have said were being deliberately warehoused for a future Iraqi army.

At one compound of eight concrete warehouses that a company of the 10th Engineer Battalion found in central Baghdad in mid-April, Los Angeles Times reporters watched soldiers form a human chain to fill a truck bed with AK-47s so new the soldiers' hands turned orange from the packing grease.

....The following day, U.S. Marines who were securing the city of Tikrit north of Baghdad announced that they had found 100,000 AK-47s there, 80,000 of them in a hospital. And in the months that have followed, there have been almost daily reports of U.S. military units seizing quantities of AK-47s both large and small, new and used.

....The civil authority official, however, asserted that the makes, models and manufacturers of the new weapons seized had "slight differences" depending on the nation where they were made, and that the goal of the agency's AK-47 purchase was to standardize the arms.

So instead of modern American-made rifles, we're buying AK-47s, a weapon made exclusively in former Soviet Bloc countries. In addition, the Joint Task Force was unaware of the choice, and we're doing it despite the fact that Iraq is practically overflowing with brand new AK-47s.

Very peculiar, no?

Kevin Drum 9:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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VOTING FOR GOVERNOR....Yes, I know, as a good Democrat I should vote against the recall. And maybe I will. Instead, I have a deal for all the (serious) candidates:

If any of you actually has the guts to propose a serious and mathematically plausible plan that balances the California budget, I will vote to recall Davis and then vote for you.

"Serious," by the way, excludes the following:

  • Anything that lowers our credit rating to the point where even Michael Milkin would be embarrassed to buy California state bonds.

  • Raising the cigarette tax to $100 a pack.

  • Eliminating all K-3 schooling.

  • Pretending that there is $38 billion worth of "waste" that can be magically hacked away.

  • Anything that involves children donating the quarters they get from the tooth fairy.

There you have it. Propose a solution, and you get both my vote and the valuable endorsement of the Calpundit blog.

On the off chance that more than one candidate does this, I will be forced to go through the dreary process of examining their plans and deciding which one I like better. However, I doubt very much that it will come down to that.

UPDATE: Michael Hiltzik's recall column in the LA Times today is pretty entertaining. Favorite line:

To believe that it would mean a significant improvement in state governance to replace Gray Davis with Bill Simon is like thinking that if Moe can't handle a job, the answer is to bring in Larry or Curly.

The column is a little hard to read since the Times website has inexplicably removed all the paragraph breaks, but it's worth plowing through anyway.

UPDATE 2: Arnold says he's going to present a detailed plan for dealing with "these kinds of problems" real soon. Hopefully it will be a detailed plan for dealing with our actual problem, not merely our "kind" of problem. In any case, I shall be waiting with bated breath.

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ELECTABILITY....Matt Yglesias is pondering who to vote for:

George Will seems to think that Howard Dean is electable after all. So does this mean that Dean really isn't electable and Will is trying to sucker Democrats into nominating him?....Questions, questions. It reinforces my view that trying to pick a nominee based on electability is a bad idea.

I have just the opposite take on this. Detailed policy proposals from candidates are close to useless, I think. After all, circumstances change, brilliant policies get turned to mush as they pass through Congress, and let's be honest here plenty of policy proposals from candidates are just sops to interest groups. It's hard to tell which ones are really priorities and which ones are just being served up pro forma.

As long as a candidate has policy preferences that are in the right general area and in my case Kerry, Edwards, and Dean all do then electability is key. And that's not just because I want a candidate who can win (although I do), it's also because "electability" is largely synonymous with trustworthiness and good judgment. As long as a candidate's heart is roughly in the right place, what I really want is someone who I trust to do the right thing when the unexpected happens, someone who demonstrates good judgment when the pressure is on, and someone with the political skills to push his agenda through Congress. That in turn means a person that the electorate trusts. Someone who is electable.

However, even though he himself is skeptical of considering electability as a way of choosing a candidate, I think Matt inadvertantly provides some quite helpful advice to the rest of us about the whole issue: don't trust Republicans to tell you which Democrats are electable and which ones aren't. You should pay attention to the impressions of genuine centrists and moderates whose votes are crucial, but George Will and his friends are far too ideologically blinkered to understand what makes a Democrat appealing and what doesn't, and they probably wouldn't tell you even if they did. After all, how many of them thought that Bill Clinton was electable back in 1991?

UPDATE: I do think personal impressions make a big difference in presidential elections, and regarding Dean specifically I think the big issue is how he comes across to people who don't love his message already. If he comes across as passionate, he'll do fine, but if he comes across as bitter and angry, he won't. I've never personally heard him speak, so I don't have much of an opinion on this.

UPDATE 2: I guess I should have added "and vice versa" to my last paragraph. Liberals have an equally hard time understanding what makes a candidate appealing to conservatives, so their advice on the electability of Republicans is probably equally suspect.

Kevin Drum 10:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ARAB DEMOCRACY....AtlanticBlog joins Tom Friedman and a host of others who find the Arab League's attitude toward the new Iraqi Council a mite disingenuous:

They appear to be shocked, utterly shocked, that the council is not elected, and they are upset because they think it is a puppet government. So let's do a quick review of the Arab League.

And he does, concluding rather generously, I think that four of the 21 members actually have some microscopic sprouts of democracy, while the other 17 don't even bother pretending. You can read his whole list and decide for yourself, but the bottom line is that a concern for democracy doesn't wear well on this group.

What's odd about the whole thing is that while the Arab League richly deserves derision for refusing to recognize the council because it's not elected, they actually have a perfectly good reason for their action: the council isn't really in charge. De facto control of a country is a commonly accepted prerequisite for recognizing a government, and there's no question that it's the United States that's in charge of Iraq right now. So one wonders: they could have simply said they were going to wait until they felt the council truly controlled the country, but instead they made themselves a laughingstock by complaining about the lack of elections. Why?

Kevin Drum 9:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GRAY DAVIS IS TOAST....Yeah, Arnold is running, but you have to read several paragraphs into the LA Times' account of yesterday's festivities to see that there was some other big news and not the news that Dianne Feinstein won't be running:

Her departure from the race, while denying it the state's most popular and prominent politician, unraveled the tenuous unity that Davis had sought to enforce among Democrats.

By late Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who had insisted for weeks that he would not be on the Oct. 7 ballot, announced he was entering the race.

"It's definite," said Richie Ross, Bustamante's political consultant. Bustamante has scheduled a news conference for this morning.

Bustamente might be joined by Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi too, and apparently some Democrats are also trying to persuade Barbara Boxer to run. In other words, it's a free-for-all on the Democratic side.

This is a toxic combination for Gray Davis. You can never underestimate the guy, but I think the smart money now says he's toast. His court challenges are unlikely to go anywhere, and with credible Democrats in the race it's going to be hard to keep Dems solidly in line to vote against the recall. He better start thinking about his post-Sacramento career.

UPDATE: South Knox Bubba has the latest entrant in the race.

Kevin Drum 8:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 6, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ARNOLD IS RUNNING....This is ridiculous. Arnold announces he's going to run for governor. It's front page news on the LA Times. No problem.

But it's also front page news on CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today.

It's also the lead story on the BBC. The BB-friggin-C.

Come on, folks. This is a guy running for governor of California, not a candidate for pope. Is August really such a slow news month that out of all the things happening in the world the BBC has nothing better to lead with than this?

Kevin Drum 10:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLIMATE CHANGE....I just watched an ABC News segment about the current heat wave in Europe: train tracks are buckling, the London Underground is unbearable, there are forest fires in Portugal, etc. The report ended with the following:

The question is, will this become the norm?

You know, I'm a considerable critic of conservatives who seem to think that if they just ignore the evidence regarding global warming that it will somehow magically go away, but stuff like this is an equally dumb counterpoint. It's too bad that serious policy issues have to be reduced to idiotic soundbites like this.

POSTSCRIPT: What is it about European heat waves, anyway? I've suffered through California summers all my life (usually two or three 100-degree spells per year), not to mention summers in Chicago, Arizona, New York, etc. But the most miserable times I've ever had have been heat waves in France and Germany. I suppose it must be the general lack of air conditioning, which means you never escape from it, but it sure feels like it's something more than that.

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By: Kevin Drum

FIAT CURRENCY....I was killing time this afternoon and surfed over to the Volokh Conspiracy, where I found that Eugene, who apparently also has time on his hands, has answered a question from someone who wants to know if it's legal for a business to refuse to accept bills larger than $20. After all, his questioner says:

"....legally, Starbucks has to accept a $50 for "all debts public and private". There is also the issue of keeping confidence in a fiat currency, which is in the best interest of the U.S. government.

Personally, I would refuse to be baited by the kind of person who refers to paper notes as "fiat currency," but hey it's Eugene's blog and he can do what he likes.

In any case, Eugene's answer is that if you buy something first and then pay for it (as in a "pump then pay" gas station) they have to accept your $50 bill. However, if you have to pay up front, they can simply refuse to do business with you.

That's clever, but I'd like to suggest two other answers that are completely unrelated to any knowledge of the law:

  • Stores have been doing this for a long time, and it's a dead certainty that some loon somewhere has litigated this. So, since many stores continue to have this policy, apparently that person lost.

  • Perhaps the gas station has to accept your $50 bill, but they don't have to give you change. It's up to you if you want to do business with a merchant who has this policy.

Any other ideas?

UPDATE: In comments, Anuraq provides a link to the definitive answer to this question direct from the U.S. Treasury:

The pertinent portion of law that applies to your question is the Coinage Act of 1965, specifically Section 102. This is now found in section 392 of Title 31 of the United States Code.

....This statute means that all United States money as identified above are a valid and legal offer of payment for debts when tendered to a creditor. There is, however, no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as for payment for goods and/or services. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise. For example, a bus line may prohibit payment of fares in pennies or dollar bills. In addition, movie theaters, convenience stores and gas stations may refuse to accept large denomination currency (usually notes above $20) as a matter of policy.


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WMD? WHAT WMD?....Josh Marshall reports that the administration has a problem on its hands. Short version: Iraqi scientist Mahdi Obeidi is the guy who turned over to us the centrifuge parts that he had hidden under a rosebush in his backyard. He did this after making a deal that gave him asylum in the U.S. in return for cooperating with us, but two months later he's still being held in Kuwait.

Why? It turns out that among other things Obeidi has also told his handlers that Saddam had no chemical weapons, no biological weapons, and no nuclear program either. The CIA claims they're holding him because they don't think he's telling the whole truth, but Josh spoke to a former weapons inspector who has talked to Obeidi and suggests that the real reason is that nobody is especially interested in having him go on Larry King to tell his story, so they're holding him in Kuwait instead of giving him the asylum he thought he had bargained for.

Josh has the whole story here and, in typical Josh fashion, promises more later.

Kevin Drum 2:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGING CODE OF ETHICS....Justene Adamec, a fellow inmate in the Golden State nuthouse, thinks the blogosphere needs a code of ethics. Like, for example, you shouldn't change a post without noting it as an update.

Personally, I'm against this idea since it summons forth a grim vision of some blog equivalent of the ICC hauling me up on charges of correcting my grammar without a license and taking away my blogging privileges for a week. Or something. Anyway, it sounds like the kind of regulation that liberals are always being accused of, and Justene is supposed to be a conservative.

Still, despite myself, it sounds kind of interesting. You can leave comments on the topic here of course, but if you have real suggestions you should click over to CalBlog and leave them in Justene's comments.

UPDATE: Justene has sent me an email clarifying that what she's really after is a set of guidelines, or rules of thumb, not a code of ethics. So consider her idea in that spirit, rather than as some kind of formal document.

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By: Kevin Drum

GAY BASHING....John Derbyshire at 11:20 am:

I have always thought that the criminalization of homosexual acts was both foolish, and inhumane, and un-Christian. I am no longer so sure.

John Derbyshire at 1:59 pm, responding to a reader asking if this is an incitement to violence:

Only if you are the kind of hysterical moron who believes that the failure of a person whole-heartedly to "celebrate" your lifestyle can fairly be described using the verb "to bash."

Note to Derb: proposing that maybe gays should be tossed in jail after all is a little more than just a lack of wholehearted celebration of their lifestyle.

Besides, I'm curious: if the Episcopalians already have gay priests, is having a gay bishop really that big a deal? I mean, it's either enough of a sin to keep you from being ordained or it's not, right?

Kevin Drum 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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URL UPDATE....Everybody's moving! It must be summer or something. Dan Drezner, one of my favorite conservative-leaning bloggers, has moved to a new address:


Update your bookmarks.

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RECALL WATCH....According to the LA Times (not online), there are 15 candidates for governor so far. The homophone crowd includes so far John Beard (same name as a local TV anchor), S. Issa (same name as dirtbag recall financier Darrell Issa), and Michael Jackson (a twofer, since MJ is both a creepy pop star and a local radio personality).

There's also a Leonard Padilla running, who might be counting on a name resemblance to the shoe bomber currently being held incommunicado by John Ashcroft. That sounds like a risky strategy, but perhaps Leonard is counting on the public vaguely realizing that they've heard Padilla's name over and over but don't quite know why. It could work!

(UPDATE: Padilla is the alleged dirty bomber, not the shoe bomber. Sorry about that. I guess "vague" really is the appropriate state of knowledge here.)

So far, there are eight Republicans running, four Democrats, one Independant, one Libertarian, and one decline to state (the shoe bomber wannabe). As near as I can tell, Tom McClintock is the only serious candidate who's filed so far.

Anyway, it looks like my guess of 300 candidates was probably way too high I got suckered by Matt Drudge, who breathlessly linked to a story saying that 123 people had "taken out papers" so I have no chance of winning the pool. Of course, I don't really need a prominent mention on Calpundit, do I?

POSTSCRIPT: The filing deadline is 5 pm on Saturday.

UPDATE: According to the California Secretary of State, 389 people have taken out candidacy papers. Of them 25 appear to have paid the $3,500 fee, although all are still listed as "pending," whatever that means. In addition to the homophonic candidates above, I note that others taking out papers include Dan Feinstein, Bill Murray, Bill Bradley, and Edward Kennedy.

FUN FACT: In lieu of paying $3,500 (which, by the way, is 2% of the governor's annual salary) you can submit signatures instead. Democrats and Republicans have to submit 10,000 signatures, but minor party candidates only need 150. Of course, the signers have to be members of your own party, so that may not be quite the boon it appears to be.

Kevin Drum 9:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EPISCOPALIAN CIVIL WAR?....Is the apointment of a gay bishop going to cause civil war in the Episcopalian church? Everybody seems to have an opinion, but Amy Sullivan, who actually is an Episcopalian, says no:

C'mon, we're Protestants. This is what we do. We fracture over issues big and small slavery, female ordination, Biblical interpretation, the use of mini communion cups vs. one shared chalice and divide into new denominations until eventually there are 594 separate denominations each representing about four members. There was a big hoo-ha when Episcopalians voted to begin ordaining women in 1976, a bunch of bishops screamed and yelled, but pretty much everyone accepted the new state of order.

Am I being too flippant about an important issue? I don't think so. My sense is that people have already either accepted gay ordination my church is currently run by a gay priest and no one really cares or they haven't and call this a "pastoral emergency." I think it's a bluff.

Works for me.

Kevin Drum 9:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 5, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

URL UPDATE....Another TypePad convert! Beautiful Horizons has moved to a new address:


Update your bookmarks.

Kevin Drum 9:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GERMAN WIENERS....Pedantry truly bringing fresh new meaning to the word "pedantry" reports that German men have smaller penises than other Europeans. Although they deny it, of course.

But then, they would, wouldn't they? I think George Bush knew it all along.

POSTSCRIPT: I can't believe that the warhawk side of the blogosphere hasn't picked up on this yet. Even I can see that this is simply too good for a Europhobe to pass up, so I absolve all warbloggers in advance for any and all levels of vulgarity and childishness that they bring to the task of reporting this story. Go to it, boys and girls.

Kevin Drum 6:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MARVEL OF THE INTERNET....The internet is truly a marvelous thing. (Yes, I know you knew that.) Consider:

  • Via Jim Miller, I learn of a Guardian report that trust in the BBC has plummeted from 92% to 59% thanks to the current row over the "sexed up" dossier. I would never have learned this if not for Jim's blog, and I also wouldn't have been able to read the story in the Guardian if not for the internet.

  • But the internet also allows me to quickly find the original sources for the Guardian's claim.

  • The first quoted survey, from October 2002, is part of a lengthy media study by a professor at Cardiff University that asks, in general, "Whom do you trust to tell the truth?" BBC1 television garners a 92% score while BBC Radio 1 garners a 38% score.

  • The second quoted survey, a recent MORI poll, asks, "In general would you describe each of the following as trustworthy or not?" It is specifically addressed toward the "sexed up" controversy and "The BBC" scores 59%.

  • But is that BBC television or BBC radio? That's pretty important since (a) the October survey shows that they receive rather dramatically different ratings and (b) the BBC reporter at the center of the controversy is a radio reporter.

So: two completely different surveys, asking quite different questions, with the second one not specifying who the respondents consider trustworthy: BBC television, BBC radio, BBC management, or the general institution of the BBC itself. In other words, the surveys are not at all comparable. While it's possible that trust in the BBC has indeed fallen recently, you certainly can't tell one way or the other from the surveys the Guardian is comparing.

Final lesson: I wouldn't have known this without the internet. But I also wouldn't have known it was untrue without the internet. In the end, half an hour of time on the internet has advanced my knowledge of the world by precisely zero.

Raise your hand if this surprises you.

Kevin Drum 6:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LIBERAL MEDIA?....Is the press biased? That's a blogosphere favorite, so this study by Michael Tomasky ought to get a lot of attention (Howard Kurtz has a summary here). Tomasky studied the editorial pages of two liberal papers (the New York Times and Washington Post) and two conservative papers (the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times) and compared the way they treated ten "roughly comparable" events in the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Tomasky's basic conclusion is that the conservative editorial pages were far more partisan than the liberal ones:

  • At the liberal papers, 36% of editorials were favorable toward Clinton while the conservative papers were favorable toward Bush 77% of the time.

  • Conversely, the liberal papers were negative toward Bush only 67% of the time, while the conservative papers were negative toward Clinton 89% of the time.

This result really doesn't surprise me, especially in the case of the Wall Street Journal, which has an attack mentality that's simply unmatched among major American newspapers. Their schooyard tone and appalling level of intellectual dishonesty is unique and, unfortunately, probably quite influential. A lot of businessmen don't read any opinion pages except the WSJ's, and I've long suspected that the Journal is responsible for a considerable part of the general hardening and sense of entitlement that corporate executives demonstrate these days.

In another sense, however, I have a hard time taking Tomasky's study seriously. It's not that there's any problem with his methodology, it's just that I don't think it addresses the real issue that conservatives claim to have with the media: not political bias, and not editorial page bias, but the default assumption of socially liberal values in the news columns. Eric Alterman was honest enough to address that issue in What Liberal Media?, and his conclusion was, basically, that conservatives probably had a point. Not as big a point as they complain about, but a point nonetheless.

Now, needless to say, social bias in news stories is so subtle that it's probably impossible for any study to ever draw any firm conclusions about it. But even so, I think that's the primary point of contention, so while Tomasky's study is interesting it doesn't really address the core issue of media bias. That, I think, will probably continue to remain happily in the realm of fact-free ranting.

Kevin Drum 4:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GDP GROWTH AND THE WAR....A few days ago I wrote a post suggesting that if you removed the $40 billion cost of the Iraq war from the second quarter GDP numbers, GDP growth would have been only $16 billion, an annual rate of .67%. Bill Sjostrom took me to task for treating the problem too simplistically, and I've been meaning to post a correction ever since.

It took me this long because I was hoping to find a reasonable estimate somewhere of just how big an effect the war really did have on GDP, but I couldn't find one. The best I can do, then, is to say that while the additional spending on the war almost certainly had a noticable impact on GDP, the entire $40 billion didn't go straight to the bottom line (so to speak).

I think this is still a point worth making, because the war spending was a one-off expenditure and without it the GDP numbers would not have looked as good as they did. However, the effect was certainly not as spectacular as I suggested.

UPDATE: Jeez, I really should have clicked on the links in Bill's post, specifically this Business Week column by Robert Barro from 2001. Barro estimates that war spending has historically increased GDP at about a 60-70% rate (i.e., $1 of war spending increases GDP by 60 to 70 cents), and if that estimate holds this time then it means the war increased second quarter GDP by about $24 billion. Without the war, therefore, GDP growth would have been about 1.4%. That's better than .67%, but it's still mighty anemic.

This is still just a quick back of the envelope calculation, of course, but even so it's reason enough not to get too excited by that 2.4% growth number. There will probably be some followon spending in the third quarter as we restock armories, but it's still basically a one-off. After all, we can't have a new war every quarter, can we?

Kevin Drum 3:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SERVICE SECTOR SHOWS STRONG GROWTH....Some good economic news today. Overall I'm still a bit skeptical about the strength of the recovery, since I think there are some real weak spots (mediocre GDP growth, consumer spending worries, the housing bubble, a stock market that's still overpriced, and weak employment numbers), but a growing service sector seems like genuinely hopeful news. Let's hope it keeps up.

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LET'S ONLY ENFORCE SOME OF THE LAWS, OK?....Atrios draws our attention to an editorial in the Washington Post today:

Buried deep in the appropriations legislation the House passed for the departments of Commerce, Justice and State is a little-noticed pair of amendments that attack the independence of federal judges. The amendments, offered on the House floor by Rep. John N. Hostettler (R-Ind.), are designed, as Mr. Hostettler put it, to "block federal funds from being used to enforce court decisions that found the use of 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional and ordered the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court to remove the Ten Commandments from the courthouse."

Let's see now, what was it that Andrew Jackson said when the Supreme Court ruled against the forcible removal of the Cherokee from land where gold had been discovered? Ah, yes: "John Marshall has made his decision; let him enforce it now if he can."

It's the same spirit, but at least you have to give Old Hickory credit for laying his bigoted opinions right out in the open instead of trying to hide them in the bowels of some obscure legislation. Why, you'd almost think Rep. Hostettler was ashamed or something.

Kevin Drum 10:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAY ADOPTIONS IN CALIFORNIA....California has allowed gay couples to adopt children for quite a while, and today the LA Times reports that the California Supreme Court has ruled that gay adoptions are in fact legal. The ruling itself concerns a fairly arcane dispute between a gay couple who separated, but the result is a clear victory for gay adoption:

"Unmarried couples who have brought a child into the world with the expectation that they will raise it together, and who have jointly petitioned for adoption, should be on notice that if they separate, the same rules concerning custody and visitation as apply to all other parents will apply to them," according to the majority ruling written by Associate Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar.

California is a pretty gay friendly state, so this ruling isn't too surprising. But even so, good for us.

Kevin Drum 10:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAR CRIME?....Mark Kleiman says that Glenn Reynolds was wrong to conclude that U.S. hostage taking in Iraq ("If you want your family released, turn yourself in") wasn't a war crime.

Glenn graciously agrees that Mark is right.

So we're all agreed then? Seizing women and children in order to extract information from suspects is unworthy of a civilized country, right?

Kevin Drum 9:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND THE SAUDIS....Why is it that George Bush doesn't want to release those censored 28 pages about the Saudis from the congressional 9/11 report? Via David Perlman, here is Greg Palast's theory:

For the answer, let me take you back to Midland, Texas, 1986. A young old man, George W. Bush, seems to have trouble finding oil. But he strikes it rich when his flailing drilling partnership is bought out by Harken Oil. Despite the addition of the business acumen of Bush Jr., Harken faces collapse; but is pulled from the brink by a cash infusion from a Saudi, Sheik Bakhsh. The money from Arabia has nothing to do, we must assume, with Dubya's daddy at the time holding the post of Vice-President of the Free World.

The Bakhsh booty continued a pattern of the young Bush being saved from his dire business decisions by a line of Sheik angels. His first oil company, Arbusto, going bust-o, was aided by the American financial representative of the bin Ladin family.

And on BBC TV last month, I reported this: following the bombing of our embassies, the Clinton Administration sent two delegations to Saudi Arabia to tell their royal highnesses to stop giving money to the guys who are killing us. But Mr. Bush, once in office, put the kibosh on unfriendly words to the Saudis.

Furthermore, in the summer of 2001, Mr. Bush disbanded the US intelligence unit tracking funding of Al Qaeda. What is it our G-men were uncovering? According to two separate sources speaking to BBC, the funders of Al Qaeda fronts include those who have previously funded Bush family business and political ventures.

Now that's a wee bit embarrassing. Something you wouldn't want in a congressional report.

Palast, of course, is a liberal who has written for the America-hating BBC and the Bush-hating Guardian, and is therefore not to be trusted. However, even the conservative blogosphere wonders why Bush keeps playing footsie with the Saudis, and they seem willing to entertain pretty much any theory except the possibility that Bush himself isn't quite the toughminded, straight talking guy they think he is.

Maybe they ought to start entertaining it.

Kevin Drum 9:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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August 4, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

A LIBERTARIAN GOVERNOR?....Baseball Crank says the libertarian hour has finally come. Libertarians aren't generally popular enough to win an election that requires a majority vote, but in the California recall election this October it will probably be possible to win the governorship with as little as 20% of the vote. A libertarian could do it!

There'd be...problems, of course: You'd need to pick just one candidate; you'd need someone who's got some name recognition from business, show biz or some other field; you'd probably need a candidate who could fund much of his or her candidacy, in the absence of an established libertarian fundraising network.

And you'd have to be practical. Instead of calling for repeal of the drug laws, focus more narrowly on fighting the Justice Department's position on medical marijuana and advocate more limited reductions in some drug laws and penalties. Offer other ways to cut back government that go deeper than GOP remedies without getting locked into debates about privatizing the fire department.

Hmmm, so all we need is a rich, famous, libertarian movie star. That might be tough to find.

It's certainly true that this election provides a better chance for a small party candidate than a normal election, but I have a feeling that 20% is still about 5x more than any libertarian candidate could get, especially since there are already three conservative Republicans running who are going to get the small government vote. And promising even deeper cuts is probably not a winner here in California.

But hey, Matt Welch is a libertarian, isn't he? He's not rich, or well known, or in show business, but other than that he's perfect. Sign him up!

Kevin Drum 9:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE POWELL DOCTRINE....Jeez, when it comes to conspiracy theorizing, we bloggers are lightweights. Last night I commented on the Washington Post's report that Colin Powell would be resigning after the election, suggesting it was a victory for the neocons. That seemed like a fairly pedestrian suggestion to me, but my conservative commenters took it pretty hard.

Well, guys, direct your fire elsewhere. I caught a few minutes of Hardball tonight, and Chris Matthews had a far more sinister theory: the story was a deliberate lie floated by some hawkish member of the administration i.e., Cheney or Rumsfeld for the sole purpose of making Powell look like a lame duck for the next year.

Now that's rough.

Kevin Drum 9:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THOSE BUSH HATING DEMOCRATS....Since everyone else has been chatting about this, I feel sort of compelled to weigh in on the topic of the day: are today's Bush-hating Democrats the equivalent of the Clinton-hating Republicans of the 90s? And is their overall effect positive or negative?

Let's take a look at Clinton first. For all the trees that have been felled examining the phenomenon of Clinton-hatred, the underlying cause seems pretty simple: Bill Clinton was a philandering, pot smoking, draft-dodging, slick talking, crypto-socialist child of the sexual revolution who was married to a ball-busting, man-hating feminist. If this is how you viewed him and a lot of people did what's not to hate?

The depth of the Clinton hatred is best captured, I think, in two metrics: the weirdness of the conspiracy theories that swirled around him and the prevalence with which they were accepted:

  • Weirdness: what can you say about this? Hillary Clinton ordered a mob hit on Vince Foster. Bill Clinton was a big time coke dealer in Arkansas. People near the Clintons had a tendency to die mysteriously. On a scale of 1 to 10, these things rank a solid 10.

  • Prevalence: This is harder to gauge, but I'd guess that a solid 15-20% of the country believed this stuff. These are the people who hated Clinton so virulently that they truly believed he had one of his own aides rubbed out.

Compared to that, Bush hatred seems rather tepid, doesn't it? Of course there are lots of Democrats who can't stand the guy, but saying that Bush lied about WMD or that he invaded Iraq to get his hands on their oil may be extreme, but it's not pathological. The most tin-foil-hattish conspiracy about Bush that I can come up with is from the folks who say that he's going to cancel the 2004 elections and declare martial law. That's wingnut territory, but it probably seems plausible to little more than 1% of the country.

Basically, then, I think the Clinton haters vs. Bush haters comparison breaks down because the idea that Democrats are being swept up in a tide of 1990s-style psychosis is overblown. But if that's so, why is the idea getting so much attention?

Surprise! I think this is something that finally the blogosphere can legitimately take a lot of credit (or perhaps blame) for. The blogosphere tends to attract people with strong opinions, people at the extreme ends of the ideological spectrum, and as the internet has long done people who enjoy flame wars. So the blogosphere is full of trash talking about Bush and comment threads can degenerate faster than a barroom brawl. If you spend much time on the net and it's the fad of the moment for journalists you could easily be convinced that Democrats are about to leap off a cliff.

Well, maybe they are. But before you become too convinced of this, you might want to clear your head and swear off blogs for a week or two. Total political blog readership in America is probably on the order of a quarter million people at most. Trying to divine a social trend based on a loud, extreme, self-selected group that accounts for less than a tenth of a percent of the population is pretty dangerous.

Bottom line: there's a kernel of truth to the Bush hatred meme, but only a kernel. Democrats, while they should be careful not to get carried away into thinking that the country is hankering for the second coming of FDR, need to harness the anger of their base, not repress it. If it's channeled properly, raw emotion can be a powerful political weapon.

POSTSCRIPT: Is raw emotion a powerful political weapon? Dan Drezner doesn't buy it:

Clinton-hating did not serve the Republicans well. Yes, the GOP took both houses of Congress in 1994, but that had more to do with the combination of low voter turnout, the Contract with America, and the Clinton administration's early missteps than efforts to make Clinton look illegitimate. In 1996 and 1998, the Republican encouragement of the anti-Clinton hysteria achieved less than zero in terms of electoral results.

I'm sorry, but I have to laugh at this. Clinton paranoia started well before 1994, and Newt Gingrich's angry message was precisely what caused the Republican landslide that year. And while 1996 and 1998 were pretty flat, Republicans today control the presidency, the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the majority of the states, and the federal judiciary. Sure it's by slim margins, but does a Republican have to be elected pope before we can say that their anger has indeed delivered them pretty good electoral results?

Kevin Drum 5:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

VACATION BLUES....Dwight Meredith is back:

My family and I have returned from our beach vacation. Despite suffering from sunburn, jellyfish stings and lack of sleep, we all survived and are no worse for wear. Regular postings will begin again shortly.

"No worse for wear"? Somehow this doesn't sound like it's going to make Dwight's all-time top ten list of vacations.

Next time, come to California. We have nice beaches.

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WHAT DO SOLDIERS WANT?....Marian's company is part of the "Support-A-Soldier" program and we've signed up to be part of it. Our soldier, we're told, is Michael Singer, part of C Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry from Fort Drum. (That's pretty appropriate, isn't it?) Michael is currently serving in a "remote, dangerous part of Afghanistan."

So here's my question, mainly aimed at any of my readers who have actually served in the military. There's apparently no way to contact Michael Singer, so that means we have to guess at what kinds of things to send. The army has provided a lengthy list of suggestions, some of which seem a bit odd, but who knows? Not me, since I've never served and never been to Afghanistan.

So if you have any ideas about what kind of stuff soldiers really appreciate, leave a note in comments. Thanks!

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POSTWAR PLANNING....Karen Kwiatkowski, a recently retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, served in the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans for ten months. Shortly before her retirement she was finally allowed to transfer back to her original post:

The transfer was something I had sought, but my wish was granted only after I made a particular comment to my superior, in response to my reading of a February Secretary of State cable answering a long list of questions from a Middle Eastern country regarding U.S. planning for the aftermath in Iraq. The answers had been heavily crafted by the Pentagon, and to me, they were remarkably inadequate, given the late stage of the game. I suggested to my boss that if this was as good as it got, some folks on the Pentagon's E-ring may be sitting beside Saddam Hussein in the war crimes tribunals.

Well, yeah, I can see how a remark like that might finally succeed in getting you transferred. It sure as hell isn't going to get you promoted.

As it turns out, Kwiatkowski's article isn't nearly as interesting as you'd think for someone who served in the OSP and thinks it was badly run. (For the record, she says they suffered from isolation, cliquishness, and groupthink, which sound like three names for the same thing, to me.) However, she does raise what I've long thought was the most perplexing question about the whole war, maybe even more perplexing than the missing WMD: the lack of postwar planning.

It's become common knowledge since the end of the war that the Pentagon did virtually no planning for postwar Iraq, but I've never heard a reasonable sounding explanation for this. After all, the real purpose of the war, we're told, was to turn Iraq into a model for other Middle Eastern states to follow. I think this explanation is essentially correct, and what's more, I agree that it's the only real justification the war had.

But if that's what the White House and the Pentagon really believed, wouldn't postwar planning be the most important task they had? After all, the whole point would be to take out Saddam and then engage in a whirlwind of activity to demonstrate to the Iraqis (and the rest of the Arab world) that the United States had their best interests at heart and was truly a friend to democracy and tolerance.

And the faster the better, of course. After all, the longer it takes the more likely it is that the Iraqis would turn against the occupation.

So why the lack of planning, which so clearly works against America's best interests? Did they just screw up? Did they truly believe that we'd be universally greeted as liberators and the country would be up and running in no time? Did they somehow think the UN would jump in to help?

It just doesn't make sense. What were they really thinking?

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August 3, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

NUCLEAR IRAN?....The Los Angeles Times has a long investigative report today saying that "Iran appears to be in the late stages of developing the capacity to build a nuclear bomb":

No one is certain when Iran might produce its first atomic weapon. Some experts said two or three years; others believe the government has probably not given a final go-ahead. But it is clear that Iran is moving purposefully and rapidly toward acquiring the capability.

Among the findings:

  • A confidential report prepared by the French government in May concluded that Iran is surprisingly close to having enriched uranium or plutonium for a bomb. The French warned other governments to exercise "the most serious vigilance on their exports to Iran and Iranian front companies," according to a copy of the report provided by a foreign intelligence service.

  • ....North Korean military scientists recently were monitored entering Iranian nuclear facilities. They are assisting in the design of a nuclear warhead, according to people inside Iran and foreign intelligence officials. So many North Koreans are working on nuclear and missile projects in Iran that a resort on the Caspian coast is set aside for their exclusive use.

....A nuclear-armed Iran would present the United States with a difficult political and military equation. Iran would be the first avowed enemy of Israel to possess a nuclear bomb and the first nuclear-armed country labeled by the administration as a state sponsor of international terrorism.

I'm not really sure if there's anything new here, but the story brings together a lot of detail in one place. It's worth reading.

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TONY RAISES THE WHITE FLAG....You know, the British sure have a lot more fun with their scandals than we do. Last we heard, the British government was claiming that BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan had wildly exaggerated maybe even made up his interview with David Kelly, the one in which Kelly allegedly told him that the government's Iraq dossier had been "sexed up" at the last minute to make it sound better than it really was.

Today, the Independent says that Tony Blair & Co. are having second thoughts about this line of attack:

Downing Street will seek to defend itself over the death of David Kelly by portraying the scientist as a Walter Mitty character who exaggerated his role in the Government's intelligence case against Iraq.

....In what appears to be a change of tactics by the Government, a senior Whitehall source told The Independent that Dr Kelly had misled the Ministry of Defence and the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan [italics mine] over claims that a dossier used to justify war against Saddam Hussein had been "sexed up".

If this is true, it means that Gilligan and the BBC are almost entirely* in the clear. So why take this tack? I figure there are two possibilities:

  • It's actually true. (Yes, I know this is a possibility that normally gets discounted in cases like this, but you never know.)

  • Although it clears the BBC, it also means that Tony Blair is off the hook on the "sexing up" charges. After all, if Kelly was just a delusional nutcase there's really nothing to investigate. Time to move on.

I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between. I think Kelly really did say the things Gilligan quoted him saying, but regardless of that I suspect that Tony Blair has decided there's not much future in pushing this any further. With the Iraq dossier looking dodgier with every passing day that fails to turn up any WMD, a lengthy investigation that keeps this on the front page just can't be good for him. It's time to sue for peace.

*"Almost" entirely because there's still the problem that the BBC lied when they said their source was an intelligence official and was not an employee of the Ministry of Defense. However, I suspect that if everyone concludes that Gilligan told the truth about what Kelly said, the other stuff is small beer.

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VICTORY FOR THE NEOCONS?....It looks like Donald Rumsfeld is a winner:

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, have signaled to the White House that they intend to step down even if President Bush is reelected, setting the stage for a substantial reshaping of the administration's national security team that has remained unchanged through the September 2001 terrorist attacks, two wars and numerous other crises.

Armitage recently told national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that he and Powell will leave on Jan. 21, 2005, the day after the next presidential inauguration, sources familiar with the conversation said. Powell has indicated to associates that a commitment made to his wife, rather than any dismay at the administration's foreign policy, is a key factor in his desire to limit his tenure to one presidential term.

Everybody who believes this, please raise your hands.

(You know, we just recently heard that Arnold's decision about running for governor will be dictated largely by his wife. Now this. Either women have a lot more political power in America than raw numbers would suggest, or else they make awfully convenient excuses. You make the call.)

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URL UPDATE....Body and Soul has moved to a new address:


Update your bookmarks.

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GOVERNING VS. VENTING....The Economist this week trots out a by now familiar criticism of Democratic strategy:

The Democrats' attacks on Mr Bush seem misguided, both in principle and tactically. And it so happens that, if they gave the matter any thought, they would find they had much better grounds than these for criticising Mr Bush.

The Economist's Republican-friendly Lexington columnist, writing about Al From and the decline of the centrist DLC, puts it this way:

Many of Mr From's troops think that the next election is being lost. The conversation in the corridors was all about the continuing Howard Dean insurgencyand about the party's more general drift to the left. Many people speculated that the 2004 election could be a disaster comparable to 1988 or 1972. Given a choice between governing and venting, the Democrats are going to vent.

....The biggest reason for the party's leftward lurch, however, lies with the anti-Bush fury in the rank and file. The party faithful fume that their cowardly leaders in Washington, who supported the Iraq war, have provided an echo, not a choice. In Mr Dean they have finally found a man to express their fury.

I'll confess that I have a hard time knowing where to stand on all this. Democrats have tried mightily over the past year to convince the press and the public that Bush makes a habit of shading the truth and pursuing policies that aren't justified by the facts on the ground, but without much success. So now that they've finally found a subject where the charge resonates, they're supposed to stay quiet just because the war was popular with a large segment of the public? That's reason to be careful, of course, but surely the only way to defeat a popular president is to call both his policies and his judgment into question, even if those policies are popular. Maybe over time they will become somewhat less popular, no?

On the other hand, speaking more generally, Bill Clinton didn't win his elections by large margins, especially when you take Ross Perot's vote sucking into account, and 9/11 has clearly moved the country rightward since then. Common sense tells you that this means anyone more liberal than Clinton is vanishingly unlikely to beat Bush.

So: I think anger is fine right now, because it's aimed mostly at the Democratic base, the only segment of the population that's truly paying attention to the primary race at the moment. And chipping away at George Bush's undeserved reputation for saying what he means and meaning what he says is also fine, even if some of the criticism is trivial. Eventually perhaps the criticisms will build up and sink in.

But later on, when the rest of the country does start paying attention, our candidate is going to need to tone down the anger, which probably doesn't play well with a lot of the voters we need, and project a much more positive, centrist vision.

If Howard Dean can do that tap dance, maybe he can win. If he can't, then Kerry or Edwards are better picks. For now, I'm still waiting and seeing.

Kevin Drum 11:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RECOMMENDED READING....The LA Times has a fascinating feature story today by Barry Siegel about an Orthodox Jewish school in the Fairfax district named Shalhevet:

Shalhevet, which means a self-kindling flame, opened its high school 11 years ago and added a middle school in the fall of 2000; it now has a total enrollment of 370. Right from the start, the struggle to fuse a Kohlbergian ethos with Orthodox Judaism made for constant cacophony. The students and faculty challenged each other all the time, usually with gusto. Democracy, parking lot privileges, off-campus conduct, teachers' manners everything was ripe for debate.

Only when Israel came up did acrimony replace gusto....

The article traces the career of Xander Maksik, a drama teacher who ended up pushing the normal cacophony a bit too far when he insisted on teaching his seventh grade class Habibi, a novel that includes "rough behavior by Israeli soldiers, and the humiliation of Palestinians." The local community split in half:

There was no avoiding it: To some at Shalhevet, the Palestinians were equivalent to the Nazis. That became clear one day when an otherwise gentle rabbi said, "I hope they kill all the Palestinians." To Sam Gomberg, the analogy was Germany, circa 1938.

"You're being insensitive," he told Maksik now as they sat in Friedman's office. "Would you have students read 'Mein Kampf' at this school?"

Friedman directed the meeting from behind his desk, tilting his high-backed executive chair, inquiring but offering little comment. Maksik sat before him, Gomberg off to the side, Rabbi Gabbai at Friedman's right. All three would later recall the encounter.

Maksik stiffened at Gomberg's question. Yes, he'd assign Hitler's manifesto at this school. "There would be no better place to teach it."

"Well, then," Gomberg said. "Then I really have nothing to say."

It's a long story, but it's worth reading the whole thing. Especially for those of us who aren't Jewish and can't pretend to understand the culture firsthand, it brings to life much of the rawness and bitterness on both sides and does a good job of portraying everyone in the dispute sympathetically. Highly recommended.

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A DEAN TIDAL WAVE?....OR THE PEAK OF A BUBBLE?....That firebrand Howard Dean is on the covers of both Time and Newsweek this week. Good news, right?

Probably. After all, publicity and name recognition are the name of the game this early in the primary season. And yet....I wonder. It also has the feeling of a bubble peaking, and peaking several months too early. I wonder if Dean will meet the same fate as John Anderson, Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas, John McCain, and all the other straight talking insurgents over the years who have dazzled the press but then faded later?

Beats me. But August seems awfully early for this kind of thing. The Dean forces better be careful.

POSTSCRIPT: I suppose I'm going to get the usual raft of comments claiming that the only reason I'm saying this is because I detest Howard Dean. Go ahead if you must, but at least keep 'em short, OK?

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August 2, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

A LOOK BACK AT LOOKING FORWARD....A few weeks ago Arts & Letters Daily linked to a reprint of "Miracles You'll See in the Next 50 Years," an article in the February 1950 edition of Popular Mechanics. It was a charming look forward to the technological utopia of today, written in the kind of bubblingly optimistic tone that you just don't see any more a sad reminder of how dimly even the most optimistic of us view the future compared to that initial generation of postwar romantics.

The article (not available online) contained predictions, of course. Lots of them. So I decided to pull out each of the individual predictions embedded in the text and see how they turned out. The stars of our story are Joe and Jane Dobson, who live in the suburb of Tottenville. Here's the scorecard:


Results as of 2003

It's a crime to pollute the air with smoke and soot.

Maybe in Tottenville, but smoke and soot remain crime free everywhere else.

In cities, highways are double decked. Upper deck is for nonstop traffic, lower deck is "much like our avenues, with brightly illuminated shops."

I think we have one freeway in Los Angeles that's double decked for about four miles. The lower deck, however, is just a freeway. No shops to be seen, brightly illuminated or otherwise

Tottenville is illuminated by "electric suns" on 200 foot towers.

Nope. In fact, I'm not even sure this sounds like a desirable prediction.

Atomic power is not used because it is hopelessly inefficient. It is used only in the cold, sunless north.

Atomic power works fine. France practically runs on the stuff.

The U.S. government began research into solar power in 1949. It is now widely used in America and other sunny, tropical countries.

Solar power has gone nowhere so far. In fact, I think the Bush administration is on the verge of outlawing it.

Atomic powered ocean liners began to run in 1970.

Coincidentally, that's approximately the date when traditional ocean liners, atomically powered or otherwise, ceased to run at all.

Steel is used only for cutting tools and massive machinery, but has otherwise been replaced.

The steel trust isn't what it used to be, but we're still using lots of steel.

Houses are constructed far differently than in 1950, using light metal walls four inches thick with an inch or two of insultating material.

Actually, house construction is disturbingly identical to the way it was done in 1950.

More on housing: all parts are mass produced, cut to size on the spot, and some parts are made of poured plastic. There is no wood, brick, or stone.


The Dobsons' house cost only $5,000 (including furnishings!) and is built to last only 25 years.

Even adjusted for inflation, this is wildly off the mark.

Razors are a thing of the past.

Gillette spends more on razor technology than the Russians spend on securing their nuclear bombs.

No dishwashing machines. Plastic dishes simply dissolve in superheated water.

Wrong on both counts.

Jane cleans the house by just hosing everything off. After all, everything is made of plastic!

I don't know about you, but I don't have a hose in my house.

"Cooking as an art is only a memory."

Finally! A prediction that's pretty close to true, at least as far as the average household is concerned.

Soup and milk are delivered in the form of frozen bricks.

I think there was a dotcom based on this idea....

Everyone has an electronic oven. Jane prepares dinner in 30 minutes.

Microwaves are indeed ubiquitous, and if anything this is probably an overestimate of how long most people spend preparing dinner these days.

Sawdust and wood pulp are converted into food. Rayon underwear is converted into candy.

No to the first, and as to the second yuck.

Videophones have replaced telephones.

This is possibly the most popular failed prediction of all time. I was originally promised this in the "House of Tomorrow" at Disneyland, but I still don't have one.

Joe and his fellow businessmen hold "television conferences."

Half credit. People aren't "surrounded by half a dozen television screens," but videoconferencing is definitely an up and coming technology.

Jane does her shopping by television. "Department stores obligingly hold up for her inspection bolts of fabric or show her new styles of clothing."

Hmmm, not quite. Still, internet shopping has a passing resemblance to this.

Factories are completely automated. "By holes punched in a roll of paper, every operation necessary to produce a helicopter is indicated."

Well, there is a lot factory automation today, though not quite at this Jetsons-like level. But the holes punched in paper bespeak a delightful ignorance of computers, the one big invention that really has become commonplace by 2003.

The Zworykin-Von Neumann automaton solves thousands of equations per minute to predict the weather.

Thousand of equations per minute is about what my old TI programmable calculator could do, but on the other hand we do have supercomputers that perform weather prediction and even occasionally get it right.

No more storms! Before one has a chance to build up steam, oil is spread on the sea and ignited, causing the storm to dissipate.

This novel idea does not seem to have caught on, although several supertanker captains appear to have been enthusiasts for the first part of this operation.

Bigshots travel in 1000 mph rocket planes. Time to cross Atlantic: 3 hours. Cost: $5,000 from Chicago to Paris.

The Concorde will shut down this year. No rocket planes are in sight. The distance from New York to London continues to be more than 3,000 miles. In any case, if such a flight cost as much as the Dobsons' house, these flights would cost a quarter million bucks each. Even Bill Gates would think twice.

Nobody has yet circumnavigated the moon in a "rocket space ship."

Hell, not only have we landed on the moon, Venus, and Mars, we've circumnavigated the entire solar system and gone beyond it. When last heard from, Pioneer 10 was about 4 billion miles outside the solar sytem.

Cities have grown into regions. It's hard to tell where one city ends and another begins.

Another winner! Here in California, you truly need to have sharp eyes to know when you've crossed a city boundary.

Cars run on denatured alcohol and are used only for journeys of less than 20 miles. The family helicopter is used for other travel.


Commuters get into the city on aerial busses that hold 200 passengers.

That would be nice, but if this had come to pass then why did we also need double decked highways?

Fax has replaced telegrams.

Well, sort of....

Tuberculosis is easily cured.

No it isn't.

Wrinkles and sagging cheeks are a thing of the past. Lifespan is now 85 years.

If this had been a prediction of widespread plastic surgery, it would count as a successful prediction. Sadly, it wasn't. The lifespan prediction isn't too far off the mark, though.

Viral diseases such as the common cold are cured with ease.

Don't I wish.

Cancer is not yet curable.

A correct negative prediction. But why was the author so pessimistic?

Nerve diseases such as Parkinson's are cured by a battery driven apparatus carried in the pocket.


In the end, the microwave oven is really the only 100% correct prediction out of the whole mess, although the author also gets points for weather prediction and suburban sprawl, and perhaps half credit for "television shopping" and factory automation.

What's more remarkable, though, is that the article fails to predict practically all the things that really did happen: computers, the internet, cell phones, satellites, cable TV, the fall of communism, and light beer. So while on its merits it might get a score of, say, 5 out of 100, when you add in the negative failures its score is probably more like -1000 or so.

This is a pretty stunning performance, but in a remarkable act of self-referential meta-prediction, it turns out that the article actually predicts its own failure:

The only obstacles to accurate prophecy are the vested interests, which may retard progress for economic reasons, tradition, conservatism, labor-union policies and legislation.

In other words, it's all the fault of the Democrats and the Republicans. Maybe we should all become libertarians after all.

Kevin Drum 4:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THAT LIBERAL, LIBERAL MEDIA....Peter J. Wallison is mad at the press and thinks their reporting on Iraq stinks. He provides three examples in an NRO column on Friday:

  • Tim Russert challenged Paul Wolfowitz on Meet the Press about whether he had underestimated the number of troops it would take to pacify Iraq. But shouldn't we be looking forward instead of playing gotcha?

  • The press doggedly insists on telling us how many soldiers have died since May 1st. What's the point of that other than to embarrass the president?

  • The press interpreted Newt Gingrich's temper tantrum at the AEI last April as a proxy fight between Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, even though Gingrich never even mentioned Powell's name! What were they thinking?

Talk about working the refs. Here is Wallison's message: we should never hold administration officials accountable for past statements. We should never tell people how many soldiers have died since the occupation began. We should pretend we have no idea what the backstory was behind Gingrich's speech even though every sentient being in Washington knew perfectly well what it was all about. Broadly speaking, instead of "trivializing" the issues the press ought to spend its time broadcasting earnest think pieces that allow the administration to explain its policies in thoughtful and reverent tones without the distraction of actually being questioned about them.

The subtext here, as it is so often, is that the war in Iraq should be above criticism. The past is the past, and who cares if George Bush exaggerated the case for war a bit here and there? That's mere partisan nitpicking. In fact, opposition treatment of Bush should be so respectful and highminded that, really, we might as well all just join together in a wave of national unity and allow Bush to win reelection by acclamation next November.

Unfortunately, the fact that the Bush administration did such a miserable and apparently misleading job of convincing the world that Saddam Hussein was a menace is indeed a proper topic of criticism. Especially since it appears that he is sticking to exactly those same failed policies in postwar Iraq. If we couldn't trust him to give us the straight dope before the war, why should be trust him to give it to us now?

Asking questions of this decade's conservative president that are every bit as tough as the questions it asked of last decade's liberal president isn't a sign of a liberal media that hates George Bush. It's a sign of the media doing its job.

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BLOGGERS ON TV....Charles Kuffner says he is "just some weblogger and not someone that anyone [has] ever heard of," and therefore unqualified to appear on Fox News to ridicule President Bush's monthlong vacation.

Not so, Chuck, not so! In fact, as a blogger you are actually more trendy and more quotable than a mere columnist for The Nation. I say, the next time you get this chance, take them up on it. Remember, at the very least this will give all your friends the chance to watch you on TV and laugh at you. Don't you owe them that?

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LET LIEBERMAN BE LIEBERMAN....I agree with Matt Singer, Matt Yglesias and dKos: despite the rhetoric you sometimes hear from the activist lefty blogosphere, Joe Lieberman is not some fascist Republican sellout. He's more conservative than I'd like, and his preachiness can get grating at times, but when I've looked at both his voting record and his rating by various issues groups, he's clearly a moderate liberal. He's no Howard Dean, but he is a perfectly respectable Democrat, and since this is easy to forget if you spend a lot of time in the blogosphere he's also the Democrat with by far the best name recognition of all the candidates.

As Kos says, "Do you really want to turn Lieberman into a Jeffords? Stop with that shit, please. I don't particularly like the guy, but he's not a Republican. He's a solid Democrat." Good advice.

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August 1, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON THE 28 PAGES....The contents of the 28 censored pages continues to leak in dribs and drabs:

The classified part of a Congressional report on the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, says that two Saudi citizens who had at least indirect links with two hijackers were probably Saudi intelligence agents and may have reported to Saudi government officials, according to people who have seen the report.

Saudi intelligence agents?

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By: Kevin Drum

THE WMD HUNT....Today we get a new theory about the missing WMD. First is from AP:

A close aide to Saddam Hussein says the Iraqi dictator did in fact get rid of his weapons of mass destruction but deliberately kept the world guessing about it in an effort to divide the international community and stave off a U.S. invasion.

The strategy, which turned out to be a serious miscalculation....

Um, yeah, I guess it did.

According to the aide, by the mid-1990s "it was common knowledge among the leadership" that Iraq had destroyed its chemical stocks and discontinued development of biological and nuclear weapons.

But Saddam remained convinced that an ambiguous stance about the status of Iraq's weapons programs would deter an American attack.

"He repeatedly told me: 'These foreigners, they only respect strength, they must be made to believe we are strong,'" the aide said.

And then, using very similar language, we have the New York Times:

There is a bold and entirely plausible theory that may account for the mystery over Iraq's missing weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam Hussein, the theory holds, ordered the destruction of his weapon stocks well before the war to deprive the United States of a rationale to attack his regime and to hasten the eventual lifting of the United Nations sanctions. But the Iraqi dictator retained the scientists and technical capacity to resume the production of chemical and biological weapons and eventually develop nuclear arms.

This is obviously the theory of the day, and administration sources managed to get it published in two different mainstream outlets. Apparently we really have given up on finding WMD, and the ground is being prepared for a climbdown.

Kevin Drum 10:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEAN HEADS TO TEXAS....I have to hand it to Howard Dean: he really knows how to get in George Bush's face. Last week he conducted a special fundraising blitz that raised half a million dollars for a "secret project," and today he revealed what it's for: he's using the money to head straight into the heart of Bush country and air a bunch of TV ads in Texas.

I don't know if this is smart or stupid, but I gotta admit it's audacious. I have my doubts about the guy as a candidate, but he definitely puts on a good show.

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By: Kevin Drum

LOCKYER TO DAVIS: DROP DEAD....Boomshock passes along the titillating Golden State news that (Democratic) Attorney General Bill Lockyer has laid down the law to (Democratic) Governor Gray Davis:

"If they do the trashy campaign on Dick Riordan ... I think there are going to be prominent Democrats that will defect and just say, 'We're tired of that puke politics. Don't you dare do it again or we're just going to help pull the plug.'

"There is a growing list of prominent Democrats that, if that's how it evolves, are going to jump ship."

Asked if he'd be one of them, Lockyer, who has also come out against the recall, calling it "unfair to Gray Davis and bad for the state," said: "I don't know."

Let's see now: even with a trashy campaign Davis only barely beat neanderthal moron Bill Simon by about 5% in November. Against Riordan he might very well have lost.

So telling Davis to take the high road is tantamount to telling him to just shut up and lose like a man. That's my take, anyway.

Any other thoughts from my fellow soap opera loving California readers?

Kevin Drum 4:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

28 PAGES....Matt Yglesias draws our attention to a short article in The New Republic that says the censored 28 pages in the congressional 9/11 report are more explosive than even the most hawkish Saudi bashers think:

The section cites "specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers," which most commentators have interpreted to mean Saudi contributions to Al Qaeda-linked charities. But an official who has read the report tells The New Republic that the support described in the report goes well beyond that: It involves connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family. "There's a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone's chasing the charities," says this official. "They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We're not talking about rogue elements. We're talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government."

....The official who read the 28 pages tells The New Republic, "If the people in the administration trying to link Iraq to Al Qaeda had one-one-thousandth of the stuff that the 28 pages has linking a foreign government to Al Qaeda, they would have been in good shape." He adds: "If the 28 pages were to be made public, I have no question that the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia would change overnight."

A single source is only a single source, but even with the appropriate grains of salt this account sounds unfortunately plausible. After all, both Bush and the Saudis must know the first rule of PR, which is that if you say nothing then people will start making up stories even worse than the truth. The truth must be pretty bad if they're willing to risk breaking that rule.

Besides, how long can this stay secret? There are an awful lot of people who have seen the censored section, and all it takes is one person to leak a couple of the most inflammatory pages. Something's gotta give before long.

Kevin Drum 3:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HEALTHCARE IN AMERICA....Here is today's lesson in how the healthcare system in America is broken. Your professor is South Knox Bubba, who illustrates the problem with examples from his very own personal life.

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

I'M DEGENERATING....Hmmm, it turns out I've got degenerative joints. One (well, hopefully only one) of the disks in my spine is deteriorating with age, which means my bones are bouncing into each other. Thus the pain.

This is a drag, and I have a feeling tennis may now be a thing of the past. We'll see. I get to do lots of fun back strengthening exercises for a while, and maybe that will improve things.

I realize that walking on two legs seemed like a good idea to some ancestor of ours a few million years ago, but they really weren't thinking things through when they made that decision. After all, you never see a cat with back problems, do you?

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....The picture of Inkblot on the left is an old favorite that I've posted before, but a few weeks ago I managed to snap a matching picture of Jasmine and thought they really deserved to be displayed side by side. I'm not sure why, but they're both really fascinated by the wide angle lens on my camera.

Inkblot is happier this week since the dreaded banana juice has been used up and he is no longer suffering the indignity of having a medicine dropper shoved into his mouth twice a day. As for me, my X-ray a couple of weeks ago uncovered a slipped something or other, so I'm now off to suffer the indignity of physical therapy. In the meantime, Atrios is back from Europe and Eschaton is now all Atrios all the time. Go welcome him back.

Kevin Drum 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NORTH KOREA UPDATE....Some hopeful news on the North Korea front. Apparently the North Koreans have finally given in to U.S. demands that negotiations be multilateral, not bilateral:

North Korea appears to have accepted a plan to engage in multilateral talks over its nuclear weapons programs, clearing the way for the administration to formally provide its solution for ending the crisis, U.S. officials said yesterday.

....The prospect of new talks will require U.S. officials to settle on a strategy for persuading the North Koreans to give up their effort to produce nuclear weapons. The issue has deeply split the administration, with some officials urging an aggressive approach that offers North Korea few incentives to give up its weapons while others are pushing to offer a multilateral guarantee that North Korea, if it agrees to back down, will not face an unprovoked attack.

....One approach under consideration would promise North Korea that all the other nations at the table could jointly provide assurances of nonaggression, as the first stage of a larger discussion on future economic and political relations. North Korea has long demanded that the United States sign a nonaggression pact, but appearing to give in to that demand is opposed by some key members of the administration.

Another proposal, circulating among National Security Council staff members, would call on North Korea to take the first step in terms of declaring what weapon programs it has and then offering to eliminate them.

Some officials believe the administration should also dangle carrots, which could include energy assistance, development aid, participation in international financial institutions, removal of sanctions and normalization of relations. But those incentives would also be tied to specific progress by North Korea on other issues, such as human rights.

This is a positive step, even though multilateral negotiations are almost certain to be slower and more cumbersome than bilateral ones. Any talks are better than no talks.

This is also going to be a real showcase for differences between the administration's hawks and realists. In the end, however, I have to figure that if the realists can cut a halfway decent deal Bush will take it. Letting this crisis linger can only be bad news for him.

Kevin Drum 10:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CIA INVESTIGATING VALERIE PLAME AFFAIR....Josh Marshall reports that the CIA now appears to have an investigation underway into the Valerie Plame affair.

He doesn't say how he knows this, but, you know, Josh has sources....

Kevin Drum 9:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DISGUSTING....Commenting on a news report that several black employees have filed an EEOC complaint against Radianz, an internet company co-owned by Reuters, charging that it "tolerated and encouraged a racist environment," Glenn Reynolds has this to say:

Just remember: one man's racist is another man's exponent of Aryan purity!

I think my many commenters who question why I still read Instapundit may be right. Is there nothing left that's too gratuitously offensive to be used as fodder for cheap shots against Reuters or the BBC?

UPDATE: Glenn says his remark is OK because of Reuters' official policy that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." No it's not. It's fine to give Reuters hell over their policy if you disagree with them, but it's not OK to make needlessly repulsive Nazi comparisons. He should leave that level of childishness to the LGF gang.

Kevin Drum 8:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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